- Feargus O'Connor
Born into an Irish
Protestantfamily, the son of Irish Nationalistpolitician Roger O'Connor(1762-1834) and nephew of Arthur O'Connor(1753-1852), the agent in Francefor Robert Emmet's rebellion; both of whom famous for belonging to the United Irishmen. Much of his early life was spent on his family's estates in Ireland. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he studied lawbefore inheriting an estate from his uncle in 1820. During the 1830s he emerged as an advocate for Irish rights and democratic political reform as a notable critic of the English Whig government's policies on Ireland.
In 1832, he was elected to the
British House of Commonsas Member of Parliamentfor County Cork, but was disqualified in 1835 because he failed to satisfy the property requirement for MP's.
Radicalism & Chartism
In 1837 he founded a radical newspaper, the "Northern Star". He was a leading figure in
Chartism. For years he travelled the country giving meetings, and was one of the movement's most popular orators. Many chartists named their children after him. He was at various points arrested, tried and imprisoned for his views, and also involved in quite bitter internal struggles within the movement.
When the first wave of
Chartismebbed he founded the Chartist Land Companyin 1845. The Land Company aimed to buy large agricultural estates in order to sub-divide the land into smallholdings which could be let to individuals. Unfortunately the scheme was unsuccessful and the company was declared bankrupt in 1851. When Chartism again gained momentum he was elected MP for Nottingham and organised the Chartistmeeting on Kennington Common, London, in 1848.
O'Connor never married, but according to his biographers had a succession of affairs and fathered several
illegitimatechildren, including Edward O'Connor Terry, later to become the celebrated music hall artist and theatre owner.
In 1852, O'Connor visited the
United States. On his return, he insulted the MP Beckett Denison. Certified a lunatic, he was committed to an asylum in Chiswick, where he died in 1855.
Most of the early historians of
Chartismwere quite negative about his role. In recent years, however, there has been a trend to reassess him in a more favorable light. [Dorothy Thompson: "The Chartists", p96]
FEARGUS O’CONNOR, “THE LION OF FREEDOM”
The Lion of Freedom is come from his den; We’ll rally around him, again and again; We’ll crown him with laurel, our champion to be: O’Connor the patriot: for sweet Liberty! from Lion of Freedom, a Chartist Chant
INTRODUCTION No history of the British Chartist movement of the early 19th Century is complete without consideration of the strongest of its leaders. Though he had not been involved in the drafting of the People’s Charter, Feargus O’Connor had agitated for the points embodied in the Charter long before it was actually drafted. As early as 1835 O’Connor agitated in factory areas for the “Five Cardinal Points of Radicalism,” which were five of the six points later embodied in the People’s Charter. Even earlier than this, in 1833, he spoke before working organizations advocating the five points. However, he was not one of the more thoughtful and intelligent leaders in the movement. He was a leader not much given to careful consideration; he was inclined more to action. It can be said with little doubt that had O’Connor and the revolutionists who worked with him not been in the movement, the drafters of the Charter could not long have retained the support of the workers. The Chartist movement would have found only a small space in history books. On the other hand, O’Connor was loved and worshiped by millions, hated by many, but despised by few. Sooner or later he had a bitter quarrel with almost every other leader of the movement, but those in the movement who knew him only as a speaker and a writer had no quarrel with him. EARLY LIFE Feargus O’Connor the best loved and most hated of all the leaders of the Chartist movement was born 18 July 1794 in Connorville, County Cork. He was the son of the famous Irish Nationalist Roger O’Connor. If the O’Connors are to be believed, they were direct descendants of Roderic O’Connor the last King of Ireland. Little is known of his early life, and what is known comes to us from O’Connor himself. His tales should not be taken too seriously for he was never known for accuracy.1 He was educated mainly at Portarlington Grammar School. He had some elementary schooling in England2 but this is known only from his references to adventures there. After some trials at work he ran away with his brother, and encountered various adventures in England and Ireland. Later, he was financed on a farm in Ireland by Francis Burdett, who was a friend of his father, but he could not make a go of it.3 Soon he was dealing in horses in a small way but finally gave it up to enter Trinity College in Dublin to become a barrister. He took no degree,4 but he was called to the Irish bar about 1820. Since he had to take an oath of allegiance to become a member of the bar, his father disinherited him because he regarded it as inconsistent with the dignity of a descendent of the Kings of Ireland. If there were any important permanent influences on O’Connor they most probably were the colorful and rebellious adventures of his father, Roger (who was a member of the United Irish), and the tales of his ancestry. He never tired of telling those about him of his descendency. His first known public speech was made in 1822 at Enniskene, County Cork, at which time he denounced the iniquities of the landlords and the Protestant clergy.5 During that year he composed a pamphlet entitled “State of Ireland.” As far as is known he had taken no part in politics until this year. Around this time, it was said, he was a member of the Whiteboys (an anti-Anglican organization), received wounds in a fight with the King’s soldiers6 and, after fleeing to London to escape arrest, attempted to eke out a living by writing. He produced five manuscripts at this time, but none were ever published. It appears that he had little literary ability.7 Nothing further is heard of O’Connor’s political activity until after 1830. In 1831 he agitated for the Reform Bill in Cork and, after its passage in 1832, he traveled about the county organizing registration of the new electorate. His success in this work brought him before the people as a Repealer candidate in opposition to a Whig whom he defeated.
