A History of Chartism II.
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CHAPTER III.

THE PEOPLE'S CHARTER


FOR a year or two after the passing of the Reform Act, a distinct working-class reaction took place against political intervention.  In December, 1833, Owen formed the Society for National Regeneration, [p.74] which became the focus of the energies of the more intelligent manufacturers and factory reformers.  This on one side, and the sudden growth of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union on the other, gave a strong impetus to trade union organization, at the expense of political organization.  The monstrous sentence of seven years' transportation was inflicted in March, 1834, upon six Dorchester farm labourers for simply belonging to a trade union.  In spite of the effort of many of the Radical M.P.'s and the activity of the London Dorchester Committee, the unfortunate men had to serve four years of their sentence.  After a short series of strikes, the Grand National ceased to exist by the end of 1834.  The following year was filled with the agitation for the repeal of the newspaper stamp.  As the result of this the tax was reduced from fourpence to one penny.  The Poor Man's Guardian came to an end—after 750 persons, it is said, had been prosecuted for selling it, and a court had finally decided that it was not a newspaper at all, "within the meaning of the Act."

    The Place Manuscripts, to which frequent references have already been made, were not the only legacy left by the indefatigable tailor of Charing Cross to future historians of his days.  In a warehouse in Hendon, a stone's throw from what is facetiously called the "Flying Ground," the British Museum has caused to be stacked the files of such provincial and other papers as human investigation is unlikely to require for its purposes.  Among these impressive and saddening monuments to journalistic effort lies what the authorities call the Place Collection.  Here are 180 large volumes of papers, mainly printed, newspaper cuttings, manifestos, etc., gathered together and preserved by the energy of Francis Place.   A set of twenty-nine volumes tells the story of the Chartist movement from 1836 to 1847.  The first of the volumes of this set contains a long introduction in Place's handwriting, in which he summarizes—so far as the most prolix of men could summarize —the "Proceedings, principally of working men, to procure a reform in the House of Commons."  In the following pages we shall follow Place's own account, but not in his words, which are too many.

    Dr. John Roberts Black, of Kentucky, being desirous of helping the British working man, formed a committee, of which he acted as chairman, to pay the fines imposed on Hetherington and Cleave for printing and selling unstamped periodicals, especially Hetherington's Twopenny Dispatch, and Cleave's Police Gazette.  This committee, having achieved its original object, decided to keep going and to wage an agitation for the complete repeal of the "taxes on knowledge."  He therefore made the committee the nucleus ("under my direction," as Place takes care to explain in a marginal note) of a body first called the Association of Working Men to procure a cheap and honest press.  The ostensible purpose of the Association was the instruction of working men in the three r's and a little more.  The purpose which lay nearer the hearts of Place and Black, however, was the political education of their students.  The notion was being spread by the working-class agitators of the day that "every kind of property belonged solely to the working people . . . and that the land belonged to them in common."  Place regarded this doctrine as pernicious.  So also did he consider the existing state of society.  The agitators, however, attempted to unite their forces and adopt a simple programme.  On June 10, 1836, five or six persons met in London, and called themselves a "General Meeting of the Central Committee of the Metropolitan Radical Unions"; as Place acidly explains in a footnote, "there were no such unions in existence at this time."  These persons decided to form the Working Men's Universal Suffrage Club.  Feargus O'Connor was appointed treasurer, and John Russell, secretary.  Various other persons (notoriety hunters, says Place) soon joined O'Connor.  Augustus Harding Beaumont was one of the most prominent of these; he was the editor of the weekly Radical, had been through the Belgian revolution of 1830 and had written a book about it, and was nearly insane.  Daniel O'Connell, M.P., also gave the new body his blessing.  Place was asked to join, but refused tactfully.  The working classes, however, refrained from welcoming the Club.  The subscription, to tell the truth, was the reason.  A working man could not be expected to pay £1 yearly, in addition to an entrance fee of five shillings.  After the end of June, consequently, no more was heard of the Club.

    Place, however, seems to have promptly picked up the pieces of this unsuccessful venture and united them with his Association, which, after August, developed into a propagandist body and called itself the Working Men's Association for Benefiting Politically, Socially and Morally the Useful Classes.  The Association, probably in ignorance of its originator, unanimously elected Place an honorary member, and in equal ignorance of his views, conferred the same honour upon Feargus O'Connor and Robert Owen.

    The Working Men's Association was formally established on June 26, 1836, when a prospectus and rules were submitted and agreed to.  The prospectus began as follows:


"Among the causes that most contribute to the perpetuation of abuses and corruptions in every department of the State, and the indifference manifested towards the interest of the millions, none have been more pregnant with evil than the divisions and dissensions among the working classes themselves." [p.76]


The prospectus continues in this strain throughout, and the objects are to the same effect.  The Association, it would appear was to concentrate on the industrial salvation of the working classes.  Members were to belong to the "industrious classes"; others might be elected, but they were to be mere honorary members not of the working classes.  The original list of members contained thirty-three names.  William Lovett was the first secretary, Henry Hetherington the first treasurer.

    By October 18 the Association had decided—or been persuaded by Lovett to decide—that they had "no confidence in either Whig or Tory government, believing both parties to be alike the enemies of just legislation and obstacles in the way of establishing peace and happiness in this country."  They had not gone so far as to demand the establishment of a Labour Party, in spite of their distrust of the powers that were.  All that was demanded was "Universal Suffrage, the Protection of the Ballot, Annual Parliaments, Equal Representation, and No Property Qualification for Members." [p.77-1]  The same declaration objurgates the "men under the guise of reformers . . . etc. . . . And who, to complete the catalogue of their iniquity, have passed, supported, and landed the infamous Poor Law Bills."

    On November 15 Feargus O'Connor was elected an honorary member; three weeks later, Robert Owen was also elected.

    At the end of February 28, the W.M.A. held a meeting at the Crown and Anchor Tavern, in order to submit a petition for presentation to Parliament demanding Equal Representation (200 electoral districts of equal size), Universal Suffrage (males over the age of twenty-one, residential qualification six months), Annual Parliaments (general election every June 24), No Property Qualification (but 200 supporters required to nominate), Vote by Ballot (to take place in the Church buildings), and Payment of Members (£400 a year).  This petition was submitted to a public meeting at the "Crown and Anchor," in the Strand, on February 28, 1837, and approved.  This was the "nucleus of the far-famed People's Charter, which may be said to have had its origin at this meeting." [p.77-2]

    The petition also contained, by way of preamble to the demands, a number of abstract propositions.  In these, as may be expected, natural rights are assumed without qualification.  Thus we are told: "That any constitution or code of laws formed in violation of men's political or social rights are not rendered sacred by time nor sanctified by custom." [p.78-1]

    On May 31, 1837, a meeting was convened by the Working Men's Association at the British Coffee House in Cockspur Street.  This was attended by several M.P.'s, [p.78-2] who had been invited in order that the Association might see to what extent they might be relied on to give parliamentary support to the petition.  J. A. Roebuck (1801-79), the philosophic Radical M.P. for Bath, was to present the petition to the House.  These members, however, unanimously declared that they could not support all the principles laid down in the petition, on various grounds.  Lovett appears to have protested with some warmth that the "gentlemen thought more of their seats in Parliament than they did of their principles," whereupon Daniel O'Connell "began a warm and very eloquent philippic."  Peace, however, was restored, and the meeting adjourned for a week.  O'Connell then brought forward a series of motions, all of which were agreed to, and then the following resolution was carried:


"That a committee of twelve persons be appointed to draw up a Bill or Bills in a legal form embodying the principles agreed to, and that they be submitted to another meeting of the Liberal members of Parliament and the Working Men's Association."


    The committee appointed on the strength of this resolution consisted of:


O'Connell, Roebuck, Leader, Hindley, Thompson, and Crawford (M.P.'s).

Hetherington, Cleave, Watson, Lovett, Vincent, and Moore (W.M.A.).


    The death of William IV immediately after this meeting, and the consequent stir of a general election, postponed the operations of the committee.

    The election dealt hardly with the members of Parliament who had gone as far as we have just described.  Roebuck and Thompson lost their seats, while Daniel O'Connell antagonized the W.M.A. by furiously attacking trade unionism.  When the committee was at last to meet, Roebuck was suddenly drawn away by his interest in the Canadian troubles of 1837-8.  Finally it fell to Lovett alone to draw up the Bill.  He made an effort, and took the result to Roebuck, who suggested that Lovett should show it to Francis Place, who made several suggestions, which were immediately adopted.  Then the committee of twelve met, and various alterations were made at the instance of Hume and Roebuck.  The first draft contained a provision for woman suffrage, "but as several members thought its adoption in the Bill might retard the suffrage of men, it was unfortunately left out." [p.79-1]  That is Lovett's account.  An MS. statement by Francis Place as to the origins of the Charter [p.79-2] does not even mention Lovett and is even more explicit.

    "You will recollect," he tells the future historian, "that three or four years ago there were a number of weekly newspapers conducted by A. Beaumont, O'Brien, John Bell, O'Connor, Bernard, and several others, the purpose of which was (to) excite insurrections against property, which, under the name of capital, they denounced as the principal cause of low wages and the depression of the people, and the poor law as the production of the higher and middle classes, the 'plundering ' classes, for the purpose of robbing and keeping in ignorance the productive class, who alone were entitled to all the produce and all the commodities in the country. . . . There was foolish Owenism, too, operating to some extent and great mischief was done.  As, however, the doctrines of each of these men differed in some particulars, so the people were formed into many different squads, but all believing or hoping that a change in their favour was about to take place.  But some among the Working Men's Association were displeased with this state of things and persuaded that it would be much better that a plan should be adopted in which all might concur, and by concurring call the people off from these absurdities, and they proposed Annual Parliaments, Voting by Ballot, Universal Suffrage, etc.  The proposal was laid before the Society and unanimously adopted.  A correspondence was opened with several members of the House of Commons, and it was agreed to call a public meeting for the purpose of adopting a plan to obtain Annual Parliaments, etc., etc.  The meeting was held at the British Coffee House.  Several M.P.'s attended it.  The meeting, after some time spent in speech making, was adjourned for a week, when about a dozen M.P.'s attended, and a committee of six M.P.'s and six Working Men was appointed to draw up a Bill for Annual Parliaments, etc., each of the twelve signing his name to the resolutions.  The M.P.'s, however, never gave themselves any further trouble in the matter; time went on, nothing was done and the men became dissatisfied.  After a time they came to me, and I agreed to draw up the outlines of a Bill for them: (1) because if it was left to them it was probable that it would not be a creditable production; (2) because Roebuck, who had undertaken to draw it, was in very bad health, and occupied with parliamentary business to an extent which induced him to promise that if I would draw the Bill he would look over the draft and perfect it; (3) a genuine promise being made to me that the Working Men's Association would give up the writers before alluded to and would take no further cognizance of the poor law."

    How are these two accounts to be reconciled?  Both Lovett and Place were men of sterling honesty.  An explanation is suggested by two documents in the Place Collection.  When Lovett was starting his National Association in 1841, he sent the rules in proof to Place for his advice.  The Collection contains the rules in proof, with all Place's suggested emendations marked on it, and a copy of the rules as finally printed.  By comparing the two we see that Lovett adopted virtually none of Place's suggestions.  This leads one to suppose that in the authorship of The People's Charter Place was responsible for less than he, in perfectly good faith, claimed as his own work. [p.81]

    On the title page of the thirty-six-page pamphlet which bore the name of The People's Charter, we find in the place of the author's name, "Prepared by a Committee of Twelve Persons—Six Members of Parliament and Six Members of the London Working Men's Association—and addressed to the People of the United Kingdom."  The names of the M.P.'s are not divulged; while the short introduction is followed by the signatures of thirteen working men, the Committee of the Association, with Hetherington as treasurer, and Lovett as secretary.  There is a frontispiece showing elaborately how voting in secret is to be conducted.  The introduction is partly historical, otherwise it is an expansion of the thesis that "self-government by representation is the only just foundation of political power the only true basis of Constitutional Rights—the only legitimate parent of good laws."  The preamble repeats this in different words.

    The practical proposals of the Charter then follow.  First come the qualifications for an elector.  He must be male, a British subject, "twenty-one years" (presumably not less than that age), not declared insane by a jury, unconvicted of felony, bribery at elections, personations, or forgery of election certificates.  The next clause deals with electoral districts, of which there are to be 300 in the United Kingdom, each containing "as nearly as may be," an equal number of inhabitants, according to the figures of the last census.  Each electoral district is to return one member, and the Home Secretary to be responsible for the delimitation of the districts after the passing of the Charter into law, and after every subsequent decennial census.  The expenses of these operations to be paid out of the public treasury.  The next clause deals with registration and returning officers.  These are to be elected every three years at the same time and in the same manner as the Member of Parliament for the district.  He is to appoint a deputy, to receive nomination, to proclaim the state of the ballot, to keep the list of voters, and decide whether a man is eligible to vote or not.  He is to be paid £500 per annum out of the public treasury, and may be dismissed by a committee of the House of Commons, numbering seven, on proof of incapacity or corruption.  The first election is to be conducted by returning officers appointed temporarily ad hoc by the Home Secretary.  The deputy returning officers will preside at each balloting place, and will make local arrangements and be responsible for the conduct of each voting station.  He is to be paid three guineas for his day's work.  Voting is to begin at 6 a.m. and end at 4 p.m. on the same day.  Subsequent clauses explain the method of registration through the parish clerks.  To avoid frivolous candidatures, a hundred electors are required to nominate.  They are to present their requisitions to the local returning officer, between the 1st and l0th of May in each year, and he is to exhibit the names of the candidates so nominated not later than May 13.  A similar arrangement is suggested in the event of seats falling vacant by the death of their holders, etc.  If there is more than one candidate, the returning officer "shall, at any time between the 10th and 31st of May (Sundays excepted), appoint such times and places (not exceeding) as he shall think most convenient to the electors of the district for the candidates to appear before him at midday, then and there to explain their views, and solicit the suffrages of the electors."  The returning officer is to make the arrangements for these meetings, and "for the purpose of keeping good order and public decorum, the returning officer shall either take the chair at such meetings himself, or appoint a deputy for that purpose."  The election day is to be the first Monday in June.  Further regulations prescribe the exact course of action to be taken by the returning officer and his subordinates.  The House of Commons is to meet on the third Monday in June of each year, and is to be prorogued on the first Monday of the following June.  A register of the daily attendance of each member is to be kept, and published at the end of each session.  Members are to be paid £500 a year.  The last section of the Charter is a list of penalties for registering in more than one district, forging certificates of residence, personating voters, bribery canvassing (one month's imprisonment for the first offence, two months for the second), etc.  We may nowadays laugh at the state of mind which could contemplate with equanimity, indeed with pleasure, the prospect of an annual general election, involving electioneering excitements over a period of about five weeks.  We may criticize the Chartists for that palpable lack of subtlety in political thought which hindered them from foreseeing those difficulties in the system of direct representation for which the advocates of Proportional Representation profess to have found a remedy.  We may wax cynical over their naive belief that uneducated humanity would immediately seize the new machinery of government for the amelioration of its own lot.  The fact remains that the external symbols of democracy had lost none of their exaggerated importance since 1776, but that rather the French Revolution had given democratic ideas a new impetus.

