Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Chartism, in English history (1837-1848), though a political movement, arose mainly from economic causes. There was much distress and discontent among the labouring classes, due mainly to the existence of the Corn Laws, and stimulated by the necessary, but severe, new Poor Law of 1834. The troubles between capital and labour due to the "factory system "and the substitution of machinery for hand labour, and the severe laws against combination of workmen for trades-union purposes had also a large share in producing the feeling which found expression in the movement. The Reform Bill of 1832 had transferred political power from the landowners to the middle classes, but had practically ignored the artisans and labourers. On the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837 a petition was drawn up asking for a further extension of the franchise. Lord John Russell's ministry declining to reopen the Reform question, a conference between Liberal members of Parliament and working-class leaders drew up a programme of reform, comprising six points - universal suffrage, annual parliaments, the ballot, the abolition of the property qualification then requisite for members of Parliament, and equal electoral districts. This programme was named the People's Charter by Daniel O'Connell. Prominent leaders of the movement were Feargus O'Connor (who afterwards went mad), Ernest Jones, and Henry Vincent. In 1839 Vincent was imprisoned at Newport, Monmouthshire, and an elaborate attempt at rescue was made by 10,000 armed men, marching in three divisions, led by Frost, an ex-magistrate. Some misunderstanding among the leaders caused the attempt to fail, and Frost, Jones, and Williams were tried for high treason and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to transportation. This trial, however, spread the movement, bringing in such men as Thomas Cooper, the poet (q.v.). In 1841 such Chartists as were electors helped to upset Lord Melbourne's administration by joining the Tories at the general election. In May, 1842, a monster petition was presented to the House of Commons, and it was moved that the petitioners should be heard at the bar by counsel, but the motion was opposed by Macaulay, Peel, and Roebuck, and rejected. The repeal of the Corn Laws partly allayed the agitation, which was revived in 1848 in sympathy with the revolutionary movements in France and on the Continent. A monster meeting was arranged for April 10th on Kennington Common (now Kennington Park) to march in military order to the House of Commons, and present a petition for legislation embodying the six points. The Government declared the meeting illegal, and troops (skilfully kept out of sight by the Duke of Wellington) were detailed to protect the various public buildings and break up the procession if necessary. Many of the more ardent Chartists favoured an armed resistance, but the night before the meeting, in deference to the advice of Feargus O'Connor and other leaders, the plan was abandoned, and the physical force men withdrew from the project altogether. Great alarm was felt in London, and 200,000 special constables were sworn in to preserve the peace. The petition was presented, and stated to be signed by 5,700,000 persons, but it was found, on examination, that the signatures numbered only about 2,000,000, and included a number of signatures, frequently repeated, purporting to be those of the Queen, Prince Albert, the Duke of Wellington, and various characters in the novels of Capt. Marryat and other popular literature. A subsequent demonstration on Whit Monday, May 12th, was a pitiful failure, and, though some riots took place in Lancashire, the movement gradually died out, killed by the failures of April 9th and 10th. See Justin McCarthy's History of Our Own Times.