an important leader of the Chartist
"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
Self-educated, WILLIAM LOVETT
was one of the leading London-based artizan Radicals of his
generation and an important leader of the Chartist movement.
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
". . . 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
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
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
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."
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
While in prison Lovett and Collins wrote "Chartism, a New Organisation of the People", which focused on
". . . 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'
. . . ."
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.
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
"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
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.
". . . 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."
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.
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 . . ."
Address to the
Chartists of the United Kingdom (1845)