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Attwood presents the 1839 Charter to Parliament, 14 June 1839

June 28, 2011

With permission from Dr Marjie Bloy; extracts taken from her website, ‘A Web of History’; the full page may be read here. 

Thomas Attwood was an MP for Birmingham and had led the campaign for the 1832 Reform Act. He made this speech when presenting the first Chartist petition to the House of Commons

Extracts 

The petition originated in the town of Birmingham, it was adopted there at a very numerous meeting on the 6th of August, last year. Having been so adopted, it was then forwarded to Glasgow, where, in a short time it received no less a number than the signatures of 90,000 honest, industrious men; and it afterwards received the signatures of nearly the same number at Birmingham and the neighbourhood of that town.

He held in his hand a list of two hundred and fourteen towns and villages, in different parts of Great Britain, where the petition had been deliberately adopted and signed; and it was now presented to that House with 1,280,000 signatures, the result of not less than 500 public meetings, which had been held in support of the principles contained in this petition.

At each of those meetings there had been one universal anxious cry of distress – distress, he must say, long disregarded by that House, yet existing for years – distress which had caused much discontent amongst the working people, and which discontent was created by the long sufferings and grievances which that class of the people had endured, and so long utterly disregarded by the people’s representatives in that House . . . 

The men who had signed the petition were honest and industrious – of sober and unblemished character – men who have uniformly discharged the duties of good members of society and loyal subjects, and who had always obeyed the laws.

Gentlemen enjoying the wealth handed down to them by hereditary descent, whose wants were provided for by the estates to which they succeeded from their forefathers, could have no idea of the privations suffered by the working men of this country. Yet at all the meetings which have been held, the persons attending them had confined themselves strictly to the legal pursuit of their constitutional rights, for the purpose of remedying the extreme sufferings which they had endured for so many years. They had seen no attempt to relieve their sufferings, whether they were hand-loom weavers, artisans, or agricultural labourers – no matter what they might be, still there was no relief.

They met with no support, or even sympathy, from that House, and, therefore, they felt themselves bound to exercise every legal and constitutional effort within their power to recover the whole of their constitutional rights. All that these honest men said was, that the Members of that House by birth, parentage, habits of life, wealth, and education, had not shown that anxiety to relieve the sufferings and redress the wrongs of the working classes, which they believed to be their rights, as enjoying the privileges of British subjects . . . 

It stated, that they only sought a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work; and that if they could not give them that, and food and clothing for their families, then they said they would put forward every means which the law allowed, to change the representation of that House; that they would use every effort to act upon the electors, and that by these means ultimately, reason thus working upon influence, they should produce such a change as would enable them to succeed in the accomplishment of their views and wishes . . . 

The first thing sought for by these honest men, every one of whom produced by his labour four times more to the country than they asked for in exchange, was a fair subsistence – and yet their country refused them one-fourth of the value of their labours. Not only did the country do that, but some of them had only three days’ wages in the week, and hundreds of them were paying 400 per cent. increase on debts and taxes . . . 

The first clause of the petition was for universal suffrage; that representations should be co-equal with taxation – the ancient constitutional law of England . . . 

The text of the Charter may be read on Dr Bloy’s page here.

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