History Optional Paper-2 Solution – 2011: Q.6 (a)
Q.6 (a) “The roots of Chartism are partly political and partly economic.” Elaborate.
Chartism was a working class movement, which emerged in 1836 and was most active between 1838 and 1848. The aim of the Chartists was to gain political rights and influence for the working classes.
Chartism got its name from the formal petition, or People’s Charter of 1838, that listed the six main aims of the movement. These were:
(1) A vote for every man over 21,
(2) Secret ballots,
(3) No property qualification for MPs,
(4) Salaries for MPs,
(5) Equal Constituencies
(6) Annual Parliaments.
The overt goal of the Chartist ‘movement’ was to secure political rights for working class men, but the political demands arose from political as well as economic roots. Political rights were thought as necessary to solve economic problems.
The political root of Chartism
(1) The Chartist ‘movement’ had its roots in political radicalism; its pedigree can be traced to the early 19th century, and beyond. This radicalism had culminated in the 1832 Reform Act which had extended franchise and reformed Parliamentary seats.
The working classes had supported the middle class campaign for the 1832 Reform Act. But, the working class was dissatisfied because the 1832 Act did not enfranchise them.
(2) Subsequent reforms came as a bitter disappointment and actually hurt the working man. Middle class representation in the Parliament led to legislation favoring middle class interest. Whig reforms were institutional rather than social or economic.
The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act treated poverty as a crime and aimed at cutting poor rates. So, Chartists sought a political solution to their economic and social problems.
(3) Early trades union failed. Legislation in 1824 and 1825 repealed the Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800 and unions were again allowed, subject to many restrictions. Many unions had been established after 1825 but failed to bargain effectively with employers.
The economic root of Chartism
The Chartists sought to solve the following economic problems with political reform:
(1) Working class disliked the new conditions of the 19th century factory discipline, low wages, periodic unemployment and high prices of necessary goods.
(2) Discontent due to the exploitations in factories.
(3) Traditional hand-workers, such as the London silk-weavers, were facing extreme distress in the face of competition from machines.
There were few alternatives: they could join the factory workers or ask for relief from the parish.
(4) The resentment among working class was increasing due to the widening gulf between rich and poor.
(5) The 1815 Corn Laws and a protectionist economy still prevailed despite reforms of the 1820s. The Corn Laws kept food prices artificially high and therefore depressed domestic markets for manufactures – thus depressing employment. Foreign markets were also undercut, further reducing factory output and exports.
(6) The 1830s saw a series of bad harvests which increased distress.
(7) There were a series of fiscal crises in the 1830s. The Whigs were in power from 1830 to 1841 but they were weak in economic strategy and left huge deficit on leaving office. They made no attempt to reform banking or the currency. These factors had huge impact on the working class.
(8) Reforms were also needed in banking, customs and taxation. Taxation fell mainly on the working class in indirect taxation (which hurts poor more than indirect taxes). The abolition of income tax in 1816 worsened the situation.
The real value of wages was diminished and bad harvests made things worse.
Hence, the roots of Chartism are partly political and partly economic.
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