Whilst historians find it difficult to suggest which category to explain why the Chartist movement came about, many have argued that the previous 1832 Reform Act played a major part. Whilst arguably a landmark in British politics and a mighty feat in the extension of the franchise, the 1832 Reform Act was a disappointment to the working-classes. Instead many saw it as treacherous and a step forward to achieving the votes of middle-class, and alienating the working-classes whose role in the political system was null and void.
In principal many realised their interests were not at heart as many lost their MP’s. So, it’s not a surprise that Chartism arrived during the 1830’s because the 1832 Reform Act shadowed the working-classes, a predominantly large group who then founded the London Working Men’s Association, in order to further extend their rights. Another possible reason for the movement was that however well they (such as Lord Liverpool’s Government) tried to stop such political views, radical politics had not disappeared from the Reform Act altogether.
In fact, they realised the spontaneity of the working-classes to have better rights and the right to vote and managed to utilise this. The deaths of Hunt/Cobbett in 1835 did not affect radical thinking but was just carried on by their successor, Feargus O’Connor. Therefore, the radical’s were able to exploit those in charge of the reform act and thereby causing the Chartism movement to solidify during the 1830’s. Radical opinion had to be extended throughout the entire country and one of the ways they did this was through the press such as Cobbett’s Twopenny Trash.
Nonetheless, one of the implications of The Six Acts was the existence of the ‘stamp duty’ which evidently pushed up the prices of publishing to entice the shutting down of radical newspapers. However, this instead was used as momentum for radicals to publish even more papers. Hetherington’s Poor Man’s Guardian is a good example as the newspaper failed to provide a stamp or sell at minimum legal price of 7d. This gave great publicity to the radical political party but more importantly drove those in support of Chartism to widen their message, in certain cases go against British law and to inspire others to join their cause.
The unstamped press led to the emergence of Chartism in the late 1830’s because of its media influence on the people of Britain as well as the increasing numbers of supporters. Not only was the Reform Act unfavourable to the working-class but there was legislation created by the Whig government causing working-class discontent. As the New Poor Law of 1834 came into place it meant the abolition of any existing forms of poor relief.
It was presumed that ending poor relief would encourage the poor to look for jobs (they also believed that poverty was the result of laziness), however their understanding of these kind of issues was an ill educated guess and not appropriate. The movement against the Poor Law was very strong in the North of England which had hit an economic crisis in the textile industry and many were beginning to feel the strains. It was estimated that 400,000 handloom weavers (an influential group of people supporting Chartism) were soon to be in financial ruin.
The movement for an end to the Poor Laws became instant upon its creation and whilst many people got poorer, it was those same people whose voting rights were nonexistent. The economic depression in the North was during 1837-38 so clearly economic difficulties were also a major factor to support Chartism. The international crisis across Europe was also brought to attention. If the French Revolution could bring about the 1832 Reform Act then it is considered valid to suggest the threat internationally influenced Britain’s to join the cause.
Revolutionaries in Europe all wanted to end the hereditary positions in parliament and replace them with liberal constituencies. For example the revolution in France sent a ripple wave of influence to Italy who then started their own revolution. There was also a revolution in Belgium 1830. In fact, not all the revolutions were due to discontent with the political unjustness in their country but also because of economic downfalls. It’s possible that the Chartists were influenced by these revolutionary tactics, and coupled with the 1832 Reform Act, they thought it was the right time to fight.
Therefore, Chartism was a ‘knife and fork question’ stating that many of those who supported the movement supported it because of the economic implications it would soon have rather than the political ones which were important as poverty in England was increasing every year. It’s not surprising therefore that Chartism hit its peak during the 1830’s in areas undergoing industrial change and the appeal for the Charter came to alter the political system in an attempt to gain an economic change.