On this day

December 8, 1832

cover page of Poor Man's Guardian published on December 8, 1832

Poor Man's Guardian





Available years


Bronterre O'Brien, the 'school master of Chartism', whose journalism in the Unstamped Poor Man's Guardian and then in the Northern Star taught a generation of working men to 'read' capitalism as the systematic theft of their labour (Hollis, p.296). "O'Brien, editor of the leading working class Unstamped paper, the Poor Man's Guardian , more than any other man, structured working-class perceptions of their new society. His editorials denouncing property, profit and privilege, were discussed in clubs, pubs, and classes" (Hollis, p.299).

Emblazoned on every issue was the motto "knowledge is power" (Lee, p.22).

"With the passing of the Bill [Reform Bill of 1832] the combination of political disappointment with anti capitalist notions caused vague ideas of class war to take clearer shape and become as unquestioned truths in the minds of working men. These views are already prevalent in the debates of the National Union as reported in the Poor Man's Guardian " (Hovell).

"To you-friends and brethrenyou whose cause we are advocatingwhose rights we demandwhose liberties we defend whose interests we espouseto you we now appeal, not to let us fight our perilous battle singlehanded; we look to you for support; we ask you not to incur danger or expensewe desire not the risk of interest or personwe ask you merely to purchase, with your weekly pennies, and 'read', and 'mark', and 'learn', and 'inwardly digest', our 'newspaper', to be called henceforward The Poor Man's Guardian ; which will contain 'news, intelligence, and occurrences', and 'upon matters in Church and State, tending', decidedly, 'to excite hatred and contempt of the Government and Constitution of the tyranny of this country, as BY LAW established', and also 'to vilify the ABUSES of Religion'..." (Friends, Brethren, and Fellow-Countrymen no 1, p.1).

"'Defiance is our only remedy', he [Hetherington] said in the opening page of his first number. 'we will try, step by step, the power of right against might, and we will begin by protecting and upholding this grand bulwark of all our rights, this key to all our liberties, the freedom of the pressthe press, too, of the ignorant and the poor'" (Bourne, H. R. Fox, p.56). "In 1830 [Hetherington] published a series of unstamped pamphlets, Penny Papers for the People , which in June he changed to The Poor Man's Guardian , A Weekly Newspaper for the People, Established Contrary to Law to try the Power of Might against Right . Over five hundred sellers of the paper were imprisoned for three and a half years, and Hetherington, as publisher, for six months...The working classes, and some middle-class sympathizers, combined to ensure The Poor Man's Guardian came out weekly. A whole new sales organization was built up, using cellars, tradesmen's shops, and private houses. By these means an estimated 20,000 copies were circulated throughout England each week, and most copies found many readers..." (James, p.13).

"Ideas and information, not only about politics, but about history and literature, for example, were to come for the first time within the reach of large numbers of working men through the periodical press, especially from the 1830s. In 1831, in defiance of stamp duty, Henry Hetherington brought out his weekly Poor Man's Guardian , appealing to his readers to 'circulate our paper - circulate the truths which we write, and you should be free'. Hetherington and those who sold his paper were prosecuted and gaoled" (Lawson).

Political Periodical written by and for the workers. A circulation estimate was given in the Standard (Webb, p.61). Caused more horror than Cobbett in the 1830s. Pointed out the inconsistencies in Cobbett's writings, but also said, in 10 August 1833 and 26 October 1833 issue, that he had 'established for himself a sort of prescriptive right to be inconsistent on all manner of subjects, without, at the same time, destroying his influence as an able and most useful political writer' (Webb, p.51). In a 23 July 1831 issue and a 25 January 1834 issue, William Lovett and John Cleave advertise the large number of periodicals they took in at their respective coffee houses (Webb, p.170). When commenting on the working classes in the 7 of April, 1832 issue, Poor Man's Guardian states that 'Their rulers, unfortunately for themselves, had taught them to read, and they now knew there was no actual superiority between man and man. . . .' (Webb, p. 61). Advertised the works of Thomas Paine. Reprinted estimates of circulation of radical unstamped press in 21 September 1833 issue that had appeared first in the Standard (Webb, p.61). A 24 September 1831 issue "blasted" Henry Brougham, who is affiliated with the Edinburgh Review , for hypocrisy (Webb, p.87).

"'Why', he demanded, 'should they attempt to suppress the Poor Man's pamphlet, while they permitted others, published on a larger scale, to remain unmolested? The Literary Gazette , The Athenaeum , and many other publications were not interfered with'...Undeterred, Hetherington pressed on with his Poor Man's Guardian , an eight page weekly, price one penny, and bearing the mottos, 'Liberty of the Press' and 'Knowledge is Power'. Its first editorial was an open declaration of war: 'We are prepared for the fight: it is a mere legal one on the part of our persecutors, but a moral one on ours: we know that we must suffer, but we are content to do so for the benefit of our fellow creatures; we have before our eyes the fatal examples of all who have ever advocated truth; but we shrink not from the worst' The paper would include not only 'news, intelligence and occurences' but also 'remarks and observations thereon...tending to excite hatred and contempt of the Government and Constitution of the tyranny of this country, as BY LAW established'... The Guardian had already dealt with the Church in its first issue: 'She stinks - she stinks from self corruption - she BLASPHEMES herself'. But on of the main targets was the middle class as a whole...The Guardian was naturally extremely hostile to the forthcoming Reform Bill, which it regarded as a betrayal of the people. It denounced both parties" (Cranfield).

"Published in protest of the stamp tax and vendors were often imprisoned" (Schoyen, p. 8). "Leading organ of the unstamped struggle" (Schoyen, p.290). "Of the journals which appeared to cater for the appetite for new ideas, some did not even pretend to support the Whigs. Of these, The most influential was the Poor Man's Guardian , brought out by one of Owen's disciples, Henry Hetherington. Other editors had campaigned on behalf of the poor, but none had previously identified himself with their cause--Cobbett regarded himself as a yeoman farmer, even to dressing the part. Hetherington insisted that his life was at the service of the poor--and his liberty. As they obviously could not afford to buy any paper which had to pay the fourpence stamp duty, he must defy the law, and sell his Guardian unstamped; or, rather, with a mock stamp on it, beating the inscription, 'knowledge is power'. The first number appeared in the summer of 1831; and the authorities, who might have been reluctant to prosecute for the opinions expressed in it, were glad of the excuse to proceed against Hetherington on a charge off ailing to pay the stamp duty. They could not find him: he had arranged to move from town to town, bringing out the paper whenever he could persuade somebody to risk printing it, and moving on before the law caught up with him." "And in the Poor Man's Guardian , Bronterre O'Brien could look forward to the time when the workers would be able to use their power to change society-- 'a change amounting to the complete subversion of the existing order of the world. The working classes aspire to be at the top, instead of at the bottom of society--or, rather, that there should be no top or bottom at all'" (Inglis). In 1832 the publication dropped the subtitle "published contrary to law. . . " and notes that the publication is declared to be "strictly legal" before "Lord Lyndhurst and a special jury."

One source says that this title may have commenced on December 25th, 1830.

Subtitle varies: "a weekly newspaper for the people, published in defiance of 'law' to try the power of 'right' against 'might'" (1832-1834).

"Associated with the National Union of the Working Classes (King).

Source: The Waterloo Directory of English Newspapers and Periodicals: 1800-1900.

For this newspaper, we have the following titles in, or planned for, our digital archive:

  • 1831–83 The Poor Man's Guardian

This newspaper is published by an unknown publisher in London, London, England. It was digitised and first made available on the British Newspaper Archive in May 9, 2013 . The latest issues were added in Mar 16, 2017.