THE CHARTIST MOVEMENT
Chartism evolved from massive social and economic unrest in the 1830s amongst the working-class due to changes from the industrial revolution which created food shortages and unemployment. It was a politically orientated movement led on behalf of the working class, in support of poor housing and working conditions. Chartism was split into two different groups known as ‘moral’ and ‘physical’ force chartists. Fergus O’Connor led the physical force chartists whilst William Lovett led the moral force chartists. Both groups employed different means and tactics to try to get government to consent towards achieving the vote for the working-class by means of a document known as a charter.
Political reform was inevitable around this period which forced Chartism to occur. It was born out of agitation from protests against reforms made by the Reform Act of 1832 and the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. Artisans were being thrown off land and increasingly forced out of farm work and into factories to operate machinery. Unemployment started to occur as machines began to take over the workers’ original roles of working the land, and they increasingly had to travel to towns for employment.
A series of wars (Napoleonic) caused difficult cotton trading from abroad which also caused unemployment to rise and create unrest amongst the working-class. They were always on the receiving end of governmental policy making and reforms. Mechanisation took away the jobs once available in agriculture and industry. Poor living conditions and poverty were experienced by many at around this time of great change. Chartism grew out of a need for a liberated society as the working-class started to save in friendly societies which had enabled them to become independent.
Harry Browne, 1999, states in his book how ‘the concept of equality is central to Chartism which is based upon the working-classes fundamental right to vote’. Edward Royle claims “by late 1830s, a radical working-class presence existed in all industrial areas in Britain”. ‘Group meetings amassed signatures for a Petition, which was to be presented in parliament allowing for the Charter to become law of the land. The Chartist Convention met in London in 1839 but the petition presented to the House of Commons was not given any sympathy. The Chartists used alternative methods, for example, a general strike and riots in the ‘bull ring’ to try and shift governmental consent. The House of Commons, however, rejected the Chartist Petition with 235 votes to 46, July 12’ (Browne, 1999).
Again and again it became more evident that parliament was not interested in Chartism as they were viewed as an unruly mob by. ‘Joseph Sturge tried to take control of the reform movement through the Complete Suffrage Union but failed to gain parliamentary vote. The Land Plan, which was led by Fergus O’Connor, was an ambitious scheme that allowed the resettlement of town workers into agricultural communities after he had failed to gain a franchise for working men’ (Browne, 1999).
‘The Great Reform Act of 1832 created massive disappointment to radicals like Place, Hunt and Cobbett, as they had campaigned for an extension of the franchise to enable ordinary people to vote, for example, Cornwall had a sparse population but 10 times more MPs than Lancashire’. Thus, workers had hoped that the Bill would give them the vote to put an end to unbearable living and working conditions which they had to endure. As this did not occur, widespread rioting occurred throughout the country as Whigs and House of Lords witnessed defeat after defeat in government. Working-classes were driven mad as the middle-classes were given the vote and not them.
‘The Great Reform Act caused widespread frustration to set in as rich industrialists gained the vote. Anti-Tory demonstrations took place as prisons in Bristol were broken into and set on fire. The Act had created a break from the past but still ensured working-class never got the vote. At this point the Chartist Movement was born. Hunger riots took place across the country as groups of people started to band together and form trade unions’ (Brown, 1998).
- Quote paper
- Sylvia Coulson (Author), 2009, The Chartism Movement, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/280433