August 16, 1819 – The Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, England

On this day in history in Manchester, England, cavalry from the British Army charged into a crowd of some 60-80,000 people assembled to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.

The army’s attack managed to disperse the crowd, but some 11-15 were killed and between 400 and 700 people were wounded. The true number of wounded is unclear because many of the wounded hid their injuries for fear of retribution by the authorities. It is known, however, that at least 168 of the casualties were women, four of whom died either at St Peter’s Field or later as a result of their wounds.

1819 depiction of the charge of the Manchester Yeomanry on the unarmed populace in St. Peter's Fields, Manchester.

1819 depiction of the charge of the Manchester Yeomanry on the unarmed populace in St. Peter’s Fields, Manchester.

Peterloo’s immediate effect was to cause the government to crack down on reform, with the passage of what became known as the Six Acts.

This new legislation labelled any meeting for radical reform as “an overt act of treasonable conspiracy.” The legislation was passed on December 30, despite the opposition of the Whigs. (Apparently the fight over passage of the acts fills almost sixteen hundred pages in Hansard’s Register!)

[N.B.: Hansard is the traditional name of the verbatim transcripts of Parliamentary Debates in Britain and many Commonwealth countries. It is named after Thomas Curson Hansard (1776-1833), a London printer and publisher, who was the first official printer to the parliament at Westminster.]

The acts were aimed at gagging radical newspapers, preventing large meetings, and reducing what the government saw as the possibility of armed insurrection.

Because of Whig opposition, as well as calmer conditions in Europe, the Six Acts were eventually dropped.


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