London Radicalism 1830-1843 A Selection of the Papers of Francis Place. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1970.
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An Address from the provisional committee for the establishment of a weekly newspaper, entitled THE CHARTER, devoted to the interests of the working classes, the profits of which are to be placed at their disposal.
Of all the various instruments for promoting the great interests of society, and carrying forward the work of civilization and social happiness, there is none at once so potent and so generally available as the Newspaper Press. It dispenses knowledge at the same time that it supplies motive for action; it appeals alike to the judgment and the feelings; and by commanding a wide sphere for its operations—by introducing itself into the privacies of domestic life, and inciting and rewarding the thirst for novelty common to all men, it unobtrusively and imperceptibly changes the aspect of social life, and implants new elements in society.
But it is not only as an instrument of good that the Newspaper Press may be employed, it has a like potency for evil; and in the hands of bad men it may become the means of diminishing, instead of augmenting, the sum of human happiness.
When the Newspaper Press is employed for party purposes—for advancing the objects of particular classes—for securing political or civil immunities for any one section of society, at the expense of the rest—for creating or maintaining monopolies, commercial or political—for giving an undue preponderance to capital over labour, by artificially increasing the power of the one, and unjustly curtailing the rights of the other—for promoting and protecting combinations against the people, and assailing, maligning, and deprecating union amongst them;—in a word, whenever the Newspaper Press is employed to separate the interests of society as a whole, and to secure for one class immunities and enjoyments not equally distributed amongst all, it then becomes an instrument of surpassing evil, disorganizing the community, and creating and calling into active operation all those malificent influences, social and political, which have in bye-gone times involved states and empires in intestine wars and ultimate ruin.
It would not comport with the necessary brevity of such an Address as the present, to inquire in how far the present state of society, and of the working population in particular, is attributable to the misdirection of the Public Press. Suffice it to say, that every class, save the labouring class, has its representative in the Newspaper Press. Commercial capitalists, the monetary classes, the shipping interest, the legal and medical professions, and jobbers and speculators of every description, find in this the ready and powerful instrument for advancing their own immediate objects, and for modifying the proceedings of the legislature and the government in their favour.
Why are the Working Classes alone destitute of this mighty auxiliary? Their numbers, their intelligence, their thirst for knowledge, and, above all, their multifarious grievances, and the necessity for well sustained selfexertion, in order to effect their removal, render the possession of such an instrument of self-advancement and social and political emancipation, of all objects the most desirable.
The Newspaper Press, daily and weekly, is the property of capitalists, who have embarked in the enterprise upon purely commercial principles, and with the purpose of making it contributive to their own personal and pecuniary interests. It is the course that is profitable, therefore, and not the course that is just, which necessarily secures their preference. So long as it is deemed compatible with the main object of newspaper capitalists to advocate the claims and interests of the labouring classes, will that advocacy be afforded; when it ceases to be so considered, it will be at once abandoned. It may and does happen, therefore, that many a time when the working population stands most in need of a free organ of communication, a broad shield of defence, or an active weapon of attack, that one upon which their reliance is placed will wholly fail them; and not unfrequently has it, in the day of their utmost extremity, been handed over to their antagonists.
But, let it be supposed that no such unfavourable contingency attached itself to the existing Newspaper Press; it is, nevertheless, obvious to ask, why so large and really powerful a section of society, as that constituted by the labouring classes, should consent to remain in a position which compels them to receive as a favour what they might secure as a right? Why should they not—like the other and more favoured classes in society—have their own Press, instead of being reduced to a passive and humiliating reliance on the Press of those who can have but little sympathy with their wants or wishes, and who only render them service so long as such service can be made subservient to their own individual gain? And why, furthermore, should they not themselves enjoy the pecuniary profits, as well as the public services, to be derived from the publication of a well-conducted Newspaper? No reason can be given why this should not be the case; the only matter for surprise is, that no well considered plan has hitherto been devised for the purpose of realizing so desirable an object.
First.—To secure for the Working Classes a Weekly Newspaper, of the size and price of the Weekly Dispatch, and in no way inferior to that Paper in any of its literary qualities or mechanical features: a Weekly Newspaper which shall advocate unflinchingly and uncompromisingly the right of all men to full and equal representation in the legislature, and all those other essentials of just government embodied in the 'People's Charter,' also a national and liberal system of education, as well as those social and commercial reforms identified with the permanent interests of the people at large; and which shall, in its miscellaneous department, include all those matters of novelty and interest necessary to constitute a popular Weekly Journal.
Secondly.—To constitute out of the profits, derivable from the sale and advertisements of such a Paper, a fund available for any object which shall be deemed promotive of the individual or collective comforts and interests of that class for whose special benefit the paper is proposed to be established; and to place such fund, moreover, at the sole and entire disposal of its delegated representatives.
