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O'Connor, Feargus Edward

O'Connor, Feargus Edward, the son of the Irish Nationalist politician, Roger O'Connor, was born in County Cork on 18 July 1796. Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, he was called to the Irish bar but soon abandoned law for politics, entering Parliament in 1832 as one of Daniel O'Connell's followers. He lost his seat in 1835 and turned to agitation in England, becoming the most popular and the most feared of the Chartist leaders.

O'Connor sought to link social justice for Irish peasants with political reconstruction and land reform throughout Great Britain. These were the causes for which he fought until he was pronounced insane in 1852. In the Chartist movement, he alienated other Chartist leaders because of his vanity and intemperate conduct and the fact that his Northern Star, established in 1838, became the most popular of all the Chartist newspapers. In 1841, after spending a year in prison for seditious libel, O'Connor reorganized the Chartist movement by founding the National Charter Association which virtually eliminated the moderates, including William Lovett, who had advocated cooperation between the working and middle classes.

O'Connor diverted a good deal of Chartist energy towards his Land Plan which was based on the concept of agrarian communism. When the land scheme collapsed and became bankrupt in 1848, his reputation suffered irreparable damage but his hold on the sympathies of the English workers remained so powerful that, following his death on 30 August 1855, some 50,000 attended his funeral.

Keith A.P. Sandiford


< P> Cole, G.D.H. Chartist Portraits (New York, 1965).

Epstein, J. The Lion of Freedom: Feargus O'Connor and the Chartist Movement, 1832-1842 (London, 1982).

Read, D. & Glasgow, E. Feargus O'Connor: Irishman and Chartist (London, 1961).

Thompson, D. (ed). The Early Chartists (London, 1971).

Ward, J.T. (ed). Popular Movements c. 1830-1850 (London, 1970).

Wrench, D. "Feargus O'Connor (1796-1855)", Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals (Brighton, 1984), II: 385-88.

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