Essays on Utopian Thought and Practice
Edited By Michael J. Griffin and Tom Moylan
The Chartist Land Plan: An English Dream, an Irish Nightmare
← 284 | 285 → TIMOTHY KEANE
Owing its beginnings to William Lovett and the London Working Men’s Association, Chartism would eventually spurn the overtures of middle-class radicalism and become the movement most readily identified with the British working classes in the 1840s. Chartism swelled throughout Britain under the leadership of Feargus O’Connor, who used the pages of his newspaper, The Northern Star, to mobilize the industrial towns in the north of England. The battle cry of the Chartists demanded political inclusion, calling for an end to the “class legislation” that was only possible because the working-class voice comprised just a fraction of the electorate. The basis for this parliamentary reform was the six points of “The People’s Charter,” which called for universal suffrage, the ballot, equal electoral districts, annual parliaments, elimination of the property qualification for MPs, as well as the payment of MPs. On three occasions (1839, 1842, and 1848), the National Chartist Convention presented a petition with millions of signatures to Parliament calling for the People’s Charter to be adopted. These petitions showed the level of organization, as well as the popular support, for the measure; but in each instance, the petitioners were dismissed by Parliament and disregarded by polite society. The Chartist leadership and the Chartist press were able to unite the working classes in these endeavors to attain political inclusion for all. In these very public and very vocal petition drives, Chartism provided a semblance of unity; and, in this union, the working classes were given...
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