What did your family do in the revolution?
Millions signed the three great Chartist petitions of 1839 to 1848. Thousands were active in those years in the campaign to win the vote, secret ballots, and other democratic rights that we now take for granted.
Chartist Ancestors lists many of those who risked their freedom, and sometimes their lives, because of their participation in the Chartist cause. The names included on the site are drawn from newspapers, court records and books of the time, from later histories and other sources.
I would like to thank the many historians, researchers and the descendents of those associated with Chartism who have helped with this site since it was launched in 2003.
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Six points of the People's Charter
and the role of the
London Working Men's Association
This page introduces the People's Charter and the London Working Men's Association, which instigated it.
THE SIX POINTS OF THE CHARTER
1. A vote for every man twenty one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime.
2. The ballot To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
3. No property qualification for members of Parliamentthus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.
4. Payment of members, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country.
5. Equal constituencies securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors,--instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of larger ones.
6. Annual Parliaments, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelvemonth; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.
Also on this site
More about the petitions
Quick overview of Chartism
The London Working Men's Association and
its part in the People's Charter
The six points of the Peoples Charter are among the best known and least contestable set of political demands in modern history.
They originated with the London Working Mens Association, set up in 1836, in the words of William Lovett, to draw into one bond of unity the intelligent and influential portion of the working classes in town and country. To seek by every legal means to place all classes of society in possession of the equal political and social rights.
The minute-book of the association, quoted by Mark Hovell in his 1918 book The Chartist Movement records: At a meeting of a few friends assembled at 14 Tavistock St., Covent Garden, June 9, 1836. William Lovett brought forward a rough sketch of a prospectus for the Working Mens Association. It was ordered to be printed for further discussion.
According to George Howell, in his 1901 A History of the Working Mens Association, on 16 June, when the group assembled again with Richard Moore in the chair, a committee was set up to formulate rules and regulations for the association. It consisted of Moore, Henry Hetherington, William Lovett, Richard Hartwell, William Hoare, John Rogers, George Glashan, A.Morton, C.W.Baker and James Sturgess.
A further meeting on July 17 agreed to invite 33 people to form the nucleus of the association. William Savage was in the chair. According to Hovell, the invitees included:
William Lovett, a cabinet maker, originally from Cornwall, who had become active in trade unionism and Owenite socialism before turning to the campaign to repeal taxes on newspapers;
Henry Hetherington, a compositor by trade and the publisher of a series of radical unstamped newspapers, of which the most important were the Poor Mans Guardian and the Twopenny Dispatch;
James Watson, born 1799 in Malton who came to London in 1822 and was rapidly gaoled for his radical opinions and activities before linking up with Lovett and Hetherington;
John Cleave, a bookseller with a shop at Shoe Lane who published the Weekly Police Gazette;
Richard Moore, a carver in wood an honest, unobtrusive man;
John Gast, the famous shipwright of Rotherhithe;
Richard Hartwell, a compositor; and
Richard Cray, a Spitalfields silk-weaver who wrote a very curious report upon the handloom silk-weavers of London.
Lovett acted as secretary, and Hetherington as treasurer. According to Howell, other members of the committee were John Cleave, John Gast, John Robinson, Richard Moore, William Hoare, Robert Hartwell, William Savage, A.Morton, R.Potts, John Rogers, C.W.Baker, and William Preece.
The group invited a number of middle class radicals to join as honorary members, among them the MPs Francis Place, James OBrien, Dr John Black, Feargus OConnor, Robert Owen, and W.J.Fox; and Dr Wade, vicar of Warwick a jovial, eccentric doctor of divinity weighing some twenty stones, and an enthusiastic Owenite (Hovell). Howell also includes: Augustus Beaumont, William Carpenter, J.O.Briant [possibly Hovells James OBrien, editor], J.Dempsey and G.Dempsey. Later, Mr E.F.Craig for long years a socialist co-operator (Howell) and Col. P.Thompson MP were added to the list.
The association busied itself with debate, propaganda and invective against its rivals. Recruits included:
Henry Vincent, a radical compositor who was later to play a prominent part in the Chartist movement;
Charles Neesom, a Yorkshire tailor who had headed a violently revolutionary clique and was to continue in the Chartist movement; and
George Julian Harney, Hetheringtons shop boy, who rapidly fell out with Lovett and his followers and resigned to form the more radical London Democratic Association.
