AS History Whig Reforms and Failures

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Whigs reforms and failures 1833-1841
Following the GRA, a general election was held in which the Whigs won a large majority (December 1832),
Grey remained Prime Minister until 1834 until resigning at the age of 70 ­ partly due to the fact that he
thought his main ambition ­ to introduce a moderate reform of parliament had been achieved and partly
due to a split in the cabinet about how to deal with the problems and unrest in Ireland.
Whig attitude to reform:
Most of the members of the Whig government, wealthy aristocrats seemed to think that the GRA was
their only needed part towards reform and if it was down to themselves were quite content without
taking any further positive actions. Melbourne himself shared this view and stated "I am holding for the
grounds already taken but not for occupying new ground rashly" ­ believed that there was no serious
problems to be solved. However, the extent to which Melbourne can be criticised for this view can be
discouraged as:
no tradition of wide government intervention
suspected motives ­ most people disapproved when government tried to expand various groups in
society's powers as they believed they were doing it for their own political benefit
policies would cost money ­ widespread views against an increase in taxation
There was considerable pressure for the government to keep up to speed when concerning reforming:
Benthamite Radicals ­ Jeremy Bentham had various ideas that came about after the GRA such as :"why
should government not continue to give way to pressure an concede reform in other areas of
inefficiency". Although Jeremy Bentham died in 1832 just before the Reform Bill passed, his followers kept
up with the pressure to generally harass the Whigs.
Humanitarian movement ­ involved many people who all had one aim in common ­ to improve the
living and working conditions of the working classes.
Robert Owen & John Fielden ­ two men in particular demonstrated that shorter working hours and
better conditions actually increased rather than reduced output, tried to influence the government and
interventionists into this view and to follow their example.
First round of reforms: slavery, factories and education (1833):
WILLIAM WILBERFORCE ­ Tory MP (Humanitarian)
Problem: although the slave trade had been prohibited in 1807, slavery itself was still allowed to
continue. The smuggling of slaves was very common and continued to occur shipping across the
Atlantic in appalling conditions as traders crammed as many slaves as possible onto their ships.
There were 670,000 slaves in the West Indies alone.
Opposition to the bill: especially from the owners of sugar plantations in the West Indies and from
merchants involved in the sugar trade as the abolition would mean a loss of slaves that would be
worth money (around £50) which would cause major labour shortages pushing up production
costs and meaning they would be out-competed by their American competition who would still
have slaves, meaning they would be able to sell sugar at a cheaper rate. There was also fear that
there would be unrest and disturbances from former slaves that would run riot after gaining their
· all slaves had to be set free within a year & serve apprenticeships for 7 years for their former
owners, this was to ease the transition from a slave economy to a wage-earner system.

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Government paid £20 million compensation to the slave-owners
· removed a system that was morally wrong
· caused major economic problems ­ planters complained that the compensation was insufficient,
many went out of business
· a general depression was caused in the West Indies as the owners of the plantations had major
labour shortages and had to pay high wages.…read more

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· What was wrong with the existing system?
System dated back to the late 16th century ­ each parish was expected to look after it's own
poor and the cash to provide relief for the poor came from a special rate paid by the inhabitants of
the parish.…read more

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Limitations: However in every other respect the Act aroused the most bitter criticism, from both the
working classes who suffered hardship from it and from the Humanitarians as it went against their wants
and thought it cruel and cold-blooded. Most newspapers were severely critical, there was a flood of
pamphlets & petitions, and there was many hostile demonstrations and attacks on workhouses.
Ignored the underlying causes of poverty and unemployment ­ assumed that it was the fault of
the pauper in every case.…read more

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Terms of the Municipal Corporations Act (1835):
· closed corporations were abolished ­ borough councils had to be elected by all male ratepayers
who had lived in the town for 3 years ­ tackled this issue of corporations who voted themselves
in/relatives/friends exploiting the system
· Councillors were elected for 3 years
· Councillors who choose the mayor to hold office for one year & a group of aldermen for 6 years
· Each borough was to have a paid town clerk and treasurer and…read more

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The government was responsible for 2 measures which did something to reduce the Nonconformist
resentment against the powers and privileges of the Church Of England.
· The Marriage Act ­ recognised marriages in Nonconformist chapels and Roman Catholic Churches
as legal, provided that a civil registrar was there
· The Tithe Commutation Act ­ replaced the tithe (a tax of 1/10 of annual produce to be paid to
the Church) with a cash rent.…read more


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