The Aims of the Chartists

Chapter 28

To the honorable the Commons of Great Britain and Ireland, in parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned their suffering countrymen.

Humbly showeth:
That we, your petitioners, dwell in a land whose merchants are noted for their enterprise, whose manufacturers are very skillful, and whose workmen are proverbial for their industry. The land itself is goodly, the soil rich, and the temperature wholesome. It is abundantly furnished with the materials of commerce and trade. It has numerous and convenient harbors in facility of internal communication it exceeds all others. For three and twenty years we have enjoyed a profound peace. Yet with all the elements of national prosperity, and with every disposition and capacity to take advantage of them, we find ourselves overwhelmed with public and private suffering. We are bowed down under a load of taxes, which, notwithstanding, fall greatly short of the wants of our rulers. Our traders are trembling on the verge of bankruptcy, our workmen are starving. Capital brings no profit, and labor no remuneration. The home of the artificer is desolate, and the warehouse of the pawnbroker is full. The workhouse is crowded, and the manufactory is deserted. We have looked on every side; we have searched diligently in order to find out the causes of distress so sore and so long continued. We can discover none in nature or in Providence. . . . The energies of a mighty kingdom have been wasted in building up the power of selfish and ignorant men, and its resources squandered for their aggrandisement. The few have governed for the interest of the few, while the interests of the many have been sottishly neglected, or insolently and tyrannically trampled upon. It was the fond expectation of the friends of the people that a remedy for the greater part, if not for the whole, of their grievances would be found in the Reform Act of 1832. They regarded that act as a wise means to a worthy end, as the machinery of an improved legislation, where the will of the masses would be at length potential. They have been bitterly and basely deceived. The fruit which looked so fair to the eye has turned to dust and ashes when gathered. The Reform Act has effected a transfer of power from one domineering faction to another, and left the people as helpless as before. Our slavery has been exchanged for an apprenticeship to liberty, which has aggravated the painful feelings of our social degradation by adding to them the sickening of still deferred hope. We come before your honorable house to tell you, with all humility, that this state of things must not be permitted to continue That it cannot long continue, without very seriously endangering, the stability of the throne, and the peace of the Kingdom, and that if, by God's help, and all lawful and constitutional appliances, an end can be put to it, we are fully resolved that it shall speedily come to an end.

Required, as we are universally, to support and obey the laws, nature and reason entitle us to demand that in the making or the laws the universal voice shall be implicitly listened to. We perform the duties of freemen; we must have the privileges of freemen. Therefore we demand universal suffrage. The suffrage, to be exempt from the corruption of the wealthy and the violence of the powerful, must be secret. The assertion of our right necessarily involves the power of its uncontrolled exercise. We ask for the reality of a good, not for its semblance; therefore we demand the ballot. The connection between the representatives and the people, to be beneficial, must be intimate. The legislative and constituent powers, for correction and for instruction, ought to be brought into frequent contact. Errors which are comparatively light when susceptible of a speedy popular remedy may produce the most disastrous effects when permitted to grow inveterate through years of compulsory endurance. To public safety, as well as public confidence, frequent elections are essential. Therefore we demand annual parliaments.

With power to choose, and freedom in choosing, the range of our choice most be unrestricted. We are compelled by the existing laws to take for our representatives men who are incapable of appreciating our difficulties, or have little sympathy with them; merchants who have retired from trade and no longer feel its harassings; proprietors of land who are alike ignorant of its evils and its cure; lawyers by whom the notoriety of the senate is courted only as a means of obtaining notice in the courts. The labors of a representative who is sedulous in the discharge of his duty are numerous and burdensome. It is neither just, nor reasonable, nor safe, that they should continue to be gratuitously rendered. We demand that in the future election of members of your honorable house, the approbation of the constituency shall be the sole qualification, and that to every representative so chosen shall be assigned out of the public taxes a fair and adequate remuneration for the time which he is called upon to devote to the public service.

From R.G. Gammage, History of the Chartist Movement, 1837-1854.


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RESOURCE: World Civilizations
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