Chartism emerged following the failure of the 1832 Reform Act that sought to extend the vote beyond the property owning class. In the 1970s, CHARTIST magazine was founded to emulate these traditions of socialism and democracy and provide a space for radical socialist thought
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
In June 1839, the Chartists’ petition was presented to the House of Commons with over 1.25 million signatures. It was rejected by Parliament. This provoked unrest which was swiftly crushed by the authorities.
A second petition was presented in May 1842, signed by over three million people but again it was rejected and further unrest and arrests followed.
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 known to have 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.
Despite the Chartist leaders’ attempts to keep the movement alive, within a few years it was no longer a driving force for reform.
However, the Chartists’ legacy was strong. By the 1850s Members of Parliament accepted that further reform was inevitable. Further Reform Acts were passed in 1867 and 1884.
By 1918, five of the Chartists’ six demands had been achieved – only the stipulation that parliamentary elections be held every year was unfulfilled.
CHARTIST’s Our History columns
Duncan Bowie is CHARTIST reviews editor and author of CHARTIST’s regular Our History columns. See below our recent instalments.
Our History 70 Chartist 284 (R H Tawney)
Our History 69 Chartist 283 (H N Brailsford)
Our History 67 Chartist 281 (Leonard Wolff)
Our History 66 Chartist 280 (Sylvia Pankhurst)
Our History 65 Chartist 279 (Douglas Cole)
Our History 64 Chartist 278 (William Mellor)
Our History 63 Chartist 277 (Emily Townshend)
Our History 62 Chartist 276 (Eden and Cedar Paul)
Our History 61 Chartist 275 (Bertrand Russell)
Our History 60 Chartist 274 (JT Murphy)
Our History 59 Chartist 273 (Arthur Ponsonby)
Our History 58 Chartist 272 (The Miners’ Next Step)
Our History 57 Chartist 271 (Fred Henderson)
Our History 56 Chartist 270 (Sydney Olivier)
Our History 55 Chartist 269 (Fred Jowett)
Our History 54 Chartist 268 (James Connolly)
Our History 53 Chartist 267 (Zelda Kahan)
Our History 52 Chartist 266 (Philip Snowden)
Our History 51 Chartist 265 (Ramsay MacDonald)
CHARTIST’s Our History pamphlet
In early 2014 Chartist published the first 50 of our Our History Columns in a single eBook.
Lecture on left opposition to WWI by Our History Editor Duncan Bowie – link. (Ethical Record link)
October 14th, 2014.