Chartism was a working class movement for political reform in Britain between 1838 and 1848. It takes its name from the the People's Charter of 1838, which preceded the Chartist movement, and in turn took it’s name from the Magna Carta, in which, the Chartists felt the exclusive privileges of the aristocracy had been enshrined. It was drafted by members of the London Working Men’s Association . Chartism was the first mass working class labour movement in the world. "Chartism" is the umbrella name for numerous poorly-coordinated local groups, often named "Working Men's Association," articulating grievances in many cities from 1837. Its peak activity came in 1839, 1842 and 1848. It began among skilled artisans in small shops, such as shoemakers, printers, and tailors. The movement was more aggressive in areas with many distressed handloom workers, such as in Lancashire and the Midlands. It began as a petition movement which tried to mobilize "moral force", but soon attracted men who advocated strikes and violence, such as Feargus O'Connor. One faction issued the "People's Charter" in 1838 and it was widely adopted by the movement. The People's Charter called for six basic reforms to make the political system more democratic:

  1. Universal male suffrage;
  2. A secret ballot;
  3. No property qualification for members of Parliament;
  4. Pay members of Parliament (so poor men could serve);
  5. Constituencies of equal size;
  6. Annual elections for Parliament
The underlying belief of the People’s Charter, was that a democratic system of election would entirely transform the character of Parliament and society.: - as the working class composed the great majority of society, once they had the vote, so would working class men be voted into parliament, thereby ensuring that Parliament’s work would be done in the interests of the working class..

Chartism flourished in hard times. Political elites saw the movement as dangerous and refused to negotiate with it or deal with its demands. The government permanently crushed the movement in 1848. The movement produced no immediate reforms, but it did attract the attention of the working class, which at this time was not allowed to vote. Historians see Chartism as both a continuation of the 18th century fight against corruption and as a new stage in demands for democracy in an industrial society.

There was a Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common, London in 1848. The ruling classes were very alarmed by this, so they sent troops to control the bridges over the Thames, with Duke of Wellington in command. Special constables, including Louis Napoleon and Charles Dickens, were enrolled. These precautions were unnecessary though. The Chartists brought their families and picniked on the grass, (now the Oval cricket ground) Feargus O’Connor agreed to send the Chartists home peacefully. There was no violence . The Charter petition was taken to Parliament, but alas Chartism faded away. Many Chartists went to America in search of a democratic life.