Friday, 2 March 2012

Birmingham Chartist Thomas Clutton Salt

The General Convention of the Industrious Classes in 1839 set an unprecedented challenge to the undemocratic House of Commons, and there was enormous interest in the delegates elected to it by mass meetings held all over the country.
The Charter newspaper, published by William Lovett, secretary to the Convention and a leading light of the London Working Men’s Association, responded with a series of sketch portraits and profiles of 12 of the most prominent delegates.
Both the sketch and the text of the first of those profiles now appears on a page devoted to Thomas Clutton Salt, a founder of the Birmingham Political Union and Birmingham delegate to the Convention.
Salt was typical of the Birmingham men who had originated the petition and who represented it within the Chartism of 1839.
A lamp manufacturer (his factory had 100 or more employees) and currency reformer, he had been a stalwart campaigner for the relief of the poor and destitute during the hard economic times of the 1830s, but saw the demand for the vote as secondary to other concerns.
He was, however, apparently deeply committed to involving women in political campaigns, organising at least one mass meeting of Birmingham women, despite the concern this caused among his colleagues.
In common with the other middle-class leaders of the Birmingham Political Union, Salt withdrew from the Convention and from the Chartist cause once peaceful petitioning gave way to confrontation.
The Birmingham Political Union itself did not last much beyond its leaders’ withdrawal from the Convention, and Salt returned to the management of his factory and to the cause of currency reform – giving evidence to a House of Commons committee in 1847.