Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

Attwood, Thomas

Attwood, Thomas, born in Halesowen, near Birmingham, on October 6, 1783, was the son of a prosperous manufacturer and banker. He achieved notoriety as a rad ical in British politics for his support of the great Reform Bill during 1830-32, his introduction of the Chartist petition to the House of Commons in 1839, and his persistently sharp criticism of the government's monetary and financial policies. Attwood's best work was accomplished in organizing the Birmingham Political Union which played an important role in the success of the reform movement during the early 1830s. His alliance with the Chartists, however, proved to be an error largely because he viewe d the People's Charter as a vehicle to achieve currency reform which he always regarded as a vital prerequisite for national prosperity. But the Chartists had no interest in his financial theories and he himself disliked their more militant leaders; and, although he had some sympathy for universal manhood suffrage, Attwood was never particularly impressed by some of the other Chartist demands. By appending the six points to his currency recommendations, which the British parliament had so often rejected i n the recent past, Attwood did the charter more harm than good in 1839.

After that fiasco, Attwood's contribution to Chartism was negligible. Plagued by physical, domestic, and financial difficulties, he retired from politics with a keen sense of depression and failure. Following his death on March 6, 1856, a marble statue was erected in Birmingham in honour of his work and achievements.

Keith A.P. Sandiford


Briggs, A. "Thomas Attwood and the Economic Background of the Birmingham Political Union" Cambridge Historical Journal IX: 190-216.

Fetter, F.W. (ed). Selected Writings of Thomas Attwood (London, 1946).

Flick, C. "Thomas Attwood, Francis Place and the Agitation for British Parliamentary Reform", Huntington Library Quarterly XXXIV: 355-66.

Gammage, R.G. History of the Chartist Movement 1837-1854 (London, 1894).

Hovell, M . The Chartist Movement (Manchester, 1918).

Maehl, W.H. "Thomas Attwood (1783-1856)", Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals (Brighton, 1984), II: 28-32.

Moss, D.J. Thomas Attwood: The Biography of a Radical (Montreal, 1990).

Ward, J.T. Chartism (London, 1973).

Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

Holly Johnston revised this file ( on March 3, 1997.

Please E-mail comments or suggestions to

© 1997 James Chastain.