The Representation of the People Act 1832 (also known as the 1832 Reform Act, Great Reform Act or First Reform Act) was an Act of
Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the supreme legislative body A legislature is an assembly Assembly may refer to: Organisations and meetings * Deliberative assembly A deliberative assembly is a gathering of members (of any kin ...
(indexed as 2 & 3 Will. IV c. 45) that introduced major changes to the
electoral system An electoral system or voting system is a set of rules that determine how elections and Referendum, referendums are conducted and how their results are determined. Political electoral systems are organized by governments, while non-political ele ...
England and Wales England and Wales () is a legal jurisdiction covering England and Wales, two of the four countries of the United Kingdom, parts of the United Kingdom. England and Wales forms the constitutional successor to the former Kingdom of England and follows ...

England and Wales
. It abolished tiny
districts A district is a type of administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdivision, as well as many similar terms, are generic na ...
, gave representation to cities, gave the vote to small landowners,
tenant farmers A tenant farmer is one who resides on land owned by a landlord A landlord is the owner of a house, apartment, condominium, land, or real estate which is Renting, rented or leased to an individual or business, who is called a Leasehold estat ...
, shopkeepers, householders who paid a yearly rental of £10 or more, and some lodgers. Only qualifying men were
able to vote
able to vote
; the Act introduced the first explicit statutory bar to women voting, by defining a voter as a male person. It was designed to correct abuses – to "take effectual Measures for correcting divers Abuses that have long prevailed in the Choice of Members to serve in the Commons House of Parliament". Before the reform, most members nominally represented
borough A borough is an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdivision, as well as many similar terms, are generic names for ...
s. The number of electors in a borough varied widely, from a dozen or so up to 12,000. Frequently the selection of
Members of Parliament A member of parliament (MP) is the representative of the people who live in their constituency An electoral district, also known as an election district, legislative district, voting district, constituency, riding, ward, division, (election) ...
(MPs) was effectively controlled by one powerful patron: for example
Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk Charles is a masculine given name predominantly found in English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early med ...
, controlled eleven boroughs. Criteria for qualification for the franchise varied greatly among boroughs, from the requirement to own land, to merely living in a house with a
hearth A hearth is the place in a where a is or was traditionally kept for home heating and for , usually constituted by at least a horizontal hearthstone and often enclosed to varying degrees by any combination of , , , smoke hood, or . Hearths a ...

sufficient to boil a pot. There had been calls for reform long before 1832, but without success. The Act that finally succeeded was proposed by the Whigs, led by Prime Minister
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, (13 March 1764 – 17 July 1845), known as Viscount Howick between 1806 and 1807, was a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1830 to 1834. He was a descendant of the noble ...
. It met with significant opposition from the
Pittite The Tories were a political faction and then a political party in the parliaments of Parliament of England, England, Parliament of Scotland, Scotland, Parliament of Great Britain, Great Britain, Parliament of Ireland, Ireland and the Parliamen ...

factions in Parliament, who had long governed the country; opposition was especially pronounced in the
House of Lords The House of Lords, formally The Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, is the of the . Membership is by , or . Like the , it meets in the . ar ...

House of Lords
. Nevertheless, the bill was eventually passed, mainly as a result of public pressure. The Act granted seats in the House of Commons to large cities that had sprung up during the
Industrial Revolution The Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes in Great Britain, continental Europe Continental Europe or mainland Europe is the contiguous continent A continent is any of several large landmasse ...
, and removed seats from the "
rotten borough A rotten or pocket borough, also known as a nomination borough or proprietorial borough, was a parliamentary borough In the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK ...
s": those with very small electorates and usually dominated by a wealthy patron. The Act also increased the electorate from about 400,000 to 650,000, making about one in five adult males eligible to vote. The full title is ''An Act to amend the representation of the people in England and Wales''. Its formal
short title In certain jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom and other Westminster Westminster is a district in Central London Central London (also known less commonly as London city centre) is the innermost part of London, in England, spanning s ...
and citation is "Representation of the People Act 1832 (2 & 3 Wm. IV, c. 45)". The Act applied only in England and Wales; the
Irish Reform Act 1832 The Representation of the People (Ireland) Act, 1832, commonly called the Irish Reform Act 1832, was an Act of Parliament that introduced wide-ranging changes to the election laws of Ireland. The act was passed at approximately the same time as ...
brought similar changes to Ireland. The separate
Scottish Reform Act 1832 The Scottish Reform Act 1832 was an Act of Parliament that introduced wide-ranging changes to the election laws of Scotland Scotland ( sco, Scotland, gd, Alba ) is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. ...
was revolutionary, enlarging the electorate by a factor of 13 from 5,000 to 65,000.

