important manifestation of Chartism drew its inspiration from
abroad. A number of circumstances had tended to draw the attention
of Chartists towards foreign revolutionary movements. The Polish
rising of 1830-31 had scattered refugees all over Europe. To England
Poles came in small numbers; France held greater attractions for
them. Their greatest poet, Adam Mickiewicz, had in 1840 received the
professorship of Slavonic literature in the College de France, which
became a political centre forthwith. Several years, therefore, had
to elapse before London contained many Polish revolutionists with
sufficient knowledge of the English language to have any practical
influence. But by 1844 this was beginning to show quite distinctly.
One Pole, Major Beniowski, went so far as to incur the suspicion of
being a police agent, but lived this down. Among the Poles there
exists to this day a tradition of participation in Chartism and a
memory of past sympathy received from English Radicals. [p.227-1] Poles not domiciled in England acted as connecting links in all the
European revolutions of 1848. "The exiles of Poland, being scattered
far and wide over the Continent, formed a cosmopolitan network of
conspiracy, and were the means of bringing into a loose communion
the disaffected portions of the European proletariat." [p.227-2]
In 1844, Nicholas I of Russia paid a visit to England. The National
Association held a meeting of condemnation directly the project was
mooted. The sympathies of Lovett had never been confined to
the sufferers of his own country. He, with Moore and several
others, addressed a packed and enthusiastic meeting, which listened
with horrified astonishment to the long list of detailed charges
laid against the Emperor. [p.228-1]
Several Poles, we are told, were present at the meeting.
Punch, of all papers, came whole-heartedly to the side of the
revolutionists, publishing, in addition to the inevitable cartoon
depicting Nicholas as a bear, a list of toasts, suggested as
appropriate to the occasion. [p.228-2]
"To the immortal memory of Nero," is a fair specimen of these.
The toasts were reprinted, with admiring comments, by The
Northern Star. Such was one of the lines along which the
Chartists were led to take an interest in the revolutionary
movements of Europe.
Lovett had for many years been contributing to the same
object, and had taken a strong interest in nationalist movements.
As far back as 1839, the Working Men's Association sent an address
to "The People of Canada," drafted by the indefatigable Lovett on
the occasion of the risings of the two previous years. This
was warmly acknowledged by the Permanent and Central Committee of
the County of Montreal, in another address. A point of
interest, which appears to have escaped the notice of Canadian
historians, lies in the signatures to this reply. They include
L. J. Papineau, Andre Ouimet, and G. E. Cartier, the latter as a
joint-secretary. The future Premier of the Dominion on this
occasion put his name to a declaration which was extremely near to
being a declaration of independence. [p.228-3]
By the middle of the 'forties Frederick Engels had settled in
England, and was hard at work formulating the theories he was to
teach his friend, master, and pupil, Karl Marx. The German
struck up a friendship with the editor of The Northern Star,
and proceeded to educate him in international politics, and the
crimes of living rulers. In 1844 the paper begins to show
signs of this instruction. Articles appear on such subjects as
Chartism in Sweden, [p.229-1]
and on the internal affairs of Spain and Switzerland, in which no
previous interest had been shown.
In the same year Duncombe, still the parliamentary agent of
O'Connor, exposed the Mazzini letters scandal. The Government,
in particular Sir James Graham, had ordered the private
correspondence of Mazzini to be opened and read, in the interests of
the Papal States. The indignation aroused by this exposure was
altogether to the taste of the Chartists, for Graham, as Home
Secretary, had come in for all the unpopularity which democratic
movements seem inevitably to bestow upon the holder of his post.
Chartists were perforce made to take an interest in Mazzini, and his
And so we find that foreign revolutions and revolutionists
gradually become the centres of new groups. Chartists are, as
it were, reshuffled and mixed with men belonging to other groups.
We have an illustration of the process at work in the accounts of
two suppers held in 1845. In the August of that year, a supper
was held to celebrate the anniversary of the formation of the
Democratic Association of 1838-39. Harney took the chair, and
was supported by Rider (a member of the Convention of 1839) and
Cooper, who had but recently been set free from Stafford Gaol.
Beniowski was also a guest. Harney talked extreme
republicanism, and Cooper moved the toast of Joseph Mazzini in an
oration which suggested that his excellent and copious sentiments
had been stimulated by the refreshment he had taken. [p.229-3]
The conjunction of speakers is curious in the light of their past
history; the sentiments are also curious. This festivity was
so successful that those present unanimously then and there resolved
to have another such supper on November 6, the birthday of Henry
Hunt. On this second occasion, O'Connor took the chair.
Among the speakers were Michelot and Berrier Fontaine; and two
Germans, Schapper and Weitling. Harney spoke on the sorrows of
Poland. [p.229-4] The
first three of these foreigners were to attain a minor celebrity in
1848, when Michelot fell at the barricades during the June
counter-revolution. Weitling (1808-1871) was an extraordinary
tailor who spent the first forty years of his life in wandering over
Western Europe preaching and organizing the incipient revolutionary
Socialism which came to a head in 1848. The Chartist leaders,
in fact, were on the way to regarding themselves as participants in
a movement which, if not world-wide, was at least European.
Then there were the Fraternal Democrats. This was a
small body, but it greatly influenced the Chartist movement in its
next phase. It may be described in the words of Thomas Frost,
whose brief description commands more confidence than do many of his
other accounts, even when they relate to matters nearer than these
to the time of writing. "I was at this time a member of the
Association of Fraternal Democrats, meeting monthly at a dingy
public-house in Drury Lane, called the White Hart. It was
composed of democratic refugees from most parts of Europe, but
chiefly of Frenchmen, Germans, and Poles, with a sprinkling of such
advanced reformers of this country as, like Julian Harney and Ernest
Jones, were 'Chartists and something more.'" 
Oborski was a prominent member of the Fraternal Democrats, and
appears to have enjoyed the confidence and friendship of the leading
Chartists. He was a Polish refugee, who had been a colonel in
the days before 1831. In the year of revolutions he served
under Mieroslawski in Baden, where it is presumed that he fell, as
this is the last we hear of him.
References have already been made to
Ernest Jones, who was to be one of
the main supports of Chartism in and after 1848. He was born
in Germany, in 1819, and was the son of Major Jones, equerry to
Ernest, Duke of Cumberland (afterwards King of Hanover), who stood
godfather to young Ernest. The boy was educated in Germany and
soon showed himself to be extraordinarily precocious. At the
age of eleven he had published a book of poems, and had made a
fruitless endeavour to run away from home and walk across Europe "to
help the Poles." In 1838 father and son took up their abode in
England. Ernest read law, wrote romance, and lived the life of the
fashionable youth of the time. By the middle of the 'forties
he had however developed an unmistakable Radicalism, and in 1846
attached himself to O'Connor, throwing up the prospects of a
brilliant if conventional future for the advocacy of what he
considered right. His knowledge of foreign languages and
continental affairs naturally brought him into touch with the
radically-minded refugees in London.
Another influence tending in the same direction is that of
Mazzini, who had in 1847 been living in England for ten years, had
mastered the language and was well known to all the liberal
intellectuals of the time. It was he who held all the wires of
the People's International League, which was started at a public
meeting held on April 28, 1847, at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in
the Strand; Dr. Bowring, M.P., in the chair. This organization
was founded at Mazzini's direct instigation and had the following
1. To enlighten the British public as to the political
condition and relations of foreign countries.
2. To embody and to manifest an efficient public opinion in
favour of the right of every people to self-government and the
maintenance of their own nationality.
3. To promote a good understanding between the peoples of all
The Council appointed at the above meeting for the first year
is as follows:
W. Bridges Adams,
Dr. Bowring, M.P.
W. H. Ashurst,
T. S. Duncombe, M.P.
W. J. Fox,
P. A. Taylor,
S. M. Hawkes,
P. A. Taylor, Junr.,
W. J. Linton,
The personnel of this Council shows with unmistakable
clearness the changed direction of thought of the ablest founders
and friends of the Chartist movement. In the first place we
find three of the six working men of the W. M. A. Charter
Committee—the exceptions are Lovett and Hetherington, who were both
fully in sympathy and acquainted with Mazzini, and Cleave, who
apparently died about this time.
Linton, too, we have met: he had been in the Chartist movement
from the start, although he rose to prominence only after 1848.
With Cooper we are also acquainted, and we have nodded at Carpenter
(1797-1874), who had made his reputation, well before the days of
the Charter, by the publication of unstamped periodicals, which were
held to be newspapers within the meaning of the Act. Ashurst,
Hawker, Parry, Shaen, and Stansfeld were all able young lawyers in
sympathy with Chartism and frequent speakers at Chartist meetings. [p.232]
Parry (1816–1880) had edited the National Association Gazette
with Lovett, and became Serjeant-at-law. Stansfeld (1820-1898)
was the Liberal M.P. for Halifax from 1859 to 1895, held several
posts between 1863 and 1874, and was the first President of the
Local Government Board (1871-4): he was knighted in 1895. He
is now perhaps best remembered on account of his fine support of
Josephine Butler's crusade. Thornton Hunt was the son of Leigh
Hunt; Dr. Epps was a friend of Lovett and, it may be remembered, was
one of the speakers at the dinner held to welcome Lovett and Collins
on their release from prison in 1841. Joseph Toynbee was
another doctor, and the father of Arnold Toynbee. The P. A.
Taylors, father and son, were well-known as anti-Corn Law leaders.
Richard Taylor was one of the founders of University College,
London. Barmby (1820–1881), like Fox and the younger P. A.
Taylor, was a Unitarian, who spent his intellectual life in
gradually working his way from undiluted Owenism to the politics of
the Liberal party.
These biographical data, relating mainly to a body of men who
are outside the necessary narrative of events, may seem superfluous.
All these people, however, should be taken as random specimens of
the new blood which was suddenly being infused into the Chartist
movement. Although Mazzini had founded the People's
International League, he had taken care to have a purely British
Committee, and he himself, although he drafted the first manifesto,
was ostensibly unconnected with the management of the League.
The Council, in fact, was a foreigner's effort to mingle the most
vigorous and progressive Englishmen with one another. The
mingling of such Englishmen with similarly-minded foreigners, as we
have seen, had been proceeding for some time.
As far back as February, 1840, a group of German working men
had formed a little Communist Society, holding its meetings at the
Red Lion, in Great Windmill Street. This club had an
anniversary dinner in commemoration of its sixth birthday, at which
Harney again held forth. So, too, did Michelot, Colonel
Oborski, Schapper, Heinrich Bauer, and some others. A few days
later the insurrection of the Polish Republic of Cracow against
Austria, in February, 1846, aided the process. The N.C.A.
convened a meeting at the "Crown and Anchor," where O'Connor,
Harney, W. J. Linton and lesser lights held forth. Mazzini was
expected to attend, but sent a letter of apology. For months
The Northern Star gave up a large proportion of its columns
to such accounts of the progress of the struggle as could be
obtained. On May 20 a meeting was held at the National Hall,
among the speakers on this occasion being Hetherington, T. M.
Wheeler, Ernest Jones, Harney and G. J. Holyoake.
It will be seen that O'Connor's participation in this new
internationalism was scanty, and almost unwilling. To Engels
and Marx, this appears to have been a cause of regret.
Foreseeing the events of 1848, they regarded the Chartist movement
as an organization of the proletariat, numerically unsurpassed in
any country, which only needed a dose of republicanism to make it
take its place possibly at the head of the coming European
revolution. O'Connor, more than any other man, could satisfy
their wishes and effect the conversion of the British working man
from a domestic to an international political faith. And since
O'Connor would not come to Engels and Marx, Engels and Marx came to
In July, 1846, a by-election took place at Nottingham on the
appointment of Sir John Cam Hobhouse to a Cabinet post.
O'Connor turned up and was nominated as the Chartist candidate, made
a great speech attacking the Whigs, and defeated the newly-fledged
minister on the show of hands. He did not go to the poll, and
Hobhouse was therefore duly elected. But O'Connor's
interference, even though for all practical purposes it amounted
only to one speech, supplied an opportunity to his wooers. He
promptly received an Address from the German Democratic Communists
of Brussels. [p.234] This
congratulated him on a number of things. "The ground is now
cleared by the retreat of the landed aristocracy from the contest;
middle class and working class are the only classes betwixt whom
there can be a possible struggle." The Address further
congratulated O'Connor on his victory over the calumnies of Thomas
Cooper, on the noble and enlightened manner in which The Northern
Star is conducted, etc. The signatories are three: Engels,
Ph. Gigot, and Marx.
A year later the attack, still unsuccessful, was renewed.
On November 27, 1847, the Fraternal Democrats, in conjunction with
the Democratic Committee for Poland's Regeneration, held a meeting
to celebrate the anniversary of the Polish Insurrection of 1830.
J. Arnott was in the
chair. Stanwood moved a resolution of sympathy with Poland,
which was seconded by Ernest Jones, supported by Michelot, and
carried unanimously. Then Schapper moved the second
resolution, and explained that it was to be seconded by "Dr. Charles
Marx," vice-president of the Brussels Committee of the Democratic
Society, who had been delegated by it to the Fraternal Delegates
"for the purpose of establishing relations of correspondence and
sympathy between the two societies." The delegate from
Brussels, in fact, had a much more serious task on hand than the
mere moving of an academic resolution, identical in spirit with the
first. Marx came forward and was tumultuously acclaimed.
Speaking in German, he told the meeting that the Democrats of
Brussels had delegated him to speak in their name to the Democrats
of London, and through them to the Democrats of Britain, to call on
them to cause to be held a congress of nations—a congress of working
men, to establish liberty all over the world. (Loud cheers.)
The Democrats of Belgium felt that the Chartists of England were the
real Democrats, and that the moment they carried the Six Points of
the Charter the road to liberty would be opened to the whole world.
"Effect this grand object, you working men of England, and you will
be hailed as the saviours of the whole human race." Marx sat
down to tremendous cheering, having said of Poland not a word.
Harney next moved the meeting's approval of the plan of a
congress of the nations, and was seconded by Stallwood.
Charles Keen then moved a resolution to the effect that,
given the Charter, the Democracy of England would be able to help
Poland, otherwise it would not. He was seconded by "Citizen
Engels (from Paris)," who "had resided for some time in England, and
was proud to boast himself a Chartist, name and all. . . .
(Rapturous applause.)" Citizen Tedesco (from Brussels), and
Oborski followed; after which Engels, Harney, and Schapper spoke for
the second time, the Times was hooted, the Marseillaise sung,
and the proceedings closed. As the immediate result of this
meeting arrangements were made "to render effective the union of the
two associations," i.e., the Fraternal Democrats and the Brussels
Democrats. [p.235-1] The
nature of these is undisclosed. The Fraternal Democrats, who
had been hitherto rather an unorganized body, now adopted a
constitution, and set to work to induce the Chartists to send
delegates to the first congress of the nations, which had been fixed
for September 25, 1848, in Brussels (the anniversary of the Belgian
Revolution). The second congress, in 1849, was to be held in
With enormous energy Harney, Keen, and the other Englishmen
set to work to create the desired response from the Chartists.
Events abroad were beginning to take definite shape. Crowns
were becoming suddenly evasive and slippery things. The
prophecies of Mazzini and Marx were to be fulfilled. Yet still
the leader of the Chartist movement would not define his attitude.
Perhaps Engels had overrated his importance: he had certainly
over-estimated his intelligence. In a letter to Marx, written
apparently in November, 1847, he says: "Just read the article by
O'Connor in the last Star against the six Radical newspapers.
It is a masterpiece of inspired abuse, in places better than
Cobbett, and approaching Shakespeare." [p.236-1]
Yet this alleged approximation did not enable O'Connor to understand
foreign politics. The gradual absorption of the other Chartist
leaders in internationalism left him uninfluenced. Near the
end of 1845 he had spent two months travelling in Belgium, France,
Italy, Germany, and Austria, ostensibly in order to study the land
systems of those countries. He had seen the preparations made
by the Austrians in Milan to quell any possible rising; he had
visited the capitals where the storms of 1848 were already
gathering, and at the end of the journey he had reported that in the
countries he had seen "people possessed less liberties, but were
more contented and happier, because each possessed more or less of
the land." [p.236-2] He
had, it is true, made advances to the Irish. But the leaders
of the Repeal movement rejected them. The Nation [p.236-3]
wrote: "We desire no fraternization between the Irish people and the
Chartists—not on account of the bugbear of 'physical force,' but
simply because some of their five points [sic] are to us an
abomination, and the whole spirit and tone of their proceedings,
though well enough for England, are so essentially English that
their adoption in Ireland would be neither probable nor at all
desirable. Between us and them there is a great gulf fixed; we
desire not to bridge it over, but to make it wider and deeper."
Thus repulsed, O'Connor spent much labour in trying to win over the
Irish by iterated explanations of the Six Points in The Northern
Star, which probably had no Irish circulation to speak of.
So it came to pass that the Cracow insurrection left O'Connor
unmoved, and unconcerned because Switzerland had got over the
Sonderbund trouble. The first days of the Year of Revolutions
find him planning a scheme to raise £5,000 to erect a Chartist Hall
in London, M'Grath acting on this occasion as principal understudy.
Yet the attention of the public was being directed abroad by a
variety of circumstances. The Times was confidently
predicting a more or less immediate invasion on the part of France,
having been led to this conclusion by the Duke of Wellington, who in
his dotage had suddenly decided that England was defenceless and
undefensible. Everybody clamoured for a larger army, when a
dead duke would have met the case equally well. The agitation
lasted exactly two months. Then Lord John Russell proposed to
raise the income-tax by fivepence in the pound in order to cover the
cost of increased armaments. Brought face to face with the
stern realities of war the panic-mongers suddenly, and quite
literally, held their peace. A month later, on February 24,
the situation was farcically ended by the abdication of Louis
Philippe, who came to England, not as an invincible invader, but as
a very tame refugee.
During January, 1848, crowded meetings were addressed in many
parts of England by Samuel Kydd, John West, and W. P. Roberts.
The directors of the National Land Company and various others,
especially Dixon, Ernest Jones, Harney, Clark, Skelton, Fussell, and
Keen, spoke in London. O'Connor addressed meetings in
Birmingham and London, but talked no internationalism. By
February the course of events in France had become obvious to all
except O'Connor. On the 12th he made another great speech, but
still had nothing to say on foreign events, although by this time
Palermo had given Sicily the lead and the Neapolitan garrison had
been expelled from the island, and revolutionists in France,
Prussia, Bavaria, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Denmark, and Holland were
giving the finishing touches to their plans.
At last the current overcame O'Connor, who had to change his
course accordingly. The leading article of The Northern
Star of February 26, 1848, is headed "The Tossin," and ends up
with a P.S. "Amiens is in full revolt; insurrection, began on the
22nd, is spreading." O'Connor addresses an article "To the Old
Guards." He believes a revolution is to swamp the governments
of Europe, but "I tell you as long as I live the Charter and the
Land shall never be lost sight of, nor placed in abeyance by any
foreign excitement or movement, however we may use events for the
furtherance of those great objects. Old Guards, the mind of
England is now astir, and though mine is absorbed in the
consideration of those means by which I can insure happy homes, and
protection for all—the release of women from slave labour, and the
release of little children from the abodes of pestilence, disease,
immorality, and death—yet if a greater sphere of action should open
upon us, I pledge myself that I shall not be found backward in
moulding passing events to future advantage." February ended,
but still O'Connor was unruffled. On the other hand the
members of the Government were beginning to show signs of a nervous
disposition. Revolution in France and talk of war were not the
only uncomfortable features of the time. 1847 had been a bad
year. The price of wheat had risen from 50s. 10d. per quarter
in 1845 to 69s. 9d. in 1847. A period of over-investment in
railways had ended in a financial crisis. The Bank Act had
been suspended. Unemployed workmen began to accumulate in the
towns. The Government could not make up its mind whether the
rumblings of discontent might not end in revolution.
On March 6 the Government showed its hand. One Charles
Cochrane had organized a meeting protesting against the proposal to
raise the income-tax, to take place in Trafalgar Square on this day
at 1.30 p.m. The Home Office informed him of the rule that
meetings were prohibited within one mile of the Houses of Parliament
during their sittings. On the morning of March 6, therefore,
Cochrane published his intention of not holding the meeting. A
crowd nevertheless turned up; G. W. M. Reynolds [p.238]
leaped on to the plinth and made himself chairman, and all went well
for the time, although the police were present in large numbers.
At 3 p.m. the crowd began to disperse, when an altercation took
place: somebody had called somebody else a lazy fellow, and the
person addressed had resented it with some emphasis. This
developed into a stand-up fight which lasted until midnight.
The battle proliferated itself along every street within a mile of
the Square, and skirmishing continued for three days.
Innumerable arrests were made. During the same week commotions
in Glasgow were caused by the local unemployed, five of whom were
killed by the soldiers called out to calm things down. In
Manchester a riot took place outside a workhouse. In various
parts of Ireland sundry rowdinesses occurred. A few days
later' disturbances were expected in Liverpool, but nothing serious
And the Chartists? Ernest Jones, P. M'Grath and Julian
Harney were sent to Paris to convey congratulations to the new
Government. In great haste a National Convention was convened
for April 3 and the following days, to arrange for the presentation
of a monster Petition to the House of Commons. The Petition
was also hurried up. [p.239-2]
Forty-nine delegates were to meet. Mazzini and Linton also
went over to Paris, where they met Lamennais. Linton, like
Ernest Jones and the others, returned bubbling over with
A revolution was now seriously regarded as imminent.
Owen published a set of "Practical measures required to prevent
greater political changes in Great Britain and Ireland." These
were as follows:
1. Full liberty of thought, speech, writing, and publication
on all civil and religious subjects.
2. Representation co-extensive with taxation; the voters to
be protected by the ballot, and the representatives to be paid for
3. No connexion between the State and any one creed, but
equal protection to all; and admissibility of men of all creeds to
offices of trust and influence.
4. National education, unexclusive and practical; and
profitable employment to all who require them.
5. Graduated property-tax, to the exclusion of all other
imports; customs and excise to be gradually abolished.
6. National Bank with branches wherever required; and
national currency in notes secured upon the whole property of the
7. No other bank or currency to be legal, but reasonable
compensation to the "Bank of England" and all other banks, unless
employed by the national bank.
8. National notes, in convenient amounts, to be issued in
payment of the "national debt," and to the extent required for the
currency, or circulation of the Empire
9. Free trade in all things, with all the world.
10. Organizing and training of the people, in local
districts, as being the most effectual and the cheapest national
These preliminary changes by the British Government the state
of public opinion in Great Britain and Ireland and over Europe
renders immediately necessary to prevent greater changes being
forced upon the Government from without.
ROBERT OWEN. [p.240]
LONDON, March 15, 1848.
After the middle of March it became difficult to keep count
of the revolutionary movement in Europe. Charles Greville
writes in his diary on March 25: "Nothing is more extraordinary than
to look back at my last date and see what has happened in the course
of five days. . . . Within these last four or five days there has
been a desperate battle in the streets of Berlin between the
soldiers and the mob; the flight of the Prince of Prussia; the
King's convocation of his States; concessions to and reconciliation
with his people; and his invitation to all Germany to form a Federal
State; and his notification of what is tantamount to removing the
Imperial Crown from the head of the wretched crétin at
Vienna, and placing it on his own. Next, a revolution in
Austria; an émeute at Vienna; downfall and flight of
Metternich, and announcement of a constitutional régime;
émeutes at Milan; expulsion of Austrians and Milanese
independence; Hungary up and doing, and the whole empire in a state
of dissolution. Throughout Germany all the people stirring;
all the sovereigns yielding to the popular demands; the King of
Hanover submitting to the terms demanded of him; the King of Bavaria
abdicating; many minor occurrences, any one of which in ordinary
times would have been full of interest and importance, passing
almost unheeded." [p.241-1]
Wilhelm, Prince of Prussia, grandfather of Wilhelm II, was
over here as a refugee, having been hastily sent abroad by his more
popular father. At a meeting on Kennington Common on March 13,
fourteen or fifteen thousand men (according to the conservative
estimate of the Times—The Northern Star put the number
at over 20,000) had listened to revolutionary though not
inflammatory harangues by Reynolds, Jones and others, at the expense
of Louis Philippe and Guizot. The Northern Star had
adopted the meaningless but terrifying slogan, "France has a
Republic: England must have the Charter." Fear had made it
impossible to ignore the Chartists, and ignorance multiplied their
numbers, exaggerated their power, and overlooked their objects.
At the beginning of April O'Connor's dominance began to waver.
Rumours reached him of his own expected defection. He learned
that many of his followers feared that on April 10 he would not be
present. He protests against this [p.241-2]:
"I would rather be taken a corpse from amid that procession than
dishonour myself, disgrace my country, and desert you, by remaining
away." In point of fact he had outrun himself. He had,
unwittingly perhaps, reduced demagogy to a science. He had
discovered that the quickest and surest way to the leadership and
applause of numbers was high-flown blather and magniloquent
promises. The fulfilment of the promises would have redeemed
the oratorical excuses, but it never came. He had spoken of
fleshing swords to the hilt in order to obtain leadership, and now
he was counselling peace and, very nearly, goodwill. It is
curious to read in The Northern Star [p.242-1]
letters from O'Connor and Duncombe urging the utmost propriety for
April 10, side by side with a flamboyant manifesto signed by the
three faithful ones, Clark, M'Grath, and Doyle. It is pretty
certain that the influence of such men as Mazzini and Engels on the
periphery of the movement had a great effect upon O'Connor's
position. A movement demands intellectual leadership as well
as figureheads; O'Connor provided Chartism with the former alone.
As a consequence of the revolutionary movement in Europe, the rank
and file of the Chartists had become suddenly infected with
republicanism. O'Connor's response to this new idea was so
slight that it is in a sense true to say that he was rapidly placed
outside the pale. Ernest Jones and G. W. M. Reynolds,
moreover, were middle-class men of good education, and not easily to
be detached from his side. Besides, he had rid himself of so
many capable supporters, turning them into opponents, that further
detachment may well have seemed undesirable. Five years later
Jones gave evidence to the effect that it was about the beginning of
1848 that his leader's mind began to show signs of shakiness. [p.242-2]
An insignificant incident about the same time had helped to draw
together the Chartists who had not attached themselves to O'Connor.
On March 17 the Times published an attack on the Socialism of
Robert Owen, who forthwith summoned a meeting at the John Street
Institute to explain his principles, to denounce the Times,
and to congratulate France. The meeting was addressed by Owen
(for over an hour), by Lloyd Jones, Hetherington, Watson, and
On Tuesday, April 4, the Convention met at the John Street
Institute. M'Grath was elected chairman and Doyle secretary.
The first incident related to the election of G. W. M. Reynolds, who
admitted he "had only become a Chartist within the last few days."
Then a slightly stormy discussion ensued on the position of the
Executive. O'Connor, foreseeing trouble, did not wish to be
entitled to vote; by waiving his right to vote he would bear no
share in the responsibility for any illegality proceeding from the
Convention. He was, however, overruled, and it was resolved
that the Executive should be entitled to speak and to vote, and to
sit ex-officio as members of the Convention. The
afternoon of the first and the morning of second day were taken up
with the verbal reports of the delegates on the political and social
state of their constituencies. The Lancashire delegates
unanimously testified to the terrible industrial conditions
prevailing in their county. The Scottish delegates gave,
comparatively speaking, more cheerful accounts. As might be
expected, the representatives of the most distressed areas uttered
the most revolutionary sentiments. O'Connor made his first
important speech in an endeavour to suppress the incipient
intransigence of these speakers. He began, as usual, by
self-glorification on an autobiographical basis. Thence he
passed on to declare that "he was now becoming a quasi-minister, and
doubtless would be asked what they intended to do on Monday.
On the faith of that Convention, he should reply that not one pane
of glass nor one pennyworth of property would be injured. That
peace and good order would prevail while their grievances were under
discussion." Having thus committed himself to good behaviour,
he concluded by blusteringly promising to be in the front row of the
first rank; and now they might shoot away. Then he left the
Convention, announcing that he must go to the House.
On Thursday the Convention discussed a programme, wasting
many hours by inconsecutive argument and bad chairmanship. At
last an amended programme was drafted and unanimously accepted amid
immense cheering. This was as follows:
1. That in the event of the National Petition being rejected
by the House of Commons, this Convention prepare a National Memorial
to the Queen to dissolve the present Parliament, and call to her
council such ministers only as will make the People's Charter a
2. That this Convention agree to the convocation of a
National Assembly, to consist of delegates appointed at public
meetings, to present the National Memorial to the Queen; and to
continue permanently sitting until the Charter is the law of the
3. That this Convention call upon the country to hold
simultaneous meetings on Good Friday, April 21, for the purpose of
adopting the National Memorial, and electing delegates to the
4. That the National Assembly meet in London on Monday, April
5. That the present Convention shall continue its sittings
until the meeting of the National Assembly.
