The Chartists (Classroom Activity)

In June 1836 William Lovett, Henry Hetherington, John Cleave, Henry Vincent, John Roebuck and James Watson formed the London Working Men's Association (LMWA). Although it only ever had a few hundred members, the LMWA became a very influential organisation. At one meeting in 1838 the leaders of the LMWA drew up a Charter of political demands.

(i) A vote for every man twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for a crime.
(ii) The secret ballot to protect the elector in the exercise of his vote. (iii) No property qualification for Members of Parliament in order to allow the constituencies to return the man of their choice. (iv) Payment of Members, enabling tradesmen, working men, or other persons of modest means to leave or interrupt their livelihood to attend to the interests of the nation. (v) Equal constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing less populous constituencies to have as much or more weight than larger ones. (vi) Annual Parliamentary elections, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since no purse could buy a constituency under a system of universal manhood suffrage in each twelve-month period."

Primary Sources

Third Chartist PetitionPunch Magazine (April, 1848)
(Source 1) The Chartist Petition (1843)


(Source 2) In his autobiography published in 1887, Benjamin Wilson described a Chartist meeting that took place in Halifax in April, 1839.

On our arrival at the place of meeting some thousands of people had already assembled, and for almost an hour we witnessed the continuous arrival of processions from different directions, with bands playing and flags and banners flying.

(Source 3) In February, 1839, The Operative newspaper published a report of a speech made by George Julian Harney at a Chartist meeting in Derby.

Our country may be compared to a bed full of nasty, filthy, crawling, aristocratic bugs... We will not destroy the bedstead, but we will destroy the bugs... I say... arm for justice, arm for rights of all, and the tyrants will no longer laugh at your petitions.

Third Chartist PetitionPunch Magazine (April, 1848)
(Source 4) Third Chartist Petition, Punch Magazine (April, 1848)


(Source 5) In February 1839, the Chartist newspaper, The Northern Star published an article written by a group of women from Newcastle upon Tyne.

We need to pass the people's Charter into a law.., we call on all persons to assist us in this good work, but especially those shopkeepers which the Reform Bill (1832) enfranchised... they ought to remember that our pennies make their pounds, and that we cannot in justice spend the earnings of our husbands with those that are opposed to their rights and interests.

(Source 6) Secret Report of a police spy who attended a Chartist meeting in Birmingham on 5th November, 1839.

Fussell said they should petition the Queen to give them universal suffrage or they would take it by force. Many said we will have it or die for it. Smallwood then addressed the meeting. He said if the Queen would not give them universal suffrage they would join the insurrection and declare themselves a republic. Parks then addressed the meeting. He said he would rather die fighting for his country than live a slave. He asked how many there was in the room armed and prepared. About 12 to 20 said they was.

(Source 7) Benjamin Parsons, Tract for Fustian Jackets (1849)

Do it by moral means alone. Not a pike, a blunderbuss, a brick-bat, or a match, must be found in your hands. In physical force your opponents are mightier than you but in moral force you are ten thousand times stronger than they. The best way to prove that you deserve your rights, is to show that you respect the rights of others, and that you will not redress even a wrong by revenge, but by reason and justice alone. Your manner ought to demonstrate that... you have no connection with rudeness or vulgarity.

Plug Plot Riot in Preston (August, 1842)
(Source 8) Plug Plot Riot in Preston (August, 1842)

(Source 9) In his autobiography, Thomas Cooper explained his role in the Plug Plot Riots (1872)

I told the Manchester Conference I should vote for the resolution because it would mean fighting, and I saw it must come to that. The spread of the strike would and must be followed by a general outbreak. The authorities of the land would try to quell it; but we must resist them. There was nothing now but a physical force struggle to be looked for. We must get the people out to fight; and they must be irresistible, if they were united.

(Source 10) Sir James Graham, letter to Sir Henry Brougham (21st August, 1842)

I have not had a spare moment since the close of the session. My time has been occupied with odious business arising from the mad insurrection of the working classes. I am convinced that only force alone can subdue this rebellious spirit.

John Leech, Punch Magazine (April, 1848)
(Source 11) Illustration from the Kennington Meeting (1848)


(Source 12) The Sunday Observer (16th April, 1848)

The metropolis presented on Monday a scene of unusual excitement and alarm. The determination announced by the members of the Chartist National Convention to hold their meeting and procession in defiance of the law and the constituted authorities - the military preparations, almost unparalleled for extent and completeness to put down any insurrectionary attempts.

The weather was exceedingly favourable for the demonstration; no obstruction was offered by the police to the processions which left the Middlesex side of London for Kennington Common; a free thoroughfare was permitted to all who wished to take part in the public meeting; and yet, instead of the 300,000 persons who, we were told would assemble on Kennington Common does not reach 50,000.

(Source 13) William Lovett, Life and Struggles (1876)

As regards the best means of obtaining our Charter. We are of those who are opposed to everything in the shape of a physical or violent revolution, believing that a victory would be a defeat to the just principles of democracy. The political despots; and as such a sanguinary warfare, calling up the passions in the worst forms, must necessarily throw back for centuries our intellectual and moral progress.

Questions for Students

Question 1: Study source 1. What comment is the artist making about the Chartist petition?

Question 2: Describe the different methods used by the Chartist movement in its attempt to persuade Parliament to give all adult males the vote.

Answer Commentary

A commentary on these questions can be found here.