The Chartist Movement was a working-class political movement between 1837 and 1848. It arose because the Reform Bill of 1832 had reformed the Parliament in favour of the middle class, but had left the working class without political rights. The Chartists wanted the Parliament to be closely responsible to the nation as a whole and to reform an electoral system according to which the poor were excluded from membership and denied rights to vote others into membership of the Parliament by their lack of necessary property qualifications. Some regions were more heavily represented in the Parliament than others and all votes became subject to bribery or intimidation because votes had to be declared publicly. The aim of the Chartists was to gain political rights and influence for the working classes. They put forward a Charter containing six points:
a. Votes for all males.
b. Annually elected Parliaments (instead of general elections every seven years).
c. Abolition of the property qualifications to be elected members.
d. Payment of members of Parliament (for the benefits of the poor).
e. Secret voting
f. Electoral districts equal in population.
The Movement failed because of inept leadership but succeeded at least in the sense that all the points except for Annually Elected Parliaments were made law between 1860-1914.
The movement was alluded to by novelists of the mid- 19th century who were concerned with the condition of England question, in particular, Benjamin Disraeli in Sybil, and Charles Kingsley in Alton Locke; and also by Thomas Carlyle in his essay Chartism.
The Chartists themselves also produced much literature, including the documentary accounts of Samuel Bamford, and many short-lived periodicals sprang up (the Northern Star, the Chartist Circular, the Star of Freedom, the Red Republican, and others). Chartist poets and novelists, some of them writing in prison, included master bootmaker Thomas Cooper (1805-92), author of the lengthy and ambitious The Purgatory of Suicides (1853), a working man’s epic in Spenserian stanzas, who was imprisoned for ‘incitement to riot’; Ebenezer Elliott of Sheffield, the so- called ‘Corn Law Rhymer’; Ernest Jones (1819–68/9?), orator and publisher, and author of an unfinished novel De Brassier; Thomas Martin Wheeler, author of Sunshine and Shadow, wood-engraver William James Linton (1812 97); and textile worker Gerald Massey (1828–1907) whose Original Poems and Chansons appeared in 1847.
Also read: Oxford Movement