Chartist petitions

One of the facts everyone knows about the Chartists is that they presented three petitions to Parliament.

Working men in Victorian clothing try to push a huge roll of paper bigger than them through a door marked Parliament. The word ‘Charter’ is written on the paper.
George Cruikshank’s humorous take on the difficulties getting the vast 1842 petition through the doors of the House of Commons. Drawn for the Comic Almanack for 1843 (1842).

But they didn’t. There were actually four national Chartist petitions calling for the adoption of the Charter. There was one national drive to collect signatures on lots of local petitions. And there was one enormous petition in 1841 seeking the release of Chartist prisoners. So, depending on how you count them, anything up to six Chartist petitions.

This page brings together a collection of related articles for each petition. For each of the larger and best known petitions, there are articles on how the petition was organised, the efforts made to present it to Parliament, and on how it was received by the House of Commons. Where possible there are also links to original documents.

The chart beneath shows the rise and fall in support for the Chartist cause, with 1848 highly contested. Presenting the petition Feargus O’Connor had claimed (against the advice of other activists) that it contained 5,700,000 signatures while the parliamentary authorities put the number at no more than 1,900,000. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

These links go to separate pages on each petition.

First Petition for the Charter, 1839
Organising the first Chartist petition – 1839
Full text of the petition – 1839
Presenting the First Chartist petition – 1839
Chartist Convention – 1839
Document: Petition for the People’s Charter

Petition for the prisoners, 1841
Petition on behalf of the Chartist prisoners – 1841

Second Petition for the Charter, 1842
Organising the Chartist petition – 1842
Full text of the petition – 1842
Chartist Convention, 1842
Presenting the Chartist ‘leviathan’ petition – 1842
MPs vote to ignore the leviathan petition – 1842
Document: Engraving to commemorate the petition – 1842
The leviathan petition in numbers – 1842

Third Petition for the Charter – 1848
Full text of the petition – 1848
London Convention and National Assembly – 1848
10 April ‘monster meeting’ on Kennington Common – 1848
Document: Cartoons of magistrates and military – 1848
Object: Police truncheon for a special constable – 1848

Final petitions of 1849 and1851
Fourth Chartist petition – 1849
Fifth Chartist petition – 1851