In 1838, the mass working-class movement for universal suffrage included something new called the Chartist Movement. Faced with the refusal of the Parliament of the day to give the right to working people to vote, the temperance chartists saw the campaign against alcohol as a way of proving to the elites that working-class people were responsible enough and should be granted the vote.
The Chartist Movement of the 19th century was a significant event in British history. This movement, which sought to secure political and social rights for working-class people, was driven by a strong sense of class consciousness and a commitment to improving the lives of ordinary people. It was a response to the harsh economic conditions faced by working-class people in Britain at the time and was driven by a belief in the power of collective action and the importance of political representation.
The key demands of the Chartist movement were outlined in the People’s Charter of 1838, which called for votes for all men, equal electoral districts, secret ballots, annual parliaments, the abolition of property requirements for members of Parliament and payment to MPs for their service.
Picture Citation: Photograph of the Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common, London in 1848
Attribution: Royal Collection, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chartist_meeting_on_Kennington_Common_by_William_Edward_Kilburn_1848_-_restoration1.jpg
These demands reflected the belief of the Chartists that working-class people should have a voice in the political process and that their interests should be represented in the halls of power. The Chartist movement was a true expression of working-class solidarity and activism, and its supporters were committed to achieving their demands through peaceful means, including mass rallies and petitions. It was a national protest movement, with strongholds of support in Northern England, the East Midlands, the Staffordshire Potteries, the Black Country, and the South Wales Valleys. Support for the movement was at its highest when petitions, bearing the signature of millions of working people, were presented to the House of Commons. The strategy employed was to use the scale of support which these petitions and the accompanying mass meetings clearly demonstrated to put pressure on politicians to concede manhood suffrage. Chartism thus relied on constitutional methods to secure its aims, although some became involved in rebellious activities.
Facing opposition from the government and the ruling class, who saw the demands as a threat to their power and interests, and despite their considerable efforts, the Chartists were ultimately unsuccessful in securing the rights they sought.
The government responded with repression and violence, and many Chartist leaders were arrested and imprisoned. The Chartists movement was an important moment in British history and had a lasting impact on the political and social landscape of the country. It also had a significant impact on the broader international community, inspiring similar movements and struggles for political and social rights across Europe and beyond. As a legacy, the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity, which were central to the Chartist movement, continue to be central to political and social movements around the world today and serve as a reminder of the power of collective action and the importance of political representation.
The People’s Charter of 1838
The People’s Charter of 1838 was a document that outlined six key demands for parliamentary reform in Britain. It was drafted by the London Working Men’s Association, a group of working-class intellectuals and reformers, and was influenced by similar movements for political reform that were taking place in other parts of Europe at the time. The beginning of this movement could be traced back to the Representation of the People Act in 1832, more commonly referred to as the Reform Act, an act passed in parliament that made the first tentative steps in reforming the electoral system. It included within its reforms the extension of the enfranchisement to small landowners, tenant farmers and shopkeepers, as well as those who paid a rental of more than £10.
The People’s Charter was promoted by the Chartist movement, a political and social movement calling for greater political representation and better rights for the working class. The Chartists believed that the reforms outlined in the People’s Charter were necessary to address the unequal distribution of political power and wealth in Britain at the time and to create a more democratic and just society.
The Charter was widely supported by working-class people and received significant attention from the media and the political establishment. However, despite the efforts of the Chartists, the government of the day refused to implement the reforms outlined in the People’s Charter and instead took measures to suppress the movement, including using force against Chartist rallies and protests.
Despite this, the People’s Charter and the Chartist movement had a lasting impact on British politics and society, paving the way for further reforms and inspiring similar movements for political change in other parts of the world. Today, the People’s Charter is seen as a landmark in the history of working-class struggle and political reform, and its ideals continue to be an important part of the political and social landscape in Britain.
Did the Movement start in Britain?
The Chartist movement was a uniquely British phenomenon, although it was certainly influenced by broader political and social movements springing up in Europe and around the world at the time. The Chartist movement emerged in Britain in the late 1830s and early 1840s as a response to the harsh economic conditions faced by working-class people in the country. It was driven by a strong sense of class consciousness and a belief in the power of collective action, and its supporters were committed to securing political and social rights for working-class people through peaceful means.
