Luddites Gain Support
by Jeff Provine
says: what if the York Special Commission had found the Luddites not
guilty of industrial sabotage? muses Jeff Provine's on his excellent blog
This Day in
Alternate History. Please note that the opinions expressed in this post
do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).
On January 2nd 1813,
Please click the
icon to follow us on Squidoo.in a surprise reversal, the Special
Commission at York granted reprieves to the Luddites who had destroyed
several looms and spinning mules, committed lesser crimes of theft, and
conspired to spread violence.
Times in Britain were chaotic and desperate, not just from the blossoming
Industrial Revolution and the reprisals from the Luddites, but also from
the ongoing Napoleonic Wars where the French l'Empereur had just stormed
Russia with his Grande Armee. The complex times called for swift action
with the people.
Until this point, the government had been heavy-handed in its treatment of
the working class. Inventions and modernizations were improving machines
so that one man could do the work of a dozen. The textile industry
received the greatest forward push using water power to drive looms with
complex machinations replacing the skilled labor of years of guiding
warps. Unemployment became widespread, and the cottage industry was
overwhelmed by cheap manufactures. Desperate in these difficult economic
times, the unemployed struck back, destroying industry and writing
pamphlets signed by "King Ludd", a cartoon figure based on Ned Ludd, a man
who had been whipped for idleness and destroyed two frames in a fit of
passion in 1779.
After widespread destruction of some 200 frames and nearly militaristic
uprising by the Luddites, the Frame Breaking Act was passed in 1812,
making destruction of a capital offense. Twelve thousand troops moved into
Yorkshire and the surrounding North to restore order. A commission was
installed to study the situation and root out the leaders with the plan of
executing them as examples and solidifying productivity for the region and
contribution to the war effort. However, as the commission followed the
stories of the poor, they resolved that different measures must be taken
to protect a way of life.
Excerpts from the sentencing explain the view of protectionism, "You, the
other prisoners, James Haigh, Jonathan Dean, John Ogden, Thomas Brook, and
John Walker, have been victim of one of the greatest outrages that ever
was committed in a civilized country". Civilization itself was the
outrage, placing productivity over humanity. Rather than punish the men
for defending their livelihoods, the commission pushed for the government
to support its people.
The Act called for their execution, but the commission instead sentenced
them to labor, the lack thereof had been the problem in the first case.
"Hear the sentence which the Laws of man pronounce upon your crimes. The
sentence of the Law is, and this Court doth adjudge, That you, the several
Prisoners at the bar, be taken from hence to a place where you may retake
your pursuits in industry". The commission recommended to Parliament that
taxation on textiles be invoked to support the less fortunate. Under
social pressure and promises for military support, Parliament conceded.
Thus the Industrial Revolution in Britain became a model for other nations
in progressive support for those who would be pushed to the periphery as
society climbed to new heights. Taxation slowed potential progress by
yoking monetary gain, but the funding became available for education for
young and welfare for those economically displaced. Enormous public debts
would routinely cause economic crises, but general welfare would continue.
After Napoleon's 1814 defeat, exile to Elba, and return in 1815, money for
military uniforms and weapons was too tight to supply the soldiers needed
for a quick defeat of the upstart at Waterloo or even Antwerp. The
Lowlands Campaign dragged on for two years before Napoleon's death in
battle after effectively destroying Prussian military prowess. Still,
Europe would recover, and Britain would come to the forefront of progress
over the course of the nineteenth century with such advances as the
successes of Chartism in the 1840s and implementation of railways in the
says in reality the York Special Commission found the men guilty of
industrial sabotage and executed them. The movement for the rights of
workers would be set back decades, even the 1838 Chartist movement failing
on many of its points that would not be fully met until WWI. Built upon the
backs of workers, industry surged ahead, establishing widespread growth in
GDP and luxury goods for the poor as had never before been seen in history.
National achievements such as defeating Napoleon and establishing public
steam railways as early as 1825 would become landmarks of the
ever-accelerating Industrial Revolution. To view guest historian's comments
on this post please visit the
Today in Alternate History web site.
Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of
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