Saturday, 22 December 2007

Aspects of Chartism: Leeds 3

Municipal Chartism

All other avenues of practical ways of achieving the Charter had been exhausted in Leeds.  The educational, rational approach of the Leeds WMA had failed in 1838.  Physical force had met with little support and the Complete Suffrage movement collapsed.

The idea of Municipal Chartism originated in January 1840. Hobson was nominated as an Improvement Commissioner[1]. Nineteen citizens were elected annually and in 1838 and 1839 Tory Commissioners were elected. In 1840, a combination of Whigs, radicals and Chartists defeated the Tory bloc. Hobson was not elected, but another Chartist, John Jackson[2] (a Chartist corn miller) was. In 1841, the liberals’ list was carried again and in 1842, the Chartist list was carried. All nineteen members of the Improvement Commission were, according to the Northern Star, “staunch friends of the people’s cause”. In July 1842, a new one replaced the old Improvement Act. The commission was abolished and the town council implemented the Act. The Chartists would now need to elect town councillors to continue the new line of action. The qualifications needed for town councillors were lower than those for Improvement Commissioners. From 1842 to 1845, Chartists stood and were elected as Churchwardens. The Chartists prepared for the municipal elections, to have Chartists elected. In November 1842, two Chartists stood for local election but failed[3]. The Chartist cause was not helped by the Plug Plots of August, which convulsed the West Riding.  In November 1843, Hobson and Jackson were elected to Leeds council: they were outnumbered 62:2, so they could do little to affect policy. They did provide an ‘awkward squad’, though. By November 1844, there were four Chartists on the council (of 64 members) and between 1849 and 1850, seven Chartists were councillors. The Chartist label was last used in the 1853 municipal election and this represented the end of municipal Chartism in the town.

Leeds Chartists were not necessarily poor men. To stand for municipal office meant they had to be rated at £30 or £40. From 1842 it was the council that had the real power and, for a decade, Chartists either individually or as a body took part in municipal elections. In fact, the Chartists were not united and did not vote as a bloc especially on issues involving expenditure. John Jackson, a leading local Chartist, voted against a rate for drainage and a new sewerage system in 1844 but in favour of a larger courthouse and altering the market in 1845-6. George Robson[4], another Chartist, voted against Jackson on the former but supported the latter while William Brook[5] voted against Jackson on both issues. The Chartists were split on each of the six votes on the building of the town hall between January 1851 and May 1852. It was, however, Chartists who put forward some of the most important municipal innovations. Joshua Hobson pressed for the creation of a new shopping street in 1845 to include a new town hall. He, along with Robson and Brook, argued for an effective drainage system. The Chartist guardian, John Ayrey, first suggested the building of an industrial school, the only major Poor Law building project in the West Riding in the 1840s.

What gave consistency to the Leeds Chartists was their belief in democratic control. Brook favoured municipal spending when the economy was prosperous but opposed it in 1848-9 when the economy slumped and he did not want to increase his constituents’ rates. Popular involvement and control can be seen in many of the other ideas expressed by municipal Chartists. There were attempts to ensure popular participation in the 1842 Improvement Bill. In education, they favoured locally elected boards and rate-aided schools thirty years before the 1870 Elementary Education Act. They were strongly opposed to centralisation and in favour of locally controlled towns. The experience of Leeds was paralleled in other major towns. In Birmingham, Leicester, Manchester, Salford, Nottingham, and especially Sheffield Chartists became embroiled in municipal politics.  What was the impact of municipal Chartism in Leeds?

Municipal Chartism was not concerned with national issues so Leeds Chartism 1843-1848 became something of a backwater. Municipal Chartism may have proved a dead-end, as Harrison concludes. But it did provide yet another link to later political activism. In 1855, a Leeds Advanced Liberal Party was formed to unite old Radicals and Chartists under a single banner. At least eight of its fourteen founder members were old Chartists. They were to lay the foundations of the later manhood suffrage associations of the 1860s, and when the Leeds Working Men’s Parliamentary Reform Association was founded in 1860, it was to be led by the last of the Leeds Chartists.

The Plug Plots in the Leeds Area: 1842

There was much distress in the Leeds area after four years of continuing depression. A fifth of the population was pauperised; 16,000 people (of a population of 80,000) existed entirely on workhouse relief. The Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of Leeds wrote to HM Treasury, in July 1842, “Never at any former period in our recollection has this manufacturing district experienced distress so universal, so prolonged, so exhausting and so ruinous”.

 

Date  Event
Saturday 13th August News of turnouts of factory workers in the West Riding.
Sunday 14th August Troop movements in Leeds
Monday 15th August 1,500 special constables were sworn in
Tuesday 16th August Reports of riots and clashes in Halifax. A meeting of 4,000 operatives on Hunslett Moor passed resolutions in favour of the Charter
Wednesday 17th August Turnout in villages near Leeds 6,000 operatives stopped all mills in Calverley, Stanningley, Bramley and Pudsey. They drove in the plugs at mills in Armley, Wortley, Farnley, Hunslet and Holbeck. By 5 p.m. they were in Meadow Lane, Leeds and stopped all the mils in Leeds. The Riot Act was read in Leeds and 38 men were arrested.
Thursday 18th August Leeds was quiet except for a turn-out at coal pits at Hunslet and Middleton
Friday 19th August

The pits were visited again and 14 prisoners taken by police. A meeting took place on Hunslett Moor, which was then dispersed by police and troops.

Those arrested were given prison sentences varying between two and eighteen months. There is little evidence to show that local Chartists were responsible for the riots although they made political capital for the Charter out of them. No leading Chartist was arrested in Leeds. The Leeds riots were basically a violent reaction of unemployed operatives spurred to desperation by hunger and destitution.

Chartism in Leeds after 1842

In November 1844, the Northern Star moved from Leeds to London, removing several top-level Chartists from Leeds, including Hobson and Harney. This was indicative of the shift of Chartism from the north to the south at this time. Leeds Chartists continued to meet but new names appeared Squire Farrar, James Harris, and John Shaw. Much time and energy was spent on the land question. In May and June 1845, the first meeting connected with O’Connor’s Land Plan was held. Thirty-five members enrolled because the appeal of a new life in rural surroundings attracted the workers of industrial Leeds. Chartists were in competition with the Owenites.

In 1847, there was a severe trade depression with mass unemployment and high food prices. Things did not improve in the following year because 1848 saw unrest in Ireland and European revolutions. Conditions similar to those of 1838 and 1842 were reproduced and there was renewed activity among the Chartists. In 1848 in Leeds, Chartist meetings which had been used to discuss Land Company business were replaced by meetings addressed by George White - this time talking about the rights of man and so on. White proposed a great West Riding demonstration on Hartshead Moor: the time to get the Charter had arrived.

The Hartshead Moor meeting was held March and processions were organised from Bradford, Leeds and Halifax. Republican flags were flown and radical addresses were delivered. In March and April 1848, there was great enthusiasm for the Charter in Leeds. Huge meetings were held with between 10,000 and 15,000 in attendance, with local Chartist speakers who attempted to broaden the Chartist base by linking up with the Leeds Irish population. The Tricolour was flown, with the inscription, “Republic for France, Repeal for Ireland, the People’s Charter for England, and no surrender!”

The Leeds Times thought Leeds Chartism was being taken over by wilder, extreme Irish elements. It feared for the “good sense and moderation” of the Leeds radicals. Hobson continued to condemn physical force. By May 1848, there was a new air or desperation in the West Riding. Arming and drilling was reported in many areas and from 28th May, sporadic violence occurred in several areas.

In Bradford[6], two thousand Chartists fought with a similar number of police, infantry, dragoons and special Constables. In Bingley, an attack was made on the police station to release Chartist prisoners. In Leeds, two hundred paraded for drill on Woodhouse Moor. JPs warned against this activity so the men went home. Of fifty-eight persons tried at York Assizes for riot and sedition in August, only one was from Leeds. The government’s policy of intimidation and arrests followed by harsh sentences, during the summer of 1848, successfully crushed the immediate threat, but did not extinguish Chartism. New ideas and personalities emerged.

Joseph Barker[7] of Bramley, Leeds was the son of a Wesleyan preacher. He was a self-educated man who became a Wesleyan Methodist preacher himself. His religious progress was downwards: Methodist, Quaker, Unitarian and then secularist. In 1848, Barker was helped by Unitarian friends to set up a print shop at Wortley where he published cheap reprints and began publishing The People, most of which he wrote himself. He published three volumes in all, covering 1848-51. It declared itself republican and ultra-democratic, and attempted to adapt Chartism to new needs and conditions. It emphasised the need for some general union of all reformers and represented the old idea of “the Charter and something more”. His republican ideas came from the 1848 Revolutions but more importantly, The People emphasised the need for some general union of all reformers.

Chartism in Leeds 1848-1853 represented a coming together of reformers from several fields of popular endeavour:

  • Chartism plus the social content of nonconformity
  • Owenite Socialism
  • The Land Company
  • Temperance
  • Trade unionism
  • Co-operative shops

The name ‘Chartist’ came to mean one who favoured a policy of independent working-class radicalism, tied neither to middle-class Liberals nor to Radicals. In 1853, the last Chartist councillors (R M Carter[8] and John Williamson[9]) were elected. After this, Chartists stood as Radicals and/or Liberals. Chartism as an organised movement ended but revived in 1855 as the Leeds Advanced Liberal Party. Of the fourteen originators, eight were ex-Chartists and three more were ex-Owenites. Their programme included the six points of the Charter and municipal reform. In 1860, the last of the Leeds Chartists founded the Leeds Working Men’s Parliamentary Reform Association.

