Most studies of Chartist democracy have overlooked the problem of leaders and followers in the localities; typically, historians have portrayed local leaders as either heroic "organic intellectuals" or alienated worker-intellectuals. This study of activists and plebeian intellectuals in Ashton-under Lyne suggests a different way of conceptualizing this crucial relationship. Most members of the Ashton leadership came from and identified with the working classes; in this sense, they were one with "the people." Their identification with "the people" served to mask, however, the intellectual and political differences that stretched between leaders and followers. Their fluency as speakers and writers, together with a studious (or even artistic) turn of mind and their radical commitment, set them apart from most working men and women. The experience of defeat, together with the melting away of the Chartist rank and file, highlighted these intellectual and political differences. After 1848 plebeian intellectuals and activists in Ashton and other localities retreated into the quietist world of democratic dinners, lectures, and education. In doing so, they severed the personal and political links between their locality and the national movement and contributed to the rapid decline of Chartism.

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pp. 179-203
Launched on MUSE
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