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O'Connor, Feargus

Feargus O'Connor (fûr´gəs), 1794–1855, Irish Chartist leader. Elected to the Parliament of 1832 as a supporter of Daniel O'Connell, he soon quarreled with O'Connell and was forced out of Parliament in 1835. Thereafter he devoted himself chiefly to the English radical movement. In 1837 he founded a paper, the Northern Star, which developed into the foremost organ of Chartism. O'Connor quickly became a leader of the Chartists and, for more than a decade, played a major role in their conventions. But his advocacy of physical force created difficulties with the government and disunity within the movement. In 1846 he began a land distribution scheme that came to be known as the National Land Company. Reelected to Parliament in 1847, he organized the demonstration of 1848 that presented the third Chartist petition to Parliament. The disclosure that many of the petition signatures were falsified and the bankruptcy of his land company discredited him completely. In 1852 he was declared insane.

See biographies by D. Read and E. Glasgow (1961) and J. Epstein (1982).

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O'Connor, Feargus

O'Connor, Feargus (1794–1855). Chartist. An Irish barrister, O'Connor was MP (and follower of Daniel O'Connell) for Cork in 1832 and for Nottingham (as a chartist) in 1847. He was the greatest of the chartist leaders, the champion, as he said, of the ‘unshorn chins, blistered hands, and fustian jackets’; and for ten years he was at the head of the movement. His influence came from his charismatic, flamboyant style of oratory, and his ownership of the chief chartist newspaper, the Northern Star. He was imprisoned in 1840 for seditious libel. Contemporaries like Lovett and some historians later attributed the failure of chartism to O'Connor's demagoguery and his promotion of the National Land Company (1845–51), designed to settle working people on agricultural smallholdings. O'Connor's appearance at the last great chartist demonstration on Kennington Common on 10 April 1848 marked the end of the mass platform as a pattern of popular radicalism.

John F. C. Harrison

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