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The glorious cause of reform

In this letter published in the pro-reformer Manchester Observer, the cause of reform is reported as being strengthened by the actions of the magistrates at Peterloo.

Performed by Bryonie Pritchard.

Archives Alive: Peterloo

The Archives Alive: Peterloo project is a collaboration between Royal Holloway, University of London, and The National Archives, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. This series of short films forms part of a wide programme of activity marking the 200th anniversary of the massacre – an important milestone in the history of the struggle for rights and representation – and its aftermath. Find out more on The National Archives’ blog.


The glorious cause of reform is making rapid strides indeed; nothing can impede, much less subdue its progress. The abominable conduct of the Magistracy of Manchester, will accelerate it in no small degree, and fix a stigma upon their characters which none of them will have years enough to wipe away. The people have only to be firm, and act with unanimity, and they will most assuredly succeed in obtaining these undeniable rights of every Englishman, for which they have been so long and so vainly petitioning; for which their forefathers fought and bled, and in the defence of which there are thousands at this day (if requisite) ready to imitate their example.

Talk not of emigration, and such preposterous nonsense; what reason can be assigned that we should not live, and live freely here? Our constitution is the admiration of the world, and however the harpies of Corruption may pretend to despise our claims, we have a right, and we will demand, and die to maintain (if not to ourselves, to posterity) “a just admiration of our constitutional privileges!”

Every species of deception has been practised upon us. We have been deluded, from time to time, by promises of redress. The new Parliament (and may be the last of a degenerate race) was to have been the very quintessence of of purity itself. Our burdens were to have been alleviated, and the grand system of retrenchment (which from beginning to end was nothing but a farce) was to have been undertaken and pursued with vigour.

Behold the result!! That they have done no good we will not pretend to say (though we sincerely believe it was perfectly unintentional) they have opened our eyes more clearly to discover the abominable system of oppression and tyranny they have been exercising over us; they have discovered to us how long we have been the dapes of their artful and designing measures. In short, they have lighted up a spirit for liberty and independence which all their efforts will never be able to subdue, but which will continue to burn with undiminished, nay, increasing lustre. 

“As Darker the night of oppression descends,
And not long shall that night last – even now is arisen
A bright star announcing of freedom the dawn,
Shedding its light on the walls of our prison,
And soon shall our fetters asunder be torn”

“Stand firm and deliberate; act resolutely;
And the victory is attained!!”

Catalogue reference: HO 42/196, folio 51.

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