While the Chartist movement was a British phenomenon, it was part of a broader trend of political and social activism that was taking place across Europe in the 19th century. The movement was a response to the broader trend of political and social change taking place in Europe and elsewhere at the time, and it was influenced by the ideas and ideals of the French Revolution and other political movements taking place across the continent. The Chartist movement was influenced by political and social movements taking place in Europe and around the world. It was a response to the harsh economic conditions faced by working-class people in Britain and a manifestation of the growing sense of class consciousness and political activism among working-class people in the country.
The Role that Women Played
Women played an active and significant role in Chartism. They participated in demonstrations and rallies, helped organise meetings, collected petitions signatures, and published articles in Chartist newspapers. However, they were often excluded from formal leadership positions, and their demands for women’s rights were not always fully embraced by the movement. Nonetheless, their involvement in Chartism helped pave the way for later feminist activism.
The First Mass Movement by the Working ClassesThe Chartist movement was the first mass movement driven by the working classes. It grew following the failure of the 1832 Reform Act to extend the vote beyond those owning property. In 1838, a People’s Charter was drawn up for the London Working Men’s Association (LWMA) by William Lovett and Francis Place, two self-educated radicals, in consultation with other members of LWMA. The Charter had six demands:
- All men to have the vote (universal manhood suffrage).
- Voting should take place by secret ballot.
- Parliamentary elections every year, not once every five years.
- Constituencies should be of equal size.
- Members of Parliament should be paid.
- The property qualification for becoming a Member of Parliament should be abolished.
The Chartist movement was the first mass working-class movement in the world and was a response to the limited political rights and harsh economic conditions faced by the working class in Britain at the time. The movement drew support from many people, including trade unionists, working-class intellectuals, and middle-class reformers.
In June 1839, the Chartists’ petition was presented to the House of Commons with over 1.25 million signatures. It was rejected by Parliament, provoking unrest, which was swiftly crushed by the authorities.
A second petition was presented in May 1842, this time signed by over three million people, but again it was rejected, and further unrest and arrests ensued.
In April 1848, a third and final petition was presented. A mass meeting on Kennington Common in South London was organised by the Chartist movement leaders, the most influential being Feargus O’Connor, editor of ‘The Northern Star’, a weekly newspaper that promoted the Chartist cause. O’Connor was said to have had connections with radical groups which advocated reform by any means, including violence. The authorities feared disruption and military forces were on standby to deal with any unrest. The third petition was also rejected, but the anticipated unrest did not happen.
The Newport Rising
Whilst most Chartist activity was peaceful, and without violence, there were some instances when that was not the case, an example of which is The Newport Rising. It was the last large-scale armed rising in Wales by Chartists.
Taking place on 4th November 1839, approximately 4,000 Chartist sympathisers, under the leadership of John Frost, marched on the town of Newport, Monmouthshire. En route, some Newport chartists were arrested by police and held prisoner at the Westgate Hotel in central Newport. Chartists from industrial towns outside Newport, including many coal miners, some with homemade arms, were intent on liberating their fellow Chartists. Fighting began, and soldiers of the 45th Regiment of Foot, deployed to protect the police, were ordered to open fire.
About 10-24 Chartists were confirmed killed, whilst reports of perhaps a further 50 were injured. Four soldiers were reported as wounded, as was the mayor of Newport, within the Westgate Hotel. Subsequently, the leaders of the rising were convicted of treason and were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The sentence was later commuted to penal transportation.
The Anti-Corn Law League
The Anti-Corn Law League was a political organisation founded in Britain in 1839 to campaign against the Corn Laws, which were tariffs on imported grain designed to protect domestic agriculture. The League argued that the Corn Laws raised the price of bread and other basic foodstuffs, making them unaffordable for the working classes while benefiting the landowning classes who supported the laws. The League used various tactics to build support for repeal of the Corn Laws, including public meetings, rallies, and pamphlets. Its most famous leader was Richard Cobden, who helped establish a broad coalition of interests in favour of free trade. Cobden played a key role in the successful effort to repeal the Corn Laws in 1846 when the League disbanded, having achieved its primary objective.