Unreformed House of Commons


After the
Acts of Union 1800 The Acts of Union 1800 (sometimes referred to as a single Act of Union 1801) were parallel acts of the Parliament of Great Britain The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in May 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union 17 ...
became law on 1 January 1801, the unreformed House of Commons was composed of 658 members, of whom 513 represented England and Wales. There were two types of constituencies: counties and boroughs. County members were supposed to represent landholders, while borough members were supposed to represent the mercantile and trading interests of the kingdom.


Counties A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposes Chambers Dictionary, L. Brookes (ed.), 2005, Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd, Edinburgh in certain modern nations. The term is derived from the Old French ...
were historical national subdivisions established between the 8th and 16th centuries. They were not merely parliamentary constituencies: many components of government (including
court A court is any person or institution, often as a government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''Sta ...

s and the
militia A militia () is generally an army An army (from Latin ''arma'' "arms, weapons" via Old French ''armée'', "armed" eminine, ground force or land force is a fighting force that fights primarily on land. In the broadest sense, it is the land-b ...
) were organised along county lines. The members of Parliament chosen by the counties were known as
knights of the shire A knight is a person granted an honorary title of knighthood by a head of state (including the pope) or representative for service to the monarch, the christian denomination, church or the country, especially in a military capacity. Knighthoo ...
. In Wales each county elected one member, while in England each county elected two members until 1826, when Yorkshire's representation was increased to four, following the disenfranchisement of the Cornish borough of
Grampound Grampound ( kw, Ponsmeur) is a village in Cornwall, England. It is at an ancient crossing point of the River Fal and today is on the A390 road six miles west of St Austell and eight miles east of Truro.Ordnance Survey: Landranger map sheet 204 '' ...


Parliamentary boroughs in England ranged widely in size from small hamlets to large cities, partly because they had evolved haphazardly. The earliest boroughs were chosen in the Middle Ages by county sheriffs, and even a village might be deemed a borough. Many of these early boroughs (such as
Winchelsea Winchelsea () is a small town in the non-metropolitan county of East Sussex East Sussex is a county in South East England on the English Channel The English Channel,, "The Sleeve"; nrf, la Maunche, "The Sleeve" ( Cotentinais) or ( ...
Dunwich Dunwich is a village and Civil parishes in England, civil parish in Suffolk, England. It is in the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB around north-east of London, south of Southwold and north of Leiston, on the North Sea coast. In the Anglo-S ...
) were substantial settlements at the time of their original enfranchisement, but later went into decline, and by the early 19th century some only had a few electors, but still elected two
MPs A member of parliament (MP) is the representative of the people who live in their constituency An electoral district, also known as an election district, legislative district, voting district, constituency, riding, ward, division, (election) ...
; they were often known as
rotten boroughs Old Sarum in Wiltshire, an uninhabited hill which until 1832 elected two Members of Parliament. Painting by John Constable, 1829 A rotten or pocket borough, also known as a nomination borough or proprietorial borough, was a parliamentary borough ...
. In later centuries the reigning monarch decided which settlements to enfranchise. Of the 70 English boroughs that Tudor monarchs enfranchised, 31 were later
disenfranchisedDisfranchisement, also called disenfranchisement, or voter disqualification is the revocation of suffrage Suffrage, political franchise, or simply franchise is the right to vote in public, political elections (although the term is sometimes use ...
. Finally, the parliamentarians of the 17th century compounded the inconsistencies by re-enfranchising 15 boroughs whose representation had lapsed for centuries, seven of which were later disenfranchised by the Reform Act. After Newark was enfranchised in 1661, no additional boroughs were enfranchised, and, with the sole exception of Grampound's 1821 disenfranchisement, the system remained unchanged until the Reform Act of 1832. Most English boroughs elected two MPs; but five boroughs elected only one MP: Abingdon,
Banbury Banbury is a historic market town A market town is a European that obtained by custom or royal charter, in the , a market right, which allowed it to host a regular ; this distinguished it from a or . In Britain, small rural towns with ...
Bewdley Bewdley ( pronunciationPronunciation is the way in which a word or a language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most ...
Higham Ferrers Higham Ferrers is a market town and civil parish in the Nene Valley in North Northamptonshire, England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west ...
Monmouth Monmouth ( , ; cy, Trefynwy meaning "town on the Monnow") is a town and community A community is a social unit (a group of living things) with commonality such as Norm (social), norms, religion, values, Convention (norm), customs, or Identi ...

