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Chartism grew out of disillusionment at the failure of the First Reform Act of 1832 and the limited impact it had had in achieving political and social reform. Beginning in 1838 the Chartist movement was Britain wide and demanded six points: votes for all men over 21, vote by secret ballot, no property qualification for prospective members of parliament, payment of members of parliament, constituencies of equal size and annual parliaments. The Chartist movement existed through a number of phases following the petitioning of Parliament in 1838, 1842 and 1848. By the beginning of the 1850s the Chartists had adopted a political programme which was openly socialist.

The Aberdeen Charter Union was a branch of the National Charter Association (which had been established in mid-1840 in an attempt to unite together all previous local groups). The Aberdeen Union following on from the Aberdeen Working Men’s Association and the key personnel were mainly male artisans: the Chairman was John Legge, a stonemason and there was also Archibald McDonald, flaxdresser.

Later, the Chairman was John MacPherson, a combmaker. The Union from 1841 rented a hall in George Street, and in 1842, bought premises in Blackfriars Street for use as a political and educational centre.

Related entries: Aberdeen Female Radical Association, Aberdeen Working Men’s Association and William Lindsay, bookseller.

Popular radicalism and working class movements in Aberdeen c.1790-1850 (Robert Duncan, University of Aberdeen thesis, 1976), ‘Artisans and proletarians: Chartism and working class allegiance in Aberdeen, 1838 – 1842 (Robert Duncan, Northern Scotland, 1981), ‘Chartism in Aberdeen: Radical Politics and Culture’ (Robert Duncan, Covenant, Charter, and Party: Traditions of Revolt and Protest in Modern Scottish History, Terry Brotherstone (ed.), Aberdeen University Press, 1989) and ‘Chartism in Aberdeen’ (Stuart McCalman, Journal of Scottish Labour History Society, 1970)

Sources: unknown.

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Chartism grew out of disillusionment at the failure of the First Reform Act of 1832 and the limited impact it had had in achieving political and social reform. Beginning in 1838 the Chartist movement was Britain wide and demanded six points: votes for all men over 21, vote by secret ballot, no property qualification for prospective members of parliament, payment of members of parliament, constituencies of equal size and annual parliaments. The Chartist movement existed through a number of phases following the petitioning of Parliament in 1838, 1842 and 1848. By the beginning of the 1850s the Chartists had adopted a political programme which was openly socialist.

The Aberdeen Working Men’s Association was a local organisation formed in July 1838, based on the model of the London Working Men’s Association. The President was John Mitchell, shoemaker, then newsagent and stationer (he sold chartist literature). Mitchell’s shop in Correction Wynd was for a time the base for the Association (later the Chartists rented premises at 41 Queen Street). The Secretary of the Association was John Fraser, shoemaker. Other members of the Association committee were mainly male artisans, such as John Legge, stonemason, and Archibald McDonald, flaxdresser. The Association like other organisations across Britain were charged with gathering names for the national petition. The Association also published its own news-sheet, the Aberdeen Patriot, and later another title called the Northern Vindicator.

The Association published a pamphlet in c.1838 outlining their grievances and objects/rules. It called on men: “to unite in demanding Universal Suffrage, Vote by Ballot, Annual Parliaments, as the most effectual means of promoting the moral and social improvements of the Working Classes”. The pamphlet also emphasised that the working classes should unite as one, and not depend any longer on those ‘who style themselves our “superiors” co-operating with us’. A key element of the Association was educational improvement, and the pamphlet called for a national system of education, noted the influence of the Mechanics’ Institutions and stated an object was to remove laws which prevented free circulation of thought through the medium of a ‘cheap and honest press’.

The Association split in May 1839, following a national trend, whereby Chartists supporters were divided over which tactics to use to achieve their goal, either by moral or by physical force. The outcome was that the President John Mitchell resigned and formed his own splinter group, The Artisans’ Association.

Related entries: Aberdeen Charter Union, Aberdeen Female Radical Association and William Lindsay, bookseller.

Address to the Working Classes by the Aberdeen Working Men’s Association: Together with the Objects and Rules of the Association (unknown, Aberdeen, undated, c.1838), Popular radicalism and working class movements in Aberdeen c.1790-1850 (Robert Duncan, University of Aberdeen thesis, 1976), ‘Artisans and proletarians: Chartism and working class allegiance in Aberdeen, 1838 – 1842 (Robert Duncan, Northern Scotland, 1981), ‘Chartism in Aberdeen: Radical Politics and Culture’ (Robert Duncan, Covenant, Charter, and Party: Traditions of Revolt and Protest in Modern Scottish History, Terry Brotherstone (ed.), Aberdeen University Press, 1989) and ‘Chartism in Aberdeen’ (Stuart McCalman, Journal of Scottish Labour History Society, 1970)

Sources: Address to the Working Classes by the Aberdeen Working Men’s Association: Together with the Objects and Rules of the Association (unknown, Aberdeen, undated, c.1838).

