Matthew’s first address was to the people of Perthshire, following his election on the 19th Oct 1838 to be their delegate to the Chartist National Convention. The address was completed on the 12th Nov (the second postscript is conveniently dated). It is likely that it was published in the True Scotsman Chartist newspaper (not available online, unfortunately). It lists the grievances held by the “industrious classes” of Britain – in essence that they have been oppressed and over-taxed by the ruling elite of Britain, and holds their lack of representation in Parliament to blame. A section is devoted to the iniquities of the timber tax, a particular bug-bear of Matthew’s that was also expounded in On Naval Timber and Arboriculture. Matthew does not mince his words: “the proposers of this timber tax … should be impeached as traitors to their Queen and country”. The Reform Bill of 1832 is also branded a “total failure”, in stark contrast to Matthew’s previous support (see PMP > Newspaper Articles > Celebrations of the 1832 Reform Act). The need to educate the industrious classes, to allow them to vote intelligently, is given special attention. The superiority of “moral force” over “physical force” is asserted.
In two postscripts, Matthew announces that he plans to sponsor (out of his own pocket) a “Mr. Sime” to tour Perthshire to lecture on “Political Economy”. He also waives the £200 stipend due to him as a Delegate. Even though the Chartist definition of “Universal Suffrage” extended to men only, Matthew then urges that the National Petition be signed by “every man and woman” (“yea, and by my fair countrywomen, too”).
TO THE MEN OF PERTHSHIRE
I LEARN that you have appointed me to take charge of your Petition for Universal Suffrage. I am aware of the responsibility, and I only regret that I cannot devote so much of my time to this duty as I should wish. But whilst I endeavour to do my part, may I hope that every person who signs the Petition, every man in Perthshire who is deprived of the rights of a freeman, every freeman who has sufficient honesty not to deny to others what he claims for himself, and who sees no other practical way of emancipating the industrious classes from the thrall and plunder of a faction, will give his aid.
We take our stand on the broad and firm ground of unalterable justice — that no portion of society has a right to keep the other portion in political slavery, on any pretence whatever, if they refuse to be slaves. It is undeniable, that if this principle is departed from there can be no limit to tyranny and slavery.
Which is he that is willing to remain a slave? Who will be so mean and cowardly as to hang back from the work which other bands are performing — but ready to participate of the gains? Which is the man who will dare to stand forward in support of slave property — who will have the impudence to tell his fellow-subjects, “I claim political rights for myself, but you shall have none, in order that I may tax you and monopolize your winnings as I please?”
The class which have legislated a monopoly of land-property to themselves, and, still farther, who have taxed the working-man to the extent of one-half of his earnings — a tribute to themselves — a tribute wrung from the poor to the rich — a tribute from the industrious to the idle — this class say you shall not possess political rights because you are poor; it would endanger the security of property. It will indeed endanger the tenure of unjust property — slave property — the property they hold of the one-half of the working-man’s labour, and also their monopoly of land-property. But it will greatly tend to the security of just property; as, while just and unjust property go linked together, the just is also in danger, like an honest man in the company of a rogue.
They also pretend that those who have wealth have superior knowledge, and are therefore best qualified for a constituency — (the source of legislation.) Had the elected of our men of superior knowledge been men of probity — had their chosen representatives not legislated in the most unjust and grossly partial manner in favour of their own class, and to the deep injury of the working-man — this determined movement for Universal Suffrage would not for the present have taken place. The particular grievances which have forced the industrious classes to assert their rights are these:—
lst, Because the members of the House of Commons, with a few exceptions, are not the representatives of the people (which justice and the law of the land require them to be), but the representatives of a land-aristocracy, having interests distinct from, and opposed to, those of the people.
2nd, Because this House of Commons have burthened the working-men of Britain with a load of taxation to an amount unheard of before in any country; while they have laid on the taxes in such a manner as to cause a great gain instead of a cost to themselves — the increase of the rents of the land-aristocracy, by the grain tax alone, trebling all the taxes paid by that class. They have passed a Corn Bill which has doubled the price of food, and a Peel’s Bill, and other money bills, which have diminished the price of labour and doubled taxation — they all the while pretending they were reducing taxation — thus doubling the value of their own property and official and sinecure pay, and diminishing the value of the property of the working-man one-half.
3d, Because, like madmen, they have laid on a high timber tax, which nearly doubles the price of timber in this country, prevents the erection of new houses and manufacturies, and greatly increases the rent of our old hovels; which diminishes the employment of our wrights and masons; which prevents the houses of the working-man from being sufficiently spacious for the purposes of health and comfort; and the preserving of moral delicacy; which increases the cost of our shipping nearly one-third, and prevents such a quantity and quality of timber from being employed in their construction as is necessary to give them sufficient strength for the safety of our seamen; which greatly interferes with the prosperity of our fisheries by the increased cost of boats, and vessels, and barrels; which renders our mercantile navy unable in compete with that of the North of Europe and the United States in the carrying trade, the branch of our industry of most importance to our national power; which hinders the building of shipping, and greatly lessens the demand for our ship-wrights and sailors, lowers their wages, diminishes their numbers, and saps the foundation of our maritime supremacy. The proposers of this timber tax — the underminers of the wooden walls of Great Britain — should be impeached as traitors to their Queen and country.