Conclusions

Chartism in Leeds as a powerful force suffered for several reasons.


[1] Brian Barber ‘Municipal government in Leeds 1835-1914’, in Derek Fraser (ed.) Municipal reform and the industrial city, Leicester University Press, 1982, pages 61-110 provides a valuable context for ‘municipal Chartism’.

[2] The first successful candidate put forward by the Leeds Chartists at a municipal election, Jackson was elected an Improvement Commissioner in 1840 as part of a bloc of Whigs, Radicals and Chartists formed to defeat the Tories. Jackson, a corn miller from Holbeck, was successfully re-elected in 1841. He was to be elected a Leeds town councillor for the Holbeck ward in 1843, one of the first two successful candidates (with Hobson). Jackson lost his seat to the Liberals in 1846 and failed to regain it the following year.

[3] William Barron was a member of the committee established to organise the first Chartist attempt to win seats on Leeds town council in November 1842, and one of two unsuccessful candidates (with Hobson). Barron was a tailor and draper, and treasurer of the Leeds Charter Association.

[4] Elected as a Chartist candidate to Leeds town council in West Ward in 1844, he retained his seat in the election of 1847. Robson was a butcher.

[5] Secretary of Leeds Charter Association and of the committee established to organise the first Chartist attempt to win seats on Leeds town council. William Brook was a tobacconist and tea dealer in Kirkgate, who later set up a small nail-making business in Swinegate. He was elected as a Chartist candidate to the council in 1844 for Holbeck ward and retained his seat in the 1847 election.

[6] On disturbances in Bradford see, D.G. Wright The Chartist Risings in Bradford, Bradford, 1987.

[7] Joseph Barker (1806-75) is considered in Joseph O. Baylen and Norbert J. Grossman (eds.) Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals since 1770, volume 2: 1830-1870, Brighton, 1984, pages 38-41. He was elected to Leeds town council as a Chartist candidate either in 1848 or 1849, along with his brother Benjamin. Barker was born in 1806 at Wortley, near Leeds. He was a wool-spinner and Methodist preacher and supported ‘moral force’ Chartism, the temperance movement and was an Abolitionist. He was the author of The People (Wortley, 1848-51) and The Liberators (Wortley, 1852-53). Barker left Britain for Boston, Mass., and Omaha, Nebraska in 1851, to join farmer-brother. He was in the United States between 1851 and 1860, and again from 1865 to his death in 1875 in Nebraska.

[8] Robert Meek Carter was elected as a Chartist candidate to Leeds town council in 1850, and successfully re-elected in 1853, on the last occasion on which Chartist candidates stood. Carter was a coal merchant and co-operative pioneer.

[9] John Williamson was elected as a Chartist candidate to Leeds town council in 1853, the last occasion on which Chartist candidates stood. Williamson was a greengrocer.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Aspects of Chartism: Leeds 2

The first phase, 1837-39

Leeds Chartism stood out from that of other towns in the West Riding of Yorkshire for its moderation, and its success in contesting municipal elections. For more than a decade, Chartist candidates fought and won elections to the town’s Improvement Commission and subsequently to the town council itself. But what pushed the working class radicals of Leeds down such a route while just a few miles up the road the Bradford and Sheffield Chartists were preparing for armed insurrection?   J.F.C. Harrison argued in Chartist Studies that this wholly different approach could be accounted for by three factors. The history of middle class radicalism in the town which gave middle class sympathisers an alternative home, and gave them the strength to stand apart from the Chartists.  The different types of employment on offer to people locally in the woollen industry, where the economic distress of the late 1830s and early 1840s was not as keenly felt as in the cotton industry.  The relocation, by Feargus O’Connor of his Northern Star newspaper from Leeds to London, depriving the town of some of its key activists and moving the centre of gravity away from what had always been a key centre of the movement.

On 23rd September 1837, the first meeting of the Leeds WMA took place, following the meeting on Woodhouse Moor in late August. Bray, the treasurer, gave the address. The Leeds WMA contented itself throughout with lectures, addresses and the occasional protest meeting in an attempt to gloss over the divisions in the leadership. This failed in January 1838 at a meeting of the Leeds WMA where the speakers were Augustus Hardin Beaumont[1] (later briefly the editor of the Northern Liberator), O’Connor, Dr. John Taylor[2] and Sharman Crawford, MP. Their differences became apparent very quickly. Beaumont declared himself a physical force man and was received with groans. He then denounced “the dulcet tones of the very moderate Radicalism of Leeds”.

During the winter of 1837-38, militants were strengthened by four things.  There was a struggle against the new Poor Law in the West Riding. The Commissioners had arrived in northern England late in 1836 to set up Unions even though the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act actually was intended to solve the problems of agrarian, rural poverty that mainly was found in the south.  The trial of the Glasgow cotton spinners whose strike leaders were sentenced to transportation.  There was a general trade depression.  Finally, the Northern Star turned out to be a phenomenal success.

The Northern Star is Leeds’s claim to Chartist fame. It began as a Barnsley paper for working men, advocating the abolition of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act and a renewal of the Trade Union and Ten-Hour movements but was taken over by O’Connor and moved to Leeds in 1837. Within four months of its establishment, it was selling 10,000 copies a week. The idea of a popular newspaper for the West Riding came from Joshua Hobson and William Hill. Hill, the son of a Barnsley handloom weaver, became a teacher, phrenologist and then pastor of Hull’s New Jerusalem Church. O’Connor had the money to start the Northern Star in Leeds. The paper was important because it made the most powerful Chartist voice available to local Chartism. The paper gave detailed reports of any radical meetings anywhere in Yorkshire and became an institution of working class gatherings. It was widely read and public readings extended its audience considerably. It was socially educative and directed attention to burning social issues.  It gave Feargus O’Connor a personal dominance over Chartism in the north. His followers had press backing and physical force dominated the Leeds WMA.

By May 1838, the Leeds WMA was no longer appropriate for the agitation wanted by O’Connor. Bray and the Owenites dropped out of the Association in 1838 and Nicoll died of tuberculosis in December 1838. In addition, the Leeds Times, under its new editor, became critical of O’Connor. In June 1838, the Great Northern Union replaced the Leeds WMA. Its inaugural meeting was held on Hunslett Moor; the speakers were O’Connor, White, Rider, and John Collins from Birmingham. They spoke for outright measures: physical force. O’Connor hoped that the GNU would unite all the reform associations in the area. The national Chartist movement directed its efforts towards electing delegates to the national Convention after August 1838 and the GNU organised meetings in support of the Charter throughout the West Riding.  On 15th October 1838, a monster meeting was held on Hartshead Moor, Leeds. The site was chosen because it was equidistant from all the main towns in the West Riding and was a natural amphitheatre able to hold large numbers. It was set up like a fair; food and drink were available and families attended. People came from Bradford, Huddersfield and Halifax in thousands, each group with its band playing and banners flying. Two hundred attended from Leeds. The people elected O’Connor, Rider and Lawrence Pitkeithly[3] as the West Riding delegates to the National Convention. Physical force was popular with West Riding Chartists.

In the winter of 1838-1839, vast torchlight meetings were held; speeches and schemes became more violent and inflammatory. Even ‘moderate’ Leeds managed a 3,000 strong meeting on St. Peter’s Hill in February 1839 to hear George White speak. In 1839, the O’Connorites tried to set the pace of Leeds Chartism and Leeds had no movement to rival O’Connor’s pre-eminence. Also, Leeds was central to the area and there was a good deal of material to work on in the West Riding. Manchester was of little use to O’Connor because the Anti-Corn Law League was a rival to Chartism. The O’Connorites did not get the support they hoped for, and criticised the luke-warmness of Leeds men. 1st April 1839 was Easter Monday. O’Connor, Hill, White, Rider and Dr Taylor addressed an open-air meeting in Leeds. There was much emphasis on physical force. White said he “was not so much a radical as a revolutionist [and] they would never get anything until they were able to take it by force”. Rider said, “The citadel of corruption cannot be taken by paper bullets. There is a crew ... called physical force men who are trying for something more than argument. It is this that makes the Whigs and Tories tremble”. He urged men to arm and do more than petition. Rider believed that the petition would do little good, so he resigned from the National Convention. He then tried to retake his seat and was thrown out.

On 21st May 1839, another meeting was held on Hartshead Moor (then known as Peep Green), and it was a model of peaceful organisation. No liquor was sold and the meeting was opened with prayers. Bronterre O’Brien said that the people were determined to have the Charter, “peaceably if they could, and forcibly if they must”. Also in May, Leeds’ magistrates enrolled special constables and assembled the yeomanry cavalry ‘in case’ there was trouble, although the town proverbially was peaceful. Chartist leaders feared arrest because this was happening to other leaders elsewhere. By this time, physical force men dominated the Leeds Northern Union: Rider, White, Jones and Charles Connor. Joseph Jones was a shoemaker and chair of the Leeds Northern Union; Connor was an Irishman who said he was a ‘revolutionist’ and condemned the “sham radicalism” of the Leeds Times. The talk now was of ‘ulterior measures’ to secure the Charter: withdrawal of cash from the banks, abstention from all taxable luxury goods, exclusive dealing and the ‘national holiday’

In this atmosphere of rising tension, White was arrested in August for extortion by threats. He had been appointed by the Great Northern Union to collect subscriptions for the ‘National Rent in Leeds. He visited shopkeepers and traders with two books, a subscription book and a “Black Book”. If no cash was forthcoming, the trader’s name was written in the “Black Book” and ‘hints’ were dropped concerning bloodshed. The magistrates committed him to the York Assizes in April 1840 and he was refused bail. White verbally attacked “Whig justice” from the dock and got his bail. He was free in Leeds during the winter of 1839-40 and was active in the Chartist movement. The winter 1839-1840 saw the end of the first period of Chartism in the West Riding with a series of risings in Sheffield, Bradford and Dewsbury. The familiar pattern of unemployment, police spies and clashes with soldiers and subsequent arrests was to be found. In Leeds there was no rising.

