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Chartism

This predominantly working-class movement unsuccessfully petitioned Parliament in 1839, 1842 and 1848 for the People's Charter with its celebrated six points: universal manhood suffrage, equal electoral districts, annual Parliaments, payment of MPs, secret ballots and the abolition of property qualifications for MPs. All the Methodist connexional authorities dissociated themselves from the movement and a member of the WM Conference of 1839 was enthusiastically applauded when he proclaimed that he 'should be sorry if we fraternize with Chartists'. For their part, Chartist leaders viewed Methodism with disdain. Feargus O'Connor dismissed it as 'the religion of retail and shop', while R G. Gammage, the Chartist historian, declared that 'if there is a body of men in England who ... uphold principles of despotism, that body is the Wesleyan Conference.' Some Methodist historians, however, notablyR F. Wearmouth, have emphasized the influence of Methodism upon Chartist leadership and organization and identified ex-Methodists among its grass-roots supporters. Others, such as Michael S. Edwards, have argued that Methodist involvement was untypical and that Chartism was largely secular in 'inspiration and outlook'.

Only rarely are the religious affiliations of Chartists revealed in contemporary evidence. Of 73 Chartist prisoners questioned in 1840-41, 15 were Methodists, the largest group apart from Anglicans (which may have included a number of sceptics). The involvement of a minority of former ministers and local preachers is more fully documented. The former included J.R Stephens, Joseph Barker and John SkevingtonSkevington, John; and the latter Thomas Cooper (WM) and John Markham (PM) of Leicester, Joseph Capper (PM), Benjamin Rushton (MNC) and William Thornton (WM) of Halifax, and William Lovett.

A copy of the National Chartist Hymn-book (the only known surviving copy) was recently found in Todmorden public library and is a reminder that the movement included Methodists and other Christians. It included hymns on such themes as the exploitation of child labour, slavery and extremes of wealth and poverty.

Sources

  • Robert F. Wearmouth, Methodism and the Working-Class Movements of England 1800-1850 (1937) pp.129-63
  • Maldwyn L. Edwards, 'Methodism and the Chartists', in This Methodism (1939) pp.11-34
  • R F. Wearmouth, Some Working-Class Movements of the Nineteenth Century (1948)
  • Michael S. Edwards, 'Methodism and the Chartist Movement', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, October 1966, pp.301-10
  • Nigel Scotland, 'The Role of Methodism in the Chartist Movement', in Themelios, 22 no.1 (October 1996) pp.37-46
  • 'Chartist hymn-book', in Methodist Recorder, 1 March 2013
  • N.A.D. Scotland in WHS(B) Bulletin 77 (1997)

Entry written by: JAH
Category: Organisation

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