On the Friday the Convention was brought up against a
proclamation published by the Commissioner of Police declaring the
procession proposed for April 10 to be illegal. The previous
day O'Connor had argued the matter in the House against the
Attorney-General and Sir G. Grey. He had pointed out that on
several occasions within the last ten years processions had marched
down to the House of Commons and there presented their petitions,
and had gone on to assure the House that the Chartists had no
intention of overawing it, and to plead the generally pacific nature
of his intentions. The Convention, faced with the
proclamation, met it with another one to the effect that it was
based on a "statute passed in the arbitrary reign of King Charles
II," that it was "an infringement on the right of petition and
public meeting," and declaring a "firm determination to hold such
meeting and procession," promising that the whole affair would be
"an unarmed moral demonstration," and calling on the inhabitants of
London to come to the support of the Chartists. On Saturday
O'Connor solemnly harangued the Convention and warned them that
there must be no display of force. After a discussion on what
was to be done in the event of the wholesale arrest of the
delegates, the Convention adjourned until 8 a.m. on Monday morning.
Innumerable circumstances had been contributing to the excitement of
the public. Events in Ireland seemed to be getting
uncontrollable. At a crowded Chartist meeting in Liverpool a
Matthew Somers had declared that there were organizations in
Liverpool, Manchester, and "at the foot of the Throne itself,"
which, in the event of "an attempted massacre of my countrymen,"
would cause the skies to be "reddened with the blaze of the Babylons
of England." [p.245-1]
The Times was declaring that "the Chartists, in fact, are but
tools in the hands of a gang of desperadoes. The true
character of the present movement is a ramification of the Irish
conspiracy. The Repealers wish to make as great a hell of this
island as they have made of their own." The Queen left London
for the safety of the Isle of Wight on Saturday. Innumerable
meetings had been held in London throughout the week. The
members of the Inns of Court and the clerks in Government
departments were swearing themselves in wholesale as special
constables. O'Brien left the Convention, refusing to be
associated with illegal proceedings, and by so doing he gave the
remaining delegates a definitely illegal stamp to the eyes of the
non-Chartist world. The theatres announced that they would be
closed on the night of the 10th.
Lord Campbell, Chancellor of the Duchy, writing to his
brother on Sunday night, said: "This may be the last time I write to
you before the Republic is established! I have no serious
fears of revolution, but there maybe bloodshed. . . ." The day
before the Cabinet had requested Wellington to attend, and "we had
then a regular Council of War, as upon the eve of a great battle.
We examined maps and returns and information of the movements of the
enemy. . . . [p.245-2]
It was not I alone who was struck with the consultation yesterday.
Macaulay said to me that he considered it the most interesting
spectacle he had ever witnessed, and that he should remember it to
his dying day." Fortunately the Duke had the sense to order
the forces under his command to remain in ambush, in fact, safely
out of the way.
Harriet Martineau in her Autobiography gives us
another glimpse of the panic-stricken state of political circles.
The wife of a Cabinet minister wrote to her, "under her husband's
sanction," to enlist her help in bringing the working classes to
reason [!], fearing that the Chartists were about to "hold the
metropolis." Lord Malmesbury, in his Memoirs of an
Ex-Minister, supplies more evidence of the state of feeling in
London. On April 5 he writes in his diary: "The alarm about
the Chartists increases. Everybody expects that the attack
will be serious." On April 9: "The alarm of to-day is very
general all over the town. . . . The Duke of Wellington is to
command the troops, and the orders he has given are that the police
are to go first to disperse the meeting; if resistance is offered
and they are likely to be beaten, then the troops are instantly to
appear, and the cannon to open with shell and grenades, infantry and
cavalry are to charge—in short, they are to be made an example of."
On the morning of The Day: "My five keepers have arrived at my house
this morning, armed with double-barrelled guns, and determined to
use them if necessary." [p.246-1]
At last the 10th dawned upon the waiting world.
Prodigious preparations had been made by the authorities. Four
thousand policemen guarded the bridges, Palace Yard, and Trafalgar
Square; 1,500 Chelsea pensioners had been fetched out from their
retirement and entrusted with the defence of Battersea and Vauxhall.
Eight thousand soldiers were distributed over various strategic
points along the Embankment between the Tower and Millbank.
Twelve guns were in readiness at the Royal Mews. Three
steamboats had been procured in order to move soldiers about from
point to point should occasion arise for their services. The
clerks at the General Post Office had been equipped with rifles.
And, finally, over one hundred and fifty thousand special constables
had been sworn in to protect property behind the firing line. [p.246-2]
Among these was Louis Napoleon, who paced a beat in the West End in
the company of the cook of the Athenæum Club, meditating the while,
one likes to imagine, on the theory and practice of coups d'état.
It is certainly one of the minor humours of history that while the
last King of the French was painfully adapting himself to life in a
London suburb, the future (and also the last) Emperor of the French,
with a white band on his arm and a stave in his pocket, was acting
as an amateur London policeman. At four o'clock in the morning
the special constables were at their posts. The late Sir
Spencer Ponsonby-Fane, [p.247-1]
then a junior clerk in the Foreign Office, has described the
internal defences of his Department on the great day. "The
ground-floor windows of the office were all blocked up with the huge
bound volumes of the Times newspaper, which it was supposed
would resist bullets." The clerks were armed with new service
muskets and ball cartridges. We gather from the Greville
Memoirs that similar precautions had been taken in the other
Government offices, where the joyous clerks were improvised into
ready-made garrisons, provisioned to stand a short siege.
Special trains brought up Chartists, wishing to march in procession,
from all parts of England. The papers published bulletins from
hour to hour, by staffs of correspondents distributed all over
London. At eight o'clock the Convention met, principally in
order to hear O'Connor deny that he had ever intended not to be
present, and to read aloud anonymous messages he had received from
friends, to the effect that his life would be certainly ended by a
bullet, should he insist on marching. At ten o'clock a car
drawn by six horses arrived, decorated with flags and mottoes, and
the delegates mounted and were driven to Kennington Common, via
Holborn, where the Petition was fetched out of the offices of the
N.C.A. and loaded into another car, and Blackfriars Bridge. At
eleven o'clock they arrived, almost at the same time as a small
procession of trade unionists. Within the next hour a number
of other processions from various parts of London had congregated.
What was the total number of Chartists present? According to
the Evening Sun, [p.247-2]
"at least 150,000"; according to the next day's Times, about
20,000, only about half of whom were Chartists. According to
The Northern Star, 250,000. There is no reason to doubt
the correctness of the official estimate of "15,000 to 20,000."
Before the speeches began a police officer approached the car and
said that Mr. Richard Mayne, one of the Commissioners of Police,
wished to speak to O'Connor. The latter immediately left the
car and spoke to Mayne. The crowd showed a hostile attitude
towards the messenger, who was saved by O'Connor's declaration that
Mayne was his "best friend." Then the Duke's strategy was
revealed. O'Connor was told that the meeting could be held,
but that the bridges were closed by the police, and no procession
would be allowed to cross. O'Connor at once promised to
abandon the procession. He returned to the Common from the
Horns Assembly Rooms, where the interview with Mayne had taken
place, and the speech-making began. Doyle was put in the
chair, and started proceedings. Then O'Connor broke the news.
In accordance with his usual tactics he first allowed his prestige
full play, adding to it for the occasion. Posing as a
revolutionary of the deepest dye, he told the astonished crowd that
his father had been tried five or six times for high treason, and
was in prison for seven years of his life, that his uncle "is now in
the fifteenth year of his banishment, and is about to be made the
first President of the Republic in France. My brother is Prime
Minister and Commander-in-Chief of a Republic in South America."
Having by these means sufficiently impressed his listeners with the
sense that he, O'Connor, was a man whose advice was well worth
taking, he explained the situation as regards the police, and urged
those present to pin their faith to the moral force of the six
million signatures to the Petition, and to do nothing rash.
Ernest Jones followed, echoing his leader's exhortations.
O'Connor left the Common on the conclusion of Jones' speech, and the
last speakers, Clark and Reynolds, were not very well listened to.
About 2 p.m. the meeting dispersed. The Petition was packed
into three cabs and, accompanied by Doyle, Clark, and M'Grath, was
driven off to the House of Commons. They were refused a
safe-conduct across Westminster Bridge, and had ignominiously to
reach Westminster through back streets and over Black-friars Bridge.
A few Chartists stayed behind to listen to an Irish meeting in a
corner of the Common, which Harney, West and Reynolds were invited
to address. The remaining Chartists slowly dispersed,
wondering greatly. The demonstration was at an end. At 2
p.m. Lord John Russell wrote out a report, and sent it to the Queen.
"Lord John Russell presents his humble duty to your Majesty, and has
the honour to state that the Kennington Common meeting has proved a
complete failure." [p.249-1]
Yet the demonstration of April 10, 1848, has grown into a
curious legend, easily explicable by anybody with the slightest
acquaintance of crowd-psychology. Thus in the preface to
Kingsley's Alton Locke it is stated that "on the 10th April
the Government had to fill London with troops, and put the Duke of
Wellington in command, who barricaded the bridges and Downing
Street, and other public buildings." Dean Stubbs in his book
on Kingsley is under the same hallucination. "On the 10th of
April, 1848, a revolution was threatened in England. One
hundred thousand armed men were to meet on Kennington Common and
thence to march to Westminster, and there to compel, by physical
force, if necessary, the acceptance of the People's Charter by the
Houses of Parliament." [p.249-2]
The preposterously extensive arrangements made by the Duke to keep
the peace vanish into insignificance beside the exaggerated memories
which the demonstration left behind it.
The Duke of Wellington, speaking in the House of Lords on
April 10, said that the effect of the meeting on Kennington Common
was "to place all the inhabitants of the metropolis under alarm,
paralysing all trade and business of every description, and driving
individuals to seek for safety by arming themselves for the
protection of the lives of themselves and of their neighbours, and
for the security of their property." The recent revolutions
supply the explanation of this timorousness. It is apparently
an instinct of the crowd to hope for the worst, and this instinct is
communicable to individuals.
The fate of the Petition was even more ignominious than that
of the projected procession. Even before its presentation
voices had been heard to suggest that the alleged total number of
signatures—5,706,000, according to O'Connor's most frequent
estimate—was largely inflated. Some ingenious but anonymous
person wrote to the Times to point out that the total number
of adult males in Great Britain was just 300,000 less than the
number of signatures. The Government worked on the line
suggested by these doubters. The Petition was immediately on
its arrival handed over to a staff of clerks, who counted up the
signatures and found that there were no more than 1,975,496.
On April 13 the Committee on Public Petitions presented its report.
It stated that large numbers of signatures on consecutive sheets
were in the same handwriting; and that a large number of
distinguished individuals whose allegiance to Chartism had been
completely unsuspected had put their names to the Petition.
Among these, the Committee grieved to find Victoria Rex [sic],
April 1, the Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel, and Colonel
Sibthorp. Another class of signatures was represented by a few
specimens, such as No Cheese, Pugnose, Flatnose, Punch. And
"there are other words and phrases which, though written in the form
of signatures, and included in the number reported, your Committee
will not hazard offending the House and the dignity and decency of
their own proceedings by reporting, though it may be added that they
are obviously signatures belonging to no human being." The
Committee did not even give O'Connor's estimate of the weight of the
Petition the benefit of the doubt. He had declared that it
weighed five tons; the Committee, after trial, reduced the estimate
to five hundredweight and three-quarters.
O'Connor was in the House when these devastating facts
were published. He immediately rose and challenged them, suggesting
that the bogus signatures had been inserted by spies for the purpose
of discrediting the remainder, and that the thirteen clerks employed
by the Committee on Petitions could not possibly have counted nearly
two million signatures in the time. He was, however, entirely
unsupported by any sympathizers. One member after another rose to
denounce the Petition and the petitioners. Cripps, a member of the
Committee on Petitions, declared that he could never believe
O'Connor again, whereupon the latter protested against being held
personally responsible for the affair and left the House. A wrangle
then took place on the subject of the dignity of the House, which
was terminated by the arrest of O'Connor by the Serjeant-at-Arms,
and apologies to the House from him and from Cripps. [p.251] On Tuesday, April 11, the Convention reassembled, and confessed
itself neatly trapped on the previous day, by the valve-like action
of the bridges. O'Connor was away, ill, after the strenuous days he
had passed in and out of the House. The Convention decided that the
National Assembly should consist of 100 members, seventy- eight of
whom would be delegates chosen in the same manner as the members of
the Convention, and the other twenty-two of whom would be elected by
the trade unions. There was some talk of joining forces with an
Irish National Assembly of 300 members which was being mooted, but
nothing was decided. On Wednesday the Convention received the offer
by letter of a large bribe from O'Connor, who offered to give up the
profits of The Northern Star for the support of the Convention. Acceptance of this would, of course, have placed the Convention in
O'Connor's pocket, but the delegates knew better and unanimously
declined the offer. O'Connor put in a brief appearance in the
afternoon and declared that "between 400,000 and 500,000 people" had
been present on Kennington Common. He referred to the Crown and
Government Security Bill, denouncing it vigorously. If it was
passed, he promised to become a republican, although he had always
previously contended for a constitutional monarchy. Once more he
spoke of the benefits which the Charter would bring, in terms
remarkably similar to those in which Shakespeare makes Jack Cade
address his followers. On Thursday, the Convention decided to send
Leach, Kydd and M'Grath over to Ireland as missionaries, to invite
the middle classes and the Irish to be represented in the National
Assembly, and to ask the trade unions to support the Charter. On
Friday, the 14th, O'Connor again appeared and attempted to explain
away the fiasco of the Petition, which had been exposed in the
Commons the day before. He repeated the argument that 1,900,000
signatures could not have been counted by thirteen clerks in the
time stated, and attempted to make out that the report of the
Committee was deliberately fraudulent. The Government was verging on
a financial crisis, therefore his advice to the Chartists was to go
on petitioning, as the Cabinet would have to make concessions to the
people to avoid coming down with a crash. His statement appears to
have met with a slightly critical reception; several delegates did
not like either the suggestion of more petitioning, or that of
memorializing the Queen. A discussion ensued as to the actual number
of signatures, and it appeared that many thousands had not been
presented, having been delayed. On Saturday, April 15, a memorial to
the Queen was adopted; it was to be laid before the country at the
simultaneous meetings. This document briefly recited the grievances
of the working classes of Great Britain and Ireland, and declared
that the Government was attempting to take away the liberties of the
subject, "arraying class against class," and bringing forward "the
Gagging Bill, falsely denominated a Bill for the better security of
your Majesty's Crown and Government . . . conceived in the spirit of
that tyrannical dynasty, whose expulsion led to the introduction of
your Majesty's family to the British throne." The memorial therefore
prayed for the dissolution of the present Parliament, and for the
appointment of a Cabinet in sympathy with the Charter. [p.252] During its
third week the proceedings of the Convention descended to complete
triviality. The National Assembly was postponed until May 1. On
April 22 the Crown and Government Security Bill, having passed
through all its stages, was made law. O'Connor addressed meetings in
Manchester and Nottingham. The Convention adjourned on April 25, the
majority of the delegates having already left London in order to
address the simultaneous meetings.
