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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Chartism \Chart"ism\, n. [F. charte charter. Cf. Charte, Chart.] The principles of a political party in England (1838-48), which contended for universal suffrage, the vote by ballot, annual parliaments, equal electoral districts, and other radical reforms, as set forth in a document called the People's Charter.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

1839 in English political history, in reference to the reform party active 1836-48, from "The People's Charter," which contained their principles. Related: Chartist (1838).


n. (context finance English) The practices and methodologies of chartists.


Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in Britain which existed from 1838 to 1858. It took its name from the People's Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement, with particular strongholds of support in Northern England, the East Midlands, the Staffordshire Potteries, the Black Country, and the South Wales Valleys. Support for the movement was at its highest in 1839, 1842, and 1848, when petitions signed by millions of working people were presented to the House of Commons. The strategy employed was to use the scale of support which these petitions and the accompanying mass meetings demonstrated to put pressure on politicians to concede manhood suffrage. Chartism thus relied on constitutional methods to secure its aims, though there were some who became involved in insurrectionary activities, notably in south Wales and Yorkshire.

The People's Charter called for six reforms to make the political system more democratic:

  1. A vote for every man twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for a crime.
  2. The Secret Ballot to protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
  3. No Property Qualification for Members of Parliament in order to allow the constituencies to return the man of their choice, rich or poor.
  4. Payment of Members, enabling tradesmen, working men, or other persons of modest means to leave or interrupt his livelihood to attend to the interests of the nation.
  5. Equal Constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing less populous constituencies to have as much or more weight than larger ones.
  6. Annual Parliamentary Elections, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since no purse could buy a constituency under a system of universal manhood suffrage in each twelve-month period; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as had hitherto been the case.

Chartists saw themselves fighting against political corruption and for democracy in an industrial society, but attracted support beyond the radical political groups for economic reasons, such as opposing wage cuts and unemployment.

Usage examples of "chartism".

He reviewed the great progress of Chartism, abused the Whigs, and browbeat the press.

This gave offence to the liberal party, and there was a general suspicion throughout the country that under the disguise of putting down chartism, the government was solicitous to check the increase of public meetings for reform in church and state, which became very numerous, especially in the north of England, and most especially in Lancashire.

The principles of Chartism were at this time to keep within the limits of the law, and yet to hint, when such a course was safe, that stronger measures lay behind mere words.

The Radical Parson, the upholder of Chartism, was in many ways a strong Tory.

At the time of the European revolutions of 1848, when crowns were falling, and ministers flying before the rage of the sovereign people, Chartism never seriously threatened the stability of the British Government, and its great demonstrations were no real menace to the existing order.

Government, decided to get the franchise for themselves, and for twelve years, 1838-1850, Chartism was the great popular movement.

The utopian Socialism of Owen flourished and died, as Chartism, under different treatment, flourished and died.

There was, however, no response to their excited appeals, and from that day Chartism was practically extinct.

Whiggery, to stultify Chartism, and that demoralizing lie, the ballot.