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A History of the Nineteenth Century, Year by Year

The mob fired the mansion house



[Sidenote: Commons pass Reform Bill]

[Sidenote: Rejected by the Lords]

In truth Cobbett's pure, virile, racy, Saxon style, while it delighted men of taste, was also intelligible to the humblest commoner, and accounted in some measure for the tremendous popularity of his journal, the "Political Register." The government was unable to secure Cobbett's conviction and he was suffered to escape punishment by a disagreement of the jury. After this interlude the debate on the Reform Bill went on. On the second night of the debate Thomas Babington Macaulay delivered his first reform speech. When he sat down he had taken rank among the best Parliamentary orators. "Portions of the speech," said Sir Robert Peel, "were as beautiful as anything I have ever heard or read. It reminded me of old times. The names of Burke, Fox and Canning during the evening were linked with that of Mr. Macaulay." The "Spectator" computed the number of speeches which were delivered in committee between the middle and end of July at more than two hundred. Sir Robert Peel alone spoke forty-eight times, while Wetherell, the Tory wag of the House, spoke fifty-eight times. Finally the Opposition was caught unawares late one night on September 19, when they could muster but fifty-eight votes before the doors closed for division, and the bill was thus passed to its third reading. The Tories took pains to

be present in force a few days afterward, when the final passage of the bill was moved. After a last passionate debate lasting through three days and nights the Commons passed the bill by a majority of 106 votes. That same night Earl Grey proposed the bill before the Lords. Addressing himself to the bishops he said significantly: "I specially beg the spiritual portion of your lordships to pause and reflect. If this bill shall be thrown out by a narrow majority and the scale should be turned by the votes of the prelates, what would be their situation? Let them set their houses in order!" These menacing words gave great offence to the clergy. The Duke of Wellington spoke strongly against the measure. The bill was thrown out by the Lords after an all-night debate.

[Sidenote: Riots in England]

The immediate effect was a sharp decline in stocks. A few hours after the House of Peers adjourned at six o'clock in the morning, a run for gold began on the Bank of England. The simultaneous effort of the French to abolish their hereditary peerage was hailed as an omen of what was coming in England. Riots broke out all over England. The return to Bristol of Sir C. Wetherell, one of the chief opponents of the bill, was made the occasion of ominous demonstrations. A riotous mob burned the mansion house over his head. Next, the Bishop of Bristol was driven from his episcopal seat. The mob fired the mansion house, the bishop's palace, the excise office, the custom house, three prisons, four toll houses, and forty-two private houses of prominent Tories.

No one was injured until the troops were called in to disperse the mob. Then a number of rioters were sabred and shot. About the same time riots broke out at Bath, Worcester, Coventry, Warwick, Lichfield, Nottingham and Canterbury. With difficulty Archbishop Howley of Canterbury was rescued from the hands of an infuriated mob. The Bishops of Winchester and Exeter were burned in effigy before their very palaces. The Bishop of London did not dare to hold services at Westminster. The news from France served to increase the alarm. Disturbances of a far more serious character were reported from Lyons.

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