Little Bits of History

Cato Conspiracy

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 23, 2013
Cato Conspiracy sign

Cato Conspiracy sign

February 23, 1820: A conspiracy to murder cabinet members is exposed. A group called Spencean Philanthropists met near Edgware Road and planned to disrupt a government already in a state of upheaval. Arthur Thistlewood had been involved in the Spa Field riots of 1816. He and his group were incensed by the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 where cavalry had charged into a crowd of 60,000-80,000 people who were demanding Parliamentary Reform, killing 15 and wounding 700. They were further angered by the Six Acts which immediately followed, limiting free speech and peaceful protests.

King George’s death on January 29, 1820 left the country in a state of crisis. George III had been ill for years and his son had been running the Empire since 1811. By 1820, George IV was possibly addicted to laudanum. With the throne in a state of flux, disaffected citizens felt the time was right to strike at the powers that be and kill the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, and his cabinet members as they dined at the home of Lord Harrowby, Lord President of the Council.

George Edwards and Thistlewood went ahead with plans and rented a house on Cato Street. They planned to use this as a base and attack the dining nobles with pistols and grenades. Or so they hoped. Edwards was working undercover as a spy. The Home Office was apprised of the situation and it was this august body that actually placed the announcement of the supposed dinner in The New Times. There was no dinner.

Twelve officers of the Bow Street runners, London’s first police force, along with the magistrate and another police spy waited across the way from the Cato Street house. At 7:30 PM the Thistlewood group entered the house. The police raided the building and a brawl broke out. One police officer was killed. Several of the conspirators were taken into custody. Thistlewood and 3 others escaped but were captured within days. The Cato Street Conspirators were found guilty of treason and sentenced to be drawn and quartered. All sentences were commuted with Thistlewood and four others hung at Newgate Prison while five more were transported to a penal colony for life.

“Oh, treacherous night! thou lendest thy ready veil to every treason, and teeming mischief’s beneath thy shade.” – Aaron Hill

“I love treason but hate a traitor.” – Julius Caesar

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” – Frederick Douglass

“There is no rule without revolts and conspiracies, even as there is no property without work and worry.” – Ivo Andric

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Spencean Philanthropists were a group of radicals following Thomas Spence. He died prior to this event, having been born in 1750 and dying in 1814. He was born into poverty in England and was the son of a Scots shoemaker. What seems to have been the beginning of his radical pursuits was the threatened enclosure of the Town Moor in Newcastle in 1771. Enclosure kept the lands from the locals and instead kept them for the aristocracy in the region. He was not so brazen as to demand nationalization of the land, but wanted instead to have self-contained lands run by the parish with locals farming and paying their rents to the church. He was also in favor of ending the aristocracy altogether.

Also on this day: The Rotary Club – In 1905, the Rotary Club was formed.
Gutenberg Bible – In 1455, the Gutenberg Bible was published.
ISO – In 1947, a new set of standards were adopted.

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