    This pamphlet, we may add, was widely read, and passed through several editions, being slightly amended in view of various suggestions made by its readers.  In the preface to the third edition, we find this significant paragraph:


"Among the suggestions we received for improving this Charter is one for embracing women among the possessors of the franchise.  Against this reasonable proposition we have no just arguments to adduce, but only to express our fears of entertaining it, lest the false estimate man entertains for this half of the human family may cause his ignorance and prejudice to be enlisted to retard the progress of his own freedom.  And, therefore, we deem it far better to lay down just principles, and look forward to the rational improvement of society, than to entertain propositions which may retard the measure we wish to promote."


    We have heard all this repeated very recently.

    It is important to remember, nevertheless, that the ideas and proposals contained in the Charter was but the crystallization of a body of thought held in solution by two generations of Radicals.  The word Charter itself was probably suggested by unconscious memory rather than by inspiration.  About the year 1832 there flourished an anonymous pamphleteer who actually brought out a booklet, entitled The People's Charter, in which every one of the Six Points was anticipated.  It would be interesting, were it possible, to have the identity of the writer established.  He wrote a fair-sized book, The Rights of Nations (1832), which began as an attack on monarchy, but developed into a political programme in which opposition to aristocracy and religion were the principal factors.  The author had a touching faith in the power of the facial angle to indicate the level of intelligence, and published an amusing array of portraits on this assumption, showing that the profile of Ferdinand VII had a facial angle half-way between that of an orang-outang and that of Jeremy Bentham.  The People's Charter was virtually a condensation of this book, the first half being anti-monarchical, and the second, the "Principles of Representative Government," expressed as a number of postulates, with comments and illustrations.  In the same year, the author brought out The Reformer's Catechism, "in which the principles of The Rights of Nations are reduced to question and answer, adapted to the capacities of youth, and rendered a substitute for the mind-destroying trash too generally taught at an early age."  The memorizing of a catechism running to 139 pages, consisting mostly of either statistical or theoretical affirmations, it is feared, would frustrate this amiable desire to preserve the youthful mind from unnecessary damage.  There were several catechisms, generally shorter than the one just mentioned, on the market during the last years of the Reform agitation.  We find in them all, generally speaking, partial anticipations of the Chartist programme, and occasional bursts of humour.  Quotations from Byron are a characteristic feature of these publications.  The more revolutionary Shelley does not appear to have struck the Radical imagination to any appreciable extent.

    References have already been made to Feargus O'Connor, to whom a full-length introduction is now advisable.  This character, who plays the most conspicuous part in the Chartist drama, had most of the qualities of a great demagogue, and all the defects of the lower-grade politician.  Like so many of those who have swayed great masses of working men, he came of another class.  His father, Roger O'Connor (1762-1834), had been an active member of the United Irishmen, and was not completely sane.  A brother of his father, Arthur O'Connor (1763-1852), had also belonged to the United Irishmen, and had been tried with O'Coigley in 1798.  On his liberation in 1803 he went to France as the authorized agent in that country of the Irish revolutionists, and was made a general by Napoleon in the following year, although neither before nor after his promotion did he see active service.  In 1818 he was naturalized in France, and remained there until his death.  Feargus O'Connor therefore could always enjoy the feeling that he came of a family of revolutionaries; this, when communicated, added to his prestige and was a great asset, especially when counselling moderation.  He was born in 1794, and, naturally enough considering his heredity and environment, attached himself to the "Liberator," Daniel O'Connell.  His youth was divided between farming and skirmishing.  When the Reform agitation entered Ireland, O'Connor enlisted in its support in his native county, Cork, and was rewarded by being returned to Parliament for the county at the General Election of 1832.  His energies were now distributed between Ireland and Radicalism, both causes being attended to with a keen eye to possible leadership.  In 1835 he quarrelled with O'Connell, and shortly afterwards was unseated on account of some question of property qualification.  When Cobbett died in the same year, O'Connor contested the vacant seat, having decided that, on the whole, an English spring-board promised the more striking flight.  His candidature merely succeeded in splitting the vote of Cobbett's son, and so allowed Oldham to go over to the Tory party.  After this adventure O'Connor spent nearly two years in touring the country and addressing meetings.  He had a fine commanding presence; he stood more than six feet high, and was broad in proportion.  He had a thunderous voice and gigantic physical strength, both of which he could display to great advantage.  The need for factory legislation, Radical Principles in general, and virulent abuse of the new Poor Law were the raw material of his oratory.  O'Connor possessed in an extraordinarily developed degree, sharpened by vast practice, the gifts of the mob-orator.  Although a poor humorist, he could raise prodigious laughter on the least attractive basis.  His speeches read poorly, for the intellectual element is very thinly diffused in them, but it is obvious that given the right delivery, and a suitably uncritical audience, they would have enormous effect.  It was not long before O'Connor realized that the English working class was to be his master and his servant, and he therefore chose a deliberately ostentatious manner to break with middle-class reformers.

    On April 20, 1837, a meeting was held at the Crown and Anchor Tavern to raise a subscription to erect a monument to the "Scottish Reform Martyrs" of 1794-5, Muir, Margarot, Skirving, Palmer, and Gerrald.  Virtually all the speakers were Whig M.P.'s, among them Joseph Hume, Sir William Molesworth, and Colonel Thompson.  Things went fervently and unanimously until Feargus O'Connor rose to speak.  Francis Place has preserved for us three contemporary newspaper reports of the riotous subsequent proceedings.  In the intervals during which speech was possible O'Connor moved a long amendment to the original resolution, the gist of which was that "this meeting recognize universal suffrage as the only basis of a free constitution." [p.86-1]  This, after a speech by Henry Vincent applauding, on the part of the W.M.A., the monument proposal, could not be regarded as anything but an effort to break up the meeting, in the name of democracy.

    In the same year he quarrelled with the leaders of the W.M.A., and attempted to wreck the society by starting the London Democratic Association as a rival body.  He also founded The Northern Star, basing its fortunes on his personal popularity in the factory districts.  The following account is given of its start: "J. Hobson, Mr. Hill, and others in Yorkshire, seeing the want of a newspaper, as an organ for the rising movement, had succeeded in raising a few hundreds of pounds, [p.86-2] by shares, to establish one.  O'Connor persuaded them that they would not be able to get the necessary amount, and that the mixed authority of a committee would hamper the editor, and make the paper inefficient.  He proposed that the shareholders should lend him the money raised, for which he would guarantee interest, and that he would find the rest of the capital, and commence the paper at once; and that Hobson should be the publisher and Hill the editor. . . . There is every reason to believe that at that time he had no capital, and that the money of the shareholders was the only money ever invested in the paper.  Fortunately for him it soon rose to a very large circulation, reaching at least to some 60,000 a week." [p.87-1]  For that matter, all O'Connor's financial operations are wrapped in mystery, owing to his non-possession of any arithmetical sense, rather than to frequently-alleged but never-substantiated dishonesties.  The headquarters of the paper was in Leeds, and its sale, considering the price was 4½d., is truly remarkable.  The editor was the Rev. William Hill, a Unitarian minister and a writer of some ability.  The Northern Star gave the utmost publicity to O'Connor's speeches and, in fact, to everything that was said on the Radical side, provided, of course, that it emanated from quarters which were approved of by the dictatorial orator.  Thus, when the Charter was actually published, O'Connor neglected to pay it any attention for some months.  This course was probably dictated by his dislike of the W.M.A., which called him "the great I AM of politics" [p.87-2] in a reproachful letter, which he published in his own paper, in accordance with his usual custom.  Little by little, however, O'Connor allowed himself to be converted to Chartism, owing to the virtual identity of its "Six Points " with his own tenets, and for the purely physical reason that he was unable to write the whole paper himself and had therefore to allow his contributors a certain scope.  Oastler was one of these, and wrote up the grievances of the factory-workers in a fiercely indignant series of signed articles.  Bronterre O'Brien became a sort of London correspondent, sending every week a curious, spluttering mixture of statistics and socialism, diluted with abuse of the Government, with occasional excursions into the merely topical.

    The year 1835 contained enough to infuriate a milder team of contributors than those associated with O'Connor.  Prices had suddenly leaped upwards; employment had as suddenly become scarce, especially in the North.  O'Connor began to look about him for a programme, and decided to give his backing to Radicalism.  He began the 1838 campaign by declaring for rejecting secret voting, and continued by accepting a panacea.

   "In our last we threw away the scabbard, the Ballot; [p.88] we now draw the sword, which is Universal Suffrage.  At no period of the history of this country was there a greater necessity for a strong manifestation of popular moral force than at the present moment.  For now more than five years of the reformed era have we been looking in vain to the promised produce of that tree. . . . . ."  The article ends: " Laws, made by all, would be respected by all. . . . Universal Suffrage would, at once, change the whole character of society from a state of watchfulness, doubt, and suspicion, to that of brotherly love, reciprocal interest, and universal confidence."

    By the time the People's Charter came to be published, O'Connor's enthusiasm for Universal Suffrage was barely controllable.  In the week in which the Charter was issued, he came out with the following:


"Away, then, with the whole system at once: the wound is too deep to be healed by partial remedies; the nation's heart's blood is flowing too rapidly to be stopped by ordinary stypticks.  Talk not to us of your Eleven Hours Bill; the demand will regulate the supply, and if we have now two hundredfold the producing power which we recently had, either the producers must work in proportion, or else those who talk of over-population must create a sufficient population to require the increased produce.  Give us, then, the only remedy for all our social and political maladies; make every man in his artificial state as he might be in his natural state, his own doctor, by placing the restorative in his hand, which is UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE!!!" [p.89-1]


    Harney, as in duty bound, echoed him.  A letter [p.89-2] drafted by this man, the secretary of the London Democratic Association, "to the Democrats of Great Britain and Ireland," proclaimed the objects of the Association.  These were to be Universal Suffrage, Equal Representation (i.e., also constituencies to be of the same size), Annual Parliaments, No Property Qualification, and Payment of Members.  To these Chartist demands were added the abolition of the taxation of the Press, and "the total and unqualified repeal of the infamous New Poor Law Act, and a restoration of the spirit of the 43rd of Elizabeth, with such improvements as the circumstances of the country may require."  Hours of labour in factories and workshops were to be shortened to a maximum of eight, and child labour to be entirely abolished.  The remainder of the programme amounted to no more than an expression of opinion that trade unionism and education (especially in political matters) were desirable.

    The Charter was published on May 8, 1838.  For some months after that date its supporters entirely gave themselves over to the task of propaganda.  Even O'Connor, though he abstained, as we have pointed out, from recognizing the Charter as a document, nevertheless preached it as a creed with all the immense energy at his command.  The practical propagandists of this time rise into importance.  Three especially deserve to be noted.

    The first of these is George Julian Harney.  When O'Connor had created his London Democratic Association he appointed Harney to its secretaryship.  He was a fiery young man of twenty-one at the time, and had already won himself a certain distinction by having undergone short periods of imprisonment for selling unstamped papers.  He had been employed by Hetherington as shop-boy to sell pamphlets and take round parcels. [p.89-3]  He and O'Connor preached revolutionary tenets, talked largely of a probable insurrection, and of death as the only alternative to reform.  At a time of great distress they found eager listeners, and it soon began to appear that their avowed intention of beating down the W.M.A. was made in no idle spirit.  Only three months after the publication of the Charter, O'Connor had arrived at the logical conclusion of his own and his disciples' doctrines and began to talk of the application of physical force.

    The two others who did much to stir up public opinion at this time were Richard Oastler, and Joseph Rayner Stephens.  Both these men described themselves as Tories.

    The name of Oastler (1789-1861) is now known to a far larger body of students than was the case a generation ago.  He was one of the first to agitate for the legal protection of children engaged in factories and mines, and for a ten-hour day.  Between 1830 and 1836 Oastler had stubbornly fought for the cause of the children, producing appalling revelations of their ill-treatment, and of the nugatory effects of the laws intended to protect them.  The magistrates supposed to enforce the laws made them a dead letter, and it was only when Oastler began to threaten organized sabotage on a large scale that his representation began to receive the attention of the authorities.  By the time the Charter was published he had gained the moral support of the working men of the North of England, who applauded also his inflexible opposition to the new Poor Law.  Unfortunately this opposition cost him his job (he was the steward of a large estate at Fixby), and in 1840 he was imprisoned for debt.  This, as we shall see, by no means put an end to his usefulness. [p.90]

    The Rev. Joseph Rayner Stephens (1805-1879) began life as a Wesleyan clergyman and was appointed at an early age to a mission station in Sweden.  He returned to England in 1830, but four years later he was cast off by his sect for having mingled politics too freely with his religious instruction.  He had, in fact, absorbed Oastler's ideas and lost no opportunity of spreading them.  He always regarded himself as a strictly constitutional Tory, but he was regarded by Lovett as belonging to the "physical force" Chartists, with Bronterre O'Brien and Feargus O'Connor, and a few specimens of his eloquence given us by Gammage certainly somewhat discredit his pacific claims.  Thus, at a meeting held in Newcastle on January 1, 1838, four months before the publication of the Charter, that is to say before Chartism could be described as a movement at all, Stephens declared that he "was a revolutionist by fire, he was a revolutionist by blood, to the knife, to the death." [p.91]  We may concede that Stephens did "protest too much" without ceasing to believe that he anticipated that moral suasion would be insufficient to bring his views into operation.  Another quotation supplied by Gammage represents Stephens as saying: "If the rights of the poor are trampled under foot, then down with the throne, down with the aristocracy, down with all rank, all title, and all dignity."  The extraordinary thing is that in spite of having expressed such sentiments, Stephens continued to describe himself as a Tory, and to deny that he was a democrat.  In point of fact he always denied that he was a Chartist himself, even though his energies were so largely spent on the spread of Chartist principles.

    While we are enumerating the various towers of strength at the disposal of the physical force party, it should not be supposed that the W.M.A. was deficient in oratorical weight.  Hetherington was a fine, convincing speaker, and Lovett could hold his own in argument.  The best orator of the Association, however, was Henry Vincent, one of the six working men on the committee from which the Charter emanated.  He was born in London in 1813, was a journeyman printer by profession, and had spent his boyhood in Hull.  The Revolution of 1830 had roused his interest in politics, and Vincent soon found himself a Radical; he came to London about 1835, and made friends with the Lovett-Watson group within a year or so.  A description of him, written a few years later, may be quoted: "In figure Vincent is rather below the average height; he is firmly and handsomely built, and dresses with neatness and good taste.  His complexion is clear, fresh, and ruddy; his hair light and flowing; and his eyes, keen and animated, are of a dark blue.  His head is large, and well developed in the intellectual regions; his features are finely cast and expressive of much feeling, benevolence, and good humour.  In his moral character we believe Vincent to be unimpeachable." [p.92]  At the age of twenty-five, he was already the "Demosthenes of Chartism."  It may be added that Vincent was a Christian, had hankerings after respectability, and shared Lovett's feminist opinions.  Vincent, Hetherington and Cleave became the missionaries of the W.M.A., journeying over England to propagate universal suffrage.