On Monday, May 1, the National Assembly met at the John Street
Institute. Dixon was put into the chair, and Shirren was made
secretary. The delegates at first numbered twenty-nine, and had
virtually all been members of the late Convention, the exceptions
were quite unimportant. The members of the Assembly met as the
chosen of public meetings, and were therefore entirely
unrepresentative. The first two days were mostly occupied with the
reports of the delegates as to the conditions of their
constituencies, as observed in the course of their lecturing tours. On its third day the Assembly considered the necessity of a
programme. M'Douall moved that the Assembly should receive a
programme stating the Chartist policy in relation to social and
political grievances, industrial and commercial questions,
education, the Church, the criminal code, and the freedom of the
press, in addition, of course, to the business for which the
Assembly had been brought into life. Led by Ernest Jones, however,
the majority refused to touch anything not immediately connected
with the enactment of the Charter, and adopted a programme drafted
accordingly. During its second week the Assembly reorganized the N.C.A. and elected a provisional new Executive, consisting of M'Crae,
Jones, Kydd, Leach, and M'Douall. The prevailing atmosphere was
distinctly unfriendly to O'Connor, who stayed away, addressing
meetings in his defence in the provinces, and attempting to organize
a fund to run a daily paper, to be called the Democrat. On Saturday,
May 13, the Assembly dissolved itself. The memorial to the Queen was
presented through the post, as the authorities, in accordance with
the "established practice," would not allow it to be handed over by
the delegates in person. Resolutions, more or less academic, were
adopted, and an address to the people was unanimously passed for
publication. The one achievement of the Assembly was the
reconstitution of the N.C.A., in the circumstances an altogether
unconstitutional action, as the authority of the body was not
derived from the N.C.A., and the delegates were not necessarily
members of it. This move, however, had much to recommend it. The new N.C.A. was to consist of groups of ten: each group to select a
leader, who with nine other leaders, formed an upper circle, which
was again under a tenth of its members and so on. This scheme had
the advantage of keeping the members in touch with the central
organization. The Northern Star began to devote itself to the
affairs of Ireland and of Europe, and Chartism sank rapidly into a
It was awakened suddenly at the beginning of June by reports of the
arrests of several of its leaders for violence of language regarded
as equivalent to sedition. Ernest Jones was one of the first, and
with him Fussell and three others. A number of arrests were made in
various parts of Yorkshire. Towards the end of May the Government
once more began to fear a Chartist outbreak. Inflammatory meetings
on Clerkenwell Green were coming to be of nightly occurrence, and
were as often as not accompanied by minatory processions into the
City and towards Westminster. The result of these prosecutions was
to drive the insurrectionary section of the movement underground. North of England Chartists met in cellars and came out of them armed
with pikes. Several arrests were made in Manchester, Liverpool,
Birmingham, and Bradford; in each case the police seized a quantity
of these picturesque but harmless weapons. In September a Committee
of fourteen Chartists was arrested in the Angel Tavern in Webber
Street, Blackfriars, on the information of certain police spies. A
small quantity of arms and ammunition was found on this occasion. Other arrests and seizures were made in Great Ormond Street,
Holborn, and York Street, Westminster. Powell, the informer
responsible for these arrests, was an obvious and blatant perjurer,
and came out very badly in cross-examination. He had acted as
provocateur, and had himself made and given away bullets and powder
to the Chartists against whom he afterwards informed. However, four
prisoners were sentenced to transportation for life, and fifteen,
Ernest Jones among them, were sentenced to two years' imprisonment. A larger number received lighter sentences, or were merely bound
over. In Manchester, about the same time, P. M. M'Douall was
sentenced to two years' imprisonment. Towards the end of the year
almost wholesale arrests took place in the North, the attempted
rising of Smith O'Brien in Ireland having by this time reduced the
Government to a condition bordering on hysteria. In Liverpool John
West was sentenced to one year's imprisonment, and James Leach to
nine months. There were in all sixty-five Chartists tried here at a
single special assizes in December, on charges gently graduated from
conspiracy downwards. In Edinburgh and Glasgow the same thing
happened. The greater number of these trials depended on the
evidence of police spies and agents provocateurs. By the end of the
year these had exhausted their information, and the prosecutions
ceased. It is possible that these arrests were the result of the
Government's fear of something more dangerous than a demonstration. Both Thomas Cooper [p.255-1]
and Thomas Frost [p.255-2]
have fearsome tales to tell of individuals who, assisted by police
spies, attempted to work up violent outbreaks. Certainly some new
motive had been brought into action. As in 1839 wholesale arrests
were made, and in that year the judges and magistrates who tried the
prisoners were unanimously severe in inflicting sentences.
It is not necessary to record at length the different stages of
shattered helplessness into which the Chartist movement degenerated
with the arrest of its leaders. Hume attempted to bring the
Government to accept a compromise—the "Little Charter," or household
suffrage. On Tuesday, May 23, 1848, he brought forward a motion in
the House of Commons with reference to the extension of the
franchise to householders. The moment was not propitious. The day's
proceedings had begun with a motion by Lord George Bentinck for the
adjournment of the House from its rising until the following
Thursday, on the ground that Wednesday was to be Derby Day. There
had been a little opposition, from Hume, Bright, and Fox Maule, on
the ground that the House had its time very fully occupied. This
plea, however, was regarded as frivolous by Lord John Russell, who
could not understand how anybody could possibly wish to discuss such
things as the Law of Entail in Scotland on a "national fêtê," and
the House agreed with him, 103 voting for adjournment and 90
against. With the prospect of a holiday before them, members were
not, by the time Hume's motion was brought on after 11 p.m., in a
mood to discuss household enfranchisement with any enthusiasm, and
the mover had to content himself with a promise to try again on June
20. O'Connor followed, and attacked Hume for this postponement. Cobden rose to Hume's defence and told the House that O'Connor "has
done more to retard the political progress of the working classes of
England than any other public man that ever lived in this country." Lord John Russell then stepped in, and the subject dropped. [p.256]
For the rest, Ernest Jones was grossly ill-treated in prison. O'Connor, after the exposure of his ill-usage, was allowed to
purchase Jones a certain alleviation of the conditions of his
imprisonment. Owen published a lengthy constitution and code of laws
for a perfect state of society, apparently with the usual hope. The
Land Company's proceedings were centred round the report of the
Select Committee. O'Connor addressed meetings and quarrelled. The
revolutionary tide had ebbed, and the land scheme no longer
inspired. Chartism, in fact, returned to the hopeless position it
had occupied four years earlier.
DELEGATES TO THE CONVENTION
OF APRIL 4, 1848.
J. P. Wilkinson, Exeter.
Jas. Shirren, Aberdeen.
S. G. Francis, Ipswich.
G. W. M. Reynolds, Derby.
M. Stevenson, Bolton.
Geo. Stevens, York.
Ernest Jones, Halifax.
Robert Cochrane, Paisley.
Jas. Hutchins, Wigan.
Jas. Adams, Glasgow.
Geo. Buckby, Leicester.
C. M'Carthy, Irish Democratic
G. J. Harney, Nottingham.
Jos. Jinney, Birmingham.
Chas. Baldwin, Bath.
J. A. Fussell, Birmingham. D.
D. Lightowler, Bradford.
Samuel Kydd, Oldham.
F. O'Connor, Leeds.
D. Donovan, Manchester.
J. Shaw, Leeds
Jas. Leach, Manchester.
John Lowery, Carlisle.
Edmund Jones, Liverpool.
D. Thomas, Merthyr.
Henry Smith, Liverpool.
R. Wild, Ashton-under-Lyne.
Dr. Hunter, Edinburgh.
Edw. Walter, Worcester.
Jas. Cumming, Edinburgh.
Wm. Cuffay, London
Jas. Graham, Dundee.
H. Child, London
J. T. Lund, Lancaster.
B. O'Brien, London
F. Mirfield, Barnsley.
J. Petrie, Plymouth.
Jas. Watson, Newcastle.
W. Ashton, Northampton.
Thos. Tattersall, Bury.
John West, Stockport.
E. Bevington, Staffs. Potteries.
Edw. Sale, Staffs. Potteries.
THE PASSING OF CHARTISM
THE majority of
the historical works dealing with the last century regard April 10,
1848, as the day on which Chartism died. Even the massive work
of Professor Dolléans deliberately comes to a stop on arriving at
Historians are almost unanimous in regarding Kennington
Common as the burial-ground of the movement, and the laugh that went
up over the Petition as its funeral sermon. But the date is
too early. It overlooks an essential episode in the evolution
of the Chartist movement.
On April 8 Lovett attempted to revive the project of uniting
the Chartists and the Radical middle-class men. He secured the
support of Miall, Parry, Howitt, Vincent, Dr. Epps, Elt, Shaen,
Lowery, and Neesom, and the People's League was the outcome.
Place sadly remarks to Lovett on April 19 that "it will be some time
to come before the words Chartism and Universal Suffrage will meet
with favour in the direction you seem to be looking, and F. O'Connor
will presently give both a more terrible blow than any or all they
have yet received." [p.258-1]
The People's League died in September, 1849, [p.258-2]
apparently the result of the competition of its twin-brother, the
People's Charter Union, the membership of which was largely
duplicate. This organization was virtually the successor of
the National Association, which was actually wound up in 1849, [p.258-3]
after having been in a moribund condition since Lovett's resignation
from the secretaryship in 1846. The People's Charter Union
held its first meeting at the Farringdon Hall on the evening of
April 10, 1848. Cooper was elected president, and Richard
Moore, treasurer. The Council included Hetherington, Watson,
Holyoake and Collett. A little later on it was joined by Dr.
Black, who had now become private secretary to Sir William
Molesworth. The Council soon found itself negotiating with
Cobden on the subject of the Stamp Duties. In order to act
with greater freedom, ten members of the Council, on Cobden's
advice, formed themselves into an independent body, the Newspaper
Stamp Abolition Committee. This was in March, 1849. The
ten co-opted Dr. Black and appointed Collett secretary and Francis
Place treasurer, Moore becoming chairman, and subsequently added to
their number by the accession of prominent members both of the
People's Charter Union and of the N.C.A. Among these were
Holyoake and James Stansfeld, afterwards Chairman of the Local
Government Board. Black and Place prepared appeals and
provided statistical information. Little by little the
Committee won over the more progressive M.P.'s. In February,
1851, it decided to expand, and became the Association for the
Repeal of the Taxes on Knowledge, and invited members not
necessarily belonging to the Chartist Movement. Milner-Gibson,
M.P., became President. Dr. Bowkett, John Bright, M.P., R.
Cobden, M.P., Passmore Edwards, W. Ewart, M.P., Joseph Hume, M.P.,
Thornton Hunt, G. H. Lewes, and several other Radicals, in and out
of Parliament, went on the Committee. The Association gained
its first victory in 1853, when the advertisement duty was repealed.
The compulsory stamp on newspapers was repealed two years later.
The paper duty followed in 1861. Finally the last restrictions
were removed in 1869, and the year after the Committee met for the
last time in the house in Hart Street, Bloomsbury, where Richard
Moore, chairman for twenty-one years, had lived since his first
participation in the Chartism Movement. [p.259]
Now this episode is of considerable importance, for it gives
the Chartist movement a definite character. We have read
Place's account of the evolution of the W.M.A., from the little
Committee presided over by Place and Black, which had come into
existence to fight the newspaper taxes. From the agitation
against "the taxes on knowledge," intellectual working-class
Chartism had arisen. To the agitation against the same taxes,
intellectual working-class Chartism, eleven years later, returned.
The same agitation, the same Committee. Place and Black,
Hetherington, Watson and Moore all follow the same path. And
we may be sure that Lovett and Vincent were with them, although they
played no prominent parts in the renewed campaign. More than
any other fact of the movement, this emergence from and return to
the agitation against "the taxes on knowledge" marks Chartism as a
protest against ignorance. Chartism had failed because the
masses were not yet intelligent enough to realize the necessity of
political enfranchisement. This, at least, was the view of the
intellectual leaders of Chartism. Just as Lovett had given up
political agitation for the far more wearing occupation of educating
the young, so the other leaders gave up their parts in the struggle
in order to secure that essential to the education of the people—a
free press. For the next year or two Chartism, as an
organization of the people, was quiescent. O'Connor's
influence was waning. The other leaders of the N.C.A. were
exhibiting an extraordinary quarrelsomeness, into the details of
which it is not necessary to enter. On July 3, 1849, O'Connor
moved that the "House do adopt the principles embodied in the
People's Charter." Exactly forty members were present during
the early part of the discussion. Once again the old
assertions were repeated, and met by the old denials.
O'Connor's speech on this occasion was one of his most
closely-reasoned performances. Among his arguments he adduced
that of the inadequate representation of working-class interests in
a House constituted on the existing lines, and the unequal
representation of the towns. Lord John Russell [p.260]
replied at great length, and made out a case which was not merely
negative, but was in fact a statement of the advantages of
government by a social hierarchy as against government by the whole
people. "I therefore meet the proposition of the Hon.
Gentleman with a direct negative, conceiving that, if adopted, it
would tend to the greatest evils, and that in adopting it we should
run the risk of losing the liberties which we now possess, and that
to do so would be a most foolish and unwise proceeding." On
the division fifteen members, including tellers, supported the
measure, and 224 voted against it.
On March 16, 1850, the National Reform League for the
Peaceful Regeneration of Society came into existence, and at last
Bronterre O'Brien had an organization to help him in the propagation
of his views, which, incidentally, had by this time received the
official assent of the N.C.A. and the Fraternal Democrats. The
programme is too long to quote in full: it contains an assertion of
the principles laid down in the Charter, a demand for the repeal of
the Poor Law, a claim for the generous treatment of paupers, land
nationalization and colonization, the National Debt to be paid off
by a mortgage on the real estate of the country, nationalization of
mines, fisheries, etc., a system of national credit to enable the
people to borrow from national funds in order to set up as a
cultivator, public market places, fixed prices, paper money based
"either upon a corn or a labour standard," and a hint at wider
schemes of nationalization, especially of railways, canals, bridges,
docks, gasworks, waterworks, a more human code of laws, etc.
