Rules of the National Union of the Working Classes
17. Rules of the National Union of the Working Classes. One Penny [Add. Ms. 27822, f. 37. Printed. Adopted 4 June 1831.]
Declaration of the Rights of Man.
The members of the National Union, convinced that forgetfulness of
and contempt for the Rights of Man, in a municipal state of society, are the
only causes of the crimes and misfortunes of the world, have resolved to
proclaim their sacred and unalienable rights, in order that they, by comparing the acts of the government with the ends of every social institution, may
never suffer themselves to be oppressed and degraded by tyranny; that the
people may always have before their eyes the basis of their liberty and
happiness; the magistrates the rule of their conduct and duty; and legislators the object of their appointment. They therefore acknowledge, and
proclaim to the world, the following declaration of the Rights of Man.
I. The end of society is the Public Good, and the institution of
government is to secure to Every Individual, the enjoyment of
II. The rights of Man in society, are liberty—equality before the laws—
security of his person—and the full enjoyment of the produce of his
III. Liberty is that power which belongs to a man of doing everything
that does not infringe upon the right of another. Its principle is
nature;—its rule justice;—its protection the law;—and its moral
limits are defined by this maxim:—Do unto others as you would that
others should do unto you.
IV. The law is the free and solemn expression of the public will:—it ought
to be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes;—it cannot
order but what is just and useful;—it cannot forbid but what is
V. The right of expressing one's thoughts and opinions, either by the
press or in any other manner;—the right of assembling peaceably;—
and the free exercise of worship, cannot be forbidden.
VI. The necessity of announcing these rights, implies the existence of
despotism on the part of the governors, or ignorance on the part of
VII. Instruction is the want of all; society and government ought, therefore, to do all in their power, to favour the progress of reason and
truth; and to place instruction within the reach of all.
VIII. A people have always the right of revising, amending, and changing
their constitution:—one generation cannot subject to its laws future
IX. Every adult member of society, has an equal right to nominate those
who legislate for the community; thereby concurring through his
representatives in the enactment of the laws.
X. Oppression is exercised against the social body, when One of its
members is oppressed:—oppression is exercised against Each
Member, when the social body is oppressed.
XI. When a government violates the rights of the people resistance
becomes the most sacred, and the most indispensable of duties.
1. The constitution of this Union is essentially popular.
2. It admits as equal members all persons whatever, whose names shall be
registered in the books of the Union, so long as they shall conform to its
rules and regulations.
3. It holds all its members eligible to office by right, and selects from its own
body its own officers and managers; recognizing only the following
simple, rational, politic, and just principles in the determination of its
choice;—namely, virtue, intelligence, and capacity for the performance of
4. It confides the administration of its government, to a general committee,
which committee derive their authority exclusively from the written or
published laws of the Union; conformably to its letter and spirit.
5. It constitutes its general committee, upon the basis of representation, in
the persons of all sub-committees, attached to branch or district divisions of the Union; of the delegates of all recognized trade, benefit, and
cooperative societies; and of such other persons as shall be elected
committee-men at the monthly meetings of the Union.
6. The committees of branch or district divisions shall be chosen as follows;
—namely, Any member of the Union at a general meeting of the several
district divisions may nominate another as a committee-man; the said
nomination to be put to the vote of the meeting, and the majority of
votes to determine the election.
7. It declares a fund or capital essential to its strength and prosperity, it
therefore imposes upon all its members, the obligation of contributing a
sum not less than one penny per month, payable in advance; such fund,
to be exclusively applied to the interests of the Union and the promotion
of its objects. But should a greater sum be required to meet any pressing
exigency, the committee may call a general meeting of the members to
raise such subscription to a sum not exceeding one penny a week.
8. That the funds of the Union be invested in the hands of a treasurer
appointed at a general meeting of the members.
9. The Union decides all propositions relative to its constitution, laws
government, and objects; also the nomination and expulsion of officers
and members, by the vote of a majority at a general meeting.
Objects of the National Union.
1. The objects of the National Union are,—First, to avail itself
of every opportunity, in the progress of society, for the securing, by
degrees, those things specified in the preceding declaration of the
Rights of Man.
2. To obtain for every working man, unrestricted by unjust and partial
laws, the full value of his labour, and the free disposal of the produce
of his labour.
3. To support, as circumstances may determine, by all just means, every
fair and rational opposition made by societies of working men (such
societies being part of the Union), against the combination and tyranny
of masters and manufacturers; whenever the latter shall seek, unjustly,
to reduce the wages of labour, or shall institute proceedings against the
workmen; the character of which proceedings, in the estimation of the
Union, shall be deemed vexatious and oppressive.
4. To obtain for the nation an effectual reform in the Commons House of
the British parliament: the basis of which reform shall be annual
parliaments, extension of the suffrage to every adult male, vote by
ballot, and, especially, No Property Qualification for members
of parliament; this Union being convinced, that until intelligent men
from the productive and useful classes of society possess the right of
sitting in the Commons House of Parliament, to represent the interests
of the working people, justice in legislation will never be rendered unto
5. To inquire, consult, consider, discuss and determine, respecting the
rights and liberties of the working people, and respecting the just and
most effectual means of securing all such rights.
6. To prepare petitions, addresses, and remonstances [sic] to the crown,
and both Houses or either House of Parliament, respecting the preservation of public rights, the repeal of bad laws, and the enactment of
a wise and all-comprehensive code of good laws.
7. To promote peace, union, and concord among all classes of people and
to guide and direct the public mind, into uniform, peaceful, and legitimate operations; instead of leaving it to waste its strength, in loose,
desultory, and unconnected exertions.