THE IRISH M. P.Feargus O’Connor came into Parliament as a follower of O’Connell. His speeches during this time were devoted mainly to the Irish question. He was described as active, bustling, violent, a ready speaker, and the model of an Irish patriot,8 but he did nothing, suggested nothing, and found fault with everything.9 He always voted with the radicals; he voted for tax on property, for Attwood’s motion for an inquiry into the conditions that prevailed in England, and supported Ashley’s Factory Bill. Soon he quarreled with O’Connell, repudiating him for his practice of yielding to the Whigs,10 and came out in favor of a more aggressive Repeal policy. In the general election of 1835 he was reelected, but disqualified from being seated because he lacked property qualifications. However, it appears that he did have property valued at £300 a year.11 Off on a new venture, O’Connor next planned to raise a volunteer brigade for the Queen of Spain, but soon forgot this when William Cobbett died in April 1835. He decided to run for the vacated seat. He lost, but his candidacy weakened the strength of John Cobbett (son of William) enough to allow the Tory candidate to win.
THE CHARTER MOVEMENT
O’Connor and the New Poor Law
As early as 1833, while M. P. for Cork, O’Connor had delivered an address to the National Union of the Working Classes, a political society of London workingmen, in which he expressed radical sentiments and made strong attacks on the Whigs.12 At the same time he had fought the New Poor Law Bill in Parliament with Cobbett and a handful of Radicals and Tories. Thus his next move, after his defeat for Cobbett’s place in the House of Commons, followed logically from these earlier agitations. O’Connor began to spend a large part of his time traveling through the northern and midland districts, addressing huge meetings, denouncing the New Poor Law, and advocating the “Five Cardinal Points of Radicalism.” He had decided that the best centers for popular agitation were the northern factory districts. It was there that the Poor Law Guardians began to enforce administration of the Poor Law. Thus, it was the ideal area to conduct his crusade against the law, since what the main body of workers wanted was higher wages, shorter hours, better factory conditions, more assured employment, and release from the Poor Law tyranny. They were not just interested in the vote as such.13 Speaking to the uneducated workers, O’Connor was a typical demagogue. His speeches were full of absurdities and seditious talk flavored with comic similes and anecdotes.14 He immediately became popular with the working class in England despite its “insane” hatred of the Irish.15 But, though he was a demagogue, neither the “cunning nor the ferocity usually ascribed to demagogues was present” in his makeup.16 Even at the height of violence he maintained a good natured expression on his face as though he expected all would be done in good humor and fair play.17 His fine physique was to his advantage when he spoke to workingmen, since laborers commonly judge men on their physical prowess. He was over six feet, muscular and massive, the “model of a Phoenician Hercules.”18 His head was large and round, with fair hair and eyebrows, large protruding eyes, and capacious mouth. He radiated an air of command that inspired an unexplainable fear in his listeners.19 The ease with which he could handle his audiences and give out with denunciations is demonstrated in the following comment made by him when he was hissed by some wealthy listeners in Sunderland: Yes — you — I was just coming to you, when I was describing the materials of which our spurious aristocracy is composed. You gentlemen belong to the big-bellied, little brained, numskull aristocracy. How dare you hiss me, you contemptible set of platter faced, amphibious politicians? . . . Now was it not indecent of you? Was it not foolish of you? Was it not ignorant of you to hiss me? If you interrupt me again, I’ll bundle you out of the room.20 Very often, though, his statements were incoherent and loaded: I am one of those who from experience has learned that consideration of foreign interests has been forced upon us by neglect of our domestic resources: and I believe that overgrown taxation for the support of idlers and the unrestricted gambling speculations upon labour, applied to an undefined and unstable system of production without regard to demand, is the great evil under which manual labourers are suffering.21 To O’Connor industrialism was just a great ugly beast that roused a desire for reaction in him. But it was this quality that for a time heightened his appeal. This reaction