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"England with all her professions is but a despotism, and her industrious millions slaves.  For men possessing the same natural capabilities, cast upon the same kindred spot, with the same wants and mutual obligations, who are constrained by the mandates and force of their fellows to labour to support them in idleness and extravagance, are social slaves; and all who oppose their emancipation from such a state are political despots. . . ."

From . . .  Chartism (1840).

"Democracy, in its just and most extensive sense, means the power of the people mentally, morally, and politically directed, in promoting the happiness of the whole human family, irrespective of their country, creed, or colour . . ."

From an Address to the Chartists of the United Kingdom (1845)

"In the plan of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION, we have provided for the admission of female members on the same conditions as males; and as some prejudices exist on the subject of female education, and especially against their obtaining any knowledge of politics, it may be necessary to give a few reasons in support of our proposition . . . . there has seldom been a great or noble character who had not a wise or virtuous mother . . . . As our perceptions are awakened and faculties matured, her wise or foolish conduct towards us leaves lasting impressions of good or evil; her habits, conversation, and example are readily imitated, and form the foundation of our future character."

From . . .  Plan of the National Association ― Chartism (1840)


"Liberty in a smock frock is more than a match for tyranny in armour."


an important leader of the Chartist movement.

"A tall, thin, rather melancholy man, in ill-health, to which he has long been subject; at times he is somewhat hypochondriacal; his is a spirit misplaced."―Francis Place.

Self-educated, WILLIAM LOVETT was one of the leading London-based artizan Radicals of his generation and an important leader of the Chartist movement.  Lovett was a moral force Chartist who believed that political rights could be achieved through political pressure and non-violent agitation, and that teaching methods should be founded on kindness and compassion.  As a respectable Victorian Liberal he eventually became estranged from the more prominent 'turbulent' wing of the Chartist movement advocated by, among others, Feargus O'Connor (according to Lovett, the great "I AM" of politics), William Benbow, George Julian Harney and Ernest Jones.


William Lovett was born at Newlyn, Cornwall, on 8th May, 1800. He was the son of a sea captain who was drowned before his son was born.  Initially apprenticed to a rope-maker in his home town, Lovett later moved to London where, after enduring much hardship and experiencing resistance  from established trade craftsmen, he found work as a carpenter and later as a cabinet-maker, eventually becoming a member of the Cabinetmakers' Society and later its President.

". . . Satisfied, therefore, that most of those evils can be traced to unjust and selfish legislation, we have pushed our enquiries still further, and we find their chief source in our present exclusive system of representation. The franchise being confined to a small portion of our population, and that portion controlled and prejudiced to an incalculable extent by the wealthy few, the legislators and governors of our country have not been a representation of the minds and wants of the nation, but of the political party through whose influence they owe their power.  Thus it is that restrictive laws are maintained, that selfish measures have originated, and class interests are supported, at the expense of national prosperity and individual happiness . . ."

From . . .  An Address to the Middle Classes.

    Lovett rose to political prominence as founder of the Anti-Militia Association.  On being drawn for the Militia he refused to serve or to pay for a substitute on the ground that he was unrepresented in Parliament.  The authorities responded by seizing and later selling his household furniture, but his protest resulted in the subject being discussed in the House of Commons where fear of an epidemic of "the no-vote no-musket plan" led to the balloting system being abandoned.  Lovett also became active in trade unionism through the Metropolitan Trades Union, and through Owenite socialism.  In 1831, during the Reform Act agitation, he helped to form the National Union of the Working Classes with radical colleagues Henry Hetherington and James Watson.  After the passage of the Reform Act (1832) he and Hetherington campaigned to repeal taxes on newspapers, known as the "War of the Unstamped". In 1836, in consequence of the agitation, the 4d. stamp was reduced to 1d; curiously, the Poor Man's Guardian, over which the battle was fought, was declared by Lord Lyndhurst to be a strictly legal publication.

". . . though mature reflection has caused me to have lost faith in 'a Community of Property,' I have not lost faith in the great benefits that may yet be realized by a wise and judicious system of 'Co-operation in the Production of Wealth'.  The former I believe to be unjust, unnatural, and despotic in its tendency, a sacrificing of the intellectual energies and moral virtues of the few, to the indolence, ignorance and despotism of the many.  The latter I believe to be in accordance with wisdom and justice, an arrangement by which small means and united efforts may yet be made the instruments for upraising the multitude in knowledge, prosperity, and freedom."

Communism vs. Co-operation, from Life and Struggles.

    Another notable achievement was the London Working Men's Association (LWMA).  Founded in June 1836 by Lovett and several radical colleagues including Henry Hetherington, the LWMA was to exercise an influence on public affairs out of all proportion to its membership which, between 1836 and 1839, amounted to a mere 279 working men and 35 honorary members; among the latter were Francis Place, James O’Brien, Dr John Black, Robert Owen, W. J. Fox and the later Chartist leader, Feargus O'Connor, with whom Lovett often clashed through their opposing views on 'moral' vs. 'physical' force Chartism.  Other honorary members included radical MP's, but overall the LWMA was a working-class organisation, unlike groups such as the 'Birmingham Political Union' whose executive was dominated by the middle-class.  The original purpose of the LWMA was education, but in 1838 Lovett and fellow Radical Francis Place drafted a parliamentary bill which was the foundation of the "Peoples' Charter", and the Association was effectively sidetracked into Chartism.


