The Aims and Ideology of Violent Protest in Great Britain, 1800–48

  • Malcolm I. Thomis

Abstract

The starting point for this paper, as it is indeed the starting point of all recent studies of violence in nineteenth century British history, is Eric Hobsbawm’s article on the Machine Breakers.1 In this, besides giving us that most quotable quotation ‘collective bargaining by riot’, he introduced us to the idea that violence in early industrial relations was not simply irrational and wild behaviour by thoughtless irresponsible workmen, but was frequently a deliberately selected technique of protest, perhaps the most effective one available at some times and in some places. My intention is to examine violent social and political protest in Britain in the first half of the nineteenth century by asking three questions about it: to what extent violence was consciously chosen as a means to pursue particular ends; to what extent violence was used as a means of implementing a particular ideology; and how successful violence was as a protest technique. The variety of examples chosen should help to confirm the willingness of Englishmen now to acknowledge that their country’s history in modern times was not one of purely peaceful evolution under the custodianship of a benevolent parliamentary system.2 Donald Read’s contention that only in Britain would the death of eleven people, at Peterloo, constitute a massacre, and the perspective supplied by a further 150 years of history might incline us to see as almost benign the violence at work in these years.3 Yet it was there and merits examination.

Keywords

Burning Corn Dust Europe Steam 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    E. J. Hobsbawm, ‘The Machine Breakers’, Past and Present, 1 (1952).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    R. Quinault and J. Stevenson (eds), Popular Protest and Public Order (London, 1974 ) p. 15.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    D. Read, Peter l00: the ‘Massacre’ and its background (Manchester, 1958) p. vii.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    M. I. Thomis and P. Holt, Threats of Revolution in Britain,1789–1848 (London, 1977 ) pp. 53–7, 76–9.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    A. T. Peacock, Bread or Blood (London, 1965 ) p. 32.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    D. Williams, The Rebecca Riots (Cardiff, 1955) pp. 224–5.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    N. T. Edsall, The Anti Poor Law Movement, 1833–44 (Manchester, 1971 ) pp. 110–11.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    E. J. Hobsbawm and G. Rude, Captain Swing (London, 1969 ) p. 305.Google Scholar
  9. J. Wigley, Nottingham and the Reform Bill Riots of 1831, Transactions of the Thoroton Society (Nottingham, 1973).Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    E. P. Thompson, ‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century’, Past and Present, 50 (1971).Google Scholar
  11. 23.
    M. I. Thomis, The Luddites (Newton Abbot, 1970 ) Chapter 2.Google Scholar
  12. 24.
    Quoted in E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London, 1968 ) p. 644.Google Scholar
  13. 25.
    M. I. Thomis, Politics and Society in Nottingham, 1785–1835 (Oxford, 1969 ) p. 92.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Wolfgang J. Mommsen and Gerhard Hirschfeld 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Malcolm I. Thomis

There are no affiliations available

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