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Causes of Chartism

Long term discontent with living and working conditions

- Industrial towns were overcrowded and so there was lots of ill health.  As a result of this there were epidemics of cholera, typoid.

Disappointment with the Great Refrom Act 1832

- Working class still did not have the vote, in some boroughs working men lost their vote.

- Pocket boroughs still had influence and bribery.

The collapse of Trade Unionism

- After the Tolpuddle Martyrs and arrest and trial of cotton spinners, union collapsed and joined the chartists.

Anger at the New Poor Law (Outdoor relief scrapped)

- Particularly strong in the North, commissoners 1st attempt to apply new system in 1837.

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Who joined the Chartist movement?

- Mainly skilled working class:


- People frustrated at being near but not above the threshold for voting.

- Worried their jobs were threatened (especially by machines).

- Also some middle and upper class sympathy but this was limited.

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Why did Chartism fail?

Internal Factors

- Demands were too advanced for the time.

- Divisions and disagreements about peaceful or protest methods.

- Aims were too complicated.

External Factors

- Never won sufficient middle-class support.

- Aims were too complicated which confused people.

- Spies were one step ahead of them (arresting leaders and moving troops)

- Peel's reforms made a difference and boosted the economy so support for Chartism fell.

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Overall significance of Chartism

- Manhood suffrage (1867-84)

- Abolishion of property qualification for MPs (1858).

- Secret Ballot (1872).

- Did NOT get annual elections but reduced from 7-5 years.

- Highlighted bad working conditions.

- MP payment.

- Redistributed seats in constituencies.

- For-runner for Labour Party.

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What happened to Peel and the Tory party since 182

Regarded as a traitor and so only had about 100 MPs that supported him against the Whigs.

After 1833, the Tory party began to revive under Peel.  He set out the Tamowrth Manifesto, which contained the aims and policies that appealed especially to middle class manufactuerers and businessmen.

After Victoria took over the throne, an election was held, and the Whigs won with a majority vote. 

However, in 1839 Melbourne resigned and was reluctant to accept Peel as Prime Minister.  Peel asked some of the ladies of the Queen's household to be Tories as a sign of Royal favour.  Victoria refused, maintaining that she would employ who she liked, Peel responded by refusing to form a government and Melbourne returned for another 2 years.

In 1841, Peel propsed a vote of no confidence and a general election was called, the Conservatives won a majority of over 70 seats and Peel became prime minister in August 1841.

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The Anti-Corn-Law League

- It is often contrasted with Chartism and seen as the most successful protest movement of the 19th Century.  It was a single issue campaign leading to the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.

- Ever since the 18th Century, arguments had raged over economic policy.

- Many politicians and economic theorists believed in Protectionism - protecting home-produced British goods from foreign competition by putting import duties on goods coming into Britain from abroad - making them more expensive.

- But in 1776, an economist named Adam Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations, arguing there should be no government restrictions or import duties to hinder trade.  Countries should specialise in producing what they were best at and trade freely with other countires.

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Why the ACCL opposed the Corn Laws.

- Since they restricted the import of cheap foreign corn, it was argued they kept bread prices high.  This was seen as unfair to the poor, especially after a run of bad harvests in the 1830s.

- The Corn Laws were seen as beneficial to the landownders and farnmers, protecting them from foreign competition and guaranteering high profits.

- Believers of Laissez-Faire said the corn laws were a restriction on trade and unjustified interference from the government.

- Other industries had moved to free trade, why should agriculture be protected?

- More competition from foreign would encourage farmers to industrialise and so higher unemployment.

- Once the Corn Laws were abolished and bread prices were dropped, the poor would have more money to spend on Brtish consumer goods, hence benefitting the economy.

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Economic and financial reforms

Budget 1842

- In Peel's budget, he introduced income tax.  It was imposed on the wealthier classes, and used so that Peel could reduce "indirect taxes" on imports, exports and goods in circulation inside Britain.  This was his attempt to revive the economy and reduce the cost of living for the working classes.  He also reduced the taxation on imported corn.

- Bank Charter Act 1844

This aimed to regulate banks  by imposing limits on how much paper money they could issue.

New banks were not permitted to issue paper currency at all.  The system worked effectively until WW1.

- Companies Act 1844

Aimed to regulate formation of companies as to counter fraud and reckless speculation

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Economic and financial reforms continued...

- Sugar Duties

Sugar was imported by West Indies and due to falling production there, sugar prices rose sharply.

Peel propsed to revise the Duties in 1844 in order to open up British trade and reduce prices.  However backbenchers in the government rebelled.  Peel threatened resignation if it was not passed, in the end enough conservatives were persuaded to pass the bill.

