Birmingham Political Union

Portrait of Thomas Attwood from printed report of a Grand Dinner held in his honour.  Birmingham Archives and Heritage.

The Birmingham Political Union ‘of the Lower and Middle Classes of the People’ was formed by Thomas Attwood and others in 1829.  In May 1829 Attwood spoke at a meeting of 4,000 to 5,000 people.  During his three-hour speech he committed himself publicly for the first time to Parliamentary reform.  A petition, signed by 8,000 people, was sent to Parliament but rejected. 

By December, Attwood and his supporters had decided to form a permanent group.  On 14 December Attwood and 15 others met together and founded ‘The Political Union for the Protection of Public Rights’.  A week later the rules were signed and accepted by 28 people, and they were put to the people for approval at a large meeting held on 25 January 1830.  12,000 to 15,000 people attended.

The First Annual Meeting of the Birmingham Political Union (BPU) was held on 26 July 1830.  It was Chaired by the Radical MP Sir Francis Burdett.  He stressed the need for cooperation between the working and middle classes, as well as the need to work within the law, so as not to give the government any excuse to ban them.  Attwood spoke with approval of the formation of similar Political Unions around the country.  

Due to its size, its good organization, its unified class structure and Attwood’s articulate and sincere leadership, the BPU was looked upon as a model by Political Unions around the country.    Many had been formed in imitation of the BPU, and many had adopted its rules and laws without alteration.  

The BPU and other Political Unions called for
• Shorter term Parliaments – to increase the accountability of MPs to their constituents
• Abolition of property qualifications for MPs and payment of MPs – to allow ordinary people to become MPs
• The vote for all men who contributed to local or national taxation, either directly or indirectly.