In 1837, Feargus O'Connor, the Leeds representative of the London Working Mens' Association, decided to establish a weekly radical newspaper in Yorkshire. After a series of meetings in Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield and Hull, O'Connor had raised £690 for his venture. The first edition of the Northern Star was published on 26th May, 1838. Although the paper paid the 4d. stamp duty O'Connor denounced it as a tax on free speech.
The Northern Star contained reports on Chartist meets all over Britain and its letter's page enabled supporters to join the debate on parliamentary reform. O'Connor's newspaper also spearheaded the campaign in support of those skilled workers such as handloom weavers who had suffered the consequences of new technology. Within four months of starting publication, the Northern Star was selling 10,000 copies a week. By the summer of 1839 circulation of the Northern Star reached over 50,000 a week and by the end of the year O'Connor had personally made a profit of £13,000 on the venture.
Feargus O'Connor used the newspaper to question the Moral Force arguments of William Lovett and Henry Hetherington and to raise the possibility of using violence to win the vote. In March 1840 O'Connor was tried at York for publishing seditious libels in the Northern Star. He was found guilty and sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment.
Even with Feargus O'Connor in prison the Northern Star continued to sell in large numbers. Whereas William Lovett's The Charter could only achieve a circulation of 6,000 the Northern Star was now selling over 48,000 copies a week
In 1845 Feargus O'Connor and the Northern Star launched his Chartist Land Plan. His objective was to raise money so that he could buy a large estate that would be then divided into plots of three and four acres. Subscribers would then have the opportunity to draw lots and the winners would obtain a cottage and some land. O'Connor promised that his Land Scheme would "change the whole face of society in twelve months" and would "make a paradise of England in less than five years".
Heavily involved in his Land Scheme, O'Connor appointed George Julian Harney as editor of the newspaper. Harney became interested in the international struggle for universal suffrage and helped establish the Fraternal Democrats in September 1845. It was through this organisation that Harney met Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Harney persuaded both men to write articles for the Northern Star.
Harney was now a socialist and he used the Northern Star to promote this philosophy. Feargus O'Connor disagreed with this approach and called Harney and his supporters: "Socialists first and Chartists second". O'Connor eventually pressurized Harney into resigning as editor of the paper.
The fortunes of the Northern Star declined with those of the Chartist movement. By the end of 1851 sales of the newspaper had fallen to 1,200 a week. Feargus O'Connor had started to lose interest in the struggle for universal suffrage and in April 1852 sold the Northern Star to its former editor, George Julian Harney. Harney merged it with the Friend of the People and called his new paper, the Star of Freedom. However, this newspaper only survived a few months and in December, 1852 closed it so that he concentrate on his new journal, The Vanguard.