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Ulterior Measures

In 1839 the Chartist Convention met prior to the presentation of their Petition to Parliament. Among the things they discussed were possible tactics to ensure that parliament listened to their demands. These were known as "ulterior measures" and included threats of physical force.

The manner in which physical force had been discussed by some of their members had been the cause of a great many persons not taking an active part in the proceedings, and the use of such language had been a handle to their enemies for imputing to them a doctrine which they had, as a body, done their utmost to repudiate. [Hear!] In his late mission he found that the middle classes invariably raised objections against them in consequence of this constant recurrence to physical force. ... He would, when he found the people had tried the influence of moral force, and had found it insufficient to answer them, be found doing his duty as one of the foremost of the physical force men.

Henry Hetherington, Northern Star, 27 April 1839.


There was no disposition on the part of the people to come into collision with the law; the people would not have recourse to that description of physical force which their enemies would wish. ... They would not be so foolish however as to bare their naked and unarmed breasts to the disciplined bodies of soldiers ... the resistance of the people would consist in their abstinence from labour, and the men who derived their property from that labour, would find that they could not long maintain so unequal a contest. [Hear! Hear!] The very arguing of the question of physical force, as it had hitherto been urged had given great strength to the Government ... They might depend upon it, however, that the moment moral force failed physical force would slip in and, like an electrical shock, effect what the other had failed to accomplish.

Feargus O'Connor


A meeting at the Crown and Anchor as reported in the Northern Star, 23 March 1839.

James Bronterre O'Brien

As the House of Commons was elected by only 700,000 out of 25,000,000 he did not consider that it existed by the consent of the nation. If he should see the petition signed by millions, he would consider that he had a right to try any measures from marbles to manslaughter for carrying out the petition. ... They would sign the petition, and be able to say with a correspondent of his from the North, who in a letter he received only the day before, said, 'There is not a labouring man here, from 16 to 60, who has not signed the petition, and there is a pike for every signature'. [Loud cheers]. Now he would not advise them to get pikes or guns, because the law did not allow him to - and that was his only reason. [Laughter]. He was only an historian. All the men of Leeds and Lancashire had got pikes. He did not recommend those present to get them also - he only mentioned the fact ...

George Julian Harney Secretary of the Democratic Association, being loudly called for ... would ask, should there be any more petitions [no! no!] unless signed with steel pens? [Cheers] There should be no more Conventions. The 6th of May should be the last day for doubt or hesitation. The people should then set about asserting their rights in earnest, and should have before the close of this year Universal Suffrage or Death. [Loud cheers]

From numerous communications we received we believe you expect us to collect the will and intentions of the country respecting the most efficient meant for causing the People's Charter to become the law of the land. anxious, therefore, clearly to ascertain the opinions and determinations of the people in the shortest possible time, and doubly anxious to secure their righteous objects bloodless and stainless, we respectfully submit the following propositions for your serious consideration:

That all the simultaneous public meetings to be held for the purpose of petitioning the Queen to call good men to her councils, as well as at all subsequent meetings of your unions or associations up to the 1st of July, you submit the following questions to the people there assembled

  1. Whether they will be prepared, at the request of the Convention, to withdraw all sums of money they may individually or collectively have placed in savings banks, private banks, or in the hands of any person hostile to their rights? Whether, at the same request, they will be prepared immediately to convert all their paper money into gold and silver?
  2. Whether if the convention shall determine that a sacred month [a general strike] will be necessary to prepare the millions to secure the Charter of their political salvation, they will firmly resolve to abstain from their labours during that period?
  3. Whether they would refuse payment of rents, rates, and taxes?
  4. Whether, according to their old constitutional right, they have prepared themselves with the arms of free men to defend the laws and constitutional privileges their ancestors bequeathed to them?
  5. Whether they will provide themselves with Chartist candidates, so as to be prepared to propose them for their representatives at the next general election; and if returned by show of hands, such candidates to consider themselves veritable representatives of the people, to meet in London at a time hereafter to be determined on?
  6. Whether they will resolve to deal exclusively with Chartists; and in all cases of persecution rally around and protect all those who may suffer in this righteous cause?
  7. Whether, by all means in their power, they will perseveringly contend for the great objects of the People's Charter, and resolve that no counter-agitation for a less measure of justice shall divert them from this righteous object?
  8. Whether they would abstain from purchasing newspapers which opposed them?
  9. Whether the people will determine to obey all the just and constitutional requests of the majority of the convention?

Charter, 19 May 1839.


I was present in some part of nearly every Saturday at the pike market, to take sharp note of the sales. The market was held in a long garret room, over John Blakey's shop in the Side. In rows were benches of boards, supported on tressels, along which the Winlanton and Swalwall chain and nail makers brought in their interregnum of pikes, each a dozen or two, rolled up in the smith's apron. The price for a finished and polished article was two shillings and sixpence. ... From that time [August to November 1839] ... we counted sixty thousand shafted pikes.

Thomas Devyr, The Old Book of the Nineteenth Century (1882), pp. 177-8


Dear brothers!

Now are the times to try men's souls! Are your arms ready? Have you plenty of powder and shot? Have you screwed up your courage to its sticking place? Do you intend to be freemen or slaves? Are you inclined to hope for a fair day's wages for a fair day's work? Ask yourselves these questions, and remember that your safety depends on the strength of your own right arms. How long are you going to allow your mothers, your wives, your children and your sweethearts, to be ever toiling for other peoples' benefit? Nothing can convince tyrants of their folly but gunpowder and steel: so put your trust in God my boys and keep your powder dry. Be patient a day or two, but be ready at a minute's warning; no man knows today what tomorrow may bring forth: be ready then to nourish the tree of liberty


You can get nothing by cowardice, or petitioning. France is in arms; Poland groans beneath the bloody Russian yoke; and Irishmen pant to enjoy the sweets of liberty. Aye, dear brethren, the whole world depends on you for support; if you fail the working man's sun is set for ever! The operatives of Paris have again taken possession of the city. Can you remain passive when all the world is in arms? No my friends! Up with the cap of liberty, down with all oppression and enjoy the benefit of your toil. Now or never is the time: be sure you do not neglect your arms, but let the blood of all you suspect moisten the soil of your native land, that you may forever destroy even the remembrance of your poverty and shame.

Let England's sons then prime her guns
And save each good man's daughter,
In tyrant's blood baptise your sons
And every villain slaughter.
By pike and sword, your freedom strive to gain,
Or make one bloody Moscow of old England's plain

Handbill of 1839

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