Chartism was a general rubric for a range of working-class protest movements in England from the 1830s to 1848, named for the People's Charter, which was published in May 1838. The six points of social reform listed advocated were: 1) universal suffrage for men; 2) the secret ballot; 3) removal of property qualifications for Members of Parliament; 4) salaries for Members of Parliament; 5) electoral districts representing equal numbers of people; 6) annually elected parliaments. Chartism was a very widespread popular reform movement which involved several massive petitions to Parliament (ranging from 1,280,000 to 3,000,000 signatures), all of which were rejected, to public riots. Particularly in the context of European revolution in the late 1840s, it seemed a major threat to the government and structure of authority in England. However, the movement peaked in 1848 and dwindled in the relative prosperity of the following years.
Carlyle's pamphlet was published in 1839 shortly after Chartism began making itself felt as a major political movement in Britain. It expresses his dismay over the alienation of the working classes, the apparent break-down of social order and risk of revolution, and the deficiencies of the upper classes. "Laissez-faire" contains a critique of classical economic theory and argues that economic ties, or "Cash Payment", are an inadequate foundation for society.
Chartism on the Victorian Web
Annotated Bibliography on Chartism