1832 Reform Act: Parliament met on the 3rd February 1831, and on the 1st March, Lord John Russell brought forward his measure of Parliamentary Reform. The whole country was roused by this proposal. Shoals of petitions were sent in from all quarters; political unions were formed. A monster meeting was held in the King's Park, Edinburgh, at which I was present as a spectator, when enthusiastic resolutions were unanimously carried. At the close of the University Classes at the end of April, 1831, I returned to Haddington, where I found the same excitement prevailing about the Bill.
Leeds Times:In 1838 I received a letter which had an important influence on my future career. It was from Mr. Bingley, reporter for the Leeds Times, and was written on behalf of Mr.Hobson, the proprietor of that newspaper. The letter was to the effect: that the prosperity of the Leeds Times had not continued since the death of Robert Nicoll (the previous editor); that the circulation had fallen off, partly through the competition of the Chartist organ, the Northern Star, conducted by Feargus O'Connor; and that, though Charles Hooton (present editor) was a most able man, he had somehow not entered freely into the political movements of the neighbourhood, and that, in short, he was about to leave, and Mr. Hobson wished to replace him with another Scotsman.
Chartism: I became Honorary Secretary of the Leeds Parliamentary Reform Association. We felt that we needed to infuse some new blood into Parliament by the extension of the franchise. The ten pound suffrage introduced by the Reform Bill had only enfranchised the middle classes. Why not extend the suffrage to the industrious people - the working people. For instance, it was shown that twenty-five small boroughs, of no importance whatever, sent fifty members to Parliament, whilst Leeds, with 20,000 more population than all these boroughs combined, sent only two.
Physical Force Chartism: I went to the public meeting held in New Palace Yard, on the 17th September, 1838. The object was to petition Parliament in favour of the People's Charter. The chief speaker was Feargus O'Connor, who was loud and mouthering. Richardson, his disciple also spoke. The proceedings were marred by the physical force swagger of some of the speakers. I did not much admire the London crowd. They seemed loafers and idlers, not working men.
In 1839 the working people suffered much. Towards the close of the year, at least 10,000 persons were out of employment in the burgh of Leeds. Though the people complained, they did not riot. It was different elsewhere. There were riots at Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, and other places. At Newport, in Wales, a Chartist insurrection took place, which ended in the capture of John Frost and a number of rioters. At Bradford, men openly practised with pikes and firearms. Sixteen of them were apprehended by the police, and were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. Feargus O'Connor himself was sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment for inciting to insurrection and plunder in the Northern Star.
Joseph Hume: From the time he took his seat in Parliament, down to the year 1841, when he offered himself to the Leeds constituency, Joseph Hume distinguished himself by his indefatigable industry. There is scarcely a page of the parliamentary register which does not contain some record of his sayings and doings. In the finances, the revenue, the excise, the public accounts, the army and navy, the representation of the people, the removal of religious disabilities, he was always at work. He was the most regular attender, the most consistent voter, the most laborious investigator, the most active and useful member, perhaps, who ever sat in Parliament.
Co-operative Movement: Leeds, like other large towns, had a Socialist Hall. It was afterwards taken by the Mechanics Institute. But when I first knew it, the place was used for Socialist meetings and lectures. I went there occasionally to see what was done and said. The body had preachers or lecturers who could talk cleverly and well. Tome Paine was the writer most quoted. But unfortunately, they mixed up a great deal of atheism with their views on co-operation. It was not until the Revs. Charles Kingsley, Frederick Denison Maurice and Edward Larken, developed the practice of Christian Socialism that the co-operators were dragged out of this frightful pit.
Robert Owen had been the beginner of the movement. He held that in the competitive system was found the root of all the miseries of society. The metaphysics of Socialism was comprised in the maxim that character is formed for, not by, the individual; and that society may so arrange "circumstances" as to produce whatever character it pleases.
There efforts in co-operation were successful. Some of the members started an Operative Land and Building Society, others a Redemption Society. They bought land, erected dwellings, built mills, and by clubbing their means, began to manufacture, and to grind corn for themselves. Such associations were conducted under the provisions of the Friendly Societies Act, and many of them proved very successful.