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The life of Francis Place, 1771-1854 online

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their rooted disbelief in every principle which they pro-
fessed to hold.

Year after year Place had brought the question forward. 1
Every year the Chancellor of the Exchequer declared
himself in favour of repeal in principle, and every year
the Government, for reasons which they dared not avow,
continued the tax. Meanwhile the Commissioners of
Stamps so used their power of prosecution as to set up
a peculiarly odious form of censorship. The Penny
Magazine, for instance, was allowed to circulate unstamped,
while the Poor Man's Guardian was prosecuted. Place
had suffered personally from the tax. Directly after the
general election of 1832, Roebuck and he revived an old
plan of starting a penny weekly paper, with the awe-
inspiring title of the Political and Moral Magazine.
Place was to be editor, and offered to give to the work
six or seven hours a day.

" If I became editor," he writes to Roebuck, " I should

1 In January 1831 lie had published one of the best and most forcible
of his pamphlets, "A letter to a Minister of State respecting Taxes on
Knowledge," of which many thousands had been since distributed.
On June 15, 1832, Bulwer in the Commons moved for a Committee on
the subject. He made a long speech from notes provided by Place, and
Lord Althorp congratulated him on the industry which he had shown
in his investigation of the subject, and opposed his motion "entirely on
a financial ground." This debate was printed by the National Political
Union, with notes by Place. In 1833 Althorp mentioned the matter
in the Commons, but did nothing. In 1834 Lord Brougham gave
evidence before the Committee on Libel Law in favour of complete
repeal, which Place reprinted, and circulated 10,000 copies. (Place to
Ebenezer Elliott, July 9, 1834. See Repeal of the Stamp Duty,
Roebuck's pamphlet for December 1835, p. 8.) He wrote articles on
the subject for any paper which would take them, and his letter-books
contain a long series of indignant appeals to friends and strangers.
The great London dailies were against the abolition of the stamp as
likely to injure their monopoly, and on January 19, 1833, tne Times
printed on its leader page an abusive little paragraph against Place
(and by implication Lord Althorp) for a supposed plot to destroy its
circulation. Grote used to call the repeal of the stamp Place's
hobby. (Place to Hume, January 3, 1837.)



make a business of it, and I foresee that it would occupy
me six hours a day at the least. To enable me to bestow
so much time upon it I must use the mornings for my own
affairs, and for such other persons and their affairs as I can-
not with justice abandon, to seeing such persons as I may
wish to see, or cannot refuse to see, and to taking exercise.
I must dine at three, and employ all the rest of the day on
the work, rigidly excluding everybody with the exception
of some half-a-dozen members of Parliament, whom, for
reasons obvious to you, I must admit at all times. ... If
I were willing to let the publication be of the ordinary
cast of vulgar politics, I might save half of the time, or
even more than half of the time, I have mentioned, but I
will not do these things. I think the publication may
be made a vehicle to promulgate the true principles of
politics, political economy and morals, with such practical
applications of these principles in so popular a way as to
command the attention and obtain the respect of men who
have cultivated understandings, and at the same time
please and instruct the working people to an extent which
for their own sakes may induce them to purchase it." 1

James Mill agreed with the project, and he, John Mill,
the Grotes, Charles Buller, W. J. Fox, Edwin Chadwick,
and others, were to write for it. The necessary funds were
provided, and there only remained the question of the
newspaper stamp. Warburton, the Vice-President of the
proposed company, tried to get Lord Althorp to promise
privately that if an assurance were given that no ' annoy-
ance of Ministers" were intended by the paper it should
not be prosecuted ; but Lord Althorp would give no
such promise, and on February 5, 1833, refused in answer
to a question in the House to pledge himself to a repeal
of the tax. The proposal, therefore, was abandoned.
" Ministers," wrote Place, " and men in power, with nearly
1 Place to Roebuck, December 27, 1832.


the whole body of those who are rich, dread the conse-
quences of teaching the people more than they dread the
effect of then 1 ignorance." l

