Members of the National Charter Association executives, 1840-58

The National Charter Association is unique among a variety of Chartist and Chartist-leaning organisations for its longevity, its level of organisation, and its size. Other organisations came and went, but by and large when we talk of the Chartist movement, it is usually the NCA that we have in mind.

For the best part of its 20-year existence after it was set up at the Manchester conference of 1840, the NCA maintained an executive to carry on its day-to-day work. Ambitions for this body to be full time and paid for its work were seldom fulfilled – and then usually only because Feargus O’Connor dipped into his dwindling personal fortune to ensure the executive’s loyalty.

However, the NCA is important as the first mass working class political party – not just in Britain but anywhere in the world.

The following list detailing the membership of its national executive down the years is doubtless incomplete, but has been put together from a variety of published sources in an attempt to record the contribution of all those who served on the executive at one time or another.

Provisional executive elected by first convention of the National Charter Association
William Tillman (formerly secretary of the Manchester Political Union), James Leach,
Source: Chartism, by J.T.Ward (B T Batsford, London, 1973)

Elected in June by a ballot of NCA branches
Peter Murray M’Douall, James Leach, John Campbell (secretary), Morgan Williams, George Binns, R.K.Philp, Abel Heywood (treasurer)
Source: Chartism, by J.T.Ward (B T Batsford, London, 1973)

Elected by a convention of 30 members
Jonathan Bairstow, Thomas Clark, Christopher Doyle, George Julian Harney, Joshua Hobson, Philip M’Grath, Richard Marsden, David Morrison (also Morison), T.Martin Wheeler (secretary), Feargus O’Connor (treasurer)
Source: Chartism, by J.T,Ward (B T Batsford, London, 1973)

Elected at a convention in Manchester in April
Feargus O’Connor, Thomas Clark, Philip McGrath, Christopher Doyle, T.Martin Wheeler

1848 (1)
Provisional executive elected by the Assembly, May 1848
John McCrae, Ernest Jones, Samuel Kydd, James Leach, Peter Murray M’Douall
Commissioners: T.Wheeler, Brook, Rankin, Pilling, Stevenson, Sharpe, Cochrane, Peacock, Shaw, Harley (subsequently resigned), Bassett, Cumming, Child, Donovan, Shirron, Henry, Lightowler, West
Source: History of the Chartist movement, 1837-1854, by R.C.Gammage

1848 (2)
Feargus O’Connor, John McCrae, Peter Murray M’Douall, Ernest Jones and Samuel Kydd
Commissioners: A.Fussell, C.McCarthy, James Leach, J.West,, R.Pilling, T.Tattersall, J.Adams, J.Sweet, I.Ironside, T.Wheeler, A.Sharpe, J.Shirron, D.Lightowler, W.J.Vernon, D.Donovan, W.Brook, G.White, J.Linney, W.Cuffay, R.Burrell.
Source: History of the Chartist movement, 1837-1854, by R.C.Gammage

1848 (3)
Thomas Clark, William Dixon, H.Ross, Philip McGrath, Edward Stallwood, George Julian Harney, Samuel Kydd (secretary).
Source: History of the Chartist movement, 1837-1854, by R.C.Gammage

1849 (1)
James Grassby (by-election)
Source: Northern Star

Provisional executive, 1849 (2)
Thomas Clark, William Dixon, Christopher Doyle, James Grassby, George Julian Harney, Samuel Kydd, Philip McGrath
Source: Chartism, by J.T,Ward (B T Batsford, London, 1973)

1849 (3)
John Arnott, Thomas Brown, William Davies, James Grassby, George Julian Harney, Thomas Miles, John Milne, G.W.M.Reynolds, Edward Stallwood
Source: Chartism, by J.T,Ward (B T Batsford, London, 1973)