    Independently of either the W.M.A. or of O'Connor, Birmingham was awakening to life.  Thomas Attwood, one of its M.P.'s, continued the battle for reform.  A piece of exaggerated verbosity gained the attention of the young Benjamin Disraeli and so, indirectly, of the country.  It became generally understood among the Radical reformers that much was to be expected of Birmingham, and the movement gained in strength in consequence.  On January 18, 1836, Attwood addressed a meeting in the Birmingham Town Hall, urging the completion of the measures of Corporation Reform brought forward during the previous years, "a substantial but judicious and safe Reform of the House of Lords," and the Reform of the Irish Church.  In the course of his address he threatened he would raise twenty million men and bring them down upon his opponents.  Three days later Disraeli published his third Letter of Runnymede, the exuberant verbiage of which must have done much to advertise Attwood.  The first paragraph is worth quoting—it is so quintessentially Disraelian:


"Sir,—You may be surprised at this letter being addressed to you; you may be more surprised when I inform you that this address is not occasioned by any conviction of your political importance.  I deem you a harmless, and I do not believe you to be an ill-meaning, individual.  You are a provincial banker labouring under a financial monomania.  But amidst the seditious fanfaronnade which your unhappy distemper occasions you periodically to vomit forth, there are fragments of good feelings which show you are not utterly denationalized in spite of being 'the friend of all mankind,' and contrast with the philanthropic verbiage of your revolutionary rhetoric, like the odds and ends of ancient art which occasionally jut forth from the modern rubbish of an edifice in a classic land—symptoms of better days, and evidences of happier intellect."


    After which Disraeli proceeds to belabour the "mystical yet expeditious means by which 20,000,000 men are brought into the field by a modern demagogue," for the total number of adult men in the country was but 4,000,000.

    Attwood, however, had revised the Birmingham Political Union, and by the time Victoria had become Queen it had regained its old qualities of royalist Radicalism, with, of course, the distinctive Attwood views on currency.  In 1837, a month before her accession, the Princess Victoria was presented by Attwood and Scholefield with an expression of loyalty and admiration on the part of the Radical Reformers of Birmingham.  In the course of the same year Lord Melbourne received three separate memorials on the currency question from the B.P.U. [p.93]  It is said that such was his popularity in Birmingham about this time that on the day of the proclamation of the Queen in that city, "a most extraordinary and unprecedented compliment was paid by the people to Thomas Attwood.  As soon as they caught sight of him walking in the procession, the young and interesting Queen was entirely forgotten, and the whole affair was turned into a gigantic demonstration in honour of him, to the infinite disgust of the Tories, who were compelled to walk about for three hours listening to deafening shouts of 'Attwood for ever!'"

    "Birmingham soon became the centre from which all political proceedings emanated, but the very same causes which gave it this influence divided its power and at length put it at least into a state of abeyance.  Mr. Feargus O'Connor . . . had become the working people's orator; he was indefatigable in travelling from place to place, and everywhere he went great crowds assembled and to them he said whatever seemed to him useful for his own purpose, with very little sense and even less judgment, but with a volubility, a clear good voice and a manner which was sure to carry his much less informed hearers along with him.  In this business he was mainly assisted by A. H. Beaumont, Dr. Taylor, Oastler, Stephens, Vincent, Harney, and several others, all of them ill-informed, outrageous, mischievous persons.  Thus was Mr. Attwood and his especial friends pushed into the background.  These men (O'Connor, etc.), by their earnestness, their confident way of predicting events, and especially their repeated assurances of a speedy overthrow of all our social institutions and the establishing in their places a much more rational and consequently just system which should give to each of the producing, 'the only useful class,' all the wealth in the country, the complete control for the future, with treble wages and never-failing employment, yet not exceeding eight hours a day, by these means they became the acknowledged leaders of the masses of the working people in many thickly populated places, at least of all those who were at all willing to interfere in public matters, and these, who must have been nearly the whole of them, were more at their command than they or their fellows had ever before been to anything like the same comparative extent.  This, in proportion as it excited the people, made their leaders crazy and they committed wonderfully foolish extravagances." [p.94-1]

    In Birmingham a virtual contest took place for the leadership of the local Political Union between Attwood and O'Connor.  Both men talked largely, attempting to outdo each other in violence.  In the end both O'Connor and Attwood were discredited.  The rhetoric of the Irishman frightened the Council of the B.P.U., who could hardly bring themselves to believe O'Connor's statement that he never invoked any force more physical than public opinion. [p.94-2]  Attwood was growing disinclined to take a strenuous part in politics, and so the Birmingham movement lost both leaders.  In May, 1839, we find Attwood complaining that he had "set the whole machinery in motion," but that his followers refused to follow. [p.95-1]  Whatever Birmingham thought of its leaders, it at any rate listened to them.  At an open-air meeting held on August 6, 1838, 200,000 persons are said to have been present. [p.95-2]

    We see, therefore, that no sooner was the Charter published than three bodies of opinion, differing in several important respects, were ready to take it up.  These were first the members of the W.M.A., led by Lovett, Hetherington, Cleave, Watson, and Vincent, who took care not to adulterate the pure doctrine of the Charter by any admixture of other social reforms.  This party was composed largely of atheists; its leaders had all been concerned previously in the agitation for an unstamped press; they were deliberately plebeian, believed in peaceful methods, and were centred in London.  The second party was led by Attwood, Scholefield, and Muntz; its members belonged to the Birmingham Political Union, and were more or less committed to Attwood's monetary reform proposals, and were extremely loyal to the Queen, and generally constitutional.  Finally, in the north were the readers of The Northern Star, the followers of O'Connor, Oastler, and Stephens, who held views on factory legislation and the Poor Laws, and did not bind themselves to the letter of the Charter.  These believed in the use of physical force, and were represented in London by the Democratic Association, led by Harney.  One additional line of demarcation might be furnished by the attitude of these three parties towards the repeal of the Corn Laws, but we omit this, believing that this was accidental rather than essential.  Around the three parties veered the uncertain figure of Bronterre O'Brien.

    "Before consenting to draft the Charter, Place made the leaders of the W.M.A. promise that they would prevent speeches against the New Poor Law or for Socialism from being delivered on their platform." [p.95-3]  The promise was frequently broken; naturally enough, the frequency of its infraction varied directly with distance from London.  Outside London the W.M.A. had little influence, and the self-denying ordinances of its leading members could not be expected to have any binding effect upon the Radical propagandists of the North.  The Rev. J. R. Stephens, for example, hated the New Poor Law with a bitterness that this century, even at war, cannot parallel.  In Northumberland and Durham he was the most prominent and the most strenuous supporter of the Charter.  Was it to be expected of him that he should renounce an end for the sake of a new means to it?  Obviously not.  The singleness of purpose, therefore, for which Place strove was never completely realized.  In so far as it was realized, it is perhaps open to argument that the extravagant hopes to which the Charter gave birth, and the utopianism of so many of its less-educated supporters, were due to this deliberate attempt to isolate and to strive for one thing only.  Its very segregation from other political tasks accentuated its value.

    The shadow of the Physical Force party was visible very soon after the publication of the Charter.  The Northern Star published [p.96-1] a series of extracts from speeches by O'Connell in which force was invoked.  Those quoted were concluded with a few words on the subject of Feargus O'Connor.  "I declare the man who attempts to marshal physical force to be a coward and a traitor.  In every instance where it has been resorted to, the dupes always consider the last shot and murder as the completion of their object, whereas it is the commencement of their misery.  Moral power is the deliberative reasoning quality in man's mind, which teaches him how to bear, and when forbearance becomes a crime.  Never will I acknowledge that you have used your full moral power till every man works as I have done, and has the vanity to consider that himself, and himself alone, has gained the point; and then, should moral power fail, I will lead you on to death or glory."

    Three months later, the irrepressible Harney was beginning to foam at the mouth in a somewhat dangerous manner. [p.96-2] The breach between O'Connor and the B.P.U. was ostensibly closed. It had been complicated by what seemed an alliance between the B.P.U. and the hated O'Connell. Feargus O'Connor published a recantation, written more in sorrow than in anger. [p.97-1] He pleaded his past services to the Radical cause.  "I led you for three years under the fire of the press, the scorn of the respectables, and the denunciation of the interested. . . . I have been arraigned as a physical-force man, when I can confidently appeal to all who have heard me that in my speeches and writings I have been the first to portray the horrors of confusion and civil war.  I have never said to the people so much as arm yourselves. . . ."  But the very number of The Northern Star in which this appeared had another article, also signed by O'Connor, headed "Physical Force," with a disconcertingly different moral.  The possession of weapons by a few, he said, was bad, but "the arming of the whole community capable of bearing arms would be the finest means of preserving peace abroad, and harmony and satisfaction at home. . . . By reference and speeches and writing it will be found that I have never so much as said 'arm.'  But now I say, 'arm'; and I having said it, the fulfilment shall rest with the whole people.  'Arm'; but in nowise use those arms—offensively nor defensively—as individuals. . . . They must in nowise be used against the constitution, even in your united strength."

    The behaviour of Attwood is also curiously inconsistent.  At a meeting got up by the Birmingham Political Union on January 8, 1839, he and Joshua Scholefield recommended the use of physical force. [p.97-2]  On the 14th of the same month, at a meeting of the Council of the B.P.U., with himself in the chair, Attwood denounced physical force and rhetorically held forth on the certainty of its leading to "an iron despotism." [p.97-3]

    As the result of these agitations Political Unions were revived all over the country, differing widely in promise, though agreeing on their principles.  The Manchester Political Union (formed in 1838) was perhaps an extreme example of the strictly constitutional Chartist organization.  Peace and goodwill fairly saturated its objects and rules.  There were seven objects in its Regulations, etc., and every one of them laid stress on legality.  Seven duties were prescribed for the members of the Manchester Political Union, and these are worded in an equally law-abiding spirit.  The last two of these are counsels:


    "To bear in mind that the strength of our Society consists in the Peace, Order, Unity and Legality of our proceedings, and to consider all persons as enemies who shall in any way invite or promote violence, discord, or division, or any illegal or doubtful measures.

    "Never to forget that, but for the exercise of the above qualities, we shall produce the peaceful display of an immense organized moral power which cannot be despised or disregarded; but that, if we do not keep clear of the innumerable and intricate Laws which surround us, the Lawyer and the Soldier will probably break in upon us, and render all our exertions vain."


    The eight duties of the members of the Political Council are in a similar strain. [p.98]

    The Charter had been suggested, and drafted as a compromise, a common basis for Radical action.  Launched upon the world at a period of great excitement, it was itself a cause of quarrels and divisions, though not at first acute.  We may realize how bitter the feelings of reformers were in those days from the introduction to an article.


    "At a time when the rights of industry have received a dangerous, not to say mortal stab, in the persons of the five Glasgow cotton spinners—at a time when O'Connell has avowedly joined the middle-class conspiracy to put down Trades' Combinations—at a time when the artisans of Dublin are threatened with a new police, which is to be so vigilant and effective that 'not two working-men can walk and talk together in the streets without its being know what they are about!'—at a time when the producers of the nation's wealth are told that they must not meet to consult on the interests of their respective trades, except in the presence of a constable or other constituted spy of the ruling classes—at a time when, in consequence of these nefarious proceedings, every workman in the United Kingdom is threatened with the utter extinction of his social rights as well as of his civil, and when he is thrown back as it were on the laws of nature for self-preservation—at a time when, to facilitate the execution of this foul and fiendish plot against the interests of labour, the New Poor Law Act is being forced down the people's throats at the point of the bayonet (Bradford and Huddersfield, to wit)—at a time of horrors like these, when every moment that the producers can steal from their tasks and meals ought to be religiously consecrated to plans of mutual defence against the enemy—at such a time, gentlemen, it does verily vex me to have to withdraw their attention for even one hour from the immediate perils which encompass them." [p.99]


    Into this sentence Bronterre O'Brien, before going on to write about Canada, compresses all the grievances which the Reformers of 1838 were attempting to remove.  The passage quoted, however, merely summarizes things as they were at the beginning of the year.  Yet compared with the immediately preceding years, 1838 was a hubbub of movements and excitements.  Opposition to the New Poor Law and the "Bastilles" animated even the least political members of the working classes.  Neither the King who had just died nor the young Queen who had succeeded him enjoyed the confidence or even the respect of the people.  Radical organizations suddenly began to come into existence all over the country.  An eruption of manifestos from all Radical quarters caused attention to be concentrated in the possibility of immediate political action.  Monster meetings were held in every part of England, Wales, and the southern half of Scotland.  The Northern Star, begun late in 1837, boomed prodigiously.  Petitions to Parliament, calling for the prompt repeal of the New Poor Law, were presented in large numbers.  The Charter was published.

    Two events of the year, not of great importance in themselves, attracted an enormous amount of attention and were the centres of crystallization of much Radical sentiment.  The Dorsetshire labourers, who had been so unjustly deported in 1834, were allowed to return in 1836, but did not actually arrive until 1838.  The tumultuous reception offered them gave a new impetus to the trade-union spirit and to forces working in opposition to aristocratic government.  The other incident was the adventure of an ex-brewer named Thom, or Tom, of Canterbury, who went mad and proclaimed himself to be Sir William Courtenay, Knight of Malta, King of Jerusalem, and the Messiah.  In the last capacity he preached various doctrines, one of which was the destruction of the Poor Law.  Here was something the Kentish labourers understood only too well.  An armed force came to the help of Thom.  A march was made upon Canterbury, shots were fired, the garrison replied, and finally, Thom and many of his followers were killed, and the remainder captured.  The significance of the affair, which caused an enormous sensation at the time, lies in the fact, now made obvious, that the peasantry and the working classes were ready to risk their very lives on the chance of getting rid of the Poor Law, even under lunatic leadership, if no better were forthcoming.

    But we have now arrived at the end of a period, and the beginning of an episode.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER IV.

THE CONVENTION


THE Chartist campaign had begun with a tussle for leadership.  The various Radical parties had agreed to sink their political differences, and fought for precedence by exaggerating their personal disagreements.  An exchange of tactical moves took place between the W.M.A. and the B.P.U.  The latter, in effect, accepted the People's Charter on condition that the former accepted the Birmingham Political Union's Petition, and the policy which this implied.  In this way each organization succeeded in making impossible the hegemony of the other.

    The petition was a document drawn up by R. K. Douglas, editor of the Birmingham Journal; [p.101] it was published only eleven days after the appearance of the Charter.  This somewhat windy screed began on a note of national self-congratulation: "We your petitioners dwell in a land whose merchants are noted for enterprise, whose manufacturers are very skilful, and whose workmen are proverbial for their industry.  The land itself is goodly, the soil rich, and the temperature wholesome. . . . For three-and-twenty years we have enjoyed a profound peace."  Then follows the other side of the picture.  "Yet with all these elements of national prosperity, and with every disposition and capacity to take advantage of them, we find ourselves overwhelmed with public and private suffering.  We are bowed down under a load of taxes . . . our traders are trembling on the verge of bankruptcy; our workmen are starving, capital brings no profit, and labour no remuneration etc.  Then comes the remedy, arrived at by a process of deduction.  "We have looked on every side, we have searched diligently in order to find out the causes of distress so sore and so long continued.  We can discover none in nature, or in Providence.  Heaven has dealt graciously by the people; but the foolishness of our rulers has made the goodness of God of none effect."  And so on, in a tone of deepest disappointment.  The Reform Act of 1832 is then described, it "has effected a transfer of power from one domineering faction to another, and left the people as helpless as before.  Our slavery has been exchanged for an apprenticeship to liberty, which has aggravated the painful feeling of our social degradation by adding to it the sickening of still deferred hope."  Then the tone becomes severe.  "We come before your Honourable House to tell you, with all humility, that this state of things must not be permitted to continue . . . and that if by God's help and all lawful and constitutional appliances, an end can be put to it, we are fully resolved that it shall speedily come to an end.  We tell your Honourable House that the capital of the master must no longer be deprived of its due reward; that the laws which make food dear, and those which by making money scarce, make labour cheap, must be abolished; that taxation must be made to fall upon property, not on industry; that the good of the many, as it is the only legitimate end, so must it be the sole study of the Government.  As a preliminary essential to these other requisite changes, as a means by which alone the interests of the people can be effectually vindicated and secured, we demand that those interests be confided to the keeping of the people.  When the state calls for defenders, when it calls for money, no consideration of poverty or ignorance can be pleaded in refusal or delay of the call. . . . We perform the duties of freemen; we must have the privileges of freemen."  Then, at last, come the demands, each of them annotated and explained by corollary propositions.  With these we are familiar.  It should be pointed out that in this petition only five of the six points of the Charter are mentioned.  Equal electoral districts are not demanded; we find this omission in a great many Chartist documents.  It is the only point of which the entire feasibility is open to doubt, and the Chartists themselves probably felt that five-sixths of their programme mentioned in the petition would yield at least ninety-nine hundredths of their expectations.

