The "People's Charter," drafted in 1838 by William Lovett, was at the heart of a radical campaign for parliamentary reform of the inequities remaining after the Reform Act of 1832. The Chartists' six main demands were:

  1. votes for all men;
  2. equal electoral districts;
  3. abolition of the requirement that Members of Parliament be property owners;
  4. payment for M.P.s;
  5. annual general elections; and
  6. the secret ballot.

The Chartists obtained one and a quarter million signatures and presented the Charter to the House of Commons in 1839, where it was rejected by a vote of 235 to 46. Many of the leaders of the movement, having threatened to call a general strike, were arrested. When demonstrators marched on the prison at Newport, Monmouthshire, demanding the release of their leaders, troops opened fire, killing 24 and wounding 40 more. A second petition with 3 million signatures was rejected in 1842; the rejection of the third petition in 1848 brought an end to the movement.

More important than the movement itself was the unrest it symbolized. The Chartists' demands, at the time, seemed radical; those outside the movement saw the unrest and thought of the French Revolution and The Reign of Terror. Thomas Carlyle's pamphlet Chartism (1839), argued the need for reform by fanning these fears, though he later became increasingly hostile to democratic ideas in works like "Hudson's Statue" Historians theorize broadly about why this revolutionary movement died out just as the revolutions of 1848 were breaking out all over Europe, but from this distance we can only suppose that the English had a confidence in their government and a sense of optimism about their future possibilities which suggested to them that patience was better than violence; and in fact most of their demands were eventually met — specifically in the Reform Acts of 1867 and 1884. The threat of unrest surely influenced such otherwise unrelated reforms as the Factory act and the repeal of the Corn Laws. The radicalism that surfaced in the agitation for the Charter and a desire for a working-class voice in foreign affairs eventually channeled itself into related areas like the Socialist movement.


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Content last modified 1987; links last added 1999