How do these sources show why O’Connor, “unquestionably the best loved, as well as the most hated man in the Chartist movement”, become its leader? Essay

O’Connor is seen to be the most loved man in the Chartist movement. Harney speaks of him as having a strong physical frame, a loud voice which is seen as important reasons as to why he’s the natural leader of Chartism. He’s acknowledging that O’Connor is not perfect but he has all the qualities that a leader should hold. They are supported by the cartoon from the middle class magazine Punch (in source 4), which whilst ridiculing O’Connor, emphasises his heroic, muscular figure.

In source 2, Gammage – who is an enemy of O’Connor – echoes what Harney believes by describing him as being “stout and athletic”. Gammage is being intellectual by admitting this as he doesn’t normally compliment O’Connor because of his dislike for the man. The source is very qualified and also clear why Gammage thinks he was successful and popular.

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In source 4, Thomas Cooper an admirer of O’Connor, wrote a song in which he compares him to a “champion to be”. The poem speaks of how he’s willing to fight for liberty, universal suffrage and shows him as a loving principle. It portrays O’Connor as a heroic leader fighting tyranny of the 1832 Reform and horrors of living in the Industrial Revolution.

It therefore links in with the Punch cartoon in source 5 by showing O’Connor shaking the tree of constitution and alarming the government as well as showing the anger of the British public who don’t want a revolution.

Source 5, a cartoon from Punch was the most popular paper for the middle classes, interprets O’Connor as a broad, muscular leader which agrees with what Gammage and Harney said. He’s seen as a hero to the working class, which reinforces that aspect from the song in source 4. The cartoon implies respect and sympathy but perhaps not in an agreement.

However, some did not agree he was the right leader. In source 3, Francis Place believed him to be false. He said this because O’Connor was editor of the Northern Star so therefore had access to change what was said about him. He says O’Connor was only popular as he did not tell the truth and that his actions in the paper were to achieve “absurd and mischievous popularity”. Francis Place was against Socialist ideas and therefore persisted with his hatred for O’Connor for a long time along side with Gammage, who were both supporters of the ‘peaceful’ Chartist William Lovett who had believed in Moral Force.

Dorothy Thompson disagrees with Francis Place, by saying that even though he was the editor, he gave all views which made it unbiased. She supports Harney in source 1 when he says “…he never interferes with what I write in the paper nor does he know what I write until he sees the paper”.

Gammage didn’t want O’Connor to be leader, as he thought “Vincent by far was his superior” (source 2). He did not believe he was appropriate to lead the movement and felt there were others which were better suited. Gammage spoke of O’Connor’s life as “…a series of mistakes and contradictions” which may have implied his failure of the 1845 Land Plan. He blames O’Connor for why Chartism was unsuccessful and didn’t approve of his violence. But Gammage has no evidence to support his comments and because it was written in 1856 after the movement failed, he was seeking ways to blame him. He speaks of him as bright but “erratic” and that his physical force tactics were wrong. This interpretation undermines what Gammage had said previously when praising O’Connor for his leadership qualities.

Although source 5 is purposed to ridicule, it is only the view of the cartoonist and wasn’t deliberately made to angry anyone. This source is open to interpretation as is shows O’Connor fighting the ruling elite by attacking the constitution. In the cartoon, this makes “the lion” i.e. the public angry. Cooper’s song in source 4 suggests the reverse.

Gammage and the middle class suggest O’Connor intended a violent revolution, but this idea is denied by Harney.

Harney describes O’Connor’s physical frame, ability to speak and loud voice as qualities of leadership.

Gammage and the Punch cartoon show agreement. The fact that Gammage, who as a supporter of Lovett and loathed O’Connor and the middle class publication who feared and dismissed the Chartists, emphasise the importance of O’Connor’s appearance and abilities.

Harney is obviously biased as a friend of O’Connor but he was an experienced revolutionary so his judgement is valid. Harney knows the English don’t want a violent continental revolution and acknowledges O’Connor’s intelligent understanding is not offering this to the Chartists. His assessment of O’Connor’s intelligence therefore indicates the importance in O’Connor’s leadership.

Gammage perceives O’Connor’s intellectual ability, but judges O’Connor as “erratic”. This is unsurprising. Gammage knows of O’Connor’s later mental ill health and the failure of the Land Plan when he writes in 1856.

The five sources give the evidence needed to understand why he did become the leader and even his own enemies such as Gammage and Francis Place had to admit he appeared strong even if he wasn’t their first choice of leader. It also shows that another favourite candidate for the Chartist leader – Harney, a revolutionary – admitted himself that O’Connor was more appropriate as he was in favour of violence.

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