While the League was formally established in 1838, its origins can be traced back to earlier anti-Corn Law movements. However, it was not until the League was founded that a well-organized, well-funded, and sustained campaign against the Corn Laws emerged. After 1846, Richard Cobden and others involved in the Anti-Corn Law League did not turn their attention to mainstream Chartism. While both movements were concerned with political reform, they had different goals and strategies.
- The Anti-Corn Law League was primarily focused on economic issues, specifically the repeal of the Corn Laws, and used peaceful, non-confrontational tactics such as public speaking and pamphleteering to achieve its goals. The League was supported mainly by middle-class businessmen who saw the Corn Laws as an impediment to free trade and economic growth.
- Chartism, on the other hand, was a working-class movement that sought political reform, including universal suffrage, the secret ballot, and annual parliamentary elections. The Chartists used more aggressive and confrontational tactics such as mass meetings, petitions, and strikes to pressure the government to enact their demands.
While the Anti-Corn Law League and Chartists shared some common grievances, such as the economic hardships faced by working-class people, their strategies and goals were distinct.
Picture Citation: A meeting of the Anti-Corn Law League in Exeter Hall in 1846
Attribution: See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1846_-_Anti-Corn_Law_League_Meeting.jpg
The Chartists’ Campaign Methodology
An interesting question is: Would the Chartists (and the Temperance and Suffragette movements, for that matter) have done better to have followed the Anti-Corn Law leaguers’ approach by not being aggressive and confrontational?
The effectiveness of different tactics can depend on the specific context and goals of a movement. While the non-confrontational tactics of the Anti-Corn Law League were effective in achieving their goal of repealing the Corn Laws, more aggressive and confrontational tactics such as mass meetings, petitions, and strikes were also important tools for other movements like Chartism, Temperance, and Suffragettes.
These movements faced different challenges and opponents, and their confrontational tactics were often a response to the lack of progress made through more peaceful means. For example, Chartists faced a government that was resistant to political reform, and mass meetings and petitions were a way to show the strength of their movement and put pressure on the government to listen to their demands.
Similarly, the Suffragette movement faced significant resistance to women’s suffrage from the government and society at large, and their confrontational tactics were a way to draw attention to their cause and force the issue onto the national agenda.
The effectiveness of different tactics can depend on the specific context and goals of a movement, and it is not necessarily the case that non-confrontational tactics are always more effective than confrontational tactics or vice versa.
Although the Chartists did not achieve all of their demands, their movement was important in that it marked a significant step forward in the struggle for political and social reform in Britain, and their ideas and ideals had a lasting impact on the country. Many reforms they called for, such as universal suffrage and a secret ballot, were eventually achieved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Chartist movement was a crucial development in the history of working-class struggle and political reform in Britain and has remained an important part of the country’s heritage to this day.
Knock-On Effects of Chartism
The People’s Charter of 1838 and the Chartist movement in Britain significantly influenced political reform movements in other countries. Similar movements emerged in other parts of Europe and North America in the 19th century, and these movements took up many of the ideas and ideals of the Chartists. For example:
- France: In France, the Chartist movement inspired the development of the republican and socialist movements, which sought to expand political representation and improve the rights of working-class people.
- Germany: The Chartist movement also had an impact on the development of the German labour movement, and the ideas of the Chartists influenced the drafting of the German Constitution in the aftermath of the 1848 Revolution.
- United States: The Chartist movement was widely reported in the United States and had a significant influence on the American labour movement and the development of the American political system.
- Canada: The Chartist movement also impacted political reform movements in Canada, and the ideas of the Chartists were taken up by the Canadian labour movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
- In conclusion, the Chartist movement and the People’s Charter of 1838 had a far-reaching impact on political reform movements in other countries, and the ideals of the Chartists continue to be an important part of the political and social landscape in many parts of the world today.
