In 1815 a small group of middle-class men who favoured parliamentary reform began meeting at the home of John Potter. Members of the group included John Edward Taylor, Archibald Prentice, John Shuttleworth, Joseph Brotherton, William Cowdroy, Thomas Potter and Richard Potter, William Harvey and Edward Baxter. Meetings took place in John Potter's back room and this became known as Potter's Planning Parlour. The group strongly objected strongly to a system that denied such important industrial cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, representation in the House of Commons. The group was also totally opposed to the Corn Laws that had been passed in 1815.
The group favoured a gradualist path to parliamentary reform. Although they were not opposed to universal suffrage in principal, they were concerned about people without education receiving the vote. John Potter's group disapproved of the methods and political style of national Radical leaders such as Henry 'Orator' Hunt' and Richard Carlile. The Manchester moderates were also critical of local Radicals such as Joseph Johnson and John Knight, who they accused of encouraging class hatred.
One member of the group, William Cowdroy, owned and edited the Manchester Gazette. John Edward Taylor, Archibald Prentice and John Shuttleworth, all contributed regular articles for the newspaper. As well as parliamentary reform and religious toleration, they also wrote about the importance of Free Trade and the need to repeal the Corn Laws.
All the men held Nonconformist religious views. One of the most common phrases used in their speeches was that "Jesus Christ was the Greatest Reformer". John Edward Taylor, John Shuttleworth, Richard Potter and Thomas Potter were all Unitarians, Archibald Prentice was a Presbyterian and Joseph Brotherton was a member of the Bible Christian Church. They all supported Joseph Lancaster and his Nonconformist schools movement and were all strong believers in religious toleration.
I met Edward Baxter and John Edward Taylor, afterwards of the Manchester Guardian. Baxter was a man of great energy, whose prosperity in business had not abated his earnestness for reform, and Taylor had a youthful ardour for liberty. Through them I became acquainted with a little circle of men, faithful, among the faithless, to liberal principles, who subsequently threw the shield of their protection over the intended victims of government oppression.
Joseph Brotherton, who, then in his country cottage in Oldfield Lane, gave quiet expression to the principles of free trade and peace, which he afterwards boldly asserted in the House of Commons; William Harvey, Brotherton's worthy brother-in-law; Richard Potter, afterwards an M.P. for Wigan; Thomas Potter, afterwards Sir Thomas, and first mayor of Manchester, benevolent, strong of purpose, and energetic, always willing to aid the cause of reform; John Shuttleworth, afterwards alderman, eloquent, intellectual, and bold; Absalom Watkin, giving himself more to literature than to politics, was, nevertheless, on the way to useful action.
John Shuttleworth and John Edward Taylor could sell their cotton to men who could not buy it cheaper elsewhere. In like manner, Thomas and Richard Potter could sell their fustians, Joseph Brotherton and William Harvey their yarns, Baxter his ginghams and shirtings, and I my fine Glasgow muslins. And yet our position was uncomfortable. We were safe ourselves, but every day brought us report of wrong and outrage done to our humble fellow countrymen - wrong and outrage which we felt could not fully redress. We thought, in our own cheerful homes, of the poor men in prison for alleged political offences - the main offence being that they, like ourselves, were of opinion that our representative system was susceptible of amendment. The whole aspect of society was unfavourable. The rich seemed banded together to deny the possession of political rights; and the poor seemed to be banding themselves together in an implacable hatred to their employers, who were regarded as their oppressors.