Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Minute book of the Democratic Committee for Poland’s Regeneration: an exciting Chartist discovery

Minute books are absolutely central to the collective memory of any organisation. They record who was there, what they discussed and agreed, often what financial assets they had, and what they decided to do to advance their cause. No less so the Chartist movement.

Extract from the minute book

Alas, of the many hundreds of minute books that must have at one time recorded the activities of local branches of the National Charter Association, its delegate bodies, its central executive and its satellite organisations, barely one has survived. So the news that the original hand-written minute book of the Democratic Committee for Poland’s Regeneration has come to light is hugely exciting.

The 62-page vellum-bound quarto notebook, hand-written by the prominent Chartist George Julian Harney, recorded the life of the committee between 1846 and May 1847. It includes a list of the 29 founder members, and of 70 later members, in alphabetical order by town of residence, followed by minutes of the committee’s meetings, and newspaper cuttings.

In addition to Harney, other leading Chartists involved in the committee included Feargus O’Connor, Ernest Jones, William Cuffay, Thomas Martin Wheeler and Philip McGrath. Among the European exiles taking part were the German radicals Karl Schapper and Heinrich Bauer, and Bartłomiej Beniowski, a veteran of the 1831 Polish uprising and himself an active Chartist.

The story of the book’s discovery by the historian David Goodway (author of the classic London Chartism 1838-1848 [Cambridge University Press, 1982]) and of what it can tell us about the committee and its place in London radicalism is told in an article for Cairn International Edition by Fabrice Bensimon, Professor of Modern British History at the Sorbonne University. His article was translated by Adrian Morfee.

The full text of this fascinating article can be found (in English) here.