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Chartism Test Questions: 18

The Chartist movement was one to which all social and political reformers look back with a certain amount of pride, mingled with a great amount of sadness. Pride, because it was a movement inspired by great ideals; because it called forth a spirit of devotion and self- sacrifice which is rare in public movements, and caught up on its 'moral force' side some of the finest and most thoughtful working-men of the time. Sadness, because its ideals were either shattered, or passed on, by the natural process of evolution, into other movements and other parties; because its spirit of devotion and self-sacrifice was broken by brutal persecution and imprisonment; and because its 'moral force' was largely neutralised, and its adherents deluded and misled, by one or two inordinately vain and self-seeking agitators.

Of these, perhaps the most culpable was Feargus O'Connor. O'Connor was the editor and chief proprietor of the Northern Star, the principal working-class newspaper of the time, and, through its pages, wielded great influence. Possessing lungs of brass and a voice like a trumpet, he was the most effective outdoor orator of his time, and the idol of the immense assemblages which were often brought together in those days. Unfortunately, both for the movement and for himself, he was a man of unbounded conceit and egotism, extremely jealous of precedence, and regarding himself as a sort of uncrowned king of the working classes. . . But it would be a great mistake to suppose that the Chartist movement was really fruitless. No movement of its magnitude and intensity can be fruitless. it may have looked too much to outward means, and too little to inward and spiritual reform; but it was an excellent means of political education for the working classes.

FROM Ramsden Balmforth, Some Social and Political Pioneers of the Nineteenth Century (London, 1900), pp. 187, 189, 196

Questions

  1. Why did Balmforth think that reformers could look back on Chartism with pride?
  2. Why did he believe there was more sadness connected with Chartism? How does Balmforth judge Feargus O'Connor?
  3. What justification did Balmforth have for his attitude towards O'Connor? 
  4. Into what other movements did Chartism evolve?
  5. What lessons could working men learn from the failure of the Chartist movement?
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