MANCHESTER REFORNI DEMONSTRATION. • [Film A CORRESPONDENT.] SIR,--In accordance with
the spirit of your instructions to me to take notes of the Manchester Reform Demonstration as an " outsider"—a critic or note-taker simply—I resolved to begin my duties with one of those auxiliary meetings—Reform streams, BO to speak, that were intended to flow into one vast human sea, at the Camp-Field, Manchester, on the 24th of this month. On Saturday morning, therefore, I went to Liverpool, knowing by experience that I should find there an entirely different kind of " life " from that of any other of the subordinate meetings lately held in Lancashire ; in fact, that Reform, or any meetings held in Rochdale, Bolton, Oldham, and the other manufacturing towns of this county are only Manchester meetings reproduced, while Liverpool, with its moving population, its large number of out-door artisans and labourers, and its comparatively few in-door ones, is essentially different, in its goodness or badness, from any town in Lancashire, and perhaps in England. Whatever it gave of ruly or unruly elements to the Manchester Demonstration would, I knew, be unique in kind.'
The meeting was held in the sheds of the North Haymarket, and was presided over by Mr. Robertson Gladstone, brother of the Ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer. There were two platforms, and the principal speakers, in addition to the chairman, were Mr. J. R. Jeffery, the "senior partner" in the "Compton house" firm, Liverpool ; Mr. Beales and Mr. Potter, of London ; and a work- ing man, Mr. Planch. The number of persons present varied at different times during the afternoon, and I am unable to estimate the average attendance, but it may be interesting to know that the Mercury (Liberal) newspaper says that at one time the number of people present would not be less than from 25,000 to 30,000, while the Courier (Conservative) newspaper says "the scene of the demonstration would be visited by about 10,000 persons [in all I suppose]. At 3 o'clock the crowd would number 4,000, when Mr. Beales was speaking about 5,000, and at the time the chair was vacated about 2,500 "—a very exact and definite calculation, but I fancy much below the fact, though the meeting was not one of those that one feels from the first to be very earnest and sincere. There was something in the manner of the principal speakers not quite pleasant, certainly not conciliating. Mr. R. Gladstone and Mr. Jeffery are good speakers, as far as force and a certain rough and ready eloquence go, but worse men to con- vince those they are addressing that it is all said in kindness, not in enmity, I never met anywhere. They came to the Haymarket to fight a Radical battle ; this was plainly marked in every word they spoke, and they fought it, browbeating and defying their opponents, and getting browbeating and defiance in their turn. At times the meeting was exceedingly rough, as you know from the daily papers. I do not think it was earnest at any time. I do not think there were in it many serious noble thoughts, calcu- lated to raise men to solemn and elevated conceptions of their rights and duties as citizens.
The Liverpool Conservative newspaper argued, on Saturday, as a prelude to the meeting, that Liverpool working men take no interest in Reform ; that of the total male occupiers, numbering 60,533, or of the persons assessed to the poor-rate as paying a rental of 10/. per annum—in number, 40,079, without counting some other 4,000 or so of doubtful right—only 20,554 availed them- selves of their privilege as electors. This of course is a party view of the subject, and makes no allowance for the number of occupiers who, as sailors and ship-carpenters, are on shipboard and away from home. Yet, after all, the figures do not altogether lie in this case. I do not think the Liverpool working men, as a body, either understand or care for Parliamentary Reform, as their artizan and manufacturing brethren in the manufacturing towns certainly do. Their interests are divided ; if they see the beginning of a political social struggle, they arc probably in the middle of the Atlantic before it is many weeks old, and possibly talking with Australian workmen about Australian polities before the agitation is anything like at fever heat. I never yet knew a sailor or ship-carpenter who did not prefer story-books or light serial magazines, to any other kind of reading that could be given him, to take to sea. They are a light, cheerful, generous, and in some respects almost childlike body of men, careful to fastidious- ness about personal dignity, but rather inclined than otherwise to laugh at the " lubbards who bother themselves about things they don't understand." I knew some years ago the first mate of a fine vessel leave his post, on the very day of the vessel sailing, because the owner gave some order that should have come from the " master " of the ship. I knew a large body of ship-carpenters strike for "allowance," when at "old work" (repairing), one pint of ale each day, and two on Saturday. And a bitter strike it was. I remember seeing about thirty of forty of the same class of men, engaged in " caulking " a ship's side, turn about and sit down, with their backs to the ship, because the owner was " watching " them. And they sat there, to the great amusement of by-stauders, till the man went away. In magnificent stupidity I hardly ever found anything among any other body of workmen to equal these things, and some similar ones I have known done by ship carpenters and sailors where their personal dignity was at stake.
