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PREFACE


THE Chartist movement occupies a position of exceptional importance in the social history of England.  The People's Charter was the basis of the first working-class agitation to take place in this country on a national scale.  This fact alone makes the movement a prominent feature in the political education of the English people.  Historians, nevertheless, have consistently refused to study Chartism, or to see in it much more than a demonstration which attempted to overawe Parliament on April 10, 1848, and failed ignominiously.  For the most part the standard histories of the last century have done little more than to copy one another's inaccuracies.  Thus, Miss Martineau, Molesworth, Justin McCarthy, and innumerable lesser writers, repeat the story that Daniel O'Connell handed the Charter to Lovett, remarking solemnly, "There, Lovett, is your Charter . . ." etc.  The fact that Lovett was the principal author of the document in point would alone disqualify the story; the facts that O'Connell took no part in its composition, that his immediately subsequent actions belied the remaining sentiments attributed to him, that he and Lovett were in a state of chronic mutual dislike, condemn the tale beyond all hope of acquittal.  A few facts, a few conventional comments, and a piously expressed gratitude that the English were not as other people in 1848, generally complete the tale of references to Chartism.  In his preface to the English translation of The Right to the Whole Produce of Labour, by Anton Menger, Professor Foxwell has some striking things to say about the Chartist period and the treatment it usually receives.  "It is notorious that all the great remedial measures which have proved the most effective checks against the abuses of capitalistic competition are of English origin.  Trade Unions, Co-operation, and Factory Legislation are all products of English soil.  That the revolutionary reaction against capitalism is equally English in its inspiration is not so generally known."  The great interest of the Chartist period is the active quest for ideas which was then being carried on, and its first results.  Within a few years working men had forced upon their attention the pros and cons of trade unionism, industrial unionism, syndicalism, communism, socialism, co-operative ownership of land, land nationalization, co-operative distribution, co-operative production, co-operative ownership of credit, franchise reform, electoral reform, woman suffrage, factory legislation, poor law reform, municipal reform, free trade, freedom of the press, freedom of thought, the nationalist idea, industrial insurance, building societies, and many other ideas.  The purpose of the People's Charter was to effect joint action between the rival schools of reformers; but its result was to bring more new ideas on to the platform, before a larger and keener audience.

    This teeming mass of ideas, inspired with nascent energy, is the most striking characteristic of the Chartist movement.  To the working men who listened to William Lovett and Feargus O'Connor, ideas mattered more than to any succeeding generation.  Lovett's autobiography is a curious piece of evidence, showing its writer's obsession with ideas.  More than one-half of that substantial book consists of manifestos and addresses drafted by its author.  To Lovett the idea was as important as the deed.  He and his generation really did believe in the prevailing power of truth.

    At the present moment there is no history of Chartism in print in the English language.  R. G. Gammage's book once held the field undisputed, but its value has diminished with its age, as generations have arisen with no first-hand knowledge of the subject, and therefore unable to fill in the gaps from memory.  Gammage's prolix account of meetings, personalities, squabbles, and prosecutions, would be of more interest to Chartists themselves than to those ignorant of the underlying forces and ideas of the movement, which the author scarcely explains.  Prof. Dolléans' massive Le Chartisme is also more concerned with men than with ideas, and is quite extraordinarily diffuse.  Perhaps the best existing account of the subject is contained in M. Beer's Geschichte des Socializmus in England.1  Herr Schluter's Die Chartisten-Bewegung, completed, as the author alleges, in order to rectify the errors of the former writer, is a comparatively inferior work, based upon a smaller amount of research but an infinitely stronger sentimentality.  Chartism has long been a favourite subject of German students, who have produced several short works on it, down to the inevitable philological study on Der Flugschriftenliteratur des Chartistenbewegung.  Other works on the subject are to be had in Italian and Russian.

    The author of the present work can claim to have one considerable advantage over his predecessors, of whatever nationality.  This has been his access to the Place Collection at the British Museum.  It appears that in 1866, on the death of Joseph Parkes, the Museum bought from his library 180 volumes, mainly consisting of press cuttings, which had come into his possession on the death of Francis Place.  Among these volumes (a list of which is to be found in the bibliography) a set of twenty-eight consists of materials for a history of Chartism down to 1847.  Place himself attempted to write a history of Chartism, but had to give it up.  This particular set contains many otherwise inaccessible pamphlets, with correspondence, memoranda, and annotations.  The Place Collection is at present kept in the British Museum Repository at Hendon, and was first catalogued only in 1913.  Its value to a student of the first half of the last century cannot be overestimated.  The Collection should not be confused with the ninety-three volumes of the Place MSS. at the British Museum, which have been well known to historical students since the Publication in 1898 of The Life of Francis Place, by Mr. Graham Wallas.


1 The first volume of an English translation of this work has now appeared—J.C.S.


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CONTENTS
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INTRODUCTION

CHAP. I.
THE EARLY RADICAL MOVEMENT

CHAP. II.
THE FOLLOWERS TAKE THE LEAD

CHAP. III.
THE PEOPLE'S CHARTER

CHAP. IV.
THE CONVENTION

CHAP. V.
THE PERIOD OF REPRESSION

CHAP. VI.
IDEAS AT A PREMIUM

CHAP. VII.
THE DICTATORSHIP OF FEARGUS O'CONNOR

CHAP. VIII.
1848 . . . . . . .

CHAP. IX.
THE PASSING OF CHARTISM

BIBLIOGRAPHY


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