There was a great deal of brooding discontent in the country at the opening of Queen Victoria's reign, which soon passed into a phase calling for active measures of repression. Some have recognised in the Chartist movement the chagrin of the working classes, who having imparted to the mills of State the impetus necessary to grind out political rights for their employers—the merchants, farmers and middle class generally - found themselves no better equipped for political action than they were before. But such a suggestion finds no reflection in actual experience of popular movements. Agitators might declaim in vain against the injustice of a restricted franchise if their hearers had no other cause for discontent. The real root of bitterness lay in the suffering and distress caused by the severe winter of 1837-8, the high price of bread, and, on the top of all, detestation of the new Poor Law. It is genuine grievances such as these which, from time to time, force on the attention of those who suffer from them the glaring contrast between the privations of the many and the superfluities of the few. So, in 1838, hungry crowds were easily persuaded to listen to denunciations of the privileged classes ; to believe that the Queen and a dilettante Prime Minister were insensible to their sufferings so long as their own tables wore abundantly supplied ; and that Government was no more than a machine for enriching the classes at the expense of the masses.

Search here for UK insurance such as restaurant insurance, if you own a cafe, restaurant, hamburger stall or whatever: holiday home insurance or home business insurance

It has to be remembered, also, that during the development of crowded centres of population, consequent on the rapid increase in various industries, the artizan and mining classes found themselves at a great disadvantage in negotiating with their employers, owing to the stringent laws regulating trades unions. A whole generation was to pass away before, in 1875, Mr. (now Viscount) Cross should pass a measure abolishing criminal proceedings in cases of breach of engagement, placing employer and workman on equal terms before the law, and enacting that nothing which it was legal for a single workman to do should be illegal when done by a combination of workmen or a trades union.

The Whig leaders having declined to re-open the question of electoral reform, a document was drawn up at a conference between a few Radical members of Parliament and the representatives of the Working Men's Association, formulating the demands made on behalf of the proletariat. Universal male suffrage, annual Parliaments, vote by ballot, abolition of the property qualification required at that time from a member of Parliament, payment of members, and equal electoral districts, were the six points insisted on ; of which three, it will be seen, have since been practically carried into effect.  "There is your Charter ! " exclaimed O'Connell, handing it to the secretary of the Working Men's Association ; "agitate for it, and never be content with anything less." The term took the popular fancy; the programme became known as the Charter, and those who supported it were hereafter known as Chartists.

 

DANIEL O'CONNELL, M.P. 1775 - 1847.

Known as " The Liberator." Was an Irish barrister. Elected to the House of Commons in 1828, he was the principal advocate of Catholic Emancipation, and founder of the " Loyal National Repeal Association." The sketch represents him on the watch for an opportunity to attack the Government with the weapon of " Repeal."

Not a very formidable programme after all, nor one that might not be advanced by constitutional means, but one that, like many other popular agitations, fell into dangerous paths by the imprudent zeal of some of its advocates, and still more, by the violence of the discontented, unfortunate, or predatory waifs of civilisation, ever ready to promote any social change for the sake of what plunder it may bring within their reach.

In November 1839 the miners of the Newport district of Monmouthshire assembled to the number of 10,000 under a tradesman called Frost and attempted to release from gaol one Vincent, who had been imprisoned for using seditious language. The mayor and  magistrates of Newport, with a handful of soldiers, offered a gallant resistance ; the rioters were dispersed with a loss of ten killed and fifty wounded, the mayor, Mr. Phillips, receiving two gunshot wounds. Frost and two others were afterwards convicted of high treason and sentenced to death. But the dawn of milder methods of government had begun : the death sentence was commuted by the Royal mercy to one of transportation for life : even that was subsequently relaxed, and Frost was allowed to return to England some years later to find himself and the Chartists an unquiet memory of the past.

But in spite of the punishment of the Newport rioters, and hundreds of others in different places, Chartism continued to spread until it became merged in the more intelligent and fruitful agitation for the repeal of the Corn Laws.

This great question was brought under by Lord Brougham in the Lords on February 18, and the following day by Mr. Charles Villiers in the Commons ; but the motion for inquiry was negatived without a division in the former and by a majority of 189 in the latter. Both Parliament and country, however, were to hear plenty about the Corn Duties in the next few years.

The Whig Ministry were now approaching the end of their second year of office, and steadily losing favour in the country. They had earned the enmity of the Chartists by their apathy to further reform ; and the novel advantage of Royal confidence in and affection for a Whig Prime Minister did not affect the general drift of middle - class opinion. Meanwhile, Peel was indefatigable on the platform, securing popular support for the newConservatism.

Drifting thus helplessly in the doldrums of unpopularity the Government suddenly foundered on April 9, the immediate cause being a Bill for the suspension of the Constitution of Jamaica. The second reading was carried, indeed, by a majority of five ; but the resignation of the Ministry was immediately placed in Her Majesty's hands and accepted.

It put an end to an intolerable situation. Three days before the division Greville wrote in his
diary : "The Government is at its last gasp : the result of the debate next week may possibly prolong its existence, as a cordial does that of a dying man, but it cannot go on. They are disunited, dissatisfied, and disgusted in the Cabinet."

The Queen sent first for the Duke of Wellington, but he, having probably little relish for leading a Government without a majority in the House of Commons, excused himself on the grounds of his age and deafness, and advised Her Majesty to lay the task on Sir Robert Peel. That statesman replied, that having been party to a vote of the House which brought about the situation, nothing should make him recoil from the obvious difficulty of it, and he formed a Cabinet without delay. Then arose a peculiar and unforeseen difficulty, known as " The Bedchamber question." Peel found no difficulty in filling up the important posts in the the Government, until it was explained to him that the Court Offices were vacated with the Administrative ones, and that they also must be supplied. He took up a Red Book, as he afterwards explained in Parliament, learnt from it for the first time what were the different appointments, and submitted to the Queen a list of names to replace all except those below the rank of Lady of the Bedchamber. But Her Majesty had other views, and the reader will more readily understand her reluctance to part with those personal attendants, of whom she had grown fond, by remembering the singular isolation of her youth, and the very few acquaintances she possessed at the beginning of her reign.

A difficulty of such slender proportions seems one that might have been got round, but it was not to be. The Queen was inflexible, and Peel, on principle, resigned his office. Lord Melbourne and his colleagues were recalled ; explanations followed in both Houses, and the  incident disappeared in a cloud of angry gossip. Peel was relieved from a position the reverse of enviable, and Melbourne had to stand the brunt of a tirade from the relentless Brougham and resume the reins which he had allowed to slip from a somewhat reluctant hand.

As for the cause of dispute, it was not finally disposed of till after the Queen's marriage, when, on the suggestion of Prince Albert, it was settled that on a change of Ministry the Queen should arrange for the voluntary resignation of any ladies whom, being relations or very intimate friends of leaders in opposition, it might, in the opinion of the Prime Minister, be inconvenient to retain in office.