Remove the Robert Peel Statue from Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester #BLM #RepealPeel
Remove the Robert Peel Statue from Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester #BLM #RepealPeel
I am starting this petition and the #RepealPeel movement to highlight the endemic racism that continues to plague Manchester and the fact that this city was built on slavery. I recognise and remember the often-ignored black victims of Manchester’s involvement in the slave trade and the plantation economy to accumulate its obscene wealth, historic cultural institutions and powerful centres of knowledge. The Peels, the Gregs and the Hibberts are some of the names that loom large. Instead, we must provide a platform for the names of the voiceless and unheard. Manchester’s history isn’t just history, Peel Street and Sugar Lane may no longer exist but the racism and inequality that they created and represent does. We have consider why there is a statue dedicated to Robert Peel in the centre of our city. Black Lives Matter.
We romanticise the history of this city — Cottonopolis — its industrialisation, the Free Trade Movement, the Chartists and the Peterloo Massacre — but really, we romanticise its racism and hate. These are the real legacies of capitalism and slavery. We have to challenge and tear down the legacies of slavery, oppression and brutality that still exists in Manchester.
The aim is to help bring down the statue of Robert Peel Junior,. His father was actively proslavery and circulated a proslavery petition in 1806, a mere year before the abolition of the slave trade. In a speech to Parliament in 1794, he warned of the dangerous consequences that would envelop the colonies because of abolitionism, inferring that Africans were content being slaves:
“A greater degree of freedom, so far from increasing their happiness, would add to their infelicity. Human nature was so framed, that it stood in need of being first enlightened before it was capable of the benefits of freedom, and until then it was incapable of a rational liberty. Should he put a sword into a madman’s hand? In their condition they were happy, and the very exalted ideas we possessed of freedom had the effect to mislead us in our ideas of the situation of this race of people.” Black Lives Matter.
This just tells you what kind of people both Peels were when the majority of the city supported abolition, they both saw emancipation as dangerous, we don’t have to intellectually pretzel ourselves to recognise the connections between the legacies of slavery and racialised brutality. We have to get rid of that Robert Peel statue. I call on those with the power, all free people to remove this icon of hate and racism. Mayor Andy Burnham and Manchester City Council heed our calls, follow our lead, and act now. Black Lives Matter.
Remove this statue and give the space to Black artists and creators so we can collectively hear their pain and listen to their voices. Black Lives Matter.
We must draw attention to the academic institutions and cultural institutions in our region. Where are the black professors and lecturers, the black graduate students, the black archivists and black museum workers and where is the focus on Manchester’s involvement in slavery in any of the modules these universities teach and why do they not want those same institutions not want to engage in the debate. Where are the black historians? Many of these institutions were built with money accrued during the slave trade and slavery. Why won’t Quarry Bank Mill tell us the name of the slaves that Samuel Greg Owned? Every time I signed in as a researcher-in-residence, I had to sign my name. Why is my name more important than theirs? What were their names? Why can’t we talk honestly about Samuel Greg? Black Lives Matter.
Robert Peel was from Manchester. I am also from Manchester. Peel’s wealth was derived from the cotton-spinning industry. This cotton was picked by slaves throughout the Thirteen Colonies/United States and the British West Indies. He inherited this wealth from his father, who was also proslavery. His father circulated a proslavery petition in 1806. He was also, like his son, a religious bigot and a racist. The wealth that Peel Jnr inherited allowed for him to purchase his first pocket borough seat Cashel, Tipperary, in 1809. Peel was fixated with issues of reputation, consistency honour and posthumous judgement, for these remained his only hope of future salvation. He knew his legacy was tarnished.
