Pye, Neil (2011) The Home Office and the Suppression of Chartism in the West Riding, c.1838-1848. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The main purpose of this research is to re-examine Chartism by analysing how the Home Office’s suppression of the movement affected the development of the British State and the machinery of public order during the 1830s and 1840s. In recent years, the study of Chartism has become a domain for historians engaged in cultural history. As a result, studies of both a political and localised nature have been neglected. The poverty of recent research in these areas has occurred since the major dispute between Dorothy Thompson and Gareth Stedman Jones, over the ‘linguistic’ turn and the meaning of the language of Chartism took place during the 1980s. Since the early-1990s, the debate has now moved on towards what Patrick Joyce and James Vernon have identified as ‘the language of politics’. The aim of this research is to move the debate away from a cultural perspective and, instead, to examine how government policy changed to deal with Chartism. The purpose of this study is, therefore, not to examine the legislative effects of social, political and economic reforms as suggested by Gareth Stedman Jones, but to offer a more thorough investigation of the lines of argument pursued by Dorothy Thompson and James Vernon. Thompson argued that state suppression played a huge role in the demise of Chartism, whilst Vernon has asserted that during the first half of the nineteenth century the political system gradually became closed and disciplined. Mass movements such as Chartism, it is argued, failed in their quest to bring about major changes to the political system in the early nineteenth century, largely because they succumbed to huge pressure from the state and its institutions.

In order to establish the influence of the Home Office, this study has analysed how its policy impacted upon the Chartists in the West Riding. This involved a struggle for hegemony between central government and local agencies which ultimately brought about significant changes to the way in which the state functioned, along with many improvements to its machinery of control. These reforms included the advent of better policing and a gradual redefining of the roles of traditional forms of control such as the magistracy, army, militia and yeomanry. From a thorough investigation of both primary and secondary source materials, the evidence suggests that Dorothy Thompson was generally correct in her observation that the Home Office suppression of Chartism allowed the state to learn from its mistakes and become more effective in managing public order. However, this study will argue that the process was not as clear cut as Thompson implied. The implementation of reforms was a gradual process in which the Home Office played a significant role in the management of tensions that existed amongst various central and local government agencies. In doing so, the state became more efficient in controlling disorder. It remains for others to investigate the view of Gareth Stedman Jones that Chartism was by-passed by a reforming state.

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