The main problem was how to achieve a revolutionary goal by constitutional means.
- It failed to obtain parliamentary support for the Charter.
- The middle-classes either ignored, shunned or condemned Chartism.
- Chartists were divided among themselves.
- Government handled the movement firmly and calmly.
- Chartist demands were too drastic.
- There was too much diversity in the intellectual and ideological aims of Chartism.
- Other movements offering more immediate and tangible benefits attracted chartists.
- The socio-economic position improved after 1842. Prosperity eliminated mass support.
- Chartism and the Chartists were made to look ridiculous after Kennington Common, and the failure of the Land Plan.
- The changing sociology of England after railways fragmented the apparent unity of the working classes.
Other views on the failure of Chartism
C. Thorne, Chartism (Macmillan, 1966): "The failure of Chartism was in many ways more apparent than real. Many Chartists turned after 1848 to other endeavours. Co-operation and trade unionism attracted some, others agitated for reforms in education or in the drinking habits of the nation... Of the aims of the Charter, only that of annual elections has not been realised. Successive Reform Acts approached the equalisation of electoral districts, and universal suffrage more than most nineteenth century manhood could envisage was achieved in 1928. The property qualification for Members was abolished in 1858, the secret ballot introduced in 1872 and Members were paid from 1911 onwards.
Pauline Gregg, Social and Economic History of Britain (Harrap, 1969): "Chartism failed. It would be good to find in subsequent working-class movements some sign of Chartist revival but there is little in the trade union and Labour movements of the second half of the century to suggest continuity with Chartism. It failed but all the important points of the Charter have since been won. It was a necessary step in working-class development. It was markedly more mature than the spasmodic outbreaks at the beginning of the century. It left no direct heir but it has bequeathed a very real inspiration to subsequent generations."
J. Walker, British Economic and Social History (Macdonald & Evans, 1968): "From the short term point of view Chartism may be judged as having failed. Regarded as a stage in the growth of political awareness of the working class it may be said to have achieved much. The movement afforded the opportunity of an apprenticeship in political activity to working men, traditions handed down to a later generation assisting in the formation of the Independent Labour Party at the end of the century. Further, Chartism drew attention to social and economic evils and awakened public opinion to the need for improvement."
D. Richards & J.W. Hunt, Modern Britain, (Longmans, 1967): "Though the work of the Chartists came to nothing at the time, five of their six Points were later conceded: abolition of property qualification for MPs (1858), the secret ballot (1872), equal electoral districts (by successive stages in 1876, 1884 and 1918), payment of MPs (1911) and adult male suffrage (1918). Annual elections nobody wants. Some of the discredited Chartist leaders profoundly influenced the future by helping the Communist Karl Marx to found the International Working Men's Association in 1864."
Last modified April 1997