Chartist Songs

From The Luddites and Other Essays (pp. 125-151)

Songs of the Labour Movement (John Miller)

The Chartist movement produced a great body of literature, poems and songs, which is largely unknown today. It was modelled on the works of the great Reformers such as Godwin and Paine, on the poetry of the great romantics such as Byron and Shelley, and that of the radical poets of the 1830's, and on the popular Methodist hymns. This last characteristic, which is completely lacking in the earlier Radical songs, was introduced into political songs earlier in the nineteenth century when the Primitive Methodist movement spread like wildfire among the new class of factory workers. Throughout the century the Methodist movement provided many leaders for the labour movement and the tradition of the 'political hymn' or 'labour anthem' survived until quite recently. In the U.S.A. the basis was the Revivalist hymns which were used with such effect by Joe Hill and the I.W.W. Not all the Chartist songs are in this idiom, of course; many were based on the Romantic poets' work, and some are strongly satirical. The music used for this type of song was well known national airs, popular songs and folk songs. Ernest Jones' famous 'Song of the Low' is the first on record that had music specially written for it.

South Wales Chartist Song, 1839, to rally support for John Frost and other imprisoned leaders of the Newport Rising 1839. 

Uphold these bold Comrades who suffer for you,
Who nobly stand foremost, demanding your due,
Away with the timid, 'tis treason to fear—
To surrender or falter when danger is near.
For now that our leaders disdain to betray
'Tis base to desert them, or succour delay.

A Hundred years, a thousand years we're marching on the road 
The going isn't easy yet, we've got a heavy load 
The way is blind with blood and sweat & death sings in our ears 
But time is marching on our side, we will defeat the years.

We men of bone, of sunken shank, our only treasure death 
Women who carry at the breast heirs to the hungry earth 
Speak with one voice we march we rest and march again upon the years 
Sons of our sons are listening to hear the Chartist cheers 
Sons of our sons are listening to hear the Chartist cheers. 

The Lion of Freedom (Northern Star 1841)
written to celebrate the release of Feargus O'Connor from prison. 

The lion of freedom comes from his den, 
We'll rally around him again and again, 
We'll crown him with laurels our champion to be, 
O'Connor, the patriot of sweet liberty. 

The pride of the nation, he's noble and brave 
He's the terror of tyrants, the friend of the slave, 
The bright star of freedom, the noblest of men, 
We'll rally around him again and again. 

Though proud daring tyrants his body confined, 
They never could alter his generous mind; 
We'll hail our caged lion, now free from his den, 
And we'll rally around him again and again. 

Who strove for the patriots? was up night and day? 
And saved them from falling to tyrants a prey? 
It was Feargus O'Connor was diligent then! 
We'll rally around him again and again. 

Presentation of the National Petition (Monday May 2nd 1842) 

It was Nature's gay day, 
Bright smiling May day, 
Each heart was yearning our country to free; 
Thy banners were bringing 
The people were singing 
Of the days of their fathers and sweet liberty. 
Merrily bounding, 
Banners surrounding 
Each slave Clash'd his chains on that happy day; 
To meet thus delighted By all invited, 
To join the brave throng 'neath freedom's bright ray 
Thousands were marshalled, 
The throng forward marched; 
The burden of millions was borne onward too, 
From the field to the Strand, 
With banners and band, 
The mighty assemblage of Chartists doth go, 
Their foes fill with wonder, 
As proudly they thunder 
Their shouts for their Charter, their hearts with hope fill'd. 
To St. Stephens they bear it, By the table they rear it,— 
A monument to testify their woes and their will. 

Our Summons (Ernest Jones) 

Men of the honest heart, 
Men of the stalwart hand, 
Men, willing to obey, 
Thence able to command; 

Men of the rights withheld, 
Slaves of the power abused, 
Machines cast to neglect, 
When your freshness has been used. 

Up! Labourers in the vineyard! 
Prepare ye for your toil! 
For the sun shines on the furrows, 
And the seed is in the soil. 

