Birmingham conference 1843

This page reports on the National Charter Association’s Birmingham conference in 1843 which committed the movement to the land plan.

The National Charter Association conference that convened in Birmingham on 5 September 1843 is memorable for having removed all mention of the Charter from the organisation’s objectives.

This was, too, the first occasion on which the national movement had debated the land plan – and the initiative to purge the constitution of something as political as the Charter was intended to make the NCA eligible to register as a friendly society, thus providing it with a legal status and some protection against rogue officials.

This last objective would remain important for working class organisations for years to come. In the case of Hornby v Close as late as 1866, the courts ruled that trade union funds were not protected against embezzlement as trade unions remained illegal though not criminal bodies.

The conference was not a large one, as the Northern Star conceded in its report (9 September 1843). Some activists were still imprisoned following the rejection of the 1842 petition and the crackdown which followed. And many areas – not least the whole of Scotland – were noticeable by their absence.

Birmingham conference 1843 Northern Star 9 SeptemberHowever, a number of significant decisions were made.

First, despite the doubts raised by some delegates, Feargus O’Connor convinced those present that Mr Tidd Pratt, the registrar of friendly societies, would have no choice but to enrol the NCA as it was in accordance with the law (see newspaper cutting).

Although O’Connor could hardly have known otherwise, this would eventually lead the NCA into a tortuous process of seeking a legal status for the land plan, first being rejected by Tidd Pratt in their bid to become a friendly society before subsequently failing to register as a limited company either.

Second, the conference endorsed a new constitution which meant the creation of a paid national executive elected by and answerable to an annual convention.

This too was not universally popular, with JW Smyth warning that “without exception, the West Riding Chartists were opposed to the Convention electing the executive”. There was opposition, too, from the Chartists of Marylebone.

Nevertheless, this too was agreed to, with a rearguard attempt to have at least some of the executive based in Manchester rather than London also defeated. The conference went on to vote to pay the general secretary £2 a week and the members of the executive 30 shillings each.

Third, the conference voted to appoint Thomas Martin Wheeler as general secretary, forcing him to stand down as a reporter for O’Connor’s Northern Star but providing the NCA with a highly capable administrator who in later life would go on to set up and run a successful life assurance firm.

This was also to be the first time that O’Connor himself would hold formal office in the movement, as the NCA’s duly elected treasurer.
The new constitution would be published in full by the Northern Star in its issue of 16 September 1843.

NCA conference delegates 1843

First nameSurnameLocation represented
JamesDewhurstWest Riding
J W SmythWest Riding
JLintonEast Riding
WDixonSouth Lancashire
CDoyleSouth Lancashire
R T MorrisonNottingham
MrSquire FarrarLeeds
Thomas MartinWheelerLondon
WSale Staffordshire Potteries
RMarsdenSabden, Colne, Clitheroe &c
HenryRossSurrey and Kent
R H WilliamsBristol
George JulianHarneySheffield
W P RobertsLondon, Bath &c