The electorial system before 1832
- In counties only landowners could vote.
- In towns there was a confusing range of different rules, relating to the property you lived in.
- Only 11% could vote, which was excluding most middle and working class men.
- Many rotten boroughs with hardly any voters but lots of industrial counties with no MPs.
- South and South-West were heavily over-represented compared to the Midlands, North, Scotland and Wales.
- No secret so bribery, intimidation and threat of eviction was common.
- Many boroughs were controlled by the local landowner - Pocket boroughs.
- Property qualification and no salary for MPs, which in turn meant only the rich who could afford to have no income could stand.
- Elections had to be held every 7 years.
Why did demand for reform revive in 1829-30?
1785 - Pitt proposed abloishing 36 of smallest boroughs, and extending the franchise to some long - term tenants of land. Although this quite a moderate reform is was rejected by the Commons.
1789 - French revolution.
1792 - Corresponding societies formed in response to the French revolution and made reform one of their key reforms.
1793 - Lord Grey proposed reform bill wuth backing of a group of Whigs but it was defeated by 282 to 41 votes.
1816-19 - The Spa Fields and Peterloo protesters called for reform.
From 1820 - Lord John Russell led a Whig campaign for reform in the House of Commons.
Attitudes to reform
- Genuinely believed in parliamentary reform and had a long record of support for it.
- They also wanted to benefit their own party as they had been out of power for so long, they needed to be in fabour to gain votes.
- They didn't want radical reform, but were in favour of universal suffrage and the secret ballot.
- Were very opposed to reform.
- If some reform was given to the people, they would be greedy and want more.
- Rotten boroughs provided most of Tory seats.
- Dont change something that isn't broken (Lassez - faire).
Reform Crisis and Passing the Act
- The two houses of Parliament were deadlocked. To some it seemed that unconstitutional and revolutionary action was the only way out.
- Violent protests broke out and huge mass meetings were organised by Politial Union leaders, such as Thomas Attwood and the Birmingham Political Union.
- In November the BPU called on its members to carry arms. This was party bluff but it achieved 2 things:
- Gave middle class leaders of Political Unions credibility in the eyes of the working class. So there was unity between the middle and working class protesters, which made protests much more powerful.
- Put pressure n MPs in Parliament, where the threat was taken seriously, and it stiffened Earl Grey's resolve to persevere with reform.