The Chartist movement emerged out of the London Working Men’s Association in 1836.
Several of the leaders of this group were already involved in publishing radical newspapers. Henry Hetherington had been the publisher of the very popular The Poor Man’s Guardian and James Watson had edited the Working Man’s Friend.
In 1836 John Cleave was the publisher and editor of the most successful radical newspaper in Britain. Cleave’s the Weekly Police Gazette was selling over 40,000 copies a week.
As well as providing information on the latest crimes in Britain, Cleave’s newspaper also campaigned for the Chartist movement. William Lovett, the leader of the Chartists, also edited a newspaper, The Charter.
This newspaper was much more intellectual in its approach that the Weekly Police Gazette and only managed to sell 6,000 copies a week. Another newspaper that supported the Chartists in 1836 was The Champion, a journal inspired by the ideas of William Cobbett.
The Charter, The Champion and the Weekly Police Gazette, were all written and published by supporters of Moral Force Chartism.
The supporters of the Physical Force Chartists felt that there was a need for a newspaper that represented their views.
In 1837, Feargus O’Connor, the Leeds representative of the London Working Mens’ Association, decided to establish a weekly radical newspaper in Yorkshire.
The first edition of the Northern Star was published on 26th May, 1838. Within four months of starting publication, O’Connor’s newspaper was selling 10,000 copies a week.
The success of the Northern Star encouraged other Chartists to publish newspapers.
This included newspapers edited by George Julian Harney (Democrat and the Red Republican); Bronterre O’Brien (The Southern Star and The Northern Liberator) and Thomas Cooper (The Illuminator and The Extinguisher).
One of the most popular Chartist newspapers was the Scottish Chartist Circular and for a while sold 22,000 copies a week.
In 1851 Ernest Jones and George Julian Harney started a new radical newspaper, The Friend of the People. Jones wrote: “The very first, the most essential requisite of a movement is to have an organ to record its proceedings, to communicate through, with its several branches – to appeal through, to exhort through, to speak through, to defend through, to teach through.
A movement that has not the mighty organ of the press at its command is but half a movement – it is a disenfranchised cause, dependent on others, pensioned on others, pauper on others for the expression of its opinions.”
After a dispute with Harney in 1851, Jones started his own journal, The People’s Paper. Jones attempted to publish what he hoped would be a “complete newspaper”. As well as news of the Chartist movement, The People’s Paper included reports of parliamentary debates, public meeting and what Jones called “legal, political, mercantile and general intelligence.”
The newspaper became a socialist newspaper and one of his main contributors included Karl Marx, who was now living in exile in London.
The circulation figures of these newspapers reflected the fortunes of the Chartist movement.
For example, the sales of the Northern Star fell from 50,000 in 1839 to 1,200 a week in 1851. In April 1852 Feargus O’Connor sold the Northern Star to its former editor, George Julian Harney.
Harney merged it with the Friend of the People and called his new paper, the Star of Freedom. However, the Star of Freedom only survived a few months and in December, 1852, the last of the Chartist newspapers came to an end.