chapter
Introduction
Pages 25

As its name implies, Chartism was a movement whose vision centred on a literary document. The Charter was the expression and symbol of a disenfranchised working class claiming their membership of the body politic. In characteristic radical fashion, Chartism did not subscribe to the Burkean model of an organic, empirical political constitution founded in time-honoured institutions and slowly evolving customs. Nor did Chartists accept the brute theory that only the possession of property conferred citizenship. Both these bulwarks of tradition had been deployed in 1832 to exclude the ‘swinish multitude’ from the suffrage. Chartism saw the British constitution in Paineite terms as a form of mystified class power and a deformation of ancient rights. Drawing on the strong Saxonist tradition of English radicalism, Chartists saw themselves as the true constitutionalists, restoring to full liberty the ‘free-born Englishmen’. They believed that political rights only had validity and meaning if they were written down and codified by law. The Charter was the Magna Carta of the working class.