The Northern Star

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.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) John Brown, A Memoir of Robert Blincoe (1828)

(2) The Northern Star (26th May, 1838)

The silence of the Press upon all subjects connected with parliamentary reform has been pointed and obvious. The power of the press is acknowledged upon all hands, and rather than oppose it, I have preferred to arm myself with it.

(3) The Northern Star (1st August, 1840)

The Northern Star supports: The right of voting for Members of Parliament by every male of twenty-one years of age and of sound mind; annual elections; vote by ballot; no property qualifications for Members of Parliament; payments of members; and a division of the kingdom into electoral districts; giving to each district a proportionate number of representatives according to the number of electors.

(4) Abel Heywood, speech in Manchester, the Northern Star (22nd August, 1840)

Would to God they had a Northern Star in every town throughout the kingdom! Would to God that every town could write upon the pillars of their churches, "A Northern Star to be obtained here". The very existence of such papers would be a guarantee that the Charter would be obtained.

(5) The Northern Star (12th October, 1850)

It is not the mere improvement of the social life of our class that we seek; but the abolition of classes and the destruction of those wicked distinctions which have divided the human race into the princes and paupers, landlords and labourers, masters and slaves.

(6) Average yearly sales of The Northern Star (1839-1844)

Year

Average Weekly Sales

1839

30,000

1840

18,000

1841

13,000

1842

12,000

1843

9,000

1844

7,400