Taking Tea with Mackintosh

Along Great Western Road -- An Illustrated History of Glasgow's West End

Thomas Graham,
page 5 of 7

What has been said here concerning Alexander Oswald can as well be said of his son James, both as to political sympathies and public and moral character. Born in 1779, he was already a well-known citizen when called to succeed his father in 1813. Long before this he had adopted the political principles which he steadfastly maintained during the remainder of his life. Like his father, he belonged to the old Whig section of politicians, a class that is now extinct, but one which contained many honest-minded men who did good service in their day. Mr. Oswald was a sturdy, outspoken Liberal, even when Liberalism was apparently on the losing side, and was a most consistent, honest, and disinterested politician during the whole of his parliamentary career. He took a keen and unflagging interest in the social questionings and political problems of the day which had been long simmering before the struggle for the old Reform Bill of 1832 began, and few public meetings of his party were allowed to pass by without having his inspiring presence, either as president of the assembly, or as the most powerful and influential speaker on the occasion. Never was he seen to better purpose than on that political platform which his conscience had led him to adopt, and, knowing the man, and hearing his blunt, straightforward pleading, even his parliamentary foes could not but admit that he was an honest man.

The old Reform Bill movement reached its climax in 1832. In that year, a great and memorable demonstration of the Liberals of Glasgow and the West of Scotland was held in Glasgow Green, at which meeting Mr. Oswald, from his loyalty to the Liberal cause, his disinterested zeal and commanding influence, was called upon to preside. The assembled multitude numbered seventy thousand, and nearly a dozen other leading citizens and country notables spoke, including Sir John Maxwell of Polloc, James Ewing of Strathleven, who shortly afterwards had, with James Oswald, the distinguished honour of representing Glasgow in the first Reform Parliament, Mr. Robert Dalglish, Mr. Walter Buchanan, and others. Resolutions as to reform were moved and carried by acclamation, and at once transmitted to the House of Commons. It redounds alike to the credit of James Oswald and the other leaders in this popular movement that, during all the feverish excitement of the time, there was never the slightest manifestation either of lawlessness or violence. The people never showed the slightest bitterness of differing amongst themselves as to the merits of the Bill, but uniformly hailed it with the liveliest satisfaction, as sunshine after long storm. James Oswald’s great good sense, tact, and moderation brought the local political ship through this hurricane, when in the hands of a reckless pilot it would certainly have foundered.

On the 16th March, the Reform Bill was introduced by Lord John Russell. The debate lasted all night, and the House revealed a scene of excitement which had not been equalled for many years, a scene pervaded by that intense interest which compasses a mortal struggle. Both Tory and Whig fought long and stubbornly to the death, and when, after the division, the result was announced as being a majority of 116 in favour of the bill, the enthusiasm of the Liberals knew no bounds. An idea of the excitement in Glasgow, on the arrival of the news, is given in the Glasgow Chronicle for 30th March, 1832, which says: “At the hour of the London mail’s arrival yesterday afternoon, both the Exchanges — the Royal Exchange in Queen Street, and the Tontine at the Cross — were thronged with people anxiously waiting for the intelligence. In the Royal Exchange, Mr. David Bell, the secretary, mounted a table


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