Thursday, April 1, 2010

Radical War

On April 1, 1820, a pamphlet calling for a national strike was circulated through Glasgow by a group calling itself A Committee for Forming a Provisional Government.  What became known as the Radical War, or Insurrection of 1820, had as an antecedent the Massacre of Peterloo (August 16, 1819 - dubbed Peterloo after the Battle of Waterloo four years earlier), in which a crowd of 60,000 - 80,000 protesters gathered at St. Peter's Field in Manchester was charged on by armed cavalry.

The Radicals were largely comprised of weavers, who, according to Rev. Robert Rennie, were among the better educated tradespeople.  The weavers saw their economic quality of life deteriorating in the first two decades of the 19th century, impacted by the Napoleonic Wars.  Earnings fell by half between 1800 and 1808, and much further over the next decade.  The pamphlets circulated on April 1st called for a national strike:

"Friends and Countrymen! Rouse from that state in which we have sunk for so many years, we are at length compelled from the extremity of our sufferings, and the contempt heaped upon our petitions for redress, to assert our rights at the hazard of our lives." by "taking up arms for the redress of our common grievances". "Equality of rights (not of property)... Liberty or Death is our motto, and we have sworn to return home in triumph - or return no more.... we earnestly request all to desist from their labour from and after this day, the first of April [until] in possession of those rights..." It called for a rising "To show the world that we are not that lawless, sanguinary rabble which our oppressors would persuade the higher circles we are but a brave and generous people determined to be free."

A footnote added: "Britons – God – Justice – the wish of all good men, are with us. Join together and make it one good cause, and the nations of the earth shall hail the day when the Standard of Liberty shall be raised on its native soil."

The following Monday, a strike did occur, followed by violent incidents at Bonnymuir and Greenock.  The Radical War had little chance of succeeding, and its main instigators, James Wilson, John Baird, and Andrew Hardie were captured, tried, and executed. 

Fallout from the Insurrection of 1820 included the scheduling of a visit by King George IV to Scotland, which Sir Walter Scott organized very effectively.  Scott authored a poem for this event, "Carle, now the King's Come":

"The news has flown frae mouth to mouth,
the North for once has bang'd the South;
The deil a Scotsman's die o' drouth,
Carle, now the King's come!

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