The Priestley Riots took place from 14 July to 17 July 1791 in Birmingham, England. The rioters’ main targets were religious dissenters, most notably the politically and theologically controversial Joseph Priestley. Both local and national issues stirred the passions of the rioters, from disagreements over public library book purchases to controversies over Dissenters’ attempts to gain full civil rights.
About Priestley Riots in brief
The Priestley Riots took place from 14 July to 17 July 1791 in Birmingham, England. The rioters’ main targets were religious dissenters, most notably the politically and theologically controversial Joseph Priestley. Both local and national issues stirred the passions of the rioters, from disagreements over public library book purchases, to controversies over Dissenters’ attempts to gain full civil rights. The riots started with an attack on the Royal Hotel, Birmingham, the site of a banquet organised in sympathy with the French Revolution. Then, beginning with Priestley’s church and home, the Rioters attacked or burned four Dissenting chapels, twenty-seven houses, and several businesses. Many of them became intoxicated by liquor that they found while looting, or with which they were bribed to stop burning homes. A small core could not be bribed, however, and remained sober. Those who had been attacked gradually left, leaving Birmingham a more conservative city than previously. One contemporary described Birmingham rioters as the “bunting, beggarly, brass-making, brazen-hearted, blackguard, bustling, booby Birmingham mob”. One month before the riots, Priestley attempted to found a reform society, Warwickshire Society, which would have supported universal suffrage and short Parliaments. Although this effort failed, the efforts to establish such a society failed to establish a such society, although Priestley would have been a member of it. In addition to these religious and political differences, both lower-class rioters and upper-class Anglican leaders had ever complaints against the middle-class dissenters.
In 1790, a group of Dissenting activists came to oppose the importation of French Revolution and its efforts to question the role of the monarchy in government. They supported the French government’s efforts to play a role in the question of the monarch’s role in government, which they saw as undesirable. They envied the Dissenter leaders’ complaints against their middle- class counterparts. After 1787, Dissenting groups formed for the sole purpose of overturning these laws began to divide the community; however, the repeal efforts failed in 17 87, 1789 and 1790. Priestley was at the forefront of the repeal campaign, and orthodox Anglicans grew nervous and angry. He revealed that disputes over the local library, Sunday Schools, and church attendance had divided Dissentingers from Anglicans. After the riots he argued in his An Appeal to the Public on the Subject of the Birmingham Riots that this cooperation had not in fact been as amicable as generally believed. In his Narrative of the Riots in Birmingham, stationer and Birmingham historian William Hutton agreed, arguing that five events stoked the fires of religious friction. In 1714 and 1715, the townspeople, as part of a “Church-and-King” mob, attacked Dissentes in the Sacheverell riots during the London trial of Henry Sachesverell.