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British Finances.
The Troubles At Preston[85]

Karl Marx

London, Friday, March 31, 1854

The Income Tax bill has been passed[86]. Sir G. Pakington spoke against it plainly and justly, although in a dull manner, observing that the recent publications of the Blue Books and of the secret and confidential correspondence had thrown quite a new light on the past financial policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr. Gladstone brought in a peace budget on the 18th April, 1853, when he [must] have been quite sure of war being imminent[87]. Three days before he made his statement the Coalition had received from Colonel Rose the information that

"Prince Menchikoff had tried to exact a promise from the Grand Vizier, before he made known to him the nature of his mission and of his demands, that he should make a formal promise that he would not reveal them to the British and French representatives."[a]

They were also aware, by the secret correspondence, of the Emperor's[b] intention to kill the dying man lest he should slip through his fingers[c]. With this information in his hands the unctuous Puseyite[88] comes forward and addresses the House:

"If you will adopt the income tax for seven years, I will only ask you for 7d. in the pound for the first two years; I will ask 6d. in the pound for the next two years; and for the last three years I will only ask 5d. in the pound, and then the income tax will expire."

The income tax, as your readers will remember[d], Mr. Gladstone described as a mighty engine of war that must be got rid of in these times of peace. This he said with the knowledge that war was almost inevitable, and that it would be necessary to double the tax of 7d. in the pound before twelve months had elapsed. It is now 1s. 2d. in the pound. If anybody should tell me that the overscrupulous Chancellor of the Exchequer deluded himself as to the position of affairs, I reply that only last Monday week[e] a fall in the funds occurred, because the stock jobbers said that the publication of the secret papers proved to demonstration that the Czar had determined to, pursue his schemes, and that no trust could be placed in his most positive assertions. The members of the "Cabinet of all the Talents" must be supposed to possess at least equal perspicacity with the members of the Stock Exchange.

At the same time that the Duns Scotus of the Coalition, the Doctor Subtilissimus[89], proposed his financial schemes for the conversion of the funds, and thus prepared, notwithstanding the warnings he received, an emptiness of the Treasury at the very moment of the "catastrophe". The balances in the Exchequer were as follows, in the years named:

1844£6,254,1131847£8,457,6911850[f] £9,[245,676]

By the commencement of 1853 Mr. Gladstone had contrived to reduce it to £4,485,230, and soon there will be no balance at all, as this ingenious financier has to take back the remainder of the South Sea stock[90] at £100, when it can hardly be sold on change at £85.

This financial policy of the Coalition perfectly t[akes up] with their diplomatic policy, which "thanks" the Czar for confiding to them his plans of partition; with their parliamentary policy, which always told the House the contrary of their information in hand; and with their military policy, which forced Omer Pasha to inaction till the Czar had completed his preparations for invasion, which dispatches the troops by steamers and the horses by sail vessels, retains the officers at London, and disembarks soldiers at Constantinople, and thinks fit to occupy neither Odessa nor the Crimea, nor Finland, nor the mouths of the Danube, nor any point threatening the Russians, but Constantinople, of all other places, in order not to crush the Cossack[g], but to teach at this momentous crisis both the Mussulman and the Byzantine priest the occidental law and civil equality.

Notwithstanding the strong opposition of the Irish members, the House seems resolved to proceed with Mr. Chambers's motion, and to appoint a Committee of Inquiry for the practices and household arrangements of the nunneries. The principal plea on which Mr. Chambers's motion intends to be based is the seclusion of girls forcibly held from their natural and legitimate protectors. The middle classes of England shudder at the probability of girls being kidnapped for nunneries, but their justice, shown in a recent case, becomes impotent when girls are kidnapped for satisfying the lust of aristocrats or caprice of cotton lords. Last week a girl of sixteen had been lured away from her parents, enticed into a Lancashire factory, and kept there night and day, made to sleep there, and take her meals there, locked up as in a prison. When her father discovered what had become of his child, he was not allowed to see her, but was driven away from the factory by the police. In this case the Factory law was violated, the law of personal liberty, the law that gives the father the custody of his child under age, the very right of habeas corpus was set at nought. A gross and flagrant case of abduction had been committed. But how did the magistrates act in this case, when the disconsolate father appealed to them for redress? Their answer was: "They could do nothing in the matter."

Mr. Thom. Duncombe presented a petition, signed within 24 hours by above 7,600 inhabitants of the borough of Preston, complaining of the manner in which the laws for the maintenance of peace and order were administered by the local authorities in that borough. He gave notice that he should move for a committee of inquiry into the subject immediately after the Easter recess.

