Birmingham Political Union

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The meeting of the Birmingham Political Union on 16 May 1832, attended by 200,000, painted by Benjamin Haydon

The Birmingham Political Union was a political organisation in Great Britain during the early nineteenth century. Founded by Thomas Attwood, its original purpose was to campaign in favour of extending and redistributing suffrage rights to the working class of the kind set out in the Reform Bill of March 1831 which when passed became the 1832 Reform Act. It included both middle-class and working-class members.

Early years[edit]

The Union was founded in 1830; its first meeting was attended by approximately 15,000 people. Its stated aim was to campaign for reform of the House of Commons, 'to be achieved by a general political union of the lower and middle classes of the people'.

Methods[edit]

Unlike some other radical political organisations of the period, the Birmingham Political Union used mainly law-abiding, non-violent methods, and had a greater claim to be a 'respectable' movement than most such organisations. However, the organisation had a large membership, and the government of the time feared the consequences if it took up arms; during the Days of May in 1832, when 200,000 people attended a meeting of the Union, rumours that the Union would take up arms contributed to the pressure on the house of Lords to pass the 1832 Reform Act.

Later[edit]

After the successful passage of the Reform Act, the Birmingham Political Union disbanded. However, in 1838, Attwood announced that the organisation would be re-formed, in response to public disappointment at the limitations of the Reform Act. The Union quickly became linked with the Chartist movement (see Chartism).

Sources[edit]

Birmingham Political Union (act. 1829–1839), Nancy LoPatin Lummis, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, OUP 2004-08

Britain 1783-1851; From Disaster To Triumph?, Evers and Welbourne, 2003