It may be feared that the life of the paper would in any
case have been short. The Political and Moral Magazine
might have been a treasure-house for the future historian,
it might have influenced those few working-men and
others who can be " induced to purchase papers for their
own sakes," that is to say, for the sake of their more serious
selves; but the general public would certainly have con-
tinued to read publications " of the ordinary cast of vulgar
politics." Yet because the Government had prevented
the experiment from being tried, the good that the paper
might have done grew yearly more important in Place's

A milder man, indeed, than Place might have lost
patience when, on May i, 1835, he received a letter from
Hume stating that it was his " wish not to do anything as
regards the tax upon newspapers until we know what is to
be done by the Ministers," and that meanwhile " any peti-
tions got up or stir made might not do good but harm if
Ministers really mean to repeal, of which we can have no
knowledge until they all return (from re-election)." 2

Place replied : " My dear Sir, Here comes probably the
last long political letter you will ever be called upon to read
of my writing. ... I do not in the least comprehend . . .
how you would come to the conclusion . . . that no one
should ' stir ' because ' we can have no knowledge, &c.' If
you had said we must stir because ' we can have no know-
ledge, &c.,' it would have been rational. I have lately
been congratulating myself that I no longer reside at
Charing Cross, and had nearly broken up my connection

1 MS. account of the " Society for the Diffusion of Political and Moral

2 Hume to Place, April 24, 1835.


with the dawdlers, and that with the exception of two or
three of my parliamentary friends I could now and then,
as I occasionally do, see others, and talk with them on any
subject, barring politics. If it were not that the people do
at times respond to a call made in the right way, I should
have given up all interference in public political matters,
hopeless of any good results. I shall now probably pursue
a course independently of parliamentary men as associated,
and I believe I can do more good without them than with

" When did any Minister, either Whig or Tory, keep his
promise to you ? How often during more than twenty
years have you maintained and acted on the only sound
doctrine, that to accomplish any public purpose steady
perseverance was necessary at all times, and in all seasons,
in good report and in evil report ; and how much good you
have produced, how much evil you have prevented, no one
knows accurately, no, not even yourself."

He then reminds Hume of Lord Althorp's action in
1833: "We were cajoled, as men usually are who rely on
others and refrain from doing their duty to themselves.
Lord Althorp mentioned the subject in the House, but in
such a way as just to enable him to say, as he did say, as
any thorough-going Whig would have said, that he had
proposed the measure, but the House showed no particular
feeling on the subject, so he did not press it. There was
no particular feeling ; no, we had been stultified, and had
neglected the means necessary to produce a feeling. It
shall be no fault of name if any Minister ever has the
opportunity to repeat Lord Althorp's words. If Ministers
mean us honestly, they will encourage the people to show
themselves, and their desire for the repeal. If they
understood their own position, they would promote the
repeal promptly and vigorously. They would make it
matter of conscience, and not give the Tories a chance to-


take the credit of doing it. I am persuaded that there is
as much chance of its being done by a Tory as by a
Whig administration, and I should greatly prefer a Tory
administration which would take off the duty, to a Whig
administration which would not take it oft'. Scarcely any
man in Parliament besides Lord Brougham appears to know
the actual value of the repeal. In a moral point of view it
is what Archimedes wanted to have in a physical point of
view, a place to stand upon, a fulcrum to move the world.
Do you recollect the fable of the wolves who wished the sheep
to send away the dogs ? If you do not, go and read it." l

Hume, though, like Bismarck's emperor, he required
winding up at intervals, still went steadily enough when
he was wound up, and took part in the deputation to
Spring Rice, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on May 8.
On this occasion " the Exchequer Chancellor told us," writes
Place, " as plainly as any courtier could do who did not use
the words, that we should never have the Stamp Duty
repealed as long as he had the power to prevent it." -

On March 30, 1835, the Report of the Municipal Corpora-
tions Commission was presented to Parliament. Place's
collection of manuscripts and materials on Municipal Cor-
porations has, unfortunately, been lost, but there is some
evidence that he helped his friend Joseph Parkes with the
preparation of the Report. Parkes, for instance, speaks of
having " inhabited " Place's library in Brompton Square
during May i834. 3 When the Report was presented the

1 Place to Hume, May 2, 1835.

2 Place to Hume, May 12, 1835.

3 Besides collecting books and papers on municipal corporations,
Place had occasionally concerned himself with the (juestion for some
years past. In 1830, for instance, he had drawn up for Hume a motion
for a return respecting city and borough corporations. In the letter in
which he forwarded a draft of the motion, he wrote of it as a " first
step" in the consideration of the subject, rendered necessary by the fact
that " no man has any knowledge of the municipal laws and customs of
nine out of ten corporations."