"The agitators of Preston, the great fomentors of the strike—the men who pretended to form a new estate of the realm, and to be the nursing fathers of the Labor Parliament, have at length received a check. Some dozen of them have been arrested and examined before the local magistrates on a charge of conspiracy, released on bail and sent before the Liverpool assizes".[h]

Such are the words in which The Morning Post announces an event[91] which I was prevented from writing about earlier by the pressure of other matter. The charge against the leaders rests upon the fact that the masters had sent to Manchester and induced men to come down to Preston. They were mostly Irishmen. The people met them at the railway station, where they presented a scene of misery and wretchedness. About fifty-four of them were persuaded to go to the Farmer's Arms[i] where they were regaled all day, and, having consented to return, were escorted in the evening to the railway station amidst the exclamations of 15,000 persons. The employers got hold of seven of these people and brought them back to Preston to convict Mr. Cowell and his colleagues of conspiracy. Now, if we consider the [real facts] of the case, there remains no doubt on the question who are the real conspirators.[j]

In 1847 the Preston cotton lords reduced wages on a solemn promise to restore them as soon as trade should have become brisk. In 1853, the year of prosperity, they refused to keep their word. The working men of four mills struck, and were supported by the contributions of the remaining at work. The masters now conspired together that they would lock their mills, and entered each into a £5,000 bond to enforce their conspiracy[92]. The operatives then appealed for support to the other towns of Lancashire, and that support was given. The employers had sent emissaries to persuade and incite the cotton lords of other towns to lock out their hands, and succeeded in their endeavor. Not content with this, a vast subs[cription was] opened among them to counterbalance the [subscription] of the operatives. When they found that all these efforts were of- no avail, they sent their agents far and near to induce laborers and their families, needlewomen, and paupers from the workhouses of England and Ir[eland to come] to Preston. Finding the surplus did not flow in fast enough for their wishes, they tried to provoke the people to a breach of the peace. They aggravated them by their insolence. They forbade meetings in the Marsh, but the people held meetings in Blackstone Edge and other interdicted localities. They introduced one hundred new police, they swore in special constables[93], they turned out the fire-brigade, they kept troops under arms, and went so far as to read the riot act[94] in order to provoke a riot. Such was the conspiracy of the masters [but] they were defeated in each of their attempts. Notwithstanding these facts, an indictment of conspiracy is charged, not against the masters, but against the men. Besides, there is a special case bringing the masters under the law of conspiracy. The men of a certain factory resumed the work. The masters' committee and the men's committee alike called for explanations. The men published a placard to the effect that they had gone to work on condition of payment at a certain rate. The masters' committee threatened proceedings against the master[k] of that mill to recover £5,000 as penalty on a bond given to support the masters' strike. The mill-owner thereupon said something which, being a flat contradiction of men's statement occasioned them all to withdraw. If [making] of this bond of £5,000 was a conspiracy in the terms of the law, the menace to enforce it was still more so. But this is not all. The very indictment of the men's leaders was brought about by a conspiracy committed by the magisterial benches at Preston. According to The Times[l] itself, the magistrates got up evidence, sought for it, brought up their surplus slaves[m] in cabs to their council chamber, dreading the publicity of the town hall, there to arrange their evidence, and there, in the dead of night to pounce on their intended victims.

The expectations of these little Napoleons of Lancashire [were,] however, set at naught by the good sense of the working people, who neither allowed themselves to be provoked into a breach of peace, nor to be frightened into [submission] to the dictates of the Preston parvenus.

A public meeting was held in London on Wednesday night in St. Martin's Hall, Long Acre, for the purpose of affording the working classes of the metropolis an opportunity of expressing their opinion on the conduct of the Preston masters. The following two resolutions were unanimously accepted:

"That the present Lord Chancellor of England, when Baron Rolfe[n], [and] in his capacity of judge, laid down the law thus:

That if there were no other object than to persuade people that it was their interest not to work except for certain wages, and not to work under certain regulations, complied with in a peaceful manner, it was not illegal.

That the operatives of Preston have for a period of thirty weeks been engaged in a contest with their employers, and during the whole of that time have conducted themselves in the most peaceable and orderly manner.

That, notwithstanding these facts, four[o] members of the Operatives' Commit-tee have been committed to take their trial at the present Liverpool Assizes on a charge of conspiracy, although neither violence nor intimidation has been proved or even charged against them.

This meeting is therefore of opinion that the conduct of the manufacturers and magistrates of Preston is reprehensible; that they have been guilty of an unwarrantable assumption of power; that they have destroyed at once the equality of the law and personal freedom; and that such proceedings ought to be condemned by the unanimous voice of the people.

That the sympathy and help of the entire of the working classes of the United Kingdom should be devoted to the vindication of justice and the maintenance of right. This meeting, therefore, pledges itself to an extraordinary and continuous support of the Preston operatives in their present trying position, and earnestly exhorts all who have an interest in the elevation of labour to join with them in supporting its best interests."[p]

[The] London press generally condemn the proceedings [of the] Preston masters, not from any sense of justice but [from fear] of the probable results. They apprehend that [the] working classes will now understand that the indivi[dual] capitalist who oppresses them is backed by the whole machinery [of state], and that in order to hit the former they [must] deal with the latter.

