Livesey autobiography — chapter 10

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I now pass from the press to the platform. This has been from the carpeted stage of a theatre to a table, a chair, a cart, the fishstones, a gravestone, or an elevated sod. I have never disliked the “stumping” expedient where any good could be done. And observing at the present time the sort of meetings that lords and squires are holding to forward their own electioneering interests, our teetotalers never need be ashamed of standing up in the field or in the market place, or anywhere to plead the cause of temperance. My platform labours nave been chiefly in connection with this movement, ranging over full 36 years, though at times I have spoken and given lectures on other topics. I remember the titles of some of them: —”Health and Happiness,” “Cottage Economy,” “Hydropathy,” “Forty years ago,” &c. I should have been asked oftener to lecture for our public institutions, but the parties were afraid of my introducing too much teetotalism into them. One of my clerical correspondents after reading some of these papers, writes, “You have been a man of war from your youth.” If so, I am glad to say the weapons of my warfare have been bloodless, and I trust generally calculated to produce peace and good-will among men. Wrong, oppression, corruption, would at any time bring me out to contend against them. If my friend had said “You have been an agitator from your youth,” he would not have been far from the truth; though not so much a political as a social agitator, for in meddling with the former it was under a conviction that the welfare of the masses would be benefited by it. No one in Preston laboured harder than I did to promote the carrying of the Reform Bill in 1832. Turning to the Preston Chronicle of that year, I find reports of our meetings in the Orchard, and of the speeches delivered by myself, and by the late Mr. Segar, barrister, and Mr. R. Ascroft. I had been a witness of and to some extent a sharer in the sufferings which the people of England endured from the peace of 1815 to the above period, under the corn laws and the reign of protection; and I hoped that a reformed Parliament would give us free trade, and other measures that would relieve and pacify the country. Nobody wrote more strongly on this subject than I did in my Moral Reformer. I seem at present to have little taste for politics, but during my earlier career I was always at my post supporting the Liberal party. [The strange death of theLibera Party] I have witnessed many hardly contested elections in Preston, and taken part in a few; but unless they could be contested with greater purity and less violence, it would be difficult to persuade me to do the same again. Our borough had the singular privilege of “universal suffrage;” every man of 21 years of age with a six months residence, unless a pauper, had a right to vote; hence the constituency was always large in proportion to the population. Violence and rioting were seldom wanting, and bribery and corruption were rampant. Mr. Dobson, in his “History of the Elections of Preston,” examined the bills of three of the elections of “Horrocks and Hornby,” held in 1812, 1818, and 1820. In the first, for polling 1,379 votes, the expenses on their side only, were £5,671 17s. 6d. There were 56 public house bills amounting to £3,807 13s. 7d.! The expenses of the next election exceeded this, and the public-house bills amounted to £4,111 4s. 7d. The next in 1820, was still more severe, and the expenses of the one party amounted to £11,559 12s. 8d., the public-house bills being £8,203 19s. 4d.! There seems to be no record of the expenses of the opposing party, but at this last election it was stated that Mr. Williams’s (the opposition candidate) expenses were £6,000. It will be seen that the publicans at that period, as at present, came in for the lion’s share of the prey. Such was the corruption that, without “open houses” as they were called, it was difficult to get on in electioneering. The polling at that time lasted 15 days; it was subsequently reduced to eight, and by the Reform Bill to two, and since to only one—quite long enough unless the people and their patrons could learn to behave better and be more honest. At “Wood’s election,” as it is called, in 1826, I rendered considerable help in securing his return. His representation of Preston secured him the appointment of Recorder for York. He afterwards became chairman of Stamps and Taxes, and subsequently chairman of the Inland Revenue Department. At one of the elections (I think it was in 1830) when the Hon. E. G. Stanley, the present Earl of Derby, was a candidate, I remember his addressing the crowd from one of the Bull windows, and I replied to him from one of the Red Lion windows nearly opposite. I had not spoken long before half a brick, thrown by some one in the crowd, caught the window frame where I was speaking. On some of these occasions “bludgeon men” were organised and trained to do the fighting; and I have seen, by the entrance of a party of this class, the Area of the Exchange, containing perhaps 4,000 people, cleared in a few minutes. We had both Cobbett and Hunt as candidates in our borough, and the defeat of Stanley, (the present Earl of Derby) by the latter, was a very remarkable event, though by no means the result of fair play. The races were abandoned, the Cock-pit closed, subscriptions were withdrawn, and the family mansion was levelled to the ground. I assisted at several of the subsequent elections, and at none with more devotion and energy than at that in 1841, when free trade and the repeal of the corn laws were the great questions. At this contest we returned “Fleetwood and Strickland,” in opposition to “Parker and Swainson,” (the present R. T. Parker, Esq., of Cuerden Hall). There are many who will still remember the election cry of “sour pie,” raised to show the evil of high sugar duties, which our protectionist candidates defended. Mysons, William and John, were also warm electioneerers, and the success of more than one contest was, in no small measure, owing to their exertions. I always viewed the repeal of the corn laws as a question of humanity, and besides agitating at Preston, I visited Lancaster, and spent nearly a fortnight at Walsall. At “Crawford’s election” in 1837, by speaking from the windows in the rain, I caught a severe cold and was laid up of rheumatic fever nearly two months. At these elections, I often felt much mortified at being mixed up with persons whose practices were anything but reputable, a course I never could undertake again; and yet it is difficult to say, according to the present system, how measures for the welfare of the nation are to be carried if persons of character and influence keep aloof from these contests.

