The Chartists

Detail from certificate awarded to Arthur C O'Neill. Birmingham Archives and Heritage

Although the 1832 Reform Act expanded the electorate by over 50%, it only extended the franchise to the middle classes, and did not grant representation to the working classes.  Before its passage, the reform movement had been characterised by cooperation between the middle and working classes, but much middle class support disappeared once they had received representation.

The 1834 Poor Law Act, which was viewed as an attack on the working class, was another factor leading to the formation of a new movement for Parliamentary reform. For more information about the Poor Law Act please see the Living Heritage page about the Act and its provisions. 

In 1836, a group of London artisans formed the London Working Men’s Association. Two members of the group, the self-taught radicals William Lovett and Francis Place, in consultation with the other members, drew up the People’s Charter which had six aims:

  1. 1. Universal manhood suffrage
  2. Voting by secret ballot
  3. Payment for MPs
  4. No property qualification for MPs
  5. Equal electoral districts
  6. Annual elections to Parliament

These aims had already been foreshadowed by the Birmingham Political Union and other movements for reform, but the People’s Charter was a document which had massive popular appeal. A working class movement based on its demands arose, known as the Chartists. There were Chartists all over the country, including many in Birmingham.

They were not making calls for social and economic reform – they felt that once they achieved their Parliamentary reforms, they would be able to elect a Parliament which would pass the further reforms they wanted.