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The Anti-Corn Law League was essentially a middle class movement wanting the repeal of the Corn Laws and free trade. The Chartists were demanding the six points which included universal manhood suffrage. Thus there does not appear to be an organic connection between the Anti-Corn Law League and the Chartists. One can imagine that there would be total hostility between the two movements.
However, up until 1842 the Anti-Corn Law League made numerous attempts to court Chartist support. They wanted Chartist support to prove a powerful argument to a House composed predominantly of landowners. They believed that Parliament was more likely to be persuaded by a reasoned national demand than by one which appeared to come from a sectional interest. The Anti-Corn Law League did, in some instances, gain Chartist support, which serves to dispel the notion that there was total hostility between the two movements. Thus, the Anti-Corn Law League attempted to close contact with the complete Suffrage Union which was a example of moderate Birmingham radicalism. The complete Suffrage Union only lasted a few months and Sturge could not agree with the free trade programme. There were also attempts to form Operative Anti-Corn Law Leagues among the working class. Such an association was formed at Leicester and it was affiliated to the main Leicester League. The Radical Leicester wrote that '....many of the better paid and relatively more educated... Chartists favoured repeal of the Corn Laws and were ready to resume co-operation with the middle classes.'
Although many radicals turned in disillusionment to Chartism in 1837-38 repeal still held a double attraction for them; it formed part of the attack on 'Old Corruption' and it promised cheap bread and prosperity. Ebenezer Elliott, a Sheffield manufacturer and reformer, expressed a common practical attitude when, in September 1838, he came out 'for the Charter but not for being stoned first'. When commercial and harvest crises coincided, Chartists, Protectionists and Owenites found it difficult to match the popularity of the free trade question.
However, despite their courting of the Chartists, the League did dislike them for a number of reasons. They felt that Chartism was utopian in its principles; the Chartists were asking for too much and they ought to centre their attention on one specific goal, for example, Corn Law repeal. There was an element of condescension in the League's attitude towards the Chartists. Thus, in 1842 Cobden complained to Sturge that the Chartists did not seem to understand their real position. They attacked capital, machinery, manufactures and trade which were the 'only materials of democracy' while 'leaving alone the aristocracy and the state which are the materials of the oligarchical despotism under which they are suffering'. This element of superiority over the Chartists is seen in the following comment by Cobden. He said that 'we must deal frankly with their deluded followers by telling them on all occasions that they are powerless without the aid of the middle-class . '. The condescending nature of Cobden's comment perhaps stresses the fact that the League would not have been happy with an equal partnership with the Chartists. The realisation of this fact could have led to Chartist hostility towards the League. We gain the impression hat the League was angry because it could not entice total Chartist support.
The League could also have been hostile to Chartism because of Chartist opposition to their meetings. The Chartists consistently broke up their meetings. A free trade newspaper of 1838 described the Huddersfield meeting of 4 March in the following terms '....the conduct of the universal suffrage men during the discussion was such as to excite the unmitigated disgust of every well-regulated mind'. If such conduct did not make the League hostile to Chartism, it certainly made it fearful. Gammage in his History of the Chartist Movement claims that the result of the Chartist opposition to the Free Traders 'drove those agitations into holes and corners....' It is true to say that in their courting of Chartism, the League mainly attracted the moral force element, for example Lovett and Vincent. The League was scared away by the physical violence of Chartism. Like the moral force Chartists, League members believed that change should come peacefully through constitutional change.
It is perhaps true to say that Chartist hostility towards the Anti-Corn Law League was stronger than the League's dislike for Chartism. Unlike the League, the Chartists felt that they had nothing to gain from an alliance with the middle classes. The Chartists had a feeling of mistrust towards the middle-classes which dated back to the 1832 Reform Act. The working classes had supported the middle classes in the hope of being enfranchised. However, the middle-classes gained the vote while the working classes gained nothing except a sense of deep betrayal. The working classes also felt the middle-classes to be responsible for the damaging Whig legislation of the 1830s, for example, the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 and the Factory Act of 1833. The mistrust towards the League is reflected in O'Connor's attitude. He remarked that the League 'offered you the minimum necessary to gain their ends'.
There was also an increasing working class consciousness at this time. Many Chartists believed that the middle-classes did not and could not share the same interests as themselves. A group of London Chartists validated this view when they said, 'for our cause, what is the people's cause, is not the cause of party or failure but the cause of the great mass of the industrious classes'. The working class or Chartist hostility towards the middle-class, or the League, is therefore understandable.
Though dislike of the middle-classes was probably a common sentiment amongst the working classes, the attitude towards free trade varied. There were free traders who stipulated that a fight for the Charter should have priority. This view was commonly expressed by the rank and file of the Chartists. Some Chartists believed that repeal might be desirable but would only benefit the working class if it were accompanied by other measures after the passage of the Charter. Other Chartists displayed total hostility towards the League. The fact that the League was capable of splitting the Chartists in this way must have caused some hostility amongst the Chartist leaders.
Unlike the League, the Chartists could not display a united front. The leaders of Chartism especially O'Connor must have felt some hostility towards Cobden and Bright. These two League leaders were eloquent and capable of giving reasoned, logical arguments. O'Connor was merely a demagogue with the capacity to influence a mob. This is best illustrated by looking at the Northampton meeting of 1844. To Cobden's thesis that repeal would benefit all classes, O'Connor could produce no effective reply, but was reduced to a general lament