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On this day in 1819 at St Peters Field in Manchester, a British cavalry regiment charged into a political gathering killing fifteen people and injuring over four hundred.
This was dubbed the Peterloo massacre, in contemptuous comparison to the battle of Waterloo five years before. “Within ten minutes the crowd had been dispersed, at the cost of 11 dead and many injured. Only the wounded, their helpers, and the dead were left behind. For some time afterwards there was rioting in the streets.” This quote is from contemporary accounts of Peterloo but it could apply to any of several more recent happenings.
Here is an extract from The Masque of Anarchy, the poem that Shelley wrote on hearing of Peterloo. It is perhaps the first modern statement of the principle of nonviolent resistance:
Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war.
And if then the tyrants dare,
Let them ride among you there;
Slash, and stab, and maim and hew;
What they like, that let them do.
With folded arms and steady eyes,
And little fear, and less surprise,
Look upon them as they slay,
Till their rage has died away:
Then they will return with shame,
To the place from which they came,
And the blood thus shed will speak
In hot blushes on their cheek:
Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Today I ask that I will not fear to stand up for what I believe is right.