of alternative political institutions. One protestor, Emily Davison, killed herself to draw attention to the demand for women’s suffrage after throwing herself under the king’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913.While millions of people took to the streets to demand their rightful place in the political sphere, parliamentarians from all parties tried to stop the expansion of citizenship at every step of the way. Voting rights were indeed expanded numerous times by laws passed in the British Parliament, but this happened despite what politicians and jurists of the period actually wanted. Foot uses the words of politicians themselves to conclude that governments would not have expanded the franchise to include poor and working segments of the population without massive mobilizations that challenged the established powers. For example, in the words of the high-ranking British judge Lord Abinger in 1842, one threat to these powers was “A popular assembly devoted to democratic principles and elected by persons, a vast majority of whom have no property and depend on manual labour . . . the first thing such an assembly would do would be to aim at the destruction of property and the putting down of the monarchy” (in Foot 2005: 114).
The Democratic Imagination58Foot describes the mobilization of the “Chartist” movement of the 1830s and 1840s as nothing less than an embryonic insurrectionary movement at the heart of the Western world. He estimates that, although, in the end, its revolutionary ambitions were thwarted, Chartism came closer than any other movement before or since to overthrowing capitalist democracy in favour of a genuine workers’ government in Britain.The Chartists (who got their name by demanding a new political charter) argued that all male workers deserved the vote because it was their labour that produced the wealth of the nation. (In another example of the contradictions of democratic politics, although some individual Chartists supported women’s suffrage, the movement as a whole focused its demands exclusively on gaining universal malesuffrage.) They demonstrated for male suffrage by marching in the hundreds of thousands through London and by striking at their workplaces. In 1842, they helped orchestrate a general strike across the country.The government’s ongoing refusal to make any changes made it clear, not only to Chartists but to a broader layer of working people, that parliament and other institutions of official democracy did not represent their interests. A campaign was mounted to organize a “People’s Parliament” that would make decisions on behalf of the masses of Great Britain independently from the official government. Parliamentarians realized that, if the Chartists were not appeased or crushed, they might end up using their mass power to tear down the existing system of government and leave the wealthy with nothing.