Tollgate Grievance Is Only the Half of It, Says Columnist

In its issue, the Monmouthshire Merlin editorialized about the grievances it felt were at the root of the Rebeccaite uprising:

The State of South Wales.

The events at Carmarthen, the riotous movements generally, and the disaffected state of the public mind over parts of South Wales, confirm the lamentable predictions we have thought it our duty from time to time to put forth, touching the alarming state of this district, as well as the deep-rooted causes of the turbulence and distress.

We say it advisedly that the present outbreak is no mere surface agitation, caused by the efforts of a few demagogues, but a fixed, serious, and general feeling of despair and hostility towards the Government and the governing classes who have brought on such a state of things.

Truly the Conservative Government has much to answer for. No well-disposed peaceable man would be willing to change places with Sir Robert Peel at the present moment — with the minister whose policy has given rise to such general disturbances, and who has the task of setting all these matters to rights. We shall speak our minds freely on this subject. Toll-bar gates inconvenient as they are,

“Onward as we roll,
Surgit amari aliquid — the toll,”

and poor-law bastilles as they are rhetorically designated, oppressive and harsh as they may be, are not the sole causes of Rebecca tumults and midnight assemblages. Destitution, fixed and hopeless, is the main cause.

Rack-rents, low-prices, unabated land charges and taxes, increased poor-rates, insecurity of tenure, disjunction between master-farmer and his labourers, no good old fashioned patriarchal bond of union between them, subsisting from year to year, undisturbed, ere cash-payment formed the sole bond between man and man; these, and the system of hiring by the week, wretched, alienated, agricultural labourers, careless what becomes of them and their families, after the Saturday night’s wages have discharged the debt to them, are a few of the causes of the agrarian outrages. On the other hand, the total stagnation, we may almost say, annihilation of the iron trade, has reduced our town and mining populations, who are mutually dependent on each other, to the verge of ruin, and thrown the wild and reckless into the ranks of the disaffected.

If it be answered that in tracing this gloomy picture, we are adverting to causes over which Sir Robert Peel has no control, and that we are culpable in ascribing to him a state of social distress remediable by no legislation; we distinctly deny the inference.

In the first place he has kept up the corn-laws, so that the landlords have a ground for not lowering their rents, and at the same time he has taken away the people’s only chance of becoming consumers, by strangling their trade with foreign countries. — He has laid an export duty on coal, which has diminished its consumption. He has rejected all offers of a free trade with America, and so cut off a commerce of 100,000 tons of iron, inflicting upon the unfortunate miners a blow which, coupled with the increased production and competition of the Scotch iron districts, has literally extinguished them.

His policy has thus thrown numbers of men out of employment, and decreased the amount of agricultural produce required, whilst the tithes which have been very generally commuted, under the late Tithe Commutation Act, and which were calculated on the former price of agricultural produce, now remain a fixed burden on the land; the price of produce has decreased one third and sometimes one half, whilst rents have not fallen in any degree whatever. Rumours indeed have reached us of reductions in rents, but in almost all instances, the farms had previously been held at rack rents. The reduction was merely nominal, and afforded no relief to the tenants. In point of fact, the landlords cannot afford it — they are deeply mortgaged.

The people of Wales, if the present state of things lasts, will, we fear, be reduced to live on as low a species of food as the Irish — indeed that they will ultimately be brought to this state, can scarcely be doubted, if the policy of our rulers be not speedily changed.

The times require a government and measures to set them to rights, very different from what they have found. If Parliament, with its strong majority of a hundred upholders of monopoly, sit still, passing Townshend Peerage Bills, and Princes Augusta Annuity Bills, and Irish Arms Bills, and declaring that all its resources are exhausted — that its wisdom can devise no further cure for the national paralysis — if Sir James Graham’s conciliation is at an end, and Lord Aberdeen’s toleration for the Scottish church is vanished; if Sir Robert Peel, or even Lord Palmerston declare it “impossible” to prevent nine thousand landlords from screwing three pounds per acre out of three or four millions of potatoe-fed Irish peasantry, if the principality with its hardy, fierce, and reckless population of miners and colliers, be driven to resort to Rebecca riots, and midnight legislation, we may deplore the consequences but cannot stultify ourselves by saying that these were either unforeseen or unavoidable.

So long as the Whigs were in office, it is wonderful what trifling measures of reform served to keep the people quiet, so long as the least thing was done or proposed that had the look of progress, if they were doing something in short — hope kept the masses in order. But now that the call of halt! has been heard, and it is felt that “if nothing was done last year, less will be done this,” the measure of their patience is well nigh exhausted, and the minister must be content to rule by the expedient of military coercion, or march with the age towards some better state of things. That he may chose the wiser and the better course, is our sincere wish.

Ere closing these few remarks, we would give one word of advice to the working classes — advice the spirit of which it is the duty of journalists, who watch over the rights and interests of the people, at this crisis, particularly and emphatically to promulge. Let them seek redress only by constitutional means: physical force movements are always unsuccessful in this country, and frequently ruin the best cause — outbreaks are easily crushed by the law — thousands of Rebeccaite rioters were put to terror-stricken flight by a handful of fatigued soldiers, and events nearer home not many years ago, to which we shall not more particularly allude, showed the madness of a rebellious appeal to arms. Let the people shun as they would a person cursed with a plague spot, him that would counsel them to revolt. Let them petition (and they have seen that petitions are sometimes effective) for the repeal of laws destructive to trade; let them make common cause with their embarrassed employers in constitutional efforts against the monopolist policy of our rulers, and let them remember when the time of Parliamentary elections arrives, who have been the friends and who the oppressors of the people.