In March 1840, White was sentenced to six months in prison and served a particularly rigorous sentence of hard labour, rigid discipline and no visitors. He became ill and fell off the treadmill twice. On his release from Wakefield gaol, White went to Birmingham as the correspondent for the Northern Star. In May 1840, Feargus O’Connor was sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment for seditious libel. The collapse of the physical force wing was virtually complete and the Leeds Northern Union quietly disappeared.

The Chartist revival, 1840-41

The Chartist revival in Leeds was different from elsewhere. New leaders, a new policy and new methods were evident. More significant was the new form of organisation. The reformed movement was called the Leeds Radical Universal Suffrage Association. Membership was open to all wanting the Charter and using moral and lawful methods. The entrance fee was 2d and 1d per week in subscriptions and the Association used the Methodist ‘class’ idea for every twenty members. Officers were elected by ballot every two months. There is nothing new here: it was a revival of pre-Chartist radicalism and was very moderate. The physical force men lost all influence. By July 1840, the Leeds RUSA was flourishing and even Jones and O’Connor were allowed to join. In the autumn of that year, its name was changed to the Leeds branch of the National Charter Association. This was only a change of name, however: its policies and personnel remained the same. The new temper of Chartism is reflected in the direction of Chartist energies in Leeds: a variety of societies were set up with Chartist backing.  These included: Leeds Total Abstinence Charter Association (January 1841); Hounslow Union Sunday School, conducted by teetotallers and Chartists; Leeds Charter Debating Society; lectures, addresses and discussions replaced processions and demonstrations; and public speaking was practised on Sunday afternoons.

The Leeds Charter Association reported that the meetings, “get ever more respectable, are better conducted, less uproarious, and partake more of the reasoning and intellectual qualities”. The Leeds Chartists failed to get a mass following either because of, or in spite of their policy. Leeds Chartists remained a small group of able, intelligent enthusiasts: a general staff without an army. They were unable to ally themselves with moderate traditional radicalism or with the middle-classes. Neither the extreme nor the moderate Chartists could ally with the middle-classes because there was no common ground between them.  In January 1839, Samuel Smiles[4] became the editor of the Leeds Times, which then took a distinct turn to the right. Under Nicoll, it had identified with Chartism in principle but this ended in mid-1840. Smiles became secretary of the Leeds Parliamentary Reform Association that advocated household suffrage. The paper also abandoned support of the Short-Time Committees in favour of the Anti Corn Law League.

Leeds Chartists feared competition from the Anti-Corn Law League in the winter of 1838-39 so they ‘captured’ or broke up Anti-Corn Law League meetings. There was no real objection to the repeal of the Corn Laws; the Chartists merely feared a rival group. From early 1841, opposition to the Anti Corn Law League revived, because the Chartists said the anti-Corn Law agitation was an attempt to shelve the struggle for the Charter. Apparently, this was plausible because the Anti Corn Law League in Leeds declared for household suffrage. The Anti-Corn Law League tried to win working-class support and militant Chartists attempted to prevent it, trying hard to discredit the Anti Corn Law League and middle-class radicals, especially the “pigmy doctor”, Smiles.  In 1841, the Conservatives under Peel won the general election, thus strengthening the case for a middle and working class alliance for repeal of the Corn Laws and fiscal reform. The Chartists had opposed the Whigs and let the Tories in, but militant Chartism in the West Riding was primarily a struggle against the middle class, making an alliance impossible. The obstacle was over universal suffrage. The middle-classes and Chartists all saw that political democracy eventually would lead to social democracy. If co-operation was to be achieved, it would not be in national politics. In Leeds, the opening for co-operation was found in local government.


[1] Augustus Hardin Beaumont (1798-1838) is the subject of a short biography in Joseph O. Baylen and Norbert J. Grossman (eds.) Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals since 1770, volume 2: 1830-1870, Brighton, 1984, pages 46-48.

[2] Dr John Taylor (1805-42) can be examined in Joseph O. Baylen and Norbert J. Grossman (eds.) Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals since 1770, volume 2: 1830-1870, Brighton, 1984, pages 495-497.

[3] Lawrence Pitkeithly (1800?-1858) is examined in Joseph O. Baylen and Norbert J. Grossman (eds.) Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals since 1770, volume 2: 1830-1870, Brighton, 1984, pages 411-412. Pitkeithly was born in 1801 in Huddersfield. He was a weaver and ‘physical force’ Chartist following his work in Ten Hours Movement. He became a delegate to National Chartist Association meeting in Manchester. July 1840. He wrote to Dr. John Smyles (relative of Samuel Smiles), a former radical resident in Rochester, NY, about prospects in America, leaving Britain in 1842 for New York, contacted Bussey (and Devyr?) and SmyIes, but moved on to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He wrote articles on his trip in Northern Star but returned home in 1843. Pitkeithly died in Manchester in 1858.

[4] On Samuel Smiles (1812-1904), see Joseph O. Baylen and Norbert J. Grossman (eds.) Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals since 1770, volume 2: 1830-1870, Brighton, 1984, pages 455-460. Alexander Tyrell ‘Class Consciousness in Early Victorian Britain: Samuel Smiles, Leeds Politics and the Self-Help Creed’, in Journal of British Studies, volume ix, (1970), pages 102-115 is more specific. Smiles was the editor of the Leeds Times from 1839. He condemned the government for using force to put down Chartism, but dissociated himself from physical force Chartists. Smiles proclaimed himself a Chartist in principle, and regarded the movement as principally “a knowledge agitation”, but few Chartists were prepared to work with him. Smiles later dropped even this dalliance, becoming secretary of the Leeds Parliamentary Reform Association, which advocated household suffrage, and moving his paper to the right by abandoning its support for shorter factory working hours.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Loading the dice or dishing the exams!!

Is the introduction of Diplomas a good idea?  Yes, I think so.  There is a need to provide a real alternative to the existing GCSE and A Level structure and the Diplomas with their progressive from Foundation to Higher and Advanced/Progression provides a viable alternative to the increasingly discredited existing system.  The 'gold standard' looks increasingly beleaguered and somewhat tarnished.  This does beg the question of why major reforms for A Level are to be introduced in 2008 if the Diploma is to replace it and that appears to be the clear intention of the government.  I have never understood the argument for further reform of A Level anyway.  It seems to me that, after a very rocky introduction, the AS-A Level system worked rather well at least it appeared to do so in my subject.  Students liked the variety, the option of doing coursework and research assignments and the ability to cover a range of subjects and periods though that appears not to be what most teachers did.  The 'Hitlerisation' of the curriculum was well attested in the press. Not, I suspect, that the new courses is going to change that.

But, I do have a problem with how the Diplomas will be judged against existing courses at Advanced Level and this gives further evidence of the government's intentions.  How can you have a Diploma that is allocated the same time as three A Levels and then give it a higher tariff of 420 UCAS points split with up to 300 for the "principal and generic learning" components, and 120 more for additional and specialist learning compared to 360 for the A levels.  If a Diploma is 'broadly the same as three A Levels', then it should have the same tariff.  To do otherwise is seriously loading the dice in favour of Diplomas.  In addition, £28m Diploma funding for the first year would mean schools and colleges getting an extra £1,000 or so for each Diploma student they taught.  I can't remember an equivalent sum being offered when the new A Levels were introduced. 

In late October, Ed Balls stated that 'If Diplomas are successfully introduced and are delivering the mix that employers and universities value, they could be come the qualification of choice for young people. But, because GCSEs and A-levels are long established and valued qualifications, that should not be decided by any pre-emptive government decision but by the demands of young people, schools and colleges.'  I would have though that accepting QCA's recommendation about the tariff is the equivalent to a 'pre-emptive government decision'!  While there may be a strong case for replacing GCSEs with the Higher Diploma (and given that it is the equivalent of seven grades A*-C many schools mindful of league tables will take it up), the case for all students taking courses that are a mix of theoretical and practical and applied study is less clear.  Getting universities to accept them is crucial to their success.  However, a survey this summer suggested that fewer than four in ten university admissions officers saw the Diploma as a 'good alternative' to A-levels and the Russell Group of leading universities has expressed reservations.  So even if the government loads the dice in favour of Diplomas that does not mean that they will inevitably become acceptable to universities, well at least the leading universities. 

If the government thinks Diplomas are such a good thing, then it should be honest about it and abolish A Levels and GCSEs instead of trying to get them accepted by the back door.  But then honesty is not a characteristic of this government!

Aspects of Chartism: Leeds 1

Leeds Chartism[1] was different and distinct from Chartism in Lancashire, as was the economy. Leeds[2] was a woollen town with a longer history of radicalism than Manchester and was a mixed zone of traditional domestic and new mill manufacture of woollen cloth. In this sense, Leeds was very similar to Birmingham. Rivalry existed between the Yorkshire woollen and Lancashire cotton industries. There was also a strong tradition of Tory radicalism in Yorkshire: Tories believed in economic reform.

