The Chartist movement’s most reliable long-term advocate at Westminster was Thomas Slingsby Duncombe. And, for a few scant years from 1847 until 1852, Feargus O’Connor, owner of the Northern Star and Chartism’s central figure, served alongside him as MP for Nottingham.
But beyond that, there were only handfuls of MPs with varying degrees of sympathy for the Chartist cause who might be relied upon to present petitions, speak up on behalf of Chartist prisoners and generally try to represent the views of the millions of people who saw themselves as Chartists.
That this was so is no surprise. As the Chartist historian Professor Malcolm Chase puts it in The Chartists: Perspectives and Legacies (Chartist Studies)
“Chartism was by definition a movement of the disenfranchised.”But it was also not a position that the Chartist movement left unchallenged.
Many Chartists put themselves forward at election time and took the opportunity to make the Chartist case at the hustings, only to withdraw before a formal poll of those entitled to vote, which would cost a considerable sum to contest and which they would inevitably lose.
But in the years from 1839 to 1860, no fewer than 67 candidates did go to the polls either explicitly as Chartists or as Liberals with the endorsement of the Northern Star or the National Charter Association’s National Central Registration and Elections Committee.
Of these, no fewer than 20 were elected or returned unopposed – although not all at the same time. Most were Liberals who would most likely have been elected with or without the endorsement of the Chartist movement. But this was not always the case.
The full list of parliamentary candidates can now be found on Chartist Ancestors, along with an account of the work of the National Central Registration and Elections Committee at the general election of 1847 and a near contemporary report of the hustings for the 1850 Lambeth by-election.
The table is reproduced from The Chartists: Perspectives and Legacies (Chartist Studies) with the kind permission of its author, Professor Malcolm Chase.
Go to the report on Chartists and the 1847 General Election.
Go to the table of 67 Chartist parliamentary candidates.