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22. CHARTIST PETITION, 1838 1
THE movement called Chartism arose in Great Britain as a consequence of the failure of the Reform Act of 1832 to enfranchise the working classes. The nature of the movement is well set forth in the following petition, which was drawn up by the Council of the Birmingham Union. It contains five of the so-called Six Points of the petition presented to the House of Commons in 1848. The sixth point – equal electoral districts – was omitted, perhaps because it was considered a corollary of universal suffrage. The student will notice that the petitioners demanded political, not economic, reforms; they wanted Great Britain to be a truly democratic country. The only Chartist proposal which has not subsequently been incorporated in legislation was that for annual Parliaments. The maximum length of any Parliament, however, is now limited to five years.
CHARTIST PETITION, 1838
To the honorable the Commons of Great Britain and Ireland, in
Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned, their suffering countrymen, humbly showeth:
I. That we, your petitioners, dwell in a land whose merchants are noted for their enterprise, whose manufacturers are very skillful, and whose workmen are proverbial for their industry. The land itself is goodly, the soil rich, and the temperature wholesome. It is abundantly furnished with the materials of commerce and trade. It has numerous and convenient harbors. In facility of internal communication it exceeds all others. For three and twenty years we have enjoyed a profound peace. Yet, with all the elements of national prosperity, and with every disposition and capacity to take advantage of them, we find ourselves overwhelmed with public and private suffering. We are bowed down under a load of taxes,
1 R. G. Gammage, History of the Chartist Movement, pp. 87-90. Newcastle-onTyne, 1894.
which, notwithstanding, fall greatly short of the wants of our rulers. Our traders are trembling on the verge of bankruptcy; our workmen are starving. Capital brings no profit, and labor no remuneration. The home of the artificer is desolate, and the warehouse of the pawnbroker is full. The workhouse is crowded, and the manufactory is deserted. We have looked on every side; we have searched diligently in order to find out the causes of distress so sore and so long continued. We can discover none in nature or in Providence. Heaven has dealt graciously by the people, nor have the people abused its grace, but the foolishness of our rulers has made the goodness of God of none effect. The energies of a mighty kingdom have been wasted in building up the power of selfish and ignorant men, and its resources squandered for their aggrandizement. The good of a part has been advanced at the sacrifice of the good of the nation. The few have governed for the interest of the few, while the interests of the many have been sottishly neglected, or insolently and tyrannously trampled upon.
II. It was the fond expectation of the friends of the people that a remedy for the greater part, if not for the whole of their grievances, would be found in the Reform Act of 1832. They regarded that act as a wise means to a worthy end, as the machinery of an improved legislation, where the will of the masses would be at length potential. They have been bitterly and basely deceived. The fruit, which looked so fair to the eye, has turned to dust and ashes when gathered. The Reform Act has effected a transfer of power from one domineering faction to another, and left the people as helpless as before. Our slavery has been exchanged for an apprenticeship to liberty, which has aggravated the painful feelings of our social degradation, by adding to them the sickening of still deferred hope. We come before your honorable house to tell you, with all humility, that this state of things must not be permitted to continue. That it cannot long continue, without very seriously endangering the stability of the throne, and the peace of the kingdom, and that if, by God's help, and all lawful and constitutional appliances, an end can be put to it, we are fully resolved that it shall speedily come to an end. We tell able house that the capital of the master must no longer be deprived of its due profit; that the labor of the workman must no longer be deprived of its due reward. That the laws which make food dear, and the laws which make money scarce, must be abolished. That taxation must be made to fall on property, not on industry. That the
good of the many, as it is the only legitimate end, so must it be the sole study of the government.
