Bust of John Passmore Edwards

The Autobiography of John Passmore Edwards

The Chartist Agitation and Physical Force


The Chartist agitation, accompanied by certain threats of violence, caused public anxiety in 1848, when extensive preparations were made by the Chartist party to hold simultaneously three "great demonstrations" on April 10th of that year. One of these was held in Manchester to represent the North of England, one in Nottingham to represent the Midland Counties, and the other in London, under the leadership of Fergus O'Connor, to represent the Southern Counties. The Duke of Wellington, commander-in-chief at the time, made ample and paraded preparations to meet possible contingencies.
It so happened that I had to go to Nottingham on business on Saturday, April 8th. When I got there I found the town in a considerable state of commotion on account of a great preliminary Chartist meeting about to be held in the market-place. Having done my business as I best could in the disturbed state of the town, I went to the meeting, and, after listening to two or three somewhat fiery speeches, I pushed my way to the wagon platform and asked leave, as a stranger from London, to speak. My request was readily granted. With youthful courage I mounted the platform, expressed sympathy with the principles of the people's charter, but strongly deprecated physical force in any form as a means to obtain it. Instead of evoking opposition, as I expected, I found a majority agreed with me.
When leaving the crowd and about to return to London, a gentleman (Bean by name) asked me whether I could make it convenient to remain and address much greater meetings at Loughborough on the following day (Sunday) and in Nottingham the day following. I said I was not prepared to do so, my means not allowing it. He pressed his application, and, two or three others having encouraged him, be said be would gladly pay my hotel expenses if I remained. Being told that my speech had a pacifying effect, and fascinated with my new experience and the spirit of battle, I consented to stay. I went to Loughborough on the Sunday as agreed, was again permitted to address the great open-air meeting, and received a warmer welcome than I did the day before. But the greatest meeting of all in the Midland Counties, and the one which caused most local anxiety, was held on Monday, the memorable April 10th, in Nottingham, and which I was invited to address. I did so, and condemned more emphatically than before the use of violence in any form to gain political ends. While the meeting was being held the soldiers, who were picketed in the town to preserve order, marched through the market-place and produced a temporary scare. But they were not wanted, as nine-tenths of the multitude assembled were much more inclined to deal in words than blows. So ended my first political contest.
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April 18, 2005
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© Dean Evans 2003