On July 11, 1850, O'Connor, once more and for the last time,
brought forward a motion in support of the Charter, with a more than
usually Socialist preamble. The motion, in fact, consisted in
a series of postulates leading up to the Six Points. Just
before O'Connor's discussion of this resolution, the House had
refused leave by a small majority of the small number of Members
present to William Ewart to bring in a Bill to abolish the
punishment of death. O'Connor's first argument in support of
his motion was that one way of putting an end to the crime of murder
was to place the representative system on such a sound and
representative basis as that every person in the kingdom should be
represented in the House. He was not allowed to continue long
in this strain; the attendance had diminished beyond the requisite
forty, and the House was counted out. [p.262-1]
So, ingloriously, ended the parliamentary career of the Charter.
In the same month O'Connor began a great effort to revive
Chartism and addressed meetings all over the country. Arnott,
perhaps with a better grasp of the situation, raised the question of
uniting into one body the N.C.A., the Fraternal Democrats, and the
National Reform League. [p.262-2]
A little later on a round table conference of these three bodies, in
addition to the ephemeral Social Reform League, was suggested, but
nothing came of this. [p.262-3]
In August the Haynau affair took place. The Austrian General,
whose behaviour in Italy and Hungary, especially his flogging of
women, had gained for him a reputation in England which he probably
did not suspect, happened to visit London. Anxious to see
sights, he obtained through a friend an invitation to go over
Barclay and Perkins's Brewery, Bankside. He arrived,
accompanied by a nephew and an interpreter. The draymen,
discovering his identity, inflicted a severe flogging upon the
General, who escaped with great difficulty, and spent the brief
remainder of his stay in England in bed. This incident, as it
were, brought home to the English democracy the idea that there is a
democracy of action and instinct, as of politics. It received
an enormous amount of attention in Chartist papers and on Chartist
platforms, and, in fact, throughout the English press, with the
exception of the Times and the Morning Chronicle.
The election figures of the 1851 Executive are sadly smaller
than those of earlier occasions; they illustrate, too, O'Connor's
fall from his once unchallenged position: Reynolds, 1,805; Harney,
1,774; Jones, 1,757; Arnott, 1,605; O'Connor, 1,314; Holyoake,
1,021; Davis, 818; Grassby, 811; Milne, 709. Thornton Hunt and
Linton were unsuccessful candidates. Robert Owen, O'Brien,
Cooper, Gerald Massey, and Kydd
were nominated but refused to stand. [p.262-4]
Davis resigned immediately after the election, and Hunt took his
place. Manchester Chartism, feeling that the London Executive
did not represent it, virtually declared its independence, and held
a conference in January which, although solemnly repudiated by the
Executive, turned out to be a small and harmless affair.
O'Connor attended it, and was warmly received. In London
another National Convention was arranged. As before, there
were to be forty-nine delegates who were duly elected, and turned
out to be quite undistinguished. The N.C.A., in fact, no
longer had room for enterprising Chartists, who now habitually
formed themselves into new societies which, on account of their
smallness, had an appallingly high rate of mortality. In
addition to those just named, we find references in 1851 to the
National Charter League (containing M'Grath, Clark, Dixon, and
Doyle), the Political and Social Propagandist Society, the Political
and Social Tract Society, and the Democratic and Social Conference.
The membership of the Convention, consisting of the petite
bourgeoisie of the movement, makes its performance the more
The main part of the work of the Convention was the adoption,
bit by bit, of a programme of social reform. [p.263]
This began with the demand for the establishment of a Board of
Agriculture, and the restoration of "poor, common, church, and crown
lands to the people." Land was to be purchased by the
Government, not confiscated. The Church was to be separated
from the State, and disendowed of all its accessions made up to the
time of the Reformation. Here, it will be seen, the Chartists,
drafting a confessedly ideal programme, hesitated to go as far as
the modern Church Disestablishers. Education was to be
"national, universal, gratuitous, and to a certain extent
compulsory." This compromise was arrived at after much
discussion, several of the delegates objecting to compulsory
education, adducing arguments beneath which tacit hostility to the
State as State can be detected. All education, from the
University downwards, was to be free, the status of co-operative
societies was also discussed, and freedom of association was claimed
for them. The National Debt was repudiated; no more interest
was to be paid, but the capital was to be repaid as interest.
Standing armies were condemned on democratic principles, but
recognized as unfortunate necessities, subject to considerable
changes in the status of the private soldier. Universal
training in the use of arms was next recommended. The question
of compulsion and the conscientious objector came up on this point.
The Convention decided that there should be no compulsion in this
respect; one delegate suggested that Quakers and others who shared
their views on the use of arms should be given the opportunity of
forming fire brigades. State support for the unemployed,
pensions for the aged and infirm, to allow them to be kept in their
own homes, provision of work for the unemployed, and if necessary,
settlement upon the land, were proposed as measures which might take
the place of the Poor Law, which was to be abolished. During
the second week the Convention discussed a variety of matters,
strongly opposed the death penalty, authorized a fund for the recall
of Frost, Williams, and Jones, and so on. Finally another
attempt was made to reorganize the N.C.A., and the Convention
dissolved on April 10. A Committee set to work on the
resolutions and knocked them into shape, making a neat programme out
of them. Another National Petition was to be organized, but
this time there were to be no fraudulent signatures; simultaneous
meetings were to be held, and the Chairmen were to count the number
of those voting for the resolutions. Communications with the
Trade Unions were to be initiated. In its final form the
Chartist programme called for the nationalization of the land, and
claimed that, as "labour was the creator of a nation's wealth,"
co-operative associations should have every encouragement. All
taxation was to be upon land and accumulated property. A
change in currency laws was demanded, but no details were provided:
finally, measures making for the complete freedom of the press were
This programme was duly printed by the Times, [p.264]
and Chartism, was reintroduced, after a lapse of three years, to the
attention of the middle classes. Although by this time the
membership of the N.C.A. had diminished to something in the
neighbourhood of 4,000, both to the Times and the
Spectator the adoption of the programme appeared to presage a
renascence. The Spectator finished its review of the
situation with these words: "Although standing with practical
England in the remote and shadowy regions of 'isms,' neither
Chartism or Socialism is quite the bugbear that it once was: common
sense begins to regard each as a rude husk containing some kernel of
truth, that may be worth analysis: a process in which even the
Times begins to assist in a slashing bantering fashion." [p.265]
The adoption of this programme by the Convention is very
remarkable in view of its personnel. The leaders were absent:
O'Connor, on account of illness, put in but a few ineffective
appearances, O'Brien was not a delegate. Thornton Hunt,
Harney, Reynolds, Jones, and Holyoake, the most intellectual persons
present, had previously given few signs of statesmanship. The
delegates were not men committed to doctrinaire views on anything
outside the Six Points. Certain unimportant amendments
indicated a desire that Chartism should not be identified with any
particular philosophy. Yet these men in these unpromising
conditions agreed upon a programme which future generations of
reformers spent much time, not in reshaping, but in laboriously
rediscovering. One clause, not mentioned above, is of special
interest. "Municipal and Parochial power should be vested in
the hands of the people, since disenfranchisement in local matters
is as unjust as the restriction of the elective franchise."
Chartists were recommended, wherever possible, to contest local and
municipal elections. But by this time the movement was in a
state of flaccid senility, and unable to absorb strong new
After the Convention the Chartist movement followed a
downward path which had no obstacles. Lord John Russell was
beginning to hint at reform, and his promises, added to the
performances of Hume, now strongly agitating, in good middle-class
company, for household suffrage and the ballot, satisfied the milder
elements of the Chartist movement. The great Exhibition
opening on May 2, 1851, was seriously expected by innumerable
optimists to be the immediate precursor of universal peace among the
nations, and so attracted a good deal of attention away from the
apparently unobtainable Charter. Feargus O'Connor was now
clearly seen to be losing his hold upon the movement, and upon
himself. In August he ceased to write the leading article in
The Northern Star, contenting himself with occasional very
short letters. Harassed by creditors, real and imaginary, and
by the impossibility of paying the steadily accumulating expenses of
winding up the Land Company, he went abroad for some two months, and
returned about the middle of October. This happened to be a
few days before the arrival in England of the recently liberated
Kossuth. The coming of the Hungarian patriot evoked immense
excitement among the working classes, and a tumultuous series of
receptions and demonstrations was immediately arranged to take place
all over the country. In this movement O'Connor took as
prominent a part as the state of his health and mind permitted.
Before many weeks had passed, however, his behaviour at one of the
numerous Kossuth banquets made his mental state obvious to all.
Kossuth, fearing a repetition of O'Connor's eccentric behaviour
towards himself, asked that he should be excluded from other
demonstrations in his honour. It fell upon Holyoake and Hunt
to put this desire into effect, and from them the Chartists learned
that the current rumour as to their leader's mind was indeed true.
At the end of December The Northern Star was sold to William
Rider, its printer and publisher. Although O'Connor was
re-elected to the Executive of the N.C.A. for 1852, he was no longer
in a position to be of any use to it. In the early part of the
year he paid the briefest of visits to the United States.
The remaining events of O'Connor's life may be conveniently
described here. Justin MacCarthy gives a pathetic recollection
of meeting O'Connor during this last period in Covent Garden market.
His hair had turned white, his movements were restless and
uncertain. He rambled from stall to stall, muttering to
himself, handling the fruit, bursting into meaningless laughs and
walking on. [p.266]
On June 8, 1852, O'Connor's behaviour in the House became
excessive; he was named by the Speaker, and apologized to him and
the House. On the 14th a Petition was received from his
sister, expressing her belief that her brother was of unsound mind.
[p.267-1] He then was
removed to a private asylum in Chiswick, kept by one Dr. Harrington
Tuke. In August, 1855, Miss Margaret O'Connor, the sister of
the unfortunate man, became dissatisfied with his treatment and
effected his removal to her own house in Albert Terrace, Notting
Hill, virtually by force. O'Connor was then in a perfectly
helpless condition, and the circumstances of his removal hastened
his end, which took place on August 30, ten days later. He was
penniless at the time of his death; even the cost of his funeral had
to be defrayed by his friends, a committee of whom afterwards got up
a public subscription for a memorial. On the day of his burial
London was in a highly excited state on account of the long-awaited
news of the fall of Sevastopol. A long procession followed him
to Kensal Green, where William Jones, a Liverpool workman, and
cousin of the deceased, delivered an impassioned graveside speech. [p.267-2]
To return to the N.C.A., the voting for the 1852 Committee
gave the following results: Ernest Jones, 900; John Arnott, 720;
Feargus O'Connor, 600; T. Martin Wheeler, 566; John Grassby, 565;
John Shaw, 502; W. J. Linton, 470; J.
J. Bezer, 456; and G. J. Holyoake, 336. Thornton Hunt
(282) and P. M. M'Douall (198) were among the unsuccessful
Ernest Jones immediately retired, expressing himself as "unable to
sit on an Executive Committee like the present," [p.267-4]
and insisting that the movement could not go on without the active
co-operation of such men as Harney, Cooper, and Kydd. Linton
also refused to act unless the Committee approved of union with the
middle classes—which it did not. Wheeler cleared out at once,
partly because of a lack of confidence in Arnott as secretary,
partly because Holyoake had expressed a lack of confidence in
Wheeler, having once seen him drunk. The depleted Committee,
foreseeing the worst, gave up its office at 14, Southampton Street,
Strand; appointed Grassby its temporary honorary secretary in place
of Arnott, and thenceforth held its meetings at his house at 96,
Regent Street, Lambeth. The Committee was in debt for a sum of
between £30 and £40, and honourably spent its last efforts in
raising this amount—a feat which took about six months for its
accomplishment. After this we hear no more about the Executive
of the N.C.A.
Ernest Jones, however, did not despair of the movement, and
attempted to revive it in Manchester. There a minute
Conference was held from May 17-21, 1852, attended by local and
midland delegates, and by Jones and James Finlen from London.
This assumed the guidance of the N.C.A., revised its constitution,
reduced the size of the Executive to three, who were to be paid 30s.
weekly and travelling expenses. As missionaries it was hoped
that they would revive the movement. The Executive was to be
elected for a period of six months. The result of the first
election was Gammage, [p.268-1]
922; Finlen, 839; Jones, 739. These went on tour for some
months and worked prodigiously. Jones started a weekly, The
People's Paper, and for a while all went well, but the conduct
of this paper, the management of its finances, and the alleged
ambition of its editor to be the dictator of the Chartist movement
soon caused a quarrel. As the result of this, the next
contested election of the Executive, in March 1854, was accompanied
by immense gerrymandering, according to Gammage, who was pushed out
of the triumvirate. [p.268-2]
In any case, Jones, Finlen and John Shaw were declared elected on a
second count, which presented gigantic discrepancies from the first.
Jones's vote rose from 759 to 942, Gammage's place fell from third
to fourth. Shaw does not appear to have done very much after
his election, and Jones and Finlen, in effect the former, carried
the banner single-handed against the gale.
The Northern Star policy in the hands of
its new owners was only intermittently sympathetic with Chartism.
A leading article suggests that "As a system, Chartism has
degenerated, its ranks have been disbanded, and the principles cast
upon the wide world for every would-be statesman to mock and sneer
at. This is the present of Chartism. For all moral
effects, it is practically deceased. Its carcase stinks in the
nostrils of men." [p.269]
In January, 1852, it attempted to woo the Trade Unions by publishing
Strike news and reports of meetings. Much attention is paid to
the co-operative movement, and the Christian Socialists.
Matters however went from bad to worse. Every sort of
editorial device was called into play to keep the paper going.
In March it became the Star and National Trades' Journal.
Two months later it became the Star of Freedom, and lowered
its price to 4½d. Harney bought the paper cheaply and for the
second time was the editor. In August he changed the format
and the type, giving the Star a pleasant appearance similar
to that of the Spectator but with slightly larger pages.
But his readers would not hear of Chartism. In vain he gave
the public what it wanted. At the moment the working classes
were feverishly excited over Australian gold diggings. So
Harney wrote up Australian gold. The public resolutely refused
to have any connexion with any paper with a Chartist taint, and in
November, 1852, the Star appeared for the last time.
Harney promised that its demise would be of a temporary nature, but
the promise was unredeemable. In its last issues it contained
attacks by Harney on Jones. That no two prominent Chartists
could work together for more than a year or so without quarrelling
is one of the tragedies of their movement.