Members of Parliament in the 19th Century
In the 19th century, British MPs were not paid. An MP’s role was considered an honorary position, and individuals who served as MPs were expected to do so without financial compensation, in line with the traditional view of MPs as representatives of the people rather than professional politicians. However, this changed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as the increasing size and complexity of the British state made it increasingly difficult for MPs to serve without being paid.
In 1911, the Parliament Act established a small stipend for MPs, which was later increased to a full salary in the 1920s. This change reflected the growing recognition of the importance of the role of MPs in representing the interests of their constituents and in shaping government policy.
The Conditions in Britain for Working Men and their Families at the time
The conditions of most working men and their families were often harsh and difficult. Most working-class people lived in poverty and faced numerous challenges, including long working hours, low wages, and inadequate housing and living conditions. Working hours were often very long, with many workers putting in 12 hours or more per day, six days a week. Wages were low, and many workers struggled to make ends meet, with a significant portion of their income going towards basic necessities such as food and housing. Housing conditions were often cramped and unsanitary, with families often living in single rooms with limited access to clean water and sanitation.
In addition to these economic challenges, working-class people faced numerous social and political obstacles. They were largely excluded from political representation, that being largely limited to property-owning men. It meant that most working-class people had no voice in government and no way to address the issues that affected their lives.
Furthermore, the education system was inadequate, with most working-class children receiving little or no formal education, a vicious perpetual cycle of poverty, as children from working-class families could not secure better-paying jobs and improve their economic circumstances.
These conditions were a major factor in the development of the Chartist movement and the demand for greater political representation and universal suffrage for working-class people.
The Influence of Charles Dickens
It has been suggested that the Chartist movement in Britain was inspired by the writing of the Victorian author Charles Dickens. Dickens was a prominent novelist and social commentator who wrote about the poverty and suffering of the working classes in Britain during the 19th century. His works, such as Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and Hard Times, brought attention to the harsh conditions faced by many working-class people and exposed the injustices and inequalities of the society of the time.
In his novels and other works, Dickens was critical of the political and social systems that perpetuated poverty and suffering and advocated for social and political reform. This perspective was influential in shaping the views of many people and helped to inspire the Chartist movement and the demand for greater political representation and universal suffrage for working-class people.
It is important to note, however, that while Dickens’ writing may have been an inspiration for the Chartist movement, the movement was driven by a wide range of factors, including economic, political, and social conditions, as well as the actions and organizing efforts of political activists and leaders. The Chartist movement was a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, and while Dickens’s writing was an important part of the broader context, it was not the only factor that influenced the movement’s development and success.
Political and Socialist Activism
Many individuals involved in the Chartist movement were politically to the left and influenced by socialist and communist ideas. The Chartist movement was a response to the harsh economic conditions faced by working-class people in Britain in the 19th century, and its leaders and supporters were committed to improving the lives of ordinary people and promoting political and social change.
Communist ideas and influences can be seen in the Chartist movement in several ways. For example, it was driven by a strong sense of class consciousness and the belief that working-class people should have a voice in the political process – a key communist principle, reflecting the idea that the interests of the working class should be at the forefront of political and economic decision-making.
Additionally, the Chartist movement was influenced by the ideas of the French Revolution and the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. These ideals were also central to the Communist Manifesto, which was published several decades after the Chartist movement, and they continue to be central to communist thought and ideology today.
The Chartist movement was not explicitly communist, but socialist and communist ideas influenced it, and many of its leaders and supporters were politically to the left. The broader trend of political and social change that the Chartist movement was part of was the rise of working-class consciousness and political activism across Europe in the 19th century.
This trend was driven by many factors, including the growth of industrialisation and urbanisation, the spread of liberal and democratic ideas, and the increasing social and economic inequality faced by working-class people. At the time, Europe was undergoing a period of significant social and political change, with the rise of new ideologies and political movements, including nationalism, socialism, and communism.
