Henry Hunt

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Hunt, Henry (1773–1835). Radical reformer. ‘Orator’ Hunt was a Wiltshire gentleman farmer, whose radicalization followed his imprisonment in 1800 for challenging a colonel of yeomanry and the social ostracism following his adultery. He became convinced of the need for a thorough reform of the existing political system, based on universal suffrage, annual parliaments, and the ballot. In 1816–17 he headed three huge anti-government demonstrations in Spa Fields, London, which established his reputation as a great radical orator (or, as his critics alleged, demagogue). He was arrested for his part at Peterloo and imprisoned for 2½ years in Ilchester gaol. Hunt's tactics were those of the mass platform, i.e. extra-parliamentary pressure, legitimized through the constitutional right to meet, demonstrate, and petition. After several unsuccessful parliamentary contests, he was returned for Preston in 1830. He opposed the 1832 Reform Bill as a half-measure which did nothing for the working class.

John F. C. Harrison

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Henry Hunt, 1773–1835, English radical politician. A powerful orator, popular with the laboring classes, Hunt was quarrelsome and stubborn but a sincere proponent of electoral and other reforms. He took part with Arthur Thistlewood in the Spa Fields meeting (1816) and gained his chief notice by presiding at the meeting in Manchester that ended in the Peterloo massacre (1819). He was imprisoned for two years, after a trial of doubtful legality. Hunt sat in Parliament (1830–32) but exerted little influence.