The Peterloo Massacre, 16 August 1819, Part II

As the mobilisation towards what would eventually occur on the 16th of August 1819 took place, key figures from the government were poised to prevent and defeat any popular assembly. The radical organisation derived of the Manchester Observer’s staff were headed by newspaper founder Joseph Johnson. Addressing Henry Hunt, radical orator extraordinaire, Johnson wrote a letter to him seeking for him to chair a meeting in Manchester on the 2nd of August. The letter was intercepted by government spies and its content were interpreted as a sign of an impending insurrection in Manchester. The government then dispatched specialist cavalry units to Manchester. The Home Secretary, Henry Hobhouse, viewed the assembly as “seditious,” on account of it pressing for the government to install a parliamentary representative for Manchester, without the King’s direct order.

As wrangling over the legality of the demonstration, and the wording of its intentions, continued, the assembly was further delayed. These delays served to rile public sentiment further. Finally, the assembly was scheduled for the 16th of August and its purpose was outlined as seeking “to consider the propriety of adopting the most legal and effectual means of obtaining a reform in the Common House of Parliament.” As security concerns grew around the assembly, protest leaders were keen to organise an effective march that would garner greater public sentiment for their cause. The assembly’s various contingents were issued orders to maintain “Cleanliness, Sobriety, Order and Peace” and, to that end, were drilled in companies in fields outside of Manchester. The organisers had planned a grand spectacle, taking measures to conform to the law of the land, maintain a decent appearance during the protest and placate all concerns regarding their intentions. However, tragedy was still set to ensue.