The ideas and ideals of the French Revolution, such as liberty, equality, and fraternity, were also influential and inspired political activists and movements across the continent. Working-class people across Europe began to organise and demand better working conditions, higher wages, and political representation. The Chartist movement in Britain was one of the most prominent expressions of this trend, and its demands for universal suffrage and other political and social rights reflected the growing sense of class consciousness and political activism among working-class people in Britain.
Socialist Politicians of the Era
Some of the leading socialist politicians of the time in Britain were:
- Robert Owen: he was a Welsh textile manufacturer and social reformer who was one of the early pioneers of the cooperative movement and a strong advocate for workers’ rights. He was a strong believer in the power of cooperation and mutual support, and he believed that society could be improved by creating communities based on these principles.
- William Thompson: he was an Irish philosopher and political economist who was one of the earliest proponents of socialism in Britain. He believed that society should be based on the principles of equality and cooperation, and he advocated for a society where wealth and resources were distributed equally among all members.
- Friedrich Engels: Friedrich Engels was a German philosopher and political activist who, along with Karl Marx, was one of the architects of communism. Engels lived and worked in Britain for much of his life, and he was active in the Chartist movement and other political and social campaigns.
- Karl Marx: Karl Marx was a German philosopher, economist, and political activist who was one of the most influential figures in the development of communism. He lived and worked in Britain for many years, and his ideas had a significant impact on the Chartist movement and other political and social movements in Britain and around the world.
Citation: Portrait of Karl Marx (1818–1883)
Attribution: John Jabez Edwin Mayal, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Karl_Marx_001.jpg
These were some of the leading socialists (but not MPs) of the time, and their beliefs and ideas had a profound impact on the political and social landscape of the country and the world at large. These thinkers were dedicated to improving the lives of working-class people and advocating for greater social and political equality, and their ideas continue to influence political and social discourse to this day.
Key Details of the Movement and the People involved in its Promotion
- Origins: The Chartist movement responded to the limited political rights and harsh economic conditions faced by the working class in Britain at the time. The movement was named after the People’s Charter of 1838, a document outlining six key parliamentary reform demands.
- Demands: The six demands of the People’s Charter were universal suffrage for all men, a secret ballot, no property qualifications for members of Parliament, payment for members of Parliament, constituencies of equal size, and annual parliaments.
- Support: The Chartist movement drew support from a wide range of people, including trade unionists, working-class intellectuals, and middle-class reformers. At its peak, the movement had millions of supporters and was the first mass working-class movement in the world.
- Methods: The Chartists used various ways to promote their cause, including mass rallies, protests, petitioning, and direct action. They also used the media, including newspapers and journals, to spread their ideas and mobilise support.
- Resistance: The government of the day was resistant to the reforms outlined in the People’s Charter and took measures to suppress the Chartist movement, including using force against Chartist rallies and protests. Despite this, the Chartists persisted in their efforts and campaigned for political reform.
- Outcome: The Chartists did not achieve all of their demands, but their movement was important because it marked a significant step forward in Britain’s struggle for political and social reform.
- Legacy: The Chartist movement remains an important part of British history and heritage, and its ideals and principles continue to be an important part of the political and social landscape in the country. The movement was a landmark in the history of working-class struggle and political reform, and its ideas and ideals continue to inspire political activists and reformers to this day.
Citation: Stipple engraving portrait of the Chartist leader Feargus Edward O’Connor after an unknown artist
Attribution: National Portrait Gallery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Feargus_Edward_O%27Connor-crop.jpg
Some of the key movers and influencers of the Chartist movement in Britain were:
- Feargus O’Connor: the editor of the Chartist newspaper The Northern Star, O’Connor was a charismatic speaker and played a key role in organising Chartist rallies and protests. And became a leading figure in the Chartist movement. He advocated for universal suffrage and the establishment of a system of cooperatives to provide employment.
- William Lovett: one of the authors of The People’s Charter, Lovett was a radical reformer passionate about improving working-class people’s rights and promoting political and social change.
- Henry Hetherington: a radical publisher and Chartist activist, he was instrumental in spreading the ideas of the Chartist movement through his newspaper “The Poor Man’s Guardian.”
