The electoral system in the early nineteenth century was radically different from the parliamentary democracy we have today. Although reform of the outdated system was introduced with the 1832 Reform Act, the majority of people remained voiceless in the way the country was run. In the years following the Reform Act, the Chartists would begin to plan their campaign to try to effect real electoral change in Britain. In 1838, the organisation published The People’s Charter, which demanded the following key changes to the British electoral system:

  • Universal suffrage (the right to vote)
  • Abolition of property qualifications for members of parliament
  • Annual parliamentary elections
  • Equal representation
  • Payment of members of parliament
  • Vote by secret ballot

These demands formed a central doctrine for radicals wishing to reform the political system. Support for the Charter spread rapidly and its advocates became known as the Chartists.

Explore the links below to find out more about how the Chartists campaigned to reform the electoral system.

A Historical Background to Chartism

Chartism - A Historical Background

A historical background to the Chartists' campaign for electoral reform.

Historical Sources

Historical Sources

A selection of historical sources realating to the Chartists' campaign for electoral reform.


Chartism (Summary)

Learn about the techniques that the Chartists used when they campaigned to reform the electoral system in the mid-19th century.