The People's Paper at threepence weekly
was naturally a contributing cause to the breakdown of The
Northern Star. The new paper was published ostensibly in
the interests of the N.C.A., declared to be, in the first number,
"the greatest and noblest benefit society of the world." Jones
gave far more attention to Chartist doings than his competitor, and
gave special prominence to the Metropolitan Delegate Council, a
nominally representative body of London Chartists, which, while
completely ineffective, staved off the hour of dissolution for an
unexpectedly long time. A peculiar interest is given to The
People's Paper by the fact that Marx, who apparently enjoyed the
complete confidence of Jones, gradually became the acknowledged
source of its editor's ideas and information. The paper had
not been established many weeks when articles in support of land
nationalization and other distinctively Socialist tenets began to
appear. By the beginning of 1853 it was urging the
"nationalization of credit," by which was apparently meant State
loans to incipient co-operative undertakings. Early in 1853,
Thomas Cooper returned for a while to the movement, but merely to
lecture to it, not to guide it. In March, 1853, [p.270]
there was an interesting article entitled "Sutherland and Slavery"
by "Dr. Charles Marx," describing the manner in which the Sutherland
family had acquired its domains. Other articles, apparently
from the same pen, are signed with the initials "M." or "C. M.," or
are introduced as by "a well-known foreign politician, at present in
London." The outward and visible signs of Marx are, however,
less clear than the inward meaning of the paper's teaching.
Articles on the class struggle and surplus value (not yet so called)
alternate with others on the history of the National Debt and
emigration. In 1853 The People's Paper begins to
develop a bitterly anti-Russian tone. For this, too, Marx was
probably very largely responsible. David Urquhart, now a
Member of Parliament, had by no means learned to mitigate his hatred
of Russia. Considered insane by many, he became a bosom friend
of Marx, who, doubtless, passed on his opinions to Ernest Jones.
So, between one doctrine and another, The People's Paper
laboriously managed to rise to a circulation of some three or four
thousand within a few years. This was by dint of immense
efforts on the part of Jones, who was scarcely ever in a position to
say with certainty that he could keep the paper going for another
In 1854 an episode took place of some interest as
illustrating the tendency of Chartist evolution, although of little
direct importance. This was the "Mass Movement," with which
Jones was prominently associated. The idea was one of the
innumerable anticipations of the General Federation of Trade Unions.
On March 6, 1854, the Labour Parliament met in Manchester. The
Conference which had adopted this grandiloquent title was a
gathering of Chartist and Trade Union delegates, who gave the Mass
Movement an organization and a programme. The principal object
of the Movement was the raising of a strike fund. The great
Engineering lock-out of 1852, and the unsuccessful strikes of the
Preston cotton-spinners, and the Kidderminster carpet weavers the
following year, had made such a fund greatly to be desired.
The Labour Parliament wished the fund to be used for other
additional purposes, of which one was the purchase of estates to be
sublet to trade unionists, as a remedy for unemployment. A
long programme was drawn up in support of several items of labour
legislation, but, curiously enough, labour representation was not
demanded, or even mentioned. On the proposal to buy land,
Joseph Harrison, a Nottinghamshire farmer, declared that since the
failure of the National Land Company, 300 land schemes had sprung
up, and there were half a dozen around Nottingham. [p.271]
Marx and Louis Blanc had been invited to attend as honorary members,
but both sent polite letters regretting their inability to be
present. The Labour Parliament concluded its proceedings by
electing an executive of five: Finlen heading the poll. Jones
was appointed honorary member of the executive. Three of the
five (including Finlen) were set to work as missionaries and sent
out to tour the country. The first and only thing the
executive attempted was the formation of the United Brothers'
Industrial, Sick, Benefit, and Life Assurance Company, which was to
give slightly larger benefits than other insurance companies.
The Mass Movement did not live long. For a month or two, about
£20 flowed in weekly, then the current slackened. The second
Labour Parliament, which was to have met in Nottingham, in August,
The Crimean War was now occupying the attention of the
British public. Jones and Finlen promulgated the "Soldiers'
Charter," demanding promotion from the ranks, better pay abolition
of flogging, and higher pensions to ex-soldiers. In February,
1855, Jones had another access of internationalism, as one result of
which he quarrelled with Finlen; the two were, however, soon
reconciled, and co-operated in organizing an international meeting
at St. Martin's Hall, on February 27, 1855, to commemorate the
revolutions of 1848. At this meeting Herzen was the most
distinguished of the foreign speakers. Victor Hugo had
promised to be present, but the death of a brother at the last
moment forced him to remain in Jersey. He sent along a written
oration, however, a deluge of exclamation marks, which was read to
the meeting. Perhaps the most noteworthy sentiment it
contained was "the least possible amount of governing, is the
formula of the future." [p.272-1]
Saffi, one of the Roman triumviri with Mazzini, also sent a written
In July, 1855, Jones, in deference to N.C.A. branch opinion,
held an election for the executive, as the result of which he,
Finlen, and Abraham Robinson were elected "by large majorities," and
John Shaw lost his seat. The numbers voting are not given, but
from certain figures [p.272-2]
it is fairly obvious that a few score votes only were cast.
Jones and Finlen showed no disposition to allow Robinson a share in
the management, such as it was, of the movement. The
Manchester Chartists protested against the exclusive character of
the Jones-Finlen régime, but were answered as follows: [p.272-3]
"with respect to the third member; we should be happy to have his
aid—but we would decline to associate in our plans any one we had
not first tried and deeply tested. . . ." The two then went on
to explain that a movement was much better governed by two than by
three and suggested that the ideal arrangement was that two be "in
office on good behaviour, with no polling lists, no show of strength
or weakness." If the other Chartists did not like it they
could hold another Convention and elect another executive. The
dispute ended with the adoption by Jones and Finlen of the motto
"Personal confidence under popular control." [p.273]
In 1856 John Frost returned to England. He had been
liberated two years earlier, on condition that he did not set foot
in British dominions, and had gone to America. Now at last he
was allowed to return. His coming caused something of a
revival among the "Old Guards," but not to the extent expected by
Jones. Frost, now seventy years old, was much more deeply
interested in procuring a reform of the transportation system under
which he had suffered, than in Chartist propaganda, and was
virtually lost to the movement. He died in 1877, aged well
over ninety. The Crimean War continued to hold the attention
of the public. Jones used The People's Paper to
popularize the ideas of the National Sunday League. In
February, Finlen settled in Glasgow as a newsagent, became
reconciled with Gammage, with whom on account of the disparaging
references to Jones in Gammage's History of the Chartist Movement
a quarrel had taken place a year or two earlier, and the two
ex-associates made preparations to publish a new Northern Star,
to the intense fury of Jones. He stood for Nottingham as
Chartist candidate in the General Election of March, 1857, but was
badly beaten by Paget and Walter, the Palmerstonian Liberal sitting
In the early autumn of this year Jones made his last effort
to galvanize the defunct organization of Chartism back to life.
He announced another Conference, advertising it as widely as the
resources of The People's Paper allowed. Long lists
were printed of the well-known ex-Chartists, middle-class
sympathizers and others who were to be invited. Frost was
asked to preside, but refused. The response was feeble, but
Jones persisted, and at last was able to hold the conference.
The last Conference of Chartist delegates was held in St.
Martin's Hall, London, and lasted the whole week beginning February
8, 1858. Although some forty delegates were present, their
total constituency, according to Reynolds's Newspaper, [p.274-1]
only amounted to about 500. Certainly a few at least of those
present could only be said to represent by stretching the usual
meaning of the term. Apparently Bubb, the delegate for
Bermondsey, and treasurer of the Conference, was elected by a
meeting of five, of whom two voted against him. Ernest Jones
and Holyoake were the only Chartists present whose names convey
anything. The object of the proceedings was to effect that
political union of the working and middle classes on the basis of a
common agitation which had been striven for by so many Chartists
since the intervention of Sturge. The middle classes, however,
hardly responded to the Chartist appeal. Samuel Morley and
Robert Owen appear to have been the only non-Chartists of the one
hundred and fifty invited middle–class politicians who took part in
the discussion. The Conference passed resolutions supporting
the union, and appointed a new executive to carry on the movement.
After some controversy as to the most efficient size of this body,
the Conference decided that an executive of one would best meet the
exigencies of the case. Ernest Jones was thereupon elected the
Chartist executive. He might equally well have been appointed
the movement's executor. The most interesting speech at this
assembly was made by Robert Owen, now eighty-seven years old.
As reported in The People's Paper, "He was there as a
delegate, and he was there as an invited guest. He was in
favour of the whole of the Charter. As a Chartist he
recommended them not to give up a single point. As a friend of
the working classes, he advised them as a matter of expediency to
accept what the middle classes offered in reason. The best
thing that could be done for the working classes would be to give
them a highly beneficial education." [p.274-2]
The Conference decided to raise a £100 fund for lecturers. The
object for which it had met was achieved, in theory, by the
formation of the Political Reform League, as a compromise between
the Chartists and the middle-class reformers. The programme
was an acceptance of three points, a mitigation of two, and the
deletion of the remaining one. It consisted of manhood
suffrage, the ballot, abolition of the property qualification,
triennial parliaments, and rearrangements of electoral districts.
Jones for some months scoffed at this compromise, but finally
yielded to necessity. The People's Paper became in May
the property of the Political Reform League, and its treasurer J.
Baxter; Langley its editor. Chartist news was cut down to
occupy only a few columns. Jones, having left The People's
Paper, once again tempted the fates by starting the London
News in the very month of his departure. The People's
Paper died in September; the London News survived it only
by two months.
Of those present at the pathetic Conference of February,
1858, there came some as delegates of trade unions. Reynolds's
Newspaper suggests that Chartism was by no means as dead as this
Conference would appear to indicate, but implies rather that the
great body of Chartist opinion as ever averse to the proposed union
was deliberately excluded by the organizers of the Conference.
If this was the case the singular inertness of the un—or
misrepresented section of the movement can only be explained by the
theory that about this time it died noiselessly and peacefully in
its sleep. After 1858 the references to Chartism in
Reynolds's Newspaper occur principally in obituary notices.
Organized Chartism may be said to have died just before reaching
years of discretion. The attitude of Reynolds's Newspaper,
which we have called to witness, was now hostile to the movement,
because of the personal hostility of G. W. M. Reynolds to Jones.
In July, 1859, this led to a libel action, when Jones was awarded
damages from Reynolds for an accusation, made in the defendant's
paper, of having pilfered from the funds of The People's Paper.
After this time Jones earned his living at the Manchester bar.
By imperceptible degrees the agitations for the Six Points
(now five) had split up into fragments; in 1858 and the following
years, Miall, Muntz and other reformers in and about the House of
Commons were running the Parliamentary Reform Committee, which held
meetings and organized public opinion in support of household
suffrage. About the same time Perronet Thompson, M.P., now a
Major-General, was at the head of the Ballot Society, whose name
explains its object. John Bright was the most active of all in
the propaganda of franchise reform, both in and out of Parliament.
Annual Parliaments had vanished from the list of things desired by
the working classes. The theory that a General Election should
be an annual performance had a distant and respectable origin.
When old age reduced Bentham's writings to all but insurmountable
masses of neologisms and incomprehensible formulas, his disciples
had taken upon themselves the editing of his books. Francis
Place, himself by no means the most incisive of writers, had knocked
into shape Bentham's plan of Parliamentary Reform, which urged "Annuality
By the beginning of the eighteen sixties, a new group of
young men was coming forward to take the lead in English industrial
politics. George Odger, William Allan, Randal Cremer
(subsequently knighted), George Howell, Robert Applegarth and their
associates remodelled the trade union movement, made a beginning of
labour representation, and with Karl Marx in 1864 founded the
International Working Men's Association, that great stimulating
force of the late 'sixties. Jones makes a thin link between
this group and organized Chartism. In April, 1864, it happened
that Garibaldi visited England, in an interval of his great struggle
for Italian unity. Jones, Odger, Howell, and Edmond Beales
attempted to hold a welcome meeting on Primrose Hill, but the
Government were extremely nervous on account of Garibaldi's presence
in the country: too many young men were professing republicanism to
suit Palmerston. Garibaldi was therefore spirited out of the
country; and, acting on the same principle, the Primrose Hill
meeting was broken up by the police. The Committee did the
wisest thing possible in the circumstances: it retired to a
public-house. [p.276] Here
the Reform League was started, for the purpose of obtaining manhood
suffrage and the ballot. This new body attracted to itself the
remaining energetic Chartists. Prominent among these was
J. B. Leno, a
young printer-poet, who had come forward in 1850, and who had about
1858 started a little Society called the Propagandists, a circle of
youthful Chartists, whom he now swept into the Reform League.
This organization was responsible for the demonstration of July 23,
1866, for ever to be remembered as the occasion when the Hyde Park
railings were pushed down by the crowd. [p.277-1]
Jones died in 1868, [p.277-2]
on the eve of the General Election, at which Manchester had offered
him a safe seat. Our vision of him, as of so many of his
associates, is distorted by the incessant quarrels in which he was
concerned. Yet, it is impossible to deny to Jones the
possession of a quite extraordinarily developed gift of political
sagacity. Like O'Connor and many others, he gave up all he had
for the Cause. "It was said that Mr. Jones and other Chartist
lecturers were making plenty of money out of us, but there was not a
worse paid lot of men in the country than they were . . . Mr. Harney
often lecturing in this district (Halifax) . . . sent for a Mr.
Burns, a tailor, to mend his trousers whilst he remained in bed.
Mr. Kydd . . . had to sit in a shoemaker's shop in this town whilst
his shoes were repaired. On one of Mr. Jones's visits . . .
the person who had his boots to clean noticed that his boots were
worn out . . . on another occasion we had to buy him a new shirt and
front before he could appear at the meeting." [p.277-3]
It appears that an uncle disinherited Jones of £2,000 a year on
account of his opinions. Such men as Jones cannot be dismissed
as merely quarrelsome and self-centred; their tenacity alone
outweighs these characteristics.
We have now followed the main stem as far as is practicable.
The remaining filiations of Chartism are at least as important.
The end of a great social or political movement is never its death.
The history of a theory does not follow a path from birth to death,
but a transition from rather more error to rather more truth.
The growth and reproduction of truth bears an exact resemblance to
the methods of propagation of the more primitive micro-organisms,
for like them ideas are fissiparous and therefore for all practical
purposes immortal. That is why no movement ever really dies,
and the reason why no satisfactory date or definition can be given
to the latter end of Chartism, which shaded off into other
movements, of which the most important are to be described.
