Friday, 2 March 2012

Peter Bussey: exiled revolutionary

Peter Bussey was everything the originators of the People’s Charter disliked and feared about the mass of disgruntled and distressed working people who flooded into Chartism.

While the careful and politically astute artisans of the London Working Men’s Association were natural behind-the-scenes influencers of politicians and government, Bussey, a Bradford innkeeper, was blunt, confrontational and had little time for a gradualist approach. 

His approach went down well with a working class suffering from an economic crisis, dispossessed by the increasing mechanisation of mills and factories, excluded from political influence by the 1832 Reform Act, and threatened with the workhouse by the New Poor Law.

A page based on The Charter’s profile of Peter Bussey now appears on Chartist Ancestors. 

As far back as the agitation of 1831 and 1832, Bussey had appeared to see little benefit in compromise, opposing the Reform Bill because of its failure to extend the vote for all rather than supporting it as the best obtainable measure at the time.

By the time the LWMA-friendly Charter newspaper came to profile him as the West Riding’s delegate to the First Chartist Convention of 1839, he was firmly on the physical force wing of Chartism. And when Parliament rejected the great Chartist petition of that year, he was one of those who conspired for a general uprising that would take a swathe of England and Wales from Tyneside to Newport by storm.

When the day came, however, Bussey was nowhere to be found, and as the uprising faltered, he fled to America, where he would remain a political exile for 14 years. 

In the fullness of time and after some hard times in and around New York, Bussey returned to Bradford, where he settled down to raise a family and to run a public house once again. He died in 1869, and his gravestone can still be seen in Farsley churchyard.

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