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The Chartism Movement



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The Chartists And Their Legacy

Those in power were unwilling to show any signs of weakness. Those considered to be trouble makers were transported to Australia. More worryingly for those in power, the calls for change also came from the educated middle class — men who were lawyers, accountants etc. The upper class became seemingly more and more isolated. In , William IV became king. He did not like the idea of change but he felt that if change was to take place it should be controlled by Parliament and not forced on the country by revolutionaries.

In , the first political change in centuries took place — The Great Reform Act. What did it introduce? But for all these improvements there were still three major weaknesses :. Some people at the time saw this act as the start of a great new age of democracy while others saw it as a great lost opportunity. However, what no-one denied was that it was a start and that there was no going back.

In Queen Victoria came to the throne. Many would have expected there to be an improvement in the rights of women but this did not occur for two basic reasons :. Queen Victoria did not want it as she believed that women should stay at home and look after children while it should be the men who worked and therefore kept the families and had political rights. Chartism came to an end in but it was a sign that the workers could organise themselves. The workers also started to organise themselves at a work level. It became clear to them that industry would weaken if they did not play their part. New Model Unions developed from on. These were for skilled men but by the end of the century, trade unions had developed which were for all workers — skilled or not.

Their political power was to lead to the birth of what is now called the Labour Party. The movement for change could not be resisted. In the Second Reform Act was passed. This act introduced :. The two main politicians of this time were Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone. Both men were completely different from men such as the Duke of Wellington. This showed that society itself was moving towards general reform as the aristocracy had less power than in bygone days.

In the Secret Ballot Act was passed. This left the system very open to abuse as the person voting might rent a house from a potential MP. Everybody would know who he voted for. The act of stopped this absurd abuse and brought in secret voting — men voted behind a curtain so no-one would ever know who he voted for. This law still exists to this day. In , the Third Reform Act was passed. Yet, by the end of the reign, 'democracy' was no longer a bogey word, political parties had a constituency as well as a Parliamentary base, and competition to enter the civil service by examination was taken for granted.

The pattern of communications, physical and social, had also changed with the rise of a railway system. A new geography had effectively been created, and there was a different kind of popular Press. Long before the launching of the Daily Mail in , press circulation had begun to increase after the abolition of stamp duties on newspapers in , the result of sustained agitation. The National Education Act had also been passed, belatedly, in , creating elementary schools financed from local rates. Attendance was made compulsory ten years later. The drive behind reforming legislation usually came from outside Parliament, as with the working-class Chartist movement intent on reform of the whole electoral process.

It is essential, therefore, in the case of each projected 'reform bill' to assess the influence on it of extra-Parliamentary pressures, both of opinion and interests and, in the case of each successful 'reform bill', it is necessary to weigh the role of Parliament and the role of extra-Parliamentary forces in determining the outcome. Doing so has involved controversy between historians as it usually involved political controversy at the time. Moreover, since reformers outside Parliament were often dissatisfied with the extent of the reform, they returned sooner or later to what seemed to them a continuing struggle.

Meanwhile, those public servants concerned with implementation often suggested further reforms in the light of experience. The stories of particular reforms, therefore, were usually serial stories. Whether the comprehensive title the 'Age of Reform' should refer to the whole period in British history between and - a period of sharp contrasts in place and time - raises other basic questions, pivoting on the relationships between 'improvement', 'reform' and 'revolution'. As the fear of revolution in Britain receded after , many 'reformers' claimed that only if particular reforms were carried in time could revolution be avoided. And almost all reformers agreed that 'revolution' was the best means of 'reform'.

The opponents of the Great Reform Bill claimed that it was 'revolutionary', but within two years of its passing in most of them accepted it as a fait accompli and adjusted their politics accordingly. It proved to be the first of four successful 19th-century reform bills, the second in , the third introducing the ballot in and the fourth in There was more popular agitation, driven by economic as well as by political discontent, in the years and in the years than there was in , when the Reform Bill was introduced, as the had been, by a Conservative government.

Yet the Act had long-term radical consequences - mainly, the political opening up villages through a rural electorate. It is difficult in retrospect to tell the serial stories of particular reforms in terms of party manifestos, although politicians and some historians have been tempted to do so. Group politics are relevant in early and mid-Victorian Britain because members of the medical profession were in a position, as many clergymen were, to cross environmental and social divides and collect evidence, including statistical evidence, when they sought to identify 'problems' requiring action.

It is individuals, however, who must usually be given the limelight. Coming from different social and political backgrounds, their personal commitment was crucial to the success of reform legislation. The individual most involved in a sequence of different social reforms was the evangelical Tory philanthropist Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury , who fought indomitably for the protection of children in factories and mines, and later chimney sweeps, for public health legislation and for the proper treatment of what were then called 'lunatics'.

Nonetheless, it is doubtful whether Ashley, as a private member of Parliament before he became an earl, would have been as successful as he was had he not been accepted as a Parliamentary leader by a popular movement in the North of England actively engaged until an Act acceptable to them was passed in Not all the movements had a working-class base, as Chartism did. The Health of Towns Association, for example, founded in , had substantial middle-class support. The main obstacle to its success was apathy, but it also provoked opponents of 'centralisation'.

Other voluntary associations pressing for reforms were mobilised by women, like the Ladies' Sanitary Reform Association of Manchester and Salford, founded in Women were without the vote, but there were two women, in particular, who were as outstanding in influencing Parliament as Shaftesbury - Josephine Butler and Octavia Hill The former fought a long and still controversial battle to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts of , and , which regulated women working in brothels.

The Acts were totally repealed after a long agitation, which had international ramifications, in Octavia Hill, housing reformer, supported by John Ruskin, was more interested in voluntary than in state action. She wanted affordable working-class houses to become real 'homes'. Josephine Butler was a reformer who was concerned not with new legislation but with repeal. And so had been Ashley's Parliamentary political leader, Sir Robert Peel , who earlier in the century reformed the Metropolitan Police and carried Roman Catholic emancipation giving Roman Catholics civil rights before Ashley, who had little in common with him, entered Parliament.

Peel, along with Wellington, had opposed the Parliamentary Reform Bills introduced by the Whigs in and , but he appreciated the need to adapt to change; and while he opposed most of the social reforms that Ashley supported, it was he who as Prime Minister carried the repeal of the corn laws. The part that he played in securing repeal - and his motivations - have been assessed and re-assessed. So, too, has the role of the Anti-Corn Law League, founded in Manchester in , a largely middle-class organisation, extremely well organised under the leadership of Richard Cobden who won a seat in Parliament in

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