"In 1851 Mr. Holyoake first made use of the term Secularist
as more appropriate and distinctive than Atheist, and in 1852 he
commenced organizing the English free-thinkers according to the
principles of Secularism," [p.278-1]
For a time Thomas Cooper helped him, until one day in January, 1856,
he had been engaged to give a course of Sunday lectures at the
Secularist headquarters, the Hall of Science, Old Street, London,
E.C., on the different countries of Europe. He had spoken on
the first occasion on Russia and the Russians, on the second it was
to be the turn of Sweden and the Swedes. [p.278-2]
On the evening in point he struggled hard to articulate, but had to
give it up. He could not talk about Sweden, he had been
converted and felt compelled to give testimony then and there.
Thereafter Cooper became a Baptist and preached his newly-acquired
religion for many years all over the country, incidentally debating
the subject in public with his former friend Holyoake. Cooper
died in harness in 1892, aged eighty-seven. Neesom also became
a full-time secularist in 1853, and remained one until his death in
Holyoake and Bradlaugh (although they differed between
themselves) stand out as two phenomena due entirely to the Chartist
movement. Through it they harked back to the agitation in the
early part of the century, when Garble and Hone were struggling for
free-thought. The old secularist movement had one peculiar
characteristic which distinguishes it from whatever can claim to be
its successor. The old freethinkers really did stand for
freedom of thought. The early and mid-Victorian atheists were
not merely men who raised their voices against God: they struggled
against blasphemy laws and the dead hand of a temporarily inert and
apathetic State Church. They were undoubtedly sincere, even
though their insistent claim to call their souls their own took the
eccentric form of denying that they had souls at all. When the
Church had reformed itself, and the press had become comparatively
free, secularism drooped and disappeared. To-day the forces of
organized free-thought would scarcely make a decent funeral cortège
for the last of its leaders. We have apathy and spiritual
deadness, but the man who attempts to convince his fellows that
there is no God has practically vanished from society. It is
characteristic of the two figures named above as typical products of
Chartism that they should have quarrelled early and often.
The chief instrument in the transition from Chartism to
Republicanism is W. J. Linton. In his English Republic [p.279]
he gives a brief history of Chartism, and entitles the concluding
section "What Remains?" He calls the remaining Chartists to
action. History, giving the meaning of thirty years' Chartism
(so long existing, although unnamed), will say: "It was the
utterance of a general want, a people's protest—nothing more.
Very necessary the protest; but to stop there. Thirty years'
continual word-pouring and vociferation of a million and a quarter
of men may surely be judged sufficient prologue to the work they
declare necessary. . . . Begin now to prepare for work. The
Chartist movement is as good as dead. . . We need now, not merely
Chartists, but Republican Associations.
"'You would, then, oppose the present Chartist Associations?'
Not so; but would form Republican Associations of the best men among
them; and so in time, I hope, supersede the present Associations by
a more vital, a further-purposed and more powerful organization."
Inspired by his friendship with Mazzini, Ledru-Rollin, and
republican Poles without number, Linton failed to communicate his
personal sentiments to any large number of followers. The
Republican idea reached the people, to the slight extent to which
they were reached by it, through other channels. Yet the
Republican idea had never been completely absent from the Chartist
movement. We read that in 1838, [p.280-1]
"on Thursday evening, the 28th June (Coronation Day), a party of
forty gentlemen, to show their contempt of the illuminations, and
all the degraded foolery of coronations, invited that stern
Republican, Dr. John Taylor, to a public supper in the Black Boy
Tavern." After the events of 1848 the Republican sentiment
could not well remain latent. But it lacked suitable
propagandists, and until Bradlaugh had arrived at the fullness of
his powers, the British working man was as apathetic towards the
abolition of the monarchy as to the constitutional changes embodied
in the People's Charter. And Bradlaugh came too late. He
had listened to Lovett and fought with Holyoake on the question of
an Atheist's duties towards himself and his neighbour, and occupied
himself with other things until the impulse of 1848 had vanished.
The events which took place in Paris in 1871 inflated English
Republicanism for a brief while. The London Republican Club
was founded on May 12, 1871, with Bradlaugh as president. But
the Republicanism of this leader was too deeply imbued with his own
individuality and his own individualist theories ever to take root.
The slight "boom" in Republicanism which is noted as a feature of
that time is connected with the Mordaunt case and The Coming K――.
"The Republican movement in England was an eddy rather than a
current." [p.280-2] The
writer has been told by one of Bradlaugh's most trusted lieutenants
that Bradlaugh confidently expected that the alleged misbehaviour of
the Prince of Wales would lead to the refusal of the nation to allow
him to succeed to the throne. Then, of course, the turn of
Republicanism would come, and if Bradlaugh was offered the first
Presidency, well then ――. But, unfortunately for the scheme,
Queen Victoria survived Bradlaugh, and at her death not a single
voice was raised against her successor. And it must be
admitted that the subsequent conduct of Edward VII was never
conducive to the success of Republican propaganda, even had it been
possible to revive that completely defunct movement.
Linton carried on Republican propaganda from Brantwood
(afterwards the home of John Ruskin) until 1855, when he returned to
London and the service of art, gaining a reputation as "the best
wood engraver of the day." In 1866 he went to the United
States, where he settled, giving himself entirely to the theory and
practice of his art, and to producing charming little books of
verse. He returned to England in 1887, but went back to the
States and died there in 1895. His second wife was Mrs. Lynn
Linton, the well-known novelist and anti-feminist writer.
Walter Crane was one of Linton's pupils.
Harney, working through different channels, did much to
direct Chartist thought towards Republican ideals. After he
had ceased his connexion with The Northern Star, Harney
edited the Democratic Review, a monthly which kept alive from
June, 1849, to September, 1850. This was succeeded by the
Republican, noteworthy because it contained the first
English translation of the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels.
For many years Harney managed to keep a body and soul together by
editing obscure periodicals, in England and the Channel Islands.
He was always to the fore when any Republican business was afoot:
thus we find him in Newcastle in April, 1854, among a local
deputation which presented Garibaldi with a sword. [p.281-1]
Harney, like Linton, his fellow-propagator of Republicanism,
emigrated to the United States, but returned and worked for some
years in the editorial office of the Newcastle Daily Chronicle.
He died in Richmond, Surrey, in 1897. [p.281-2]
In the course of this study little mention has been made of
Socialism, although many of the doctrines maintained by Chartist
leaders have a distinctly Socialist flavour. Two facts must be
borne in mind in this connexion. The word Socialism and
Communism have exchanged their meanings since the Chartist period;
in those days Socialism was the generic term for schemes tending to
establish a better state of Society by private action, independent
of the State. The idea of a State in the hands of the people
going beyond its earlier functions for the benefit of the people,
now known as State Socialism, was not yet acclimatized. It
came with Marx and Bronterre O'Brien, and required a generation to
make the slightest impression on the mind of the working class.
O'Brien is the first preacher of Socialism in the modern sense,
although its economics had been invented in England and slightly
diffused a generation earlier. [p.282-1]
His Reform League did not live many years. For a time O'Brien
edited Reynolds's Newspaper; after he gave up this post he
barely existed by lecturing for a few years, and died, in absolute
poverty, at the end of 1864. Like him P. M. M'Douall, who had
been another of the most popular men in the Chartist movement, died
in extreme poverty; in fact, about 1855, a fund had to be raised to
keep his widow and child out of the workhouse.
Reference has already been made to the United Brothers
Insurance Society. In its last stages Chartism produced a
small crop of insurance and friendly societies. [p.282-2]
John Shaw had in 1831 founded the Friend-in-Need Benefit and Burial
Society, which was reconstructed in 1853 when T. M. Wheeler was one
of the directors. In 1852 the British Industrial Association
was started, Wheeler being its London manager for the first year.
The Association quarrelled with the Friend-in-Need, but the latter
outlived it. The Friend-in-Need absorbed another society, the
National Assurance Friendly Society, which Thomas Clark had founded.
Doyle and Dixon, according to Gammage, also went into insurance
after the downfall of the Land Company. It is curious to find
the group of men specially connected with O'Connor's scheme going
into this business with such unanimity. Shaw and Clark died in
1857 and Wheeler in 1862, still convinced that the Land Scheme had
been rightly conceived in spite of the year 1847-8 he had spent on
his two-acre allotment at O'Connorville.
The Rev. Henry Solly connects Chartism with another movement.
After the decline and fall of Chartism he threw himself with
extraordinary energy into the task of founding working men's clubs,
and in 1862 formed and became a joint honorary secretary of the
Working Men's Club and Institute Union. His enthusiasm is said
to have made Fawcett declare that "Solly thinks heaven will be
composed of working men's clubs." In the same year he gave up
the pulpit to become the paid secretary of the new organization
which still exists and thrives. Solly, as we have seen, had
participated in the Chartist agitation. In an historical
jubilee book of the union the secretary, Mr. B. T. Hall, gives
Chartism as the exciting cause of the devotion to the club movement
of Hodgson Pratt and other of its pioneers. [p.283]
Although the club organization was consistently non-party—no club in
fact registered under the Friendly Societies Act of 1884 may have
any political objects—it could hardly prevent the clubs from
becoming centres of political discussion. The history of the
Socialist movement between 1880 and 1890 is largely the story of men
who went out and gave lectures at clubs to apathetic groups of
working men, in an atmosphere of beer and tobacco-smoke. Solly
had been a friend of Lovett, and both had probably vaguely
anticipated Bagehot's demonstration that free discussion is an
essential factor of progress. Lovett's district halls and
Solly's working men's clubs were both inspired by this idea, as also
by the need for making educational facilities accessory to the halls
or clubs. Solly spent over forty years in the furtherance of
his union and in agitation for technical instruction. He died
in 1903, aged eighty-nine.
It is possible that readers will regard Christian Socialism a
product of Chartism. Charles Kingsley, it is true, addressed
himself to Chartists, but had no part in their movement. The
day before the great demonstration of April 10, Kingsley had come to
London and taken counsel with F. D. Maurice. [p.284]
On April 11 all London was posted with a placard addressed to
working men, containing a long and flatulent, if politically sound,
manifesto. "You think the Charter would make you free—would to
God it would!" it screamed. "But will the Charter make you
free? Will it free you from the slavery to £10 bribes?
Slavery to gin and beer? . . . A nobler day is dawning for England,
a day of freedom, science, industry! But there will be no true
freedom without virtue, no true science without religion, no true
industry without the fear of God, and love to your fellow citizens.
Workers of England, be wise and then you must be free, or you will
be fit to be free." This document was signed, "a working
parson," and is, according to the historians of Christian Socialism,
the seed of that movement.
It is usual to speak of Christian Socialism as proceeding
from Chartism. This view is fallacious. The group of
Christian Socialist leaders wished, it is true, to graft their
principles on to Chartism, but their principles owed nothing to
Chartism. In May, 1848, they began to bring out a weekly
paper, Politics for the People, addressed to Chartists, in
which Kingsley wrote a series of "Letters to Chartists," over the
signature of Parson Lot, declaring in the first epistle that his
"only quarrel with the Charter is that it does not go far enough in
reform." The paper only lasted for three months; the
Chartists, as already indicated, had other and more exciting things
to occupy their attention. The next move of Kingsley, Morris,
Ludlow, and Hughes was the establishment of the Working Men's
College, which has risen from a humble beginning in a yard off Great
Ormond Street to a fine home in Crowndale Road, St. Pancras.
For a year this occupied the energies of the little group, which
rapidly succeeded in attracting the attention and co-operation of an
able and finely intentioned middle-class circle. In 1849 the
Christian Socialists started on the venture with which their name is
perhaps most commonly associated. On the initiative of J. M.
Ludlow, they founded the Society for Promoting Working Men's
Associations, on the French model, which sprang from the teachings
of Buchez. This organization financed twelve associations of
working men, and intending to be self-supporting and on lines
similar to those on which, as we have seen, various unsuccessful
associations of producers had come into being under the Chartist
ægis. [p.285-1] Three
associations were of tailors, three of shoemakers, two of builders,
and one each of piano-makers, printers, smiths, and bakers.
These began by being self-governing, but this form of management
soon broke down. By 1854 the last of these associations of
producers had failed. Other similar bodies came to the same
end. It was found that in practice the employees in their
governing capacity invariably quarrelled with a manager who only
held his post on their sufferance. [p.285-2]
Workshops, on the other hand, owned by working people, but only
governed by them as shareholders, not as employees, were opened
about this time by the Rochdale and other co-operative stores, and
The incursion of the Christian Socialists may be taken as
evidence in support of the contention that the Chartists never had
any genuine middle-class support. Sturge attempted to organize
it and failed. Kingsley and Maurice tried to draft their
theories into Chartism and failed. J. S. Mill, with all his
Socialist sympathies, never even attempted to approach Chartism.
Carlyle alone of his class was sufficiently attracted by the subject
to write a little book about it. His Chartism is a pitiful
contribution of sympathy with a misunderstood cause attempting to
domesticate itself upon a misunderstanding public. He meant
well, but the Chartists would have none of him. In the minute
books of the Working Men's Association we find an amusing reference
to this splutter of Carlyle. In 1843 the Committee decided to
form a small library, and a short select list was drawn up of books
to be purchased. Chartism was amongst them, but the Committee,
on consideration, struck it out. [p.286-1]
In a review of a review in the British and Foreign Review, a
writer in The Northern Star says, "Neither Mr. Carlyle nor
his reviewer know what Chartism is." [p.286-2]
Neither moral nor physical force Chartists, in fact, would have
anything to do with the book. The Appendix to Chapter VI
contains several condensed expressions of middle-class opinion:
It should be remembered that Lord John Russell was not above
misrepresenting Chartism for the furtherance of his own plans.
Cobden complained in 1849 that the Monmouthshire riots were
immediately after their occurrence made by Russell the basis of a
proposal for a temporary increase of 5,000 men to the Army.
But when tranquillity returned, no corresponding reduction was made.
[p.286-3] Treated in
this manner by those in authority, Chartism became all the more
difficult for the middle classes to understand. As a
working-class protest, to use Linton's word, Chartism was completely
inaccessible to middle-class sympathy. Hence the breakdown of
Sturge's endeavour of 1842, which he made no attempt to repeat.
Joseph Sturge died in 1859, the year after he had been
elected president of the Peace Society. His most ambitious
scheme of reconciliation was an attempt to stave off the war with
Russia. In company with two other Quakers he travelled to
Russia and had an interview with Nicholas I, beseeching him, on
moral and religious grounds, not to enter into war. After the
war, hearing of the destruction caused on the Finnish coasts by the
bombardment of the British Fleet, Sturge organized a fund for the
relief of the distressed Finns; his effort being, as usual, based on
his personal knowledge gained from a visit to the devastated coastal
towns immediately after the declaration of peace. His
connexion with Chartism, brief as it was, had been conceived in a
spirit which made it one of the finest episodes of the movement.