    The next things on the programme were the collection of signatures to the Petition, and the arrangement of its presentation to Parliament, and decision as to subsequent action, should any be required.  In order to obtain the signatures, the Petition was brought forward at Chartist meetings all over the country after its publication.  It figured conspicuously at the great meeting in Birmingham on August 6, which has already been mentioned.  The enormous size of this gathering and its apparent assent to the physical force sentiments and currency theories enunciated by several speakers seriously alarmed the W.M.A.  It was at once decided to hold a monster meeting in London, by way of counterblast.  About the same time the idea of holding a Convention appears to have been accepted.  It was intended that the various Chartist organizations, the Working Men's Associations and Political Unions, should elect forty-nine delegates (an assembly of fifty might constitute a meeting and be illegal), who should meet in London, superintend the final stages of the Petition, present it to Parliament, and decide on further action.  The Convention was to raise a fund for its own subsistence, and for the purposes of the campaign.  This was to be known as National Rent.  Each delegate was to be responsible for the National Rent of his own constituencies, and was to be paid at the rate of ten shillings a day for his attendance.  The allocation of seats in the Convention appears to have been left to chance.  The B.P.U. elected eight delegates, the W.M.A., with a membership of only 400, elected seven.  The Birmingham delegates, on the whole, were middle-class men.  They included the two Muntz brothers (one of whom became Attwood's successor in the House), R. K. Douglas, Clutton Salt, John Collins (a Sunday-school teacher), and J. George Edmonds, who was afterwards Town Clerk of Birmingham.

    The meeting, to which the W.M.A. had attached the hope of the downfall of O'Connor, was held on September 17, in Palace Yard, Westminster.  But how was O'Connor to be kept out?  After all there was a nominal truce between the various sections, and O'Connor was undeniably among the leaders.  The speakers were consequently heterogeneous as to views and expression.  J. T. Leader, M.P., was in the chair.  Lovett and Hetherington, Ebenezer Elliott, Cleave, Douglas, Colonel Thompson, and O'Connor were among the speakers.  Elliott and O'Connor metaphorically foamed at the mouth, and the meeting took on itself a hue not expected by its organizers.  O'Connor, claiming to represent "forty or fifty towns in Scotland and England," thrust himself forward as a figurehead.  From the point of view of numbers, the meeting was not to be compared with the Birmingham demonstration.  Only 30,000 are said to have been present, although their earnestness was such as to enable proceedings to last five hours. [p.104-1]  On the following day the Anti-Corn Law League was established.  The mere fact that it, too, was to call for working-class support, for purposes similar to those for which the People's Charter had come into existence, made Chartism and Free Trade into rival movements.

    As the year 1838 drew to an end, the leaders maintained their ostensible truce and their unspoken feud.  At the end of December, the Rev. J. R. Stephens was arrested for seditious language.  He was speaking of the factory system, not of the Charter, but the Chartists felt his arrest to be very personal to them.  Early in the year The Northern Star had described him as "our pride; our boast; our glory; and our Radical." [p.104-2]  The movement now felt that it had incurred the anger of the Government; it was truly revolutionary; in the modern phrase, it had touched reality.  In January, 1839, Lowery, Harney and Dr. Taylor were chosen delegates to the General Convention at a big meeting at Newcastle-on-Tyne. Harney, addressing the crowd, assured them, as the representative of the London Democratic Association, that that body had little faith in the coming Convention.  "There were too many men in the Convention who felt no other interest in the movement than their own popularity." [p.104-3]  This was virtually a hint that Newcastle need expect no unanimity and that Harney's party (i.e., O'Connor's) did not mind how uncomfortable they made it for their opponents.

    It is difficult in these days to realize what hopes were entertained by the organizers of the National Convention of its ultimate effects.  There was magic in the very word convention; its connotation was revolutionary and legislative, although its actual meaning was no more than conference.  But in 1839 the very right of public meeting and the liberty to carry on Radical agitations had not yet been completely established, and the thrill of committing an action in defiance of existing governments could be easily earned at the price of attending a Chartist meeting.  Some of the Chartists understood the psychological attraction of this aspect of their movement and skilfully exploited it by means of midnight meetings, torchlight processions, and all the paraphernalia of insurrection, inspired and made real by the utterances of the "physical force" party.  Thus Dr. John Taylor was able so far to lose his sense of proportion as to declare this debating society "the most extraordinary experiment in politics which was ever presented in the history of any country," and to compare it with other assemblies with which it had nothing in common save its title.  Thus Conventions have been more than once held in England, and on several occasions have performed all the functions of Government.  Such was the Convention which declared the Throne vacant on the abdication of James, and presented the crown to William; and another was the Convention which recalled Charles II; but there was this difference between their position and that of the late Convention, viz., that in their case there existed no other Parliament, while in ours both Lords, and Commons were in full and mischievous operation.  From which it would appear that the good doctor actually believed that the National Convention possessed a degree of legislative authority equal to that of the other bodies, although it had not the same power.  The Northern Star went even farther, contrasting the impotence of Parliament with the omnipotence of the Convention.  "The Convention has Met; and never did the eye of freeborn man light upon a more heavenly spectacle. . . . The first sight of the Convention has amply repaid us for years of toil." [p.106-1]  Even that cooler organ, The Charter, declared that, "The aptitude for business—the acuteness—the knowledge—the comprehensiveness of purpose—the singleness of mind—and, above all, the deep and genuine sympathy evinced for the people by the delegates who compose the Convention, would do honour to any body of men, however high the artificial distinctions of society may have placed them, and reflect credit on any constituency by whom they had been selected for the trust confided to them." [p.106-2]

    The impetus given by the interest in the Convention to the growth of Chartism is indicated by the sudden appearance of several journals.  Place says that early in 1839 nine such papers were running.  On January 27 the W.M.A. started its own weekly paper The Charter, edited by Carpenter.  On February 2 a rival called The Chartist made its first appearance.  Place tells us that Carpenter obtained the backing of the W.M.A. by making false representations, and criticizes the make-up of the paper rather harshly.  From a bundle of letters in the first volume of The Charter in the Place collection it is, however, to be concluded that he subsidized the unworthy organ with considerable generosity in the evil days which befell it early in 1840.  There was no permanent chairman, partly because no single delegate could claim to have the confidence of all the others, partly because a permanent chairman meant a permanent body, which was possibly illegal.  For this reason the Convention always solemnly adjourned from day to day, and the members took it in turns to occupy the chair.  The number of delegates was originally fixed at forty-nine, in view of the Act (one of the Six Acts) which made fifty the minimum size of a prohibitable seditious meeting.  Although fifty-three delegates were elected, [p.106-3] in point of fact as many as forty-nine were never gathered together at any one time.  The methods of their election appear to have been various; and as far as one can gather from the incomplete and inconsistent accounts of what happened, the utmost elasticity seems to have prevailed.  Thus, some constituencies elected more than one delegate; other constituencies, to save expense (so Gammage assures us), combined for the purpose of electing a joint representative.  The Chartist plan of equal constituencies and secret voting appears to have been abandoned entirely.  The actual election was carried out by the acclamation of a huge crowd, perhaps the most undemocratic method of selection conceivable.  The delegates were a curiously mixed body.  Besides the leaders of the movement, who, naturally, were elected en masse, there were three magistrates, six editors, one Church of England clergyman, one Nonconformist minister, and two doctors.  There was a publican, and several working men.  The rest were almost all small tradesmen.  Several were not appointed until the Convention was actually sitting. [p.107-1]  According to Place, twenty-nine of the delegates did not work for wages, while the remaining twenty-four did so work.

    An examination made by Place of Lovett's monthly report on the attendances for March shows that twenty-nine of the fifty-three delegates were middle-class men and twenty-four working-class men.  Thirteen never attended at all and six deserted.  Of these nineteen useless members, only five were working-class men.

    The Convention met on Monday, February 4, 1839, at the British Coffee House in Cockspur Street, London.  Craig, an Ayrshire delegate, took the chair.  Proceedings began apparently by an announcement from the chairman that 500,486 signatures had been obtained for the Petition, and that £967 of "National Rent" had been collected.  There are three separate accounts of the proceedings of the Convention.  One is that of Francis Place, [p.107-2] who was not a delegate.  The second was that of Dr. John Taylor, who represented Renfrewshire, Dumbartonshire, Alva, Tillicoultry, Northumberland, Westmorland and Cumberland at the Convention, and reported its doings subsequently for The Northern Star.  The third and best is the report in The Charter.  The first day's proceedings were short; it is sufficient to quote from the official minutes.

    The Rev. Arthur Wade, [p.108] LL.D., opened the proceedings by a solemn prayer.

    On the motion of Messrs. Collins and Moir, Wm. Lovett was elected secretary for the day.  It was resolved that any person, whose election is known to two of the delegates present, be considered provisionally a member of the Convention; but that such person be required to bring a petition and money within a month, to constitute him a permanent member.

    It was resolved that the individual expenses of the delegates be a question between them and their constituents.

    That Messrs. O'Brien, Vincent and Lovett be appointed a committee to look out for a proper place to meet in, and that they report to-morrow.

    Another committee was appointed to draw up rules, etc., and a further committee to draw up an address to the people of Great Britain.

    The second day's business consisted of some formal matters, and the adoption of a report recommending that the Hall at Doctor Johnson's Tavern, Bolt Court, Fleet Street, should be the scene of subsequent meetings.  It was also resolved "that the delegates present form themselves into sub-committees for the purpose of waiting upon every Member of Parliament, to induce them to support the National Petition and the People's Charter, and that such committees make a written report to the Convention."  We find that some members protested against this resolution, declaring that they would not degrade themselves by recognizing the House of Commons in any way.  Harney wrote to his "constituents" in March saying: "I have refused to visit members of Parliament to solicit their support of the people's Charter, and why?  Because it is a miserable farce—because it is an absurd waste of time, and, moreover, degrading to the characters of free-chosen representatives of the people.  Think ye, Englishmen, that these usurpers can be convinced or converted by mere words?  No; they uphold their usurpation by brute force, and only will they be compelled to listen to our petitions—only will they grant our demands, by force, or the fear of force." [p.109-1]

    The subsequent days' proceedings of the Convention were devoted to the preparation of a huge Petition to be presented to Parliament—a course of action, it will be noted, hardly compatible with much of the revolutionary verbiage which had preceded the formation of the body.  Indeed, in answer to a question in the House of Commons, Lord John Russell, the Home Secretary, stated that the National Convention was "a body for the sole purpose of preparing and presenting petitions to Parliament." [p.109-2]  The collection of funds was another of its functions.  Much of the business of the Convention was of an indescribably petty nature.  A committee is appointed to select a doorkeeper.  Its report is considered and the delegates who were to reform the universe give a lengthy assent to the employment, at thirty shillings a week, of Mark Crabtree, as doorkeeper and messenger.  Yet the delegates kept up their enthusiasm, addressing meetings when they were not addressing one another, still dreaming of the golden days to come when universal suffrage was an established fact—say in three months' time.  O'Connor still has the same conceit of himself and his colleagues, writing in his Northern Star leader. [p.109-3] "The eyes of the whole world are now of necessity directed to the People's Parliament, and it is worthy of universal contemplation."  O'Connor, in fact, probably did a great deal to keep up the delusion of the importance of the Convention by harping on the possibilities of its illegal activities.  At a public meeting, for example, at which he was the last speaker, he concluded the process, ably started by the previous speakers, of raising the audience to a frenzy of enthusiasm in the following words. [p.109-4]  "Suppose then, that on the morrow the Convention, in the discharge of their sacred duty, were to be illegally arrested—for if they should be arrested it would be illegally—what would they (the meeting) do?"  Here the whole meeting, numbering about 3,000, yelled as one man, "We'd rise!" and cheered ecstatically.  O'Connor, with enormous demagogic skill, declared that he was "hard of hearing," and asked the audience to repeat its promise.  And the meeting concluded with deafening cheers and the deep-throated assertion that "We'd rise, we'd fight!"

    So the Convention proceeded, but by degrees even its warmest admirers began to show signs of the qualities which lie between enthusiasm and boredom.  The Northern Star reporter soon finds it advisable to condense.  Much of the discussion to which he listened seems to have impressed him as merely peevish.  "A long and desultory conversation ensued, occupying nearly, or fully, two hours." [p.110-1]  Much time was occupied in the endeavour to induce the people of Ireland to take a share in the doings of the Convention, to which they had elected no delegates.  Speeches were made about Ireland and her problems, and a manifesto was drafted and discussed.  All this took up a great many days.  The Convention, hoping against hope, took legal advice as to its own legality.  The solicitor consulted gave as his opinion that there was nothing illegal about the Convention so long as it remained free from the responsibility, direct or indirect, of illegality.

    The tendency towards the advocacy of physical force gradually grew.  On April 9 Richardson moved the appointment of a committee to draw up a case to be submitted to the Convention relative to the power of the people to arm themselves. [p.110-2]  He named thirty-one authorities "all of whom spoke in universal terms as to the fact that the possession of arms was the best proof of men being free, and the best security for their remaining so."  Lovett cautiously supported this motion, which was all too mild for the majority.  Dr. Fletcher moved as an amendment, "That we should not take any legal advice on the subject; but that this Convention is fully convinced that all constitutional authorities are agreed in the undoubted right of the people to possess arms."  This was carried after a warm debate.  Richardson's motion had but four supporters, the "previous question" found six, while Fletcher's amendment had nineteen.

    When the petition sheets came to be examined after about a month's session it was found that several populous parts of this country had apparently not been touched by the Chartist propagandists, and missionaries were accordingly sent out, and the presentation of the Petition was deferred.  In the meantime the delegates talked.  The Secretary of the Convention himself observes, with a sigh: "In fact the love of talk was as characteristic of our little house as the big one at Westminster." [p.111-1]  As was only to be expected, severe skirmishes took place between the advocates of "physical force" and the constitutional Chartists.  G. J. Harney was doing his best to outdo the object of his emulation by flourishing daggers about at the meetings he addressed, by wearing a red cap, and by apostrophizings such as this:

    "Hail! spirit of Marat!  Hail! glorious apostle of equality!!  Hail! immortal martyr of Liberty!!!  All Hail! thou whose imperishable title I have assumed; and oh! may the God of Freedom strengthen me to brave, like thee, the persecution of tyrants and traitors, or (if so deemed) to meet, like thee, a martyr's death." [p.111-2]  Thus G. J. Harney, forced by the apathy of the authorities to ever more extreme flights of rodomontade.

    The Convention itself endeavoured to put a stop to these histrionics. Harney attempted to get three resolutions passed as follows:


    That if the Convention did its duty, the Charter would be the law of the land in less than a month.

    That no delay should take place in the presentation of the National Petition.

