Petition and protest
By June 1839 one and a quarter million people had signed a petition calling for the People’s Charter to be adopted. The petition, nearly three miles in length, was presented to Parliament, who immediately rejected it. Playing straight into the hands of the physical force Chartists, the public mood now turned aggressive. The Charter had become the symbol of protest for all who felt excluded from political power and were angry about unfair taxes, aristocratic privilege and the brutal workhouse poor law. Poor relations between employers and employees added to the growing atmosphere of hostility and suspicion. What could the Chartists do when Parliament refused to change the election system?
The Western Vindicator, Vincent’s Chartist newspaper, continued to be published despite his imprisonment, and reported in August 1839:
‘There is something more in hand with the people at the present time than a mere question of a rise or fall in wages. They feel the degradation of being bound by laws, oppressive and tyrannical...made by persons who know nothing of their condition and their wants. They have felt there is ...no hope of any amelioration from a parliament elected by you... the middle classes. They have been slaves,... and they are determined to be so not much longer.’
Twenty thousand people in south Wales were paid up members of the Chartist movement. They believed that the right to vote would change their lives. At the end of October Frost wrote to the farmers and tradesmen of Monmouthshire, stating that unless the Charter became law quickly, there would be no security for property or people. For some reason the authorities appeared to believe that the threat from Chartism had gone. On 2nd November the Monmouthshire Merlin included a headline, ‘Extinction of Chartism’.
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