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Harney, George Julian

Harney, George Julian the son of a sailor, was born by the Thames at Deptford on February 17, 1817. After a brief career at sea, he worked with Henry Hetherington, the renowned publisher of unstamped periodicals, and, for this defiance of the law, he served three sentences in prison. During the late 1830s, he helped Bronterre O'Brien, whom he much admired, produce the militant London Mercury.

Harney was a more committed and ardent radical than most English activists of his generation. Whereas William Lovett's London Working Men's Association had been intended mainly for respectable artisans, Harney founded the London Democratic Association which attracted thousands of workers. Not surprisingly, therefore, Harney gravitated towards the more militant wing of Chartism and contributed enormously to the success of the Northern Star during the 1840s.

Even after the collapse of the Chartist movement, Harney remained a militant activist. He became one of the earliest English converts to Marxism and continued to assert the cause of Chartism in proletarian terms. While most Chartists sought peaceful change, Harney was committed to a revolutionary overthrow of the traditional system and establishment. Despairing of ever reviving the Chartist movement, he migrated to the United States in 1863, but returned to England in 1879. In his old age, he became a regular columnist for the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle and published some virulent attacks against the Liberal Party leader, William Gladstone, before he died at Richmond, Surrey, on 9 December 1897.

Keith A.P. Sandiford


Anderson, D. "George Julian Harney (1817-1897)", Biographical Dictionary of Modern British Radicals (Brighton, 1984), II: 227-33.

Cadogan, P. "Harney and Engels", International Review of Social History (1965), X: 66-104.

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

Black, F.G. and R.M. (eds) The Harney Papers (London, 1969).

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

Schoyen, A.R. The Chartist Challenge: A Portrait of George Julian Harney (London, 1958).

Thompson, D. The Early Chartists (New York, 1971).

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

Weisser, H. British Working-Class Movements and Europe, 1815-48 (Manchester, 1975).

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