Chartism

Chartism, workingmen's political reform movement in Great Britain, 1838–48. It derived its name from the People's Charter, a document published in May, 1838, that called for voting by ballot, universal male suffrage, annual Parliaments, equal electoral districts, no property qualifications for members of Parliament, and payment of members. The charter was drafted by the London Working Men's Association, an organization founded (1836) by William Lovett and others, but the movement gathered momentum largely because of the fervor and rhetorical talents of Feargus O'Connor. He traveled widely, especially in the north, where recurrent economic depressions and the constraints of the new poor law (1834) had bred especially deep discontent, and recruited support for the charter. In Aug., 1838, the charter was adopted at a national convention of workingmen's organizations in Birmingham. The following February another convention, calling itself the People's Parliament, met in London. A Chartist petition was presented to Parliament (and summarily rejected), but the convention rapidly lost support as the multiplicity of aims among its members and rivalries among its leaders became apparent. Riots in July and a confrontation between Chartist miners and the military at Newport, Wales, in November led to the arrest of most of the Chartist leaders by the end of 1839. In 1840, O'Connor founded the National Charter Association (NCA) in an attempt to centralize the organization of the movement, but most of the other leaders refused to support his efforts. It was the NCA that drafted and presented to Parliament the second Chartist petition in 1842. It too was overwhelmingly rejected. By this time the vitality of Chartism was being undermined by a revival of trade unionism, the growth of the Anti-Corn Law League, and a trend toward improvement in working-class economic conditions. O'Connor began to devote himself to a scheme for settling laborers on the land as small holders. The last burst of Chartism was sparked by an economic crisis in 1847–48. In Apr., 1848, a new convention was summoned to London to draft a petition, and a mass demonstration and procession planned to present the petition to Parliament. The authorities took extensive precautions against trouble, but the demonstration was rained out and the procession, which had been forbidden, did not take place. This fiasco marked the end of Chartism in London, although the movement survived for a while in some other parts of the country.

See A. Briggs, ed., Chartist Studies (1959); M. Hovell, The Chartist Movement (3d ed. 1967); J. T. Ward, Chartism (1973); D. Goodway, London Chartism, 1838–1848 (1982); C. Godfrey, Chartist Lives (1987).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

FREE! A History of the Chartist Movement
Julius West.
Houghton Mifflin, 1920
The Age of the Chartists, 1832-1854: A Study of Discontent
J. L. Hammond; Barbara Hammond.
Longman, 1930
The Chartist Challenge: A Portrait of George Julian Harney
A. R. Schoyen.
Heinemann US, 1958
Robert Lowery, Radical and Chartist
Brian Harrison; Patricia Hollis; Robert Lowery.
Europa Publications, 1979
Class and Conflict in Nineteenth-Century England, 1815-1850
Patricia Hollis.
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "Chartism," Chap. 12 "Protest Chartism," Chap. 13 "Self-Help Chartism," Chap. 14 "Chartism and the Middle-Class Alliance," and Chap. 15 "Chartism and Trades Unionism"
English Radicalism
S. MacCoby.
Allen & Unwin, 1935
Librarian’s tip: Chap. XI "Failure of the Chartist Convention of 1839" and Chap. XII "Chartism Survives"
The Decline of British Radicalism, 1847-1860
Miles Taylor.
Clarendon Press, 1995
Librarian’s tip: "Chartist Ideology" begins on p. 85
A Short History of the British Working Class Movement, 1789-1925
G. D. H. Cole.
G. Allen & Unwin, vol.1, 1927
Librarian’s tip: Chap. VII "Chartism to 1839" and Chap. VIII "Chartism -- Later Phases"
The Factory Movement, 1830-1855
J. T. Ward.
MacMillan, 1962
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Eight "Chartism and Reaction"
Working Class Radicalism in Mid-Victorian England
Trygve R. Tholfsen.
Columbia University Press, 1977
Librarian’s tip: "Chartist Ideology" begins on p. 85
Chartism Revisited
Evans, Eric.
History Review, March 1999
Independent Radicalism in Early Victorian Britain
Michael J. Turner.
Praeger, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Correcting the Chartists"
A United People? Leaders and Followers in a Chartist Locality, 1838-1848
Hall, Robert G.
Journal of Social History, Vol. 38, No. 1, Fall 2004
Slaves in Heaven, Laborers in Hell: Chartist Poets' Ambivalent Identification with the (Black) Slave
Mays, Kelly J.
Victorian Poetry, Vol. 39, No. 2, Summer 2001
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