The Northern Star

The “Northern Star” was a chartist newspaper owned by physical force leader Fergus O’Connor. The meaning of the phrase “The Northern Star” will be different for all who look at it. We can break this down into two main thoughts and two different groups of people. The first group is the government. To the government to the government this would symbolise the people of Britain becoming less threatened by them and also the want for reform and a possible revolution so naturally the government was scared by it.

The second group of people that this phrase would mean something to were the chartists themselves. This group can be broken down into two further sub-groups. The physical force chartists and the moral force chartists. I will first deal with the physical force chartists, as it is they that shape the view of the moral force opposition that they battle internally. To the physical force chartist the phrase “The Northern Star” was significant because it was the way that they could hear news from the view of the disadvantaged in society and communicate with their leader Fergus O’Connor.

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The other thing that it meant for them was organisation if events were advertised far enough in advance then they would be able to prepare for it and there would be a larger group of them. The last thing that it meant to the physical force chartists it could mean to the moral force chartists also and that is standing up to the government by not paying stamp duty for their paper which was an extortionate amount of money. It showed the government that they were a force to be reckoned with. This also meant a lot to the moral force chartists. To them it meant the collapse of their strength of unity.

William Lovett the moral force leader described it as a ‘Destructive influence’ and ‘Destroying everything intellectual and moral in our movement’. He also described O’Connor the man in charge of the “Northern Star” the ‘Chief trouble maker of our movement’ however he did acknowledge that O’Connor and he were part of the same movement just trying to achieve their aims in different ways. Although these are just the main groups that the phrase applied to there was others but these are the largest and most significant, and although it meant different things to each of them, it connected them and perhaps was a cause of conflict between them.

The physical force chartists are a very important in the chartist movement. There are a few reasons for this and I will discuss them in my answer. If we study source B we see a scene of chaotic madness and unrest. The physical force chartists were the cause of this and if it had just been the moral force chartists they may not have been noticed this is because they were the ones that made Chartism “dangerous” to the government. The moral force chartists were trying as we see from source A “The chartists say they will start a month the of action – the Sacred Month” this meant industrial action of strike across all industries.

Although this was a good idea, it would not work, as the lower classes did not have enough money to act this out. The author of the source says how the army has physical force however it sounds a lot like he believes that the Physical Force chartists are a threat and need to be taken out before lasting damage has been done. Again referring to source B we can see that ordinary people have been dragged into the conflict which is another reason that the government found them a danger because they do not seem to care who gets hurt as long as they get their way along with the fact that the chartists did not comply with the riot act.

This shows us that they would try anything to stop them. So in conclusion physical force chartists are very important in the movement for as they were one of the reasons for the failure of the movement. If they had not emerged then the government would probably turned a blind eye to chartism. There are many factors to consider when looking at how reliable a source is. In this context, we need to look at who wrote it, when they wrote it and why they wrote it. Source A Is from Sir Charles Napier who was a commanding officer in the army and he wrote this piece in 1957 after the event.

When looking at this it is from his memoirs so there are clear dangers involved in using this source as a “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” source. The source may be slightly exaggerated what he is saying because he wants to try and make himself sound better. The other thing about this source is that it uses present tense looking into the future. “They will be hanged in their hundreds” this shows us that although the chartists that he fought against may not still be there or part of the movement he still feels that because they challenged his authority they need to be punished.

However as it is written from first hand account we know that the facts have a higher chance of being correct and not misunderstood. Source C is from Lord Shaftesbury who was a reformer in the Tory party writing in an article called Infant “Labour” in a political periodical called “The Quarterly Review”. There are a few positive things about this source they are that as it is not one of the people in power and then he may tell this more to the truth without a haze of personal opinion. This source however is written by a Tory and so his idea of reform may be slightly different to the idea of reform of the Whigs.

Also he only wants to make things better for the children and doesn’t want to reform the things for the Chartists. He also is not happy about the first reform act but he is happy with everything else apart from the children. These sources are reliable to explain part of the situation in 1839-1840 however they do not give you a full scope of the situation for instance neither the Poor Law nor the Corn Law. Then we can say that these sources are unreliable unless you use them with other sources. When looking at any source we must look at who wrote it to determine its reliability.

William Lovett the moral force chartist leader wrote source D and so the source may be slightly opinionated against O’Connor. Source E was written by James Epstein who was a historian in 1975. We can hope that his source is impartial to personal belief. There is great contrast between these two sources and both think different things. Source D says “I regard Fergus O’Connor as the chief trouble maker of our movement” this us shows us that he has great disregard for O’Connor. However the author of Source E says “O’Connor has been often misunderstood” this tells us that they both have very different feelings about O’Connor.

Source E says that one of his greatest strengths was “his constant efforts to bring a national perspective to local working-class agitation” I believe that this is referring to his paper “The Northern Star” which is also mentioned in source D “his destructive influence in the Northern Star” Epstein believes that the Northern Star was a good thing as it brought Chartists together and also expanded the movement by introducing it to more people. However Lovett thought that it weakened the movement, which to an extent it did but I believe that it also strengthened the movement as it brought more people into it.

Source D said that “Calling up a spirit of hate, intolerance, and brute feeling, previously unknown among reformers” whereas Source E disagrees and says “their support was founded upon astute political judgement stemming from their own political experience” in other words he is saying that the supporters were supporting them because they had a leader whereas before he was on the scene so to speak there was no one to lead them. These two sources are contradictory of each other however the one thing that they do agree with is that the main followers are the working classes.