exhibited itself in his call for a return to the “good old days” of spade husbandry. His Land Plan, which is covered later, was an attempt to bring about this return. Along with his agitation against the New Poor Law O’Connor revealed his hate of machinery: This act was framed by Lord Brougham, as the champion of the middle classes, who were most strongly represented by the steam producers, and it was framed purposely with a view to seduce those into a delusive market who would have risen in their might and annihilated any government that dared thus violate their trust by the commission of wholesale plunder, had it not been for the safe retreat promised to the abandoned in the artificial market. It is the nature of man to use all means to better his situation, and the poor countryman who gave up his house and home under the compulsion of the Poor Law Amendment Act, in the hope of going to a permanent situation, was unconscious in the “hey-day” of manual labor, as then applied to infant machinery, that each improvement in the one would be a nail in the coffin of the other. Estates were cleared of willing immigrants seduced by the spirit of the moment, and when anticipation had failed, they then framed the stringent rules under which the hellish law had placed them, when they sought for an asylum in the parish of their fathers. Had it not been for machinery, the Poor Law Amendment Act never would have passed — nay, never would have been ventured upon, because the whole force of popular indignation would have been directed against the general plunder, while opposition was much mitigated in consequence of the casual provision which machinery offered as a substitute; thus has the Poor Law Amendment Act been another direct effect upon machinery.22 Machinery opens a fictitious, unsettled, and unwholesome market for labor, leaving to the employer complete and entire control over wages and employment. As machinery becomes improved, manual labor is dispensed with, and the dismissed constitute a surplus population of unemployed, system-made paupers, which makes a reserve for the masters to fall back upon as a means of reducing the price of labor. It makes character valueless. By the application of fictitious money, it overruns the world with produce, and makes labor a drug. It entices the agricultural laborer, under false pretenses, from the natural and wholesome market, and locates him in an unhealthy atmosphere, where human beings herd together like swine. It destroys the value of real capital in the market, and is capable of affecting every trade, business, and interest, though apparently wholly unconnected with its ramifications. It creates a class of tyrants and a class of slaves. Its vast connection with banks, and all the moneyed interests of the country, gives to it an unjust, injurious, anomalous, and direct influence over the government of the country.23 Chancellor Lord Brougham, the father of the New Poor Law, was a firm believer in the wisdom of Malthus, and frankly stated that the Law was designed to prevent unlimited increase in population.24 O’Connor held nothing but contempt for him and displayed it openly: Harry Brougham said they wished no poor law as every young man ought to lay up provision for old age; yet, while he said this with one side of his mouth, he was screwing the other side to get his retiring pension raised from £4,000 to £5,000 a year. But if the people had their rights they would not pay his salary. Harry would go to the treasury, he would knock, but Cerberus would not open the door, he would say “Who is there?,” and then luckless Harry would answer, “It is an exchancellor coming for his £1,250 a quarter’s salary”; but Cerberus would say, “There have been a dozen of ye here to-day already, and there is nothing for ye.” Then Harry would cry, “Oh! what will become of me! What shall I do!” and Cerberus would say, “Go into the Bastile that you have provided for the people!” Then when Lord Harry and Lady Harry went into the Bastile, the keeper would say, “This is your ward to the right, and this, my lady, is your ward to the left; we are Malthusians here, and are afraid you would breed, therefore you must keep asunder.” If he witnessed such a scene as this he might have some pity for Lady Brougham, but little pity would be due to Lord Harry.25 In 1837 O’Connor and Julian Harney founded the London Democratic Association, which appealed to the “unshaven chin, blistered hands, and fustian jackets” for membership as a counterbalance to the previously founded London Working Men’s Association which O’Connor claimed consisted of skilled mechanics.26 The association’s objects, besides universal