A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #3: TOC
The Road To Being Canada
Chapter 33, The Chartist Movement

A "Chartist" was a member of a body of political reformers in England (chiefly of the working classes) who arose in 1837–8.1 The people behind the movement, including six Members of the British Parliament, listed their views in what became known as the Chartist Petition of 1838. There was then published the People's Charter, containing the following objectives:

* Universal suffrage for all men over the age of 21
* Equal-sized electoral districts
* Voting by secret ballot
* An end to the need for a property qualification for Parliament (so that constituencies could return the man of their choice, rich or poor)
* Pay for members of Parliament
* Annual election of Parliament

One writer2 was of the view that "chartism included supporters of extreme individualism and of complete collectivism. All agreed that the existing order of society was unjust; the individualists wanted greater freedom and equality of opportunity for the common man, and the Owenites a more sensible arrangement of production and distribution." The very name of the People's Charter helped the opponents to a nickname: Chartist became a word of reproach.

George Macaulay Trevelyan:

"The popular victory over the Corn Laws two years back and the spreading tide of new prosperity and well-being removed all fear of revolutionary contagion. The Chartist flame had been burning low for half a dozen years past, and its last flicker was the famous procession to Parliament in April 1848. So far from over-awing Lords and Commons, the incident was more memorable for the alacrity with which the middle classes turned out as special constables, than for any formidable display of working-class effervescence."3
A number of people, even those among the Chartists themselves, considered the movement useless. It did not get much support from those, politicians, who might turn the points in the Chartist Petition into law. The movement sputtered out within a couple of years, particularly after a number of their adherents were sent off to jail to cool their heels. It sputtered back to life with new adherents during the balance of the decade and right on to the 1840s.
"The initial failure to gain a hearing for the National Petition was complicated by unending faction among the Chartists ... Then, after a few frenzied efforts had been made to keep the cause alive, it slowly perished of mere inanition. The judgment of its own age has been accepted by many later historians, and there has been a general agreement in placing Chartism among the lost causes of history."4

NEXT: [Chapter 34, The Brandy Election Of 1830]


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Peter Landry