On 28 December 1836, a new committee was elected for the coming quarter. Howell lists its new members as Henry Vincent, G.Glashan, W.Cumming, J.Rogers, Wm Gardiner and Wm Isaacs, together with existing members John Cleave, Richard Moore, John Gast, John Robinson, Wm Hoare, R.Hartwell, Henry Hetherington and William Lovett.
Hovell estimates that between June 1836 and 1839 the London Working Men's Association admitted no more than 279 members, and that its membership at any one time probably never exceeded 200. But its influence was out of all proportion to its size. A petition drawn up in February 1837 to demand the extension of the franchise drew the attention of radical MPs, among them: Sir William Molesworth, Daniel OConnell, Hindley, Sharman Crawford, Joseph Hume, and John Arthur Roebuck.
A meeting of the two groups established only that most of the MPs were reluctant to press for universal suffrage, and the association turned increasingly to direct agitation among the workers. Plans were put under way for a committee of twelve men to draw up a Bill on which both MPs and the association could agree, but with OConnell now fulminating against the trade unions and many of the MPs more interested in the cause of free trade, it fell to Lovett to draft something. This he did. Francis Place suggested improvements to the text, and Robuck wrote a preamble. The whole was then read by the group of twelve and published as the Peoples Charter.
The six points of the People's Charter
1. A VOTE for every man twenty one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime.
2. THE BALLOT.To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
3. NO PROPERTY QUALIFICATION for members of Parliamentthus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.
4. PAYMENT OF MEMBERS, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country.
5. EQUAL CONSTITUENCIES, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors,--instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of larger ones.
6. ANNUAL PARLIAMENTS, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelvemonth; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.
Subjoined are the names of the gentlemen who embodied these principles into the document called the People's Charter at an influential meeting held at the British Coffee House, London, on the 7th of June, 1837:--
Daniel O'Connell, Esq., M.P.
Mr Henry Hetherington.
John Arthur Roebuck, Esq., M.P.
Mr John Cleave.
John Temple Leader, Esq., M.P.
Mr James Watson.
Charles Hindley, Esq., M.P.
Mr Richard Moore.
Thomas Perronet Thompson, Esq., M.P.
Mr William Lovett.
William Sharman Crawford, Esq., M.P.
Mr Henry Vincent.
The version shown above is taken from a leaflet of the time reproduced in British Working Class Movements: Select Documents 1789-1875 edited by GDH Cole and AW Filson (Macmillan, 1951).
Text of the first petition
Unto the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, the Petition of the undersigned, their suffering countrymen,
"That we, your petitioners, dwell in a land where merchants are noted for enterprise, whose manufacturers are very skilful, and whose workmen are proverbial for their industry.
"The land itself is goodly, the soil rich, and the temperature wholesome; it is abundantly furnished with the materials of commerce and trade; it has numerous and convenient harbours; in facility of internal communication it exceeds all others.
For three-and-twenty years we have enjoyed a profound peace. Yet with all these elements of national prosperity, and with every disposition and capacity to take advantage of them, we find ourselves overwhelmed with public and private suffering.
"We are bowed down under a load of taxes; which, notwithstanding, fall greatly short of the wants of our rulers; our traders are trembling on the verge of bankruptcy; our workmen are starving; capital brings no profit and labour no remuneration; the home of the artificer is desolate, and the warehouse of the pawnbroker is full; the workhouse is crowded and the manufactory is deserted.
"We have looked upon every side, we have searched diligently in order to find out the causes of a distress so sore and so long continued.
"We can discover none, in nature, or in providence.
"Heaven has dealt graciously by the people; but the foolishness of our rulers has made the goodness of God of none effect.
"The energies of a mighty kingdom have been wasted in building up the power of selfish and ignorant men, and its resources squandered for their aggrandisement.
"The good of a party has been advanced to the sacrifice of the good of the nation; the few have governed for the interest of the few, while the interest of the many has been neglected, or insolently and tyrannously trampled upon.
"It was the fond expectation of the people that a remedy for the greater part, if not for the whole, of their grievances, would be found in the Reform Act of 1832.
"They were taught to regard that Act as a wise means to a worthy end; as the machinery of an improved legislation, when the will of the masses would be at length potential.
"They have been bitterly and basely deceived.
"The fruit which looked so fair to the eye has turned to dust and ashes when gathered.
"The Reform Act has effected a transfer of power from one domineering faction to another, and left the people as helpless as before.
