Explain why Lord Liverpool’s government used repressive measures in the period 1815 – 1820.
Combined with the Napoleonic Wars following the French revolution and the unrest caused by the Industrial Revolution in Britain, Lord Liverpool had to find a way to deal with the many protests performed by his own people. Even though Pitt’s government passed laws which were already deemed as repressive, much stricter policies were to be seen under Liverpool’s rule; the leaders of the country still felt that there was a pressing threat of a revolution at home and sought harsh ways to prevent it.
The poorest of the people in Britain were the ones that were suffering the most and the government feared that it was this group in society who would strive to ignite a revolution; just as they did in France. However, it was the poor that had to face the growing problems that came with the Industrial revolution; enclosures, population growth, unemployment in agriculture and horrific working conditions in the towns and cities. The Industrial revolution saw the birth of new and powerful machinery which reduced the demand for labour, resulting in an increase in unemployment in all aspects of life and disenchantment within the hearts of the people. The best example of this was the hardship of the hand loom weavers who were forced out of jobs by the power-loom in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire.
The growth in population watched vast numbers of people move to the cities which were riddled with death and illness from the devastating working and living conditions in places like Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow. Some of the actions made by the government only added to the problems in Britain within 1815-1820. The Combination, Corn and Game laws were introduced along with the abolition of income tax. The Combination Laws ruled trade unions illegal, the Corn Laws banned the import of foreign wheat unless the price of home-grown wheat was raised and the Game Laws made poaching unacceptable. Each of these new policies crippled the poor in Britain and suppressed them to the point of poverty. Although the promise to abolish income tax was granted by the government, it meant that other, more expensive taxes were put in place; indirect taxes, which only made poor, poorer.
Of course, it was inevitable that the people suffering in Britain under Lord Liverpool’s rule were going to protest. Riots broke out over the country, giving the government an even greater need for concern. We know that a revolution did not occur in Britain; however, the scare and the amount of demonstrations from the public were enough to encourage suppressive measures from the government. The Luddite Riots saw trade unions demolish new machinery and set fire to many factories and other demonstrations followed such as the Spa Fields Meetings, the March of the Blanketeers and the Derbyshire Rising. None of these however, were as bad as the Peterloo Massacre which broke out in Manchester, 1819. This disastrous event has gone down in history and is the most famous incident of the period. When we look back at why Peterloo actually happened and we see that the crowd of 60,000 were not revolutionary, it’s difficult to relate to why so many were injured.
Henry Hunt and other radicals of the time were speaking in St Peters Field and the crowd had gathered to watch them. The sheer amount of spectators unnerved the government and in a panic it seemed, the magistrates ordered the yeomanry to arrest Hunt. However, it appeared the crowd was too solidly packed for the Yeomanry to reach Hunt and so sabres were drawn and used ruthlessly against the people. 11 were killed and 400 were injured. The only act worse than the massacre was the Cato Street Conspiracy which ended in the death and transportation of ten men after they attempted to murder the cabinet. This was the final event in the series of protests and showed just how hard the government came down on anyone who went even mildly against its policies.
Agent Provocateurs and spies infiltrated many of the groups who pressed for reform so that any acts of treason against the government could be monitored and the radicals stopped and punished. Habeas Corpus was suspended once more in 1817 allowing the government to arrest those who had not even committed an offense for an indefinite period of time and the six acts were put in place. Each of these measures resulted in the suppression of the citizens of Britain; especially the six acts which gave magistrates the permission to search houses without warrants, allowed the stamp duty to be increased and prevented gatherings of large amounts of people.
It seemed that this period of time accepted no freedom for the people of Britain for the fear of a revolution. Any acts against the government could be punishable by death so that repression was an everyday chore the poorest in the country had to acknowledge. It was really just the worry that what happened in France would be replicated in Britain. The government felt that suppressive policies were the only way forward in this period of time.