suffrage, included agitation for liberty of the press, repeal of the Poor Law, eight-hour work day, and prohibition of child labor. The voice of the organization was the Northern Star, which first appeared on 18 November 1837 in Leeds. It met with immediate success. In fact, it became so successful, that at the peak of Chartist strength it had a circulation of 50,000, most copies of which were read by many people since they were placed in taverns and such public houses. Its editor was William Hill, an Owen Socialist and former Unitarian minister; Joshua Hobson, another Owenite, was printer and manager; and Bronterre O’Brien, former editor of the Poor Man’s Guardian, became the principal leader-writer. Thus it can be seen that the Star began not as a Chartist organ but as an expression of working class protest against the Poor Law and demands for factory reform.27 It advocated, when it became an organ of Chartism, the Chartist demands primarily as a means to these ends. O’Connor wrote of “a means of insuring a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work, which, after all is the aim and end of the People’s Charter.”28 When the London Working Men’s Association drafted the Charter, the London Democratic Association consolidated with other radical working men’s associations and officially took up the Charter, but O’Connor and the Star were not ready to accept the political leadership of the London Working Men’s Association. He knew that the workers wanted something more immediate than political education. Therefore, he gave speeches filled with what they wanted to hear29 and became the “constant traveling, dominant leader of the movement”30 from the first, and his paper practically became the official organ of Chartism.
Physical Force vs. Moral Force The number and length of the speeches delivered by O’Connor during the next ten years were extraordinary,31 and from the beginning he was attacked by Lovett and other leaders of the London Working Men’s Association. He answered them with charges that they did not really have the laborers cause at heart. When the Chartist convention assembled in London on 4 February 1839, O’Connor became the dominant force from the beginning. Despite the attempt of Lovett and others to confine the meetings to a gathering of peace, O’Connor used words that threatened violence upon the heads of those who resisted acceptance of the Charter though he claimed to want to try peaceful means first.32 This caused a split of the delegation and leadership of the convention into those who favored forceful means and those who would only work for the Charter through peaceful channels. O’Connor called for cessation of political action on behalf of the Charter at the end of Michaelmas.33 On this question of moral and physical force he said: I have always been a man of peace. I have always denounced the man who strove to tamper with an oppressed people by any appeal to physical force. I have always said that moral force was the degree of deliberation in each man’s mind which told him when submission was a duty or resistance not a crime; and that a true application of moral force would effect every change, but in case it should fail, physical force would come to its aid like an electric shock — and no man could prevent it; but that he who advised or attempted to marshal it would be the first to desert it at the moment of danger. God forbid that I should wish to see my country plunged into horrors of physical revolution. I wish her to win her liberties by peaceful means alone.34 This vacillation must have been one thing that weakened his position with the inner circle of revolutionaries of the movement, for he was distrusted even by them.35 In addition, he did not seem prepared to gamble. He knew that if he could not frighten the governing classes into surrender, he could not win in an armed insurrection.36 Strangely enough, however, he never faced this fact until the prospect of an armed rising was an immediate possibility. He never had the foresight to see where he was heading until he was almost there,37 and never crossed a river until he came to it. When the Chartist petition with 1,283,000 signatures was rejected by parliament, tension grew between the starving workers and the authorities. A few clashes resulted, and culminated in the Newport rising, the purpose of which was to release a favored leader, Henry Vincent, from prison. Evidence points to the fact that O’Connor was ignorant of the event,38 but he was tried with the others involved for seditious libel and was found guilty. A sentence of eighteen months in York Castle was passed on him in May of 1840. He was always