People's Charter

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Chartism, workingmen's political reform movement in Great Britain, 1838–48. It derived its name from the People's Charter, a document published in May, 1838, that called for voting by ballot, universal male suffrage, annual Parliaments, equal electoral districts, no property qualifications for members of Parliament, and payment of members. The charter was drafted by the London Working Men's Association, an organization founded (1836) by William Lovett and others, but the movement gathered momentum largely because of the fervor and rhetorical talents of Feargus O'Connor. He traveled widely, especially in the north, where recurrent economic depressions and the constraints of the new poor law (1834) had bred especially deep discontent, and recruited support for the charter. In Aug., 1838, the charter was adopted at a national convention of workingmen's organizations in Birmingham. The following February another convention, calling itself the People's Parliament, met in London. A Chartist petition was presented to Parliament (and summarily rejected), but the convention rapidly lost support as the multiplicity of aims among its members and rivalries among its leaders became apparent. Riots in July and a confrontation between Chartist miners and the military at Newport, Wales, in November led to the arrest of most of the Chartist leaders by the end of 1839. In 1840, O'Connor founded the National Charter Association (NCA) in an attempt to centralize the organization of the movement, but most of the other leaders refused to support his efforts. It was the NCA that drafted and presented to Parliament the second Chartist petition in 1842. It too was overwhelmingly rejected. By this time the vitality of Chartism was being undermined by a revival of trade unionism, the growth of the Anti-Corn Law League, and a trend toward improvement in working-class economic conditions. O'Connor began to devote himself to a scheme for settling laborers on the land as small holders. The last burst of Chartism was sparked by an economic crisis in 1847–48. In Apr., 1848, a new convention was summoned to London to draft a petition, and a mass demonstration and procession planned to present the petition to Parliament. The authorities took extensive precautions against trouble, but the demonstration was rained out and the procession, which had been forbidden, did not take place. This fiasco marked the end of Chartism in London, although the movement survived for a while in some other parts of the country.


See A. Briggs, ed., Chartist Studies (1959); M. Hovell, The Chartist Movement (3d ed. 1967); J. T. Ward, Chartism (1973); D. Goodway, London Chartism, 1838–1848 (1982); C. Godfrey, Chartist Lives (1987).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

People’s Charter


the basic program document of English Chartism.

The People’s Charter was drawn up by the leaders of the London Working Men’s Association, among whom was W. Lovett, and was published on May 8, 1838. It provided for universal male suffrage at age 21 without property qualification and a parliament annually elected by secret ballot that would have salaried members and constituencies of equal size. Had the British working class possessed a militant political organization, adoption of the People’s Charter would have opened the way to power for the proletariat, given the fact that workers made up the majority of the population. However, the Chartists themselves interpreted the document in different ways. The revolutionary wing looked on it as a means of destroying class rule by the bourgeoisie while socially liberating the working people. The most advanced leaders of Chartism, such as E. Jones, added a number of socialist demands to the charter in 1851. But the reformist element, which came to include Lovett himself, interpreted the People’s Charter in a spirit defined by petit bourgeois democratic ideals.


In P. W. Slosson. Chartistskoe dvizhenie iprichiny ego upadka. Moscow, 1923. (Translated from English.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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