. The
City of London The City of London is a city A city is a large .Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ''The Social Science Encyclopedia''. 2nd edition. London: Routledge. It ...

City of London
and the joint borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis each elected four members. The Welsh boroughs each returned a single member.

The franchise

Statutes passed in 1430 and 1432, during the reign of
Henry VI Henry VI may refer to: * Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor (1165–1197) * Henry VI, Count Palatine of the Rhine (ruled 1212–1214) * Henry VI, Count of Luxembourg (crowned 1281, died 1288) * Henry VI the Older (before 1345 – 1393) * Henry VI, Count ...

Henry VI
, standardised property qualifications for county voters. Under these Acts, all owners of freehold property or land worth at least forty shillings in a particular county were entitled to vote in that county. This requirement, known as the forty shilling freehold, was never adjusted for inflation of land value; thus the amount of land one had to own in order to vote gradually diminished over time. The franchise was restricted to males by custom rather than statute; on rare occasions women had been able to vote in parliamentary elections as a result of property ownership. Nevertheless, the vast majority of people were not entitled to vote; the size of the English county electorate in 1831 has been estimated at only 200,000. Furthermore, the sizes of the individual county constituencies varied significantly. The smallest counties,
Rutland Rutland () is a Counties of England, county in the East Midlands of England, bounded to the west and north by Leicestershire, to the northeast by Lincolnshire and the southeast by Northamptonshire. Its greatest length north to south is on ...

Anglesey Anglesey (; cy, Ynys Môn ), an island off the north-west coast of Wales Wales ( cy, Cymru ) is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or political entity. It is often referred to as the land of an individua ...
, had fewer than 1,000 voters each, while the largest county,
Yorkshire Yorkshire (; abbreviated Yorks), formally known as the County of York, is a historic county of Northern England Northern England, also known as the North of England or simply the North, is the most northern area of England England ...

, had more than 20,000. Those who owned property in multiple constituencies could vote multiple times. Not only was this typically legal (since there was usually no need for a property owner to live in a constituency in order to vote there) it was also feasible, even with the technology of the time, since polling was usually held over several days and rarely if ever did different constituencies vote on the same day. In boroughs the franchise was far more varied. There were broadly six types of parliamentary boroughs, as defined by their franchise: # Boroughs in which freemen were electors; # Boroughs in which the franchise was restricted to those paying
scot and lotImage:SeriesXrev.jpg, A sceat Scot and lot is a phrase common in the records of England, English, Wales, Welsh and Lordship of Ireland, Irish medieval boroughs, referring to local rights and obligations. The term ''scot'' comes from the Old English ...
, a form of municipal taxation; # Boroughs in which only the ownership of a
burgage Burgage is a medieval land term used in Great Britain Great Britain is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of continental Europe. With an area of , it is the largest of the British Isles, the List of European is ...
property qualified a person to vote; # Boroughs in which only members of the corporation were electors (such boroughs were perhaps in every case "
pocket borough A rotten or pocket borough, also known as a nomination borough or proprietorial borough, was a parliamentary borough In the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK ...
s", because council members were usually "in the pocket" of a wealthy patron); # Boroughs in which male householders were electors (these were usually known as "
potwalloper A potwalloper (sometimes potwalloner or potwaller) or householder borough was a parliamentary borough in which the Suffrage, franchise was extended to the male head of any household with a hearth large enough to boil a cauldron (or "wallop a pot"). ...
boroughs", as the usual definition of a householder was a person able to boil a pot on his/her own hearth); # Boroughs in which freeholders of land had the right to vote. Some boroughs had a combination of these varying types of franchise, and most had special rules and exceptions, so many boroughs had a form of franchise that was unique to themselves. The largest borough,
Westminster Westminster is a district in Central London Central London is the innermost part of London London is the capital city, capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of England and the United Kingdom. The city sta ...
, had about 12,000 voters, while many of the smallest, usually known as "rotten boroughs", had fewer than 100 each. The most famous rotten borough was
Old Sarum Old Sarum, in Wiltshire Wiltshire (; abbreviated Wilts) is a Ceremonial counties of England, county in South West England with an area of . It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordsh ...
, which had 13
burgage plots Burgage is a medieval land terms, medieval land term used in Great Britain and Ireland, well established by the 13th century. A burgage was a town ("borough" or "burgh") rental property (to use modern terms), owned by a king or lord. The property ...
that could be used to "manufacture" electors if necessary—usually around half a dozen was thought sufficient. Other examples were
Dunwich Dunwich is a village and Civil parishes in England, civil parish in Suffolk, England. It is in the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB around north-east of London, south of Southwold and north of Leiston, on the North Sea coast. In the Anglo-S ...
(32 voters),
Camelford Camelford ( kw, Reskammel) is a town and civil parish In England, a civil parish is a type of administrative parish used for local government. It is a territorial designation which is the lowest tier of local government below districts an ...
(25), and Gatton (7). By contrast, France in 1831 had a population of 32 million, about double the 16.5 million in England, Wales and Scotland. But there were only 165,000 French voters (0.52% of the French population), compared to 439,000 in Britain (2.66% of the British population). France adopted universal male suffrage in 1848.

Women's suffrage

The claim for the women's vote appears to have been first made by
Jeremy Bentham Jeremy Bentham (; 15 February 1748 Old_Style_and_New_Style_dates">O.S._4_February_1747.html" ;"title="Old_Style_and_New_Style_dates.html" ;"title="nowiki/>Old Style and New Style dates">O.S. 4 February 1747">Old_Style_and_New_Style_dates.htm ...

Jeremy Bentham
in 1817 when he published his ''Plan of Parliamentary Reform in the form of a Catechism'', and was taken up by
William ThompsonWilliam Thompson may refer to: Academics * William Hepworth Thompson (1810–1886), English classical scholar * William Gilman Thompson (1856–1927), American professor of medicine * William Oxley Thompson (1855–1933), president of Ohio State Un ...
in 1825, when he published, with Anna Wheeler, ''An Appeal of One Half the Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain Them in Political, and Thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery: In Reply to Mr. Mill's Celebrated Article on Government''. In the "celebrated article on Government",
James Mill James Mill (born James Milne; 6 April 1773 – 23 June 1836) was a Scottish historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian is a person who stu ...

James Mill
had stated: The passing of the Act seven years later enfranchising "male persons" was, however, a more significant event; it has been argued that it was the inclusion of the word "male", thus providing the first explicit statutory bar to women voting, which provided a focus of attack and a source of resentment from which, in time, the women's suffrage movement grew.

Pocket boroughs, bribery

Many constituencies, especially those with small electorates, were under the control of rich landowners, and were known as nomination boroughs or
pocket borough A rotten or pocket borough, also known as a nomination borough or proprietorial borough, was a parliamentary borough In the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK ...
s, because they were said to be in the pockets of their patrons. Most patrons were noblemen or landed gentry who could use their local influence, prestige, and wealth to sway the voters. This was particularly true in rural counties, and in small boroughs situated near a large landed estate. Some noblemen even controlled multiple constituencies: for example, the
Duke of Norfolk The Duke of Norfolk is the premier duke in the peerage of England, and also, as Earl of Arundel, the premier earl. The Duke of Norfolk is, moreover, the Earl Marshal and Hereditary Marshal of England. The seat of the Duke of Norfolk is Arundel ...
controlled eleven, while the
Earl of Lonsdale Earl of Lonsdale is a title that has been created twice in British history, firstly in the Peerage of Great Britain in 1784 (becoming extinct in 1802), and then in the Peerage of the United Kingdom in 1807, both times for members of the Lowther ...
controlled nine. Writing in 1821,
Sydney Smith Sydney Smith (3 June 1771 – 22 February 1845) was an English wit, writer and Anglican cleric. Early life and education Born in Woodford, London, Woodford, Essex, England, Smith was the son of merchant Robert Smith (1739–1827) and Maria Olier ...

Sydney Smith
proclaimed that "The country belongs to the Duke of Rutland, Lord Lonsdale, the Duke of Newcastle, and about twenty other holders of boroughs. They are our masters!" T. H. B. Oldfield claimed in his ''Representative History of Great Britain and Ireland'' that, out of the 514 members representing England and Wales, about 370 were selected by nearly 180 patrons. A member who represented a pocket borough was expected to vote as his patron ordered, or else lose his seat at the next election. Voters in some constituencies resisted outright domination by powerful landlords, but were often open to corruption. Electors were bribed individually in some boroughs, and collectively in others. In 1771, for example, it was revealed that 81 voters in
New ShorehamNew Shoreham may refer to: * New Shoreham, Rhode Island, United States * Part of Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, England ** New Shoreham (UK Parliament constituency) 1295–1885 See also

* Shoreham (disambiguation) {{geodis ...
(who constituted a majority of the electorate) formed a corrupt organisation that called itself the "Christian Club", and regularly sold the borough to the highest bidder. Especially notorious for their corruption were the "
nabob A nabob is a conspicuously wealthy man deriving his fortune in the east, especially in India India, officially the Republic of India (Hindi: ), is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by area, seventh-l ...
s", or individuals who had amassed fortunes in the British colonies in Asia and the
West Indies The West Indies are a subregion A subregion is a part of a larger region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, in ...
. The nabobs, in some cases, even managed to wrest control of boroughs from the nobility and the gentry.
Lord Chatham William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, (15 November 170811 May 1778) was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1766 to 1768. Historians call him Pitt of Chatham, or William Pitt the Elder, to distinguish him from his son, William Pitt the Younger, ...
, Prime Minister of Great Britain during the 1760s, casting an eye on the fortunes made in India commented that "the importers of foreign gold have forced their way into Parliament, by such a torrent of corruption as no private hereditary fortune could resist".

Movement for reform

Early attempts at reform

During the 1640s, England endured a
civil war A civil war, also known as an intrastate war in polemology, is a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine publis ...
that pitted
King Charles I of the King of the Romans (variant used in the early modern period) File:Nezahualpiltzintli.jpg, Aztec King Nezahualpiltzintli of Texcoco King is the title given to a male monarch in a variety of contexts. The female equivalent is queen re ...

King Charles I
and the
against the Parliamentarians. In 1647, different factions of the victorious parliamentary army held a series of discussions, the
Putney Debates The Putney Debates were a series of discussions among the increasingly dominant New Model Army The New Model Army was a standing army formed in 1645 by the Roundhead, Parliamentarians during the First English Civil War, then disbanded after ...
, on reforming the structure of English government. The most radical elements proposed universal manhood suffrage and the reorganisation of parliamentary constituencies. Their leader
Thomas Rainsborough Vice-Admiral Vice admiral is a senior naval flag officer rank, equivalent to lieutenant general and air marshal. A vice admiral is typically senior to a rear admiral and junior to an admiral. In many navies,Vice admiral is a three-star rank in th ...

Thomas Rainsborough
declared, "I think it's clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government." More conservative members disagreed, arguing instead that only individuals who owned land in the country should be allowed to vote. For example,
Henry Ireton Henry Ireton ((baptised) 3 November 1611 – 26 November 1651) was an English general in the army during the , and the son-in-law of . He died of disease outside in November 1651. Personal details Ireton was the eldest son of a German Ireto ...

Henry Ireton
stated, "no man hath a right to an interest or share in the disposing of the affairs of the kingdom ... that hath not a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom." The views of the conservative "Grandees" eventually won out.
Oliver Cromwell Oliver Cromwell (25 April 15993 September 1658) was an English general and statesman who, first as a subordinate and later as Commander-in-Chief, led armies An army (from Latin ''arma'' "arms, weapons" via Old French ''armée'', "armed" e ...

Oliver Cromwell
, who became the leader of England after the abolition of the monarchy in 1649, refused to adopt universal suffrage; individuals were required to own property (real or personal) worth at least £200 in order to vote. He did nonetheless agree to some electoral reform; he disfranchised several small boroughs, granted representation to large towns such as
Manchester Manchester () is the most-populous city and metropolitan borough A metropolitan borough is a type of local government district The districts of England (also known as local authority districts or local government districts to distinguis ...

Leeds Leeds is the largest city in the county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by William Chambers (publis ...

, and increased the number of members elected by populous counties. These reforms were all reversed, however, after Cromwell's death and the last parliament to be elected in the Commonwealth period in 1659 reverted to the electoral system as it had existed under Charles I. Following Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 the issue of parliamentary reform lay dormant;
James II James II and VII (14 October 1633Old Style and New Style dates, O.S.16 September 1701An assertion found in many sources that James died 6 September 1701 (17 September 1701 New Style) may result from a miscalculation done by an author of anonymou ...

James II
's attempt to remodel municipal corporations to gain control of their borough seats created an antipathy to any change after the
Glorious Revolution The Glorious Revolution of November 1688 ( ga, An Réabhlóid Ghlórmhar; gd, Rèabhlaid Ghlòrmhor; cy, Chwyldro Gogoneddus), the invasion also known as the ''Glorieuze Overtocht'' or Glorious Crossing by the Dutch, was the deposition of ...
. It was revived in the 1760s by the Whig Prime Minister
William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, (15 November 170811 May 1778) was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1766 to 1768. Historians call him Pitt of Chatham, or William Pitt the Elder, to distinguish him from his son, William Pitt the Younger, ...
("Pitt the Elder"), who called borough representation "the rotten part of our Constitution" (hence the term "rotten borough"). Nevertheless, he did not advocate an immediate disfranchisement of rotten boroughs. He instead proposed that a third member be added to each county, to countervail the borough influence. The Whigs failed to unite behind the expansion of county representation; some objected to the idea because they felt that it would give too much power to the aristocracy and gentry in rural areas. Ultimately, despite Chatham's exertions, Parliament took no action on his proposals. The cause of parliamentary reform was next taken up by Lord Chatham's son,
William Pitt the Younger William Pitt the Younger (28 May 175923 January 1806) was a prominent Tory A Tory () is a person who holds a political philosophy Political philosophy or political theory is the philosophical Philosophy (from , ) is the st ...

William Pitt the Younger
(variously described as a Tory and as an "independent Whig"). Like his father, he shrank from proposing the wholesale abolition of the rotten boroughs, advocating instead an increase in county representation. The House of Commons rejected Pitt's resolution by over 140 votes, despite receiving petitions for reform bearing over twenty thousand signatures. In 1783, Pitt became Prime Minister but was still unable to achieve reform.
King George III George III (George William Frederick; 4 June 173829 January 1820) was King of Great Britain and of Monarchy of Ireland, Ireland from 25 October 1760 until Acts of Union 1800, the union of the two kingdoms on 1 January 1801, after which he wa ...

King George III
was averse to the idea, as were many members of Pitt's own cabinet. In 1786, the Prime Minister proposed a reform bill, but the House of Commons rejected it on a 174–248 vote. Pitt did not raise the issue again for the remainder of his term.

Aftermath of the French Revolution

Support for parliamentary reform plummeted after the launch of the
French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) was a period of radical political and societal change in France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a spanning and in the and the , and s. Its ...

French Revolution
in 1789. Many English politicians became steadfastly opposed to any major political change. Despite this reaction, several
Radical Movement The Radical Movement (french: Mouvement radical, MR), whose complete name is Radical, Social and Liberal Movement (french: link=no, Mouvement radical, social et libéral) is a Social liberalism, social-liberal list of political parties in France, p ...
groups were established to agitate for reform. A group of Whigs led by James Maitland, 8th Earl of Lauderdale, and Charles Grey founded an organisation advocating parliamentary reform in 1792. This group, known as the
Society of the Friends of the People The Society of the Friends of the People was an organisation in Great Britain that was focused on advocating for Parliamentary Reform. It was founded by the Whig Party in 1792. The Society in England England is a Countries of the United K ...
, included 28 MPs. In 1793, Grey presented to the House of Commons a petition from the Friends of the People, outlining abuses of the system and demanding change. He did not propose any specific scheme of reform, but merely a motion that the House inquire into possible improvements. Parliament's reaction to the French Revolution was so negative, that even this request for an inquiry was rejected by a margin of almost 200 votes. Grey tried to raise the subject again in 1797, but the House again rebuffed him by a majority of over 150. Other notable pro-reform organisations included the Hampden Clubs (named after
John Hampden John Hampden (24 June 1643) was an English landowner and politician whose opposition to arbitrary taxes imposed by Charles I of England, Charles I made him a national figure. An ally of Roundhead, Parliamentarian leader John Pym, and cousin to O ...