one to take advantage of any event to inflate his reputation and so, in his farewell message, he completely neglected the activities of the other leaders of the movement when he said: Before we part, let us commune fairly together. See how I met you, what I found you, how I part from you, and what I leave you. I found you a weak and unconnected party, having to grace the triumphs of the Whigs. I found you weak as the mountain heather bending before the gentle breeze. I am leaving you strong as the oak that stands the raging storms. I found you knowing your country but on the map. I leave you with its position engraven upon your hearts. I found you split up into local sections. I have leveled all those pigmy fences and thrown you into an imperial union . . .39 While in prison O’Connor continued to write for the Northern Star, probably by smuggling his articles out, and was thus able to keep the Chartists, who rallied around him, united.40 After his release on 30 August 1841, we see his ascendency to absolute personal supremacy in the movement.41 Earlier, Thomas Attwood and his followers had left the movement because they were keenly opposed to attainment of the Charter by any means other than legislative. It was not long before Lovett’s group also was out of the movement. As soon as he was released, O’Connor started out on a great speaking tour. He received great ovations, and his speeches were almost entirely vituperations against the other leaders of the movement who disagreed with him. The group led by Lovett felt that the workers were too weak to attain the Charter, therefore it was for enlisting the aid of middle class reformers. This raised the heat of O’Connor’s attacks and soon he succeeded in driving Lovett and the rest of the “moral force” elements out of the movement. Any of the leaders of the movement who worked closely with O’Connor at the start finally found themselves at odds with him. One week he would have nothing but the highest complements to pay to a man, and the next he would be pouring vituperations upon him.42 A convention of the newly formed National Charter Association was held in order to draw up a new petition that was finally signed by 3,315,752 persons. The petition was denied a hearing, which added strength to the “physical force” elements since it became apparent that any number of signatures would not change Parliament’s mind.43
The Anti-Corn Law League From its inception the Anti-Corn Law League continually vied with the Chartists for the support of the workers. The appeal of the League was popular with the workers since bread was high, and it claimed that repeal would cause the price to drop, but three factors were important in resisting exodus from the Chartist movement to the League: • Argument that without the Charter a repeal of the Corn Law would be of little use • Distrust by the masses of anything favored by the employers • Fear that free trade would cause wages to drop still lower and would ultimately give greater power to the manufacturers44 This last point was stressed by O’Connor. He made bitting attacks on the Anti- Corn Law League in attempts to strengthen the Chartist movement. Thomas Cooper, a Chartist leader, revealed in his autobiography that “it was a part of Chartist policy, in many towns, to disturb Corn Law repeal meetings.”45 When hope of Corn Law repeal was strengthened by statements of Peel, many Chartists left the movement for the League. Discouraged with the slow progress and declining strength of Chartism, O’Connor soon turned to an idea of land parceling that he had developed earlier.
The National Land Company While he was in prison, O’Connor had written a series of letters for the Northern Star under the heading “Letters to the Irish Landlords” in which he advocated a scheme of peasant proprietorship. Even before this, in 1835, he had moved in Parliament46 for a bill: to compel landlords to make leases of their land in perpetuity — that is, to give to the tenant a lease for ever, at a corn rent; to take away the power of distraining for rent; and in all cases where land was held upon lease and was too dear, that the tenant in such cases should have the power of empaneling a jury to assess the real value in the same manner as the crown has the power of making an individual sell property required for what is called public works or conveniences according to the evaluation of a jury.47 He felt that the “law of primogeniture is the eldest son of class legislation upon corruption by idleness.”48 However, at the same time, he was opposed to socialism: I have ever been, and I think I ever shall be opposed to the principles of communism, as advocated