    Lovett is best remembered for his role in the "Chartist" movement, the effects of which are with us today.  Chartism was a campaign aimed at parliamentary reform and the correction of the inequities of the Reform Act of 1832, following which the great majority of the U.K.'s adult population continued to be disenfranchised.  The "Charter" aimed to remedy this wrong.  It was a Bill that addressed in detail the arrangements for wider enfranchisement (but not of women), registration and annual parliamentary elections, and over a million persons signed a petition in its favour.  Within a society ruled mainly by a privileged minority, its effects were sensational; the ruling classes came to quake at the very name of Chartism, which explains the draconian measures taken by the authorities to stamp it out.

". . . women are the chief instructors of our children, whose virtues or vices will depend more on the education given them by their mothers than on that off any other teacher we can employ to instruct them.  If a mother is deficient in knowledge and depraved in morals, the effects will be seen in all her domestic arrangements; and her prejudices, habits, and conduct will make the most lasting impression on her children, and often render nugatory all the efforts of the schoolmaster.  If, on the contrary, she is so well informed as to appreciate and second his exertions, and strives to fix in the minds of her children habits of cleanliness, order, refinement of conduct, and purity of morals, the results will be evident in her wise and well-regulated household.  But if, in addition to these qualities, she be richly stored with intellectual and moral treasures, and makes it her chief delight to impart them to her offspring, they will, by their lives and conduct, reflect her intelligence and virtues."

From Chartism (1840).

      The Bill was signed by Lovett and five other LWMA members, along with six Radical MPs including Daniel O'Connell, another of Lovett's uncomfortable bedfellows.  The question of the Bill's authorship is unclear, with both Francis Place and Lovett later claiming credit for its drafting; but the work of writing and rewriting the document several times — no light task — fell to Lovett.  It was eventually published in May 1838, accompanied by an address composed by Lovett, in which he characteristically dwelt on self-government as a means to "enlightenment."

    Chartism's most active years fell during the following decade when three attempts were made to have the Charter enacted by Parliament.  Following the last, in 1848, Chartism fell into decline.  The movement lingered on until the late 1850s, sustained principally by the commitment, vitality and oratory of Ernest Jones.

" . . . . in an age when the mass of the working classes were without either organisation or political experience, they were not easily pursued together.  The struggle between the conflicting interests of economic reform and political democracy, corresponding as it did to a difference in outlook between north and south, and to the rival policies of revolution and persuasion, ultimately broke up the [Chartist] movement."

From R. H. Tawney's Introduction to Lovett's autobiography.

    Like most leading Chartists, Lovett was arrested and imprisoned.  In February 1839 the first Chartist Convention met in London, and on 4 February 1839 unanimously elected Lovett as its Secretary.  The Convention later moved to Birmingham.  Many supporters gathered in the city's Bull Ring where the local authority had prohibited assembly, which was broken up with much violence by police drafted in from London for the occasion.

  The Convention condemned the police violence in breaking up what have become known as "The Bull Ring riots", and posted placards which described them as a "bloodthirsty and unconstitutional force".  Lovett, as secretary, accepted responsibility for the placards, and was arrested with James Watson, who had taken the placards to be printed.  He was held in custody for nine days before he could secure bail, during which time he was treated as a convicted felon.

". . . . I was accordingly locked up in a dark cell, about nine feet square, the only air admitted into it being through a small grating over the door, and in one corner of it was a pailful of filth left by the last occupants, the smell of which was almost overpowering.  There was a bench fixed against the wall on which to sit down, but the walls were literally covered with water, and the place so damp and cold, even at that season of the year, that I was obliged to keep walking round and round, like a horse in an apple-mill, to keep anything like life within me."

William Lovett, from Life and Struggles.

    Lovett was tried on 6 August 1839 at the Warwick assizes for "seditious libel" (in fact, for insulting the police).  He defended himself, was convicted and sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment.  During his term in Warwick Jail ― and despite numerous appeals to the Secretary of State for leniency, some made by notable people ― he and Collins were subjected to abysmal conditions which, in Lovett's case, permanently affected his already fragile health.  That said, in May 1840 they refused a government offer of early release if they would be bound over to good behaviour for the remainder of the term; Lovett and Collins believed to have accepted this offer would have constituted an admission of guilt where none in fact lay.  On 25th July, 1840, the pair were released and were entertained at a banquet at the White Conduit House by the combination committee and the Working Men's Association.

In the brief sketch I have given of our treatment in Warwick Gaol, most persons must be struck with the immense power for evil which our unpaid magistracy possess—a power to obstruct all mitigation of suffering, and to give, if they choose, a two-fold severity to the law. For let two persons, in two different counties, be tried for similar offences before the same judge, and condemned under the same Act to suffer similar penalties, owing to the power possessed by the magistracy, the punishment of the one person may be two-fold more severe than that of the other.

