Extracts from the handbook of the People’s Charter Union, 17 April 1848, Catalogue ref: HO 45/2410A, part 4, f. 5
Universal suffrage, the right of everyone to vote is defined in this source as the right of every man of 21 years of age and over, but today it is defined more widely.
ADDRESS OF THE PEOPLE’S CHARTER UNION
The Object of our Union is the attainment of the People’s Charter–the recognition by the legislature of our right of political equality, with such provisions as seem necessary for the fair and efficient exercise of that right for the public good. That is to say: –our Union seeks the enactment of UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE–the admission to the franchise of every man of twenty-one years of age, of sound mind and un-convicted of crime; EQUAL REPRESENTATION – the division of the United Kingdom into equal electoral districts; THE ABOLITION OF THE PROPERTY QUALIFICATION now required of Members of Parliament, and of all qualifications except the choice of the Electors; VOTE BY BALLOT – to prevent bribery and intimidation; ANNUAL PARLIAMENTS – to insure the responsibility of the members to their constituents; AND THE PAYMENT OF MEMBERS – rendered necessary by the abolition of the present property qualification. These are the points of the Charter which we desire to have established as the law of the land: for which purpose we claim the aid and co-operation of all those who agree with our opinions; for which purpose we entreat the attentive consideration of those who differ from us.
Few persons, we believe, deny our right to Suffrage-that inalienable right of every human being, the right of self-sovereignty, of an independent nature, an individuality which cannot be merged in or confused with individuality of another. The objections generally resolve themselves into questions of expediency.
We are told that–“The mass of the people are not fit for the franchise.” We answer – the exercise of the franchise will be their best education. – “There must be some test of intelligence.” Where will you have it? Reading and writing, what is called education, will not be sufficiently clear. They are not knowledge, but only the tools of knowledge. – “The difficulty of election.” A sufficient number of polling places will obviate that.–“The swamping of the intelligent by the unintelligent.” Then, as now, we believe, intelligence will know how to win its way. It will scarcely be intelligence else. – We entreat all classes of society to consider well these things, to judge if there be among their objections, either to the expediency of the immediate enactment of Universal Suffrage, or to the other provisions of the Charter, any of sufficient force to outweigh the broad justice of our claim. For ourselves we believe that, the heavens will not fall because justice is done; but that, justice must produce good results.
But we claim the Suffrage not merely as a right, but as a means of duty. We believe that, it is not good for a nation that any of its members should be without the political education which teaches a man to care for the interests and honour of his country. We believe that, only by the free and concurrent action of all its members is it possible for a nation to develop all its best capabilities, to reach its highest destination.
We disclaim all desire of injuring others, all sympathy with acts of outrage or disorder. We desire by peaceable and legal means, and by them alone, to alter and amend the institutions of the country: by establishing its legislative system upon the only true basis–the ascertained will of the majority, at once the guarantee of present order, and the promise of peaceful growth and happiness for the future.
We call upon all classes to aid us in this work. It is no class-work: but the business and duty of all. It is incumbent on both, the elector and the non-elector, the rich and the poor, the capitalist and the labourer, to consider seriously what measures may be most available to maintain public order and content, on the broad basis of universal justice-universal honesty, which is ever the best policy.
For the Council of the People’s Charter Union:
Thomas Cooper, President.
William Addiscott, Secretary.
17th April, 1848
ADDRESS OF THE PEOPLE’S CHARTER UNION
The aim of our organisation is to make the People’s Charter into law by Parliament. Our organisation demands the following: UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE: the right to vote for every man of twenty-one years of age, of sound mind and un-convicted of crime; EQUAL REPRESENTATION: the division of the United Kingdom into equal voting areas; THE ABOLITION OF THE PROPERTY QUALIFICATION: the ending of the property ownership needed to become a member of parliament; VOTE BY BALLOT: a secret ballot to prevent bribery and threat; ANNUAL PARLIAMENTS: An annual election to ensure the responsibility of the members to their constituents; and THE PAYMENT OF MEMBERS: the payment of MPS, necessary if the ownership of property qualification was ended for MPS.
These are the points of the Charter which we desire to be made law. We ask for help and support of all those who agree with our opinions and we ask those who differ from us, to think about what we say.
Few persons, deny our right to the vote, the right of every human being. We are told that the mass of the people are not fit to vote. We say that the vote serves to educate people… We believe that the heavens will not fall because justice is done; but that, justice will create good results.
But, we feel that the vote is more than a right, but a duty. We believe that it is not good for a country that any of its people should be without it. Having the vote teaches a man to care for the interests and honour of his country. In this way a country can reach its full potential.
We do not want to hurt anyone with acts of violence or disorder. We desire by peaceable and legal means, and by them alone, to change the institutions of the country: by changing the law by will of the majority, which will promise peaceful growth and happiness for the future.
We call upon all classes to aid us in this work. It is the business and duty of all. It is the duty of voters and non-voters, the rich and the poor, the capitalist (factory owner) and the labourer, to consider what is needed to keep public order and happiness on the basis of universal justice and honesty, whatever is best.« Return to What was Chartism?
- Look at the title of this handbook. How does it try to appeal to a wide audience?
- The six Chartist demands are printed in capital letters. Explain what each one means and why it was an important demand.
- What arguments, according to the source are used for not giving the ‘mass of people’ the vote?
- Why do the Chartists claim that ‘suffrage’ or the right to vote is important?
- Who did the Chartists want to support them?
- How did the Chartists plan to carry out their campaign for these rights?
- Can you suggest why the supporters of these ideas were called ‘Chartists’.