A summary of the Chartist Movement

Protesters in Westminster and a someone holding a sign reading 'The People's Charter'.

Chartism arose when the Northern Star, a newspaper that campaigned for better wages and conditions for workers, started to support The People's Charter. The Charter was a demand for political reform and it was produced by a cabinet-maker called William Lovett in 1838.

The 1830s and 1840s were a time of falling living and working standards for many working class people, and the Charter became the focus for their hopes and protests. It demanded equal rights for all men and a greater form of democracy.

The Chartists organised three huge petitions to try to persuade Parliament to agree to their demands:

DateSignaturesFateReaction
June 18391.3 millionParliament refused to receive it.A failed Chartist rebellion in Newport, South Wales in November 1839, led by John Frost.
May 18423.3 millionParliament refused to receive it.There were strikes across the north of England and Scotland called the 'Plug Plot riots'.
April 18485.7 millionParliament debated the Charter, but rejected it.The black Chartist, William Cuffay was arrested for planning a rebellion.

Although the Chartists failed in the short term, in the long run all their objectives except annual parliaments were achieved and are part of our democracy today. The rejection of the petitions, which had a huge and unprecedented number of signatures, was also significant. The petition in 1848 had almost six million signatures when the population of Great Britain was only 26.9 million. (Source - Whitaker's Almanac 1941) This means that almost twenty per cent of the population signed the petition. It showed that Parliament was prepared to ignore the views of a huge number of its people. This went against the basic idea that a parliament existed to represent the people. This inspired some to look towards changing the way parliament worked.