Tories were still in office, but even the Whigs, when they
came in, showed no eagerness to act upon it.

In his angry letter to Hume of May 2., 1835, Place, after
dealing with the newspaper stamp question, proceeds :
" Then comes the Corporation Bill. Not a line of this Bill
has been penned, nor any plan been brought tinder con-
sideration. About a week hence it will begin to be taken
into consideration, and then come discussions, disputings,
writings, printings, revising, and then the matter must be
considered by another body. Then will commence the
drawing of a Bill to go through the same processes, and by
the end of July it may perchance be in Committee in the
House of Commons. That any Bill on this subject can
pass the House of Commons this session is out of all reason-
able expectation."

Against this passage Place writes a marginal note, dated
June 4, 1835 : "It was found that not to present a Bill as
early as could well be done was a risk Ministers could not
take, so one was drawn by some of the Commissioners and
the Secretary (Parkes), and it is to be presented to-morrow.
It is as good as they who drew it dared to make it. It will
be altered before presented."

On May 1 1 Place had written to Parkes saying : " There
is now a just complaint that no one interests himself as he
ought to do respecting municipal corporations," and enclos-
ing a statement of the " Principles upon which Municipal
Government ought to be founded." Parkes replied by pro-
posing that Place should edit a temporary shilling weekly
to appear during the remainder of the session, and to be
paid for, apparently, out of the party funds.

Place's statement of principles accordingly appeared on
June 5 (the day on which Lord John Russell introduced the
Bill) as part of the prospectus of the Municipal Corpora-
tion Reformer, a paper which was to be "a history of a
political measure second only in importance to the reforma-


tion of Parliament." In the prospectus Place proposes
that each town should be governed by a single council of
thirteen to thirty-one members, elected annually by house-
hold suffrage and the ballot, for single member wards,
without property qualification or privileged aldermen. The
deliberations of these bodies were to be public, and detailed
administration was to be carried out by very small
responsible committees, who should be paid for their work,
membership of the council, as such, being unpaid. The
powers of the councils were to include the control of the
magistrates, police, and gaols, of paving, lighting, water,
markets, bridges, docks, harbours, sewers, &c., the making
of bye-laws, and the administration of all town property and
trusts for hospitals, schools, and charities. In his private
notes for June 1835 he writes that upwards of 60,000
copies of the prospectus of the Municipal Reformer have
been printed and distributed ; l and adds " a goodly mass of
republican notions these." On June 13 the Municipal
Corporation Reformer began to appear. Five numbers
only were published, the reason of this comparative failure
being, according to Place, that the " expected fierce opposi-
tion to the Bill " did not show itself, and that " people
relied on the House of Commons and gave themselves
little trouble about the proceedings." Perhaps the party
contributions to the expense of publishing may have been
checked by such incidents as Place's beginning the first
number with a detailed and damaging comparison in
parallel columns between his own proposals and the
Government Bill, and slipping into it a dig at his old
enemy, the ratepaying clauses of the Reform Bill.

On July 20 the Bill passed the House of Commons
almost unchanged. It soon, however, became clear that

1 See also an article by Place, entitled "The Peers and the People,"
in Roebuck's Pamphlets for the People, August 29, 1835, where the
" principles" are reprinted, and the same statement is made.


