Lord George Gordon, 1780 395
Between 2 and 9 June 1780, London was convulsed by the Gordon Riots. Named for Lord George Gordon (1751–1793), member of Parliament and president of the London Protestant Association, the riots are described by Thomas Digges in his letter of 8 June
(below). The disorders began when Gordon, whom John Adams earlier compared with Oliver Cromwell and declared to be “the only Man of Common sense” in Parliament for his stance on Anglo-American peace (to Edmé Jacques Genet, 20 May
, below), led 60,000 marchers to the Houses of Parliament to present a petition against the Catholic Relief Act of 1778. That law did little more than allow Catholics who had taken an oath of loyalty to worship freely and purchase and inherit land, but was a convenient vehicle for violent reaction against government authority and Irish Catholic laborers who competed with English Protestants for jobs. The rioters paralyzed the government, opened the prisons, mounted an abortive assault on the Bank of England, and destroyed the property of both Catholics and prominent members of Parliament. The riots, put down by massive military intervention, resulted in nearly 800 deaths and the end of parliamentary reform. Gordon was later tried and acquitted of inciting the riots (Christopher Hibbert, King Mob: The Story of Lord George Gordon and the London Riots of 1780
, Cleveland, 1958; Morris, Peacemakers
, p. 67–87). John Adams saw the riots as evidence of Britain's accelerating decline, which could be slowed or stopped only by concluding an Anglo-American peace.
This cartoon by R. Bran was published by John Harris on 4 August 1780. Lord George Gordon is shown standing above St. George's Fields, across the Thames from Parliament, where the marchers gathered to accompany Gordon to present the petition. His cane points to the “Protestant Petition,” while his right foot rests on a book inscribed “Popery.” Behind him are orderly groups of marchers, labeled A, B, C, and D, representing those from Southwark, London, Westminster, and Scotland, respectively (British Museum, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires, comp. Mary Dorothy George, [London], 1935, 5:No. 5694).
Courtesy of the British Museum, London.