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There was a freethinking society active between 1846 and 1848 and this group called themselves, The Aberdeen Utilitarian Society (named after Utilitarianism developed by the philosophy Jeremy Bentham). The Society issued a manifesto and held a discussion with Free Church minister Rev. George Ogilvie and University of St Andrews Professor of Moral Philosophy William Martin. Members included James Shirrou (Chairman) and Archibald Watson, bookseller, Gallowgate. The discussion was very controversial and the arguments were played out in the secularist periodical The Reasoner and Utilitarian Record (edited by pioneering secularist George Holyoake from 1847 onwards). William Lindsay, bookseller, in his autobiography, recounted that he had attended some of the group’s meetings and viewed the group as the forerunner to the later secularist societies.

Related entries: William Lindsay and Secularist Societies (Aberdeen).

References: Some Notes Personal and Public by William Lindsay (W&W Lindsay, Aberdeen, 1898), The Aberdeen Journal, The Reasoner and Utilitarian Record, Victorian Infidels: the origins of the British Secularist Movement 1791 – 1866 (Edward Royle, Manchester University Press, 1974) and Radicals, Secularists and Republicans: Popular Freethought in Britain 1866 – 1915 (Edward Royle, Manchester University Press, 1980).

Sources: unknown.

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A group was formed in 1837 by followers of the social reformer Robert Owen (1771 – 1858). Owen had been active for 30 years establishing various social reform schemes and associations, such as New Lanark, co-operative communities across Britain and a Grand National Consolidated Trade Union. In 1835 he established an Association of All Classes of All Nations (renamed as the Universal Community Society of Rational Religionists in 1839), boldly adopting ‘Socialism or The Rational System of Society’. These associations between 1837 and 1845 had hundreds of branches across the country, composed of individuals involved in the earlier co-operative, free-thinking, trade unionist and republican movements. It is not clear whether there was an ‘official’ branch in Aberdeen, like there were in Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow. In 1837 an Owenite socialist committee was formed in Aberdeen after a lecture in Concert Court, Broad Street, held by the Owenite Robert Buchanan. A committee was formed with the purpose of keeping the subject of socialism before the attention of the people of Aberdeen. William Lindsay, bookseller, was a member, and in 1841 Lindsay and colleagues invited Robert Owen to Aberdeen and he came in 1842 and lectured in the hall of the Royal Hotel.

Related entries: William Lindsay.

References: Some Notes Personal and Public by William Lindsay (W&W Lindsay, Aberdeen, 1898), The Aberdeen Journal, The Republican, Victorian Infidels: the origins of the British Secularist Movement 1791 – 1866 (Edward Royle, Manchester University Press, 1974) and Radicals, Secularists and Republicans: Popular Freethought in Britain 1866 – 1915 (Edward Royle, Manchester University Press, 1980).

Sources: Association of All Classes of All Nations papers are held at the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam.

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Chartism grew out of disillusionment at the failure of the First Reform Act of 1832 and the limited impact it had had in achieving political and social reform. The Female Association was led by Isabella Wilson Legge (wife of John Legge, stonemason and member of the Aberdeen Working Men’s Association and later Chairman of the Aberdeen Charter Union) and most of the members were mill workers. It campaigned for votes for women as well as men and was one of many similar organisations across the country. The Association issued a statement by the ‘Female Chartists of Aberdeen’ in 1841. Their meeting place was at the Chartist premises at 41 Queen Street.

Related entries: Aberdeen Charter Union, Aberdeen Working Men’s Association and William Lindsay, bookseller.

References: Popular radicalism and working class movements in Aberdeen c.1790-1850 (Robert Duncan, University of Aberdeen thesis, 1976), ‘Artisans and proletarians: Chartism and working class allegiance in Aberdeen, 1838 – 1842 (Robert Duncan, Northern Scotland, 1981), ‘Chartism in Aberdeen: Radical Politics and Culture’ (Robert Duncan, Covenant, Charter, and Party: Traditions of Revolt and Protest in Modern Scottish History, Terry Brotherstone (ed.), Aberdeen University Press, 1989),‘Chartism in Aberdeen’ (Stuart McCalman, Journal of Scottish Labour History Society, 1970) and Aberdeen Women’s Alliance, City Centre Women’s Heritage Walk leaflet, 2014.

