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By Edward Royle

Published by Longman (1980)
Reviewed by Cardinal Cox


Chartism by Edward Royle (Seminar Studies In History) available at
Chartism by Edward Royle (Seminar Studies In History) available at

Write Dope on Pnuk part 72

In the early part of the nineteenth century the processes of industrialisation and the concentration of people into the new cities were combining to make a population that was not only powerless but also unhappy in this situation. Over the previous half-century there had been the War of Independence in America and then the French Revolution, in Britain in the 1830’s there was a petition.

This came out of a general movement by Radicals who had been unsatisfied by the Reform Act of 1831. This had been the hope of many when the Whig government replaced that of the Duke of Wellington’s Tory ministers in 1830. However it only gave the vote to those households with an income of over £10 in parliamentary boroughs and created some new seats for the new industrial urban areas. New periodicals started up that flouted the 1819 act that imposed a tax upon newspapers, in an attempt to spread radical literature through the underclass. In court in 1834 a jury decided that one such publication, the Poor Man’s Guardian, was not itself a newspaper but a ‘legal publication’ and so exempt from the tax. Local groups had grown up for the working men and the London Association started to draft a petition to put before Parliament.

In 1838 the wording was finally agreed and the petition was to have six points.

1. Universal suffrage (for men),
2. to be regardless of whether or not the man owned property or how much he earned,
3. Parliamentary elections to be held every year,
4. for all areas to be represented equally,
5. for members of Parliament to receive a wage
6. and for the elections to be held by ballot.

In June 1849, with one million two hundred and eighty thousand signatures the petition was presented to Parliament. Mass meetings had been called during the period. Riots had broken out, strikes called and even uprisings attempted. Leaders were arrested and show trials held. While documenting all of this, the book also covers the various factions within the movement, for it was not a single body and members held widely differing opinions.

I found parallels with the early twenty-first century in that we now have a large proportion of the population who, although they have the vote, find little to vote for with the main political parties - sharing views and policies much closer than their equivalents in the nineteenth century. So individual issues might attract widespread support or opposition but even those parties who do not form the governments tend to not even debate those issues.

The Chartist movement inspired many people, including Charles Dickens, and laid the foundations for many latter popular campaigns.


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