The third petition and the decline of Chartism
In 1847 the chartist spirit began to stir back up again as the General Convention prepared for the third time to take the petition to parliament. The Charter Associations of Stockton, Darlington and Middlesbrough all sprang back up with renewed energy and began collecting signatures for the petition. This time a total of 2,000 were collected for Teesside and County Durham, making up almost 10% of the population. This had been a large increase on the 1,200 collected in 1842.
The first months of 1848 saw renewed excitement for the petition’s delivery, spurred on by news overseas of a series of revolutions in many European countries. The General Convention began to hope that this time the People’s Charter would be made law and became more united than ever. They planned a mass meeting at Kennington Common in London on 10th April, the day of the petition.
The Government was fearful of revolution and had the capital put under the armed guard of thousands of soldiers, 70,000 special constables, mounted police, and marines. They also deemed the Kennington Common meeting illegal, but it went ahead anyway. Over 20,000 people attended the meeting, and it was a peaceful one. While it went ahead Feargus O’Connor and other delegates of the General Convention presented the petition to parliament, claiming that it held over 5 million names.
However, a few days later the House of Commons announced that the petition had in fact less than 2 million signatures, and that most of them were fictitious or false. On the 17th of April O’Connor and the Convention conceded that the petition had not lived up to the standards they had claimed. For the third time the petition was rejected by parliament, and this proved to be the final, most damaging blow for the movement.
Chartism as a national movement would continue after 1848, but it would never again reach the same level of activity, and it would eventually end in 1858.