Address of the German Democratic Communists of Brussels To Mr. Feargus O'Connor

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The address of the Brussels Communist Correspondence Committee to the Chartist leader Feargus O'Connor was written in connection with his victory at the Nottingham election meeting early in July 1846, when he stood for erection to the House of Commons. Voting at such meetings (up to 1872) was by show of hands, and all present took part in it. However, only “legitimate” electors (those having property and other qualifications) could take part in subsequent ballot — in which, consequently, candidates who had been outvoted by show of hands could be declared elected. Despite this anti-democratic system, O'Connor was duly elected to Parliament at the August 1847 ballot.

The address of the Brussels Communists was read at a regular meeting of the Fraternal Democrats held on July 20, 1846 and was warmly received there (see The Northern Star No. 454, July 25, 1846).

Sir. — We embrace the occasion of your splendid success at the Nottingham election to congratulate you, and through you the English Chartists, on this signal victory. We consider the defeat of a Free-Trade minister at the show of hands by an enormous Chartist majority, and at the very time, too, when Free-Trade principles are triumphant in the Legislature,[1] we consider this, Sir, as a sign that the working classes of England are very well aware of the position they have to take after the triumph of Free Trade. We conclude from this fact that they know very well that now, when the middle classes have carried their chief measure, when they have only to replace the present weak go-between cabinet by an energetical, really middle-class ministry, in order to be the acknowledged ruling class of your country, that now the great struggle of capital and labour, of bourgeois and proletarian must come to a decision. The ground is now cleared by the retreat of the landed aristocracy from the contest; middle class and working class are the only classes betwixt whom there can be a possible struggle. The contending parties have their respective battle-cries forced upon them by their interests and mutual position: — the middle class — “extension of commerce by any means whatsoever, and a ministry of Lancashire cotton-lords to carry this out”; — the working class — “a democratic reconstruction of the Constitution upon the basis of the People’s Charter” [2] by which the working class will become the ruling class of England. We rejoice to see the English working men fully aware of this altered state of parties; of the new period Chartist agitation has entered into with the final defeat of the third party, the aristocracy; of the prominent position which Chartism henceforth will and must occupy, in spite of the “conspiracy of silence” of the middle-class press; and finally, of the new task, which by these new circumstances has devolved upon them. That they are quite aware of this task is proved by their intention to go to the poll at the next general election.

We have to congratulate you, Sir, in particular, upon your brilliant speech at the Nottingham election, and the striking delineation given in it of the contrast between working-class democracy and middle-class liberalism.

We congratulate you besides on the unanimous vote of confidence in you, spontaneously passed by the whole Chartist body on the occasion of Thomas Cooper, the would-be respectable’s calumnies.[3] The Chartist party cannot but profit by the exclusion of such disguised bourgeois, who, while they show off with the name of Chartist for popularity’s sake, strive to insinuate themselves into the favour of the middle classes by personal battery o their literary representatives (such as the Countess of Blessington, Charles Dickens, D. Jerrold, and other “friends” of Cooper’s), and by propounding such base and infamous old women’s doctrines as that of “non-resistance”.

Lastly, Sir, we have to thank you and your coadjutors for the noble and enlightened manner in which The Northern Star is conducted. We hesitate not a moment in declaring that the Star is the only English newspaper (save, perhaps, the People’s Journal, which we know from the Star only), which knows the real state of parties in England; which is really and essentially democratic; which is free from national and religious prejudice; which sympathises with the democrats and working men (now-a-days the two are almost the same), all over the world; which in all these points speaks the mind of the English working class, and therefore is the only English paper really worth reading for the continental democrats. We hereby declare that we shall do everything in our power to extend the circulation of The Northern Star on the continent, and to have extracts from it translated in as many continental papers as possible.

We beg to express these sentiments, Sir, as the acknowledged representatives of many of the German Communists in Germany, for all their relations with foreign democrats.

For the German Democratic Communists of Brussels.

The Committee,
Ph. Gigot

Brussels, July 17th, 1846

  1. The reference is to the Repeal of the Corn Laws passed in June 1846. (On the Corn Laws see Note 28.) The movement for the repeal of the Corn Laws was led by the Anti-Corn Law League founded in 1838 by the Manchester manufacturers Cobden and Bright. Acting under the slogan of unrestricted free trade the League fought to weaken the economic and political position of the landed aristocracy and at the same time to reduce workers’ wages.
  2. The People’s Charter, which contained the demands of the Chartists, was published on May 8, 1838, in the form of a Bill to be submitted to Parliament. It consisted of six clauses: universal suffrage (for men of 21 years of age), annual elections to Parliament, secret ballot, equal constituencies, abolition of property qualifications for candidates to Parliament, and salaries for M.P.s. In 1839 and 1842 petitions for the Charter were rejected by Parliament. In 1847-48 the Chartists renewed a mass campaign for the Charter.
  3. Early in June 1846 Thomas Cooper started a campaign against O'Connor. In particular he accused him of misusing the funds of the Chartist Cooperative Land Society (later called the National Land Company) founded by the Chartist leader in 1845 (see Note 162). Cooper set forth his accusations in an open letter “To the London Chartists” (published in June 1846 in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper) and in other statements. In answer to this, O'Connor wrote two letters: “To the Members of the Chartist Cooperative Land Society” and “To the Fustian jackets, the Blistered Hands, and Unshorn Chins”, published in The Northern Star Nos. 448 and 449, of June 13 and 20, 1846. The latter issue carried also numerous statements by Chartist organisations expressing confidence in O'Connor.