Before we can account for the failures of the chartist movement we must first understand who the chartists were and what their aims were.
The chartists were made up of hard working, literate, working class men who wanted to be granted suffrage in order to improve the quality of their lives through democracy and the vote. .
William Lovett, one of the leaders and also secretary of the London Working Men's Association, worked alongside Francis Place and Joseph Roebuck, a radical MP, to produce the "People's Charter". This document was produced as the basis for an Act of Parliament (Clive Behagg, 1991), and was made public in May 1838; it is also claimed that this date marks the beginning of Chartism (Harry Browne 1999).
The Charter was made up of six points:.
1. Suffrage for all men over the age of 21.
2. Voting by secret ballot.
3. Remove the necessity to own land for men wishing to stand for Parliament.
4. Members of Parliament to receive a salary.
5. Equal size electoral districts.
6. Annual Parliaments.
The chartists handed a petition containing 1,208,000 signatures to Parliament in 1839, calling for the Charter to be made law. The petition was rejected (Harry Browne 1999).
Following the rejection of the petition for reform, the chartist movement became disoriented and during this time a number of violent demonstrations took place. The worst of these was at Newport in November 1839, where a demonstration was fired upon by troops and 24 chartist members were killed. The leader of the protest, John Frost, was transported. Chartist leaders, including Feargus O"Connor and Bronterre O"Brien were also arrested and sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment (Taylor 1988).
The chartists petitioned the government again, in 1842 and later in 1848. Both attempts were unsuccessful even though the 1842 petition contained 3,315,752 signatures and the later petition contained 5,700,000 signatures. The petition of 1848 was laughed out of Parliament when they found that only 1,975,496 signatures were genuine.