Modern democracy starts here
Despite the severity of the punishments dealt to the Monmouthshire Chartists the movement did not die out in 1839. With most of their leaders in prison, by May 1841 the Chartists still managed to collect 1.3 million signatures calling for the pardon of Frost, Williams and Jones. The petition came within one vote of being accepted - the casting vote of the Speaker in Parliament crushed it.
Two further mass Chartist petitions of Parliament were made in 1842 and 1848, (unsuccessfully). In Newport a branch of the National Charter Association continued to meet regularly at the Queen Adelaide pub in Griffin Street, although the centre ofChartism in Wales moved west after the Rising, with strongholds in the Glamorganshire Valleys and Merthyr Tydfil surviving well into the 1860s. Merthyr Tydfil with 10 Chartist lodges was one of the most important of the NCA branches, collecting 21,934 signatures for the 1842 National Petition, the fifth largest number for any town in Britain and casting the largest number of votes in the organisation’s ballots throughout the 1840s. Its secretary, Morgan Williams was elected to the National Committee. Later, merthy Chartist William Gould patented the first secret ballot box.
In 1845 Feargus O’Connor set up the National Land Company. Settling ordinary workers on smallholdings entitled them to the vote, by making them property owners, so the Chartists began buying land and building Chartist cottages. Many of those involved who had taken part in the Rising at Newport continued to support Chartist ideas, even those who had served prison sentences. John Lovell and Charles Waters, after their release from Mill Bank Prison, became supporters of the Chartist Land Company and played a role in the revival of Chartism in 1847 - 48.
Although Chartism continued as a radical force pushing for political reform, it became much more than a movement to secure constitutional change. It was the power behind the great social legislation of the 19th century. Chartist activities gave ordinary men and women the confidence to pursue these agendas, launching them into Trade Unionism, Miners Institutes, Working Men’s Libraries, Cooperatives and the political movements of Liberalism , Labour and Women’s Suffrage.
Text and artwork from Voices for the Vote: Shire Hall and the story of Chartism in south Wales. Reproduced by kind permission of Monmouthshire County Council/Shire Hall, Monmouth. The book costs £4.99 and can be obtained from Shire Hall Monmouth, Newport Museum or Gwent Archives