    That every act of injustice and oppression should be immediately met by resistance.


    These resolutions meant, of course, the endorsement of "physical force" by the Convention.

    James Whittle, the editor of The Champion, a paper upholding the Cobbett tradition, brought forward a resolution that Harney and two other members of the Convention who shared his views should apologize for and disclaim the three resolutions quoted above.  They refused, whereupon Whittle threatened a resolution expelling them from the Convention.  They then climbed down and apologized as required.  But that was not the end of the mischief.  At a public meeting held on March 16, Bronterre O'Brien announced that 1,200,000 signatures to the Petition had already been obtained, [p.112-1] and hinted at "an equal number of pikes."  Harney predicted universal suffrage and death within the year.  In consequence of these and similarly-intentioned declarations, [p.112-2] three of the Birmingham delegates resigned—Salt, Douglas, and Hadley.  J. P. Cobbett, the son of William Cobbett, and Dr. Wade had already unostentatiously stepped out.  Matthew followed shortly in their footsteps. [p.112-3]

    Not only did these members resign, but the others soon became particularly casual in their attendance.  On April 23 O'Connor moved that "No Member of the Convention should, from this day forth, be sent on the business of agitating, or as a missionary, until after the presentation of the National Petition." [p.112-4]  He stated that thirteen members never attended at all, and named as such, or as members who had only turned up once or twice, Bunce, Wroe, Vincent, Good, Lovelace, Richards, Cobbett, Osborne, and Whittle.  In order to combine propaganda with attention to the business of the Convention, he suggested that it might become a peripatetic affair, sitting one week in one large town, and the next week in another.  This suggestion was warmly received.  It was decided that the Convention should stay in London until May 6, and then, the Petition having been presented, a move would be made to Birmingham.  Attwood and Fielden were the members of Parliament who were selected for the purpose of presenting the Petition to the House.  Both were willing and prepared to do the Convention this service, but they wished to have, before the actual presentation of the document, a resolution condemning the incendiary language of some of the delegates, and also a letter saying that in future the Convention would be "governed in its exertions to procure the People's Charter by the principles of peace, law, and order." [p.113-1]  This request met with the unmitigated disapproval of several delegates who induced the remainder to pass a resolution declaring that the right to petition was a constitutional privilege of British subjects, that the Convention was determined to make use of this privilege without qualification, that if Attwood and Fielden would not present the petition, then some other M.P. would be found for the purpose, and if such an M.P. could not be found "this Convention will declare the right of Petition a farce."  Finally, however, Attwood and Fielden consented to present the Petition.  This "beautiful and majestic roll" [p.113-2] was three miles long, with 1,200,000 signatures.

    On May 7, 1839, it was put into a van, decorated with flags and explanatory inscriptions, and trundled off to Fielden's House in Panton Square, followed by the delegates in procession.  Fielden was out when the Petition arrived, but Attwood received the Convention and chatted with its members.  He was asked to move, as soon as possible after the presentation of the Petition, for leave to bring in a Bill for the enactment of the principles of the Charter.  This Attwood refused to do on the grounds that while he believed in five points of the Charter, universal suffrage, annual parliaments, vote by ballot, no property qualification, and payment of members, he could not approve of the sixth, i.e., equal constituencies, which would give Ireland 200 M.P.'s, against only 400 for the rest of the United Kingdom.  Finally the Petition was left in the passage of the house, and the delegates went away until the time should come to take it to Westminster. [p.113-3]  The National Petition of the Chartists was not presented to the House of Commons by Attwood until Friday, June 14.  He introduced it in a brief speech, describing its history, from its adoption in Birmingham on August 6, 1838.  "Having been so adopted, it was then forwarded to Glasgow, where, in a short time, it received no less a number than the signatures of 90,000 honest, industrious men."  Attwood "held in his hand" a list of 214 towns and villages where the Petition had been signed; it now contained 1,280,000 signatures.  Attwood thoroughly realized that the motive force behind the Petition was economic, and he attempted to impress the House with the depressed condition of the working classes.  "The first thing sought for by these honest men, every one of whom produced by his labour four times more to the country than they asked for in exchange, was a fair subsistence, and yet their country refused them one-fourth of the value of their labours.  Not only did the country do that, but some of them had only three days' wages in the week, and hundreds of them were paying 400 per cent. increase on debts and taxes."  He concluded by emphatically disassociating himself from the physical force party, and by moving that the Petition be now brought up.  This caused some laughter owing to the bulk of what Sir G. H. Smyth called "that ridiculous piece of machinery."  However, Attwood managed to unroll sufficient to enable him to place one end of it on the Clerk's table, and the House passed on to other business. [p.114-1]  Hansard, from whom the above account of the presentation of the Petition has been condensed, makes no mention of the contemptuous laughter with which the House, according to The Northern Star, [p.114-2] greeted Attwood's speech.  It was not possible to move a resolution relative to the Petition until July 12.

    Before the members of the Convention left London, they passed a series of resolutions suggesting what they described as "ulterior measures," to be put to meetings held all over the country before July 1.  The fate of these resolutions would give the reassembled Convention an estimate of the strength of the report upon which it could count.  The meetings in question were spoken of as the "simultaneous meetings," although in point of fact they were spread over more than a month.  The cases of Stephens and Vincent, as we shall see, were pending, and a letter from Lord John Russell to the magistracy, offering arms to any middle-class bodies which might be formed for the purpose of putting down the Chartist meetings, had forced the Convention as a whole to contemplate a course of action which a few months before would not have occurred to any but a "physical force" extremist.  The resolutions took the form of questions to be put to the meetings.


1. Whether they will be prepared, at the request of the Convention, to withdraw all sums of money they may individually or collectively have placed in savings banks, private banks, or in the hands of any person hostile to their just rights?

2. Whether, at the same request, they will be prepared immediately to convert all their paper money into gold and silver?

3. Whether, if the Convention shall determine that a sacred month will be necessary to prepare the millions to secure the Charter of their political salvation, they will firmly resolve to abstain from all their labours, during that period, as well as from the use of all intoxicating drinks?

4. Whether, according to their old constitutional right—a right which modern legislators would fain annihilate—they have prepared themselves with the arms of freemen to defend the laws and constitutional privileges their ancestors bequeathed to them?

5. Whether they will provide themselves with Chartist candidates, so as to be prepared to propose them for their representatives at the next general election; and if returned by show of hands such candidates to consider themselves veritable representatives of the people—to meet in London at a time hereafter to be determined on?

6. Whether they will resolve to deal exclusively with Chartists, and in all cases of persecution rally round and protect all those who may suffer in their righteous cause?

7. Whether by all and every means in their power they will perseveringly contend for the great objects of the People's Charter, and resolve that no counter agitation for a less measure of justice shall divert them from their righteous object?

8. Whether the people will determine to obey all the just and constitutional requests of the majority of the Convention? [p.116-1]


    The B.P.U. is said to have suggested Nos. 1, 2, and 3, although of course the idea originated with Francis Place and his "To stop the Duke, go for gold" poster of 1832.  The fourth question contains an echo of a speech by Feargus O'Connor, and the fifth is said by Lovett to have been proposed by Bronterre O'Brien.

    While, on May 8, the Convention was fixing the places at which these meetings were to be held, one of the delegates read out a letter which he had just received from Birmingham.  The town was awaiting the Convention in a great state of excitement and was virtually in a state of siege.  Soldiers were under arms, and the Riot Act was being read to angry crowds.  At the moment when the Convention was having its feelings raised by this recital, as well as by another of disorders in Monmouth, a delegate announced that Wellington had accepted the Premiership. [p.116-2]

    On May 13 the National Convention, numbering but thirty-five, arrived in Birmingham by train.  This harmless incursion was cheered by perhaps 150,000 voices, and immediately spread a panic through the perturbed officialdom of the city.  Four thousand special constables were sworn in.  The Mayor collected twenty pieces of artillery and threatened to have them used.  However, immediately after the arrival of the thirty-five, a procession was formed, the town demonstrators going before and after the delegates, in order to protect them, should matters come to that stage.  The newly-arrived lunched substantially at the Thatched House Tavern, and then moved on to the Holloway Head, where an enthusiastic meeting was held.

    The next day the Convention reassembled at the Lawrence Street Chapel.  The whole day was spent in the discussion of a manifesto, which was finally adopted.  This manifesto was to be made the basis of the simultaneous meetings and contained a number of questions to be put to the crowds at these gatherings.  The most prominent questions were:


Are they prepared, in the event of the Petition and Charter being rejected, to make a run upon the banks, and convert their paper into gold?

Will they refuse the payment of all rents, rates, and taxes?

Will they keep a sacred month?

Will they cease reading all papers opposed to them?

Will they support Chartist candidates at the next General Election?

Are they armed?


    O'Connor induced the others to delete the questions about payment of rents, rates, and taxes, and the reading of hostile newspapers.

    The next day or two brought reports of arrests at Westbury where the Yeomanry had dispersed a meeting with great violence.  Such reports had already been received from other places, and we find, in reading the proceedings of the Birmingham Convention, a growing intensity of bitter determination on the part of the delegates.  They had not yet all become avowed disciples of the Physical Force leaders but they had all but ceased to speak of moral force.  When the dates of the Scottish simultaneous meetings had been fixed (June 10 and 19), Carpenter declared that "For himself he should go on the mission, if appointed, with the full persuasion that he should never come back." (Hear, hear.)  "And every delegate should go out with the same feeling." (Hear, hear.) [p.117]

    It had been originally intended that the "simultaneous meetings" should all be held on the same day, as the police would have been weakened by having their attention distributed over so many points at once.  As usual, The Northern Star spoke with two voices on the matter of physical force.  In a leading article it counselled, "Let no arms of any description be paraded. . . . Let even your words be carefully chosen and rightly guarded. . . . If any foolish old apple-woman of a magistrate, upon the affidavit of any fish-wife as foolish as himself, choose to consider the meeting as unlawful and read the Riot Act, let every one go peacefully home. . . . But if, as is not unlikely, the peace be broken by its professed conservators; if the people, having given no provocation, be wantonly attacked; if British blood be shed by lawless violence, why then—then we give the people no advice at all.  We merely repeat our last week's quotation: 'When it is their cue to fight, they'll know it without a prompter!'" [p.118]  In the very next column to that in which these words were contained, appeared an illustration of a "New Chartist Weapon," with a statement to the effect that they have been manufactured in Winlaton in large numbers.  The weapon was the old-fashioned caltrop, said to have been used with considerable effect against the English cavalry at Bannockburn.

    The last of the Convention before its adjournment was the passing of three resolutions moved by O'Brien, on the subject of bearing arms.


1st. That peace, law, and order, shall continue to be the motto of this Convention, so long as our oppressors shall act in the spirit of peace, law, and order, towards the people, but should our enemies substitute war for peace, or attempt to suppress our lawful and orderly agitation by lawless violence, we shall deem it to be the sacred duty of the people to meet force with force, and repel assassination by justifiable homicide.

2nd. That in accordance with the foregoing resolution, the Convention do employ only legal and peaceable means in the prosecution of the great and righteous objects of the present movement.  Being also desirous that no handle should be afforded to the enemy for traducing our motives, or employing armed force against the people, we hereby recommend the Chartists who may attend the approaching simultaneous meetings to avoid carrying staves, pikes, pistols, or any other offensive weapons about their person.  We recommend them to proceed to the ground sober, orderly, and unarmed.  As also to treat as enemies of the cause any person or persons who may exhibit such weapons, or who by any other act of folly or wickedness should provoke a breach of the peace.

3rd. That the marshals and other officers who may have charge of the arrangements for the simultaneous meetings are particularly requested to use every means in their power to give effect to the recommendation embodied in the preceding resolution.  We also recommend that the aforesaid officers do in all cases consult with the local authorities before the meeting place.

4th. That in case our oppressors in the middle and upper ranks should instigate the authorities to oppress the people with armed force, in contravention of the existing laws of the realm, the said oppressors in the upper and middle ranks shall be held responsible in person and property for any detriment that may result to the people from such atrocious instigation.


    These resolutions mean two things.  In the first place they were passed in Birmingham where the B.P.U. prevailed.  This was of all the Radical bodies the most middle-class; the tone of the resolution however indicates that no rapprochement or amicable relationship with the middle classes was even contemplated.  In short, the Convention, largely composed, as we have shown, of middle-class delegates, deliberately adopted working-class sentiments, and by shaking off its own origin, became a movement intended to benefit a single class, rather than the nation as a whole.  In the second place, these resolutions demonstrate the waning hopes of the pacifists among the delegates.  We have already quoted Lovett's despairing comments on the situation, the tension of which was accentuated immediately after his imprisonment.  The events that were to follow directly gave the movement no chance of ever regaining the paths of quietness; force can only be met by force, persecution is a sword that cuts both ways.

    Whit-Monday duly arrived and was the starting-point of an oratorical campaign.  The result of this was a great deal of cheering and of moral encouragement for the Chartist leaders, but of an altogether exaggerated and misleading nature.  Gammage gives a list of meetings as a "sample" of the scale on which the "simultaneous meetings" attracted attention, and he gives the numbers present at several of them.  These, as is usual with this form of estimate, are probably greatly inflated; it would seem that the meetings at Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Carlisle, Sunderland, Bath, Blackwood (Glam.), Sheffield, Leigh (Lanes), and Glasgow attracted up to 1,351,000 hearers.  This figure, as we have said, is certainly above the truth, yet, as meetings also took place in London, Hull, Preston, Northampton, Bradford, Penrith, Cockermouth, and other places mentioned by Gammage, and as we know that O'Connor and Harney separately toured the provinces and addressed crowds at many other great towns, it is probable that an even larger number than that stated applauded the Chartist speakers.

    On May 30, 1839, O'Connell addressed a remonstrance to the Chartists of Birmingham, which embodied the middle class liberal objections to the campaign of the Six Points.  He suggested that the Chartists were actually injuring their own cause by their "exclusiveness."  They excluded the aristocracy and the middle classes, men aged from eighteen to twenty, idiots and lunatics.  The suffrage they demanded was therefore not truly "universal."  O'Connell then went on to suggest the substitution of the words "household suffrage" for the offending term.  He proposed that there should be four classes of household voters: (1) Male householders; (2) male heads of families, whether householders or "latchkey tenants" (3) male artisans who had served a term of apprenticeship (4) male teachers and apprentices.  These proposals would in any case have been exasperating to men who had pinned their faith to a catchword; O'Connell made them superlatively so by suggesting triennial instead of annual parliaments, and by telling the Chartists that their manners at public meetings were unpleasant.  After this the "Liberator," as may be expected, became a byword.  The Northern Star rose and rent him to pieces week by week.  It is probable, however, that O'Connell succeeded in making an unrecorded impression.  Without his Address would the Convention have adopted on July 22 its Address to the Middle Classes?  We venture to think that the tone of this document, with its placatory assurances and its avowed detestation of physical force methods, was inspired very considerably by the much-abused O'Connell.



