Empire, State and Society: Britain since 1830

By Jamie L. Bronstein; Andrew T. Harris | Go to book overview

2
Universal Suffrage and No Surrender
Politics at Home and Abroad, 1830–1867

It was a December evening in 1842, in Leeds. At 5:30 p.m. the doors were opened, to reveal that the music hall had been decked out in fine style for a party. Evergreens and artificial flowers hung from the rafters and entwined around handsome portraits of the gentlemen who were advocating the right of the working classes to vote: Feargus O’Connor and Thomas Slingsby Duncombe. Flags and banners festooned the walls, including one that read: “T.S. Duncombe, the unflinching advocate of the People’s Rights.” Over the next hour, men filed in, filling the tables in the music hall, and then took tea. Toasts were given to a document called the People’s Charter, that among its Six Points called for the expansion of the right to vote to include all men over the age of 21. And then – to immense cheering – Thomas Slingsby Duncombe got up to speak.

The man who ascended the podium was tall, and straight, with a pleasant, symmetrical face, a tanned complexion, and curling dark hair.1 In the broad tones of his Yorkshire upbringing, Duncombe announced that he was completely committed to their cause of expanding the suffrage (the right to vote). He assured his audience that being a Chartist and campaigning for the rights of working people was not a crime, and urged them not to relax their call for the right to meet in public and discuss their grievances. Invoking the rights of freeborn Englishmen, he told them that he believed that he was representing the traditional politics of his country by upholding Chartist ideals. Far from the inner London constituency that had elected him to Parliament, in front of a group largely composed of nonvoters, Thomas Slingsby Duncombe was giving a stump speech. Duncombe and his followers believed that if the working people gained the right to vote, they would be able to directly represent their interests for the first time: to protect the rights of labor, regulate the hours of factory work, and prevent the poor from being inhumanely warehoused.

-30-

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