The industrial revolution in Yorkshire was distinct from that in Lancashire. The priorities of the woollen industry were different from those of cotton because wool relied on home-produced raw materials[3]. Consequently, the woollen industry was as affected by the Corn Laws and trade recessions. A quarter of all the handloom weavers in England lived in Yorkshire and there was still a close link between masters and men in many areas. Putting-out and small workshops dominated the industry. There is more evidence in Yorkshire of self-help movements and moderate, traditional radicalism than there is in Lancashire. There was a very strong connection between the workers, the Tory party and Tory Radicalism. Wilberforce, Sadler, Oastler and Shaftesbury were all from the county.

Background

In the 1820s and 1830s, Leeds was second only to Manchester as a centre for working-class radicalism and working class movements. In 1819, the Association of the Friends of Radical Reform was set up in Leeds. Radical literature and ideas flourished in the town and working men attended meetings where there would be readings from Wooler’s Black Dwarf, Carlile’s Republican and Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register. All of these demanded political reform. This agitation did die down after 1823.

In 1829, the Leeds Radical Reform Association was formed and was part of the Political Union network. The Association organised meetings on Hunslett Moor that were addressed by Cobbett and Hunt. It had a programme of annual elections, a secret ballot and universal suffrage. In 1831, the Leeds Radical Political Union was founded with William Rider as secretary. He later became an active Chartist leader. In the 1830s, the support of Leeds’ working class men was also attracted to

  • Trade Union activity
  • Short-Time Committees for factory reform
  • The struggle for the unstamped press
  • Co-operative shops
  • Extension of the franchise

All were expressions of a general discontent and for a desire for an equitable society. Eventually they merged. In 1835, the Leeds Radical Association was formed and displayed a deep distrust of Whiggery and had a strong alliance to Toryism as the potential socio-economic reformers, after Peel’s Tamworth Manifesto of 1834. The Association had a programme of equal representation, annual parliaments, universal suffrage, secret ballot and no property qualification for MPs. When the Six Points were adopted in 1838, they were familiar ideas to the Leeds radicals.

In September 1837, a meeting was held on Woodhouse Moor to form a Leeds Working Men’s Association. John Cleave[4] and Henry Vincent[5] of the LWMA spoke at this meeting. The Leeds WMA drew in diverse elements of earlier movements and its leaders all had been involved in other agitations for social improvement.  The shape of Leeds Chartism was determined by its origins in earlier radical and working-class movements, underlying which were economic and social factors. In the 1830s Leeds was a rapidly expanding centre of woollen, flax and engineering industries and a growing commercial and manufacturing population. By 1839, ten thousand operatives were employed in power-driven mills. In addition, Leeds had a strongly Nonconformist middle-class. At least ten thousand handloom weavers could be found in the out-townships and around the Leeds area but only 1,289 handloom weavers lived in Leeds itself. Leeds had a total population of 61,675. There were few depressed hand-workers unlike Bradford[6] and Halifax[7]. In Leeds, there was no basis for a continuing mass Chartist organisation drawing its strength from a large class of desperate hand-worker. Chartism had to win support from the factory operative, shopkeepers and small tradesmen.

Chartist Leaders

Joshua Hobson[8] was born in Huddersfield in 1810 and had little formal education. He was apprenticed to a joiner, and then became a handloom weaver near Oldham. He wrote for local papers there and then returned to Huddersfield and was caught up in the work of local Short-Time Committee that was formed to support Hobhouse’s Factory Bill of 1831. Hobson became associated with the Tory radical Richard Oastler and the ‘Yorkshire Slavery’ campaign. In June 1833, the first issue of Hobson’s Voice of the West Riding appeared. It was intended as the voice of the Short-Time Committees but led Hobson into other forms of working class agitation. In August 1833, Hobson was imprisoned in Wakefield gaol for publishing an unstamped paper. He was gaoled for the same offence in 1835 and 1836. In the autumn of 1834, he moved to Leeds and set up as a printer and publisher. For twelve years, he was the main publisher of radical material in the West Riding, including the Northern Star (1837-1844) that he also edited for a time. In addition, he printed and published Owen’s New Moral World (1839-41). He was responsible for printing and publishing almost all the Owenite and Chartist pamphlets and books in this period and wrote pamphlets defending Owenite Socialism.

John Francis Bray was the first treasurer of the Leeds WMA[9]. He was born in 1809 in Washington, America but was from a family of Huddersfield farmers and clothiers. He returned to England in 1822 and was apprenticed to a printer in Pontefract and then in Selby. He later ‘went on the tramp’, looking for work; during this time he experienced great hardships. In 1832, he got a job as a compositor in Leeds and in 1833 he volunteered to go to Huddersfield to print the Voice of the West Riding while Hobson was in gaol. He then went to York to discover why the working class was so poor. As a result of his discoveries he decided to become involved in the labour movements of the time.

Between December 1835 and February 1836, Bray published a series of letters in the Leeds Times called “Letters for the People” which dealt with natural rights and human equality. In 1837, he found employment as a compositor with The Yorkshireman. He went on to play a leading role in the founding of the Leeds WMA. He stressed the need to change society as well as to obtain political changes. In November 1837, Bray gave three lectures on ‘The Working Class - Their True Wrong and Their True Remedy’. He said that every man should own the whole product of his labour. Hobson printed the lectures in 1842 in his Labourer’s Library series. Marx used Bray’s work later but at the time it was too philosophic and intellectual for general consumption. His work is a good example of the best contemporary working class thought and shows the importance of Owenism as an element from which Chartism was to emerge.

William Rider[10] and George White[11] were both members of the Leeds WMA in 1837 and were the chief exponents of O’Connorite Chartism in Leeds. Neither was influenced by Owenite Socialism. White was an Irish wool-comber. He was determined, inflexible and brave; ready to do anything for the cause, from collecting subscriptions to beating in the heads of policemen. Later O’Connor employed him as a correspondent for the Northern Star. In 1844, he moved to the more militant Bradford. Rider probably was a printer and was employed by O’Connor.

Robert Nicoll was a traditional radical. He edited the Leeds Times and urged the formation of the Leeds WMA along the lines of the earlier Radical Political Union. He was impressed by the LWMA and wanted to establish an independent working-class organisation to agitate for the five political points of his ‘Radical Creed’.

From the start, the Leeds WMA was divided into at least three separate groups.

  • Hobson and Bray were Owenites, wanting social rather than political change. They attracted some factory workers to the Leeds WMA, but it largely consisted of artisans and ‘little mesters’ who sympathised with the Charter but were mainly Owenites.
  • Rider and White were supporters of O’Connor and attracted factory workers to the National Charter Association.
  • Robert Nicoll believed in moral force and the traditional radicalism of political agitation through peaceful association. His followers were mainly craft-orientated artisans.

[1] J.F.C. Harrison ‘Chartism in Leeds’, in Asa Briggs (ed.) Chartist Studies, Macmillan, 1959, pages 65-98 remains the most detailed examination of the movement in Leeds.

[2] Derek Fraser (ed.) A History of Modern Leeds, Manchester University Press, 1980 is the best introduction to the subject especially pages 270-326 and 353-409.

[3] D.T. Jenkins and K.G. Ponting The British Wool Textile Industry 1770-1914, Scolar Press, 1987 is the most accessible introduction to the woollen trade in Yorkshire.

[4] Valuable biographical information on John Cleave can be found in Joyce M. Bellamy and John Saville (eds.) Dictionary of Labour Biography volume vi, Macmillan, 1982, pages 59-63 and Joseph O. Baylen and Norbert J. Grossman (eds.) Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals since 1770, volume 2: 1830-1870, Brighton, 1984, pages 138-141.

[5] William Dorling Henry Vincent: A Biographical Sketch, London 1879 remains the only detailed study of his life. Additional material can be found in Joyce M. Bellamy and John Saville (eds.) Dictionary of Labour Biography volume i, Macmillan, 1972, pages 326-334 and Joseph O. Baylen and Norbert J. Grossman (eds.) Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals since 1770, volume 2: 1830-1870, Brighton, 1984, pages 519-522.

[6] Theodore Koditschek Class Formation and Urban Industrial Society: Bradford 1750-1850, Cambridge University Press, 1990 considers in depth the social and economic development of a ‘boom’ town and provides an important context for Chartism. Adrian Elliott ‘Municipal government in Bradford in the mid-nineteenth century’, in Derek Fraser (ed.) Municipal reform and the industrial city, Leicester University Press, 1982, pages 111-162 is excellent on municipal politics in the 1840s and 1850s.

[7] A.J. Peacock Bradford Chartism 1838-1840, York, 1969 looks at developments in the first phase.

[8] Stanley Chadwick ‘A Bold and Faithful Journalist: Joshua Hobson 1810-1876, Huddersfield, 1976, a short biography including Hobson’s years as printer and publisher of the Northern Star.

[9] A short biography of John Francis Bray can be found in Joyce M. Bellamy and John Saville (eds.) Dictionary of Labour Biography volume iii, Macmillan, 1980 and Joseph O. Baylen and Norbert J. Grossman (eds.) Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals since 1770, volume 2: 1830-1870, Brighton, 1984, pages 79-81. Bray was born in 1809 in Washington, DC, of English parents and went with father to Leeds at age of 13. He became a printer, trade union organiser in Leeds in 1829 and a ‘Moral force’ Chartist. He was the author of Labour’s Wrongs (1838); A Voyage from Utopia (1839); American Destiny (1864) and God and Man, a Unity (1879). He visited France, 1842 and left the UK for Boston, Mass., the same year to join brother. Married and went to farm in Pontiac, Michigan. Printer and trade unionist in Detroit till his death in 1897. Bray was described after his death as ‘the Grand Old Man of American Socialism’.