by several theorists. I am, nevertheless, a strong advocate of cooperation, which means legitimate exchange, and which circumstances would compel individuals to adopt, to the extent that communism would be beneficial. I have generally found that the strongest advocates of communism are the most lazy members of society, — a class who would make a division of labor, adjudging to the most pliant and submissive the lion’s share of work, and contending that their natural implement was the brain, whilst that of the credulous was the spade, the plough, the sledge and the pickaxe. Communism either destroys wholesome emulation and competition, or else it fixes too high a price upon distinction, and must eventually end in the worst description of despotism . . . whilst, upon the other hand, individual possession and co-operation of labor creates a wholesome bond between all classes of society.49 O’Connor declared that Great Britain could support her own population if her lands were properly cultivated.50 As has been pointed out, he had no use for cooperative tillage; his plan was for peasant proprietorship. In his book A Practical Work on the Management of Small Farms he set forth his plan of resettling surplus factory workers on little holdings of from one to four acres. He held that the only possible way to raise wages was to remove surplus labor out of the manufacturers’ reach, and thus compel him to offer higher wages. He had no doubts of the yields obtainable under such spade-husbandry. A stock company in which working men could purchase land on the open market was proposed by him. The land was to be reconditioned, broken up into small plots, equipped with appropriate farm buildings and a cottage, and the new proprietor was to be given a small sum of money with which to buy stock. There were obvious defects in O’Connor’s land plan that he either did not see or consider important. Consideration was not given to the difficulty that would be encountered by town people, many who had never lived in the country, in becoming farmers. In addition, if his plan worked, the more land he bought the higher would become the price of future purchases. His plan was built upon the assumptions that land could be bought in unlimited quantities and at reasonable rates, and that all subscribers would be successful farmers who would repay promptly. In addition, few persons would have agreed with his optimistic calculations that prosperous farming could be carried on on such small scale and with the primitive methods that he advocated.51 His plan to push the Charter in the background in favor of his land plan caused a storm in the movement.52 But on 24 October 1846 the Chartist Cooperative Land Company, later known as the National Land Company, came into being after three years of preparation. A total of £112,100 was received in subscriptions,53 and with this six small estates were purchased and divided into smaller parcels. In May of 1847 the first of the estates was opened with ceremony at Herringsgate, renamed O’Connorsville. Of the development, O’Connor’s assistant, Ernest Jones, wrote: See there the cottage, labour’s own abode, The pleasant doorway on the cheerful road, The airy floor, the roof from storms secure, The merry fireside and the shelter sure, And, dearest charm of all, the grateful soil, That bears its produce for the hands that toil.54 Money came in at a remarkable rate, considering the poverty of most of the subscribers.55 The subscribers who got the land were chosen by ballot. They were to pay back with interest and ultimately all subscribers would be settled.56 The Labourer magazine was started by O’Connor and Jones to promote the project. Soon hundreds of households were settled, and an outcry of opposition went up from hostile Chartists, the press, the Poor Law authorities who feared the weight of their failures, and other quarters. Among the working men the prestige of Chartism was growing again. The land plan offered more immediate promise of help than the Charter with its long-range promises. O’Connor’s carelessness and inaccuracy with financial matters, as well as the free hand he had in purchasing land as he saw fit, were inherent weaknesses in the administration of the scheme.57 The plan would have soon collapsed had he not been an able promoter. In the same year O’Connor ran for parliament again and won over Hobhouse for the Nottingham seat. When he had taken his seat he proposed in The Labourer that the government take over the National Land Company to resettle the English peasantry on a large scale.58 His opposition within the Chartist movement accused him of being “no longer a ‘five point’ Chartist