As the movement grew and grew, it divided itself again into the moral force and the physical force Chartists, as they were called at the time. The physical force Chartists openly proclaimed their utter disbelief in anything to be accomplished by-peaceful agitation, and called out for an appeal to arms as the only possible way of bringing the movement to any success. None of the leaders we have mentioned, not even wild Feargus O'Connor himself, can be said to have had any faith in the Chartism of physical force; but there were some of them who did not venture to discourage and denounce it, fearing to lose if they did their influence over the mass of their followers. Nearly all were animated by the same distrust and hatred of the middle classes. The fury which raged against the aristocrats and the landlords at the time of Peterloo was now directed against the traders and the shopkeepers and the middle classes generally. The middle classes, it was insisted, not without some show of reason, had taken the help of the working men to carry the Reform Bill, and had joined in the conspiracy to leave the working men out of all the benefits of the measure. A Chartist he had delivered. As happens almost always in such amateur arrangements, misunderstanding and delay intervened, and Frost arrived at Newport at the head of one division only. Another division followed, and the third did not arrive at the appointed place until the whole enterprise was practically over. In the meantime the authorities, fully prepared for the encounter, had met Frost and his division, and a conflict took place between the police and military on one side and the Chartists on the other. The Chartists were defeated and dispersed; ten of them were killed and about fifty were wounded. Frost was arrested with some of his comrades in the enterprise, and they were tried in June, 1840, on a charge of high treason. The Chartists had been armed with guns, swords, pikes, and pickaxes, and their movement had at all events the appearance of something meant for more than a mere rescue of Vincent and his companions; something, indeed, very like the beginning of an insurrection. Frost and two of his companions, Williams and Jones, were found guilty of high treason and were sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to one of transportation for life; and even this was relaxed after the lapse of a few years, and Frost and his comrades were allowed to return to England.
What effect on the movement had the trial and condemnation of Frost, Williams, and Jones? Did the Chartists take warning from this assertion of the laws of authority and quietly abandon the agitation ? Nothing of the kind. It would be but to misread the teachings of history if one were to suppose that any popular cause with a real grievance behind it could be suppressed in such a country as England by mere prosecutions and sentences of transportation. What actually did happen was that the conviction of Frost and his comrades gave a new impulse to the Chartist movement. Thomas Cooper, for example, had never taken any particular interest in the Chartist movement and had never even seen a Chartist meeting until the trial of Frost called his attention to the fact that there was some seriousness in the movement, and that the Government had no idea of dealing with it except by the rough and ready process of criminal prosecution and imprisonment. The movement went on, and grew for years and years after Frost had been sentenced to transportation. We may as well anticipate its history and have done with it at once. It reached its climax, or indeed we should rather say its anti-climax, in 1848, when the Monster Petition, as it was called, was got up for presentation by Feargus O'Connor in the House of Commons. At that time the Chartists were suddenly reinspired by the influence of the Revolution in France which overthrew Louis Philippe and set up a short-lived Republic. It was arranged that a great demonstration should take place on Kennington Common, as it was then called - Kennington Park as it now is - an open ground on the south side of London, and that Feargus O'Connor should present a petition, which was to be adopted by the meeting, calling for the concession of the People's Charter. More than five millions of names, it was proudly boasted, were to be attached to the petition. London was thrown into a wild n8
Robert Browning. I812-l889.
The Chartist Collapse alarm for some days before the Kennington Common demonstration, and a vast number of respectable citizens, more or less of the order of John Gilpin, were sworn in as special constables to maintain the security of the Throne, the Altar, and the Constitution. One of the special constables sworn in on that occasion, but who was by no means of the John Gilpin order, was Prince Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, then an exile in London, and who, not long afterwards, stamped upon law and order at home and became Emperor of the French. The Chartist demonstration proved an utter and even a ridiculous failure. The Chartists quarrelled among themselves: some were for marching to Kennington Common with weapons in their hands, others were for an orderly and peaceful movement; and even Feargus O'Connor, with all his foolishness, would not listen to the idea of a physical force demonstration. So the movement broke into pieces, and the petition when presented was found to contain not " more than five millions," but much less than two millions of signatures, and many of these absurd forgeries intended to be merely grotesque and burlesque. The whole movement was extinguished in public ridicule. What had happened in the time between the conviction of Frost and the meeting on Kennington Common to lead to the failure of the Chartist movement ? The Corn Laws had been abolished and bread had become cheap. Many measures had been passed to improve the education and the homes of the poor; a new constitutional era was proved to have opened; the House of Commons was growing more and more a representative institution; it was clear to every intelligent observer that it was destined to become more and more representative still, and that the people could not for long be kept from their rightful share in the Government of the country. So the Chartist agitation withered and died because of improved laws and clearer hopes, and the dawn of a brighter and better political and social condition.
John Ruskin. 1819-.