The Move for the Charter
September 1836 - October 1837
The National Petition for the People's Charter
A National Petition Unto the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, the Petition of the undersigned, their suffering countrymen.
That we, your petitioners, dwell in a land whose merchants are noted for enterprise, whose manufacturers are very skilful, and whose workmen are proverbial for their industry. The land itself is goodly, the soil rich, and the temperature wholesome; it is abundantly furnished with the materials of commerce and trade; it has numerous and convenient harbours; in facility of internal communication it exceeds all others.
Yet, with all these elements of national prosperity, and with every disposition and capacity to take advantage of them, we find ourselves overwhelmed with public and private suffering. We are bowed down under a load of taxes; which, notwithstanding, fall greatly short of the wants of our rulers; our traders are trembling on the verge of bankruptcy; our workmen are starving; capital brings no profit, and labour no remuneration; the home of the artificer is desolate, and the warehouse of the pawnbroker is full; the workhouse is crowded, and the manufactory is deserted. The energies of a mighty kingdom have been wasted in building up the power of selfish and ignorant men, and its resources squandered for their aggrandisement.
The good of a party has been advanced to the sacrifice of the good of the nation; the few have governed for the interest of the few, while the interest of the many has been neglected, or insolently and tyrannously trampled upon.
It was the fond expectation of the people that a remedy for the greater part, if not for the whole, of their grievances, would be found in the Reform Act of 1832. They were taught to regard that Act as a wise means to a worthy end; as the machinery of an improved legislation, when the will of the masses would be at length potential.
They have been bitterly and basely deceived.
The fruit which looked so fair to the eye has turned to dust and ashes when gathered.
The Reform Act has effected a transfer of power from one domineering faction to another, and left the people as helpless as before.
We come before your Honourable House to tell you, with all humility, that this state of things must not be permitted to continue; that it cannot long continue without very seriously endangering the stability of the throne and the peace of the kingdom; and that if by God's help and all lawful and constitutional appliances, an end can be put to it, we are fully resolved that it shall speedily come to an end.
That an unconstitutional police force is distributed all over the country, at enormous cost, to prevent the due exercise of the people's rights. And your petitioners are of opinion that the Poor-law Bastilles and the police stations have originated from the same cause, viz., the increased desire on the part of the irresponsible few to oppress and starve the many. Unless immediate remedial measures be adopted, your petitioners fear the increasing distress of the people will lead to results fearful to contemplate.
That the hours of labor, particularly of the factory workers are protracted beyond the limits of human endurance, and that the wages earned, after unnatural application to toil in heated and unhealthy workshops, are inadequate to sustain the bodily strength, and supply those comforts which are so imperative after an excessive waste of physical energy. That your petitioners also, direct the attention of your honorable House to the starvation wages of the agricultural laborer, and view with horror and indignation the paltry income of those whose toil gives being to the staple food of this people.
That your petitioners complain of the many grievances borne by the people of Ireland, and contend that they are fully entitled to a repeal of the legislative. That should your honorable House be pleased to grant your petitioners a hearing your petitioners will be enabled to unfold a tale of wrong and suffering--of intolerable injustice--which will create utter astonishment in the minds of all benevolent and good men, that the people of Great Britain and Ireland have so long quietly endured their wretched condition, brought upon them as it has been by unjust exclusion from political authority, and by the manifold corruptions of class legislation.
That your petitioners, therefore, demand that your honorable House do immediately, without alteration, deduction, or addition, pass into law the document entitled ‘The People's Charter,’ which embraces:
1. A VOTE for every man twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime.
2. THE BALLOT. - To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
3. NO PROPERTY QUALIFICATION for Members of Parliament - thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.
4. PAYMENT OF MEMBERS, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the Country.
5. EQUAL CONSTITUENCIES, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of large ones.
6. ANNUAL PARLIAMENTS, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelve-month; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.
Feargus O’Connor, Speech to the General Convention of the Industrious Classes
24th August 1837
“Do the magistrates think of putting down our meeting by acts of violence? I for one think they do, and should we be attacked today, come what will, life, death, or victory, I am determined no house shall cover my head tonight. I am quite ready to stand by the law, and not to give our tyrants the slightest advantage in attacking us in sections; but should they employ force against us. I am repelling attack by attack.”
September 1836 – 2,000
December 1836 – 50,000
February 1837 - 160,000
April 1837 – 380,000
June 1837 - 720,000
August 1837 – 830,000
September 1837 – 1,240,000
October 1837 – 1,640,000