8. To collect and organize the peaceful expression of public opinion, so as
to bring it to act upon the Houses of Parliament, in a just and effectual
9. To concentrate into one focus a knowledge of moral and political
economy, that all classes of society may be enlightened by its radiation;
the National Union feeling assured, that the submission of the
people to misrule and oppression, arises from the absence of sound
moral and political knowledge amongst the mass of the community.
10. To avoid all private or secret proceedings, all concealment of any of the
views or objects of the Union, and to facilitate for all persons invested
with legal authority a full, free and constant access to all books,
documents, regulations and proceedings of the Union.
Means of obtaining these objects.
The means proposed are,—
1. By the creation of a fund, constituted by an equal subscription of all the
members of the Union, and by donations.
2. By the formation of branch or district divisions, having committees
attached to them.
3. By convening frequent meetings of the Union, and of the branch or
district divisions, for the purpose of agitating such measures as may
relate to the principles specified in the Declaration of Rights; in the
Constitution, and in the objects of the Union.
4. By the instrumentality of the public press.
5. By the publication and dissemination of pamphlets tracts, &c.
6. By the active talent, zeal, and industry of the representatives of the
Union, in the members of the general committee of the Union; of the
committees of branch or district associations; and of delegates from
trade, benefit, and co-operative societies; and by such other means as
may be deemed advisable.
1. The management of the affairs of the Union is entrusted to the general
committee, as constituted by the 5th and 6th article of the Constitution.
2. The committees of branch or district associations shall appoint collectors, from among themselves, to receive the contributions of members; the delegates of trade, benefit, and co-operative societies, shall
act as collectors to their respective societies; and the subscription shall
be paid by the collectors and delegates to the persons appointed by the
3. Every officer of the Union shall keep a true and proper account of all
business transacted by him relative to the affairs of the Union, and a
copy of such accounts shall be delivered to the secretary of the Union.
4. The general committee shall meet weekly, or as often as they may deem
necessary:—at such meetings seven are competent to act;—they keep a
record of their proceedings.
5. The members of the Union shall meet monthly, or whenever called
upon by the general committee, or by a requisition signed by not less
than 40 of the members.
6. The general committee shall submit a report every three months to a
meeting of the members of the Union, which quarterly report shall
state the amount of receipts and expenditure; the balance of cash in
hand; the increase or decrease of members, the nature of their correspondence, and the general results of their labours.
7. The accounts of the Union shall be examined every quarter by three
auditors, who are not on the committee, to be chosen by the members
from amongst themselves at the monthly meeting, preceding the
quarterly night; the said auditors to possess the power of demanding all
receipts, vouchers, and necessary explanations from the committee and
servants of the Union.
8. All books, documents &c. in the possession of officers of the Union
shall be produced when demanded by the general committee.
9. The accounts of the Union shall be open to the inspection of the
members at all reasonable times, whenever such inspection does not
interfere with the progress of business.
10. That each member of the Union pay a halfpenny for his card.
11. That all bills for payment be examined by the committee, and no
money whatever shall be paid until the committee have so determined.
12. No person shall be allowed to address the meeting in a state of intoxication; and if he attempt to interrupt the business, he shall be desired to
leave the room.
By order of the Committee of the Union.
18. [Add. Ms. 27791, ff. 280-2]
The article numbered 2 under the head of 'Objects of the National Union'
is the base on which the association was founded, the sole inducement to its
formation. Its projectors in the first instance wished to form a trades union
for the purpose of raising wages and reducing the hours of working—with a
view to the ultimate object the division of property among the working
people but the persons they called to their assistance under the circumstances of the times, and the general agitation caused by the Reform Bills,
at once converted it into a Political Union, leaving the proceedings of
working mens trade unions as a secondary object, the main purpose being
political, the trade portion as incidental, and the title of the society was
changed from the 'Metropolitan Trades Union' to the 'National Union of
the Working Classes and others.' The word others caused dissentions and
motions were twice made to permit, 'None but Wealth Producers' to be
members of the committee or to hold any office in the union. In discussing
the proposition it was shewn that several of their leaders were not wealth
producers in the meaning of the words, in the restricted sense the words were
used, and the motions were not adopted.
The 3rd article under the same head was well adapted to the general
feeling of the working people, and the two articles would have induced the
working people in almost countless numbers to have become members
of the Union had the leaders conducted them more rationally than they
Several of the leaders and principle speech makers were ill-informed
men entertaining very narrow notions, some among them were utterly dishonest men whose purpose was confusion that they might plunder, and
these notions scarcely disguised at all even in public and carefully inculcated
privately, were inimical to the better part of working people and by the
alarm they occasioned prevented vast numbers joining the union. Many
however attended the meetings which were held publicly and weekly—at
the spacious Rotunda in the Surrey Road at the Philadelphia Chapel
Finsbury and occasionally at other places. Had the meetings been conducted in the quiet orderly manner, and the committee adhered steadily to
either the one or the other of the two objects before noticed, or even to both of
them, without abusing in open and gross terms every one who did not
concur with them, and had they refrained from continually preaching up
what was clearly understood to mean insurrection accompanied by its
concomitant plunder, the extent to which the union would have spread, the
vast numbers of persons who would have become members and the general
effect it would have produced all over the country, would have induced the
government to put it down, it being altogether an illegal association, conducting itself in direct opposition to the well understood enactments of two
acts of parliament, as it was, it was of little present importance to the
government, the members of which could not give themselves the trouble to
think of the notions it was propagating among the working people throughout the Nation.
The Constitution as a scheme of government for a large body of working men is well conceived and well executed, and is creditable to the talents
of the men who formed the committee which prepared it. It is judiciously
arranged and the style is unexceptionable. It was found sufficient for all
the purposes intended and never I believe underwent any alteration.