Chartism

Factors leading to Chartism

  • the severity of the Irish Coercion Act 1833 shocked British radicals- they feared that the Whigs would crack down on them just as fiercely
  • The Whigs took a firm stand against the GNCTU, and destroyed it within six months
  • in the 1830s, every copy of a British newspaper paid a tax of 4 pence, which made the press far to expensive for ordinary people
  • the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 meant that those who sought relief were paid less than the lowest paid worker, outdoor relief was abolished and the poor were only supported if they left their homes and entered the local workhouse
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Creation of the Chartist movement

  • LWMA- small membership of a few hundred politically aware artisans, such as tailors and other craftsmen, and charged a fairly high membership of one shilling. they wanted to achieve their aims through peaceful protests, or moral force, which would persuade parliament to embrace social and political change
  • BPU- a strong organisation of midde and working class people that campaigned in support of the reform bill in 1831-32
  • GNU- founded by Feargus O'Connor and established several local radical associations pledged to support parliamentary reform. he founded the Northern Star as its mouthpiece
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National Convention, 1839

  • after the People's Charter was adopted in 1838, Chartists began to organise meetings throughout the country to elect delegates to the Chartists Convention, which was to meet in London in February 1839
  • One of the largest meetings was held on Kersal Moor outside Manchester in September 1838, where predicted numbers range anywhere from one million to a more realistic 50,000
  • For the LWMA, the People's Charter was a peimarily politcal document, whereas many supporters in the Midlands were more concerned with economic issues
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The Newport Rising, November 1839

  • In August 1839, Henry Vincent was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment on charges of unlawful assembly 
  • in response, local organisers decided on a massive show of force on the town of Newport, in an attempt to convince authorities to release Vincent and other Chartist leaders
  • three seperate marches converged totalling about 10,000 men
  • troops fired into the crowd and they dispersed, but 22 men died and 50 were injured
  • the rising only strengthened the government's view that the Chartists wanted to violently overthrow the state
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Chartist petitions

  • 1839
    • three mile long document with 1,283,000 signatures on it
    • one-quarter of all signatories were women
    • large public demonstrations were held to convince MPs to accept the document
    • fewer than half of all MPs turned up to vote, and the petition was rejected
  • 1842
    • now a Conservative government- 3.3million signatures, 1/3 of the adult population andf the largest petition ever presented to parliament
    • unemployment was widespread
    • petition was rejected, resukting in the Plug Plot (not directly Chartist)
  • 1848
    • mass meeting planned for 10th April, in which only 25,000 people turned up rather than the hoped for 200,000
    • police forced prevented demonstrators from crossing the Thames bridges
    • There were less than 2 million signatures rather than the claimed 5.5 million, making Chartism a laughing stock
    • HOC wouldn't consider the petition
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Roles of Lovett and O’Connor

  • O'Connor
    • popular in the North of England and sustained his message in the Northern Star
    • founded the NCA which gave central direction to the movement
    • he wanted to promote Chartism in its entirety
    • After 1842 Chartist activity began to fragment as leading Chartists took up single issues
    • O'Connor came up with the Chartist Land Plan- Chartists could buy shares in the scheme, and ballots were drawn to allot smallholdings to a fortunate few
    • only 250 families were settled under the scheme, which was wound up following a government investigation of 1848
  • Lovett
    • convinced that education was the key to infividual advancement
    • founded the National Association Promoting the Poltical and Social Improvement of the People, which O'Connor denounced, fearing that it distracted from the central focus of the People's Charter
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Why had Chartism failed to reach its aims by 1850?

  • it never became a cohesive organisation of the entire working class and failed to attract the so-called 'aristocracy of labour'
  • most villages were samll and isolated from each other, making co-operation difficult
  • it was unable to gain the lasting support of the trade unions
  • there are clear relations between the state of the economy and spikes in Chartism
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How did Chartism change 1838-50?

  • National support
    • strong support in the Midlands, the north and Scotland
    • never made much headway in many areas of England and London
  • Women and Chartism
    • women provided support in its early years but they were never considered for roles in the national movement
  • Middle class
    • had support from middle classes in its early years, especially in London
    • by 1838, most middle class supporters had left the movement due to concerns with violence
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Government responses

  • Peel believed that a trained police force could suppress disorder without without having to resort to guns and swords
  • the government's response was initially measured and intended to not provoke a violent reaction, but as time went on the reaction became more severe
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Major General Napier

  • In April 1839, Major General Napier was appointed to command 4000 troops in the 11 counties that compromised the Northern District
  • he had displayed an active sympathy for the poor for many years
  • he divided his forces into three large detachments, positioned around the north and close to major industrial centres
  • Napier believed that the expected month of strikes would not take place because workers simply couldn't afford to lose their wages for a prolonged period
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