Always a friend of religious equality, I disapproved of Church rates and Easter dues. I cannot recollect that I ever paid either. On these points I adhered to the opinion of the Quakers, that it was better to suffer as a protest against what I considered quite as injurious to the Church itself as unjust to those who never required its services. And it is some consolation to know that the principles I so long advocated, have been recognised by the legislature; for even in the case of Easter dues it has recently been decided that in Preston the payment cannot be legally enforced. I could never see the justice of a minister of religion having the power to lay a tax upon every family in his parish; charging the poor widow as much as the richest lady, and all independent of any services rendered or required. An Anti-Easter Dues Association was formed to resist this demand. Notices were followed by summonses, and summonses by warrants, and warrants on different occasions by seizure of goods. At one of these distraints made upon seven householders whose goods and furniture were taken, two cheese weighing 51lbs. were taken from our warehouse, for a demand upon me for 6½d. The sale of all the articles was advertised to take place at the Obelisk in the Market Place. Great excitement prevailed, and on this occasion some thousands of people were present. The cheese, chairs, bedding, &c, were brought out under the protection of the police; the hour arrived and passed, but no one appeared to sell, the auctioneer who had been engaged, having proved faint-hearted. I addressed the people in the meantime from the Obelisk, and I confess that I felt thankful after that a riot had not taken place. The goods could not be sold in Preston, and after being kept for a long time, were sent to Liverpool to be disposed of. On the occasion of another seizure, my cheese taken for Easter dues were sold on the lockup steps, without opposition. Finding that it was of no use contending with me, and that I preferred suffering to paying, and that my refusal only brought on agitation, I was let alone, and I should say, for more than 20 years, no compulsory proceedings have been taken. I have no doubt many good Church people see now, how impolitic it has been to sustain their religion by such means, and for which no defence could ever be made, beyond this, that “it was the law.”

It would be difficult for me to enumerate all the smaller matters in which I have been engaged generally as a speaker. Having always had a fair amount of self-possession, and a tolerable facility for speaking in public, my help was often solicited; and considering the good feeling that I find existing towards me, even by parties that I have had occasion to oppose, it is evident that however they may have disapproved of my actions, they have given me credit for having been uninfluenced by bad motives.

One of my last efforts for the public good has been well spoken of by all. The suspension of the Preston Bank in July, 1866, will be well remembered. No hope of its resuscitation seemed to be entertained by any one for some time. I believe I was the first to express a belief that it could be done. Repeated meetings of the shareholders were held at which I was appointed chairman; and gradually they became hopeful that the catastrophe of a winding-up,—with all the distress and misery to families and tradesmen and the town, which were sure to follow,—might be averted. I never felt the importance of making a desperate effort so much as I did on this occasion, though I was only the holder of five shares myself. Without going into particulars, for some weeks I gave myself wholly to this business. Meetings of depositors were called at different towns. I attended and spoke at them all; I was at three in one day—at Lytham, Blackpool, and Fleetwood. Under the advice of Mr. D. Chadwick, of Manchester, and with the assistance of Mr. E. Ascroft, and other friends and shareholders, arrangements were satisfactorily made with the creditors, all of whom are now paid, and the bank put upon a footing which, with proper management, cannot fail to be prosperous. At its resuscitation I was pressed to become one of the directors; and at the end of two years’ service, contrary to my strong desire, I have just been re-elected for three more years. In looking back upon this successful affair, my satisfaction seems only equal to the gratitude of my townsmen. And what deserves to be remarked is, that with this additional duty, and the getting out of the Staunch Teetotaler, both occurring at the same time, my health during these last two years seems better than it was before.

All the time I have been writing these papers, I have felt it disagreeable to be speaking so much of myself; but if some of my readers, especially the young men, should be induced by my example to forego their own ease and pleasure, and devote their time and talents and means, in any enlarged measure, to the public good, I shall feel well rewarded.

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