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

  • Malcolm I. Thomis


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.


Nineteenth Century Ideological Position Moral Economy Political Protest Social Protest 
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Copyright information

© Wolfgang J. Mommsen and Gerhard Hirschfeld 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Malcolm I. Thomis

There are no affiliations available

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