The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 82
Thomas Burt, M.P
Thomas Burt, M.P.
Perhaps few men of this age deserve better to be thought of than Thomas Burt, Member of Parliament for the borough of Morpeth, Northumberland, England. I first made his acquaintance through the newspapers about 15 or 16 years ago, and personally several years later; and there are few men I am prouder to know. Mr. Burt is the son of a coal-minert recently dead. And a generation ago pit children had extremely few chances of picking up even the bare rudiments of education. Young Thomas was born in an age (1837) when pitmen were mostly at the mercy of their masters. There had been attempts made before his day to form Trades Unions amongst them, and many a struggle and disappointment did the poor fellows experience before they broke loose from a slavery far worse than that which bound the negroes in America. Mr. Burt's parents had as much as they could do to get food and rough clothes for their children, and education was very little, if at all, thought about.
In most respects, Thomas could not have been distinguished from the rest of the pit laddies. Fair complexion, light hair, well-formed features, a good head upon his shoulders, and a strong Northumberland "burr" in his speech (quite indescribable), and which still sticks to him—such was young Burt when he began to cultivate his intellect, and he must have had a hart struggle to gain the self-culture he won.
Nineteen years ago he was elected by his fellow workmen Secretary to the Northumberland Miners' Mutual Association. This was just the field for his energies : a most difficult position, often between two galling fires, the masters on the one hand, the miners on the other. Many a battle he has fought, many strikes he has prevented, and many a reduction of wages has he helped the workmen to escape. In a few years Burt did what exceedingly few men could ever have done; he won the respect of the masters without ever losing that of his own party, and he retains both till now. Both parties found they could trust to his honor at all times, and generally to his judgment. Higher praise I could not give him. He is true, and all parties know it; and he is as judicious as he is true.
The last Reform Bill, without intending it, gave the franchise to the Northumberland pitmen. They had a long struggle to win their rights, but at length, through the exertions of Burt and his good friends, they carried the day. This placed the borough of Morpeth entirely at their mercy. "Respectability" was shocked; but the pitmen went on. They managed their affairs with admirable tact and moderation. They put forward Thomas Burt as a candidate at the general election of 1874. He was opposed by all that wealth and respectability could array against him. But he won the seat by an overwhelming majority, and retains it still.
Prudent, modest, active, he has won the respect of the House of Commons. He never speaks except upon a subject he thoroughly understands, and never opens his mouth but to good purpose. We wish there were more Thomas Burts in the Parliaments of the world.
And now, last, though not least, Mr. Burt is a very advanced freethinker, and a friend of Mr. Bradlaugh's.