KS3 > Political Reform > MPs > Henry Hunt
Henry Hunt was one of the most famous early radical leaders. He was an athletic, handsome man, who later had a reputation for thinking a little too much of himself! Yet, he became a hero to many 19th century reformers because of his abilities as a great speaker and his commitment to non-violent reform.
Hunt was a ‘gentleman farmer’ from Wiltshire, and in his younger years he supported the government against reformers. However, his political views began to change after he was sent to prison in 1800. Hunt had volunteered for a local militia, yet he got in trouble for challenging his commanding officer to a duel! In prison, his politics became much more radical.
He soon gained a reputation as a fantastic speaker who could inspire and control a crowd. He stood for Parliament in Bristol in 1812. He was called the ‘people’s candidate’, but he lost the election. Moving to London, he regularly spoke at rallies in the city. He favoured peaceful, mass-petitioning campaigns and worked against those who wanted to use violence to change the system. At a rally on 21 July 1819 in Smithfield, London, he stopped the crowd from becoming violent when one of the speakers was arrested.
This power over large crowds, despite his peaceful message, scared many in power. This was why the local authorities decided to arrest him at the ‘Peterloo’ meeting in Manchester, Lancashire. Hunt first faced charges of high treason, but they were reduced. Despite an impressive and well-publicised defence, Hunt lost his case and was imprisoned for two years.
Hunt remained influential and popular. He was elected as MP for Preston in 1830. Yet despite making over 1000 speeches in Parliament he was much better at addressing crowds than he was as an MP! He had mixed feelings about the 1832 ‘Great’ Reform Act, believing that it did not go far enough. He lost his seat in 1832.
Hunt died in 1835, but his tactics of mass-petitioning and non-violent rallies were later taken up by many Chartists.