4th, Because corruption has been carried to such extreme lengths, that nearly five-sixths of the whole revenue is diverted from the legitimate purpose, being squandered upon what they call the dead weight — their legions of pensionaries — and the interest of the Tory debt; while little more than one-sixth is left to be directed to the government and defence of the country!
5th, Because they have legislated to throw the land property of the country into large masses — alike unprofitable for improvement and for human enjoyment; because they have entailed the property upon themselves, and their debts upon the working-man — thus placing it out of his power to obtain almost any share of property in his own country, and producing a state of poverty among the great body of the people which gives serious cause to dread a destructive convulsion.
6th, Because the education of the people has been neglected; so much so as to make it but too apparent that the neglect has been intentional. In other countries of Europe, the “despotic governments,” as we term them, have attended to the general education of the people but the ruling aristocracy of Britain seem to fear it: and well they may — for general education and such oppression and corruption cannot co-exist. It is true they are somewhat intent upon Church extension — “the poor man’s church,” — “religious instruction for the poor working-man!” Even those who, by the every-day actions of their lives, shew their utter disregard of Christian morality, are not awanting here. The people view these hypocritical efforts in a proper light. Did those Church-Extension men not think religion (as they intend it should be taught) would serve to make the people more quiet and enduring under oppression — that other-world prospects might tend to draw off their attention from what is going on in this — we should hear as little about religion from them as about education. With Universal Suffrage the people will procure education to themselves and likewise religious instruction, and they will be qualified to make a choice — such a choice as might obviate the reproach that religious belief is merely an affair of geography and government dictation.
7th, Because, busied in contentions about their pillage of the working-men, they have neglected necessary reform. I would instance that of the civil law of these realms, which remains a chaos of uncertainty and contradiction, disgraceful to modern civilization.
It is difficult to bring the mind to believe that such a state of mal-government and iniquity can exist — that a land-property class should be suffered thus to prey upon the industrious community, ruining the trade and manufactures of the country — that the poor, pale factory-child should be robbed of the one-half of the earnings of its little hands to pamper the luxurious lord, and support his minions in idleness. Yet there is no denying it — the fact stares us in the face. But we always find that the government of many tyrants is more oppressive and ruthless than that of one: this can be remedied only by the equal representation of the whole community.
This condition of things is a stretch of imposition and suffering which cannot last. It is merely an unhappy posture which society has fallen into during the transition-state.
While the feudal system lasted, so general in Europe a century or two ago, the people had a natural protector in the feudal chief, who regarded his dependants with something like parental care. In the Eastern portion of Europe, where the feudal system has merged into despotic monarchy, the Sovereign has a sense of property in his subjects, and exerts himself to prevent the oppression of the poorer portion by the richer.
Whilst the feudal system existed in its integrity, the people had the protection of their feudal chief. Under unlimited monarchy they would have the sovereign for a protector. But the sovereigns of Britain do not possess, at least have not recently exerted, any protective power towards their poorer subjects, to ward off unjust taxation and grinding monopoly.
The great body of the people — the working-men of Britain — are totally unrepresented, unprotected, subject to every fiscal extortion, imposition, monopoly, legalized robbery, which a thoroughly selfish and unprincipled aristocracy may choose to commit. A constituency indeed exists, but, excepting in large manufacturing towns, of so tractable a character, that the election of a member of the House of Commons is a mere nomination affair by the aristocratical party (Whig or Tory) which is in possession of the greatest number of tenantry and dependants.
This is the working of the Reform Bill of 1832! That this bill has been a total failure — in effect a positive injury to the cause of liberty, an increase of power to the oppressor, the land-proprietor and Tory faction, a decrease of power to the manufacturing and commercial community — must not be charged against the people.
Judging of others by themselves, not doubting but that common honesty existed amongst the landlord class, and not even believing that the tenantry would submit to be made political serfs, the people exerted themselves to procure a great extension of the franchise, and welcomed it, even although it was bestowed chiefly upon the most dependant portion of the community, the tenantry, who being more exposed to compulsory influence than any other class, ought to have been the last to receive it.
The present property-constituency are alarmed and jealous about property. It would indeed seem they have become so exclusively enamoured of their property that they can think of nothing else. Their alarm about property arises from supposing the industrious classes are almost as dishonest as they are themselves; that when the people obtain a fair and equal representation, they will return evil for evil. They forget that the working-men support themselves honestly by their own industry — that they are not church-building hypocrites, preying upon the labouring population — the working-men will return good for evil, and use their influence to ameliorate the condition of all grades of society. I have only to warn the supporters of injustice and iniquity, that there is a danger in standing out to oppose the claims of the great body of the people for their rights: they may carry things so far, that the very dangers they apprehend may be brought about in spite of all that men of peace can do.