- Ernest Jones: a solicitor and radical journalist, as a Chartist activist, he was an important figure in the movement and was involved in organising several Chartist rallies and protests. Jones was among the most prominent speakers of the Chartist movement and was known for his oratory skills and commitment to social justice.
- James Bronterre O’Brien: A leading Chartist and political reformer who was active in the movement and played a key role in promoting its ideas and ideals.
- Benjamin Lucraft: a Chartist activist and trade unionist who organised Chartist rallies and protests.
- George Julian Harney: a Chartist activist and journalist involved in organising Chartist rallies and protests and was an important figure in the movement.
- James Bronterre O’Brien: a radical journalist and political theorist involved in the early stages of the Chartist movement. He was known for his strong support of universal suffrage and opposition to the government’s efforts to suppress the movement.
- George Julian Harney – a radical journalist and political activist who was involved in the Chartist movement and later became a leader in the socialist movement.
Many others played important roles and made significant contributions, such as:
- William Cuffay: A Chartist activist and former slave.
- Samuel Kydd: A Chartist activist and trade unionist.
- John Collins: A Chartist activist and trade unionist.
- Sarah Parker Remond: A Chartist activist and leading member of the Anti-Slavery Society who was involved in promoting women’s rights and was an important figure in the Chartist movement.
- Frances Power Cobbe: A Chartist activist and women’s rights campaigner who promoted women’s rights and was an important figure in the Chartist movement.
- Thomas Cooper: A Chartist activist and poet.
- William Hill: A Chartist activist and trade unionist.
These individuals, along with many others, played important roles in the Chartist movement and made significant contributions to its success. The movement was a true expression of working-class solidarity and activism, and it was the collective efforts of many people that made it such a powerful force for change.
Left-Wing Socialist Publications
There were several left-wing socialist publications in Britain during the mid-to late-1800s, and they played an important role in shaping the political discourse and promoting socialist ideas of the time. Some of the most notable publications were:
- The People’s Paper: Founded in 1852 by James Bronterre O’Brien, The People’s Paper was a weekly newspaper that advocated radical democracy, socialism, and trade unionism. The paper was influential in promoting the ideas of Chartism, the working-class movement that aimed to expand political rights and challenge the power of the aristocracy.
- The Socialist: The Socialist was a monthly magazine founded by William Morris and his colleagues in 1883. The magazine advocated for a revolutionary socialist agenda, promoting the idea of common ownership of the means of production and distribution. William Morris (1834-1896) was an English designer, writer, and socialist activist. He was one of the most influential figures of the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain, which sought to revive traditional craftsmanship and promote the importance of design in everyday life. In addition to his work as a designer, Morris was also a prolific writer and poet. He was also a committed socialist and played an important role in developing British socialism. Morris was a founding member of the Socialist League, a revolutionary socialist organisation that advocated overthrowing capitalism and establishing a socialist society. The Socialist magazine reflected the influence of ideas of Russian revolutionary socialists such as Peter Kropotkin, whose work Morris translated into English. The Socialist also published articles by Russian revolutionaries and socialists, including Vladimir Lenin.
- The Commonweal: Founded in 1885 as the official newspaper of the Socialist League, The Commonweal was a weekly publication that promoted Marxist and anarchist ideas. The paper was edited by William Morris and later by Eleanor Marx.
- Justice: Founded in 1884 by Henry Hyde Champion, Justice was a weekly socialist newspaper associated with the Social Democratic Federation. The paper was an important voice of socialist thought in Britain, promoting Marxist theory and advocating for the nationalisation of industry. Justice had contacts with Russian revolutionary socialists and supported the Russian Revolution of 1917, which led to the establishment of the Soviet Union. However, it is worth noting that the Social Democratic Federation was critical of the Bolsheviks’ authoritarian methods of governance and ultimately did not support the Soviet government.
- The Labour Leader: The Labour Leader was a weekly newspaper founded in 1887 by Keir Hardie, a prominent socialist politician and trade unionist. The paper was associated with the Independent Labour Party and advocated for workers’ rights, social justice and democratic socialism.