but a ‘five acre’ Chartist.”59 O’Connor replied to his critics in an appearance before a mass meeting of his partisans in Manchester. His followers demonstrated at this meeting how devoted they were to him. When O’Connor’s mismanagement began to take its toll, and the new farmers were having difficulties making a living, Parliament ordered an investigation. In the meantime, in April of 1848, a new petition was produced with about 6 million signatures, but an investigating committee in Parliament found that it contained not quite 2 million bonafide signatures. This came as a shock to O’Connor since his lieutenants had not let him know that all was not in order. Shortly after, on 6 June 1848, the result of the House of Common investigation was released. It was found that the National Land Company was an illegal scheme that would not fulfill the expectations held out to the shareholders and that the books had been imperfectly kept; in fact, O’Connor had lost by the company.60 The land plan was thus ended and the strength of the Chartist movement declined rapidly. These events so affected O’Connor that he steadily underwent a mental deterioration. He took to drinking more and more.61 Finally, in July 1849, the House of Commons voted on the Chartist petition and rejected it by 222 votes to 17. This was a considerable decline from the 46 and 49 votes, respectively, received for the two previous petitions. In 1850 O’Connor once more made a motion in favor of the Charter, but would not be heard. O’Connor was soon quarreling with all his old standby aides such as Ernest Jones and Julian Harney. The Star’s circulation dropped and it began losing money.62 His actions became more and more those of a person in mental straits. When he was involved in a scene in 1852 in the House of Commons with Becket Denison, he was removed by the Sergeant at arms, pronounced insane, and sent to Dr. Tuke’s private asylum at Chiswick, where he remained until 1854. His nephew, against doctors’ advice, took him at this time to his sister’s house at Notting Hill, and here he died penniless and insane on 30 August 1855. A public burial was held at Kensal Green on 10 September 1855, and 50,000 people attended. Most Chartists preferred to remember his virtues rather than his faults.63
CONCLUSION O’Connor had one fatal defect: his ideas were such a jumble that he could formulate no consistent policy.64 Among the jumble there did seem to be a consistent belief that he held throughout his days. He believed in a sort of democracy contingent upon a happy state of peasant tillage, a state in which each man was his own master and had his own land to work. Beyond this point nothing but a negativeness filled his thoughts. He hated oppression, and was truly sympathetic for the conditions of the Irish peasant who was ground down by absentee landlordship. In addition, he was very conscious of the vain struggle going on against the might of the machine and of the plight of the workers involved. Because of this he was looked upon by the wretched and oppressed all over England as a friend, and they continued to forgive and love him whatever he did amiss.65 With Chartism in ruin and his land scheme tumbling about him, he never lost his popularity, in spite of the fact that thousands had lost their money on the project. His agrarian plan had offered the worker hope of escape back to the blessed country of his childhood or of his parents’ tales, away from the Malthusian Bastile, and in support of it he was ready to give his every pence. O’Connor was irresponsible, up to a point, since he seemed unable to relate means to ends. When he finally saw where he was heading he would draw back. This would give his followers a false impression of what he was going to do. Lovett, the drafter of the Charter, felt nothing but disgust for O’Connor, and considered him the arch misleader of the people. From the first O’Connor was observed to be the type of gentleman adventurer that the drafter of the Charter wanted to keep out of the movement. Lovett had called him “the great ‘I am’ of politics”; Bronterre O’Brien nicknamed him “the dictator”; Roebuck called him “a cowardly and malignant demagogue,”“a rogue and a liar”; Francis Place said of him that he would use every means he could to lead and mislead the working people.66 These statements are as one-sided as they are unfair. Some people are leaders and some are followers. He was a natural leader who possessed great power of reading the minds of the people and of designing his plans of action according to the conditions and circumstances. He was a large hearted person whom Holyoake characterized as “the most impetuous and most patient of all tribunes who ever led the English Chartists.”67 Most historians have followed the leaders of the movement in judging O’Connor harshly. If the Chartist movement had been a winning movement, he might have been judged differently and have been called a shrewd strategist, but from the start he was in the position of leading a movement that could not possibly have succeeded. The aims of the Charter were things that were to come only gradually. Who strove for the patriots — was up night and day To save them from falling to tyrants a prey? Twas fearless O’Connor was diligent then: We’ll rally around him, again and again. from Lion of Freedom
