The formation of the London Workingmen's Association

Pages 146-160

London Radicalism 1830-1843: A Selection of the Papers of Francis Place. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1970.

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86. [Add. Ms. 27819, ff. 32-5]

This was the first of a series of proceedings of a public kind taken by the working people in their own name, and emanating from a formal body which led to matters of very extensive and serious importance, and has in many cases proved disastrous mainly from want of patient perseverance. The false notions of their leaders, and the ready acquiescence of the too credulous people, faults from which it was not possible for the working people to be free from, any more than those are who are better off in the world, and better educated, and having much more leisure than men who are compelled to work twelve hours a day for a subsistence. These facets may indeed be said to pervade every class and are amongst the greatest impediments to improvement.

It will have been seen that there was great difficulty in getting up the Working Mens Association, that it required much time perseverance care and temper, and it may be fairly inferred that few men could have gone on with it as Dr Black did, and still fewer who could have established it as he did. The circumstances are curious in themselves and serve to shew how very difficult it is where there is no sinister interest in any of the parties to promote and consequently no disposition to pander to the mistaken notions of the people to induce them to become active in forming and conducting societies calculated to promote their own well being, the good to be done being remote. To shew this and to satisfy the readers that this was not a wild speculation got up to promote the personal advantage or to gratify the love of distinction of some silly person are amongst the reasons why this account, which is only a sketch has been written.

The plan of proceeding did not please many whose want of knowledge of the actual condition and notions of the disappointed disorganized working people, led them to anticipate proceedings by large bodies of them, some therefore who had taken part in the previous proceedings, abandoned the association, quarrelled with its members and in their eagerness to become notorious—popular—as they believed made an effort to form an association more conformable with their own notions.

At the head of these were Mr Feargus O Connor and Augustus Hardin [sic] Beaumont.

Feargus O Connor was the son of Roger O Connor the brother of Arthur O Connor who had been an exile in the United States of America ever since the Irish Rebellion in 1798. Feargus O Connor became a member of the House of Commons after the passing of the Reform Bills in 1832, and since he has ceased to be a member of Parliament he has taken whatever means he could to lead and mislead the working people. His associate Beaumont was a very extraordinary man, his excentricities [sic] sometimes bordered upon insanity, but he meant well to the working people at all times, even when his actions were most likely to be injurious to them. He would have served them had he known how but the abberrations [sic] of his intellect led him to adopt measures which while they injured him in his pecuniary concerns were producing consequences to them directly the reverse of his intentions.

The unfortunate state of Mr Beaumont and the ignorant self-willed perseverance of Mr O Connor were great impediments to the progress of the working people in the right way and the consequences of the exertions of these two men were the disunion and holding back of very considerable numbers of working people.

The first endeavour of O Connor and Beaumont was to prevent the publication of the Address of the working mens Association. Failing in this they next endeavoured by causing dissention among the members of the association to break it up, and failing to accomplish this, by direct means, they hoped to accomplish it by indirect means, they attempted to establish an 'Universal Suffrage Club', in the expectation that they should be able to induce them to become members of it.

Their proposition went to this, that the men who composed the club, instead of conducting their own affairs, should submit to have them ordered by O Connor and Beaumont, to this the working men would not consent, the society they had formed being an experiment for the purpose of ascertaining how far the men of their own class were able and willing to conduct their own affairs without leaders from any other rank in society.

Failing in this project, they set another on foot and on the 10 of June they published a paper headed thus.

'At a General Meeting of the Central Committee of the Metropolitan Radical Unions (there were no such unions in existence F.P.) held at the True Sun Office on Friday the 10 June 1836 for the purpose of forming a Working Mans Club, it was resolved,—unanimously that the following prospectus of the Club be published in the True Sun—Radical—and Unstamped Newspapers.'

This was followed by another address dated the 17 June.

These addresses were both signed

Feargus O'Connor Treasurer John Russell


On the 24 June there was another pretended meeting of the Central Committee for forming a Working Mans Club, and an address was voted, this was followed by another to the Radical Reformers of Manchester from the pretended Universal Suffrage Club. The entrance to this Club was, it said, 20/- to be paid quarterly, and it was announced, 'That in consequence of representations being made by several bodies of working men of the high rate of entrance and subscription which would exclude them from becoming members of the Club. It was resolved to meet the wishes of the working men the entrance should be 2/6 and the annual subscription 10/payable quarterly.'

Neither of these associations were established.