Father, Who Are the Chartists?, 1844

Father, Who Are the Chartists?, Anon, 1844

Millions who labour with skill, my child,

On the land – at the loom – in the mill, my child,

        Whom bigots and knaves

Would keep as their slaves;

Whom tyrants would punish and kill, my child

Millions whom suffering draws, my child,

To unite in a glorious cause, my child

Their object, their end

To mankind befriend,

By gaining for all equal laws, my child

Millions who ever hath sought, my child

For freedom of speech and of thought, my child

Though stripp’d of each right

By the strong hand of might,

They ne’er can be vanquished or bought, my child

Millions who earnestly call, my child,

For freedom to each and to all, my child;

They have truth for their shield,

And never will yield

Till they triumph in tyranny’s fall, my child

This poem was taken from The Northern Star, which was a Chartist newspaper featuring many poems written to inform and inspire. The Chartist movement sought the extension of many political rights at a time when less than 3% of the British population could vote. In 1838, the Chartists developed A People’s Charter with 6 demands.

  • All men to have the vote
  • Voting should take place by secret ballot
  • Parliamentary elections every year, not once every five years
  • Constituencies should be of equal size
  • Members of Parliament should be paid
  • The property qualification for becoming a Member of Parliament should be abolished

With the exception of yearly parliamentary elections, the other five demands of the Chartists were met. However, the above poem Father, Who Are the Chartists? still has resonance today, and the demands of the whole movement are still highly relevant.

Relevance Today

The poem speaks about a political movement of people united by their class and undivided by gender, race, or religion. It highlights the power of people when they are coordinated in their beliefs and their actions. It demonstrates that the voting rights we enjoy today were fought for by ordinary working people, and the fear those in power had of allowing working class people the right to vote. Whilst voting rights have now been extended to everyone over the age of 18, there is still a long way to go to get everyone engaged in the political process. In the last election, a large percentage of the population chose not to exercise their right to vote, and whist some undoubtedly saw this as an act of political defiance, their voice was still not heard. The power their vote commanded, which was fought so hard for by people like the Chartists, was left unaccounted for. A change in the political system is needed in order to engage more people in the political process and see that the power of the vote not be wasted.

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