DELEGATES TO THE NATIONAL CONVENTION OF THE INDUSTRIOUS
CLASSES


William G. Burns . . . . Forfarshire and Aberdeenshire.
Peter Bussey . . . . Yorks (W. Riding).
J. P. Cobbett . . . . Do. Do.
John Collins . . . . Birmingham, Cheltenham, and Coventry.
John Cleave . . . . London (except Marylebone) and Reading.
William Carpenter . . . . Bolton-le-Moors.
William Cardo . . . . Marylebone.
Hugh Craig . . . . Ayrshire.
Robert Kellie Douglas . . . . Birmingham.
Abram Duncan . . . . Dumfries, Maxwelltown.
John Deegan . . . . Hyde, Stalybridge, Glossop, Newmills.
John Frost . . . . Newport, Pontypool, Caerleon.
Matthew Fletcher . . . . Bury, Heywood, Prestwich, Ratcliffe
        and Ramsbottom.
James Fenney . . . . Wigan, Hindley and West Houghton.
William Gill . . . . Sheffield and Rotherham.
John Goods . . . . Brighton.
Henry Hetherington . . . . London (except Marylebone) and Stockport.
Robert Hartwell . . . . Do.     Do.     Do.
George Julian Harney . . . . Northumberland, Norwich, and Derby.
Alexander Halley . . . . Dumfermline, Kirkcaldy, Allva,
        Clackmannan, Stirlingshire and Falkville.
Benjamin Hadley . . . . Birmingham.
Charles Jones . . . . Newtown, Welshpool and Llanidloes
Robert Knox . . . . Durham County.
William Lovett . . . . London (except Marylebone).
Robert Lowery . . . . Newcastle and Northumberland.
George Loveless . . . . Dorsetshire.
Patrick Matthew . . . . Perthshire and Fife.
Richard Mealing . . . . Bath, Trowbridge, Frome, Holt, Bradford (Wilts)
        and Westbury.
Richard Moore . . . . London (except Marylebone).
Richard Marsden . . . . Preston and Chorley.
James Mills . . . . Oldham.
James Moir . . . . Glasgow and Lanarkshire.
Peter Murray M'Douall . . . . Ashton-under-Lyne.
Charles Hodgson Neesom . . . . Bristol.
Feargus O'Connor . . Yorks (W. Riding) and Bristol.
James Bronterre O'Brien . . . . London (except Marylebone), Leigh, Bristol,
        Norwich, Newport (I. of W), and Stockport.
John Pierce . . . . Birmingham and Reading.
Lawrence Pitkeithly . . . . Yorks (W. Riding).
John Rickards . . . . Potteries.
George Rogers . . . . London (except Marylebone).
Reginald John Richardson . . . . Manchester.
William Rider . . . . Yorks (W. Riding).
Thomas Raynor Smart . . . . Loughborough and Leicester.
John Skevington . . . . Loughborough and Derby.
William Stephen Villiers Sankey . . . . Edinburgh and Midlothian.
Thomas Clutton Salt . . . . Birmingham.
John Taylor . . . . Renfrewshire, Newcastle, Carlisle, Wigton, Alva and
        Tillicoultry.
James Taylor . . . . Rochdale and Middleton.
Benjamin A. Tight . . . .  Reading.
Henry Vincent . . . . Hull, Cheltenham and Bristol.
Arthus S. Wade . . . . Nottingham, Sutton-in-Ashfield, and Mansfield.
Joseph Wood . . . . Bolton-le-Moors.
James Wroe . . . . Manchester.
James Whittle . . . . Liverpool.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER V.

THE PERIOD OF REPRESSION


WITH the reassembling of the Convention in Birmingham on July 1, the Chartist movement abruptly entered into another phase.  To explain this apparently sudden transition, a retrospect is necessary.

    The steadily growing intensity of economic distress had been accompanied by an increasingly obvious restiveness.  In the North especially, and in South Wales, a sullen determination to use whatever methods might be needed to upset the Government appeared to dominate labour.  Rumours reached the Cabinet of preparations for armed revolt, drillings, pikes, and so on.  Undoubtedly these anticipations were dictated by fact as much as by panic.  We have no means of knowing to what extent preparations for bloodshed were actually made.  Appendix I [p.123-1] contains a review of the evidence tending to show that extreme measures were in contemplation.  The direct evidence that armed Chartists were ever organized on more than a local scale is very slight indeed.  The impression gathered by the non-Chartist public of these preparations is obviously enormously exaggerated.  Virtually every volume of memoirs covering 1838-41 testifies to the prevailing fear of a revolutionary outbreak.  A few specimens may be given.

    On October 25, 1838, we find in Queen Victoria's diaries a reference to Chartism in a fearful warning from Lord Melbourne.  "I am afraid that times of some trouble are approaching for which Your Majesty must hold yourself prepared." [p.123-2]

    John Bowes, the well-known Methodist preacher, writes on July 1, 1839, to William Essler, a member of-his own calling: "I am sorry to learn that you have thrown yourself into the army of the bloodthirsty Chartists." [p.124-1]

    In his autobiography, These Eighty Years, the Rev. H. Solly gives an account of his introduction to Chartism in Yeovil, in 1840, illustrating by his description the normal middle-class attitude to this phenomenon.  He was taken by a local Chartist named Bainbridge (who afterwards rose to some prominence in the movement), of whose political views Solly was then ignorant, to the Mechanics' Institute of the town.  There he found a dozen or so working men, some in their shirt-sleeves, seated round a table, discussing something or other.  Suddenly a brawny man with a black beard thumped the table and began a speech by exclaiming, "Mr. Chairman!  Though I'm as good a Chartist as any of you. . . ."  Solly's feelings are reflected in his own words: "I remember no more, and doubt if I heard anything more, for that was enough to fill me with intense alarm and disgust.  It was clear to me that I had fallen among a band of those desperate and violent men, as I supposed them to be, who were engaged in their nefarious conspiracy, and as soon as I could I left the room, grievously distressed." [p.124-2]  Yet the dread Chartists were in this case not physical-force men, but admirers of Lovett.  Bainbridge, by the way, soon effected Solly's conversion.

    Blackwood's Magazine contained an article, almost on the eve of the Reform Bill passing into law, the tone of which admirably illustrates the opinion and the fears of the wealthier classes as to the probable consequences of the measure.  "It will be a general insurrection of the lower orders against the higher; an effort of the populace to take the powers of sovereignty into their own hands, and divide among themselves all that is now enjoyed by their superiors.  It will be followed by the consequences which attended similar efforts in the neighbouring kingdom. . . . The property of the Church will be the first victim. . . . The national debt will be the next object of attack; the people will find it intolerable to pay the interest of burdens which they had no hand in imposing; public creditors will be swept off, and the industry of the people relieved by destroying the accumulation of a thousand years (sic).  The estates of the nobility will then become an eyesore to the purifiers of society; land will be viewed as the people's farm; the public miseries will be imputed to the extortions of those unjust stewards, and a division of the great properties will be the consequence.  In the consternation occasioned by these violent changes, commercial industry will come to a stand—agricultural produce will be diminished—the employment of capital will be withdrawn—famine, distress, and want of employment will ensue—the people will revolt against their seducers—more violent remedies will be proposed—strong principles of democracy will be maintained.  In the struggle of these desperate factions, blood will be profusely shed.  Terror, that destroyer of all virtuous feeling, will rule triumphant.  Another Danton, a second Robespierre, will arise, another Reign of Terror will expiate the sins of a new revolution, and military despotism close the scene." [p.125-1]  Eight years after these words were written, when the Chartist movement had already grown in strength, these inflated sentiments were actually exhumed and quoted as a wise and accurate prognostication of what was to be expected. [p.125-2]  The importance of Chartism lies principally in the fact that by that portion of the population of the country which was responsible for its government, every Chartist was regarded as a potential Robespierre.  Such was the state of feeling when Stephens was arrested at the end of 1838.

    His eloquence had gradually assumed such a dangerous tone that the authorities took alarm.  In consequence of a particularly inflammatory speech delivered at Leigh, Lancashire, on November 13, 1838, a warrant was issued for his arrest, which took place on December 27.  The speech in question had been delivered in opposition to the new Poor Law, and its offending passages were based on scriptural texts.  What frightened the authorities, however, was that in the course of the examination of Stephens at the New Bailey, Manchester, on December 28, a witness named Coward, a constable, declared that he knew smithies where pikes were actually being made at the moment, and that the Chartists were preparing for an armed insurrection. [p.126-1]  The trial was adjourned, and bail was granted.  Stephens occupied the interval by more declamation.  This outbreak of rodomontade was of course taken seriously, and presently many of those who considered themselves dissatisfied with the existing order of things clutched at the appellation Chartist, and so brought about demonstrations entirely contrary to the principles and the spirit of a movement which had constitutional reforms for its object.  We are told that "it became a practice of some persons calling themselves Chartists to go in procession to the churches some time before divine service began, and to take entire possession of the body of the edifice.  The scene was of course anything but decorous.  Some wore their hats—others had pipes in their mouths—but it was not usually found that their conduct exceeded this confessedly unbecoming behaviour." [p.126-2]  For this deplorable state of things there is no doubt that Stephens, with O'Connor, was responsible.  They had introduced foreign elements into Chartism, and a very foreign spirit.  By doing so, they had attracted followers whose concerns were distinctly the reverse of democratic.  Although they had widened the audience willing to listen to Chartist proposals, they had encouraged a fringe of irresponsible listeners, whose behaviour caused the intellectual claims of the movement to be swamped in the outcry at their proceedings.  The re-examination of Stephens began on January 3, 1839, when he was committed to the Liverpool Assizes, bail being allowed.  According to Place, "The agitation caused by his apprehension was very remarkable.  The whole body of Radicals felt it, and in Manchester and its environs great apprehensions were entertained of riotings and extensive mischief.  All the associations called meetings, and a vast number of people came to Manchester ready for mischief."  His examination had disabled Stephens from attending the National Convention, and a substitute was found by his constituency.  On being released on bail, Stephens once again indulged himself in the full enjoyment of his popularity, preaching political sermons and generally breathing fire and slaughter.  Meanwhile his friends had opened a Stephens's Defence Fund, and a sum approaching £2,000 was received in small subscriptions [p.127-1] by the time he had to come up for trial.  This took place in August and turned out to be a surprising affair.  In spite of the fact that the meeting, at which the seditious utterances for which he was being tried had been made, had been decorated by banners inscribed "Ashton demands Universal Suffrage or Universal Vengeance," and a few frankly sanguinolent messages such as "Blood," Stephens made some amazing statements, which may have been partly palinodial, but were to a certain extent undoubtedly suggested by his rhetorical trick of appealing to his audiences by paradoxes in which he appeared to condescend to their views.  His biographer, who quotes largely from Stephens's five-hour speech in his own defence, supplies us with this delightful quotation: "I am dragged here . . . as though I were a party to the Convention, and to the disturbances of Birmingham, to the Charter, to annual Parliaments, vote by ballot, universal suffrage, and all the rest of that rigmarole, in which I never had a share.  I only came forward to the men of Leigh, and there declared my detestation of the doctrines of Chartism, declared that if Radicals were in power my views were such that my head would be brought first to the block, and my blood would be the first blood that would have to flow for the olden liberties of the country.  Gentlemen, this is the individual who is now brought before you as a Chartist. . . ." [p.127-2]  He was found guilty and sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment, with sureties for good behaviour for five years after the period of his confinement.

    Peter Murray M'Douall was the next to be prosecuted.  M'Douall had in 1839 scarcely completed his twenty-fifth year; he was a surgeon by profession, and an idealist by temperament.  He represented Ashton-under-Lyne at the Convention.  The cause of his arrest was having attended "an unlawful meeting," held in Hyde, on April 22; the case was held up until August 16, when it was tried in Chester, Hill, the Attorney-General prosecuting.  In opening the case, Hill virtually delivered himself of the popular prejudice against Chartism.  "The object was to overthrow the laws by force, and to excite the people to a bloody revolution, unless certain rights which they had demanded were granted by Government."  M'Douall's "object in view was one of great atrocity, it was one of the worst of objects—that of filling his own pockets at the expense of the poor." [p.128-1]  M'Douall seems to have made a certain sensation as the result of his long speech in his own defence.  After having explained the position taken up by the Chartists, he alluded to a paper read by him at a meeting of the British Association on the Factory System.  He described the vile effects of overcrowding factory workers into entirely inadequate cottages belonging to the factory owners, and stated the rate of wages paid: a rate he found generally lay between 2s. 6d. and 5s. per head per week.  From this he went on to his own feelings, and to describe the impulse given to his political views by the sight of the prevailing conditions of the factory system.  Finally he brought devastating criticism to bear upon the evidence brought forward by the prosecution, but the judge summed up strongly against him, and the jury returned a verdict of guilty without retiring to consider.  M'Douall was sentenced to a year's imprisonment, and was bound over to keep the peace for five years.

    Early in 1839 Major-General Sir Charles James Napier, K.C.B., the future conqueror of Scinde, received a summons from Lord John Russell.  He rushed down to London from the north of England in only twenty-four hours, singing praises to steam and smoke.  On March 30 he saw Lord John, "a mild person in manner: poor man, he is in an affliction which makes it hard to judge, but he seems thoughtful and unaffected." [p.128-2]  The Home Secretary was in fear and trembling of a Chartist insurrection.  Napier, being in command of the northern district, which extended over eleven counties, had virtually to undertake the responsibility of suppressing Chartism on its native heath.  For this purpose he was well suited, having no fear of either Chartists or of the Government and a certain amount of sympathy with both.  He did not think the Chartists, for all their pikes and red nightcaps, would be dangerous, for "they have, seemingly, no organization, no leaders, and a strong tendency to turn rebellion into money, for pikes costing a shilling are sold for three and sixpence." [p.129-1]  However, on making inquiries in London on the possibilities of an actual insurrection, he found the Government "strangely ill-informed."  A little later on Napier heard from various sources that the Chartists were not going to attempt an insurrection, but would rely upon assassination.  It is characteristic of this faithful Tory that he thoroughly sympathized with this supposed course of action.  "What has made Englishmen turn assassins?  The new poor law.  Their resources have dried up but indirect taxes for the debt, and the poor law throws them on a phantom, which it calls their resources—robbery follows, and a robber soon becomes a murderer." [p.129-2]  The rumour of forthcoming assassinations spread throughout the land, and the agèd Duke of Portland came tremblingly to Napier in April to ask if his life was safe.  A few days later Napier heard that in fact eleven men had met and cast lots for murdering the Duke because of his support for the new poor law. [p.129-3]

    During the following May the fear of an insurrection spread.  Napier exercised the utmost caution in avoiding even the occasions of conflict.  There was "a row" at Stone (Staffs) early in the month, when a body of Chartists attacked a few yeomen, much to their own discomfiture.  England can never be sufficiently grateful to Napier for having kept his head at this trying period.  In the face of unceasing rumours of immediate outbreaks, each more wildly exaggerated than its predecessor, he went on organizing his soldiers and taking care that they should not be used until it was thoroughly necessary.  When he heard that 250,000 armed Chartists were on the verge of revolting in Yorkshire, he did nothing rash.  When, a few days later, a million Yorkshire men were, it was alleged, starting on a march on London, Napier planned schemes of outflanking this immense body, should it ever materialize.  When the great meeting at Kersall Moor was held on May 25, Napier was present in "coloured clothes," [p.130] and found that the opinions expressed by the orators were "orderly, legal . . . pretty much—don't tell this!—very like my own!"  About this time he appears to have proven to an unnamed Chartist leader the utter inadequacy of five brass cannon to which the rebels had pinned their faith, by allowing him to come and inspect the guns at a barrack.  He soon found that some of the Chartist leaders were amenable to reason and tactful handling, and the discovery appreciably reduced the risk of bloodshed.  Indeed there was nothing so terrible to Napier as the prospect of shedding blood.  "Good God, what work!" he exclaims.  "To send grape-shot from four guns into a helpless mass of fellow-citizens; sweeping the streets with fire and charging with cavalry, destroying poor people whose only crime is that they have been ill-governed and reduced to such straits that they seek redress by arms, ignorant that of all ways that is the most certain to increase the evils they complain of."  During the next few months he is continually complaining of the behaviour of the magistrates, who in his opinion were responsible for the Birmingham riots on July 15, and for the generally fevered state of the people.  He ridicules the idea that the Sacred Month will actually be carried out.  In spite of all the fears expressed by the magistracy, on August 17 Napier is able to report that "all is quiet throughout Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham, Cheshire, Westmorland, etc. Bolton is the only place where shot has been fired, but only three there, and those from the eagerness of the magistrates."  Under his almost inspired guidance, the persons who were demanding blood failed to get it.  Napier understood well the connexion between economic distress and rebelliousness, and therefore refused to regard the latter as the symptoms of revolution.  It should not be forgotten, however, that Lord John Russell, timid though he may have been, held the same views as Napier on the employment of the armed forces of the crown.  "In 1835 Russell agreed with the Irish law officers that soldiers and police should not be used for the collection of tithes except in emergency.  He mentioned that in England he warned the Lords-Lieutenant and the Commander-in-Chief not to allow troops to be brought within sight of the people unless actual rioting took place.  This was always a valued principle with him, and I have heard him tell how in the Chartist movement of 1848, even at the most threatening moments, he in concert with the Duke of Wellington arranged that the troops should be kept out of sight." [p.131-1]  This is the testimony of Lord John Russell's son.  Lord John Russell's account of his own impressions of the Chartist movement, [p.131-2] however, does not convey the conviction of any unusual wisdom on his part.  It is indeed open to argument that on Russell's own showing he hardly understood what all the excitement was about, that he gave Napier a free hand to deal with it, and that he did not know how Napier dealt with it.

