Chartism: Phases 1, 2 & 3 (1838-39, 1842, 1848).

  • Phase One: 1838-1839.
  • Phase Two: 1842.
  • Phase Three: 1848.
HideShow resource information

Why did the Chartist movement come into existence?

Poor conditions in workshops, mines, factories: The Factory Act, 1833 (Whig) bought in a 12 hour day for under 18s working limit. However, it only applied to textile factories, but it was not very effective. Lord Shaftesbury continued to campaign for a 10 hour limit for women and children, no limits for males. Serious injury and death was common with dangerous machinery.

Poor living conditions: Industrial towns were overcrowded and unhealthy with no sanitation or sewage disposal with constant outbreaks of typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis. A third of all children died before their fifth birthday.

Disillusionment with the 1832 Reform Act: The working classes had not been given the vote, Pocket boroughs, influencing and bribery (corruption) still existed due to no secret ballot. The Municipal Reform Act of 1835 had no benefit to working men as it was only the middle class who received the vote.

Anger, 1834 Poor Law: Commissioners tried to apply new system, North 1837.

Trade depression, unemployment & and hunger: Falling wages, unemployment, trade depression directly affected workers in most industries.

1 of 11

Chartism: Summary.

A movement  which came about in the mid 1830's out of working class discontent and disillusionment with the Whig government reforms. It was the first working class political organisation. It aimed to change the parliamentary system so that the working classes would be in control.

They drew up their political demands in a six-point list, The People's Charter. It was presented to parliament three times (1839,1842,1848) in the form of a petition with millions of signatures, all times it was rejected by the House of Commons, causing outbreaks of violence organised by the extreme Chartist leaders, followed by swift actions by the government to restore order.

The movement gradually died out after the third petition failure. Their demands were too ahead of their time for them to have been granted. But it did have some important effects; over the following 80 years, gradually five out of the six demands were granted; the only one rejected was the demand for annual elections, but in the Parliament Act of 1911, elections were changed to every five years instead of every seven. 

2 of 11


  • Attwood, Lovett, Place, LWMA: The most consistent leaders; moderate and peaceful, who hope to achieve their aims by persuasion and discussion through orderly meetings and pamphlets. They accepted that change would happen gradually without breaking the law and violence.
  • Feargus O'Connor: Was impatient with the moderates and a fiery speaker. He was an Irish Protestant who became MP for Cork in 1832 and wanted quick results. He founded the London Democratic Association in 1837 and then took over the Northern Star, the Leeds Radical newspaper which he soon turned into the main Chartist Propaganda weapon, with a weekly sale of 50,000 copies. However, he backed out on more than one occasion, falling out with every other important Chartist Leader but managed to retain popularity.
  • Bronterre O'Brien (Irish lawyer), Julian Harnay: Helped organise the groups in Sheffield and Newcastle and were both quite prepared to use force, real militants. Harnay wanted a full-scale revolution just the French, but they cooled down after another militant (John Frost) was sentenced to transportation after leading the Newport Uprising.
3 of 11

Chartism: Phase 1 (1838-1839).

1838: There was a series of huge open-air meeting addressed by Chartist Leaders; 100,000 gathered on Glasgow Green to hear O'Connor, atleast 30,000 at Manchester and a similar number at Leeds. When O'Connor tried to address a meeting in Newcastle the crowd was dispersed by the Cavalry.

Feb 1839: A National Chartist convention met in London to organise a petition and presentation to Parliament. The first serious differences of opinion occurred. The leaders argued about how best to proceed. Some extremists wanted a general strike immediately whilst Lovett and Attwood wanted to keep within the law. Attwood and the Birmingham contingent walked out in disgust. 

May 1839: The convention was moved to Birmingham, where there was more support for Chartism and the petition was completed after some vast meetings in the Bull Ring at which Lovett, O'Brien and Harnay appeared.

July 1839: The first Chartist petition containing 1.25 million signatures was brought to the House of Commons in a decorated chart. It was introduced by Attwood who asked that Parliament should grant the six points. Lord John Russell (Home Secretary) led the attack on the petition and it was overwhelmingly rejected by 235 votes to 46.

4 of 11

How did the movement begin and what sort of people

The London Men's Working Association: Founded in 1836, by a number of skilled craftsmen, including William Lovett, a cabinet maker and Francis Place, a Radical tailor. In 1837, a meeting between the LMWA and some Radical MPs formed the Charter, where the movement got its name from. Other protest groups were begun and there were soon 100 branches all over the country. The National Charter Association was formed in 1840 and the movement became well organised with annual subscriptions and local branch meetings. 