On Monday morning, somewhat early, I strolled through the 'streets of Manchester to see what I could, and I must say that I neither saw nor heard any statement or opinion opposed to Reform or making light of it, where the opinions were worth having. About the time when Manchester men usually begin business I sought the committee-room of the "Reform League," the rain at this time falling heavily, to the great dismay of ardent Reformers, who had hoped much from a fine day such as the
Liverpool people had had on Saturday for their meeting. The committee-room was too small and crowded to invite a long stay, so I went again into the street, where the flags of the "National Reform Union" were displayed at a few important points of the leading public thoroughfares. The scene was altogether as cheer- less as could well be imagined, and the stout words of the more determined Reformers were a curious contrast to their faces, which were not at all confident of the success of the "Demonstration." A few placards, illustrating Mr. Bright's comparison of the Derby Government to the black singers, with their " banjo " and "bones," were displayed, but on the whole there were fewer cari- catures and exciting placards than usual on great political occa- sions in Manchester. During the morning bodies of men came in from the country and from neighbouring towns. The associations represented in connection with the National Reform Union (not the National League, under whose auspices the demonstration was organized) were from about 100 different parts of the manufactur- ing districts, from most of which, however, the representatives could not be very numerous, judging by the actual number on the Camp-Field. The Oldham men, the Manchester Examiner says, marched (in number about 3,000) all the way from Oldham to Manchester, and so on to Camp-Field, and if the Manchester men had done the same the procession, to my view, would have been much more imposing and significant.
As it was, a string of conveyances—carriages, cabs, and other vehicles—started from the Town Hall a little after two o'clock, and at various points during the procession received additions to their number till in the end they formed a pretty long line, but not, I think, supplying by their number an argument for Reform, as the Oldham men certainly ;did, by showing how much they cared for it, and bow much trouble they could take in its cause. The whole affair, so far as the chief procession was concerned, could not have much interest to lookers-on. Here and there a group of people at a street-corner shouted or cheered, but I saw no enthu- siasm, though I accompanied the procession on foot from the first, and remained on the ground till the meeting closed. The flags displayed were mostly belonging to the National Reform Union, which seemed to co-operate heartily, while, however, I thought, trying to outvie the League as the organization to lead Lancashire men to a Reform victory. Draggled, tawdry, anything but dignified, was the grand carriage pro- cession when it reached Camp-Field, the well known Knot Mill Fair ground. The foot processions seemed to have arrived previously, for the ground was to all appearance covered with people. My own impression is that the " Demonstration " was a failure. I could not help noticing that no allusion, made either here or in the Free Trade Hall, afterwards was so heartily cheered as the slightest mention of the ballot. That, I am sure, these people have set their hearts upon almost unanimously. I am not arguing for the ballot, but stating a fact that no person who looked candidly on these meetingasould dispute. The "Demonstration" ended about half-past four ; the meeting in the Free Trade Hall was announced for half-past seven, but at little more than half-past six I could not obtain a seat ; the hall was completely filled. A place, however, I did find, by waiting long enough, and before the time of the meeting I was very well situated for hearing the speakers and see- ing the faces in front of the platform. Not a single place on which a human foot could stand was vacant, and one could partly under- stand, looking on those thousands of faces, for the most part bright, intelligent ones, what a grand power it is that can sway such an assemblage for good, and what a fearful responsibility rests upon a man gifted with eloquence that he does not sway them for evil.
Mr. T. B. Potter, M.P., was in the chair, and opened the meet- ing with a short speech, which he appeared to read, and which (as a speech) looks much better in print than it sounded at the time of its delivery. Mr. Potter seems to have many friends among the working men here ; he was warmly received, and the modest way in which he disclaimed all personal credit, and handed it to Mr. Bright, was not displeasing even to a critic. The words that look so denunciating in print did not sound so, while those of Mr. Ernest Jones do not read half so fiercely as they sounded. Mr. Potter does not use any undue amount of gesticulation ; Mr. Jones "might speak effectively in dumb show, so fiercely does he move his hands and change his attitude. Mr. Potter contented himself with making a short speech ; Mr. Jones and Mr. Beales had their "duty to perform," and made rather long ones, the latter gentle- man drawing down on himself a good deal of disapproval, not by any means charily expressed, for doing so. And then he made matters worse by defying the noise, in one of the most approved attitudes, not unlike what one has seen of Ajax defying the lightning. His manner was really quite absurd at
times but the good-natured people always reassured him by drowning the adverse noise with applause. A working man who was sitting near to me in his shirt-sleeves (a large number of people had taken their coats off, in consequence of the heat)—said, in a very sympathetic way—" it's too bad, this noise. They want to hear Bright, of course, and nobody else, but they should not hiss Beales, when he had lost 2001. a year for his principles." It was surely quite a mistake to make Mr. Beales a martyr.
