The electoral system in the early nineteenth century was radically different from the parliamentary democracy we have today. The system was not representative of the population in terms of wealth or region, and elections were open to corruption. Before , just ten per cent of British adult males were eligible to vote — and this portion of the population was the richest. There were many efforts to reform this outdated system by people who used methods such as corresponding societies, pamphlets and mass meetings to spread their messages. The most notorious of the mass meetings occurred at St. Eleven people were killed and wounded when a group of soldiers on horseback charged on the crowd.
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The electoral system in the early nineteenth century was radically different from the parliamentary democracy we have today. The system was not representative of the population in terms of wealth or region, and elections were open to corruption. Before , just ten per cent of British adult males were eligible to vote — and this portion of the population was the richest. There were many efforts to reform this outdated system by people who used methods such as corresponding societies, pamphlets and mass meetings to spread their messages.
The most notorious of the mass meetings occurred at St. Eleven people were killed and wounded when a group of soldiers on horseback charged on the crowd. Reform of the electoral system finally arrived with the Reform Act , which increased the proportion of eligible voters in England and Wales to 18 per cent of the adult-male population and 12 per cent in Scotland.
Although the working classes had high hopes for the Reform Act, they eventually felt betrayed as despite the new legislation, the poor ultimately remained voiceless in the way their country was run. In the years following the Reform Act, the Chartists would begin to plan their campaign to try to effect real electoral change in Britain. Besides disseminating information for the good of the working classes, the association wanted 'To seek by every legal means to place all classes of society in possession of their equal, political, and social rights.
Support for the Charter spread rapidly and its advocates became known as the Chartists. Chartism was a mass movement that attracted a following of millions. Hundreds of thousands of people were sometimes reported to have attended their meetings and their three petitions amassed millions of signatures, although some were proved to be fake.
Friedrich Engels wrote that ' Women may not have spoken publicly like the male Chartist orators, but many did attend meetings and mass demonstrations, and formed Female Charter Associations. Others actively challenged the Chartists to campaign for female suffrage. The Chartist movement was not a completely unified organisation and its leadership was often fragmented. All members were decided on the end purpose of Chartism, but there were radical differences in opinion over the means to achieve it.
However, many people believed that electoral reform would not be achieved through the use of 'moral force' alone. The more radical Chartists took part in riots in Newcastle, Birmingham and elsewhere round the country, at which leading members of the movement were arrested. The most infamous episode in the history of Chartism was the disatrous Newport Rising , which took place on 4 th November A group of Chartists stormed a hotel and 22 of the protestors were killed by waiting troops.
For a while the energy went out of the movement, though the National Charter Association was established in to co-ordinate its work across the country. Eventually, the Chartists split into several factions and the movement's influence declined. The last big protest was at Kennington Common in April , which was followed by a procession to Westminster to present another petition.
The Chartist leaders claimed this petition had over 5 million signatures, but many were proved to be fake.
There was a massive police and military presence , but the meeting was peaceful, with a crowd estimated by some at , The petition was defeated heavily. Although the Chartists gathered enormous support in the form of signatures for their petitions, their demands were rejected by Parliament every time they were presented. In the Third Reform Act extended the qualification of the Act to the countryside so that almost two thirds of men had the vote. At the time, Chartism may have been judged unsuccessful, but there is no doubt that the movement's campaign for electoral reform played an important role in the development of democracy in the UK.
What were the aims of the Chartists? Who took part in the Chartist campaign? How did the Chartists run their campaign? How successful were they? Historical Background Chartist Biographies. Back to Chartists. Back to top.
Chartism - A Historical Background
Threats of Revolution in Britain — pp Cite as. Chartism was the greatest of the popular movements of the first half of the nineteenth century in that it embodied, when at its height, the hopes and aspirations of perhaps millions of people spread over the whole country, whose different social and economic grievances from a huge variety of local contexts were temporarily merged in a massive protest movement that aimed to turn Britain into a political democracy. Chartism had two characteristics that neither reformers nor revolutionaries of the s had ever been able to bring together in one movement, political consciousness and popular support, but the popular support was never mobilised for anything more revolutionary than the points of the Charter, and a right to share in the running of the parliamentary system was sought only within the workings of that system and not by attempting to overturn it. Unable to display preview.
Chartism: The Working-class Threat
It contained six demands: universal manhood suffrage , equal electoral districts, vote by ballot, annually elected Parliaments, payment of members of Parliament , and abolition of the property qualifications for membership. Chartism was the first movement both working class in character and national in scope that grew out of the protest against the injustices of the new industrial and political order in Britain. While composed of working people, Chartism was also mobilized around populism as well as clan identity. The movement was born amid the economic depression of —38, when high unemployment and the effects of the Poor Law Amendment Act of were felt in all parts of Britain. A Chartist convention met in London in February to prepare a petition to present to Parliament. In May the convention moved to Birmingham, where riots led to the arrest of its moderate leaders Lovett and John Collins.
Chartism was a working-class male suffrage movement for political reform in Britain that existed from to It took its name from the People's Charter of and was a national protest movement, with particular strongholds of support in Northern England , the East Midlands , the Staffordshire Potteries , the Black Country , and the South Wales Valleys. Support for the movement was at its highest in , , and , when petitions signed by millions of working people were presented to the House of Commons. The strategy employed was to use the scale of support which these petitions and the accompanying mass meetings demonstrated to put pressure on politicians to concede manhood suffrage. Chartism thus relied on constitutional methods to secure its aims, though some became involved in insurrectionary activities, notably in South Wales and in Yorkshire.
From Luddites to Chartists. The British working class did not care about revolutions. Sometimes they took part in protests, but only when they were hungry or unemployed. The things that concerned them were jobs, wages, and the price of bread. The 'Luddites' who smashed knitting and spinning machines in did not want to cut the king's head off.