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What was the Chartist movement's aims?
Contents:
  1. How did the campaigners become experts on the issue?
  2. What were the aims of the Chartists?
  3. The Peel Web
  4. Chartism or The Chartist Movement

Britain's working-class Chartist movement organised a mass meeting at Kennington Common on April 10th, The death-knell of the Chartist movement in Britain sounded on what was meant to be its day of triumph. In a year when thrones tottered and regimes quailed as revolutions broke out all over Europe, the Chartist leaders organised a demonstration on Kennington Common in South London, across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament, on April 10th, The idea was that an intimidatingly huge crowd would march from Kennington Common now Kennington Park to Parliament and deliver a monster petition.

The authorities in London braced themselves to meet the threat. The great Duke of Wellington, who was almost eighty but still stood no nonsense, was put in charge. Calming nervous cabinet ministers, he made his arrangements with his accustomed sagacity. Cavalry and infantry were stationed at the south side of the bridges across the Thames and more troops were held in reserve along the north side, but all were kept as far as possible out of sight, to avoid provocation. Steamboats waited on the river to move troops to threatened locations as needed, and 10, men could have been concentrated in minutes at any given spot.

Cannon were readied close to Buckingham Palace. Meanwhile, more than , citizens were sworn in as special constables to assist the police. Also enrolled were all the London coal whippers, who unloaded coal from ships in the docks, and were extremely proud of having turned out to a man. The demonstration proved to be a damp squib, which petered out in pelting rain. Seven years earlier, a coalition of middle- and working-class radicals had forced the Reform Act through parliament, extending suffrage from the landed aristocracy to middle-class property owners but excluding the vast majority of Britons, who were property-less workers.

At first, many working-class radicals thought their newly empowered middle-class allies — organized in the Whig Party — would pursue a radical democratic reform agenda. They hoped their common enemy — the conservative, landed aristocracy — would be enough to unite them behind a program of expanding suffrage to the property-less and serving the interests of the bourgeois and proletarians. But these hopes were soon dashed.


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When the new Reformed Parliament opened, a wave of civil disobedience and popular resistance against mandatory church tithes swept across Ireland, terrifying property owners who feared another republican revolt. Working-class radicals across Great Britain felt betrayed. British workers vigorously opposed tyranny in Ireland, not only because of the injustice and suffering it imposed on the Irish, but also because it strengthened their mutual oppressors — the property owners and the British state.

They presciently argued that the techniques of military occupation the authorities developed on the Emerald Isle could easily be imported back and deployed against popular agitation in the industrial districts of England, Scotland, and Wales. It did little more than ban child labor below the ripe old age of nine and even then, only in certain industries , while limiting the working day for nine- to twelve-year-olds to eight hours and thirteen to seventeen-year-olds to twelve.

It established no cap on work hours for adults. The Factory Act was coupled with a vigorous assault on labor unions across the country, for which Tories and Whigs more often than not joined forces. To make matters worse, in the parliament passed the New Poor Law , which reduced alms to the destitute, introduced dehumanizing work requirements, and established intrusive oversight measures for the poor. For working-class radicals, these developments signaled that their political alliance with the middle-class Whigs had come to an end.

The British working class had learned what many others across the world have come to learn since: to achieve political democracy and defend their interests, they would have to organize as a class and take the fight for emancipation into their own hands. Their purpose? It was one of the first calls for a general strike in modern history. As expected, parliament overwhelmingly rejected the petition. Though largely symbolic when carried out, the action still resulted in the arresting and jailing of the strike leaders.

Small armed uprisings, organized in secret, erupted in the industrial districts that winter.

The most significant of these occurred in November in Newport South Wales, where thousands of armed Welsh workingmen, organized by Chartist leaders John Frost , Zepheniah Williams , and William Jones, descended on a military post in the center of town. Twenty-two Chartists were shot dead before the crowd dispersed, and the three organizers tried for high treason were booted out of the country.

The Chartist Movement (Political Reform in 19th Century Britain - Part 2)

Undeterred, the Chartist movement continued to organize and expand their activity. In the early s, the middle classes focused on fighting to repeal the Corn Law, a protectionist measure that taxed imported grains. While landlords benefitted greatly from the tariffs, manufacturers opposed it because it raised the cost of bread and, by extension, the wages they had to pay workers.

Anti—Corn Law activists expected the easy support of the working masses and made public appeals to galvanize their cause. But workers were uninterested in an alliance.

How did the campaigners become experts on the issue?

As one writer recalled at the time:. It was a battle of the employer and the employed. Masters were astonished at what they deemed the audacity of their workmen, who made no scruple standing beside them on the platform, and contesting with them face to face their most cherished doctrines. Terrible was the persecution they suffered for taking this liberty.

Loss of employment usually followed, but it was in vain that their employers endeavored to starve them into submission. But its reception was no warmer.

What were the aims of the Chartists?

I believe that Universal Suffrage would be fatal to all purposes for which government exists, and for which aristocracies and all other things exist, and that it is utterly incompatible with the very existence of civilization. I conceive that civilization rests on the security of property. I will assert, that while property is insecure, it is not in the power of the finest soil, or of the moral or intellectual constitution of any country, to prevent the country sinking into barbarism.

Macaulay had every right to be concerned.

This time around, the charter was being taken up by an increasingly militant trade union movement. Defeat after defeat had taught the unionists that power in the workplace could not be conquered until power over the state had been removed from the hands of their employers. As one group of London journeymen shoemakers put it:. The workers chose their tactic carefully. They understood how their labor was used to maintain bourgeois rule, and consequently, the collective power they held in the strike.

This placard was posted in several coal-mining districts:. To the Colliers of England and Wales. Strike for the Charter!

The Peel Web

In your hands is reposed such a power as the tyrant few, who oppress and grind the faces of the poor, cannot withstand. Without coal the lordly aristocrat cannot cook his luxurious meal. Without coal the Steam Engine whose iron arm has beggared so many of your poor fellow-countrymen, willing to work — murdered thousands of innocent children in our Cotton Mills yearly — reduced thousands of tender mothers to a worse state than brute beasts, and hung their pale limbs with filthy rags—without coal this giant monster, the Steam Engine, cannot work. Your labour, my honest friends, supplies it with strength, for without Coal it is powerless.

Chartism or The Chartist Movement

Stop getting Coal, for Coal supports the money-mongering Capitalists. Riots subsequently erupted in several cities, and workers brought entire industries to a standstill in one of the first general strikes in history. Authorities responded by arresting and sentencing — dozens of Chartist leaders were tried in London, and over a thousand strikers in the industrial districts.