[10] William Rider (?-?) can be examined in detail in Joseph O. Baylen and Norbert J. Grossman (eds.) Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals since 1770, volume 2: 1830-1870, Brighton, 1984, pages 435-436. Rider was a member of the provisional committee of the Leeds Working Men’s Association, founded in 1837. Rider had been secretary of the Radical Political Union established in 1831. He chaired a meeting at Walton’s Music Saloon in Leeds in October 1838 in preparation for a public meeting planned the following week at which delegates to the first Chartist Convention would be elected. Rider was himself to be elected a delegate, with Feargus O’Connor and Pitkeathley. Rider resigned from the Convention when it failed to support his call to arm itself. He left Britain in 1855 and stayed at Bussey’s Boarding House in New York. He returned home ‘after twenty years in America’, according to letter received by Gammage: see Gammage, History of the Chartist Movement, page 414.

[11] George White is considered in Stephen Roberts Radical Politicians and Poets in Early Victorian Britain, Lampeter, 1993, pages 11-38. He was a member of the provisional committee of the Leeds Working Men’s Association, founded in 1837, and mover of the resolution to establish it. White was an Irishman who worked as a woolcomber, who was later employed by Feargus O’Connor as a reporter and agent for the Northern Star. White became secretary of the Leeds Northern Union set up to replace the Leeds Working Men’s Association. White was first arrested and imprisoned after visiting shops in Leeds in 1839 with a subscription book (in aid of the Chartist movement) and a black book into which he entered the names of “enemies of the people” who would not contribute. Imprisoned again in 1840 at Wakefield House of Correction, he suffered considerable hardship and was said to have fallen from the treadmill twice through ill health. Later White moved to Bradford, where he worked with a more militant group of Chartists than could be found in Leeds. He left Britain in 1850 and was reported in Kansas City and California but returned to Leeds in 1860s.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Aspects of Chartism: Birmingham 3

Church Chartism

There was a vital and organic link between politics and religion in the nineteenth century. Chartism reflected this and used religious language and gained the support of religious leaders. Protestant evangelicalism was at its height and many Christian Chartists gathered strength from their belief that they were truly the agents of God’s work. In part, especially in 1838 and 1839 battle lines were drawn on religious grounds. In some areas, clerical attitudes to working class action appear to have been crucial. At least forty clergymen sympathised actively with the Chartist movement from the Unitarian Yeovil minister Henry Solly and the Baptist Thomas Davies of Merthyr to the eloquent Congregationalist Alexander Duncanson. They stood on the ‘moral’ wing of the movement but that did not stop their chapel invective from being fiery. J.R. Stephens gave an apocalyptic sermon on 3rd August 1839 before his trial at Chester. He warned of God’s ruin of unrighteous civilisations and proclaimed the Second Coming. Some, like preachers in the West Riding, shared the lives of their congregations. Benjamin Rushton was a working handloom weaver, William Thornton a wool-comber and John Arran variously a blacksmith, teacher and dealer in coffee and tea. Clerical support was strongest from the oldest and newest branches of Nonconformity and this raised hopes of an alliance between Chartism and Nonconformity over issues like education, the relationship between church and state and political reform. It would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of religious radicalism. Even the NCA membership card carried the words: ‘This is Our Charter, God is Our Guide’. It was also evident in the frequent inclusion of some form of religious ceremony into Chartist rituals, from blessing the food at radical dinners, singing ‘Chartist Hymns’ to holding Chartist funerals[1].

By March 1840, permanent congregations had been formed in some places and this formed the beginnings of the Christian Chartist Churches. Some Chartists thought that a Chartist Synod should be set up to embrace all the local Chartist churches. In January 1841, a delegate conference of all the Chartist churches in Scotland was held to consider how they could help each other and whether any central organisation was necessary. No further delegate conferences were held and after 1841 there appears to have been a steady decline in the number of localities where Chartist services were held. Despite this, when Reverend William Hill toured Scotland in August 1842, he found that the Christian Chartist churches remained the main strength of Scottish Chartism.

The focus for Church Chartism had already moved south into England. Arthur O’Neill[2] preached to Chartist congregations on Sundays and built up the organisation during the week. He was appointed a delegate to the demonstration arranged for the release of John Collins and William Lovett from Warwick gaol in July 1840. His sincerity made a great impression on Birmingham Chartists. Moreover, though he went back to Scotland for a short time, he returned to Birmingham, at Collins’ invitation, in late 1840 to give a series of lectures and sermons at the opening of a Chartist Church. The Birmingham Chartist Church was opened on 27th December 1840 at Newhall Street with O’Neill as its pastor. He believed that the true church could not remain aside from daily events but ‘must enter into the struggles of the people and guide them’. The Chartist Church was overtly political and its ideology and practice reflected the strengths and weakness of the Birmingham radical movement. O’Neill believed in the importance of links with the middle class. His attitude to the middle class was not uncritical. In the tract The Question: what good will the Charter do?, he challenged the new industrial society criticising the middle class for its failure to fulfil the promises of the 1832 Reform Act and denouncing the inhumanity of both the New Poor Law and the factory system. Despite this, O’Neill always leaned, even in his most radical phases, towards the middle class alliance.

O’Connor saw the Chartist Church as a diversion from the ‘true’ aims of the movement. He opposed the Birmingham Church on particular as well as general grounds. He argued that it was objectionable to set up a church that barred Irish Catholics. George White, the leader of the NCA in Birmingham, supported his outlook. O’Neill returned their antipathy by not allowing members of the Chartist Church to join the NCA. There were occasions when the two groups came together – the joint petitioning for the release of Frost, Williams and Jones and their common opposition to the Anti-Corn Law League. However, the basic opposition of the Church to physical force and O’Neill’s support for a middle class alliance remained a serious obstacle to closer ties. Yet O’Neill remained a Chartist. He sided with the Chartist majority when Joseph Sturge and many of the middle class members of the Complete Suffrage Union withdrew from the December 1842 conference after the vote to endorse the Charter though the experience confirmed his fears about the Chartist leadership.

The rift with Sturge was short-lived. In January 1843, O’Neill attended a meeting of the council of the Complete Suffrage Union where his plans for strengthening its organisation were accepted. He was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment in August 1843 and on his release returned to the Newhall Street Church declaring that, he was ‘still a Chartist’. The context of Birmingham Chartism had, however, changed and no longer implied support for the national movement led by O’Connor. The revival of ‘harmonious co-operation’ between the classes was renewed. It absorbed both the Complete Suffrage Union and the Chartist Church that dissolved respectively in December 1845 and the following year. This change in O’Neill’s attitude can be seen in 1848 when, as elsewhere, Chartism revived in Birmingham. With other former Christian Chartists O’Neill joined middle class radicals in forming a short-lived Reform League in the town supporting Joseph Hume’s agitation for the ‘Little Charter’.

After 1842

Reorganisation of Chartism took place in Birmingham in late 1843. Chartism in the district had been disorganised since the miners’ strike of August 1842. There was a suggestion that the different localities in the town merge but this was opposed. Eventually a resolution setting up localities was passed and a large Birmingham committee of thirty-two men was then elected. An important degree of district organisation was achieved by the setting up of the Birmingham and Midland Counties Charter Association in early 1843 but this appears to have achieved little. There appears to have been a shift in focus by many working class radicals in Birmingham in 1843 and 1844 towards trade unionism. This may have been linked to the revival in trade but at the annual Chartist convention in April 1845, there was no delegate from Birmingham. There was some involvement by Chartists in the town in the Land Plan and a revival, of sorts in 1847 and 1848. Though Chartist persisted in the town until February 1860 and co-existed with Secularism throughout the 1850s, Chartism ceased to play as significant a role in the town compared to the years between 1838 and 1843.

Conclusions

Historians have traditionally divided Birmingham’s style of Chartism into two differing types.

  • In Birmingham, radicalism was based either on artisans or on the middle classes. It was characterised by a focus on moral force or philanthropy.
  • In the surrounding Black Country, working class radicalism was more important and, under the influence of Feargus O’Connor grounded in physical force.

This oversimplifies the situation and is based on a false view of the ways in which Birmingham’s economy functioned. The notion that there was a significant degree of class co-operation in the town is, after 1839 invalid. Working class radicalism, in one form or another was endemic in the town during the 1830s. The belief that the revival of the BPU that led to the development of working class radical leadership in the town is largely the creation of historians from Gammage onwards.


[1] H.U. Faulkner Chartism and the Churches: A Study in Democracy, New York, 1916 provides a somewhat dated view of the development of ‘Church Chartism’ in the early 1840s but should be supplemented by Eileen Lyon Politicians in the Pulpit: Christian Radicalism in Britain from the Fall of the Bastille to the Disintegration of Chartism, Ashgate, 1999.

[2] Valuable biographical information on Arthur O’ Neill can be found in Joyce M. Bellamy and John Saville (eds.) Dictionary of Labour Biography volume vi, Macmillan, 1982, pages 193-198 and Joseph O. Baylen and Norbert J. Grossman (eds.) Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals since 1770, volume 2: 1830-1870, Brighton, 1984, pages 391-394.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Aspects of Chartism: Birmingham 2

Chartism in Birmingham: the early phase 1838-1840

The conventional view of Chartism in Birmingham has been accepted by historians since R. G. Gammage[1]. Chartism, it is argued, grew directly from the revival of the BPU in 1837. This time, its middle class leadership was frightened off by the violent rhetoric of the national leadership, notable in the persons of Stephens and O’Connor. There followed a brief, and for Birmingham uncharacteristic, period of class conflict culminating in the Bull Ring riots of July 1839. The conflict allowed O’Neill’s Christian Chartists and Joseph Sturge’s Complete Suffrage Union of 1842 to restate the essential unity of interests between masters and men.