    The Physical Force Chartists relied perhaps overmuch on the counsel of a frequently-mentioned book by a refugee foreign officer, Colonel Francis Maceroni, Defensive Instruction to the People. [p.131-3]  According to the Colonel the armed populace could, under certain circumstances, be more than a match for trained troops, especially in street fighting.  At the Convention the possibilities of this form of conflict were enthusiastically discussed in private by members of the Physical Force party. [p.132-1]  Alexander Sommerville, an ex-soldier of Chartist sympathies, frightened by the militant tone of some of his friends, published a series of penny pamphlets, Warnings to the People on Street Warfare, in which he argued, with considerable knowledge, that not the advice of Maceroni, nor the experience of past revolutions in European cities, nor the utmost possible discipline and organization could enable workmen to resist trained troops and their artillery.  According to the author, these pamphlets were widely read and did much to neutralize the prevailing bellicosity of the Physical Force Chartists. [p.132-2]

    A meeting at Nottingham about April 20, 1839, presented Oastler with a spear, apparently in the mistaken belief that it was a weapon.  The occasion was marked by an oratorical outburst of some violence in which the working classes were advised to arm and to "walk upright."  He did not suggest that the weapons were for use; first let the working men try the effect of a petition backed by pikes and then, if the Government remained unexpectedly unafraid or unwilling, then "we shall fight." [p.132-3]

    While the Convention had been sitting, the more extreme of the Chartists had been making sporadic and ineffective efforts to work up something in the nature of an insurrection.  On April 1, Vincent, Carrier and Roberts were to have addressed a meeting in the Market Place, Devizes, but the natives would have none of it—attacked the Chartist procession, and, we are told, only allowed the speakers to leave the town on condition they promised never to return to it.  During the same month, an attempt to take arms by force from farmers at Llanidloes, Montgomeryshire, was ascribed to Chartists, but the identity of the men in question was not established, as all concerned succeeded in escaping.  Early in May, seven Chartists were arrested in Manchester for drilling, although no weapons were found in their possession.  Other arrests were made at Westbury (Wiltshire) and Trowbridge.  Vincent was the next prominent Chartist to be arrested.  Together with Townsend, a wine merchant, and Dickenson, a pork butcher, he was apprehended for "attending a seditious assemblage at Newport, Mon., which had also been addressed by Frost.  The arrest took place on May 8, on the day after the defeat of Melbourne's Government.  The whole of England and Wales was in a highly excited state at the time, and numerous arrests were made.  Vincent was taken from London to Newport, through Bristol, which seems to have been in a mood reminiscent of the riots of 1832.  While the country agitated itself about the "Bedchamber Question" it became necessary to tub-thump with particular force to be heard at all, consequently Chartist propaganda grew in intensity, and arrests were even more numerous.  Vincent, we may add, was not tried until August 2, 1839, when he was condemned to twelve months' imprisonment.  His case came up in the House of Lords a week later, as a result of which Vincent's imprisonment received the mitigations usually extended to political offenders. [p.133]

    Thirty-two Chartists were tried in Welshpool on July 18 on a charge of unlawful assembly, and beginning to demolish, pull down, and destroy the dwelling house of David Evans, in Llanidloes, with some other cases of drilling and learning to use arms.  The result was as follows:


1 — Stabbing with intent to do bodily harm . . . . 15 years' transportation.
3 — Training and drilling to use arms . . . . 7 years' transportation.
1 — Seditious words . . . . 1 year imprisonment and recognizances for 5 years.
2 — Riot and assault . . . . 1 year hard labour.
5 — Drilling and training . . . . 6 months.
17—Riots (including 3 women) . . . . 6 months' hard labour.
8 — Riots . . . . 3 months' hard labour.
2 — Riots . . . . 2 months' hard labour.
7 — Acquitted or entered into recognizances.


    On May 17, at two o'clock in the morning, two delegates, Brown and Russell, [p.134-1] were arrested by the Birmingham police for having "made use of inflammatory language tending to excite her Majesty's liege subjects to a breach of the peace."  The occasion of this alleged incendiarism of speech was a meeting at the Bull Ring held as far back as March 21.  Both prisoners were brought up before the magistrates the next morning and committed for trial.

    Lord John Russell had addressed a circular letter to the magistracy offering arms, to any association of the middle classes that might be formed for the purpose of putting down the Chartist meetings. [p.134-2]  This, coupled with the generally high-handed behaviour of the Birmingham bench, raised the Convention to a pitch of fury which only needed an opportunity to burst out upon its opponents.

    After the great series of meetings had been concluded, the Convention reassembled in Birmingham on July 1.  O'Connor had started through The Northern Star a Defence Fund for arrested Chartists, he now commended it to the goodwill of the delegates.  The missionaries "who had represented the Convention of the Simultaneous Meetings reported on their experiences and the enthusiasm of their audiences.  We have already mentioned the proposals contained in a number of questions appended to the manifesto laid before the simultaneous meetings.  The delegates now discussed methods of putting these "ulterior measures" into action.  One delegate after another suggested that a run be made on the banks, and that the people prepare for the "sacred month," under which name Benbow's proposal was now masquerading.

    The first occasion on which the initiative was taken by the Birmingham authorities in their opposition to Chartism was on July 8.  A meeting was in progress in the Bull Ring.  Apparently, at the moment the attack upon it was made, it was peacefully engaged in standing around a man who was reading aloud from a newspaper.  A scrimmage was caused by an attempt to clear the place by force, a few persons sustained injuries, and Dr. Taylor, one of the most energetic of the Birmingham Chartists, was arrested.  Ten others were also taken into custody.  The next morning the Convention, or as much of it as was present in Birmingham, with a number of local men, held a protest meeting and passed three resolutions drafted by Lovett.  These were as follows:


1st. That this Convention is of opinion that a wanton, flagrant, and unjust outrage has been made upon the people of Birmingham by a bloodthirsty and unconstitutional force from London, acting under the authority of men who, when out of office, sanctioned and took part in the meetings of the people; and now, when they share in public plunder, seek to keep the people in social slavery and political degradation.

2nd. That the people of Birmingham are the best judges of their own right to meet in the Bull Ring or elsewhere, have their own feelings to consult respecting the outrage given, and are the best judges of their own power and resources in order to obtain justice.

3rd. That the summary and despotic arrest of Dr. Taylor, our respected colleague, affords another convincing proof of the absence of all justice in England, and clearly shows that there is no security for life, liberty or property till the people have some control over the laws which they are called upon to obey. [p.136]


    These resolutions were immediately taken to a printer by a delegate, John Collins, set up, and posted up all over the town, over Lovett's signature, the same day.  Whereupon both Lovett and Collins were arrested and committed to trial, bail being fixed at £1,000 each.  Three days later, on July 12, an alarmed House of Commons expressed its view of the matter by its treatment of Attwood's motion to consider the Petition.  On the division, 237 were against, 48 for.  Chartist indignation naturally added fuel to the flames.  Some delay took place before the bail for Lovett and Collins could be found in consequence of the general fearfulness, but after some days' imprisonment, J. S. Leader, M.P. for Westminster, and Sir William Molesworth offered to stand bail for Lovett, and the magistrates accepted an offer they had previously refused for Collins.  Immediately afterwards a number of other arrests were made.  On July 15 a large crowd collected to welcome Lovett and Collins, who were expected to come out of prison.  The police, as before, turned up in huge numbers and attempted to break up a peaceful demonstration.  The result was a good deal of rowdiness, and several shops were looted; while of course the anti-Chartists allege the demonstrators to have been responsible for this, it is tolerably certain that this was, as usual, the work of the non-political hooligan element which is attracted to all large gatherings, political or otherwise, by what William James calls the "herd-instinct."  The soldiers were then called out: the riot soon subsided.  There were several casualties, but no deaths.  Lovett and Collins had been subjected, while on remand, to various unpleasant indignities, which they made the subject of a memorial to Parliament.

    The riots, which hitherto had been inconsiderable, now surged up dangerously.  For some days the hooligan element was in the ascendant, houses were burned, and shops sacked.  It appears that the authorities, thoroughly frightened, attempted to clear the Bull Ring by armed force.  Rumours to the effect that armed colliers were coming to the help of the Chartists were met by the importation of dragoons.  Dozens of arrests were made.  Most of the persons taken up were subsequently discharged or acquitted, but three men (one of whom had a wooden leg) and a boy were tried on the charge of arson and sentenced to death. [p.137-1]  This was afterwards commuted to transportation on the grounds of possible mistaken identity. [p.137-2]

    During the Birmingham Riots, Harney, it appears, was "wanted" by the authorities, but could not be found.  One man alone, G. J. Holyoake, knew where he lodged, and regarded himself as the keeper of the imitator of Marat. [p.137-3]  Holyoake and his protégé, it seems, lodged opposite each other in a little street off the Bull Ring, [p.137-4] and so actually lived in the centre of the rioting.  Harney was, however, arrested at Bedlington at the end of July.  Benbow, now a Manchester shoemaker, was sentenced to sixteen months' imprisonment in August on a charge of seditious language.

    Collins and Lovett were tried on August 6, before a jury which contained two men who were known to have expressed the wish that "all the Chartists were hanged." [p.137-5]  The Attorney General, who prosecuted, was a tactful man and told the jury that that was to be the last case his public duties would ever allow him to take in the county of Warwick, and that he should ever recollect, "with gratitude and with admiration," the firmness and the determination which the juries of Warwickshire had displayed.  T. Clutton Salt gave evidence on behalf of Lovett, and said that he had always "exhibited a disgust of all violence, and a desire to produce change only by influencing public opinion.  He concluded by stating that the idea of the General Convention originated either with Muntz or Attwood—a sound strategical move, as Muntz had been among those magistrates who committed Lovett and Collins for trial.  The jury, however, was not to be impressed by such means, and the accused were each sentenced to one year's imprisonment in the County Gaol, Warwick.

    Lovett and Collins, once immured, suffered terribly.  The local magistracy was determined that such of the many indulgences which were in their power to grant should not be granted.  This was in spite of medical testimony and petitions to Parliament from the W.M.A., the people of Birmingham, Francis Place, and Mrs. Lovett. Warburton and Duncombe brought up the matter in Parliament.  The Marquis of Normanby (Home Secretary, 1840) also failed to move the magistrates.  After six months' petitioning a slight change for the better was effected.  [Ed.—see COPIES of MEMORIALS or CORRESPONDENCE relating to the Treatment of William Lovett  and John Collins, now Prisoners in Warwick Gaol, 4th February, 1840].  Collins and Lovett utilized the permission to use pen and ink by writing a small book entitled Chartism, or a New Organization of the People.

    O'Brien was arrested in Newcastle-on-Tyne, with several less prominent Chartists, on July 7, 1839, on the usual charge of seditious speaking. [p.138-1]  The knighthood which was promptly given to John Fife, the Mayor of Newcastle, appears to have been the direct reward of his anti-Chartist activities.  The trial did not take place until February 29, 1840, when the only evidence forthcoming against O'Brien was that of a newspaper reporter.  All the accused were acquitted on the same day, and the disappointed prosecution forthwith set to work to invent other reasons which should seem good enough to lay a few Chartists by the heels.  A few months later O'Brien was tried at Liverpool on a charge of conspiracy and attempted rebellion, and this time was found guilty, and sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment. [p.138-2]

    On assembling on July 11, the Convention elected Mrs. Lovett as its secretary, in her husband's place.  She does not appear, despite her pronounced willingness, to have ever taken over the secretarial duties.  On the 14th of the month, the delegates met once more in Bolt Court to consider the "ulterior measures."  Lowery's proposal that the "Sacred Month" or "Month of Rest" should begin some time in August met with general approval, except from a few members who wanted to begin earlier. [p.139-1]  Subsequent discussions did not reveal the same hearty unanimity.  Richardson made the strong point that the industrial classes had had "several sacred months already," and that the manufacturers would now regard it as a godsend if their people went on strike.  Other delegates wanted the Sacred Month to begin the very next day.  On July 17 [p.139-2] it was agreed that the Sacred Month should begin on August 12, that "the Convention should call on the trades of the United Kingdom to co-operate with them in carrying out the ulterior measures, and that the Committee on the National Holiday take charge of the business," and that the Convention convert their funds into gold.  But even then there was opposition.  Frost, a stranger to the Convention since his arrest, wrote from Bristol declaring that the Convention's orders stood at the moment little chance of being obeyed in Wales.  O'Connor, as usual abstaining from definitely committing himself, had not attended the Convention during the few days when the general strike was under discussion.  On July 22, [p.139-3] Bronterre O'Brien made a long speech and moved that in view of the unprepared state of the people, the thinness of the Convention, from desertion as well as from arrests, and the variety of opinions, among the delegates as well as among the general public, the date when the general strike should begin ought to be settled by the people generally, rather than by the Convention.  O'Connor virtually supported this, having made the curious discovery that the delegates who had committed the Convention to August 12, a few days earlier, all represented thinly-populated and unorganized constituencies.  After several days of a discussion, which at times perilously approximated to a wrangle, the Convention was coaxed into unanimity by the combined efforts of O'Brien and O'Connor, and a committee of seven was appointed, to sit in London, and to carry into effect the decision of the working classes as soon as it could be determined.  The seven chosen for this committee were O'Connor, O'Brien, Fletcher, Carpenter, Lowery, Smart and Burns.

    The Northern Star strongly supported O'Connor on this matter, warning its readers, in capital letters, that Any Attempt to Bring about the Sacred Month Before a Universal Arming Shall Have Taken Place will ruin all. [p.140-1]  O'Connor himself addressed his "dear friends," the "working millions," in its columns, and besought them to do themselves no harm in characteristically hypocritical words.  "I never will, with a certainty of my own dinner, recommend a project which may cause millions to starve.  No; I would rather go to battle."  The following week, in order to keep up the excitement, the editorial article in The Northern Star, with real journalistic flair, was made to conclude by warning the House of Commons that "a refusal to grant the people justice will turn their appeal for the Charter into a demand for a REPUBLIC."