The avowed object of the address and all the speeches was to ask Mr. Bright to place himself in front of the Reform struggle, to be its "leader," its " standard -bearer," its " pilot "—such were a few of the figures used—and Mr. Bright was assured that this people, "representing all England," would stand at his back. shoulder to shoulder, against the proud despotic oligarchy until the victory was won. All these remarks were loudly cheered. Then, when the chairman called for an " Aye " to the address, he had an aye like a roll of thunder; and it was succeeded by loud cheers, often repeated, and not to be mistaken for anything but what they purported to mean. When Mr. Bright rose the entire audience also rose, and cheered for several minutes with a heartiness surpassing all that had preceded it, and only equalled by the cheers when he concluded.
The hon. gentleman's speech you do not expect me to criticize ; but I may say that his manner was calm, calmer in some respects than his words, though the intense scorn he put into his denuncia- tion of the means by which the late Government was defeated was something that neither the reporter nor I can convey to paper. His picture of Lord Derby, too, with the long life of failure and obstruction, was exceedingly powerful, and when he declared that the country would not accept Reform from the enemies of Reform, the cheers burst out into a decisive and unmistakable endorsement of the declaration.
Few, if any, of the great points or lessons of this powerful speech were lost. The fact of the Crown standing with the people and recommending Reform, the dead body of the county repre- sentation, the Tory cheers greeting the Tory speech of Mr. Lowe, the electioneering corruption repudiated on the part of towns like Manchester and Birmingham, and shown to belong to the small constituencies, which "men with plenty of money in their pockets and no principle in their hearts" came down to buy,—these points , were clearly put and immediately recognized and cheered. "Man- chester knows not bribery, neither does Birmingham," was a proud assertion, proudly made, and proudly received as a tribute to the town and the classes in it without Parliamentary votes. Mr. Lowe delivering "a speech such as none of the Tories dared have made, and that not one of them could have made so well," was caught in a moment and greeted with loud laughter. In fact the speech was an exceedingly powerful one, and though I have known speeches of Mr. Bright's that have awakened greater enthusiasm, I do not remember any since the Free-Trade days more calculated to deepen the conviction that the question of Parliamentary Reform must, before long, be dealt with, and dealt with honestly. In saying what I have said about the Demonstration, I have merely stated my impression, and it is an undoubting one. But I am none the less convinced that if any disaster fell upon us as a nation, a .very different demon- stration would rise from the elements I saw on Monday night at the Free Trade Hall. The people here still remember, and talk of with intense bitterness, the attack made on a peaceful meeting, now nearly fifty years ago, on the very spot where their Free Trade Hall now stands. They call it Peterloo, and point to the massacre of (killed and wounded) 400 unarmed, peaceful citizens, assembled there in public meeting, as a proof of what the Tories would do yet if they had the power. Mr. Hunt, the chairman of the meeting, is now almost gone from recollection, but the memory of that sad day is kept ever green, and is likely to be so kept for generations to come. I have heard it mentioned again and again during my present visit, as the remarks of Mr. Lowe also are mentioned, with abhorrence, and fierce threats of what might yet be done "to show such men that the people would not be trampled upon and libelled by them." There is not the slightest doubt that a power- ful majority of the artizan and manufacturing population of the towns of this district are desirous of possessing the elective franchise, believing that it will help them to the education of their children, and a better control of the national policy at home and abroad. I have tried, as fairly as I can, to point to the difference between Manchester and Liverpool, but if you take Lancashire as a whole there is in it a power that should not be trifled with, and will not be trifled with, if our statesmen can read aright the signs of the times. I noticed that the references —and they were not a few—to the Church and the Peers were invariably cheered. Mr. Bright's allusion to the Thirty-Nine Articles was loudly applauded, though I believe there are few people readier to bow to the worth of a brave and self-denying clergyman than the poorer classes of the people of Lancashire are. The reference to Lord Derby's attempt to have Mr. Lowe as a colleague was caught in a moment, and received with ironical cheers. In short, the meeting seemed to me intelligent as well as sincere. I do not think the demonstration was either the one or the other. If I wished to damage Reform I should get up "demonstrations," whilst they meant as little as this one did.