By Francis X. Maier, The Catholic Thing, May 22, 2023
Francis X. Maier is a senior fellow in Catholic studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
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The New York Times called it “brilliant and demanding,” but the 2018 British film Peterloo grossed less than $2 million in its U.S. box office. The reason is simple. We Americans are bad at our own history, let alone anyone else’s. Peterloo tells the story of the Peterloo massacre in Manchester, England, a defining event in modern British history, but of little interest this side of the Atlantic. Which may be a mistake.
On August 16, 1819, some 60,000 hungry, unarmed workers, with their wives and children, converged on St. Peter’s Field in Manchester to peacefully demand economic and political reform. Barely 11 percent of Britain’s people had the right to vote at the time. Factory conditions in the early years of the Industrial Revolution were abysmal. Meager pay, widespread unemployment, and child labor savaged family life. The poor sank more deeply into poverty. The rich got richer on profits from a system structured to benefit England’s ruling class. …