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William Lovett (1800-1877)

William Lovett was born in Church Lane, Newlyn, near Penzance on 8 May 1800. He was the son of William Lovett, a master-mariner and his wife Keziah Green. Lovett (Snr) drowned at sea before his son’s birth; and his mother earned a living by selling fish in Penzance. Lovett was apprenticed to a ropemaker. In 1821 Lovett went to London where he was unable to obtain work for a number of weeks. However, he found work as a carpenter and cabinet-maker, although - since he had not been apprenticed to the trade - he met with opposition from his fellow-workmen. After some years he was admitted into the Cabinet-makers' Society.

He educated himself, joined the ‘Liberal’ discussion society that met in a mechanics' institute in Soho and joined several other associations. On 3 June 1826 he married a lady's-maid; they opened a confectioner's shop which failed: he and his wife then joined the first London co-operative association, where they found employment. Lovett was involved in co-operative societies in the very early days of the venture and in 1830 he was appointed secretary of the British Association for Promoting Co-operative Knowledge. The organisation failed after three or four years.

He saw, from the inside, almost every popular movement of the 1830s and 1840s. As a skilled craftsman and member of an ancient and exclusive trade guild, he had no first-hand knowledge of industrial England. He regarded physical force men as the worst enemies of his cause and said, 'Whatever is gained in England by force, by force must be sustained; but whatever springs from knowledge and justice will sustain itself'.

During his time with the BAPCK he came to know Robert Owen, Henry Hunt, William Cobbett, Henry Hetherington, Cleave and Watson; he was a member of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union. He drew up a petition for the opening of museums on Sundays in 1829, and in 1830 he became involved in the ‘War of the Unstamped’, becoming the sub-treasurer and secretary of the ‘Victim Fund,’ which was raised to help those who were prosecuted by the authorities. In 1831 he joined the National Union of the Working Classes, a political organisation modelled on Methodism. He was arrested and sent for trial in March 1832 for rioting but he was acquitted in May. He helped in the drafting of the Benefit Societies Act of 1836, and was a founder-member of the London Working Men's Association which was formed on 16 June 1836. Lovett wrote the appeal to the nation on the franchise question, and agitating for the reforms which became the ‘six points’ of the ‘People's Charter.’

He was responsible for writing the ‘six points’, addresses to the Crown, Parliament, the people of England and the working classes of Europe. He was secretary of the general committee of the trades of London, which was formed to represent the views of the working classes before the select parliamentary committee on Trades Unionism and the Combination Act in 1838, and he wrote the analysis of the evidence which his committee subsequently published. Lovett drafted the ‘People's Charter,’ and originally included universal female suffrage. The ‘charter’ was first published 8 May 1838.

During the first phase of Chartism, Lovett and his friends were careful to separate themselves from the physical force ideas of Feargus O'Connor and Joseph Rayner Stephens. At the first meeting of the Chartist convention on 4 February 1839, Lovett was unanimously elected its secretary, and he took part in the preparation of the Chartist petition in that year; he was arrested in Birmingham in June for protesting against the violence of the police when they broke up the Bull Ring ‘riots’. He was in custody for nine days before he could secure bail; during that time he was treated as if he had been already convicted. He was tried on 6 August 1839 at the Warwick assizes for seditious libel. He defended himself, was convicted and sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment. His health suffered permanently from the conditions in Warwick gaol but in May 1840 he refused a government offer of early release if he would be bound over to good behaviour for the remainder of the term. On 25 July he and John Collins were released and both were entertained at a banquet at the White Conduit House on 3 August by the combination committee and the Working Men's Association.

He opened a bookshop in Tottenham Court Road, and published a work on ‘Chartism,’ that he and Collins had written in gaol : it dealt with ideas for practical education as well as political action. The book was attacked by O'Connor and most other Chartists as a middle-class scheme for destroying the Chartist movement. Lovett became the target of hostility by Feargus O'Connor, who denounced Lovett and his friends in the Northern Star.

Lovett took part in Joseph Sturge's complete suffrage conferences at Birmingham in 1842, and tried to unite middle-class reformers and working-class radicals. In 1844 Lovett formed the ‘Democratic Friends of All Nations,’ principally composed of French, German, and Polish refugees and wrote the society's first address ‘to the friends of humanity and justice among all nations.’ He became a member of the council of the Anti-Slavery League in 1846, but shortly afterwards resigned his secretaryship of the national association, and withdrew from active politics.

In 1848 - the year of the final Chartist petition - he again attempted to find some way of uniting the middle class and the workmen adherents of radical reform, and a conference passed a resolution in favour of universal suffrage, but in terms less wide than those adopted by the conference in 1842. The People's League was attacked so fiercely by the violent Chartists that it proved abortive, and was finally dissolved in 1849.

This was the last political association with which Lovett was actively connected; after that he devoted his energies to promoting popular education. By this time he was well known as a moderate. In 1852 he wrote ‘Social and Political Morality,’ published in 1853, he became a teacher of anatomy in St. Thomas Charterhouse schools and in Richardson's grammar school, Gray's Inn Road; he wrote a number of school-books on elementary science.

As he got older, he was less able to support himself. He continued to write on scientific subjects, but could not get his writings published. His last years were dogged by ill health. He died at 137 Euston Road, London, on 8 August 1877 and was buried at Highgate.

SEE this page for the Address of the London Working Men's Association to the People of Canada (1837) and this page for the Reply of the Central and Permanent Committee of the County of Montreal to the Address of the London Working Men's Association.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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