Many people will argue that Peel enacted legislation such as the Repeal of the Corn Laws, the Factory Act, Catholic Emancipation. Regarding the Corn Laws, yes this did make food cheaper for the working poor, but this was an ancillary gain. The principal beneficiaries of this were the rising industrial elite, who could then afford cheaper raw materials to manufacture goods while at the same time increasing productivity of the labouring poor by boosting their caloric intake. The Factory Act was passed in 1844, but Peel opposed any reduction to the proposed 12 hour working day. Catholic Emancipation and the Maynooth Grant were passed, but only after the threat of Irish Rebellion became apparent to Peel.
From 1809 onwards, Peel was motivated by hate. He was so extreme that Daniel O’Connell labelled him “Orange Peel.” In Sir Robert Peel: An Historical Sketch his biographer describes his actions, not just words “Mr. Peel, then, in taking up the anti-Catholic policy, took up the practical one.” Another contemporary observer opined that “Peel…made a speech of little merit, but elegantly and clearly expressed, and so well delivered as to be applauded to excess. He now fills the important place of spokesman to the intolerant faction.” The brutal Irish famine of 1845 to 1852 resulted in the death of around 1 million Irish people and two million refugees. This accounted for a population loss of around 20-25% It was Robert Peel who imported £100,000 worth of Indian corn from the United States to Ireland following the first potato blight in 1845 for the sole reason of stabilising food prices, rather than to help the suffering Irish. There was a policy whereby the Irish could build infrastructure to receive the food, but most were too weak from malnutrition to work. He also proposed the Coercive Acts Bill in Parliament on 15th May 1846 to further repress the Irish people, even after the famine. This was so extreme that even the 19th century Parliament rejected it. Peel stated that “You have no idea of the moral depravation of the lower order in that county." He believed an honest despotic government would be the fittest government for Ireland.
Peel’s ministry did force many nations to adopt emancipation during his premiership and use the Royal Navy to hunt slave ships, but this was done as a part of “Informal Empire” where Britain would use its military strength to put diplomatic pressure on smaller nations in order to gain economic, political and cultural domination over them. It was a profitable enterprise. Peel made anti-slavery overtures in the 1840s because proslavery was so repellent and became a taboo after emancipation occurred in Britain.
Much of the written literature on Peel is itself problematic, it is hagiographic in nature and fails to tell the complete story of Robert Peel. He was, what we would call today, a white supremacist. These statues are totemic of the values they represent, racism, bigotry and oppression. They reflect the worst values that still exist in society today, sadly. Many of the people who are outraged by this movement to reclaim our public spaces did not take much notice of these statues before, why are they so concerned now?
My great-great grandfather on my mother’s side emigrated from Belfast to Salford in the late 19th century. The conditions he left behind were a result of Peel’s repression.
I have collated 28 pages worth of Hansard evidence concerning Peel Jnr’s views in the early 1830s “highlights” include:
That emancipation was fraught with danger
That repression should occur if slaves refuse to obey their masters
That abolition was dangerous because the French republic had enacted it in the 1790s
Abolition would widen the gulf between whites and Blacks, and agitate slaves
sympathy for the slaves should not influence Parliament's judgement
the great problem of amalgamating “two distinct and separate races” in a free society. He also suggests that emancipation could be dangerous as the climate was different to those that British politicians were familiar with.
Peel suggests that emancipation must involve a “civilising process” which would not put white planters in danger.
Peel suggests that, because most of the populace of the West Indies were slaves, there were significant physical and moral obstacles to speedy emancipation.
Peel infers that slaves had a distaste for labour and preferred to live a subsistence-based lifestyle.
If you remove slavery, the freed population will not want to work as hard.
Peel implies that abolitionist “zealots” could have a dangerous influence upon slaves which would threaten the safety of their owners.
Peel quotes Burke by claiming that freedom is too dangerous for slaves to enjoy
Peel suggests that some slaves might not want freedom and would prefer to remain as slaves.
We need to see real change beyond tweeting out statements. The history of Manchester never happened without the history of the British West Indies. Black Lives Matter.
Let’s end the hate, take our streets back and #RepealPeel
For more information, please visit the campaign website at: