Why and How the Great Reform Act was passed.

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The situation before the reform act

  • All MPs represented one of two kinds of constituency: county, or borough.
  • Each county in England and Wales returned 2 MPs. 
  • Many counties contained towns which used to be 'parliamentary boroughs' and so could also return two MPs. 
  • Example of issue: Manchester had 182,000 inhabitants in 1831 and no MPs. Whereas Dunwich only had 44 houses in 1831 and had 2 MPs. 
  • If a man living in a county owned freehold land or property worth at least 2 pounds a yea, he had the right to vote.
  • Boroughs were more complicated. There were different types of borough which meant the qualifications for voting differed; 'burgage' boroughs, potwalloper' boroughs, 'Scot and lot' boroughs
  • In a population of 24 million, less than 500,000 could vote. 
  • Legally there had to be an election every 7 years, but often there was not point in holding one because in many areas, there were the same amount of candidates as seats so no more that 11 county seats and 82 borough seats were contested in elections. 
  • Landowners could kick voters out of their homes if they voted for the candidate the owner didn't want. 
  • There was no secret ballot which increased bribery and blackmail
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Ideas and some action

  • John Cartwright, William Cobbett, and Henry Hunt all kept the idea of reform alive. Cartwright toured  the Midlands and North of England and set up 'Hampden clubs' for his supporters. Cobbett found away around the stamp duty for his newspaper 'twopenny trash'. Hunt often spoke out at political meetings for reform and was invited to front radical's meetings. He was nicknamed 'Orator' Hunt. 
  • Spa Fields Meetings - 1816. A group of extreme reformers who followed Thomas Spence wanted to nationalise land and abolish all taxes except income tax. They held a large meeting on Spa Fields, Islington, London. Part of the crowd rioted and marched on the city. 
  • The Blanketeers 1817 - Unemployed workers planned a march to London where they were to present a petition to the Prince Regent demanding the reform of parliament, the restoration of Habeus Corpus, and help for their distress. They were broken up by troops and the leaders were arrested and thrown in jail without trial. Only one person made it. 
  • Peterloo 1819 - About 60,000 men, women and children gathered on St Peter's field in Manchester to hear Henry Hunt speak. The local magistrates expected trouble so called in 400 special constables and the Manchester Yeomanry. Halfway through his speech the magistrates toook fright and ordered the Deputy constable, Joseph Nadin, to intervene. In the uproar that followed, the cavalry had to force their way through the crowd to rescue the badly trained yeomanry. 11 people were killed, and hundreds injured. This included women and children. 
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The Six Acts

There was nothing illegal about the meeting on St. Peter's field, but the government were determined to stop anymore peaceful protest and a meeting like that happening again. 

  • Meetings for the purpose of presenting a petition were limited to the inhabitants of the parish in which the meeting was held. 
  • Stamp duty was extended to all papers and periodicals of a specific size. 
  • Magistrates were given wide powes to search private homes for political pamphlets, and the power to try certain cases that perviousl had to be tried by a judge and jury. 
  • Private military training and amassing firearms was forbidden. 
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Distress and the manufacturing interest

  • 1829-32 had bad harvests (29-30) a sudden trade slump which affected the rich and poor (30) a cholera epidemic (31-32) high poor-rates, high unemployment, poor trade, and low wages (30-32). 
  • In February Earl Grey admitted the country was in a 'state of distress such as never before pressed on any country'. 
  • In the Midlands and the North the manufacturing towns had been well established. Gradually the people that owned and ran factories for cotton, iron, and shipyards and nailworks realised they weren't being represented in parliament. 
  • Some tried to take matters into their own hands. 
  • In Birmingham manufacturers tried to influence the 1812 Warwickshire county election so the man of their choice was elected. They failed, but the idea had taken hold.
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Political unions and the press

  • The Birmingham Political Union (BPU) was founded in 1829 by Thomas Attwood. They were designed to operate as a 'ginger group' to focus and lead local reform movements. By May 1832 100,000 people were attending the meetings. 
  • Political unions sprang up all over the country. However, they weren't all united like the BPU. In Leeds there were 3 unions all pressing for slightly different kinds of reform. 
  • By 1830 many leading London papers were pressing for reform. 'The Times' said parliamentary reform was the 'great issue of the moment'. 
  • In the provinces the newspapers were the most powerful in channelling local pressure for reform. 
  • By 1830 the press, the political unions, and the people all pressed for reform. All they needed was for those inside parliament to reform. 
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The reform bills (1)

  • First reform bill; introduced to the Commons by Lord John Russell.
  • Aimed to shift the balance of representation away from the landowners and towards the middle classes
  • 61 boroughs were to lose both their MPs.
  • 47 boroughs were to lose 1 MP. 
  • MPs were to be reduced in number from 658-596.
  • 46 seats were to be given to the large industrial towns of the Midlands and the North. 
  • There was to be one voting qualification; one must own or rent a property worth more than 10 pounds a year. Of course you also had to be a man. 
  • In the Commons, the bill was passed by just one vote. This wasn't enough and the next stage was for a small committee of MPs to make amendments. 
  • Grey knew this would wreck the bill and swiftly asked King William IV to dissolve parliament and hold an election. 
  • New parliament was a success for reformers. Grey stayed as Prime Minister for Whigs.
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The reform bills (2)

  • The second reform bill  passed through the House of Commons quickly and, on its third reading, was sent to the House of Lords by 109 votes. 
  • The majority of the Lords were known to be against reform. After a 5 day long debate, it was thrown out by 41 votes. 
  • The reaction in the country was violent. 
  • There were riots in Bristol, Derby, Nottingham, and other cities, and small towns like Blandford in Dorset. 
  • The windows of the Duke of Wellington's London home were smashed. 
  • Radical, reforming newspapers appeared with black borders as a sign of mourning. 
  • New political unions were formed in towns and old ones were strengthened.
  • The Church of England was attacked as out of 26 bishops in the House of Lords only 5 voted for the bill. 
  • Everywhere there were protest marches, and property belonging to anit-reform lords was attacked by stone throwing mobs
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The reform bills (3)

  • In December 1831, Lord John Russell presented a third and final reform bill to the Commons. It passed through and was sent to the Lords. 
  • The Lords started to employ delaying tactics and Grey and his supporters realised the only thing to do would be to create new peers in the House of Lords.
  • Grey asked the King to create new peers but he refused, so Grey's Whig government resigned. 
  • The Days of May began; riots and rallies erupted everywhere. Francis Place suggested everyone should withdraw their money from banks at the same time, creating a financial crisis. They called this 'Stop the Duke, go for gold' as they wanted to stop the Duke of Wellington from taking charge.
  • Wellington couldn't form a government as the Peelites wouldn't work with him. The King was forced to ask Grey to come back and he would make as many peers as he needed. 
  • The peers never had to be made, the House of Lords knew if more peers were made the reformers would outnumber the anit-reformers. 
  • When the bill came up to the House of Lords for the final time, the anit-reformers jst stayed away. It was passed with 106 votes to 22. 
  • The bill became the Great Reform Act of 1832. 
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