The Union Societies, Peterloo, and the Scottish Radicals
In the three years after Pentrich the trends and tendencies of the previous thirty reached their climax. The reformers demonstrated beyond doubt their capacity to create and lead, if only for a short time, a popular movement which sought remedies for multifarious economic discontents in the reform of parliament. Those in authority demonstrated yet again their unwillingness to accommodate this movement and their misunderstanding of the aims and the methods of their critics. And those who were the targets of government repression demonstrated once more that revolution is attempted when reform movements are stifled. The years 1817–20 followed a familiar, almost predictable, pattern, but it was the last time the pattern would appear. Future governments would never again adopt quite such negative and short-sighted policies and reformers in the future would never again be driven to insurrection by the total frustration that had confronted their predecessors. Nor would the cause of political reform retain the popular allegiance that it appeared to have in 1819 as the grand panacea for all discontents; the working classes would identify all kinds of legitimate aspirations requiring satisfaction, and campaigning for the franchise would be only one, and not necessarily the most important, activity to occupy their attentions and energies in the future.
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