To expatiate upon the importance of such a project, or upon the great objects that may be realized by carrying it into effect, is wholly unnecessary. It is enough to advert to the fact, that profits amounting to from £20,000 to £30,000 a year, are derived from more than one Weekly Newspaper, now supported almost wholly by the labouring classes, to indicate what might be effected for themselves, by such a union and co-operation as is now proposed. With a fund of such an amount as that just referred to, what might not the industrious population of this country do for themselves, and what advances might they not make towards improving the character of society at large! They would in such a fund have resources adequate to meet at once the demands of distress and destitution, the aggressive movements of commercial capitalists, and the unjust proceedings of the legislature or the government. They would be relieved from the degrading necessity of soliciting the eleemosynary aid of others to educate their children, or to relieve their own distresses, when the stagnation of trade or the embarrassments of commerce temporarily deprived them of the ordinary means of subsistence. In the pursuit of social and political reforms, it need not be said that such a fund would be found of the highest value and importance, enabling them steadily and perseveringly to press after objects, which their present limited and uncertain means compel them now to pursue with many intermissions and much lack of energy. To realize all this, nothing is necessary beyond the co-operation and support of the Working Classes themselves. They will not be asked to contribute to the fund to be created, otherwise than by diverting into it the moneys they now put into the private purses of newspaper proprietors. It is proposed to publish a Weekly Paper, of large size, which shall be conducted by men of first-rate talent and long tried patriotism and service, on behalf of the class to whose interests such Paper is to be devoted. All that is required to insure its success, and render it a source of considerable profit, is, that it should be purchased by those amongst whom it is proposed to distribute the profits. A wide circulation for the Paper, and a proportionate demand for its advertising columns, are the two things necessary to achieve the object proposed; and the former will inevitably secure the latter.
Having thus adverted to the object and advantages proposed to be achieved by The People's Paper, it remains to show in what manner it is intended to place the profits to be derived from the undertaking at the disposal of those by whom they are to be contributed.
1. It is proposed that any Trade's Union, Benefit Society, Political or Social Association, or other organized body of persons coming under the denomination of working men, which shall obtain fifty subscribers to the Paper, shall participate in the management of the fund, by electing, annually, one of their own body to serve upon the committee hereafter provided for; and an additional delegate for every fifty subscribers.
2. It is proposed that the funds derived from the profits of the Paper shall be placed under the management of a committee, constituted of the delegates appointed by the several societies or bodies of men, in conformity with the provision of the preceding paragraph. All questions in committee to be decided by a majority of votes.
4. It is proposed that the editorship and literary management of the Paper shall be confided to the person with whom the project for its establishment originated; who has been for many years connected with the Newspaper Press of the metropolis; who has given ample evidence of his unceasing devotion to the interests of the Working Classes; and who is ready to enter into the most satisfactory sureties for sustaining the political, literary, and other necessary characteristics of a popular Newspaper. The financial management of the property will be vested in the committee provided for in clause 2.
The establishment of such a Paper, and the consequent realization of the advantages above adverted to, cannot of course be effected without an earnest and well-directed effort being made by the class of persons for whose benefit they are intended. Nor can we think that they will refuse to make such an effort on their own behalf, now they are called upon to do so. They are not required to incur any risk, or the contingency of any pecuniary loss; they are offered a Weekly Newspaper, at least equal in size and general interest to any one now extant; devoted, moreover, to the advancement of their own interests, and placing at their disposal all the profits to be derived from its circulation. They are called upon merely to co-operate with the provisional committee in their attempt to achieve this desirable object, by first resolving to purchase the Paper themselves, and next, by inducing as many other persons as they can to purchase it also. This Appeal is made in the full confidence that it will not be in vain. The opportunity now offered to the Working Classes of possessing themselves of at once a powerful instrument of social and political advancement, and of large profits, will not, it is believed, be suffered to pass by unimproved. 'A long pull, a strong pull, and a pull altogether,' and the thing is done. The extent and importance of the result no man can adequately estimate.
It is earnestly requested that this Address may be read in every Trades' Society, Benefit Society, Political Union, Social Association, and in all other bodies of the Working Classes; and that the respective secretaries of such Societies, severally, do communicate to the secretary of the provisional committee, as early as possible, the number of subscribers to the Paper, whose names can be handed over to the committee, so that the necessary instructions may be forthwith given for the election of a member from each society comprising fifty subscribers, to serve upon the committee for managing the funds to be derived from the Paper.
Any two or more societies, not having a sufficient number of members each to furnish fifty subscribers, may unite to elect a member to serve upon the committee; and societies at too great a distance from town to send a delegate to the committee, may empower the representative of any other society to act and vote for them.
All Secretaries and Officers of Societies, as well as all persons desirous of obtaining Subscribers to this Paper, are requested to forward the names and addresses of such Subscribers to the Secretary (post paid), 6, Upper North Place, Gray's Inn Road, of whom copies of this Address may be obtained; also of Mr. Hartwell, 85, Cornwall Road; of any Member of the Committee; and of Mr. Dooley, Bell Inn, Old Bailey, where the Committee will meet for the present. Friends in the Country willing to assist in this project, are solicited to form themselves into a Provisional Committee, for the purpose of obtaining Subscribers, and to communicate with the Committee in London.
***The outline of the propositions contained in the above Address, was submitted to a numerous Meeting of Members of Trade Societies at the Bell Inn, Old Bailey, on Friday, September 7th, 1838, by a gentleman, long connected with the Public Press as an editor and a reporter. A Committee was formed from that Meeting to investigate into the practicability of the undertaking, who, after a patient inquiry, reported in favour of the proposition at a subsequent Meeting; also stating that they had made an estimate of the expenses on a liberal scale, with the number of copies necessary to be sold to clear them; and that as soon as a sufficient number of Subscribers should be obtained, the projectors of the Paper would bring out the first number. It was thereupon resolved that the above Address should be published; and that those persons whose names are attached, should form a Provisional Committee, with power to add to their number, to carry the object into effect.