FOOTNOTES1. G. D. H. Cole, Chartist Portraits(London, 1941), p. 308. 2. Thomas Frost, Forty Years of Recollection (London, 1880), p. 170. 3. Cole, ibid., p. 308. 4. Graham Wallas,”Feargus O’Connor”, Dictionary of National Biography, XIV (London, 1909), p. 845. 5. Cole, Op. Cit. 6. Frost, Op. Cit. 7. Ibid., p. 176. 8. Frazer’s Magazine, Vol. 37, 1848, p. 173. 9. Ibid. 10. F. F. Rosenblatt, The Chartist Movement (New York, 1916), p. 105. 11. Cork Southern Reporter, 4 June 1835. 12. Poor Man’s Guardian, 1833, p. 91. 13. Cole, Op. Cit., p. 304. 14. Mark Hovell, The Chartist Movement (London, 1918), p. 94. 15. Frazer’s, Op. Cit., p. 174. 16. Ibid., p. 175. 17. Ibid. 18. Ibid. 19. Ibid. 20. Francis Place, MS 27820, p. 159. 21. Northern Star, 17 April 1839. 22. English Chartist Circular, II, No. 64. 23. Ibid., No. 62. 24. Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, XXV (1834), p. 211-251.25. R. G. Gammage, History of the Chartist Movement (Newcastle on Tyme, 1894), p. 26. 26. Rosenblatt, Op. Cit., p. 110. 27. Cole, Op. Cit., p. 312. 28. Feargus O’Connor, Trial of Feargus O’Connor and 58 others at Lancaster (1843), Introduction. 29. Cole, Op. Cit., p. 302. 30. Place, Op. Cit., p. 135. 31. Wallace, Op. Cit., p. 846 32. Gammage, Op. Cit., p. 23. 33. Place, Op. Cit., p. 282. 34. The Nonconformist, 8 June 1842. 35. English Historical Review, (1889), p. 642. 36. Cole, Op. Cit., p. 315. 37. Ibid. 38. Ibid., p. 318. 39. Northern Star, 25 April 1840. 40. Cole, Op. Cit., p. 320. 41. Hovell, Op. Cit., p. 220. 42. Cole, Op. Cit., p. 300. 43. P. W. Slosson, The Decline of the Chartist Movement (New York, 1916), p. 61. 44. Gammage, Op. Cit., p. 102-104. 45. Thomas Cooper, Life of Thomas Cooper (London, 1872). 46. Rosenblatt, Op. Cit., p. 108. 47. English Chartist Circular, II, No. 67. 48. Feargus O’Connor, Remedy for National Poverty Impending Nationalization (1841).49. The Labourer, 1, (1847), p. 149. 50. Northern Star, 1 January 1842. 51. Slosson, Op. Cit., p. 86-87. 52. Cole, Op. Cit., p. 326. 53. Wallas, Op. Cit., p. 847. 54. Northern Star, 22 August 1846. 55. Cole, Op. Cit., p. 329. 56. The Labourer, III, p. 57. 57. Slosson, Op. Cit., p. 87. 58. The Labourer, II, p. 154. 59. John Watkin, Impeachment of Feargus O’Connor (1843), p. 20. 60. Parliamentary Papers, XIX, 207 (1847-48), p. 34. 61. Frost, Op. Cit., p. 183. 62. Cole, Op. Cit., p. 334. 63. Ibid., p. 325. 64. Ibid., p. 301. 65. Ibid. 66. Rosenblatt, Op. Cit., p. 107-108. 67. G. J. Holyoake, Sixty Years of an Agitator’s Life (London, 1900), I, p. 106.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Cole, G. D. H., Chartist Portraits, London, 1941. 378 pp. Cole, G.D.H. and Postgate, R. W., The Common People, London, 1938. 671 pp. Cooper, Thomas, Life of Thomas Cooper, London, 1872. 400 pp. Frost, Thomas, 40 Years of Recollection, London, 1880. 347 pp. Gammage, R. G. History of the Chartist Movement, Newcastle -on-Tyne, 1894. 438 pp. Hammond, J. L. and Barbara, Age of the Chartists, London, 1930. 386 pp. Holyoake, G. J., Sixty Years of an Agitators Life, London, 1900. 2 Vols. Hovell, Mark, The Chartist Movement, London, 1918. 327 pp. Lovett, William, Life and Struggles of William Lovett, London, 1876. 473 pp. Rosenblatt, F. F., Chartist Movement in its Social and Economic Aspects, New York 1916. 248 pp. Slosson, P. W., Decline of the Chartist Movement, New York, 1961. 216 pp.West, Julius., History of the Chartist Movement, London, 1920. 316 pp.
O’CONNOR, FEARGUSSome booksPractical Work on the Management of Small Farms. 1843. Remedy for National Poverty Impending Nationalization. 1841. Some pamphletsEngland’s May-Day. 1847. State of Ireland. 1822. The Land . . . Trial of Feargus O’Connor and 58 Others at Lancaster. 1843.
# [http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CHoconnor.htm Spartacus entry on O'Connor]
# [http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CHkennington.htm Spartacus entry on the Kennington mass meeting]
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