William Lovett, from Life and Struggles.

    While in prison Lovett and Collins wrote "Chartism, a New Organisation of the People", which focused on Chartist Education.

". . . We justly complain of your utter disregard and seeming contempt of the wants and wishes of the people, as expressed in the prayers and petitions they have been humbly addressing to you for a number of years past.  For, while they have been complaining of the unequal, unjust, and cruel laws you have enacted—which, in their operation, have reduced millions to poverty, and punished them because they were poor—you have been either increasing the catalogue, or mocking their expensive and fruitless commissions, or telling them that 'their poverty was beyond the reach of legislative enactment' . . . ."

From a Remonstrance to the Commons House of Parliament (1842).

    Following his release, Lovett retired from politics and in 1841 formed the "National Association for Promoting the Political and Social Improvement of the People", an educational body that was to implement his "New Move" educational initiative through which he hoped poor workers and their children would be able to better themselves.  The New Move was to be funded through a 1 penny per week subscription paid by those Chartists who had signed the national petition.  Hetherington and Place supported the move, but O'Connor opposed the scheme in the Northern Star, believing that it would distract Chartists from the main aim of having the petition implemented.

    The New Move was unable to generate the popular support that Lovett had hoped for.  Membership was small and education was limited to Sunday schools.  The National Association Hall was opened in 1842.  Many lectures were given there over the years by W. J. Fox, J. H. Parry, Thomas Cooper, and others, and secular schools also carried on, but this Hall closed in 1857 when the lease was (forcibly) acquired by the wealthy proprietor of the adjoining "gin-palace."  According to W. J. Linton, "Lovett was impracticable; and his new association, after obtaining a few hundred members, dwindled into a debating club, and their hall became a dancing academy, let occasionally for unobjectionable public meetings."

"The real hero of the [Chartist] movement is Lovett.  Perhaps the best clue to his character is his belief, probably derived from Owen, in the virtue of ideas.  To him it was sufficient to have given birth to an idea; if it was right it would prevail in the end."

Julius West . . . ."A History of the Chartist Movement."

     Throughout his life, Lovett believed strongly in the merits of temperance and sobriety ― in 1829 he drew up a petition for the opening of the British Museum on Sundays, its opening sentence running . . . "Your petitioners consider that one of the principal causes of drunkenness and dissipation on the Sabbath is the want of recreation and amusement."  In later life he taught anatomy (also publishing a school-book on the subject), ran a  book shop (unsuccessfully ― he recognised his lack of talent as a businessman) and wrote his autobiography, which he published shortly before his death in 1877.  "The Life and Struggles of William Lovett" is indeed a notable working-class autobiography that has gone through numerous editions; that transcribed here (1920) includes a valuable Introduction by the distinguished social historian, R. H. Tawney (1880-1962).

". . . the relics of paganism formed a part of Christian worship, as well as Judaism, or the laws and customs and the recorded sayings and doings of a half-savage people; and these old Jewish records have ever formed texts, incentives, and apologies for barbarities innumerable, opposed to the religion of Christ.  War has ever met with countenance and apology in these old records, despite the assertion of Christ that his mission was one of peace, brotherhood, and forgiveness of injuries; and slavery, bigamy, concubinage, oppression, vindictiveness, and cruelty have countenance and apology in their pages."

Lovett on Christianity.

     William Lovett was buried in London's Highgate cemetery, joining Michael Faraday, George Eliot, Karl Marx, Christina Rossetti and many other notables who lie in that place.  His last years were dogged by ill-health ― in part attributable to his despicable treatment years earlier while imprisoned in Warwick Goal ― and by poverty; ". . . . it does, however, jar upon my feelings to think that, after all my struggles, all my industry, and, I may add, all my temperance and frugality, I cannot earn or live upon my own bread in my old age."

Plaque on the wall of 'The Smugglers Restaurant',
Newlyn harbour, Cornwall.

© Copyright Bob Embleton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

    As for Chartism, 'petitions' presented to Parliament demanding the Charter were rejected in 1839, 1842, and 1848.  Following its 1848 failure, and aggravated by other factors such as divisions within the movement and an upturn in the nation's economic prosperity resulting in improved employment, Chartism gradually lost its impetus and withered.  But although the movement failed during its lifetime, the objectives sought by our Chartists ancestors were gradually achieved over the years and are now clearly discernible within U.K. electoral law.  Thus, in the long term, Chartism became ― both to its credit and to our benefit ― the victory of the vanquished . . . .

". . . . Democracy, in its just and most extensive sense, means the power of the people mentally, morally, and politically directed, in promoting the happiness of the whole human family, irrespective of their country, creed, or colour.  In its limited sense, as regards our own country, it must evidently embrace the political power of all classes and conditions of men, directed in the same wise manner, for the benefit of all.  In a more circumscribed sense, as regards individuals, the principle of democracy accords to every individual the right of freely putting forth his opinions on all subjects affecting the general welfare; the right of publicly assembling his fellow-men to consider any project he may conceive to be of public benefit, and the right of being heard patiently and treated courteously, however his opinions may differ from others . . ."

From an Address to the Chartists of the United Kingdom (1845)

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