1851 (1)
William Davis, James Grassby, George Julian Harney, George Jacob Holyoake, Ernest Jones, John Milne, Feargus O’Connor, G.W.M.Reynolds, John Arnott (general secretary)
Source: The Friend of the People, 4 January 1851

1851 (2)
Ernest Jones, John Arnott, Feargus O’Connor, Wheeler, James Grassby (general secretary), John Shaw, W.J.Linton, J.J.Beezer, George Jacob Holyoake.
Source: Chartism, by J.T,Ward (B T Batsford, London, 1973)

Jones resigned along with Linton and Wheeler and called a conference to elect a new executive. “The depleted Committee, foreseeing the worst, gave up its office at 14, Southampton Street, Strand; appointed Grassby its temporary honorary secretary in place of Arnott, and thenceforth held its meetings at his house at 96, Regent Street, Lambeth. The Committee was in debt for a sum of between £30 and £40, and honourably spent its last efforts in raising this amount — a feat which took about six months for its accomplishment. After this we hear no more about the Executive of the NCA.”
From A History of the Chartist Movement by J.C.Squire & Julius West, published Houghton Mifflin, 1920.

By May 1852, the “official” executive was made up of John Arnott, J.J.Beezer, James Grassby, George Jacob Holyoake, Thornton Hunt, Robert LeBlond, W.J.Linton and John Shaw
Source: Chartism, by J.T,Ward (B T Batsford, London, 1973)

R.G.Gammage, James Finlen, Ernest Jones elected at a delegate conference called by Jones in Manchester. For a time both executives operated as rivals. William Grocott of Manchester appointed secretary
Source: Chartism, by J.T,Ward (B T Batsford, London, 1973)

Elected by the Labour Parliament, 6 March 1854: James Finlen, Abraham, Robinson, James Williams, Joseph Hogg, George Harrison; Ernest Jones, honorary member
Source: Chartism, by J.T,Ward (B T Batsford, London, 1973)

Ernest Jones, James Finlen, Robinson
Source: Chartism, by J.T,Ward (B T Batsford, London, 1973)

The last Chartist convention, on 5 February 1858, was chaired first by Benjamin Lucraft of Finsbury, then by Thomas Livesey of Rochdale. It elected a one-man executive: Ernest Jones.
Source: Chartism, by J.T,Ward (B T Batsford, London, 1973)

Report of Chartist Conference, 1858
Mr. Ernest Jones, who was received with a thunder of applause, said one of the most important movements that had ever been organised by the Chartist body was now in course of action. Times altered, and as times altered, results altered, also, and he now begged to read the second proposition of the programme. He considered that they should meet the middle classes halfway and take what was offered, if what was offered was a reasonable proposition from the middle classes. If they only had a £5 franchise it would be throwing the preponderance into the hands of the middle classes, and widening the distance between them and other working classes. But if the working classes could get the Universal Manhood Suffrage, then they would for a time waive the other points of the charter. If they would obtain the ballot it would be sufficient for a time, and if they could get these two points, it would throw the balance of power into the hands of the working classes, and the other points would soon follow. (Cheers). He had opposed one-sided middle class movements, but he would not oppose middle class movements which were any benefit to the working class. If the middle classes did not first give the hand and first make the advance, let the Chartist body make the advance. It was competent upon them to do so. If they joined, they could go forward together; and if not they the Chartists would go forth alone, and no time was to be lost. Now the time had come and now the opportunity had arrived. The middle classes had agreed that this movement was best. Let them hold out a friendly hand to them, and insist upon having the fair and honourable rights of the Chartist body. They were not going to abandon the Charter; but they were going to obtain what they could towards it, at the same time agitating for the whole six points. He now called upon them to unite with the middle classes for Universal Manhood Suffrage.
Mr. Jones sat down amid loud and continued applause.
From The People’s Paper , February 13, 1858; reported in Cole,G.D.H & Filson,A.W British Working Class Movements: Select Documents, 1789- 1875 , Published 1951, Macmillan, London .