There never was a truer remark, than that the character of man depends upon his situation — that it is made for him and not by him. The emancipation of the working-men of Britain will have the most powerful effect to elevate their character, and in every way to improve their condition. The aristocracy will not profit less — at present they occupy a false position. They derive a considerable portion of their support from plunder; they have power; and rank; and state emoluments; independent of merit; and the natural consequence is, that a great proportion of them are horse and dog-trainers, gamblers; pension-hunters — making it the chief business of their life to pick each other’s pockets, and to intrigue about the division of the spoil of the people. Universal Suffrage will afford them a legitimate field for exertion; they will be placed in a situation, where to be political leaders they must deserve to be so; and they will set about gaining the people’s suffrages by acts of public utility. They will then become an useful aristocracy — leaders of the people, employing their great wealth in promoting the welfare of mankind.
The plan which the working-men of Britain have formed, and which they are determined to carry through, is, while keeping the laws in the strictest manner, to exert a moral force to get those laws reformed which are pernicious and unjust. Steady, judicious, combined effort is the way to command success. Already the plunderers begin to feel the rotten planks of their pirate bark trembling under them. These will part asunder in a little time, and the purity and circumspection of our conduct will not afford the plunderers a straw even to catch by to prevent them from sinking.
There is nothing that is just and good but what the people will obtain, if they collectively persist in demanding it. But unanimity, firmness, prudence, inflexible perseverance, are necessary. It is above all incumbent upon every Universal Suffrage man to be moral and circumspect in his conduct; the dissipated, the profligate, the bad husband, father, brother, is not a true Radical, but an indirect supporter of the enemy — the creature, indeed, of the enemy. There is a moral force in purity of conduct and benevolence, which no iniquitous cunning can circumvent, no power founded on injustice and corruption can withstand — Yours sincerely,
POSTSCRIPT.— I have still to advert to a plan which I have much at heart, for educating the people in the most useful branch of science. May I solicit the industrious classes of Perthshire to appoint a Public Lecturer on Political Economy, with a regular salary — (the money collecting and proposed to pay the Delegate would be sufficient.) I hope you will see the utility of this. It would be an excellent example to other districts, and, if followed, the Lecturers could assist each other. I am the more anxious to establish this source of information, in order to quiet the fears of the property-holders, as they have such terrors at the working-men obtaining the franchise in their present state of ignorance. P.M.
P.P.S. Nov 12.— It appearing to be the general opinion that a Lecturer would be extremely useful, I have, in my capacity of a private individual, made an engagement with Mr. Sime, Perth, to Lecture. Mr. Sime has had considerable experience and success as a Lecturer;— he is a man of spirit, devotedly attached to the cause of human improvement; and I hope that everyone who has this cause at heart will endeavour to forward his usefulness as a public instructor. Had I stood in need of the £200 allowed by the meeting for the expenses of the Delegate, I certainly would have made use of it myself; but I have thought it better that it should be allotted to some other purpose of public utility.
My countrymen must be aware that all our labour will be in vain, unless a considerable majority of the population come forward to support the cause of emancipation and social improvement. The population of the County is known, and all who do not sign the PETITION will be numbered by the enemy as belonging to his ranks; it therefore behoves every individual, who does not wish to be made an indirect tool for upholding the degradation and oppression of his fellow-men, to manifest his determination forthwith. As things now are, the industrious classes, as well those having the franchise as those who have it not, are virtually unrepresented; a vote to them is only valuable as private properly for sale to the highest bidder. Every one of the industrious classes, who has the spirit of a man, will therefore so act as if the whole cause of emancipation depended upon himself. Let them canvass the whole County, and solicit every men and woman to sign the PETITION, and to subscribe to the emancipation Fund. I would suggest that New-Year’s-Day or Hansel-Monday, or both, be entirely devoted to this sacred duty. Need I remind my countrymen, that the Delegate takes weight only from the mass whom he represents. I shall not be able to carry up the PETITION from Perthshire to Parliament, for shame, if it is not numerously signed by the men of the County,— yea, and by my fair countrywomen, too. A small number of signatures would only subject us to the derision of the enemy. My gentler friends will take note of the heart-stirring words of the noble Blacksmith of Sheffield. “It is marvellous to me (says he) that the matrons of Britain do not spit in the faces of their cowardly husbands, for enduring laws which interdict our best affections, or convert marriages into a criminal curse, multiplied by the number of its births. If there were in the veins of our maidens one drop of Spartan blood, the worst enemies of the human race would long since have hid themselves like owls.” — In the above letter I have little more than glanced at several of the subjects introduced. Some of my views in regard to improving the condition of the working population, are now in the press, and will appear in a few weeks. P. M.