Henry Hetherington was the hero of the campaign for an unstamped press – the radical protest movement which defied the law to publish news and political opinion while refusing to pay a newspaper tax which put most publications out of the reach of working people.
He would later go on to be a founder member of the London Working Men’s Association and a delegate to the First Chartist Convention of 1839.
While serving as a delegate, the Charter newspaper published a profile and portrait of Hetherington. This forms the basis of a page on Henry Hetherington which now appears on Chartist Ancestors.
During the 1830s, Hetherington was three times imprisoned for his principled stand before finally claiming a partial victory for The Poor Man’s Guardian, which he published, when the government backed down and repealed to obligation to pay tax on political publications.
He would later go to prison once again when he was convicted of blasphemy for publishing a book attacking the Old Testament. In later years, Hetherington would devote much of his energy to the cause of free thinking and rational religion.
Hetherington played an important role in the development of the moderate form of Chartism more usually associated with William Lovett, but less as an original thinker or leader than as “a symbol of conscience”, as his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography puts it.
Hetherington was largely out of sympathy with the mass movement that Chartism became, and his lack of humour and tendency to self-righteousness managed to alienate even his allies, among them Francis Place, who described him as “one of those men whose peculiarities fit them for martyrs”.
Yet he was without doubt a brave fighter for the causes in which he believed.