WHO WERE THE CHARTISTS? Part 2

To Henry Hunt, Esq., as chairman of the meeting assembled in St. Peter’s Field, Manchester, sixteenth day of August, 1819, and to the female Reformers of Manchester and the adjacent towns who were exposed to and suffered from the wanton and fiendish attack made on them by that brutal armed force, the Manchester and Cheshire Yeomanry Cavalry, this plate is dedicated by their fellow labourer, Richard Carlile. Manchester Libraries.

*

According to historian Isobel Dowling writing on Chartism in the 19th Century in her Ballarat Reform League, Inc.

There was no such thing as a typical Chartist. Chartists had different social, religious, educational and occupational  backgrounds.’ 

Most Chartists were intelligent and honest.’

‘All Chartists thought of themselves as workers, as bees not drones’ 

Chartist newspapers like ‘The Northern Star’ of Leeds owned by Feargus O’Connor advertised their meetings. Poets, singers, musicians and comedians performed at those meetings. Works by artists and artisans decorated Chartist homes. Beethoven, poems by Byron, Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’ and Robbie Burns’ ‘A Man’s a Man For a’ That’ reflected unrest and desire for social reform in Europe and Britain. These were utilised in Chartist meetings along with works created by Chartists themselves. Working class culture blossomed as Chartist organisations intended they should. Large concerts and leaders who were performers were common.

All this in spite of opposition from the new middle class comprised of mill owners, mine owners, industrialists, merchants, and wealthy landlords whose wealth and power were triggered by the Industrial Revolution. This period which had caused much economic unhappiness in communities was previously made up of agricultural workers, small farmers and self-sufficient artisans with cottage industries. Corn Laws and Poor Laws caused hunger and homelessness to spread poverty, inequality and social unrest.

Some Chartists came from the ‘working class’, people who did not own income generating property. At that time teachers, doctors, and ministers of religion were included. Others came from the ‘thinking classes’,  academics, writers, artists and artisans.  Many members came from non-conformist religions such as Methodist, Baptist and Congregationalist, as such they were abstainers of alcohol. Thinkers not drinkers? Subsequently, Temperance played a role in the fact that two forms of Chartism developed: 

Moral Chartism led by thoughtful William Lovett wanted votes for women, temperance and use of reason. ’We are of opinion’, wrote Lovett, ‘that whatever is gained in England by force, by force must be sustained: but whatever springs from knowledge and justice will sustain itself’. They used as a slogan:

 ‘Peacefully if we may, forcibly if we must.’ 

Physical Chartism, led by a fierce Feargus O’Connor, wanted the franchise only for men, was non-Temperance, and advocated violence to gain the Chartist Points. Their slogan, appropriately, had more punch:

              ‘Moral persuasion is all a humbug, nothing persuades like a lick in the lug.’ 

Although in the main it was only ‘votes for men’ that were strongly advocated, there were branches of Chartism run by women. One in Birmingham had 3,000 members.  Staunch women Chartists had campaigned as suffragists for ‘votes for women’, long before the creation of the word ‘suffragette’ by a British Daily Mail reporter in 1906 when use of violence by women became a strategy. Chartists had influenced the Pankhurst family from Manchester who were the ones who went on to lead the ‘suffragette movement’ and collect the credit from history for gaining votes for women. 

CHARTISM FADED – BUT NOT EVERYWHERE 

Bitter enmity between the two Chartist leaders created disunity within the movement, as did policy differences. Chartism’s  appeal faded from 1848 to the final National Convention in 1858. The reasons why it flamed so brightly and faded so easily are not made clear by historians. Clouded instead by the mists of time, misted history, a mystery? 

Was it opposition to temperance, or desire for use of violence that caused Chartism to fail, or did Chartism founder on the rocks of trenchant opposition to votes for women? Rocks that still exist and which, when laid bare, reveal the ‘slime of misogyny.’ As women in Britain took decades longer than New Zealand and Australian women to gain the franchise it is not surprising that such an answer seems possible. When women worldwide continue to be assaulted violently and murdered at an alarming rate and, in some places, denied education, such a thought is amplified. 

Australian women were supported by far-sighted men to gain franchise. It is tempting to ask did those men have Chartist influences? Could today’s lads look to such blokes as William Lovett as models for positive manhood? He wrote ‘Liberty in a smock frock is more than a match for tyranny in armour’ and, in 1856:

‘Would man in lovely woman ever find, 

His best adviser, lover truest friend, 

…    He must at once his gothic laws annul, 

Fling back her dower, strive only for her love. 

And proudly raise her up all rights to share.’     

Perhaps  some Chartists were stymied by the fact that in 1845, Marx and Engels left Brussels to visit the leaders of Chartists in England? Engels had already spent two years living in Manchester from 1842 to 1844. Marx in particular seriously considered whether English Chartist methods might make peaceful change possible. Did such Leftist interest alarm too many moderate Chartists? 

Although favour for Chartists dwindled in Britain, Chartism flourished elsewhere, particularly in Australia. Social unrest simmered from the French Revolution and reappeared in the uprising of thousands of miners in Bendigo and Ballarat. Chartists of both Moral and Physical persuasion, convict Chartists and free settlers took part in the Red Ribbon riots and other radical goldfields meetings. The Eureka event drove creation of our political structures, social reforms and wording of the Australian Constitution by Samuel Griffiths. 

STABILISATION OF  AUSTRALIAN DEMOCRACY THROUGH CHARTISM

This list of achievements testifies to the argument that Australian Democracy is more stable than those of the USA or UK:

1.1856 Secret Ballot —so close to first it became known as ‘The Australian Ballot’

2.1856 Universal Suffrage -Voting Rights for Men, one of the first in world

3.1856 Trade Union Success by stone masons in gaining an Eight-Hour Day, first in world 

4.1866 Five of the six points of the Chartists had been realised in Victoria and New South Wales

5.1901 Unity through Federation

6.1902  First in the world for women to both vote and stand for Federal Parliament

7. 1910  First Labo(u)r Party in power in the world

8. 1924 Compulsory Voting – only English-speaking country – only 11 other countries enforce it 

9. 1929 National Broadcaster (ABC) that guarantees at least a portion of a free press

Historian John Moloney gave a lecture in the Senate, Parliament House Canberra, on the 150th Anniversary of Eureka, 23 April 2004. After speaking about desire for a public commemoration of Eureka, he declared:

 … but there is one work that is never done, one work that will always need revivifying and defending because Democracy is much more than a system. It is an ideal, a spirit born day by day in those who believe in it. Eureka had its brief and bloody day a Century and a half ago. Eureka lives in the hearts and will of every Australian who understands, believes in, and acts on the principle that the people are the only legitimate source of political power. (John Molony ‘ Eureka and the Prerogative of the People’).

Although I was born in Ballarat, educated near and in Bendigo, it was not in history classes  where knowledge of the Eureka Stockade was given to me but from performances held through folk festivals, sessions run by Graham Seal, Keith McKenry, Warren Fahey, Jan Wositzky and information links from Gwenda Davey, Ken Mansell and Russell Hanna, as well as the works of Henry Lawson, bolstered later with knowledge gained from published books. 

In the next post find out about the Ten Links in the Australian Chartist chain …

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