There was initially no necessary connection between the Charter, published in May 1838 and the Petition. As the depression deepened, the BPU became more active. Early in 1838, R.K. Douglas (editor of the Birmingham Journal) drafted a National Petition setting out the demands of the BPU and Thomas Salt talked of collecting two million signatures in support of Chartist demands. P.H. Muntz worked out plans for a National Convention and Attwood planned a ‘sacred week’. Letters of encouragement were sent to other reformers and John Collins[2] was sent to Glasgow on a ‘missionary’ visit, followed in May be a deputation from Birmingham. It was here that the BPU made contact with the LWMA. On 14th May 1838, the LWMA adopted the national petition for reform and on 5th June 1838, the BPU council adopted the Charter. The LWMA had approached the BPU as early as June 1837 without result, but was the first to respond to the BPU. Ideas for a Charter and petition came together. On 17th July 1838, the BPU met and planned for a convention to elect delegates.

Tensions between working and middle class radicals appeared in the middle of 1838. On 6th August 1838, a rally was held on Newhall Hill, attended by about 200,000 people. Birmingham led the way and chose delegates for the national convention. Mark Hovell commented that the BPU[3] “died in giving birth to the Chartist movement”. At this meeting, working class radicals demanded the election of seven working men to the BPU Council and also the adoption of John Collins as one of the Chartist delegates. By November, tensions became increasingly evident when some of the working class councillors began to complain of the way the BPU council worked.  These tensions cannot be adequately explained as the clash between moral and physical force that it has been portrayed in the past. Arguably, the whole tenor of the BPU’s approach was one of physical force especially its support for a general strike (the ‘sacred month’) if the petition was rejected.  Nor were the tensions a result of the clash of personalities between O’Connor and the BPU leadership. The question of control of the movement was central, but it revolved around the level of participation allowed to the working class radicals. It was this that was the central issue. Middle and working class elements within the BPU had arrived at Chartist from two different positions. They certainly shared the same political programme but their conception of the emergent democratic form was very different. Working class aspirations within Chartism lay not only in obtaining political rights but using them effectively. The approach of the BPU was far more pragmatic and questioned the validity of the notion of equality of citizenship.

Tensions built up within the BPU on the second half of 1838 culminating in the resignation of Hadley, Muntz, Salt and Douglas from the Convention in March 1839. It is often suggested that it was the flagging interest of the BPU’s middle class radicals that created a local working class leadership in the spring of 1839. This is to confused cause and effect. It was the strength of working class leadership, in both its local and national forms, that convinced many middle class radicals that Chartism would not provide the kind of democracy they envisaged. To the Chartists, there was an inescapable correlation between the success of middle class radicals in the municipal elections of December 1838 and their gradual withdrawal from the Chartist movement.  Success in the local elections for key figures on the BPU council, transformed a mass-based agitation in which they took part into a problem of law and order. This was most clearly exemplified in the question of the meetings in the Bull Ring. From January 1839, under working class direction, these meetings demonstrated graphically the tension between working and middle class radicals in the town. On 10th May 1839, they were declared illegal by the magistrates now including P. H. Muntz: a classic case of poacher turned gamekeeper.

In February 1839, the First Chartist Convention took place and on 7th May 1839, the National Petition was ready to be presented by John Fielden and Thomas Attwood. However, Attwood was unhappy at the idea that if the Charter became law, the Irish would get two hundred of the six hundred seats proposed for the new House of Commons. The “Bedchamber Crisis” intervened.  On 13th May 1839, the Convention reconvened in Birmingham at the Owenites’ Lawrence Street chapel. Birmingham Chartists had become more provocative since the demise of the BPU but neither the LWMA nor the BPU could work with the northern Chartists under O’Connor. A ‘Sacred Month’ or ‘national holiday’ was proposed for August 1839; in effect a general strike. It was even attempted in Bolton and two men (John Warden and George Lloyd) were tried at the Liverpool Assizes for riot. The proposal for a ‘Sacred Month’ shows the divisions in Chartism: London and some in Birmingham wanted a peaceful protest; O’Connor and the northerners wanted greater direct action.

The government used sixty London police to control the rioters and to arrest the leaders, which was less provocative than using troops. After the leaders had been arrested, the rank and file Chartists were temporarily disunited and dispersed. The events of 1839 were important because they resulted in moderate men abandoning Chartism because they disliked riots and social disorder.

Historians have tended to see a ‘collapse’ in the movement with the arrest of its leaders. Revival only occurred when these leaders began to return from prison. This is too stark a chronology and in Birmingham, there is ample evidence showing continuity between 1839 and 1841-2. During 1840, the major concern of Chartists in Birmingham was sustaining the families of imprisoned Chartists and discussions on the future of the movement. From August 1840, some Chartists leaders were being released. When William Lovett and John Collins were freed from Warwick gaol, their reception in Birmingham was tumultuous and perhaps marks the high point of working class radicalism in the town.

Most of the Chartist leaders were released in 1841 bringing with them differing thoughts about the organisation of Chartism. Some of these reflected in Birmingham. One centre of these differences was the Birmingham Christian Chartist Church formed by Arthur O’Neill in December 1840. Another complication arose in January 1841 with the creation of the Birmingham Total Abstinence Chartist Association. Parallel to these developments was the creation of the National Charter Association led by O’Connor. He was opposed to any dilution or compromising of working class Chartism by Christian, Teetotal, Education or any other middle class brand. His view was that such varieties were useful as long as their supporters adhered to the main NCA body. This, the minorities refused to do.

The first attempt to reconcile differing views was made in March 1841 by George White who had been made Northern Star correspondent for the Birmingham area. This initially proved successful, but divisions soon returned. The growth of Chartism from the beginning of 1841 was rapid. The movement was stirred by the death in prison of John Clayton, a Sheffield Chartist. The NCA continued to seek unity and criticise the separatists and channels of communication were kept open with the Christian Chartists and Owenite Socialists in the town.

Class collaboration revived

In 1842, the Birmingham Complete Suffrage Union (CSU) was formed[4]. This was an attempt by Joseph Sturge and Edward Miall[5] to unite moral and physical force Chartists. They tried to persuade Chartist leaders to go for only universal suffrage. The also tried to link Chartism to the Anti-Corn Law League. Joseph Sturge is a good example of a Utopian leader. He was a Quaker and pacifist, a close friend of Richard Cobden and John Bright and close ally and member of the Anti Corn Law League up to 1841. He opposed slavery, and stood against the Police Act of 1839. In November 1841, he proposed founding a movement for franchise extension at an Anti Corn Law League meeting, which got a mixed reception because the leaders of the ACLL were unwilling to become involved with political radicalism. Sturge did find support from among the Nonconformists and the Chartists who opposed O’Connor supported the Complete Suffrage Union.

On 5th April 1842, a conference was held in Birmingham attended by such men as O’Brien, Collins and Lovett. The Six Points were carried to Sturge’s surprise and the dispute between Chartists and the CSU was reduced to whether or not the CSU should commit itself to support the Charter in name. The middle class objected because Chartism was associated with violence. The Chartists thought the middle classes were lukewarm.  In December 1842, a further conference was held, attended by O’Connor and many of his followers. Once again, the meeting divided over the adoption of the ‘name’ of the Charter. Sturge was prepared to compromise because he had already decided that free trade should come after the Charter had been obtained. He had proposed prohibitive tariffs on slave-produced goods, which had caused him to break with the Anti Corn Law League. Sturge’s group was overwhelmingly defeated. At its peak, the CSU had had about sixty branches in different towns. The National Charter Association was strengthened because the moderates were divided and disillusioned. All of them abandoned Chartism and left it to O’Connor and the violent elements.

The Plug Plots also helped to divide Chartism, as did the failure of the second Petition. The moderates discovered that they had been too idealistic with regard to the working class and had not realised how gullible they were, nor how illiterate and uninformed. They had attributed too much ability to the working class man, who needed to be educated and informed before movements like Chartism could succeed. Lovett then began to devote his attention to his National Society for Promoting the Political and Social Improvement of the People, with Place and Hetherington: a London self-help organisation especially to educate the workers. Asa Briggs[6] comments that: “Lovett had lost faith; not in his doctrinaire principles, but in the men through whom alone they could be made actual”.

Sturge also abandoned Chartism. He had hoped to ally Chartism with the Anti Corn Law League but this was impossible because the middle and working classes had little common ground as evidenced by the 1832 Reform Act, the Ten-Hour Campaign, the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act and the differing attitudes towards Trade Unions. The Chartists regarded any Chartist allying himself with the Anti-Corn Law League as a traitor. The Anti-Corn Law League could not guarantee better wages for the working classes and the Chartists believed that any profits from free trade would not benefit the workers. Thus, the Birmingham Chartists put their hopes on universal suffrage and left economic reform to the Anti-Corn Law League. Sturge promoted voluntary education schemes and world peace. He became President of the Peace Society. He was also a Birmingham philanthropist. As G.D.H. Cole[7] notes, Sturge was, indeed, from first to last, indefatigable in his pursuit of good causes. His weakness was that he looked much less at causes than at effects, and never penetrated below the surface ills of the society that he so ardently desired to reform…He had, in effect, the essential qualities of a great philanthropist, but he lacked those requisite for the successful political reformer.”