-Repeal of the Corn Laws

The process of fully repealing the corn laws, spanned over 3 years.  Two thirds of the party opposed Peel's policy.  The majority of the one third who supported him were members of the government.

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Social reforms

- Mines Act 1842

The act regulated the employment of women and children in mines, effectively removing them from working underground.  The bill was actually thw work of backbencher, Lord Ashley, but could not have been passed without Peel's support.

- Factory Act 1844

Again, originally the work of Lord Ashley, but he failed to pass the bill through the commons.  Peel decided it was too important so took it over as a government bill.  The act closed many of the loopholes left by the 1833 factory act.

- Public Health

Folling the 'sanitary report' of 1842, Peel set up the Health of Towns.  But after being deeply involved in the Irish Famine, it fell to the Whigs when they came back into office in1846, they passed the first public health act in 1848.

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- The Maynooth Grant 1845

The Maynooth semitary in Ireland for training catholic priests recieved an annual grant of £9000 a year from the government.  It was clearly inadequate.  Peel proposed to increase this to £27,000 and make it permanent

It was bitterly opposed by many of his own MPs and only passed with Whig support.

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Post Office savings bank


- Introduced to encourage working class families to save money for their own security.

- The act set a maximum total deposit of £150 (£90,000).  They could deposit up to £30 per year and were rewarded for doing so with an interest rate of 2.5%.

- Accounts were immediately taken up by many working class families, within 5 years there were over 600,000 accounts.

- The success of the POSBs was important in convincing Gladstone that at least some working class men were now fit to vote - something he had previously opposed.

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Other legislations.

- Public Baths and Washhouses Act 1846

Aimed to imrove hygiene.

- Public Libraries Act 1850

Enabled local authorities to set up free library services,

- Abolition of stamp duties

On newspapers in 1855 made newspapers cheaper to buy and encouraged working class literacy and awareness of events.


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Co-operate schemes

- The Rochdale Pioneers

A group of weavers and other workers who set up a shop selling items that were normally too expensove to buy.  They began with only a few things, such as butter, flour and candles.  Within a few months they were selling items such as tea and tobacco and the business was expanding rapidly.

The Rochdale Principles was set up, which included strictly limited returns for investors. i.e individuals would not get rich from profits, promoting education schemes for members and the public.

These principles changed upper class perceptions of the working class, they went from being seen as a dangerous and ignorant threat to the backbone of the country.

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The economy and the "Mid-Victorian" boom.

- In the 1850s as trade increased, Britain's economy dominated the world to an unprecidented extent.

- Britain had become the commercial capital of the world as well as trhe world's leading industrial power.

- British agriculture was also in a boom, disproving the fears over the repeal of the corn laws.

- Agriculture became increasingly mechanised and profitable, surplus labour from agriculture was being employed in industry.

- By the time of the 1870 census, over half the population was living in urban areas.

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The working classes and Parliamentary reform.

- In 1832, there had been a universal agreement in ruling classes (Tories and Whigs) that the working classes were unfit to vote.

- However, as the 1850s progressed, it was becoming harder to prove this view. The working classes were increasingly adopting middle class values of saving, learning and being self - sufficient.  Gladstone began to rethink since being faced with the evidence that the working class were now more fit to vote.

- Russell proposed an extension to the vote as early as 1851, but he was almost alone in the Whig government, especially from the major figure in the government - Lord Palmerston.

- By the end of the 1850s more support was gathering around the idea of parliamentary reform, but the momentum was blocked by Palmerston, who had emerged as Prime Minister after the Crimean War, who was majorly opposed to the idea. 

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Why Palmerston was so opposed to Parliamentary ref

- He had been a Liberal Tory Prime Minister in the 1820s and had originally opposed Parliamentary Reform but changed his mind in 1830 and agreed  to join the Whig government to pass a limited reform that would prevent revolution.

- Although he had opted to stay with the Whigs after the Reform Act was passed, he never changed his basic conservative ideas.  He was much more concerned with foreign affairs than domestic politics.

- He seriously pledged that the reform act was a "fianlk and irrevocable" solution to the crisis situation that had arisen over parliamentary reform.

- He was no democrat - he did not believe that the working classes were fit for participation in the political system.

Palmerston died in 1865 and Russell became leader and Prime Minister again. Gladstone and Russell wanted parliamentary reform, but although P had died, his supporters still carried on their opposition to reform.  When reform was finally proposed in 1866, rebelled and Liberal government forced to resign.

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