Thomas Attwood 101: Discover the Reformist Economist of UK
Zatrun Published at March 05, 2023

Thomas Attwood was a prominent British figure in banking, economics, politics, and social activism. He was a Member of Parliament and the leading figure of the Birmingham School of economists, which focused on the theory of underconsumption. Additionally, Attwood founded the Birmingham Political Union, which played a key role in advocating for the Great Reform Act of 1832. His contributions to political and economic discourse during his lifetime have had a lasting impact on British society and history.

Matthias and Ann Attwood’s son Thomas Attwood was born on October 6, 1783, in Hawne House, Halesowen. Matthias Attwood was a successful businessman who owned large coal and iron shares in Halesowen and a bank in Birmingham. After attending Wolverhampton Grammar School, Thomas started working at his father’s bank. If you want to learn more about Thomas Attwood, this guide is for you.

Who is Thomas Attwood?

Thomas Attwood began his public life by joining the campaign against the East India Company, believing that the company’s actions tightly restricted foreign trade. Many local businesses, dependent on export trade, accused the East India Company of causing increased unemployment.

Attwood entered public life when he was elected as the High Bailiff of Birmingham in 1811 at the age of 28. In 1812, Attwood led a delegation to present a petition to Parliament against Council Orders that obstructed trade in Birmingham, which gained popularity among artisans in Birmingham.

In 1813, he launched a campaign against the renewal of the East India Company’s charter. During the “anno horribilis” of 1816, Attwood gained national fame and tried to solve the economic crisis and unemployment with public works financed by the government. In 1817, the Attwood brothers drafted a relief petition presented to Parliament by Henry Brougham, inspiring Vansittart’s programs in 1818.

His Career Journey

“Thomas Attwood’s Observations” (1818) was his most thoughtful work. In 1819, Thomas’s brother Matthias entered Parliament for a rotten borough. The Attwood brothers opposed the Convertibility decision of the Peel Committee in 1819, believing it was an unnecessary contraction. While Matthias dueled with Peel in Parliament, Thomas’s Letters (1819) clearly criticized the resumption law. In 1821, Attwood testified before the House Committee on Agricultural Distress.

In 1812, the government appointed an Elected Committee to investigate the activities of the East India Company. Attwood led the Birmingham delegation, which provided evidence to the Committee. Attwood was an impressive witness, and his testimony was partly responsible for convincing the House of Commons to restrict the company’s foreign trade monopoly.

Thomas became interested in economic issues and in 1815 proposed a policy to reduce unemployment. He argued that England needed an independent paper currency, and that the government should increase the money supply to counter economic crises.

Thomas Attwood and Reform Demands

Attwood’s economic theories were popular in Birmingham but not accepted by the government. While he was successful in collecting a petition of 40,000 signatures to advocate for currency reform, the Duke of Wellington and the government refused to consider Attwood’s proposal. Attwood developed the idea that Parliament should represent large manufacturing cities like Birmingham. Therefore, he joined the demand for large manufacturing cities like Birmingham to be represented in Parliament.

On January 25, 1830, around 10,000 people attended the first meeting of the Birmingham Political Union. People listened to speeches by Attwood and other leaders for six hours. In May, another meeting was held at the Beardsworth Depos in Birmingham, which was attended by 80,000 people. Other manufacturing towns in England began to follow Birmingham’s example and Political Unions were formed.

After the Reform Act was passed in 1832, Thomas Attwood was appointed as the Freeman of the City of London. In the general election of the autumn of 1832, Attwood and Joshua Scholefield, another leader of the Political Union, were elected as Birmingham’s first two Members of Parliament. Attwood worked hard to persuade the House of Commons about his economic ideas, but failed, and concluded that more reform was needed in Parliament.

Later Years and His Legacy

In 1838, Thomas Attwood and the Birmingham Political Union began working on the voting struggle with the London Working Men’s Association. However, Attwood objected to aggressive speeches and worked more closely with the Moral Force Chartists. In June 1839, Attwood presented the National Petition to the House of Commons, but it was rejected. Frustrated by Parliament’s reluctance to respond, Attwood resigned and withdrew from politics. Attwood suffered a stroke and passed away on March 9, 1859, in Malvern.

The Thomas Attwood statue, made by local sculptor Peter Hollins in 1859, was a Grade II listed sculpture located in Calthorpe Park. From 1974 to 2008, it was moved to Larches Green in Sparkbrook, Birmingham, but is currently in storage. The bronze statue, which was separated from its plinth, had its pieces scattered on the steps of Chamberlain Square in Birmingham. After the completion of the restoration project in 2020, the statue was reinstalled. Attwood Road in Halesowen is named after him.

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