    While the Council of Seven sat in London, at the Arundel Coffee House, [p.140-2] the Convention once more dispersed.  The Seven embodied their instructions in a harmless series of resolutions, and finally convened the Convention for August 26. [p.140-3]  At various places in the north of England, e.g., Dewsbury, Almondbury, and to a slight extent in Manchester, a three days' holiday actually took place.  The strikers kept the peace, and everything went off with perfect good-humour and ineffectiveness.

    A Scottish Convention sat for three days, August 14-16, in the Universalises' Chapel, Glasgow, to consider ways and means of obtaining universal suffrage.  Sixty delegates attended, but business seems to have been confined almost entirely to the reception of reports of progress from those present.  O'Connor was present and made a speech on the necessity of co-ordination among the Four Kingdoms.

    On August 30 a large Chartist meeting at Newcastle-on-Tyne was broken up by the police with some violence.  The next day an affray took place in Stockport, where a quantity of weapons had been seized, said to belong to the Chartists.  These retaliated by capturing some arms intended for the use of the military, but these were, after a long fight, recaptured.  Again several persons were seriously hurt.  Before the end of the year wholesale arrests had taken place at Stockport, Chester, Hulme, Manchester, Bolton, and Nottingham.

    Early in the year 1839, a singular correspondence had taken place between Lord John Russell and John Frost.  It began by an inquiry on the part of the former whether it was true that Frost, a J.P. of Newport, Monmouthshire, had attended a meeting at Pontypool, at which violent language had been used, and whether he was a member of the Convention.  Whereupon Frost replied at great length, but in an altogether dignified manner, to the effect that he had been put upon the magistrates' bench because he was a good citizen, and that in attempting to get the law of the land changed he was acting in a manner perfectly compatible with good citizenship and in which Lord John Russell and the Whigs had themselves acted when necessary.  Frost then received what can only be described as a qualified apology, and published it, adding "if Lord John takes my name off, the people will put it on."  Another letter followed from Russell's secretary, asking if this addition had been made, as reported.  Frost then wrote a spirited letter saying that if he had made any remarks personally objectionable to Lord John Russell he would apologize, but he entirely denied his right to censor his opinions.  This closed the matter for the time being. [p.141-1]  The next thing that happened to ruffle the surface of Frost's constituency was the arrival of two missionaries, delegated by the Convention to work up Monmouthshire and the adjoining counties.  These were Burn, a comparatively insignificant man, and Vincent, by this time acknowledged as one of the finest orators of the movement.  Before long, in the opinion of Vincent's enemies, he "fully succeeded in establishing his perfect supremacy among the operatives of the coal and iron districts," [p.141-2] especially in the neighbourhood of Newport.  So threatening did this "supremacy" appear to the local gentry that they took steps to protect themselves in case of any outbreak.  An armed association was formed at Christchurch, for the purpose of defending property.  Appeals were made to London, and troops were poured into Newport and Monmouth.  Thomas Phillips, the Mayor of Newport, having decided to terminate Vincent's career as expeditiously as possible, attended his meetings, collected a mass of evidence showing that a revolt was in contemplation, and laid it before the law officers of the Crown.  These decided to prosecute.  Vincent was arrested in London, where he had returned, and taken to Monmouth.  On May 10, 1839, he was tried, in company with Edwards, a local baker, a pork butcher, and a tradesman, on a charge of unlawfully meeting in a "malicious, riotous and seditious assembly."  They were all promptly found guilty and committed for trial. [p.142-1]  "The town presented a most excited appearance.  Nearly three hundred special constables were sworn in and a large detachment of the 29th Regiment was under arms during the entire day." [p.142-2]  The reason of this excitement is difficult to credit, but it appears certain that the magistrates believed that the object of Vincent's pilgrimage was the establishment of a "Chartist Kingdom."  When, a little later, Frost had made his unlucky attempt at rescue, a contemporary account of it solemnly began by stating: "For a considerable time past, it appears that Vincent, who is now confined in Monmouth gaol for sedition, had pointed out to the ignorant mountaineers of South Wales that there it was that the Kingdom of Chartism should first be erected, and the men of Tredegar, Merthyr, Blackwood, etc., were led to believe in everything which he may have said upon the subject; the consequence of which was, that ever since his confinement a plan was laid for seizing the whole of South Wales to erect a Chartist Kingdom, and for the liberation of Vincent from prison." [p.142-3]

    The four prisoners were tried at the Monmouthshire assizes on August 2; they were found guilty in spite of a fine defence by Roebuck, and sentenced, Vincent to twelve, Edwards to nine, and the others each to six months' imprisonment.  During the three months preceding the trial, and during the trial itself, perfect order is said to have reigned in the neighbourhood.

    Towards the end of October the local magistrates began to have suspicions.  The local miners were said to be arming in secret.  An immediate insurrection was expected.  Rumours of disciplined and armed battalions disquieted the minds of the Monmouthshire gentry.  Special constables were once more sworn in, soldiers were re-imported, and all precautions taken.  On the night of November 4 the rebellion took place.  A body of men led by John Frost marched into Newport, probably from Blackwood or Risca.  They were armed in a miscellaneous manner, with the inevitable pikes (which the early Radical reformers must have seen in their dreams, so often did they meditate their employment), and with a large number of domestic implements, adaptable for offensive purposes—such as billhooks, scythes, saws, hammers, pickaxes, etc.  Phillips, the Mayor, was spending the night at the Westgate Hotel, which was, of course, defended by soldiers.  Not unnaturally, this hotel was the scene of the first fighting.  The Chartists managed to drive the soldiers into the building and followed them in, demanding the release of the prisoners.  Shots were fired and several Chartists were killed or wounded before they were dispersed.  Frost was arrested the same night.  The Mayor was wounded by one of the pikesmen and received a knighthood a few days later.  The number of killed was said to be twenty. [p.143-1]

    A definite and accurate statement of the total number of the armed Chartist rioters would be of great interest, were it obtainable.  The Times stated the figure at 8,000, The Morning Chronicle at 1,000, another account gives 20,000. [p.143-2]  It is very probable that the actual figure is much smaller than any of these.  Fear and darkness cause such statistics to multiply furiously.  The facts are that forty Chartists were taken prisoners, and that a smaller number, say twenty, were killed. (Only ten bodies were forthcoming when the inquest was held.)  We may assume that others, perhaps fifty, were wounded some of these would probably be included among those captured.  In view of the number of special constables and soldiers in Newport on the fatal night, we have a right to assume that an armed insurgent would stand a very good chance of being captured.  The fight at the Westgate Hotel lasted at least twenty minutes, or time enough to allow of the assembly of all the upholders of law and order in the town.  We must therefore conclude that the total number has been grossly exaggerated by all concerned, and that 200 would be a generous estimate of the number of rioters.  The various accounts of the disorders speak of a body of unarmed Chartists outside the town, waiting on the hills for the news of their comrades' victory; of an unarmed body of the same which entered Newport when it was too late; of an armed body which did likewise; of two bodies, one armed and the other unarmed, which did likewise.  When these tales are arranged in an ascending order of magnitude, it seems fairly clear that they owe their origin to a common ancestor, and that this may well have originated by some citizen of Newport losing his way and coming upon a strange man or two in the darkness.  For a precisely parallel case, see Falstaff's accounts of his adventure in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I, Act 2, scene iv.

    Of the forty prisoners many were shortly acquitted.  Fourteen, including Frost, were indicted for high treason.  A special commission of thirteen was appointed to try the case, the Chief Justice being a member of it.  The Attorney-General acted for the Crown, Sir Frederick Pollock for the accused, for whose defence large sums of money had been gathered.  The trial began on January 1, 1840.  Pollock pointed out, in the course of the defence, that the Whigs had, in 1832, done nearly as much, and threatened to do more, than the Chartists in 1839.  Both sides seemed to take for granted that the objective of the rioters was the release of Vincent from Monmouth prison.  This seems an absurd hypothesis, for Monmouth is at least twenty miles from Newport, and Newport is not on the road from Risca or Blackwood to Monmouth.  It is in fact probable that the whole affair was due to the officer in command of the soldiers in the neighbourhood of the Westgate Hotel losing his head at the sight of an apparently armed mob.  However, the jury found Frost guilty.  Two others, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones, were found guilty shortly afterwards.  Five others pleaded guilty on the understanding that their lives would be spared, and as the Attorney-General did not press the prosecution of the remaining prisoners, they were discharged.  On January 13, Frost, Williams and Jones were sentenced to death.  The five who had pleaded guilty received the same sentence, with an intimation to the effect that they could not expect a commutation to transportation for life.

    Sir Frederick Pollock took to town a technical objection on behalf of the convicted prisoners of an irregularity in the proceedings, which, after much argument in the Court of Exchequer, was established as valid.  In view of this, the recommendations of the Monmouthshire juries, in all cases, to mercy, the immediately forthcoming marriage (on February 10) of the Queen, the petition of a large number of M.P.'s, another petition to the Queen from twelve Birmingham congregations, and a third petition to Parliament, the sentences were commuted on February 1 to transportation for life.  A few days later, he and his fellow-convicts were on their way to Australia. [p.145]

    It is usual to speak of the Newport riot as a Chartist rising, and it is not uncommonly hinted that this was the premature outbreak of a great conspiracy which was intended to put the government of the country into the hands of the Chartists.  Whether or not a conspiracy of this character was ever seriously contemplated is matter for argument; the evidence is naturally hearsay.  The riot of 1839 is generally attributed to the Chartists, and it is, of course, impossible to deny that they gave it leadership.  But it is doubtful whether such a rising could have taken place anywhere but in South Wales.  The conditions under which the South Wales miner lives and works have made his country the seat of unrest ever since mines began to befoul his valleys.  Miners all over Great Britain "were in very ill repute for riotous proceedings from 1837-44." [p.146-1]  Only four years after the Newport rising came the peculiar "Rebecca Riots" in the same area; ostensibly due to turnpikes, they bore witness to feelings of resentment far deeper than those which the payment of tolls might be expected to generate.  There is reason to believe that in this case the riots were controlled by men who actually refused to accept Chartist leadership and help. [p.146-2]  In our own day the South Wales miners have made similar responses to similar conditions.  The strikes of 1893, 1898, 1910 and 1912, the stoppage of work in 1915 in the face of the Munitions Act and the nation at war, and the spread of Syndicalism and Guild Socialism, all come from the same cause.  We realize what this cause is when we learn that the indifference on the part of colliery owners and managers, which in the case of the Senghenydd disaster led to the death of 439 men, was punished by fines amounting in all to £24, or 1s. 1¼d. per head. [p.146-3]  While the miner is allowed to learn in this way that his life is equal in value to the price of a dead rabbit, outbreaks are liable to occur at any moment without the interposition of an agitation for universal suffrage.

    Feargus O'Connor's conduct about this time appears in an extremely unfavourable light.  While supporting militancy on one hand, he was very anxious to avoid having to abide by its consequences: this desire expressing itself in prevarications of the most unblushing nature.  A little later on, when Lovett was in prison, O'Connor, according to Lovett, "had the impudence to boast that he was the man that prevented the Sacred Month from taking place! although, as described, he was an active party in recommending it.  He subsequently on several occasions endeavoured to persuade his dupes that I was the concoctor of this violent measure, although himself and his disciples were the first to talk of arming, of the run upon the bank, and the Attwood project of the Sacred Month.  I mention these facts in no way to disclaim the hand I had in it, although I believe that I did an act of folly in being a party to some of its provisions; but I sacrificed much in that convention for the sake of union, and for the love and hope I had in the cause, and I have still vanity enough to believe that if I had not been imprisoned I could have prevented many of the outbreaks and follies that occurred." [p.147]  To quote Lovett again: "From another communication made to me by J. Collins—who had it from one of the parties—it would seem that in anticipation of this rising in the North a person was delegated from one of the towns to go to Feargus O'Connor, to request that he would lead them on, as he had so often declared he would.  Collins's informant was present at this interview, and described to him the following conversation that took place:


DELEGATE. Mr. O'Connor, we are going to have a rising for the Charter, in Yorkshire, and I am sent from — to ask if you will lead us on, as you have so often said you would when we were prepared.

FEARGUS. Well, when is this rising to take place?

DELEGATE. Why, we have resolved that it shall begin on Saturday next.

FEARGUS. And are you all well provided with arms, then?

DELEGATE. Yes, all of us.

FEARGUS. Well, that is all right, my man.

DELEGATE. Now, Mr. O'Connor, shall I tell our lads that YOU will come and lead them on?

FEARGUS (indignantly). Why, man!  When did you ever hear of me, or of any one of my family, ever deserting the cause of the people? Have they not always been found at their post in the hour of danger?


After which O'Connor blandly assured the unfortunate delegate's fellow-townsmen that he had never promised anything." [p.148-1]  It is a pleasant story, characteristic even if not true.  It is clear that O'Connor was completely acquainted with the preparations for the Newport rising, but he absented himself in Ireland, practically up to the eve of the day fixed. [p.148-2]  The authorities, however, were thoroughly anxious to have all the Chartist leaders under lock and key, and although O'Connor gave them no chances as a rebel, he allowed himself to be trapped as a writer.  Various articles which appeared in The Northern Star in July, 1839, were regarded as seditious libels, and after many delays O'Connor was tried, and on May 11, 1840, sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment.

    It may well be asked why the Government, which had so systematically suppressed the Chartist leaders for their alleged seditious utterances, should have thus allowed the press which published and circulated them to continue, or to die from natural causes, unassisted by Whitehall.  The answer is simple.  It was not on account of strength of faith in the freedom of the press that The Northern Star was allowed to live unmolested for nearly fifteen years.  This paper had a circulation which in its most "seditious" days sometimes reached the weekly figure of 60,000; when it was at this figure it had the largest circulation of any weekly paper, and more than quadrupled the daily sales of The Times.  On each such issue of The Northern Star the Treasury received about £250, exclusive of whatever smaller amounts the advertisement and paper duties might bring in.  A clear £250 a week covers a multitude of sedition.  On those terms what Government would not be content to close its eyes, the more so when it could point to imprisoned orators and declare that it kept its ears open?

    One after the other the Chartist leaders found themselves in prison.  The winter of 1839-40 saw the Home Office prosecutions in full blast, but by the middle of 1840 their work was completed and virtually, without exception, the principal sources of Chartist energy were no longer able to cause the Government any anxiety.  About this time the total number of Chartists thus out of the way was between three and four hundred.

    The outward signs of collapse promptly showed themselves.  A heavy mortality raged among the Chartist periodical publications.  The agitation for the Six Points became inarticulate.  New ideas began to get into the heads of the undisciplined rank and file of the movement.  In England, in fact, Chartism had reached its critical stage.  In Scotland, however, the faith was secure.  Harney, almost the only prominent unincarcerated Chartist, carried on a propaganda up and down North Britain.  In Glasgow the Scottish Chartist Circular was successfully launched at the time when things in England were at their blackest; and in Scotland generally the movement was but slightly affected.  But in those days of defective communications Scottish influences on Westminster were slight at the best of times, and Scottish Chartism cannot be credited with much more than preserving the continuity of the movement between two phases.  The phase upon which Chartism was now to enter will be the subject of the following chapter.


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