Were the chartists successful in their aims?
The electoral system in the early nineteenth century was radically different from the parliamentary democracy we have today. The system was not representative of the population in terms of wealth or region, and elections were open to corruption. Before 1832, just ten per cent of British adult males were eligible to vote – and this portion of the population was the richest.
There were many efforts to reform this outdated system by people who used methods such as corresponding societies, pamphlets and mass meetings to spread their messages. The most notorious of the mass meetings occurred at St. Peter’s Fields in August 1819. Eleven people were killed and 400 wounded when a group of soldiers on horseback charged on the crowd. This event soon became known as the Peterloo Massacre and remained in people’s memories for many years to come, intensifying support for reform.
Reform of the electoral system finally arrived with the 1832 Reform Act, which increased the proportion of eligible voters in England and Wales to 18 per cent of the adult-male population and 12 per cent in Scotland. Although the working classes had high hopes for the Reform Act, they eventually felt betrayed as despite the new legislation, the poor ultimately remained voiceless in the way their country was run. In the years following the Reform Act, the Chartists would begin to plan their campaign to try to effect real electoral change in Britain.
In 1836 Cornish cabinet-maker William Lovett formed the London Working Men’s Association, along with publisher Henry Hetherington and printers John Cleave and James Watson. Besides disseminating information for the good of the working classes, the association wanted 'To seek by every legal means to place all classes of society in possession of their equal, political, and social rights.' With the help of Francis Place, Lovett composed The People’s Charter, which demanded the following changes to the British...