by many MPs and the elite ruling class for wanting to grow the franchise of voters6. Basically, the upper classes wanted to keep the voting power to themselves and let the electoral districts and boroughs be run by rich families instead of anybody who is a male over the age of 21 who “is of right mind”.
“A total of 59 men went on trial at Lancaster assizes the following March, charged in what the Chartists dubbed the ‘monster indictment’ with nine counts of inciting riots, risings, strikes and other forms of disorder. Among them was Feargus O'Connor, publisher of the Northern Star and leading light of the National Charter Association.”7
I am interested in the Chartist movement because some of their activities occurred around my local area of Lancaster. For example, around March 1843, “A total of 59 men went on trial at Lancaster assizes the following March, charged in what the Chartists dubbed the ‘monster indictment’ with nine counts of inciting riots, risings, strikes and other forms of disorder. Among them was Feargus O’Connor, publisher of the Northern Star and leading light of the National Charter Association.”7. The trial in Lancaster Castle lasted eight days and the attorneygeneral ran the proceedings himself! During the trial, two former Chartists gave evidence that was damning for the 59 men being accused but, surprisingly, charges were dropped against seven men, nineteen others were acquitted and the rest only had around 2 charges against them out of a possible nine but the sentencing was adjourned. This was a huge blow for the Chartist movement as it’s leader for some years now, Feargus O’Connor, had been in custody and the movement lost momentum after that, declining in popularity until it’s effective abolition in 1851.
George Julian Harney was was born in Deptford (South London) on February 17th 18178. He attended a naval school but afterwards, instead of pursuing a career in the navy, he became an apprentice in a shop to Henry Hetherington editor of the “Poor Man’s Guardian”, for which he was imprisoned three times, and friends with William Lovett who helped start the Chartist movement. This apprenticeship left a radical ideal on Harney’s mind and he decided to join the “London Working Men’s Association”, which Lovett had set up. However, he became increasingly frustrated as he thought the Association wasn’t having any impact and Harney instead, preferred the ideas of the militant ideals of Feargus O’Connor. Soon after January 1837, Harney became convinced of William Benbow’s theory that “a Grand National Holiday (General Strike) would result in an uprising and a change in the political system.”9. At a Chartist meeting in summer 1839, Harney and Benbow tried to convince Chartists to go on a general strike and even toured the country to persuade workers to join, but instead they were both charged and arrested for making seditious speeches, so the general strike was called off! He had failed with the idea of a strike and decided to exile himself to Scotland. However, the following year he became a Chartist organiser in Sheffield. George Harney was one of the 59 Chartists arrested in the strikes of 1842 and he was tried at Lancaster in March 1843. After he appealed on his sentence at Lancaster, he began working for Feargus O’Connor on his newspaper the “Northern Star” and two years later becoming editor! After that he spent the rest of his life writing for various newspapers, including his own, “The Red Republican” (until it was shut down due to financial losses) until his death on the 9th December, 1897.
The legacy of Chartism was prominent in the minds of MPs even after the decline of the movement. The People’s Charter was not enacted. So, in the short term, Chartism had failed, but it was a movement founded on optimism that was eventually met with success10, as shown by the fact that by 1918, five out of six Chartists’ demands had been met, with the exception of Parliamentary elections occurring annually. This is because by the 1850s, MPs accepted that further reform was needed, ergo, further Reform Acts were passed in 1867 and 188411.