Reform and Physical Force
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Reform and Physical Force book
WAS Hardy guilty? Was Pitt justified in his action? These and similar questions have been often asked, and answered. But there is a danger of their being construed unfairly. I t has been assumed, for example, that the answers were settled when the verdicts of Not Guilty were given in court. On the other side we are asked merely to decide whether actions, which are innocent at other times, may not be guilty in a national crisis. To take the judgment of the court as final is to forget that our Muse is a recording angel, and should not give men the benefit of any other code than the laws of historical evidence. The other way of framing the question is better. But at this distance of time a far more interesting historical question is involved. Between 1780 and 1840 a definite scheme of parliamentary reform was urged by reformers of widely different kinds. Even a programme of manhood suffrage and annual Parliaments had been adopted by a section of advanced Whigs as far back as 1780. Sixty years later an almost identical programme was inscribed on the People’s Charter. I t is beyond doubt that the Whigs of the Eighties proposed no method except peaceful agitation. The Chartist party of the Thirties, almost from the time of its formation, was divided by the proposal for “ ulterior measures ” ; and the advocates of physical force swept the country. A reading of early nineteenth-century history shows that this idea of force did not spring fully armed from the brains of any Chartist leader, O’Brien, or O’Connor, or Julian Harney. It was a tradition, and the search for its origin carries us behind the period of the Reform Bill to the days of Thistlewood and the Cato Street conspiracy.