Chartism: The Points of the Charter
The Charter itself was a document in the form of an act of parliament, drafted by Francis Place from materials supplied by William Lovett. Its proposals were always summed up under six heads or ‘points’ viz. Universal, i.e. adult male, Suffrage, the Ballot, Annual Parliaments, Payment of Members, Equal Electoral Districts, and Abolition of Property Qualification. No one of these proposals was in any sense new, and the great majority of them had been continuously agitated for more than fifty years. The Duke of Richmond introduced a proposal for adult suffrage and equal electoral districts into the House of Lords in 1780. All or nearly all the charter ‘points’ were adopted by the Society of the Friends of the People, and the Corresponding Society in the earlier years of the French Revolution, and by that Edinburgh Convention for taking part in which Muir and Palmer were sentenced in 1793. The ‘points’ were generally spoken of as the Duke of Richmond’s, or Sir Francis Burdett’s, or Major Cartwright’s ‘plan of radical reform’, and were undisguisedly intended by all their working class supporters to be used for bringing about economic as well as political equality. During the ten years following the French war every period of high prices and low wages produced a fierce agitation for ‘radical reform’ in the manufacturing districts and sometimes also in London. In 1830–32 the ‘plan’ was for a time given up in favour of the Reform Bill, but in London amendments in favour of universal suffrage were carried at the public meetings held in support of Lord Grey’s bill. These were generally moved by members of the ‘Rotunda Gang’, or national Union of the Working Classes, many of whom had been personal disciples of Robert Owen. The reformers of 1790–1820 had advocated Tom Paine’s proposal of a graduated income tax, or had been followers of ‘Spence’s plan’ of land municipalization. These men went further, and were strongly though vaguely socialistic in tone. Place describes them as filled with bitter notions of animosity against everybody who did not concur in the absurd notions they entertained, that everything which was produced belonged to those who by their labour produced it, and ought to be shared among them; that there ought to be no accumulation of capital in the hands of any one to enable him to employ others as labourers, and thus by becoming a master make slaves of others under the name of workmen, to take from them the produce of their labour, to maintain themselves in idleness and luxury while their slaves were ground down to the earth or left to starve. They denounced every one who dissented from these notions as a political economist under which appellation was included the notion of a bitter foe to the working classes – enemies who deserved no mercy at their hands.