http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/vi ... t_01.shtml
The People’s Charter
The Reform Bill of 1832 had by no means improved the conditions of the working class, and eventhough liberal legislation in the years after 1832 made some concessions to working-class demands, the workers were still a long way from gaining political influence. As a result of this lack of political voice and also as a protest against the failure of the Poor Law of 1834 to improve the social situation, workers, unions and political radicals in a combined effort produced a People’s Charter when economic crisis struck in 1838.
The Charter was an attempt to gain working class representation in Parliament and it contained six main points:
Annual elections to the House of Commons
Universal suffrage for all adult males
Equal electoral districts
Abolition of property qualifications for membership in the House of Commons
Payment of salaries to elected MP’s
Troops repressing Chartists in 1839
A series of nation-wide Chartist meetings in the summer and autumn of 1838 were arranged with the purpose of electing representatives to a Chartist convention. The Chartist convention was to prepare a petition to Parliament stating the Chartist case, but division within the Chartist movement soon became apparent. The movement was divided between people who wanted to advance the Chartist cause by legal means and those who were ready to resort to violence. When the government rejected the Chartist petition in July 1839 and a series of demonstrations during that summer led to the arrest of several Chartist leaders, Chartism died out temporarily.
A Brief Chartist Revival
Economic Crises during the winter of 1841-42 resulted in a revival of the Chartist movement. The National Charter Association drew up a new petition to the commons, but this only suffered the same fate as the previous petition. As economic conditions improved Chartism lost much of its appeal among the population and it more or less died out again.
The failure of this Chartist revival can not, however, be laid exclusively on economic conditions. Personal and sectional within the Chartist movement had still not been resolved, which made effective leadership and organisation difficult. Another point worth mentioning is that after the rejection of the the first Chartist petition, a large number of workers had turned from political agitation to strengthening of labour unions. Many workers saw this as a more efficient way of improving their conditions because they could deal directly with the employers without having to appeal to the government.
The Chartist Demonstration on Kennington Common in 1848
Chartism and 1848
A new economic crisis in 1847 and 1848 brought another revival of Chartism in Britain. As news was recieved of the revolutions in France and Italy in the early spring of 1848, the Chartists began to organize a third petition.42 A demonstration on Kennington Common to present the new petition to the government was scheduled for April 10th. The home secratary announced that a march from the Common to Westminster would be illegal, but the Chartists decided to go ahead with their plans. On April 10th fewer people than anticipated showed up, and the combined effort of a large number of policemen and heavy rain dispersed the crowd after a few speeches had been made.
The so-called ‘fiasco of Kennington Common’ did not bring Chartism to an end, but it demonstrated clearly why from the start the movement had been doomed failure.43 Lack of effective leadership due to internal differences have to take some of the blame, but more important is the fact that the Chartist movement only attracted a sufficient number of supporters in times of economic crisis. When economic conditions improved Chartism lost its appeal and could not hope to compete with a middle class that was growing stronger by the day.