petitions

Full text of the Petition for the Charter, 1842

Thomas Slingsby Duncombe, the radical MP for Finsbury, introduced the Chartist Petition of 1842 ‘signed by 3,315,752 of the industrious classes’ into the House of Commons on 2 May 1842. His speech and the full text of the petition are taken from Hansard:

MR T. DUNCOMBE, in presenting it to the House, said, – Looking at the vast proportions of this petition – looking, too, at the importance attaching to it, not only from the matter it contains, but from the millions who have signed it, I am quite satisfied, that if I were to ask the House to relax the rules which it has laid down to govern the presentation of petitions, it would grant me the indulgence; but as I have given notice of a motion for to-morrow, that the petition should be taken into the serious consideration of the House, and that those who have signed it, should by their counsel and agents, be heard at the Bar of your House, in support of the allegations which the petition contains, I shall not ask the House to grant me that indulgence, but will keep myself strictly within the limits which have been laid down for the presentation of all petitions. I beg respectfully to offer to the acceptance of this House, a petition signed by 3,315,752 of the industrious classes of this country. The petition proceeds from those upon whose toil, upon whose industry, upon whose affection, and upon whose attachment, I may say, every institution, every law, nay, even the very Government, and the whole property and commerce of the country depend. These persons now most respectfully come before you, to state the manifold grievances under which they are suffering. They state those grievances at some length ; I need not now go through them, because I mean to ask your Clerk to read them at the Table. I may state, however, that they attribute the manifold grievances and distresses, which they are now enduring, and have for a considerable length of time endured, to class legislation and to the misrepresentation of their interests in this House. They state, that for a considerable length of time their interests have been grossly neglected, and that no interests beyond your own, have ever been thought of within your walls. They are ready to prove this at your Bar. In the first place, they ask you to hear them. They state in their prayer

That they cannot within the limits of this their petition, set forth even a tithe of the many grievances of which they may justly complain; but should your honourable House be pleased to grant your petitioners a hearing, by representatives at the Bar of your honourable House, your petitioners will be enabled to unfold a tale of wrong and suffering – of intolerable injustice – which will create utter astonishment in the minds of all benevolent and good men, that the people of Great Britain and Ireland, have so long quietly endured their wretched condition, brought upon them, as it has been, by unjust exclusion from political authority, and by the manifold corruptions of class legislation.

This petition proceeds, as I have stated, from 3,315,642 of the industrious classes. I have in my hand, a short analysis of the places in which the greater number of the signatures to the petition were obtained. The list of hamlets and towns from which less than 10,000 signatures were procured, is so very long, that I will not detain the House by reading it. I will name those towns only from which more than 10,000 have been obtained. They are these: Manchester, 99,680; Newcastle and districts, 92,000; Glasgow and Lanarkshire, 78.062; Halifax, 36400; Nottingham, 40,000; Leeds, 41,000; Birmingham, 43,000; Norwich, 21,560; Bolton, 18,500; Leicester, 18,000; Rochdale, 19,600; Loughborough and districts, 10,000; Salford, 19,600; East Riding, Yorkshire, agricultural districts, 14,840; Worcester, 10,000; Merthyr Tydvil and districts, 13,900; Aberdeen, 17,600; Keighley, 11,000; Brighton, 12,700; Bristol, 12,800; Huddersfield, 23,180; Sheffield, 27,200; Scotland, West Midland districts, 18,000; Dunfermline, 16,000; Cheltenham, 10,400; Liverpool, 23,000; Staleybridge and districts, 10,000; Stockport, 14,000; Macclesfield and suburbs, 10,000; North Lancashire, 52,000; Oldham, 15,000; Ashton, 14,200; Bradford and district, Yorkshire, 45,100; Burnley and district, 14,000; Preston and district, 24,000; Wigan, 10,000; London and suburbs, 200,000; from 371 other towns, villages, &c. 2,154, 807. – Total 3,315,752. I believe these to be every one of them bona fide signatures. The remedies that the petitioners suggest would be that they should have a voice in the election of representatives; that they should be represented in this House. They complain that at present they are totally and grossly misrepresented; and they pray that, after having heard them, if you should be satisfied with their arguments, you do immediately, without alteration, deduction, or addition, pass into a law the document entitled “The People’s Charter”; which embraces the representation of male adults, vote by ballot, annual Parliaments, no property qualification, payment of members, and equal electoral districts. And your petitioners, desiring to promote the peace of the United Kingdom, security of property, and prosperity of commerce, seriously and earnestly press this their petition on the attention of your honourable House. I beg leave to move that this petition be brought up and read by the Clerk at the Table.

The petition was read by the Clerk, as follows:-

TO THE HONOURABLE THE COMMONS OF GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND, IN PARLIAMENT ASSEMBLED

The petition of the undersigned people of the United Kingdom

Sheweth – That Government originated from, was designed to protect the freedom and promote the happiness of, and ought to be responsible to, the whole people.

 That the only authority on which any body of men can make laws and govern society, is delegation from the people.

 That as Government was designed for the benefit and protection of, and must be obeyed and supported by all, therefore all should be equally represented.

 That any form of Government which fails to effect the purposes for which it was designed, and does not fully and completely represent the whole people, who are compelled to pay taxes to its support and obey the laws resolved upon by it, is unconstitutional, tyrannical, and ought to be amended or resisted. 

That your Honourable House, as at present constituted, has not been elected by, and acts irresponsibly of, the people; and hitherto has only represented parties, and benefited the few, regardless of the miseries, grievances, and petitions of the many. Your honourable House has enacted laws contrary to the expressed wishes of the people, and by unconstitutional means enforced obedience to them, thereby creating an unbearable despotism on the one hand, and degrading slavery on the other.

That if your honourable House is of opinion that the people of Great Britain and Ireland ought not to be fully represented, your petitioners pray that such opinion may be unequivocally made known, that the people may fully understand what they can or cannot expect from your honourable House: because if such be the decision of your honourable House, your petitioners are of opinion that where representation is denied, taxation ought to be resisted.

That your petitioners instance, in proof of their assertion, that your honourable House has not been elected by the people; that the population of Great Britain and Ireland is at the present time about twenty-six millions of persons; and that yet, out of this number, little more than nine hundred thousand have been permitted to vote in the recent election of representatives to make laws to govern the whole.

That the existing state of representation is not only extremely limited and unjust, but unequally divided, and gives preponderating influence to the landed and monied interests to the utter ruin of the small-trading and labouring classes.

That the borough of Guildford, with a population of 3,920 returns to Parliament as many members as the Tower Hamlets, with a population of 300,000; Evesham, with a population of 3,998, elects as many representatives as Manchester, with a population of 200,000; and Buckingham, Evesham, Totness, Guildford, Honiton, and Bridport, with a total population of 23,000, returns as many representatives as Manchester, Finsbury, Tower Hamlets, Liverpool Marylebone, and Lambeth, with a population of 1,400,000: these being but a very few instances of the enormous inequalities existing in what is called the representation of this country.

That bribery, intimidation, corruption, perjury, and riot, prevail at all parliamentary elections, to an extent best understood by the Members of your honourable House.

That your petitioners complain that they are enormously taxed to pay the interest of what is termed the national debt, a debt amounting at present to £800,000,000, being only a portion of the enormous amount expended in cruel and expensive wars for the suppression of all liberty, by men not authorised by the people, and who, consequently, had no right to tax posterity for the outrages committed by them upon mankind. And your petitioners loudly complain of the augmentation of that debt, after twenty-six years of almost uninterrupted peace, and whilst poverty and discontent rage over the land.

That taxation, both general and local, is at this time too enormous to be borne; and in the opinion of your petitioners is contrary to the spirit of the Bill of Rights, wherein it is clearly expressed that no subject shall be compelled to contribute to any tax, talliage, or aid, unless imposed by common consent in Parliament.

That in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, thousands of people are dying from actual want; and your petitioners, whilst sensible that poverty is the great exciting cause of crime, view with mingled astonishment and alarm the ill provision made for the poor, the aged, and inform; and likewise perceive, with feelings of indignation, the determination of your honourable House to continue the Poor-law Bill in operation, notwithstanding the many proofs which have been afforded by sad experience of the unconstitutional principle of that bill, of its unchristian character, and of the cruel and murderous effects produced upon the wages of working men, and the lives of the subjects of this realm.

That your petitioners conceive that bill to be contrary to all previous statutes, opposed to the spirit of the constitution, and an actual violation of the precepts of the Christian religion; and, therefore, your petitioners look with apprehension to the results which may flow from its continuance.

That your petitioners would direct the attention of your honourable House to the great disparity existing between the wages of the producing millions, and the salaries of those whose comparative usefulness ought to be questioned, where riches and luxury prevail amongst the rulers, and poverty and starvation amongst the ruled.

That your petitioners, with all due respect and loyalty, would compare the daily income of the Sovereign Majesty with that of thousands of the working men of this nation; and whilst your petitioners have learned that her Majesty receives daily for her private use the sum of £164, 17s. 10d.. they have also ascertained that many thousands of the families of the labourers are only in the receipt of 3¾d. per head per day.

That your petitioners have also learned that his royal Highness Prince Albert receives each day the sum of £104.2s. whilst thousands have to exist upon 3d per head per day.

That your petitioners have also heard with astonishment, that the King f Hanover daily receives £57. 10s. whilst thousands of the tax-payers of this empire live upon 2¾d. per head per day.

That your petitioners have, with pain and regret, also learned that the Archbishop of Canterbury is daily in the receipt of £52. 10s. per day whilst thousands of the poor have to maintain their families upon an income not exceeding 2d. per head per day.

That notwithstanding the wretched and unparalleled condition of the people, your honourable House has manifested no disposition to curtail the expenses of the State, to diminish taxation, or promote general prosperity.

That unless immediate remedial measures by adopted, your petitioners fear the increasing distress of the people will lead to results fearful to contemplate; because your petitioners can produce evidence of the gradual decline of wages, at the same time that the constant increase of the national burdens must be apparent to all.

That your petitioners know that it is the undoubted constitutional right of the people, to meet freely, when, how, and whether they choose, in public places, peaceably, in the day, to discuss their grievances and political or other subjects, or for the purpose of framing, discussing, or passing any vote, petition, or remonstrance, upon any subject whatsoever.

That your petitioners complain that the right has unconstitutionally been infringed; and 500 well disposed persons have been arrested, excessive bail demanded, tried by packed juries, sentences to imprisonment, and treated as felons of the worst description. That an unconstitutional police force is distributed all over the country, at enormous cost, to prevent the due exercise of the people’s rights. And your petitioners are of opinion that the Poor-law Bastiles and the police stations, being co-existent, have originated from the same cause, viz., the increased desire on the part of the irresponsible few to oppress and starve the many.

That a vast and unconstitutional army is upheld at the public expense, for the purpose of repressing public opinion in the three kingdoms, and likewise to intimidate the millions in the due exercise of those rights and privileges which ought to belong to them.

That your petitioners complain that the hours of labour, particularly of the factory workers, are protracted beyond the limits of human endurance, and that the wages earned, after unnatural application to toil in heated and unhealthy workshops, are inadequate to sustain the bodily strength, and supply those comforts which are so imperative after an excessive waste of physical energy.

That your petitioners also direct the attention of your honourable House to the starvation wages of the agricultural labourer, and view with horror and indignation the paltry income of those whose toil gives being to the staple food of this people. 

That your petitioners deeply deplore the existence of any kind of monopoly in this nation, and whilst they unequivocally condemn the levying of any tax upon the necessaries of life, and upon those articles principally required by the labouring classes, they are also sensible that the abolition of any one monopoly will never unshackle labour from its misery until the people possess that power under which all monopoly and oppression must cease; and your petitioners respectfully mention the existing monopolies of the suffrage, of paper money, of machinery, of land, of the public press, of religious privileges, of the means of travelling and transit, and of a host of other evils too numerous to mention, all arising from class legislation, but which your honourable House has always consistently endeavoured to increase instead of diminish.

That your petitioners are sensible, from the numerous petitions presented to your honourable House, that your honourable House is fully acquainted with the grievances of the working men; and your petitioners pray that the rights and wrongs of labour may be considered, with a view to the protection of the one, and to the removal of the other; because your petitioners are of opinion that it is the worst species of legislation which leaves the grievances of society to be removed only by violence of revolution, both of which may be apprehended if complaints are unattended to and petitions despised.

That your petitioners complain that upwards of nine millions of pounds per annum are unjustly abstracted from them to maintain a church establishment, from which they principally dissent; and beg to call the attention of your honourable House to the fact, that this enormous sum is equal to, if it does not exceed, the cost of upholding Christianity in all parts of the world beside. Your petitioners complain that it is unjust, and not in accordance with the Christian religion, to enforce compulsory support of religious creeds, and expensive church establishments, with which the people do not agree.

That your petitioners believe all men have a right to worship God as may appear best to their consciences, and that no legislative enactments should interfere between man and his Creator. 

That your petitioners direct the attention of your honourable House to the enormous revenue annually swallowed up by the bishops and the clergy, and entreat you to contrast their deeds with the conduct of the founder of the Christian religion, who denounced worshippers of Mammon, and taught charity, meekness, and brotherly love.

That your petitioners strongly complain that the people of this kingdom are subject to the rule of irresponsible law-makers, to whom they have given no authority, and are enormously taxed to uphold a corrupt system, to which they have never in person or by representation given their assent.

That your petitioners maintain that it is the inherent, indubitable, and constitutional right, founded upon the ancient practice of the realm of England, and supported by well approved statutes, of every male inhabitant of the United Kingdom, he being of age and of sound mind, non-convict of crime, and not confined under any judicial process, to exercise the elective franchise in the choice of Members to serve in the Commons House of Parliament.

That your petitioners can prove, that by the ancient customs and statutes of this realm, Parliament should be held once in each year.

That your petitioners maintain that Members elected to serve in Parliament ought to be the servants of the people, and should, at short and stated intervals, return to their constituencies, to ascertain if their conduct is approved of, and to give the people power to reject all who have not acted honestly and justly.

That your petitioners complain that possession of property is made the test of men’s qualification to sit in Parliament.

That your petitioners can give proof that such qualification is irrational, unnecessary, and not in accordance with the ancient usages of England.

That your petitioners complain, that by influence, patronage, and intimidation, there is at present no purity of election; and your petitioners contend for the right of voting by ballot.

That your petitioners complain that seats in your honourable House are sought for at a most extravagant rate of expense; which proves an enormous degree of fraud and corruption.

That your petitioners, therefore, contend, that to put an end to secret political traffic, all representatives should be paid a limited amount for their services.

That your petitioners complain of the many grievances borne by the people of Ireland, and contend that they are fully entitled to a repeal of the legislative union.

That your petitioners have viewed with great indignation the partiality shown to the aristocracy in the courts of justice, and the cruelty of that system of law which deprived Frost, Williams, and Jones, of the benefit of their objection offered by Sir Frederick Pollock during the trial at Monmouth, and which was approved of by a large majority of the judges. 

That your petitioners beg to assure your honourable House that they cannot, within the limits of this their petition, set forth even a tithe of the many grievances of which they may justly complain; but should your honourable House be pleased to grant your petitioners a hearing by representatives at the Bar of your honourable House, your petitioners will be enabled to unfold a tale of wrong and suffering – of intolerable injustice – which will create utter astonishment in the minds of all benevolent and good men, that the people of Great Britain and Ireland have so long quietly endured their wretched condition, brought upon them as it has been by unjust exclusion from political authority, and by the manifold corruptions of class-legislation.

That your petitioners, therefore, exercising their just constitutional right, demand that your honourable House do remedy the many gross and manifest evils of which your petitioners complain, do immediately, without alteration, deduction, or addition, pass into a law the document entitled ‘The People’s Charter’, which embraced the representation of male adults, vote by ballot, annual Parliaments, no property qualification, payment of Members, and equal electoral districts.

And that your petitioners, desiring to promote the peace of the United Kingdom, security of property, and prosperity of commerce, seriously and earnestly press this their petition, on the attention of your honourable House.

And your petitioners, &c.

Petition to be printed.

Source: Hansard, HC Deb 02 May 1842 vol 62 cc1373-81 (accessed 6 January 2024).