Lord Lyndhurst was organising a campaign against it
in the Lords. On August 2 Place writes: "Requested
to attend a meeting at the house of Mr. Parkes. The
Lords are expected to throw out the Corporation Bill. . . .
Wrote letter to Mr. Parkes, dated August 3. Copied by
Mr. Parkes, original sent to Lord Melbourne." l

In this letter he said: "You know that from the first
I did not expect that the Lords would pass the Municipal
Reform Bill. Now I conclude that every reasonable man
is of the same opinion. The Lords reason thus : ' We have
already lost more than one of the means we long possessed
of influencing the House of Commons. ... If we lose the
advantages which accrue to us from close corporations,
if we destroy the affinity between ourselves and these
boroughs, the people will be emboldened to proceed to
much greater lengths, and will gain power continually at
we lose it.' These are arguments which the silliest soul
that ever was a lord could understand, and they are acted
upon by a majority of the House of Lords.- ... It was
fear, not altogether ill-founded, which induced them to
agree to the Parliamentary Reform Bill. They see no
such pressing necessity now. They are not acted upon
by fear to the same extent, and they calculate upon the
imbecility of Ministers. It is this imbecility which I
too fear. If Ministers had obtained a character for
decision and sturdiness, the people would have shown
their determination to support them, and this would
have operated beneficially on the Lords. They are now
rapidly approaching what to them will appear a very
great difficulty, but which to more determined men
would appear to be no difficulty at all. Their course, if

1 Diary, August 1835.

2 Lord Lyndhurst, August 3, 1835, said in the House of Lords, " If
they (the Corporations) fell, the Church would come next, and the
hereditary peerage of the realm afterwards."


they choose to take it, is very simple, and may be de-
scribed in very few words. They must demand of the
King that he should prorogue the Parliament for, say, five
days, and then hold a short session to pass the Bills. If
the King should refuse, the Ministers should at once
resign, and state in the two Houses the reason why. This
would convince the people that there was a body of
men deserving of public confidence, and to them they
would give it most heartily. . . . No Tory administration
could remain in office." l

The second reading in the Lords was carried, but Lord
Lyndhurst and the Tory majority transformed the Bill
beyond all recognition in Committee. Place, who was
confined to his room with sciatica, raged gloriously.
" The Lords," he wrote to Hume, August 30, " have
made a Bill which cannot be amended, a Bill which, how-
ever much it may be tinkered at, can never be made
acceptable to the nation, a Bill that will bring disgrace on
all who in the House of Commons may endeavour to make
it passable. . . . The preamble is quite enough. The
alterations made in the preamble are intentional insults,
and should be treated as such. . . . Collision with the
Lords cannot be avoided. They have placed you in
circumstances in which collision or disgrace, little short
of infamy, must be chosen."

" People," he wrote to Parkes on September 5, " silly,
puling people, aye, and those too who ought to know
better, are talking of ' revolutionary measures.' To oppose
Ministers is to promote violent, bloody revolution, plunder,
rape, and the devil knows what besides. . . . The drivellers,
and yet there is not a damned soul among them who does
not say the Lords must be reorganised. . . . Reorganise,
indeed ; pretty fellows these to be reorganises, they who
take a kick like dogs, wag their tails, and take another
1 Place to Parkes, August 3, 1835.


kick. . . . Aye, aye, say you, but what if Billy [his Majesty

King William IV.] damned and ed his eyes as he

is apt to do, and refused to prorogue? What! why, a
little wholesome agitation like one of those thunder-
storms which purify the air, and do no harm to any one.
. . . Bloody revolution, indeed; no, no, there never can
be such a revolution as long as the people have confidence
hi the House of Commons. If we are ever to have a
bloody revolution, it must be from want of confidence in
the House of Commons."

Peel, in the Commons, refused to support the Lords'
amendments ; a compromise was arranged, and the Bill was

On September 30 Parkes wrote : " We have got on a stage,
and you, old postillion, well know it." "Yes," answered
Place on the same day, "and a good one; but recollect
that this was not the question, never was made the
question by me. The question was, Ought Ministers to
have put up with the kicking the Lords bestowed upon
them ? I say no ; the time was as critical as propitious for
them, and they ought to have turned upon their assailants.
The Lords will not be reformed, not they, but it is good
to make every one see that they must either be reformed
or abolished, that, whenever the time comes, the abolition,
cost what it may, may be perfect."

During the winter of 1835-36 Place worked for two
main objects: the reform of the Corporation of London,
which had been omitted in the Bill of 1835, an d 'the
abolition of the Newspaper Stamp. His diary for
December 1835 says, "Occupied in reading and com-
menting on Municipal Corporation Commissioners' inquiry
respecting London, with a view to obtaining further par-
ticulars, and framing a Bill for the City of London ; " and
for January 1836, "Continue reading, inquiring, and
writing in conjunction with Joseph Fletcher on London


Corporation and the report of the Commissioners (the
proofs only)."

