The 1832 Great Reform Act

  • Created by: lmc555
  • Created on: 09-02-21 16:57

The county franchise

  • Uniform county franchise gave the vote to all freeholders of property worth 40 shillings (£2) a year
  • Over time, due to inflation & the rising price of land, more men met the qualification
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The borough franchise

  • Open boroughs - where the vote was exercised by many men who met the broad qualifications. These had large electorates & were more independent
  • Scot & lot boroughs -  these gave the vote to people who paid their local tax
  • Potwollaper boroughs - these gave the vote to those who possessed a hearth where they could boil their pots
  • Burgage boroughs - here the right to vote belonged to men who owned various properties, & ownership of these votes was carefully protected
  • Corporation boroughs - towns where the only voters were the members of the town council. Most of these boroughs were highly corrupt, & would sell their vote to the highest bidder. E.g, The Suffolk town of Subury was notoriously corrupt. It was disenfranchised in 1844
  • Treasury boroughs - parliamentary seats that came under the control of government departments, which were the chief employers in the town
  • Pocket/rotten boroughs - Most of the property in these boroughs were owned by one person, who was therefore able to nominate his chosen candidates for election to parliament. These boroughs had once flourished economically, but had since become depopulated, but still retained their representation. E.g. the towns of Old Sarum & Dunwhich
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Demand for change

  • Until the 1790s, there was hardly any demand for change. People were generally content with the system which represented the nations 'interests', e.g. agriculture, trade, & banking
  • The industrial revolution changed the social structure & economic balance of the country. Towns & cities in the North and Midlands were heavily underrepresented, while places in the South of England were overrepresented
  • A new middle class of factory owners, bankers, & managers was emerging, and the working class was growing. Pressure was growing from the groups who wanted more representation in parliament
  • There was also a lot of corruption, particularly in corporation & rotten boroughs. In addition, there was no secret ballot & lots of bribery surrounding elections
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Collapse of the Tory government 1830

  • The Tories consistently refused to extend the vote / reform parliament
  • By 1830, the party was divided on religious issues, particularly concerning the Catholic Relief Act. As a result, some extreme Tories called the Ultras who were opposed to the Act were willing to support parliamentary reform if it meant the rejection of Catholic Emancipation
  • This division weakened the party & allowed the Whigs to come to power, who were more open to reform than the Tories


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The revival of the Whigs

  • The Whigs were much more open to reform than the Tories. Although many party members had aristocratic backgrounds, a lot were also from the emerging middle class and so as a whole the party was more in tune with the new demands from people in the Midlands & the North
  • The leader of the Whigs party, Earl Grey, supported moderate reform. He believed the vote should be given to the ‘respectable’ middle class
  • However, another motive of the Whigs for supporting reform was that they were keen to avoid riots or even a revolution
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The fall of Charles X of France 1830

  • Charles X of France was very unpopular among the people as he was a somewhat aggressive ruler, but also importantly he largely ignored the results of the election of 1829 which highlighted the growing support for the Liberal opposition
  • In desperations, Charles issued the Ordinances of St Cloud, which sparked a revolution in the Capital in July 1830
  • The French monarchy had collapsed due to its failure to recognise the demands & grievances of the people, & this sent a warning to Britain that the same could happen there
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The death of George IV

  • George IV was a very unpopular monarch, and also strongly opposed to Catholic emancipation & electoral reform. Under the Tories, there was no issue with this, however on his deathbed he was forced to agree to the demands for emancipation 
  • His successor William IV was more realistic & appreciated the need to reform the most corrupt areas of the system
  • This tide of popular opinion worked in the Whigs favour, & in the following election the Tories were kicked out & Earl Grey became prime minister
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Union of the middle & working class

  • A closer relationship was forged between the middle & working class between 1829-1832. A main cause of this was the creation of the Birmingham Political Union by Thomas Attwood which aimed to encourage reform
  • This pressure group was highly successful in bringing the issue of reform to the government’s attention
  • Prime minister Earl Grey was keen to split this alliance & appease the middle class by proposing moderate reform which would satisfy their demands
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Britain WAS close to a revolution...

  • There was widespread economic distress caused by poor harvests & unemployment
  • There was division between the Whigs & Tories, as well as within the Tory party itself
  • The radical movement was well-organised & had gained widespread support among the middle & working class
  • There were outbreaks of rioting in several places 
  • Political unions were becoming armed & prepared to use violence
  • There was a successful revoltion in Paris in 1830
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Britain WASN'T close to a revolution...

  • There were class divisions in the radical movement. This was particularly the case in Manchester, Leeds, & London. The middle class supported the Whig proposal for a modest reform bill, while the working class wanted to push for universal male suffrage
  • There was division in the movement between those who wanted to use peaceful methods e.g. petitions, & those who wanted to use violence, e.g. rioting
  • The government appeared to be able to handle unrest, using the tools at their command e.g. local yeomanry & magistrates. They also used spies so they often knew about plans for violence in advance. By 1819 several laws had been introduced, e.g. The Six Acts & The Gagging Acts, which repressed the radical movement
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Things that led to the passing of the 1832 reform

  • The general election of 1830, which the Whigs won
  • The Bristol Riots, 1831
  • The failure of Wellington to form a government in 1831
  • Pocket & rotten boroughs, and other corruption e.g. bribery 
  • The King's decision to create 50 Whigs peers to get reform through parliament
  • The Whig's desire to avoid a revolution like in France
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Key points of the 1832 Reform Act

  • In the counties, the old 40 shilling qualification remained, & the Chandos Clause meant tenant farmers who paid a rent of +£50 a year for their rent were enfranchised
  • Swept away the confusing number of borough qualifications. For the first time, a standard borough qualification was introduced - being a male with a household worth £10 a year
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Impact of the 1832 Great Reform Act

  • In the English counties the electorate increased by 55%, from 240,000 voters to 370,000. The borough electorate increased by 40% from c200,000 to 280,000 men
  • Uniform borough franchise appeared to be radical, but was hedged with qualifications. Electors had to be resident in their home for at least 1 year, & had to pay the poor rates. Many men in industrial towns moved often for work, so did not qualify. The qualification of being a male with a household worth £10 a year had a greater impact on the South of England than the North, where rents were much lower
  • Several boroughs' size of electorate decreased. Those who could vote pre-1832 kept their right, but their numbers fell & some boroughs saw a significant fall in size of the electorate until 1867
  • The skilled working class had hoped to be enfranchised, but weren't. One way they expressed their grievances was through supporting the chartist movement, which flourished in the late 1830s & 40s
  • There was no secret ballot introduced, so intimidation & bribery was still rife
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