We now pass on to chronicle the deaths of the leaders of
Chartism. The real hero of the movement is Lovett.
Perhaps the best clue to his character is his belief, probably
derived from Owen, in the virtue of ideas. To him it was
sufficient to have given birth to an idea; if it was right it would
prevail in the end. This side of his character is curiously
illustrated by his autobiography, which is mainly composed of the
addresses drafted by him in the course of his various
secretaryships. In 1846 he resigned the secretaryship of the
National Association, but retained virtual possession of the
National Hall, which he gradually succeeded in converting into a
school. He was for a time (1846-9) publisher of Howitt's
Journal, and had Mazzini, the Howitts, W. J. Fox, Linton,
Harriet Martineau, and several other distinguished writers among its
contributors. After he had given up his secretaryship, he
published an Appeal to the Friends of Progress, calling for a union
of the reform parties. But the popularity and success of
political associations is apparently in inverse ratio to the extent
of the schemes they set out to establish, on which hypothesis the
failure of all Lovett's schemes (and those of Owen), and especially
of this last one, and, conversely, the success attending so many of
Place's undertakings, are to be explained. In 1848 a
presentation was made to him, chiefly on the initiative of W. J. Fox
and J. H. Parry, but Lovett used a good deal of his testimonial
money the following year to enable the National Association to die
free of debt. He then taught himself anatomy and physiology,
in order to be able to instruct the young, writing a successful and
well-reviewed textbook on the subject in the process. In 1850
he was put on the Working Class Committee of the Great Exhibition,
other members of this being Dickens, Thackeray, Lord Ashley, and
Vincent. In 1853 he published a book, Social and Political
Morality, with the object of teaching the English the importance
of stability in "the morals of our population." The comment he
makes on this book's reception is characteristic of his faith in
ideas: "I regret to say that it was not circulated so as to effect
the object aimed at." [p.288-1]
In 1857 he was swindled out of his National Hall, and that home of
ideas was in the course of time converted into the Holborn Empire
Lovett continued to teach natural history, anatomy, and
physiology at schools, for many years, taking little part in
political movements. He died in 1877, and was buried at
Highgate, Holyoake making a speech by the graveside.
Lovett's organizations had predeceased him by many years.
The Working Men's Association had never taken a prominent part in
Chartist politics after Lovett's imprisonment. Its minute book
from 1843–1847 [p.288-2] shows
us an organization resembling that of a Fabian Society in reduced
circumstances. In many respects there is, in fact, an analogy
between the W.M.A., and the Fabian Society. Both produced
ideas, and left the task of forcing them upon the attention of an
apathetic country to other larger bodies. The W.M.A. looked
after the social side of the Chartist movement and the education of
its own members to a larger extent than the other societies having
the same ultimate knowledge. If it were possible to recover
some of the minute books of the N.C.A., we should be unlikely to
find in them any evidence of a desire to be accommodated with a
library, or to provide social amenities. The minutes close
with an expression of opinion in favour of the purchase of a piano,
at a committee meeting held on October 4, 1847. So the W.M.A.
glides modestly into the realms of recordless things.
The National Association minute books record a calm series of
discussions and formal business for many years. New members
were rare comers. The excitements of April 10, 1848, brought
in some six new adherents. The minute books break off on June
4, 1849. The total amount owing by the Association was then
£434 5s. 3d. A month earlier a subscription list had been
opened to defray old debts. The school, now attended by 200
pupils, was handed over to Lovett, Parry, Shaen, and one or two
others, and the National Association ceased to exist. [p.289]
James Watson died in November, 1874, having fought side by
side with Moore in the struggle for a free press until the final
Richard Moore, Watson's nephew-in-law, died four years later,
having for many years earned his living as a master woodcarver.
Holyoake spoke at his funeral.
Henry Vincent died at the end of 1878. He had married,
in 1841, a daughter of John Cleave. Between 1841 and 1852 he
contested seven parliamentary elections with optimism, but without
success. He earned his living for many years as a lecturer,
chiefly on moral subjects, his audiences consisting chiefly of Free
Church congregations. There must be few lecturers or audiences
in our days which would make a success of Vincent's subjects, which
were inter alia "Home Life: its Duties and Pleasures," and
"The Philosophy of True Manliness." In 1866 he went on a
lecturing tour to the United States; this was extremely successful
and was repeated several times. Cleave appears to have died in
Henry Hetherington died of cholera in August, 1849. He
had lived just long enough to see that section of the Chartist
movement which meant most to him return to the work which had been
especially his own for twenty years. Towards the end of his
life he had accepted Owen's system, and had done a good deal for the
Institute in John Street. He had also become a Director of the
Poor for the parish of St. Pancras. Holyoake preached over his
grave at the funeral in Kensal Green.
Holyoake, having literally buried the movement, died in 1906,
after a long lifetime devoted to the service of co-operation and
secularism. A sturdy common sense, and an ape-like inability
to understand spiritual things came to his aid in these movements.
He was the author of a vast number of books and pamphlets on
subjects connected with his propaganda, frequently inaccurate in
detail, and always with a strong autobiographical element.
Were the demands of the People's Charter impracticable?
In the absolute sense, certainly they were not. One state—and
one only—has, probably unintentionally, incorporated as many as five
of the six points in its constitution. The little Central
American Republic of Salvador (population about 1,250,000), for the
two generations following its extrication from the Central American
Union, zealously followed the quest of the perfect constitution.
The sixth attempt, made in 1886, has to the present resisted the
forces which would substitute for it a seventh. In Salvador
there is universal manhood suffrage, and a Salvadorean becomes a man
for this purpose on his eighteenth birthday, or on his wedding day,
whichever comes first. There are annual parliaments, elected
every February. Voting is by ballot, there are no property
qualifications for members of the Assembly, who are paid ten
Salvadorean dollars a day during the session. It will be seen
therefore that the only Chartist Point not conceded is equality of
constituencies, but as this was demanded for England in order to
rectify certain striking disproportions, which apparently do not
exist in Salvador, the omission would readily be forgiven by the
Chartists. Certain other arrangements would certainly be
approved by them. By way of preventing the Salvadorean's
visits to the voting booths from becoming less than annual, voting
is made compulsory and citizens who do not fulfil this obligation
are fined. Candidates must reside habitually in the department
which they seek to represent; [p.290]
thus the carpetbagger is eliminated. The constitution is uni-cameral,
the President is elected for four years and may not serve
consecutive periods, and there are only four Cabinet Ministers.
The Salvadoreans who are of pure white descent number only 2½ per
cent. of the total population, and are mainly recruited, it appears,
by reason of the absence of all extradition treaties with other
nations. To draw a moral for British use therefore would be
futile. We can only say it has been done, and leave it at
The steps taken by Parliament towards democracy as the
Chartists saw it have followed one on the other with a curious
halting consistency. In 1858, Lord Derby abolished the
property qualification: it had long been a dead letter to the
ingenious. In 1867, after several false starts, a certain
amount of redistribution took place, chiefly to the advantage of the
boroughs, and later of Scotland. At the same time household
suffrage was conceded to the boroughs, and in 1868 the Scottish
Occupation Franchise and the Irish Borough Franchise were reduced.
In 1872 the ballot-box became part of the electoral machinery, and
although its inclusion in the annual Expiring Laws Continuation
Bills in theory makes its continued presence in the Statute Book
liable to a sudden and unforeseen termination, it has now become in
practice to be regarded as almost an essential part of the
constitution. More redistribution and enfranchisement took
place in 1884 and 1885, yielding working approximation to both
universal suffrage and equal representation. Payment of
members came, in a remarkably casual manner in 1911, in the same
year as the Parliament Act limited the duration of Parliaments from
seven to five years—a limitation to be subsequently hung up for the
benefit of the very Parliament which had enacted it! None of
the Six Points therefore has retained its original urgency.
What has not been conceded has been compromised.
Throughout this work, Chartism has been used synonymously
with the Chartist movement. This is due to the exiguity of the
language, which contains no other word for that concatenation of
political tendencies, working in all directions, than movement.
But these tendencies may possibly work simultaneously in opposite
directions. The word movement, in fact, may have to be used to
describe a number of conflicting movements, or stagnation itself.
We should not overlook the fact that there were several Chartist
movements; several bodies of activity, that is, associated with the
People's Charter. These acted concurrently; but as a history
has to be written consecutively, there is a distinct danger that the
student will be unable to separate the interdigitating tendencies
and events covered by the term Chartism. Let us roughly
analyse the entire group of these. We begin in 1837-38 with a
Radical movement in London, associated with the Working Men's
Association, a body of labour intellectuals deriving their ideas
directly from Owen, Bentham, the Mills, and the other fountainheads
of political doctrine. From this group proceeds the People's
Charter published on May 8, 1838. At the same time another
group of Radicals has crystallized in Birmingham around the
personality of the local M.P., Thomas Attwood. This group has
imbibed both Attwood's political and economic faith; in particular
it is committed to currency reform. Lastly there is a large
and unorganized mass of people in Lancashire and Yorkshire, Radical
out of opposition to Toryism, inflamed by the terrible industrial
conditions from which they are themselves the chief sufferers, and
inspired with revolutionary sentiments by Stephens and Oastler.
The Charter is published; the two groups not responsible for it
immediately accept it as a programme. Birmingham tries to take
the lead and is partly successful. The Convention is held;
repression begins, acting upon the leaders of all three groups, who
spend the next year or two in jail. Reorganization then
begins; resolving itself by 1843 into two movements; the pacific
C.S.U. plus National Association movement which avoids class
bitterness; and the N.C.A., which dozes for a while, revives, adopts
the Land Scheme and collapses, more gradually than is generally
supposed. The Lovett-Place-Sturge movement has bursts of
activity for some years, but slowly wanes and died with its
founders. A closer analysis would reveal a larger number of
Chartisms; in 1842 the student would find beside these just
described a teetotal-cum-feminist variety in Bristol, Bath, and the
West, the Shakespearean brigade of Chartists in Leicester,
decorative, emotional, and under the discipline of a uniformed
"General," and a teetotal-cum-religious Chartism in the Lowlands of
Scotland. If one force more than another inspired the Chartist
movement, it was that which proceeded from philosophic Radicalism.
From Place and the W.M.A., the opinions emanating from Cobbett and
Paine, the Malthusian controversy, the current political economy,
the press of the well-to-do, the pulpit and the magistrate's bench,
there drifted down to the minds of the working class a practical
Radicalism, adapted to their needs, and guaranteed to mitigate their
Even before the publication of the People's Charter, a
Radical paper of Newcastle-on-Tyne once attempted to answer the
question, What is a Radical? [p.293]
"The True Radical is best described by first saying what he is not.
He is not a Godwinite, nor an Owenite, nor a Benthamite, nor a
Cosmopolite. . . . He has no passion for democracy, because it is
democracy, but looks to what it produces. He thinks
imagination has nothing to do with politics, and passion as little.
Liberty may sound well upon the stage, but that is no argument for
him that it must therefore necessarily be good. . . . He has no idea
that the framework of society can be altered suddenly, or that such
attempts can do any good; but he praises a government rather for
what it does not do than for what it does; and goes to negations
rather than the contrary in all that respects dealing with the
people. He thinks, in short, that government the best which
meddles least and takes least from the pockets of the people.
If it be an economical one, it cannot, in his opinion, as long as it
is so, be a bad one, be its name and form what it may. He . .
. advocates democracy only because it seems most likely to prefer
and perpetuate a system of this kind. . . . He cannot, for the life
of him, understand how any man with a love of freedom and justice .
. . can tolerate the Malthusians and their Poor Law. . . . He is for
universal suffrage, annual parliaments, and vote by ballot, and
thinks Whigs and Tories equally worthless as politicians.
Though accused of violent inclinations and intentions, and called a
savage and a firebrand, he is full of the milk of human kindness,
and would not in his greatest rage hang more than a dozen
loan-mongers, or set fire to anything unless perhaps the Stock
Exchange, the Poor Law Bastiles, or the Bank."
This is the best contemporary example we have seen of the
Radical Credo. Chartism is both an acceptance and an attempted
evasion of the implications of this faith. The Radical working
man of the 'sixties, 'seventies, and 'eighties with his dislike of
Socialism, is a result of a movement which both rejected Socialism
and gave it shape; a movement which set out to destroy the socialism
of Owen and ended by accepting, on its death-bed, the socialism of
Foreign studies on Chartism invariably conclude with a
section entitled, Why was the Movement a Failure? or something of
similar effect. The example, set by innumerable authors, does
not seem to be worth copying, as it begs the question, Was the
Movement a Failure? An answer in the negative, the author
ventures to suggest, is contrary only to superficial evidences.
Chartism was an episode in that concatenation of aspirations and
struggles which is vaguely spoken of as the working-class movement.
What are the essential objects of this movement, as distinguished
from the immediately attainable and ostensible objects of which the
Six Points are specimens? There is but one essential
object—the awakening of class-consciousness, the better organization
of the working class in its struggle for greater economic and
political power. No body of opinions which fails to stimulate
class consciousness can be said to be strictly necessary to the
working-class movement, just as no set of doctrines or practices
which fail to stimulate the consciousness of nationality can be
integrally connected with nationalism. The Chartist movement
with its derivations, its appeals to "blistered hands and fustian
jackets," its actual tenets of class antagonism, its association
with industrial unrest, and its inability to accept the advances of
middle-class sympathizers, was the first organized effort to stir up
class consciousness on a national scale. The movement's
failures lay in the direction of securing legislation, or national
approbation for its leaders. Judged by its crop of statutes
and statues, Chartism was a failure. Judged by its essential
and generally overlooked purpose, Chartism was a success. It
achieved, not the Six Points, but a state of mind. This last
achievement made possible the renascent trade union movement of the
'fifties, the gradually improving organization of the working
classes, the Labour Party, the co-operative movement, and whatever
greater triumphs labour will enjoy in the future.
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Republican Tradition in Europe, The. H. A. L. Fisher.
Right to the Whole Produce of Labour. Anton Menger.
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Rights of Nations. Anonymous.
Rise and Fall of Chartism in Monmouthshire.
Robespierre, Life of. B. O'Brien.
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Rough Types of English Life. J. C. Symons.
Sixty Years of an
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Social and Political Morality. William Lovett.
Spen Valley : Past and Present.
Stephens, Life of J. R. G. J. Holyoake.
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