Hymn for Lammas-Day (Ernest Jones) 

Sharpen the sickle, the fields are white; 
'Tis time of the harvest at last. Reapers, 
be up with the morning light, 
Ere the blush of its youth be past. 

Why stand on the highway and lounge at the gate, 
With a summer day's work to perform? 
If you wait for the hiring 'tis long you may wait-
Till the hour of the night and the storm.
Sharpen the sickle; how full the ears! 
While our children are crying for bread; 
And the field has been watered with orphans' tears, 
And enriched with their fathers dead. 

And hopes that are buried, and hearts that broke, 
Lie deep in the treasuring sod: 
Then sweep down the grain with a thunderstroke, 
In the name of humanity's God! 

The Song of the future (Ernest Jones) 

The land it is the landlord's: 
The trader's is the sea; 
The ore the usurer's coffer fills, 
But what remains for me? 

The engine whirls for masters' craft 
The steel shines to defend, 
With labour's arms, what labour raised, 
For labour's foe to spend. 

The camp, the pulpit and the law 
For rich men's sons are free; 
Theirs, theirs is learning, art, and arms, 
But what remains for me?
The coming hope, the future day, 
When wrong to right shall bow, 
And but a little courage, man! 
To make that future—NOW. 

Chartist hymns (from the Leicester Chartist newspaper The Extinguisher') 

Britannia's Sons 

Britannia's sons, though slaves ye be, 
God, your Creator, made you free; 
He life and thought and being gave, 
But never, never made a slave! 

All men are equal in his sight,
The bond, the free, the black, the white: 
He made them all—them freedom gave; 
God made the man—Man made the slave! 

Sons of poverty assembly by William Jones (tune Calcutta). 

Sons of poverty assembly, 
Ye whose hearts with woe are riven, 
Let the guilty tyrants tremble, 
Who your hearts such pain have given. 
We will never From the shrine of truth be driven. 

Must ye faint—ah! how much longer? 
Better by the sword to die 
Than to die of want and hunger;
They heed not your feeble cry; 
Lift your voices —Lift your voices to the sky!
Rouse them from their silken slumbers, 
Trouble them amidst their pride; 
Swell your ranks, augment your numbers, 
Spread the charter far and wide! 
Truth is with us; God Himself is on our side. 

See the brave, ye spirit broken, 
That uphold your righteous cause; 
Who against them hath spoken? 
They are, just as Jesus was, Persecuted 
By bad men and wicked laws. 

Dire oppression, Heaven decrees it, 
From our land shall soon be hurled; 
Mark the coming time and seize it — 
Every banner be unfurled! Spread the Charter! 
Spread the Charter through the world. 

God of the earth and sea and sky by Thomas Cooper (tune Old Hundredth). 

God of the earth, and sea, and sky, 
To Thee Thy mournful children cry; 
Didst Thou the blue that bends o'er all 
Spread for a general funeral pall? 

Sadness and gloom pervade the land; 
Death—famine—glare on either hand; 
Didst Thou plant earth upon the wave 
Only to form one general grave? 

To us,—the wretched and the poor, 
Whom rich men drive from door to door, —
To us, then, make Thy goodness known, 
And we Thy lofty name will own. 

Father, our frames are sinking fast; 
Hast Thou our names behind Thee cast? 
Our sinless babes with hunger die; 
Our hearts are hardening!—hear our cry!
Appear, as in the ancient days! 
Deliver us from our foes, and praise 
Shall from our hearts to Thee ascend -
To God our Father, and our Friend! 

From Robert Owen's Social Hymns 1840 
Community—(tune Hillary) 

O happy time, when all mankind 
Shall competition's evil see: 
And seek with one united mind 
The blessings of community. 

When social love's benignant flow 
Shall peace on earth, goodwill restore; 
And charity, like ocean's flow 
Connect and compass every shore. 

Then will the claims of wealth and state, 
This goodly world no more deface; 
Then war and rapine, strife and hate, 
Among mankind will have no place. 

The will mankind in common share
The gifts that their industry supplies,
And prove, escaped from selfish care
The joys of heaven beneath the skies.