The Chartist Movement to reform Parliament grew out of the demands of the working class in industrial towns for better living and working conditions, and was at its height between 1838 and 1848.
In 1836 the London Working Men’s Association was founded and in 1837 drew up a Charter of Political Demands. The Charter was formally launched in May 1838 and work began gathering signatures for a national mass petition to parliament. The Northern Star newspaper played a key role and in the autumn there were huge rallies in Manchester and elsewhere. The first Chartist convention met in February 1839 and the petition was presented in May, but rejected. Mass meetings were dispersed by police and troops, and many leading chartists arrested.
A second petition gathered over 3 million signatures. Presented to Parliament in May 1842, it was rejected. In late summer a general strike in support of the Charter swept across Lancashire, and spread to other parts of the country. The government poured in troops and strikers were eventually forced back to work. In the aftermath the government arrested hundreds and 80 were sentenced to transportation.
Chartism declined with the period of economic expansion between 1842 to1846, but the slump in 1847 saw its revival. In the wake of the French revolution in February 1848, a third petition was presented to Parliament on 10 April after a large meeting on Kennington Common. The government flooded London with soldiers and volunteer constables and there were scores of arrests, with the best leaders imprisoned. Chartism continued for another decade, but was a spent force.
In their book Manchester and Salford Chartists the Library's founders the Frows described Chartism as 'the adolescence of the labour movement'. Its legacy was the growth of trade unions, co-operatives and socialist working class politics.