[1] R. G. Gammage History of the Chartist Movement, 1894 edition, pages 83-4 and 107-135 saw O’Connor and ‘physical force’ as the major disruptive influence on an otherwise unified BPU, a view echoed by subsequent writers from Mark Hovell through to J. T. Ward.

[2] For John Collins (?-1850) see, Joseph O. Baylen and Norbert J. Grossman (eds.) Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals since 1770, volume 2: 1830-1870, Brighton, 1984, pages 147-148.

[3] Mark Hovell The Chartist Movement, Manchester University Press, 1918, page 108.

[4] On the Complete Suffrage Union, Alexander Wilson ‘The Suffrage Movement’ in Patricia Hollis (ed.) Pressure from Without in Early Victorian England, Edward Arnold, 1974, pages 80-104 considers the 1840s and the 1850s with a useful section on the CSU. Alex Tyrrell Joseph Sturge and the Moral Radical Party in Early Victorian Britain, Croom Helm, 1987 is the standard biography but a shorter biography is in Joseph O. Baylen and Norbert J. Grossman (eds.) Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals since 1770, volume 2: 1830-1870, Brighton, 1984, pages 493-495.

[5] On Edward Miall (1809-1881) see, Joseph O. Baylen and Norbert J. Grossman (eds.) Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals since 1770, volume 2: 1830-1870, Brighton, 1984, pages 343-349.

[6] In the 1965 introduction to G.D.H. Cole Chartist Portraits, page vii, quoting Cole in the 1941 edition, page 61.

[7] G.D.H. Cole Chartist Portraits, Macmillan, 1941, pages 185-186.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Aspects of Chartism: Birmingham 1

Geographically, Birmingham is situated in the Midlands, half way between London’s crafts and the industrial north[1]. Economically it is also split between crafts and industry, an uneasy mixture that was reflected in Birmingham’s Chartism. Industries included the precision metal trades such as silver crafting and small arms manufacture. Artisans and silversmiths also made buckles and buttons; pottery thrived in the area. In addition, heavy industry such as coal and iron could be found. Birmingham was the hub of the canal network. The traditional view is that Birmingham Chartists were more akin to the London Working Men’s Association than to the northern Chartists because they were artisans rather than factory hands. Clive Behagg has effectively demolished the view of Birmingham as a town in which class collaboration and class peace were widespread[2].

Traditional views challenged

Behagg argues that the traditional view of Birmingham as a town in which there was a community of interest between employer and employee is based on the predominance of the workshop within the town’s economic structure[3]. This, it is suggested explained the degree of unity between working class and middle class radicals in the Birmingham Political Union in the 1830s. This analysis focused on the closeness between masters and men forged by a combination of close physical proximity in workshops, the indispensability of skilled labour to small-scale production, the absence of large-scale capital investment and the acknowledged possibility of upward social mobility from employee to employer status. This, historians suggested, created a degree of social cohesion that led to stability in local political relations. The problem with this view of the town is that recent research fits uneasily into the pattern. R. B. Rose has suggested that by the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 a working class with a political consciousness was beginning to emerge in the town. Michael Frost, in his study of the education of working class children suggests that the extension of schooling in Birmingham was a response to the breakdown of traditional authority. Interest and investment in education for working class children corresponded to times of social upheaval, particularly in the 1790s, 1815-20 and 1827-33. Hooper’s analysis of the town in the 1850s emphasises the importance of trade unionism while Bramwell shows a clear segregation of the classes in the town at the same period. Behagg shows that in the early nineteenth century, the economic and social relationship between the artisan and small master was strong. However, by the 1850s, the small masters had been marginalised and replaced by small manufacturers with their emphasis on the ethos of individualism and the Victorian gospel of achievement. The individualism of this petit-bourgeoisie set them increasingly apart from the collective attitudes of the working community.

The Birmingham Political Union

In December 1829, the Birmingham Political Union[4] was founded by Thomas Attwood[5], deliberately designed for class co-operation. Attwood was a banker and is a rare example of a Chartist with any economic sense. He said, “The interests of masters and men are in fact one. If the masters flourish, the men are certain to flourish with them; and if the masters suffer difficulties, their difficulties shortly affect the workmen in a threefold degree.” Attwood was a conservative at heart; he favoured currency reform. He made the BPU the strongest and most influential radical organisation in England between 1829 and 1832. Daniel O’Connell commented, “It was not Grey and Althorp who carried [the Reform Act] but the brave and determined men of Birmingham”.

The BPU’s middle class leadership often claimed to have actually created any sense of political awareness that existed among the working class in Birmingham in the 1830s. In fact, by 1830, the working class elements within the town’s radical movement had a long tradition of political activity. Many of the artisans who were active in the BPU were veteran reformers of the post-1815 period when there was little support from the town’s upper middle class. Radical organisations had centred on a local Hampden Club in 1816-17. The Club began a tradition of open-air meetings and radical publications attacking Old Corruption and calling for economic retrenchment and representative government through universal suffrage. Two important points emerge from this.  First, by the 1820s, artisan radicalism had evolved a political programme centred on universal suffrage.  Secondly, this period of agitation took place without the support of that section of the upper middle class that played a central role in the BPU. This lay the movement open to attack from local Tories who organised in 1819 as the Loyal Association for the Suppression and Refutation of Blasphemy and Sedition. It was involved in the prosecution of leading radicals and by 1821 eleven of the local leaders were in prison for seditious offences.

The vulnerability of the radical movement without ‘respectable’ support was the great lesson of the post-war agitation as far as Birmingham’s radicals were concerned. This helps explain the willingness of the working class leadership in the Reform agitation to subsume its wider programme and identity within the broader complexion of the BPU. Bronterre O’Brien, editor of the Midland Representative, announced that the working class were “willing to receive [the Bill] as an instalment, or part payment of the debt right due to us”. Attwood, though he consistently opposed universal suffrage in the early 1830s shrewdly kept the notion of further reform open at BPU meetings. The notion of piecemeal reform had yet to be discredited.

In the aftermath of the Reform campaign, working class activities were contained in three separate organisations: the Committee of the Non Electors, the United Trades and the Committee of the Unemployed Artisans. Once the full impact of the failure of the Reform campaign to provide comprehensive suffrage reform became obvious, the working classes fell back on the programme of the earlier radical tradition. A meeting of the Unemployed Artisans in September 1832 declared for universal suffrage, the ballot, annual parliaments and the abolition of property qualifications for MPs. This programme was endorsed at a meeting to form a Midland Union of the Working Class (MUWC) in November as a branch of the National Union of the Working Classes. Though short-lived, the MUWC is important since its creation followed the rejection by the BPU leadership in July 1832 of a petition of the National Union for the adoption of universal suffrage as part of its programme. The MUWC showed potential tensions within the BPU and was an indication that the town’s working class entered the 1830s with both a radical leadership and a political programme. However, a direct challenge to the BPU was not possible at this time. Its middle class leadership retained its credibility among the working class and Attwood’s popularity was increasing.

At this stage, fundamental differences did exist between middle and working class radicals in Birmingham. In October 1832, Henry Hetherington arrived to spread propaganda for the National Union of the Working Classes. He wanted separate working-class action and universal suffrage. His ideas were unacceptable to Attwood, but Attwood was also disillusioned with the 1832 Reform Act. He also criticised the Whigs and Tories, attacked the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act and wanted the extension of the franchise. The BPU shrank in size in the period of relative prosperity, but Attwood believed that it would revive if the economy worsened. Attwood noted in the Birmingham Journal on 12th November 1836 “Mr. Cobbett used to say, ‘I defy you to agitate a fellow with a full stomach.’ Nothing is more true. Men do not generally act from abstract principles, but from deep and unrewarded wrongs, injuries and sufferings.”

Attwood’s position in the mid-1830s was ambiguous largely because Birmingham’s middle class was ambiguous in its attitude to universal suffrage. Substantial sections of the middle class remained outside the BPU and though sympathetic to the representation of the urban interest in Parliament, drew back from a popular campaign. This came to a head in the agitation for a Charter of Incorporation after 1835. This has been seen as a struggle for supremacy within the urban middle classes in Birmingham and was a successful attempt to break of dominance of local administrative bodies by family-oriented factions and move towards cheap, efficient local government responsive to the needs of ratepayers. It was also an attempt to sever links with the county families. The campaign ran from late 1837 to December 1838 when the first municipal elections took place. Of the thirty-four members of the BPU Council, fourteen were elected to the new Town Council.

In September 1836, a Reform Association was set up following the first indications of economic collapse to maintain the radical momentum of the original BPU. It was aimed at alleviating the distress, but quickly developed into a political movement. In March 1837, Birmingham merchants, manufacturers and others tried to tell the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne how serious things were. In April 1837, workmen asked the BPU to be revived. The middle classes wanted working class support, which was forthcoming. Consequently, in May 1837 the BPU was formally revived and on 19th June 1837 the revival was celebrated with a mass meeting on Newhall Hill that advanced a programme of parliamentary reform: household suffrage (changed to universal manhood suffrage in November), vote by ballot, triennial parliaments, payment of MPs and Abolition of the property qualification for MPs.

Parallel to this, independent working class activity organised by the Working Men’s Memorial Committee occurred. This included a petition with 13,000 signatures requesting a joint meeting of masters and men to discuss distress that took place on 30th May 1837. In October, the Committee called a town meeting to petition parliament over distress. The BPU supported this petition but received little support from the government. This further emphasised the need for manhood suffrage and raised the question of what could be done if parliament refused to introduce measures to relieve poverty and extend trade. The BPU was moving towards an acceptance of manhood suffrage that it had previously resisted. This was endorsed on 15th January 1838 together with the idea of lobbying other towns for a projected National Petition for political reform[6]. On this basis, the Working Men’s Memorial Committee committed itself to association with the BPU on 23rd January 1838.