John Hampden
, an English politician who opposed the Crown during the English Civil War) and the
London Corresponding Society The London Corresponding Society (LCS) was a federation of local reading and debating clubs that in the decade following the French Revolution agitated for the democratic reform of the British Parliament. In contrast to other reform associatio ...
(which consisted of workers and artisans). But the "Radical" reforms supported by these organisations (for example, universal suffrage) found even less support in Parliament. For example, when
Sir Francis Burdett Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Baronet (25 January 1770 – 23 January 1844) was an English reformist politician, the son of Francis Burdett (1743), Francis Burdett and his wife Eleanor, daughter of William Jones of Ramsbury Manor, Wiltshire, and grands ...
, chairman of the London Hampden Club, proposed a resolution in favour of universal suffrage, equally sized electoral districts, and voting by secret ballot to the House of Commons, his motion found only one other supporter (
Lord Cochrane
Lord Cochrane
) in the entire House. Despite such setbacks, popular pressure for reform remained strong. In 1819, a large pro-reform rally was held in Birmingham. Although the city was not entitled to any seats in the Commons, those gathered decided to elect Sir Charles Wolseley as Birmingham's "legislatorial representative". Following their example, reformers in Manchester held a similar meeting to elect a "legislatorial attorney". Between 20,000 and 60,000 (by different estimates) attended the event, many of them bearing signs such as "Equal Representation or Death". The protesters were ordered to disband; when they did not, the Manchester Yeomenry suppressed the meeting by force. Eighteen people were killed and several hundred injured, the event later to become known as the
Peterloo Massacre The Peterloo Massacre took place at St Peter's Square, Manchester, St Peter's Field, Manchester, Lancashire, England, on Monday 16 August 1819. Fifteen people died when cavalry charged into a crowd of around 60,000 people who had gathered to d ...

Peterloo Massacre
. In response, the government passed the
Six Acts Following the Peterloo Massacre on 16 August 1819, the government of the United Kingdom The Government of the United Kingdom, domestically referred to as Her Majesty's Government, is the central government of the United Kingdom of Great Brit ...
, measures designed to quell further political agitation. In particular, the Seditious Meetings Act prohibited groups of more than 50 people from assembling to discuss any political subject without prior permission from the sheriff or magistrate.

Reform during the 1820s

Since the House of Commons regularly rejected direct challenges to the system of representation by large majorities, supporters of reform had to content themselves with more modest measures. The Whig John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, Lord John Russell brought forward one such measure in 1820, proposing the disfranchisement of the notoriously corrupt borough of
Grampound Grampound ( kw, Ponsmeur) is a village in Cornwall, England. It is at an ancient crossing point of the River Fal and today is on the A390 road six miles west of St Austell and eight miles east of Truro.Ordnance Survey: Landranger map sheet 204 '' ...
in Cornwall. He suggested that the borough's two seats be transferred to the city of Leeds. Tories in the House of Lords agreed to the disfranchisement of the borough, but refused to accept the precedent of directly transferring its seats to an industrial city. Instead, they modified the proposal so that two further seats were given to
Yorkshire Yorkshire (; abbreviated Yorks), formally known as the County of York, is a historic county of Northern England Northern England, also known as the North of England or simply the North, is the most northern area of England England ...

, the county in which Leeds is situated. In this form, the bill passed both houses and became law. In 1828, Lord John Russell suggested that Parliament repeat the idea by abolishing the corrupt boroughs of Penryn, Cornwall, Penryn and Retford, East Retford, and by transferring their seats to Manchester and Birmingham. This time, however, the House of Lords rejected his proposals. In 1830, Russell proposed another, similar scheme: the enfranchisement of Leeds, Manchester, and Birmingham, and the disfranchisement of the next three boroughs found guilty of corruption; again, the proposal was rejected. Support for reform came from an unexpected source—a reactionary faction of the Tory Party—in 1829. The Tory government under Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, responding to the danger of civil strife in largely Roman Catholic Ireland, drew up the Catholic Relief Act 1829. This legislation repealed various laws that imposed political disabilities on Roman Catholics, in particular laws that prevented them from becoming members of Parliament. In response, disenchanted ultra-Tories who perceived a danger to the established religion came to favour parliamentary reform, in particular the enfranchisement of Manchester, Leeds, and other heavily Nonconformist cities in northern England.

