William Lovett, with the help of Francis Place, drew up the draft Parliamentary Bill containing the six points of reform adopted by the LWMA. This was published in May 1838 as The People’s Charter.
In February 1839 Lovett attended the first Chartist National Convention in London where he was elected Secretary. The Convention subsequently moved to Birmingham.
In July 1839 a riot broke out at the Bull Ring after the London police were brought in to break up the public meeting being held there. Resolutions criticising the actions of the authorities and the police were unanimously passed and published, at Lovett’s insistence, under his name alone as ‘one sacrifice was sufficient’.
On the 6 July William Lovett was arrested and charged with seditious libel. John Collins, who had taken the document to the printers, was also arrested. In August 1839 both men were sentenced to twelve months in Warwick gaol.
Having refused an offer of early release as it would imply they were guilty of the crimes they had been charged with, Lovett and Collins left prison on the 25 July 1840.
Lovett was treated as a hero on his release and attended a dinner organised in his honour. However the harsh conditions and poor treatment he had received during his imprisonment had damaged his health and he spent several months recuperating in Cornwall.
Lovett’s health would never fully recover. Not fit enough to work as a cabinet maker Lovett opened a book shop on his return to London, which like his previous ventures in business proved to be unsuccessful.
While in prison Lovett and Collins wrote Chartism: a New Organisation of the People. Published after their release it set out plans for halls, libraries and an education system for children and adults. From this came The National Association for Promoting the Political and Social Improvement of the People.
Often labelled a ‘moral force’ Chartist, Lovett advocated gradual reform ‘without violence or commotion’ writing in his autobiography that ‘whatever is gained in England by force, by force must be sustained; but whatever springs from knowledge and justice will sustain itself’.
Lovett believed the Chartist cause to have been undermined by the actions of ‘physical force’ men like Feargus O’Connor.
O’Connor denounced Lovett’s ‘new move’ in the Northern Star. It attracted criticism from other Chartists who viewed Lovett’s National Association as a rival to the National Charter Association, an organisation Lovett refused to join.
Lovett’s National Association did not attract as much support as he had hoped. The National Association Hall opened in Holborn in 1842 and eventually managed to open a day school. It was forced to close in 1857.
Although staunchly working class, Lovett had always tried to work with middle-class reformers. He became a council member of Joseph Sturge’s Complete Suffrage Union, which attempted to unite middle and working class reformers. However Lovett could not agree to the name of Sturge’s ‘New Bill of Rights’ in place of The People’s Charter.
At the CSU conference in December 1842 Lovett’s motion in favour of accepting the Charter in name was seconded by Feargus O’Connor. Successfully carried, it effectively ended the CSU when the middle class delegates withdrew from the conference.