Samuel Griffiths

Election Poster 1861


If, but a week ago, we had been told that the death of one of the most distinguished and successful amongst the men whom we cite as a national honour, could in any way affect our connection with a native of this Borough, who has become a municipal and commercial opprobrium, we should have considered the intimation as a paradox the most absurd. It is, however, true that the event, so sudden and startling to the nation, occasions the indignity to us of an address from Mr. Samuel Griffiths, soliciting us to place him in the House of Commons.

In this document, he appears to base his pretensions mainly on the facts that he is a native of the Borough, and has for years been largely engaged in the great staple trade of the district, and on a suggestion heretofore made by "influential parties," that a gentleman acquainted with the Iron trade should be found willing to undertake the office he now solicits. These, I presume, are the pretensions on which he relies, because the other characteristics which he mentions, of being a liberal in politics, a free trader, and an adherent to the foreign policy of the present government, are those of probably ninety-nine hundredths of the community. Besides, he (as stated in his address) has merely " watched with interest the development [sic]" of Free Trade, whilst hundreds of candidates may be had who strenuously assisted in the great work, and we are now honoured by an offer of the services of a gentleman who was one of its pioneers!

Taking then, the main pretensions in the order in which they are named, I proceed to examine their validity. First, Mr. Griffiths is (he says) a native of the Borough. But, it is generally deemed injudicious to select an inhabitant of a Borough to be its representative; unless he be conspicuous amongst the leaders there for ability and excellence, such a selection occasions jealousies and disturbs private friendships. This I mention as a general principle. I do not think it applicable in the case of Mr. Griffiths; for the jealousies indicated would result from equality, and I reject the uncharitable surmise that there are others in the Borough degraded to his level.

Secondly, Mr. Griffiths has (he says) " for years been largely engaged in the staple trade of the district." He has also been a chemist and a dealer in grease and oil, and he has failed hitherto in every commercial business which he has undertaken. Failed utterly! the dividends under his triple insolvencies having been so mean as in many instances to deter creditors from encountering the trifling cost and trouble of proving their debts! He has therefore been "largely engaged" at the expense of his creditors. His last failure was recent, and the wreck total. After every failure he became more "largely engaged" than before; but from the ruins of the last he has risen not merely self-renovated like a phoenix, but with the potent power of renovating others, for he has emerged not only to return to the "staple trade," and become a purchaser of costly works, but also to establish a Bank!

Now, I ask you whether this mode of being "largely engaged in the staple trade of the district" is a fitting preparation for a parliamentary representative, or a reason for your confiding to Mr. Griffiths the sacred trust which he solicits? And, anticipating your negative answer, I need not say more on the third special point of his address, than that the "influential parties" therein alluded to could not possibly have referred to Mr. Samuel Griffiths, when they remarked "that a gentleman acquainted with the iron trade should be found, willing to undertake the office he solicits."

Mr. Griffiths will not during his canvass voluntarily advert to his failures, and if he be invited to give information, I dare say he will speak of them as "misfortunes." For the sake of argument then, join him, by anticipation, in that lenient view. It is, however, but the other horn of an inextricable dilemma; for it is clear that a man who has so mismanaged his own businesses as to become three times insolvent, is utterly unfit to manage the business of others. Than this, no axiom can be more obvious.

I am afraid, however, that the lenient view above suggested cannot be adopted. For, bear in mind the minor incidents in the career of Mr. Griffiths. Recur to his action against a Fire Insurance Company, the defence, the compromise! his prosecution and imprisonment for infractions of the excise laws; recollect how "largely engaged" he was in the bubble speculations of 1845; his quarrels and recriminations in our Town Council; his prosecution for personating a voter at a parliamentary election; his prosecution at Petty Sessions for an assault ! Were these misfortunes, or did they arise out of faults? If faults, can you, in considering his character, separate them from his Insolvencies ? Must you not judge this man by the aggregate circumstances which give him the most unenviable notoriety in the Borough which he seeks to desecrate?

Suppose he were to go into the House of Commons. Do you think he would there meet with any reception except that of derision? If you do, you outrage experience as well as common sense.

You could not prevent the man asking for your suffrages. That was an act of his own impudent volition. At present, therefore you are insulted, but not disgraced. Every vote however, which may be recorded in his favour, will be a stigma on the Borough. Every such vote will be an injustice to the non-electors, and will furnish an argument for the opponents of an extended suffrage; for it will be said, and truly, that if in a ten pound franchise, electors can be cajoled by this hydra of insolvency, prosecutions, and abortive projects, the time has not yet arrived for lowering the electoral qualification.

I am, Gentlemen,

Your obedient Servant, and


Wolverhampton, 28th June, 1861

W. Hackett, Printer, Bilston

Return to the Samuel Griffiths' story