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Ð''Repressive And Unpopular'.

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Ð''Repressive and Unpopular'.

Is this a fair assessment of Lord Liverpool's government?

Lord Liverpool's government used repressive measures, in the period 1815 to about 1821, to prevent a revolution from occurring. Many of their policies were exaggerated or misinterpreted and therefore labelled Ð''repressive'. They did, however, when the situation allowed them to (in the 1820s), introduce some fundamental reforms. Ð''Repressive' is therefore not a fair assessment of the government.

To say that Liverpool's government was unpopular is unfair. Those sections of society that would have been most likely to have disfavoured the government, the working and middle classes, had no say as far as political matters went. There were no opinion polls, and general elections were not a significant test of public opinion. Uprisings that occurred were often in protest to the situation rather than the government itself.

In the period between 1815 and the early 1820's Britain was a society under strain. Much of the civil unrest is commonly attributed directly to Liverpool's government because of the harsh manner in which it acted in crushing popular protests. However, most popular discontent arose as a consequence of the agricultural and industrial revolutions, a massive population increase, the French Revolution, the wars with France and the transition from wartime to peacetime conditions after 1815.

Revolutions normally break out when the government loose control and fail to take effective measures to deal with the unrest and disturbances, whether organised or spontaneous. Liverpool's government's fears of insurrection were not completely unfounded however small the number of potential revolutionaries and however unrealistic their plots may have been. An example of this is the Huddersfield rising in June 1817, which attracted several hundred men who believed that their meeting would lead to a national insurrection. Also, Spenceans like Thistlewood needed no encouragement in their attempts to copy the French Revolution, and in 1820, along with nine other revolutionaries, Thistlewood planned to murder the entire cabinet. Luckily, a government spy discovered their plot and the organisers were executed for treason.

Many people believed that given the above the government's repressive response was fully justified, as reformers stood little chance against such a battery of measures. The authorities were not prepared to take any chances, and occasionally they exceeded their powers. As an example, they prevented the Blanketeers from marching in 1817, due to the fear that this hunger march might come to resemble the Ð''Bread march of the Women' to Versailles in 1789.

In 1819 the government's public image was faced with disaster, and it's reputation for repressive reinforced, when the so-called Ð''Peterloo Massacre' was blamed on the Home Office. With hindsight it is clear that any criticism of the government, related to the incident at St. Peters Field, is unjust, as the Ð''massacre' occurred despite rather than because of Home Office advice. The Manchester magistrates decided to send yeomanry into the peaceful crowds at St. Peters Field to arrest the main speaker Henry Hunt despite the fact that Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, had advised that it would be wisest not to intervene unless the mob rioted or committed acts of felony. Thus the Ð''massacre' resulted from the misjudgement of men on the spot acting in a manner directly contrary to Home Office advice.

Liverpool made it clear that he fully supported the action of the magistrates and the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry. Radicals reacted by calling what happened at St. Peter's Field the Ð''Peterloo Massacre', therefore highlighting the fact that Liverpool's government was now willing to use the same tactics against the British people that it had used against Napoleon and the French army. This reinforced the government's reputation for repression.

In fact, Liverpool had Ð''no alternative but to support them', as he himself said in a letter to George Canning in September 1819. Although it was ignoble for Liverpool's government to have backed the Manchester magistrates after the event, had they followed the course of easy popularity, by condemning their actions, they would have risked greater bloodshed by undermining the authorities of those in the localities upon whom the daily maintenance of law and order depended.

The Six Acts were the immediate reaction to the Peterloo Ð''Massacre'. They did not, on the whole, deserve the Ð''repressive' level which some have tried to apply to them, as their scope was greatly exaggerated. Powers given to magistracy to search for arms and prevent mass meetings were strictly temporary, while the other measures merely plugged loopholes in laws that already existed. Ð''What is surprising is not their savagery but their restraint' (Derry).

Another government policy that may not have been as repressive as reputed is the suspension of habeas corpus in 1817. This was intended to be temporary, lasting from June1817 until January 1818, and altogether affecting forty-four people. It was designed as a specific instrument to deal with specific threat, revolutionary subversion. However, the fact does remain that it is evidently immoral to allow anyone to be held in custody for an indefinite period without charges or trail.

The Seditious Meetings Act of

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