Picture Credit: Portrait of William Morris, aged 53
Attribution: Frederick Hollyer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William_Morris_age_53.jpg
Today, looking back, few would deny that the demands of the Chartists were perfectly reasonable for a regularly organised and fair society:
- A vote for every man aged 21 years and above, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for a crime.
- A secret ballot to protect the elector when exercising his vote (a vote for women was another issue).
- No property-owning pre-requisite as a qualification to becoming a Member of Parliament – allowing constituencies to return the man of their choice.
- Payment for MPs’ services – enabling tradespeople, working men, or other persons of modest means to leave or interrupt their livelihood to attend to the nation’s interests.
- Equal constituencies – thus securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors instead of allowing less populous constituencies to have as much or more weight as larger ones.
- Parliamentary elections annually – thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since no purse could buy a constituency under a system of universal manhood suffrage every twelve months.
History shows that after Chartism died out, Britain adopted the first five reforms. Chartists saw themselves fighting against political corruption and for democracy in an industrial society but attracted support beyond the radical political groups for economic reasons, such as opposing wage cuts and unemployment.
Citation: Former Chartist Mural in Newport commemorating the uprising
Attribution: Hughthomas1, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Newportx1.JPG
Sources and Further Reading
- 1848: The British State and the Chartist Movement, by John Saville, published by Cambridge University Press (1990), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/1848-British-State-Chartist-Movement/dp/0521396565
- A History of the Chartist Movement, by Julius West, published by Sagwan Press (2015), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/History-Chartist-Movement-Julius-West/dp/1340228467/
- Bibliography of the Chartist Movement, 1837-1976, by J. F. C. Harrison and Dorothy Thompson, published by Harvester Press (1978), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bibliography-Chartist-movement-1837-1976-Harrison/dp/0391007424/
- Chartist Movement in Britain, 1838-1856, Volume 1, by Gregory Claeys, published by Routledge (2021), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chartist-Movement-Britain-1838-1856-1/dp/1138751537/
- Chartist Movement in Scotland, by Alexander Wilson, published by A. M. Kelley (1970), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chartist-Movement-Scotland-Alexander-Wilson/dp/0678067821
- Ernest Jones And The Chartist Movement, by Charlotte Alice Faber, published by Palala Press (2016), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ernest-Jones-Chartist-Movement-Charlotte/dp/1354881656
- History of the Chartist Movement, 1837-54, by R. G. Gammage, published by The Merlin Press Limited (1970), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/History-Chartist-Movement-1837-54-reprints/dp/0850361273/
- Perish the Privileged Orders: A Socialist History of the Chartist Movement, by Mark A. O’Brien, published by New Clarion Press (2009), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Perish-Privileged-Orders-Socialist-Chartist/dp/1873797524/
- The Chartist Movement, by Mark Hovell, published by Franklin Classics (2018), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chartist-Movement-Mark-Hovell/dp/0341794260
- The Chartist Movement: In its Social and Economic Aspects (Routledge Revivals), by Frank F Rosenblat, published by Routledge (2020), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chartist-Movement-Economic-Routledge-Revivals/dp/0367139502
- The Chartists: Popular Politics in the Industrial Revolution Paperback, by Dorothy Thompson (Author), published by Breviary Stuff Publications (2013), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chartists-Popular-Politics-Industrial-Revolution/dp/0957000537
- The Chartists: The First National Workers Movement (Socialist History of Britain), by John Charlton, published by Pluto Press (1997), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chartists-National-Workers-Movement-Socialist/dp/0745311822
- The Decline of the Chartist Movement, by Preston W. (Preston William) 1 Slosson, published by Wentworth Press (2016), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Decline-Chartist-Movement-Preston-William/dp/1361731648/
- Women in the Chartist Movement, by Jutta Schwarzkopf, published by Palgrave Macmillan (1991), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Women-Chartist-Movement-Jutta-Schwarzkopf/dp/0312062133/
- The Chartist Movement (Political Reform in 19th Century Britain – Part 1), at: https://youtu.be/jvpgqFdjV8o
- The Chartist Movement (Political Reform in 19th Century Britain – Part 2), at: https://youtu.be/fHFJMG_SHNA
- What was the significance of Chartism? (Royal Holloway University), at: https://youtu.be/z6BO4niwZxY