III. As a preliminary essential to these and other requisite changes as the means by which alone the interests of the people can be effectually vindicated and secured, we demand that those interests be confided to the keeping of the people. When the State calls for defenders, when it calls for money, no consideration of poverty or ignorance can be pleaded in refusal or delay of the call. Required, as we are universally, to support and obey the laws, nature and reason entitle us to demand that in the making of the laws the universal voice shall be implicitly listened to. We perform the duties of freemen; we must have the privileges of freemen. Therefore, we demand universal suffrage. The suffrage, to be exempt from the corruption of the wealthy and the violence of the powerful, must be secret. The assertion of our right necessarily involves the power of our uncontrolled exercise. We ask for the reality of a good, not for its semblance, therefore we demand the ballot. The connection between the representatives and the people, to be beneficial, must be intimate. The legislative and constituent powers, for correction and for instruction, ought to be brought into frequent contact. Errors which are comparatively light, when susceptible of a speedy popular remedy, may produce the most disastrous effects when permitted to grow inveterate through years of compulsory endurance. To public safety, as well as public confidence, frequent elections are essential. Therefore, we demand annual parliaments. With power to choose, and freedom in choosing, the range of our choice must be unrestricted. We are compelled, by the existing laws, to take for our representatives men who are incapable of appreciating our difficulties, or have little sympathy with them; merchants who have retired from trade and no longer feel its harassings; proprietors of land who are alike ignorant of its evils and its cure; lawyers by whom the notoriety of the senate is courted only as a means of obtaining notice in the courts. The labors of a representative who is sedulous in the discharge of his duty are numerous and burdensome. It is neither just, nor reasonable, nor safe, that they should continue to be gratuitously rendered. We demand that in the future election of members of your honorable house the approbation of the constituency shall be the sole qualification, and that, to every representative so chosen, shall be assigned out of the public taxes a fair and adequate remuneration for the time which he is called upon to devote to the public service.
IV. The management of this mighty kingdom has hitherto been a subject for contending factions to try their selfish experiments upon. We have felt the consequences in our sorrowful experience. Short glimmerings of uncertain enjoyment, swallowed up by long and dark seasons of suffering. If the self-government of the people should not remove their distresses, it will, at least, remove their repinings. Universal suffrage will, and it alone can, bring true and lasting peace to the nation; we firmly believe that it will also bring prosperity. May it therefore please your honorable house to take this our petition into your most serious consideration, and to use your utmost endeavors, by all constitutional means, to have a law passed granting to every male of lawful age, sane mind, and unconvicted of crime, the right of voting for members of Parliament, and directing all future elections of members of Parliament to be in the way of secret ballot, and ordaining that the duration of Parliament, so chosen, shall in no case exceed one year, and abolishing all property qualifications in the members, and providing for their due remuneration while in attendance on their parliamentary duties.
And your petitioners shall ever pray.”
23. DURHAM REPORT, 1839 1
The relations between the original French population of Canada and the American “Tories" and British emigrants who settled there after the Revolutionary War long remained unfriendly. The antagonism of the two peoples was especially marked in Lower Canada, where the French outnumbered the British three to one. After the failure of the Rebellion of 1837, Great Britain sent Lord Durham as High Commissioner to investigate the political situation in Canada. In his Report Lord Durham recommended that Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec) be joined in a legislative union, in order to bring about a peaceful fusion of Frenchmen and Englishmen under a common government. This action was immediately taken, thus preparing the way for the Dominion of Canada in 1867. The High Commissioner also recommended that the fullest liberty be accorded the legislature of the united provinces, so that in the future they should be uncontrolled by the mother country, except in foreign affairs and other matters of strictly imperial interest. His arguments for colonial self-government produced a lasting effect on British policy. Not only did Great Britain grant free parliamentary institutions to Canada, but she has also bestowed them upon her other white dominions in Australasia and South Africa
DURHAM REPORT, 1839
I. Such are the lamentable results of the political and social evils which have so long agitated the Canadas; and such is their condition that, at the present moment, we are called on to take immediate precautions against dangers so alarming as those of rebellion, foreign invasion, and utter exhaustion and depopulation. When I look on the various and deep-rooted causes of mischief which the past
1 The Report of the Earl of Durham, pp. 203-208, 229-231. Second Edition. London, 1905. Methuen and Company.