[1] Eric Hopkins Birmingham: The First Manufacturing Town in the World, 1760-1840, Weidenfeld, 1989 is the most accessible history of the town in this period.

[2] Behagg’s views in relation to Chartism are best approach through Clive Behagg ‘An Alliance with the Middle Class: the Birmingham Political Union and Early Chartism’, in James Epstein and Dorothy Thompson (eds.) The Chartist Experience, Macmillan, 1982, pages 59-86 and Politics & Production in the Early Nineteenth Century, Routledge, 1990, especially pages 184-222.

[3] The view of Birmingham as a centre of class collaboration can be found in Robert Kirkup Dent Old and New Birmingham, Birmingham, 1880, Robert Kirkup Dent The Making of Birmingham, Birmingham, 1894 J. A. Langford A Century of Birmingham Life: or a Chronicle of Local Events from 1741 to 1841, Birmingham 1868 and John Thackeray Bunce History of the Corporation of Birmingham, three volumes, Birmingham, 1878-1902. The modern myth perpetrators include Conrad Gill History of Birmingham, 1952 and Trygve Tholfsen ‘The Chartist Crisis in Birmingham’, International Review of Social History, volume III, (1958).

[4] Carlos Flick The Birmingham Political Union and the Movements for Reform in Britain 1830-1839, Dawson, 1978 is the best study of the BPU and covers its ‘Chartist year’. George Barnsby maintains in the bibliography to his Birmingham Working People, Wolverhampton, 1990, “This is something of a rogue item. Flick’s thesis is that the reputation of the BPU as the national leadership of the fight for the Reform Act was a figment of Attwood’s imagination and a result of his propaganda machine. This would seem to take debunking too far…”

[5] David J. Moss Thomas Attwood: The Biography of a Radical, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1990 is the most valuable biography but see also Joseph O. Baylen and Norbert J. Grossman (eds.) Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals since 1770, volume 2: 1830-1870, Brighton, 1984, pages 28-33.

[6] Two events perhaps help to explain the change of policy by the BPU. In November 1837, Lord John Russell made clear in his ‘Finality speech’ that the Whigs would not introduce further reform. Attwood claimed that his conversion to manhood suffrage stemmed from shock at the Queen’s recent speech in which she made no reference to distress at home.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

History in Danger again!

Maria Grever and Siep Stuurman (eds.)

Beyond the Canon: History for the Twenty-First Century

(Palgrave, 2007)

222pp., £45 hard, ISBN 978-0-230-51650-2

Why is government throughout the Western World increasingly concerned about national identity and the transmission of historical knowledge? The answer perhaps lies in the increasingly fluid world in which we live where substantial population migration appears to be the norm and where ‘our’ history is no longer accepted with the same quietism that was the case a generation ago. Defining who were are and what our history is used to be relatively straightforward; in many respects the early attempts to produce a National Curriculum reflected, though not without disagreement, what the ‘great and the good’ saw as important in our history. That certainly no longer exists as we now try to come to terms with our past, a process that had parallels in Germany, the United States, the Netherlands, France, South Africa and Canada. Take, for example, the debate over the slave trade and whether the government should apologise for this. Is it possible to apologise to people long dead and should one apologise to their descendents? Are we applying today’s moral imperatives to the past and is that, in fact desirable? The slave trade, for all its barbarity, existed and apologising now for events two hundred years ago and more seems to me a token but then perhaps it is a necessary token.

I remember a discussion with year nine students on the slave trade where we looked at its morality. Those who did not really think about the issue quickly concluded that we should apologise because slavery was wrong, a moral judgement without doubt but perhaps not a historical one. However, those who thought more deeply about the issue began to ask the sorts of questions that politicians ought to be asking before reaching heavily-spun and simplistic conclusions. Why did some people in 1780 believe that slavery was morally right? Would we have supported the slave trade in the eighteenth century? The students split on the issue with some arguing that if they were merchants and wanted to make a good profit they probably would have traded in slaves. Would we support slavery today? No contest, of course not. As one student, not the brightest in the ground, said, it all depends on the context.

Our historical identity demands a clear historical context and narrative. The problem is that in a world of flux neither the context nor the narrative are as clear as they once were. I had thought that Butterfield buried Whig approach to history but it seems not; it has undergone a dramatic revival enhanced by the historical application of political correctness. So has history come down to relativism? Has it become yet another too of government?

These issues form an important theme in an excellent collection of fourteen papers that consider old canons and new histories. Part 1 considers the framing of historical knowledge and contains an excellent paper by Peter Lee on the issue of historical literacy. Part 2 looks at the foundations and revisions of the Western Canon considering issues such as the Enlightenment as a possible canon for modernity, citizenship and the crisis in the Humanities, rethinking the nation in historical museums and gender. The final part considers the transmission of historical knowledge in multicultural settings including a powerful chapter on slavery. This is an important book for history teachers since it places some of the issues that are raised in the classroom and by revisions to the history curriculum in a global context. If it is true that every generation rewrites the history of the previous generation, then the message for history teachers in Britain is that you are not alone in your concerns.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Aspects of Chartism: Barnsley Radicalism

In the spring and summer of 1838, delegations from the Birmingham Political Union toured Scotland and northern England to promote the Union’s famous ‘Petition’ for parliamentary reform. On 11th June, one of the delegations addressed a large public meeting in Barnsley. The Barnsley meeting unanimously adopted the petition and resolved to form a local association on the Birmingham model. A 24-man committee, consisting mainly of linen handloom weavers, was elected to collect local signatures for the petition. In its quest for local support, the committee later issued a 4000-word manifesto[1] addressed to their ‘fellow workmen’ of Barnsley and the neighbourhood.

The working class in the northern industrial districts largely responded to Chartism because of their economic plight. Unlike the men of London and Birmingham, whose pursuit for the Charter was based on noble ideals, the northern working classes acted according to the dictates of the stomach. The Barnsley Manifesto itself, which dwells on working class hunger, misery and exploitation, lends support to this. However, radicalism was deeply embedded in Barnsley, as in many other northern towns and its driving force transcended short-term economic hardships.

The Barnsley working class had been involved in serious radical politics for a long time. Two of the signatories to the manifesto, John Vallance and Arthur Collins, took part in the Grange Moor Insurrection of 1820, a climax of post Napoleonic war radicalism in Barnsley. In the early 1830s, many Barnsley workingmen took part in the Owenite co-operative movement, the trade union and Reform Bill agitation and the ‘war of the unstamped’. Joseph Lingard, father of one of the signatories to the manifesto, was the local distributor of unstamped papers. He opened a reading room where workingmen not only read the illegal literature but also held political discussions. It was an experience to which some of the radicals and Chartists owed ‘whatever knowledge they possessed in politics’. Local agitation for parliamentary reform was revived as early as 1835 when a local Radical Association was formed. The association worked closely with sister associations in such neighbouring towns as Leeds and Huddersfield, and with O’Connor’s Radical Association in London. The local association not only held annual dinners to celebrate Henry Hunt’s birthday but also petitioned for a reform of Parliament, and discussed issues such as ‘taxes on knowledge’, the relationship between church and state, and the New Poor Law. During 1837-8, the level of activity rose to a new pitch. In the following years, Barnsley was one of Feargus O’Connor’s strongholds.

The Barnsley Manifesto expresses mainstream Chartist thought. It appealed to working class poverty and suffering and the authors were well versed in exploitation theory. Labour was the creator of all wealth, but those who never worked siphoned off most of this wealth. The latter monopolised political power that they used to enact laws that were as partial as they were extortionate. According to this analysis, the ruling class used its monopoly of power to rob labour of the fruits of its own industry through heavy taxation. Because of its insatiable appetite for ‘sumptuous revellings’ and other forms of upper-class extravagance, the ruling class never ceased devising means of getting the larger share of whatever additional wealth labour produced. Thus, the exploitation of the poor lay not so much in the economic processes of production, distribution and exchange, as in the political process of law making. It was, therefore, logical to argue that the exploitation of the working class would end only when they gained admission into the political system. The Chartists do not seem to have questioned seriously the economic system that condemned them to the status of wage earners.

By the mid-1830s, the concept of the ‘industrious classes’ that recognised that both the working class and the industrial middle class were exploited producers of wealth, had completely broken down. The Barnsley Manifesto stated that ‘there is no wealth but what the working class creates’. The middle class was on the side of those who exploited industry. One Barnsley Chartist once referred to the middle class as ‘the aristocracy of pounds, shillings and pence’, who were ready to ‘starve the people and, if possible, would coin the people’s hearts’ blood to prolong their reign’. The Chartist platform defined the relationship between property and power, though not always clearly. The middle class came under attack less often for its conduct as the employers of labour than for its participation in such class legislation as the New Poor Law,

Other strands of Chartism are revealed in the document. Thomas Paine’s appeal to natural rights and liberty is an important element, as is the influence of religion. The manifesto condemned the religious intolerance of the Established Church and confronted the opinions of the local religious leaders who had delivered a barrage of theological invective against the Chartist movement from their pulpits. Finally, the Chartists believed that the working class was not only the source of wealth but also of power. The power of the ruling class lay only in the working-class submission to its authority. It was only by its own exertion that the working class would liberate itself. The angry language of the manifesto was aimed at arousing the Barnsley working class to the realisation of its potential strength.


[1] The Barnsley Manifesto is printed above.