Chartism was a mass working class movement that sought universal suffrage.
The Chartists sought political and social reform in the UK during the mid-19th century, between 1838 and 1850. They took their name from the People’s Charter of 1838, which stated the six main aims of the movement as:
- A vote for every man twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime.
- The secret ballot. – To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
- No property qualification for members of Parliament – thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.
- Payment of members, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the Country.
- Equal Constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of large ones.
- Annual parliaments, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelve-month; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.
Chartism, Christianity and secularism
During this period the Christian churches in Britain believed that Christians should not interfere with politics.
However many Christian Chartists saw Christianity as something that should be applied practically to life including politics. To further this idea some Christian Chartist Churches were formed.
The Chartist where especially harsh on the Church of England for unequal distribution of the state funds it received. This state of affairs led some Chartists to question the very idea of a state sponsored church, leading them to call for an absolute separation of church and state – that is a secular state.
Facing severe prosecution in 1839 Chartists took to attending services at churches they held in contempt.
This allowed them to display their large numbers and to make direct challenges. Often they would demand that preachers read from texts they believed supported their cause.
Prominent Chartists included a number of humanists: