The Chartist leader and Nottingham MP Feargus O’Connor introduced the Chartist petition of 1848 into the House of Commons on 10 April 1848. The number of signatures was contested, with O’Connor having claimed 5,736,000 and the Commons authorities 1,975,496.
Although the House of Commons would be given longer to debate whether or not to receive the petition on the following Friday, O’Connor was permitted to say a few words as the ‘monster petition’ was piled up in the chamber of the House of Commons. The account here is taken from the York Herald, one of the few papers to report this event, and the text of the petition below from a Commons select committee report.
This is one of a number of articles dealing with the Third Petition for the Charter. See also:
London Convention and National Assembly – 1848
Full text of the Petition – 1848
10 April ‘monster meeting’ on Kennington Common – 1848
Document: Cartoons of magistrates and military – 1848
Object: Police truncheon for a special constable – 1848
House of Commons, Monday April 10.
THE CHARTIST PETITION
The House of Commons assembled at an early hour, there being a very full attendance of members at a few minutes to four.
Before the House was constituted the monster petition was deposited upon the floor, the different parts into which it was divided forming a large pile immediately in front of the table.
At a quarter past four,
Mr F. O’Connor rose and presented the petition, signed, as he said by 5,706,000 persons, and another petition signed by 30,000 persons but not appended to the great petition, both praying for the recognition and establishment of the six points of the charter. The honourable gentlemen then moved that the petition be read from the table.
This was done amid profound silence, the House paying marked attention to it, as, paragraph after paragraph, it was read by the clerk.
Lord Morpeth then apologized on behalf of Sir George Grey, for the absence of the right honourable gentleman from the House, his detention being caused by the duties then devolving upon him in connection with his department. The noble lord was authorized to say, in the name if the right honourable gentleman, that whatever might be his sentiments as to the prayer of the petition, he would be the last to be found wanting in respect either to that or any other petition, signed by large bodies of people (Hear, hear.)
The petition was then removed, some portions of it in the arms of the messenger, and aothers, from their size and weight, being rolled out of the House.
Source: The York Herald, 15 April 1848, p3).
The Petition of the undersigned Inhabitants of the British Isles, and subjects of the British Crown,
That we thus avail ourselves of the constitutional privilege of submitting the consideration of our political rights and wrongs to your honourable House, in the hope that they will receive from you that degree of attention which the importance of the one and the oppressiveness of the other demand from the guardians of the civil, social, and religious rights of the people.
Your Petitioners declare that the great end of all governmental institutions should be the protection of life, the security of property, the promotion of education and morality, and the diffusion of happiness among all classes.
That your Petitioners consider the only legitimate basis of an equitable Government is the expression of the mind of the whole male adult population, through the untrammelled agency of the franchise.
That your Petitioners regard the representation in Parliament of every man of sound mind as a right compatible with and sustained by the laws of nature and of God, and that man’s privation by his fellow creature of such right is an act which, if tolerated, evidences the existence of tyranny and injustice upon the one hand, and servility and degradation upon the other.
That your Petitioners regard the Reform Bill as unjust, as it restricts the right of citizenship to one-seventh of the male adult community, and stamps the other six-sevenths with the stigma of political inferiority.
That the system which your Petitioners arraign before the judgment if your honourable House renders seven men subservient to the will, caprice, and dominance of one! That it not only establishes the ascendancy of a small minority of the empire; but it invests a minority of the small enfranchised fraction with the power of returning a majority of your honourable House.
That your Petitioners have never yet heard a valid reason urged for maintaining the present representative system, and that the arguments pleaded against the admission of the people to the immunities which the social contract should guarantee are based upon class selfishness, prejudices, and contracted views of humanity.
That your Petitioners hold the elective franchise not to be a trust, as has been absurdly represented, but a right inherent in every man for the preservation of his person, liberty, and property, which is to be exercised to the best of the possessor’s judgment, without let or hindrance from his neighbour.
That your Petitioners, believing the principle of universal suffrage to be based upon those eternal rights of man which, although hitherto kept in abeyance, can be neither alienated nor destroyed, appeal to your honourable House of make such organic reform in our representative system as will make that principle the foundation upon which shall stand the Commons House of Parliament of Great Britain.
That your Petitioners, in order that the elector may possess perfect security in the exercise of his franchise, pray that the voting at elections for Members of Parliament be taken by ballot. Your Petitioners, aware of the great, coercive, and corrupted power possessed by wealth and station over the poor elector, see no genuine hope of securing purity of election and genuineness of representation but in throwing the protective mantle of the ballot over the electoral body.
That your Petitioners regard the present inequality of representation to be opposed to common sense, and inimical to a genuine representation of the people. They therefore appeal to your honourable House to remedy this defect in the legislative machinery, by the division of the country into equal electoral districts, assigning to each district one representative.
That your Petitioners hold the Legislature equally with the Executive, to be the servants of the people, and consequently entitled to remuneration at the public expense; and, believing that the House of Commons should be the minister, and not the master, of the people, call upon you to establish their just relative positions by fixing an equitable salary for the services of its members.
That your Petitioners consider septennial Parliaments unjust, as they prevent for six years out of seven those who are annually arriving at maturity from exercising the right of suffrage. Your Petitioners also consider that seven years is too long a term for the existence of a Parliament; a period that affords an opportunity to venal and time-serving men to promote their selfish interests, at the expense of those whose welfare should be the ultimate aim of all their labours. Your Petitioners therefore entreat your honourable House to create between the representative and the represented that salutary responsibility indispensable to good government, by the restoration of the ancient wholesome practice of annual Parliaments.
That your Petitioners complain that a seat in the Commons House of Parliament should be contingent upon the possession of property of any description, as they have yet to learn that legislative talent is the exclusive prerogative of any order of men, and therefore pray for the abolition of what is termed the property qualification.
That your Petitioners respectfully direct your attention to the document entitled “The People’s Charter,” which embodies the principles and details for securing the full and equitable representation of the male adult population, which document they earnestly pray your honourable House to forthwith enact as the law of the realm.
Should the Members of your honourable House entertain any doubts as to the justice of our demands, your Petitioners humbly entreat to be heard at the bar of your honourable House, by counsel or agents, in support of those claims.
And your Petitioners, &C.
&c. &c. &c.
Source: Public Petitions – Appendix to the Thirty-Third Report. Delivered 14th April Containing Petitions Presented 10 April 1848. App.722.