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Were the Chartists politically minded or was “This a question of Universal suffrage…a knife and fork question?

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Introduction

Were the Chartists politically minded or was "This a question of Universal suffrage...a knife and fork question? The question of whether Chartism was an economic or political movement is difficult to define. Joseph Stephens claims, "this was a bread and cheese question", he talks of fighting for "the blessings of life"- clearly stating he believes Chartism is an economic movement. However he is giving a speech in Manchester, a modern and industrialized city, built around a mass of cotton factories. It was economic change that the Manchurian chartists were concerned with- being mainly proletarian protestors their lives depended on the factories, they were more concerned therefore with raising wages and improved living conditions. They disliked the low wages, strict factory discipline, and being treated as second-class citizens. Primarily Chartists from Manchester were fighting an economic battle. However we question why the Charter didn't include economic improvements for the working class, if this had been their motive. ...read more.

Middle

They aimed to improve both economic (in the more industrial areas) and political status. The point I'm making is that the question of if Chartism was "a bread and knife question" is regionally challenged, with different conclusions applying to different areas. When studying the conditions of working class life as a factory worker it seems inevitable that economic improvements must be an issue seriously considered. These proletarian protestors faced barbaric and cruel behaviour in workhouses- with no regulated hours. Workhouses were known as "poor law bastilles", and the poor were treated as a crime after the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was passed. This Act aimed to cut poor rates-which working class struggled to fight against. It was difficult to revolt against their low pay with a high population of Irish workers who were glad to accept low rates due to worse conditions in Ireland. ...read more.

Conclusion

The Whigs attitude remained conservative, with no prospect of future reform for the working class; in fact changes being made actually hurt the workingman- like the Poor Law Act. Working class felt frustration, disappointment and disillusionment after the government's constant neglect towards the working class situation. Therefore to claim Chartism was solely an economic movement would be to misunderstand the working class attitude. In conclusion I don't think you can define Chartism as either an economic or political movement. I think to claim it is an economic movement underestimates the depth with which Chartism was founded, but to ignore economic factors is naivety. There was a strong political force behind Chartism; with the majority of Chartists desiring increased political power. I think the main motive behind Chartism was desire to raise working class recognition within society. Regionally this motive was manipulated toward economic and political factors, however primarily the Chartist wish remained true; to raise working class recognition and status; pulling them out of the 'second- class citizen' category to stand as a political group alone. ...read more.

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