The Petition and the Pledge in the Chartist Press

Victoria Jane Clarke
University of Leeds

Following the resurgence in Chartist studies in the 1960s, it has been
widely acknowledged among scholars the importance of newspapers and
periodicals in shaping and promoting the movement – what Ian Haywood
has described as the first literate Working Class protest. Likewise,
towards the middle of the 19th century, did the expansion of
accessible print contribute to putting Temperance, as part of
contemporary middle class ideals of self-denial, out in the open for
wider debate and discussion through writing. Temperance Chartism was
formed as a subsect of both movements in the late 1840s, partly as an
attempt to address mostly middle class criticisms that working people
could not be trusted to vote responsibly due to the risks of excess in
working class pub culture.

In the last fifty years, there is still little work to have addressed
this intersection between the movements. While Steven Earnshaw’s The
Pub in Literature has significantly opened discussion for the role of
London pubs in literature, and many scholars of Chartism have actively
acknowledged the role of the public house as a forum for debate and
education within working class history, as of yet scholarship is
lacking on the Temperance movement as a reactionary response to
criticisms of Chartism, resulting in discord within the Chartist
movement as a whole.

In order to address this, I will track the development of Temperance
Chartism as a response to wider criticism of the Chartist movement. By
examining narratives published in widely read Temperance, Chartist,
and Non-Chartist periodicals; comparing the treatment of the
public-house in each with regards to working class drinkers’
education, moral virtue, and rights. Through this, I will be able to
look for trends to consider the role of inter-movement readership in
informing the demands of Chartist and Temperance movements, as well as
their intersection and its possible contributions to the failure of
the 1848 Chartist petition. I will argue that in actively dismissing
the public house as a place of sin, Temperance Chartists contributed
to a discord within the Chartist movement by rejecting the cornerstone
of public working class culture, discussion, and debate; that the
creation and proliferation of these ideas was due to the expanding
literacy of the time.

Both Chartist and Temperance literatures called for social reforms
regarding the education of working class children and adults, as well
as claiming the rights of working class people to a healthy and stable
quality of life; and the publishing of newspapers, periodicals, and
pamphlets on both regional and national scales served as material
evidence of their demands.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900