Article

Chartism

Kirstie Blair

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online March 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0012
Chartism

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Chartism was a national political movement, associated with working-class radicalism, with the avowed goal of forcing the British parliament to accept the “Six Points” of the People’s Charter: a vote for every man over 21, secret ballots, no property qualification for MPs, salaries for MPs, equal constituencies, and annual parliaments. All of these demands except the last would be met within a century. The People’s Charter originated from the London Working Men’s Association (LWMA) and was published in 1837. It rapidly became the platform for a burgeoning political movement that went far beyond the more modest aims of the LWMA. Following mass meetings across the country, the first gathering of Chartist delegates met in London in February 1839. In July of the same year, they presented a petition signed by well over a million people to Parliament, which rejected it. Outbreaks of violence followed, particularly in Wales in November 1839, where the abortive Newport uprising led to police violence against demonstrators and the arrest and transportation of its leaders. A second Chartist petition was presented to Parliament in May 1842 and again rejected, followed by a general strike (the Plug Plot riots) across the north. During the mid-1840s, Chartism’s most charismatic leader, Feargus O’Connor, turned his attention to his “Land Plan,” which was to provide members with their own land for cultivation. Despite some successes, the grandiose scheme largely failed. In April 1848, a final unsuccessful attempt was made to force Parliament to accept the Chartist petition, after a mass rally on Kennington Common stoked by fears of revolution. Chartism has generally been perceived as having lost much of its force after 1848, though recent historians have demonstrated the extent of its legacy in the 1850s and beyond. From the outset, Chartism had a tendency to splinter into different groupings according to geographical region, economic status, and political affiliation. Nonetheless, its success lay in its creation of a broad consensus of agreement across the country, fostered in particular through widely circulated Chartist newspapers and periodicals. In addition to its political orientation, Chartism was also a significant literary movement. Many of its leaders achieved success as poets, and the literature produced by Chartists (cited below) should be supplemented with important Victorian novels—notably Charles Kingsley’s Alton Locke, Benjamin Disraeli’s Sybil, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton—which responded directly to Chartism and its contexts.

Article.  8759 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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