The Contrarian: History Predicts A Riot

There is nothing new or exceptional about the recent English riots and they will have little long-term impact, argues Tim Stanley.

'The Mob destroying & Setting Fire to the Kings Bench Prison & House of Correction in St George's Fields': a print made during the Gordon Riots, 1780Most of the British press treated the August riots as a historical aberration: something to be blamed on government policies, or even the weather. We associate mob violence more with the French than we do ourselves. But, in fact, sporadic civil disobedience has a long tradition in British history. We are a far more demonstrative and brutal a people than we would like to admit.

In 1778 the British government decided to mitigate its anti-Catholic policies by passing the Papists Act. The Protestant population of London, which was already suffering due to loss of trade resulting from the American War of Independence, was outraged. Lord George Gordon, the eccentric head of the nativist Protestant Association, argued that the Act was an attempted coup d’etat by Catholics and absolutist monarchists. One of its provisions eased the restrictions on Catholics serving in the army – a direct attempt, Gordon said, to arm the Irish and depose Parliament. He called for a march on Westminster.

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