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Chartist meeting on Kennington Common by William Edward Kilburn 1848 - restoration1
Photograph of the Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common, London in 1848
Charists fighting with police

The Chartists were people who wanted to get more rights for working class people in the mid-19th century. They were called Chartists because they wrote their main aims down in the People's Charter of 1838.

Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in the United Kingdom. It took its name from the People's Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement. It was particularly supported in Northern England, the East Midlands, the Staffordshire Potteries, the Black Country, and the South Wales Valleys. The movement was fiercely opposed by government authorities and finally suppressed.

Millions of working people took part in mass demostrations and signed petitions that were presented to the House of Commons. They demanded manhood suffrage. Chartism relied on constitutional methods to secure its aims, though some chartists became involved in rebel activities.

The People's Charter called for six reforms to make the political system more democratic:

  • A vote for every man aged twenty-one years and above, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for a crime.
  • The secret ballot to protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
  • No property qualification for Members of Parliament (MPs), to allow the constituencies to return the man of their choice.
  • Payment of Members, enabling tradesmen, working men, or other persons of modest means to leave or interrupt their livelihood to attend to the interests of the nation.
  • Equal constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing less populous constituencies to have as much or more weight than larger ones.
  • Annual Parliamentary elections, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since no purse could buy a constituency under a system of universal manhood suffrage in every twelve months.

Eventually, after Chartism died out, Britain adopted the first five reforms.

Chartists saw themselves fighting against political corruption and for democracy in an industrial society, but attracted support beyond the radical political groups for economic reasons, such as opposing wage cuts and unemployment.

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