1832 Electoral Reform Election Day By Hogarth 1807
The Whig government that took over in 1830, under Earl Grey, realised that some parliamentary reform was badly needed to take into account the changes that had happened in Britain. • After a long fight with the Lords the Reform Act was passed. The actual changes were not as important as the fact that the principle of reform had been established. • The major questions asked about this period are:- • What was wrong with the electoral system at this time? • How was the Reform Act passed? • How did the Reform Act change things? • How close did Britain come to Revolution at this time?
Political and Economic Background • By 1828 the Tory party’s attitude to reform was becoming increasingly unpopular • From 1828 the British economy was in decline and bad harvests were not helping • Popular discontent in the usually quiet countryside did not help the government • Swing Riots • The Whigs were promising Reform • Tory’s were splitting into progressives and Ultra’s
Politics before 1830[I] The Constituencies • The parliamentary system had developed in the middle ages and no longer reflected the true situation in Britain. • Each County elected 2 MPs, and each borough (town) also elected 2 MP’s. • Many boroughs no longer had people living in them while new, large, industrial towns did not have any MP’s - Pocket and Rotten Boroughs • Geographical imbalance - The South of England had 380 out of 588 seats so landowners dominated Parliament
[ii] The Franchise (right to vote) • The Franchise was full of anomolies. • In the Counties the vote went to owners of land worth £2 (40 shilling freeholder) • In the boroughs there were a variety of qualifications • In some virtually all males had the vote • In others hardly anyone was qualified. • This meant that most of the workers and some of the new middle classes had no vote.
[iii] Other factors • Only about 440,000 out of a total population of 14,000,000 could vote • Women could not vote • There was no secret ballot which led to bribery and bullying • The south was still over-represented at the expense of the North. • Parliament was dominated by landowners • MP’s were not paid • MP’s had to have £300 worth of land • Constituencies were unequal
Who was For Reform? • The Whigs - led by Earl Grey • Supported by the industrialists and middle classes - they believed that unless there was some reform from above there could be revolution from below. • They did not want democracy - but they would limit the vote to ‘responsible’ (property owning) members of society - Their arguments for change were:- • An unreformed Parliament did not reflect the changes in society • The unreformed Parliament was open to corruption • An unreformed Parliament would not make needed changes in society.
Who was against Reform? • The Tories - They saw reform as an attack on the establishment and status quo which would ultimately destroy the great institutions of the country • Peel (their greatest spokesman) argued :- • The anomolies in the system made sure that all interests were represented somewhere • Rotten and Pocket Boroughs were useful in allowing men of talent to enter Parliament • Reform would make it difficult to carry out the government’s business as there would not be enough Government MP’s • Once started, reform would be difficult to stop
How the reform Bill was Passed • Grey instructed a committee to draw up a Bill that would satisfy demands for reform but would not go too far. • March 1831 Lord Russell introduced the Bill to Parliament, it said:- • 56 small boroughs lost 2 MP’s 30 others lost 1 • 22 towns gained 2 MP’s 20 others gained 1 • The vote - In the countryside 32 qualification remained but tenants with property worth £50 could now vote • In towns the vote went to men who owned or rented property worth £10 a year • Voters had to be registered
The bill got through the House of Commons by one vote as the Tories had planned not to oppose the introduction but sabotage it at a later stage. This they did in the committee stage, delaying it. The King allowed the Whigs to hold a general election with reform as the main issue. • The result was an overwhelming victory for the Whigs and reform. The Tories then blocked the Bill in the Lords. This led to riots and demonstrations throughout England and Wales. Finally, the threat by King William IV to create as many Whig nobles as necessary forced the Lords to back down. In June 1832 the Bill became law.
The Results of the Act • The Act increased the number of voters by about 50% from about 440,000 to 652,000. However, the first elections after the Act saw a Parliament similar to those before the Act. The south was still over-represented at the expense of the North. • Still only a fifth of the population could vote • still no secret ballot • Parliament remained dominated by landowners • Although the Great Reform Act had not brought in democracy it had paved the way for future reforms of Parliament. It did not end the demands of reformers and radicals. • Many people were disappointed with the Act and it would not be long before more reform happened
Discussion points • Why were the Whigs in favour of parliamentary Reform? • Why were the Tories against Parliamentary Reform? • What changes were made to the electoral system by the great reform Act? • Was Britain near revolution in 1832?
Possible examination Questions • Why was there a demand for parliamentary reform in 1830? • How far did the government meet the demand for reform?