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Chartists

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CHARTISTS, the name given to a po litical party in this country, who propose extensive alterations in the representative system, as the most direct means of at taining social improvement, and whose views are developed in a document called the " People's Charter." The principal points of this proposed charter are, uni versal suffrage, vote by ballot, annual parliaments, the division of the country into equal electoral districts, the abolition of property qualification in members and paying them for their services. The principles of the charter and the means of carrying them into effect have also been embodied in the form of a bill. It was pre pared in 1838 by six members of the House of Commons, and six members of the London Working Men's Association ; and the following are the most important of its enactments :—L The preparers of the Bill allege the low state of public feel ing as an apology for not admitting wo men to the franchise, and it is there fore only provided that every male in habitant be entitled to vote for the election of a member of the Commons' House of Parliament, subject however to the fol lowing conditions :-1. That he be a native of these realms, or a foreigner who has lived in this country upwards of two years, and been naturalized. 2. That he be twenty-one years of age. 3. That he be not proved insane when the lists of voters are revised. 4. That he be not convicted of felony within six months from and after the passing of this act. 5. That his electoral rights be not sus pended for bribery at elections, or for personation, or for forgery of election cer tificates, according to the penalties of this act. H. That the United Kingdom be divided into 300 electoral districts, so as to give uniform constituencies of about 20,000 voters each. III. That the votes be taken by ballot. IV. That a new Par liament be elected annually ; that the elections take place on the same day in all the districts ; and that electors vote only for the representative of the district in which they are registered. V. That no other qualification be required for members than the choice of the electors. VI. That every member be paid 5001. a year out of the public treasury for his legislative services ; and that a register be kept of the daily attendance of each member.

There is nothing new in the principles or details of the People's Charter. They have, either separately, or some one or other of them in conjunction, been a pro minent subject of discussion at various intervals within the last seventy Tears. In 1780 the Duke of Richmond intro duced a bill into the House of Lords for annual parliaments and universal suffrage. In the same year the electors of West minster appointed a committee to take into consideration the election of mem bers of the House of Commons, and in their report they recommended the iden tical points which now constitute the main features of what is called the People's Charter. The Society of the Friends of the People, established in 1792, three years afterwards published a declaration which recommended a very large extension of the suffrage. In sea sons of national distress, the amendment of the representative system has always been warmly taken up by the people of this country.

In 1831 the wishes of a large mass of the middle classes were realized and satisfied by the passing of the Reform Act. A season of political repose, and, as it happened also, of commercial pros perity, followed the excitement which preceded the passing of that measure. A victory had been gained, and the peo ple waited for the benefits which they were to derive from it. In the next period of distress which arose, the amended state of the representative system and the advantages which it had brought were narrowly scanned ; and the consequence was, the gradual formation of a party who were dissatisfied with its arrangements, and sought to attain the ends of political and social good by a more extensive change. This is briefly

the origin of Chartism and of the Pea ple's Charter. The middle classes were, however, well satisfied on the whole with the overthrow of the rotten boroughs and the enfranchisement of the large towns, and therefore the Chartists stood alone, and began to regard them with a feeling of hostility. Chartists were sometimes found, as in all other parties, ready to assist the party which differed most widely from them, with the object of thwarting the political objects which the middle classes had at heart. In 1838 they had become a large party and em braced a great number of the working classes employed otherwise than in agri culture. The number of signatures at tached to the petition presented at the commencement of the session of 1839 in favour of the People's Charter was up wards of one million and a quarter. Un fortunately the idea began to be enter tained amongst a certain class of the Chartists, that physical tbree might be justifiably resorted to if necessary for obtaining political changes ; and the party became divided into the Physical Force Chartists and the Moral Force Chartists. The former became impli cated in disturbances which took place at various times in several parts of the country ; and many persons of this class never having had correct views respect ing the wages of labour, it appeared as if they had adopted the cry of " a fair day's wages for a fair day's work" as an ad ditional point of the People's Charter. The disturbances in 1842 in the midland and northern counties were to some ex tent encouraged by the less intelligent of the Physical Force Chartists. At the close of 1841, however, an attempt was made to combine the middle classes with the Chartists in their attempt to obtain an extension of the suffrage. Early in 1842 a Complete Suffrage Union was formed at Birmingham, and in April of the same year a Conference, consisting of eighty-seven Delegates, was assembled at Birmingham, which sat for four days ; three of which were spent in agreeing upon a basis of union between the middle and working classes, and the last day in adopting plans of practical organization. The six points of the Peoples Charter adopted by the Conference, and the details were left for settlement to a future Conference. It was resolved also at this conference to establish a National Com plete Suffrage Union. The proposed National Conference commenced its meet ings in December, 1842, and was attended by 374 delegates. Here a rupture took place between the Chartists and the Com plete Suffrage party, and the latter were outvoted on the question of adopting the People's Charter instead of the Complete Suffrage Bill. The minority, however, proceeded to act upon their views as de veloped in the Complete Suffrage Bill. This Bill does not contain any dis qualifying clauses. In other respects it differs from the People's Charter only in matters of detail. These are the only two plans connected with the extension of the franchise which are at present sup ported by any large class in this country. The Chartists and the Complete Suffragists are only nominally distinct parties ; but the former may be characterized as pos sessing a greater hold on the working classes than the Complete Suffragists, whose ranks are chiefly recruited from the middle classes : their objects, however, are so similar, that they may at any time unite without any sacrifice of principle.