Membership was overwhelmingly middle-class: There was a great deal of middle-class support with the involvement if Thomas Attwood, Robert Owen, Joseph Sturge ( a Birmingham cornmiller); but they tended to abandon the movement in the early 1840's when it became more violent. The most reliable and consistent support came from the craftsmen who were being forced out of work die to new machinery and workers in areas of declining industry

5 of 11

The People's Charter.

- Universal male suffrage: The vote for all men over 21 years of age.

- Voting by secret ballot: Getting rid of corruption.

- Equal electoral districts (Constituencies): So that each MP would roughly represent the same number of voters.

- No property qualification for parliamentary candidates: to enable working men to be able to stand for Parliament.

- Payment of MPs: So working men who had no other income except from trade would be provided for when they left their jobs to enter parliament.

- Annual elections.

6 of 11

'Sacred Month': A general strike, There were protest meetings, riots and fights with many leaders calling for an armed uprising. The Whig government decided to act too. The army was increased by 5,000 and new police forces were set up in Birmingham, Manchester, Bolton and other industrial cities. General Napier blamed everything on 'Tory injustice and Whig stupidity' and sympathised with the working class.

November 1839: The Newport Uprising: Organised by John Frost, a local draper and former Mayor of Newport. He led 5,000 miners in an attack on the town, apparently aiming to release a Chartist leader from Goal. Authorities were aware well in advance and positioned troops in the Westgate Hotel. The Chartists were met by volleys of Musket fire; atleast 20 were killed and the rising ended in confusion. Frost and two other leaders were sentenced to death, but this changed to transportation. 

7 of 11

Phase Two: 1842.

Strike Fund: Members of the Chartist group paid a penny weekly to build up a strike fund as the most influential leaders finished their sentences and emerged from Goal.

May 1842: National Convention: A second petition was drawn up with 0.75 million signatures. It was supposedly six miles long and was carried to Parliament in a procession of over 100,000 people. It was introduced in the Common by Thomas Duncombe, supported by John Fielden. It was rejected to 287 votes to 49.

Rejection: Violence followed the rejection, also caused by wage reductions occurring in all industrial areas as the depression reached it's worst.

July/August 1842: Plug Riots: Wolverhampton - Strikers besieged the workhouse and had to be dispersed by Dragoon Guards.
Lancashire - 'Plug Riots' Strikers hammered the plugs out of factory boilers, forcing them to close down.
August: Work in the Industrial North hit a standstill with serious rioting in Preston, Rochdale, Stockport, Bury, Bolton. Several policemen killed in Manchester and thousands of strikers looted food stores. The closest point to revolution. 

8 of 11

Government Reaction: O'Connor who often advocated violence was horrified and condemned the strike in the 'Northern Star'.

Peel's government took prompt action and rushed troops to 'trouble spots' using new railways. Within a week, order was restored and 100's of Chartist leaders were thrown into Goal, strikers had no choice but to return to work. Membership declined rapidly as trade revived in 1843.

9 of 11

Phase Three: 1848.

1845 Land Plan: To buy Country Estates where 1000's of Chartists from industrial towns could settle, each family with its own small area of land, making them independent and easing the unemployment situation.

1847 May: O'Connor founded the Chartist co-operative land society in 1847. Chartists bought shares starting Chartist colonies. 24,000 were out of work in Manchester and 84,000 were on short-time.

1847 July: O'Connor was elected MP for Nottingham and the Chartists started to produce their 3rd petition. 

1848 April: National Convention: The petition was completed in London. It contained five points and was reported to have been signed by about 6 million people.

Kennington Common: 10th April, open-air rally, followed by a mass procession to Westminster to present the petition. Fewer people turned up than expected.

10 of 11

Why did Chartism fail?

  • It failed to gather support in Parliament - it posed a threat to the self-interest of those in power.
  • It failed to gather support from the middle-classes. The demands of Chartism were too radical for many of the middle-classes, who were comfortable enough. 
  • The repeal of the Corn Laws helped improve the economic climate of Britain, and there was less interest in radical reform. 
  • As well, the mid-19th century spawned a variety of social-reform groups with special aims, and the Chartist movement lost many of its members to these other groups.

Why was it a success? Although the Chartist Movement failed to directly achieve its aims, the movement itself was not a failure at all, but a powerful force that resulted in an increased awareness of social issues and created a framework for future working-class organisations. Many of the demands of the Chartists were eventually answered in the electoral reform bills of 1867 and 1864. 

11 of 11


Maddie Lee


Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all Modern Britain - 19th century onwards resources »