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The People's Charter

Taken from Norman Gash, The Age of Peel (London, Edward Arnold, 1973), with the kind permission of Professor Gash. Copyright of this document, of course, remains with him.

This document was the first Charter produced in 1839 by the Chartists. They made a variety of demands for further reform of parliament. It was presented to the House of Commons by Thomas Attwood and was reprinted in the Chartist Circular. Benjamin Disraeli supported the hearing of the Charter in parliament.

Being an Outline of an Act to provide for the just Representation of the People of Great Britain and Ireland in the Commons' House of Parliament: embracing the Principles of Universal Suffrage, no Property Qualification, Annual Parliaments, Equal Representation, Payment of Members, and Vote by Ballot.

Prepared by a Committee of twelve persons, six members of Parliament and six members of the London Working Men's Association, and addressed to the People of the United Kingdom.

An Act to provide for the just Representation of the People of Great Britain and Ireland, in the Commons' House of Parliament.

Whereas to insure, in as far as it is best possible by human forethought and wisdom, the just government of the people, it is necessary to subject those who have the power of making the laws, to a wholesome and strict responsibility to those whose duty it is to obey them when made:

And, whereas, this responsibility is best enforced through the instrumentality of a body which emanates directly from, and is itself immediately subject to, the whole people, and which completely represents their feelings and their interests:

And, whereas, as the Common's House of Parliament now exercises in the name and on the supposed behalf of the people, the power of making the laws, it ought, in order to fulfil with wisdom and with honesty the great duties imposed in it, to be made the faithful and accurate representation of the people's wishes, feelings and interests.

Be it therefore Enacted,

  1. That from and after the passing of this Act, every male inhabitant of these realms be entitled to vote for the election of a Member of Parliament, subject however to the following conditions.
  2. That he be a native of these realms, or a foreigner who has lived in this country upwards of two years, and been naturalised.
  3. That he be twenty-one years of age.
  4. That he be not proved insane when the list of voters are revised.
  5. That he be not convicted of felony within six months from and after the passing of this Act.
  6. That his electoral rights be not suspended for bribery at elections, or for personation, or for forgery of election certificates, according to the penalties of this Act...

Electoral Districts

  1. Be it enacted, that for the purpose of obtaining an equal representation of the people in the Commons' House of Parliament, the United Kingdom be divided into 300 electoral districts.
  2. That each such district contain, as nearly as may be, an equal number of inhabitants.
  3. That the number of inhabitants be taken from the last census, and as soon as possible after the next ensuing decennial census shall have been taken, the electoral districts be made to conform thereto.
  4. That each electoral district be named after the principal city or borough within its limits.
  5. That each electoral district return one representative to sit in the Commons' House of Parliament, and no more. ...

Returning Officer and his Duties

I-III [Returning officers to be elected for each electoral district every three years.]

Arrangement for Nominations

  1. Be it enacted, that for the purpose of guarding against too great a number of candidates, who might otherwise be heedlessly proposed, as well as for giving time for the electors to enquire into the merits of the persons who may be nominated for Members of Parliament, as well as for returning officers, that all nominations be taken as herinafter directed.
  2. That for all general elections of Members of Parliament, a requisition of the following form, signed by at least one hundred qualified electors of the district, be delivered to the returning officer of the district between the 1st and 10th day of May in each year; and that such requisition constitute the nomination of such person as a candidate for the district. ...
  3. that no other qualification shall be required for members to serve in the Commons' House of Parliament, than the choice of the electors. ...

Arrangement of Elections

I-VI [Election of MPs to take place annually in June; electors to vote only in the district in which they are registered' voting to be by secret ballot.]

Duration of Parliament

  1. Be it enacted, that Members of the House of Commons chosen as aforesaid, shall meet on the first Monday in June in each year, and continue their sittings from time to time as they may deem it convenient, till the first Monday in June the following, when the next new Parliament is to be chosen: they shall be eligible to be re-elected.
  2. That during an adjournment, they be liable to be called together by the executive, in cases of emergency.
  3. That a register be kept of the daily attendance of each member, which at the close of the session shall be printed as a sessional paper, showing how the members have attended. ...

Payment of Members

  1. Be it enacted, that every Member of the House of Commons by entitles, at the close of the session, to a writ of expenses on the Treasury, for his legislative duties in the public service, and shall be paid £500 per annum.

The Chartist Circular, 5 October 1839.

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