Rebecca Riots Are a Slave Revolt, Says Merlin Editor

An editorial from in the Monmouthshire Merlin claimed that the state of economic inequality in Wales made the Rebecca Riots the equivalent of a slave revolt:

The accounts which we have received of the spread of Rebeccaism in Radnorshire, and the formidable and systematic manner in which the rioters set about their proceedings, in levelling toll-bars and gates, and defying the constabulary force openly, with arms in their hands, prove that the social disorder is too deeply rooted to be eradicated by the various means of relief or repression, which the gentry and the government have ordained. The blindest will now see that in spite of all pretensions and plausible representations, our physicians have carefully abstained from cutting down to the root of the matter.

Emollients, or even cauteries, are ineffectual when the complaint is not local, but pervades the body politic.

Solomon has told us, “the destruction of a people is their poverty,” and truly we may say the malady of Wales is her physical want and wretchedness.

It cannot be said that the people here are characterised by any ineradicable vice or incurable turbulence of disposition; on the contrary, a more quiet, primitive, docile, vegetating set of people, if we may be allowed the expression, than the Welsh cannot be named in the limits of Great Britain: but, even the patient ox may be goaded into fury, and the most quiet and tractable of races may be driven to desperation by grinding task masters, oppressive taxation, and a general and insuperable difficulty of living, because too large a proportion of the produce of the soil goes to the owners, and too small a proportion to the occupiers, as compared with what is just and humane in itself, or the practice in other well-regulated societies. Less violent in degree, but equally anarchical in reality as the revolution of St. Domingo, we have now a servile insurrection, slowly spreading from county to county, uncured and incurable, silently, eating like a cancer into the bowels of the land, although all without looks smiling in florid health and prosperity. If this state of things continue much longer, we shall have a smouldering flame of discontent burning on, and ready to spring up into a blazing fire, whenever any commotion agitates the country. Property will diminish in value; rents will cease to be paid except they are collected by force. Welsh estates will become as unsaleable as Irish ones, and Carmarthen and Radnor become in the same category as that famed county, Tipperary.

Amidst all this confusion and elements of disorganisation, what steps do the government take to right the wrongs — to ameliorate the condition of the people, and thus stop the turbulence that springs from poverty?

In answer to this question we have to repeat our former observation, that they have done nothing to the point. First of all they sent down that dignified and solemn gentleman, Mr. Maule, of the Treasury, who, on the night, after obtaining the committal of a whole family of Morgans and others of Bolgoed fame, found the gates of Swansea broken down almost within his ear’s reach. Then came a Bow-street magistrate to find out the rioters, foolishly mistaking a social insurrection of the lower orders against the upper classes, and their treatment and social government, for a country fair disturbance or a colliers’ strike.

Their respectable envoy, either finding the task above his commission, or not being in the habit of making general inferences from particular facts, made his report and returned as wise as he came.

Horse and foot, the ultima ratio of all bewildered governments, were next poured into the country and kept in a state of perpetual motion, until the very drummer boys began to detest the degrading employment, as much as still-hunting in Ireland. Boards of fussy road trustees, magistrates, clerks, toll-collectors, et id genus omne, assembled at the same time to institute enquiries into grievances lying under their very noses, being shamed into the appearance of doing something, by public opinion, and not a few county meetings headed by lord-lieutenants, who professed the most innocent amazement at such violent goings-on, were called, for the purpose of giving vent to a little doleful oratory; many professions of sympathy, and a fixed resolution to do everything to lessen the hardships of the farmer’s lot, except lowering his rent.

At the same time the government, after having been baffled for many months in every attempt to seize a single Rebeccaite, at length, by an unlooked for stroke of fortune, obtained, at one fell swoop, a sufficient supply of suspected rioters to warrant the issue of a pompous commission to try what effect the terrors of the law would have upon the misguided people of Wales, conjoining it with the special commission of enquiry into the condition of the inhabitants generally. In the case of the rioters they obtained convictions as they desired, and as Gulliver remarks, that whenever a government begins to talk of its great clemency and mercy, its subjects may look out for some deed of dreadful note or execution, so, the people were prepared for the very harsh sentences passed upon the prisoners by the pompous flourishes in the ministerial papers of the happy severity, tempered with mercy, which characterised the court and the crown prosecutor.

An hypocritical gaudeamus was then sang over the whole business, and the world was given to understand, that government by its wonderful talents and policy had given the death blow to Rebeccaism and extinguished it for ever. No sooner had the echo of this cock-crowing died away, than it was found to be somewhat premature, by the fact that the people of Wales were as turbulent as ever; that toll-bars and gates were smashed as boldly and unsparingly as before, and that the people were not intimidated by the verdicts obtained against the Hughes’ and the Morgans.

Incendiarism also commenced in certain quarters, and a whole county hitherto free of the disturbances is now convulsed to its centre. Notwithstanding the glorious laurels achieved in the never to be forgotten victory of Captain Napier over the old woman with the saucepan and cleaver, and the imperishable fame of Pontardulais gate, the insurrection makes head a new.

If the hesitation of government spring from a conviction that the course which they have previously taken is of no avail — if it be founded on the belief that measures of commercial and trading freedom must be speedily adopted to relieve the depressed employers of the working classes, and the farmers of Wales — that the commission now sitting will bring to light such a mass of facts, as to prove the absolute necessity of proceeding with legislative measures to rectify the relative position of landlord and tenant, as the commission for Ireland is now attempting to settle; then we indeed say Wales may hope for some good.

How happy shall we be to hail, in the Merlin, the result of Mr. Frankland Lewis’s commission of enquiry, measures to revive trade, long leases to tenants, a diminution of local taxation, an abatement of rents, and a means of employment for the surplus population! Up with justice to Wales, and down with Rebeccaism.

On the trustees of what the headline calls “the Main Trust” met. Among the items on the agenda:

Mr. Bullin, toll-contractor, presented his bill for the loss he had sustained in this trust, in consequence of the “Rebecca” outrages. He had added the whole amount of the receipts together, and compared them with those of the previous year. He found the deficiency in the present year amounted to 314l. 12s. 4d., and he claimed that this sum, therefore, be allowed him. The Chairman was of opinion that this was not a fair method of making the calculation, and that the more proper course would be for Mr. B. to have stated the length of time that the gates were down, and no tolls taken; then to have ascertained the amount taken during the same periods in the former year, and to have claimed this sum in compensation for his loss. So few trustees being present, the matter was left over to the next meeting, which will be held on .