Sources: unknown.

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Rev. Alexander Webster was originally from Oldmeldrum in Aberdeenshire but later moved to the south of Scotland. He came back to the north-east, arriving in Aberdeen, from Glasgow, in 1884, and then stayed for 7 years. He returned for a second period of ministry from 1895 – 1901, and after a period of retirement, died in Cults in 1918.

Webster was a Christian socialist (he also called himself a Christian Anarchist), involved in many political organisations and causes, and he was also a prolific pamphleteer and orator. Before arriving in Aberdeen, whilst in Glasgow, he had chaired the Scottish Land Restoration League. He and would speak on any platform, be it, Social Democratic Federation, Independent Labour Party (I.L.P.) or Aberdeen Trades Council. He was one of the leaders of the Radical Association (the group existed from 1884 – c.1886), a member of the Aberdeen Labour Committee (the group formed in 1888), Vice-President of Keir Hardie’s Scottish Labour Party and presided over the infamous meeting when William Morris visited and lectured in Aberdeen in 1888. Webster was a very influential figure in the development of socialism and anarchism in the city, both in the cause, but also in his association with a younger generation of Aberdeen socialists such as James Leatham (who published some of his writings) and Henry Hill Duncan. In his second period of ministry he continued to be active and was a member of Aberdeen Clarion Club. Later in life he was still campaigning, voicing his opinions at the time of Boer War, and in 1907/1908 agitating for women’s suffrage alongside the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

His wrote many pamphlets, such as ‘The Political Position of Labour: A Plea for a Separate Labour Party’ (c.1893) and also issued an irregular journal called ‘The Ploughshare: A Journal of Radical Religion and Morality’.

Related entries: Aberdeen Clarion Club, Aberdeen Labour Committee, Aberdeen Revolutionary Socialist Federation/Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group, Aberdeen Socialist Society, James Leatham, Henry Hill Duncan, Radical Association and Scottish Land and Labour League/Socialist League

References: Memories of Ministry (A. Webster, Glasgow 1913), In memoriam Rev. Alexander Webster, pioneer and reformer, Aberdeen Appreciations (Mrs Webster, Maclaren, Glasgow, 1919), James Leatham 1865-1945 (Bob Duncan, Aberdeen People’s Press, 1978) and Aberdeen 1800 – 2000 A New History (W Hamish Fraser & Clive Lee (eds.), Tuckwell Press, 2000).

Sources: a number of his pamphlets are held at University of Aberdeen Library.

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William Lindsay was born in Newhills parish, son of a shoemaker, and followed that trade for a period. Lindsay then established himself as a newsagent and bookseller in the Gallowgate in the 1840s. He was a member of many radical political groups throughout his life.

He was involved in the 1832 Reform Act agitations and in 1837 he was a member of an Owenite socialist committee which was formed after a lecture in Concert Court, Broad Street, held by the Owenite Robert Buchanan. A committee was formed with the purpose of keeping the subject of socialism before the attention of the people of Aberdeen. Buchanan started a democratic paper in Glasgow and Lindsay was appointed as the Aberdeen correspondent. In 1841 Lindsay and colleagues invited Robert Owen to Aberdeen and he came in 1842 and lectured in the hall of the Royal Hotel.

Lindsay was an active Chartist and was correspondent for Aberdeen and the north for the Chartist newspaper, The Northern Star. Lindsay was the Aberdeen representative at the National Association of United Trades conference in Liverpool in 1848 (this association was an early attempt at a trade union federation). He was also Aberdeen representative at a 1852 conference in Edinburgh where he opposed Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor’s land plan.

Lindsay was a founder member of the Aberdeen Liberal Association in 1877, founder member of the Northern Co-Operative Company and was a member of the Aberdeen Workmen’s Peace Association from 1875.

Related entries: Aberdeen Charter Union, Aberdeen Female Radical Association, Aberdeen Working Men’s Association, Committee of Sympathy, ‘Owenite Society’ and The Utilitarian Society (Aberdeen).

References: The People’s Journal, Some Notes Personal and Public by William Lindsay (W & W Lindsay, Aberdeen, 1898) and Aberdeen 1800 – 2000 A New History (W Hamish Fraser & Clive Lee (eds.), Tuckwell Press, 2000).

Sources: unknown.

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