Written on March 31, 1854
First published in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 929, April 21, 1854
Signed: Karl Marx


[a] G. Pakington's speech in the House of Commons on March 30, 1854. The Times, No. 21703, March 31, 1854.—Ed.

[b] Nicholas I.—Ed.

[c] See this volume, p. 77.—Ed.

[d] Marx, "Feargus O'Connor.—Ministerial Defeats.—The Budget" (present edition, Vol. 12).—Ed.

[e] March 20, 1854.—Ed.

[f] The figures are taken from Pakington's speech published in The Times, No. 21703, March 31, 1854.—Ed.

[g] Nicholas I.—Ed.

[h] "The Week", The Morning Post, No. 25033, March 27, 1854.—Ed.

[i] The premises of the workers' committee during the Preston weavers' strike.—Ed.

[j] Below Marx uses data from E. Jones' article "The Cotton Law of Preston. Who Are the Real Conspirators?", The People's Paper, No. 99, March 25, 1854.—Ed.

[k] John Swainson.—Ed.

[l] "The Wages' Movement", The Times, No. 21694, March 21, 1854.—Ed.

[m] Recruited workers.—Ed.

[n] Rolfe, Robert Monsey, Baron Cranworth.—Ed.

[o] The People's Paper has "eleven".—Ed.

[p] The resolution is given according to the article "Prosecution of the Lancashire Leaders" (The People's Paper, No. 100, April 1, 1854). The People's Paper for April 1, 1854 came out in the evening of March 31 as was then the custom and was used by Marx for this article.—Ed.

[85] The 'dispatch of this article to New York is entered in the Notebook as "Freitag. 31. März. Allerlei, Income tax, Mr. Baines, Wash. Wilks. Preston". The Tribune editors omitted the part of Marx's article which contained a critical analysis of the book by a radical English author, Washington Wilks, Palmerston in Three Epochs: a Comparison of Facts with Opinions, London, 1854. An idea of, Marx's critical remarks on this book can be formed from his letter to Engels dated April 4, 1854 (see present edition, Vol. 39).

The only available photocopy of the newspaper is very poor.

[86] The reference is to Gladstone's proposal to double the rate of income tax for six months in view of Britain's forthcoming entry into the Crimean war. On March 27, 1854 Britain declared war on Russia, and on March 30, after the third reading, the Income Tax Bill was passed.

[87] For a detailed description of the budget proposed by Gladstone on April 18, 1853 see Marx's articles "Feargus O'Connor.—Ministerial Defeats.—The Budget", "L.S.D., or Class Budgets, and Who's Relieved by Them", "Riot at Constantinople.—German Table Moving.—The Budget", "Soap for the People, a Sop for The Times.—The Coalition Budget" (present edition, Vol. 12).

[88] Marx refers to Gladstone who adhered to Puseyism—a trend in the Anglican Church from the 1830s to the 1860s named after one of its founders, Edward Pusey, an Oxford University theologian. He advocated the restoration of Catholic rites and certain dogmas in the Anglican Church. Stressing Gladstone's sanctimoniousness and hypocrisy, Marx often called him "unctuous" (see, for instance, present edition, Vol. 12, p. 72). Below Marx quotes Gladstone according to Pakington (The Times of March 31, 1854).

[89] Marx plays on the name "Doctor Subtilis" given to the medieval scholastic philosopher Duns Scotus.

[90] The South Sea Company was founded in England about 1712, officially for trade with South America and the Pacific islands. The Company received from the Government a number of privileges and monopoly rights, in particular the right to issue securities, and plunged into large-scale speculation which led to its bankruptcy in 1720 and the growth of the national debt. In compliance with the draft financial reform of 1853 Gladstone proposed to reduce the interest on the Company's stocks from 3 to 2¾ per cent.

[91] This refers to an event during one of the biggest strikes of English workers at the time. In August 1853 the weavers and spinners at the cotton mills in Preston and its environs went on strike demanding a 10 per cent wage increase. They were supported by workers of other trades. The Associated Masters responded with a lock-out in September 1853. About 25,000 out of the 30,000 Preston workers were out of work, but assistance by workers of other towns allowed the Preston workers to hold out for more than 36 weeks. The lock-out ended in February 1854, but the strike continued. To frustrate it the Associated Masters brought in workers from Ireland and from English workhouses. On the course and importance of the strike see present edition, Vol. 12, and this volume, pp. 200 and 664-65.

The strike ended in May 1854.

[92] The Associated Masters of Preston binds each of its members by a bond to obey all orders passed by a majority of its members, failing in which an offending master is liable to a penalty of £5,000.

[93] Special constables—volunteers who perform police duties in their spare time.

[94] The Riot Act—an act for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing of the rioters. If an unlawful assembly of twelve or more persons was ordered by a magistrate to disperse and did not do so within one hour, the magistrate could give the order to open fire. It was introduced in Parliament in 1714 and passed in 1715.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.117-122), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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