Chartist Newspapers

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The Chartists made extremely effective use of the print media to spread their message to the masses. A large number of the prominent Chartists owned or wrote for newspapers, many of which sold thousands of copies a week.

One of the first working-class newspapers was The Poor Man’s Guardian, which was established by founding member of the London Working Men’s Society, Henry Hetherington. The newspaper – whose motto was 'knowledge is power' – was first published on 9th July 1831, and sold for one penny. This price ignored the fact there was a stamp duty of four pence payable per copy, but meant the poor were able to afford to read the news and politics of the day. Publishing without paying the stamp duty was a serious offence and Hetherington was imprisoned from September 1831 to March 1832, again for six months in 1833 and then for another two months in 1836. The paper ran until 1835 and was edited for the majority of this period by the intellectual Chartist Bronterre O’Brien. O’Brien also worked for other radical newspapers such as The True Sun, The Destructive, and Poor Man’s Conservative, The Twopenny Dispatch and The London Mercury, and later published his own newspaper entitled Bronterre’s National Reformer.

Author of The People’s Charter, William Lovett, also published a newspaper. It was called The Charter and first published on 27th January 1839, priced at six pence. It was edited by William Carpenter, a radical reformer and journalist who was opposed to 'physical force' tactics. At its peak, the paper sold 5,000 to 6,000 copies a week, but was financially unsuccessful and ceased publication in March 1840, just over a year after it had been established

By far the most successful of the Chartist newspapers was Feargus O’Connor’s The Northern Star, which was first published on 22nd November 1837 at the price of four and a half pence. It was a stamped newspaper, which meant that it was priced beyond the means of a lot of working-class people, but despite this it sold in the thousands, peaking in 1839 at 48,000 copies a week, and became a key organ of the Chartist movement. O’Connor had neither the skills nor the desire to run the paper himself, so he appointed William Hill as editor and Bronterre O’Brien as lead writer. The paper began as a means to express working-class discontent with the Poor Law, but soon became the voice of the Chartist cause after the publication of The People’s Charter in 1838. While the paper supported the Charter, it would not fall in line with Lovett, the London Working Men's Association and their 'moral force' tactics, and instead acted as a voice for 'physical force' Chartism. The paper continued publication for many years but never regained its early popularity, finally ceasing publication in November 1852.

Other newspapers such as The Chartist Circular also reached a wide audience. At a price of half a pence it was an unstamped paper and thus could not publish any news, but rather focused on the Charter itself. The paper was first published in Glasgow on 28th September 1839 and was an immediate success. Its first issue achieved a circulation of over 20,000, and the paper maintained a circulation of 22,500 copies a week through its first year. However, by 1841 The Chartist Circular was struggling financially and sales started to decline. It eventually ceased publication in July 1842, having at the close achieved a circulation of only 7,000 a week.

Taken from: The Charter
Date: Sunday, May 12, 1839
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board.
Shelfmark: Newspaper Archive, Colindale