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Hyde Park riots

Hyde Park riots, 1866. Soon after the death of Palmerston, Lord Russell's government introduced a second Reform Bill, extending the franchise. Opposition by discontented Liberals led to the fall of the government in June 1866 and a minority Conservative administration took office under Lord Derby. On 23 July a large Reform League meeting called for Hyde Park found it closed. The crowd broke down the railings and clashed with police in reserve inside the park. Lord Stanley, a member of the cabinet, commented that there was ‘more mischief than malice, and more of mere larking than either’, though a policeman was killed. Nevertheless, when there were further disturbances in 1867 the home secretary, Spencer Walpole, was forced to resign. Matthew Arnold awarded the riots a significance they scarcely possessed when in Culture and Anarchy he took them as a symbol of the collapse of civilized values in the face of mob rule: ‘all over the country … [men] are beginning to assert and put in practice an Englishman's right to do what he likes, his right to march where he likes, threaten as he likes, smash as he likes. All this, I say, tends to anarchy.’

J. A. Cannon

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