Chartism was the largest working-class political movement in modern British history. Its branches ranged from the Scottish Highlands to northern France and from Dublin to Colchester. Its meetings drew massive crowds: 300,000 at Kersal Moor and perhaps as many as half a million at Hartshead Moor in 1839. The National Petition in 1842 claimed 3.3 million signatures, a third of the adult population of Britain. At its peak, the Northern Star sold around 50,000 copies a week, more than The Times. This was a national mass movement of unprecedented scale and intensity that was more than simply a political campaign but the expression of a new and dynamic form of working-class culture. Across Britain, there were Chartist concerts, amateur dramatics and dances, Chartist schools and cooperatives and Chartist churches that assaulted the political hegemony of the wealthy, the conservative and the liberal. For over a decade, Chartists led a campaign for the franchise with a mass enthusiasm that has never been imitated.
Chartism was not simply a reaction to the increasingly repressive policies of the Whig government, the exclusion of the working-classes from the franchise in 1832 or the burgeoning economic ‘distress’ in industrial Britain after 1837. Its explosion on to the political scene in 1837 was an expression of deep-seated and long-standing fissures in the social fabric that the Whig government had failed to address--even if they had recognised them--and had been exacerbated by policies that appeared, whether justified or not, to target the livelihoods, accepted forms of customary behaviour and political liberties of working people. The intensity of Chartist activity across the country reflected this exclusion from the levers of local, regional and national political power particularly when faced by the intransigent refusal of those with political power to countenance their inclusion on any terms.
This website is designed with two things in mind. It allows me to develop materials already published in my blogs on the development and historiography of the Chartist movement. It also allows me to publicise my own work on Chartism especially my five volume series, Reconsidering Chartism, that is in the process of writing and publication.