Subversive Historian – 04/21/09

The Tolpuddle Martyrs Demonstration

Back in the day on April 21st, 1834, a massive demonstration by thirty-five unions in Britain marched in defense of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. One month prior to the major protest that took place exactly one hundred and seventy-five years ago, six impoverished farm workers had been convicted in a blatantly unfair trial. Their supposed crime had been the trumped up charge of swearing an illegal oath when all that the men from Tolpuddle had really done was organize the “Friendly Society of Agricultural Laborers” to combat starvation wages. Nevertheless, after a two-day trial they were found guilty and banished to a penal colony in Australia for a seven-year sentence. Moved by the tremendous injustice, the massive demonstration for the Tolpuddle Martyrs presented a petition with 200,000 signatures demanding their return.

Prime Minister Lord Melbourne refused to accept it, but the six men were eventually granted a pardon years later and their actions inspired union activism for generations to come.

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