There is no sign that Place ever contemplated the
present unified government of the Metropolis, but side by
side with his work for the reform of the Vestries he had for
years past been preparing for an attack on the City. After
the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832 he refused to attend
the City banquet on the ground that " the whole of the
City government " was " a burlesque on the human under-
standing more contemptible than the most paltry farce
played in a booth at Bartholomew's Fair, and more mis-
chievous than any man living is prepared to believe." l

When his friend Alexander Galloway, engineer and
Common Councillor, protested against his refusal, and
ascribed it to his having listened to hearsay reports, Place
replied : " You know nothing about the information I
have, though you do know I endeavoured to procure
a good deal from you, and that you gave me very little.
You treat the Corporation property as if it were private
property. It is no such thing ; it is public property, only
applicable to public uses. I will say no more now. If
I can get aAvay from Charing Cross I will say what I
think should be said in print." 2

In November 1833, shortly after Parkes' appointment as
Secretary of the Municipal Corporation Commission, Place
wrote to him about " our corrupt, rotting, robbing, in-
famous Corporation of London " and the " Court of
Aldermen, old men no, old women, gossiping, guzzling,
drinking, cheating, old chandlers'-shop women, elected for
life." He then proceeded to propose his own plan of City
Government. He wanted a Common Council, consisting
of twenty-one members, elected by ballot for twenty-one
City wards. "But, says a member of the Common
Council more than one has said so to me what would
1 27,796 (55). 2 Place to A. Galloway, July 1 1, 1832.


you do for Committees ? Why this, make committees
of threes make commissioners pay them reasonably,
but let it be known that they are paid, and how much they
are paid, and report the work they have done for the
money. . . . Give the Mayor 1000 a year at the utmost,
and call him lord if you like it no shows, no parade, no
feasts, no fooleries. Let there be, say, seven aldermen
at 400 a year each, or a smaller sum to pay them for
their magisterial duties." Never was work more com-
pletely wasted than Place's efforts to reform the City.
The mysterious engines of City influences were brought
to bear upon the Government ; the Bill which had been
promised for 1836 never appeared, and the proof report
was never even printed.

Meanwhile the question of the Newspaper Stamp was
becoming so urgent that not even Lord Melbourne's
Government could let it alone. Every month the un-
stamped newspapers increased their sale, and the Govern-
ment increased its severity. Between 1830 and 1836
there were 728 prosecutions for selling unstamped papers,
219 of which were in 1835, and a still larger proportion
in the first two months of I836. 1 Hetherington, the pro-
prietor of the Poor Man's Guardian, was hiding to avoid
arrest; and Cleave, the editor of the unstamped Cleaves
Gazette, was in prison until he could pay .600 penalties,
as well as heavy costs. 2

In January 1836 Place revived a scheme of the year
before for agitation by correspondence against the stamp.
A ground-floor room in Leicester Square was taken, and
there Place's friend, Dr. Black, 3 and a few working-men
volunteers used to spend their evenings addressing

1 Hume's speech at the deputation to Lord Melbourne, February n,
1836. 2 Ibid.

3 Dr James Roberts Black of Kentucky, a cadaverous American,
who had come to London in 1834. He cherished a vague project of


circulars, answering letters, and organising petitions.
" There were no paid clerks, no messengers, no adver-
tising in newspapers, no public meetings, yet a corre-
spondence was opened with very nearly 3000 respectable
persons who were distributed all over the country." l

Roebuck was meanwhile evading the law by publish-
ing a weekly undated pamphlet, written by himself, Place,
and others, which at one time had a sale of io,ooo. 2 On
February 1 1 a deputation saw Lord Melbourne at the
Treasury, and Dr. Birkbeck, Hume, Place, and others
made long speeches against the tax. Place's great fear
was that the Government, with the Whig instinct for
slipshod compromise, would lower the stamp instead of
abolishing it.

On March 1 5 Spring Rice, on behalf of the Government,

Online LibraryGraham WallasThe life of Francis Place, 1771-1854 → online text (page 28 of 39)