- What role did women play in Chartism? at: https://youtu.be/avEsCIgDg00
- The Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common, at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXqwcEsxEoY
- Why did the Second Chartist petition of 1842 fail? at: https://youtu.be/V2-PC7u0dyU
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End Notes and Explanations
- Source: https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/electionsvoting/chartists/overview/chartistmovement/ © Crown Copyright duly acknowledged. ↑
- Explanation: Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in the United Kingdom that erupted from 1838 to 1857 and was strongest in 1839, 1842 and 1848. It took its name from the People’s Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement, with particular strongholds of support in Northern England, the East Midlands, the Staffordshire Potteries, the Black Country, and the South Wales Valleys. The movement was fiercely opposed by government authorities who finally suppressed it. Support for the movement was at its highest when petitions signed by millions of working people were presented to the House of Commons. The strategy employed was to use the scale of support which these petitions and the accompanying mass meetings demonstrated to put pressure on politicians to concede manhood suffrage. Chartism thus relied on constitutional methods to secure its aims, though some became involved in insurrectionary activities, The People’s Charter called for six reforms to make the political system more democratic: (1) A vote for every man aged twenty-one years and above, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for a crime. (2) The secret ballot to protect the elector in the exercise of his vote. (3) No property qualification for Members of Parliament (MPs), to allow the constituencies to return the man of their choice. (4) Payment of Members, enabling tradesmen, working men, or other persons of modest means to leave or interrupt their livelihood to attend to the interests of the nation. (5) Equal constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing less populous constituencies to have as much or more weight than larger ones, and (6) Annual Parliamentary elections, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since no purse could buy a constituency under a system of universal manhood suffrage in every twelve months. Eventually, after Chartism died out, Britain adopted the first five reforms. Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chartism and https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/electionsvoting/chartists/overview/chartistmovement/ ↑
- Source: https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Chartist-Movement/ ↑
- Source: David V.J. Jones, The Last Rising:The Newport Chartist Insurrection of 1839 (University of Wales Press, 1999). Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newport_Rising ↑
- The League was a nationwide middle-class organisation that held many well-attended rallies on the premise that a crusade was needed to convince parliament to repeal the corn laws. Its long-term goals included the removal of feudal privileges, which it denounced as impeding progress, lowering economic well-being, and restricting freedom. The League played little role in the final act in 1846 when Sir Robert Peel led the successful battle for repeal. However, its experience provided a model widely adopted in Britain and other democratic nations to demonstrate the organisation of a political pressure group with a popular base. ↑
- Explanation: Richard Cobden (3 June 1804 – 2 April 1865) was an English Radical and Liberal politician, manufacturer, and a campaigner for free trade and peace. He was associated with the Anti-Corn Law League and the Cobden–Chevalier Treaty. As a young man, Cobden was a successful commercial traveller who became co-owner of a highly profitable calico printing factory in Sabden but lived in Manchester, a city with which he would become strongly identified. However, he soon found himself more engaged in politics, and his travels convinced him of the virtues of free trade (anti-protection) as the key to better international relations. In 1838, he and John Bright founded the Anti-Corn Law L ague, aimed at abolishing the unpopular Corn Laws, which protected landowners’ interests by levying taxes on imported wheat, thus raising the price of bread. As a Member of Parliament from 1841, he fought against opposition from the Peel ministry, and abolition was achieved in 1846. Another free trade initiative was the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty of 1860, promoting closer interdependence between Britain and France. This campaign was conducted in collaboration with John Bright and French economist Michel Chevalier, and succeeded despite Parliament’s endemic mistrust of the French. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Cobden ↑
- Sources: (1) Malcolm Chase, Chartism: A New History (Manchester University Press, 2007), (2) Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People?: England 1783–1846 (2006) pp 612–621. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chartism ↑