"Our slavery has been exchanged for an apprenticeship to liberty, which has aggravated the painful feeling of our social degradation, by adding to it the sickening of still deferred hope.
"We come before your Honourable House to tell you, with all humility, that this state of things must not be permitted to continue; that it cannot long continue without very seriously endangering the stability of the throne and the peace of the kingdom; and that if by God's help and all lawful and constitutional appliances an end can be put to it, we are fully resolved that it shall speedily come to an end.
"We tell your Honourable House that the capital of the master must no longer be deprived of its due reward; that the laws which make food dear, and those which, by making money scarce, make labour cheap, must be abolished; that taxation must be made to fall on property, not on industry; that the good of the many, as it is the only legitimate end, so must it be the sole study of the Government.
"As a preliminary essential to these and other requisite changes; as means by which alone the interests of the people can be effectually vindicated and secured, we demand that those interests be confided to the keeping of the people.
"When the State calls for defenders, when it calls for money, no consideration of poverty or ignorance can be pleaded, in refusal or delay of the call. Required, as we are universally, to support and obey the laws, nature and reason entitle us to demand that in the making of the laws, the universal voice shall be implicitly listened to. We perform the duties of freemen; we must have the privileges of freemen. Therefore, we demand universal suffrage. The suffrage, to be exempt from the corruption of the wealthy and the violence of the powerful, must be secret."
Source: Place MSS., 27,820, f. 374. [July 1838].
Cited in British Working Class Movements: Select Documents 1789-1875 edited by GDH Cole and AW Filson (Macmillan, 1951).
How can I find out more?
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East London Democratic Association
The East London Democratic Association was one of a number of radical groups to spring up in the capital between 1835 and 1838. Its importance came from its leadership and their links with Feargus O'Connor, its increasingly radical programme, and its difficult relationship with the London Working Men's Association.
The ELDA was founded by George Julian Harney in January 1837. Harney was more radical and class conscious than the general run of LWMA activists, and was increasingly critical of its timidity. The final break, however, came early in 1838, when William Lovett attacked O'Connor for his egotistical leadership – describing him as “the great ‘I AM' of politics”.
Later that same year, on 10 August, the ELDA was formally reorganised as the London Democratic Association, asserting its wider geographical rivalry with Lovett's LWMA, and giving O'Connor a firm political base in the capital.
Harney went on to become editor of O'Connor's Northern Star newspaper, and the relationship between the two men was to last a further decade, until Harney's eventually resignation, and his left-wing faction's capture of the National Charter Association's national executive.
Prospectus of the East London Democratic Association
No 19, Swan Street, Minories
Established January 1837
The object of this Association is to promote the Moral and Political condition of the Working Classes by disseminating the principles propagated by that great philosopher and redeemer of mankind, the Immortal ‘THOMAS PAINE'.
The subscription of a penny per week constitutes a member (subject to the approval of a majority of the members at any meeting). Which subscription can be paid Weekly or Monthly as convenient.
That the annual meeting of the Association be held on the 29th January, being the anniversary of the death of that great Man, whose character and principles we duly appreciate, by a social and convivial supper on that occasion.
That all members entering on or before the first Sunday in May, shall be entitled to a double ticket of admission to the supper, in commemoration of the birth of Thomas Paine, which will admit a Lady and a Gentleman; all persons entering on or before the first Sunday in August, will be entitled to a single ticket. Persons entering after that time will be entitled to the same by paying up the arrears from the first Sunday in August, and to a double Ticket by paying 1/- extra.
That the members of the Association meet the first Sunday in every month, at Six o'Clock in the Evening, to enroll names, to discuss the principles of cheap and honest Government, and to adopt such mans as may seem expedient to carry out the five grand principles of Radical Reform, viz: ‘Universal Suffrage, Vote by Ballot, Annual Parliaments, No Property Qualification, and Equal Representation.'
That we agree to discuss, to agitate, and petition until those just demands be conceded.
For freedom's battle
Bequeathed by bleeding
sire to son,
Though baffled oft, is
Mr A Davenport
Mr S Yarham
Mr W Edmonds
Mr J Harvey
Mr G J Harney
Mr C Needham
Mr G H Hedger Senr.
Mr G Hedger Jun.
Mr T Biggs
Mr A Milcham
E Harvey, Treasurer pro tem.
J Harper, Secretary pro tem.
Prospectus from a copy in the Lovett Collection, Birmingham, reproduced in The Early Chartists , by Dorothy Thompson (Macmillan, 1971).
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