Passage of the Reform Act

First Reform Bill

The death of George IV of the United Kingdom, King George IV on 26 June 1830 dissolved Parliament by law, and a 1830 United Kingdom general election, general election was held. Electoral reform, which had been frequently discussed during the preceding parliamentary session, became a major campaign issue. Across the country, several pro-reform "political unions" were formed, made up of both middle and working class individuals. The most influential of these was the Birmingham Political Union, led by Thomas Attwood (economist), Thomas Attwood. These groups confined themselves to lawful means of supporting reform, such as petitioning and public oratory, and achieved a high level of public support. The Tories won a majority in the election, but the party remained divided, and support for the Prime Minister (Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, the Duke of Wellington) was weak. When the Opposition raised the issue of reform in one of the first debates of the year, the Duke made a controversial defence of the existing system of government, recorded in the formal "third-party" language of the time:
He was fully convinced that the country possessed, at the present moment, a legislature which answered all the good purposes of legislation,—and this to a greater degree than any legislature ever had answered, in any country whatever. He would go further, and say that the legislature and system of representation possessed the full and entire confidence of the country. [...] He would go still further, and say, that if at the present moment he had imposed upon him the duty of forming a legislature for any country [...] he did not mean to assert that he could form such a legislature as they possessed now, for the nature of man was incapable of reaching such excellence at once. [...] [A]s long as he held any station in the government of the country, he should always feel it his duty to resist [reform] measures, when proposed by others.
The Prime Minister's absolutist views proved extremely unpopular, even within his own party. Less than two weeks after Wellington made these remarks, on 15 November 1830 he was forced to resign after he was defeated in a motion of no confidence. Sydney Smith wrote, "Never was any administration so completely and so suddenly destroyed; and, I believe, entirely by the Duke's declaration, made, I suspect, in perfect ignorance of the state of public feeling and opinion." Wellington was replaced by the Whig reformer Charles Grey, who had by this time the title of Earl Grey. Lord Grey's first announcement as Prime Minister was a pledge to carry out parliamentary reform. On 1 March 1831, Lord John Russell brought forward the Reform Bill in the House of Commons on the government's behalf. The bill disfranchised 60 of the smallest boroughs, and reduced the representation of 47 others. Some seats were completely abolished, while others were redistributed to the London suburbs, to large cities, to the counties, and to Scotland and Ireland. Furthermore, the bill standardised and expanded the borough franchise, increasing the size of the electorate (according to one estimate) by half a million voters. On 22 March, the vote on the reading (legislature), second reading attracted a record 608 members, including the non-voting Speaker (the previous record was 530 members). Despite the high attendance, the second reading was approved by only one vote, and further progress on the Reform Bill was difficult. During the committee stage, Isaac Gascoyne put forward a motion objecting to provisions of the bill that reduced the total number of seats in the House of Commons. This motion was carried, against the government's wishes, by 8 votes. Thereafter, the ministry lost a vote on a procedural motion by 22 votes. As these divisions indicated that Parliament was against the Reform Bill, the ministry decided to request a dissolution and take its appeal to the people.

Second Reform Bill

The political and popular pressure for reform had grown so great that pro-reform Whigs won an overwhelming House of Commons majority in the 1831 United Kingdom general election, general election of 1831. The Whig party won almost all constituencies with genuine electorates, leaving the Tories with little more than the rotten boroughs. The Reform Bill was again brought before the House of Commons, which agreed to the second reading by a large majority in July. During the committee stage, opponents of the bill slowed its progress through tedious discussions of its details, but it was finally passed in September, by a margin of more than 100 votes. The Bill was then sent up to the House of Lords, a majority in which was known to be hostile to it. After the Whigs' decisive victory in the 1831 election, some speculated that opponents would abstain, rather than openly defy the public will. Indeed, when the Lords voted on the second reading of the bill after a memorable series of debates, many Tory peers did refrain from voting. However, the Lords Spiritual mustered in unusually large numbers, and of 22 present, 21 voted against the Bill. It failed by 41 votes. When the Lords rejected the Reform Bill, public violence ensued. That very evening, 1831 reform riots, riots broke out in Derby, where a mob attacked the city jail and freed several prisoners. In Nottingham, rioters set fire to Nottingham Castle (the home of the Duke of Newcastle) and attacked Wollaton Hall (the estate of Lord Middleton). The most significant disturbances occurred at Bristol, where 1831 Bristol riots, rioters controlled the city for three days. The mob broke into prisons and destroyed several buildings, including the palace of the Bishop of Bristol, the mansion of the Lord Mayor of Bristol, and several private homes. Other places that saw violence included Dorset, Leicestershire, and Somerset. Meanwhile, the political unions, which had hitherto been separate groups united only by a common goal, decided to form the National Political Union (England), National Political Union. Perceiving this group as a threat, the government issued a proclamation pursuant to the Unlawful Societies Act 1799, Corresponding Societies Act 1799 declaring such an association "unconstitutional and illegal", and commanding all loyal subjects to shun it. The leaders of the National Political Union ignored this proclamation, but leaders of the influential Birmingham branch decided to co-operate with the government by discouraging activities on a national level.

Third Reform Bill

After the Reform Bill was rejected in the Lords, the House of Commons immediately passed a motion of confidence affirming their support for Lord Grey's administration. Because parliamentary rules prohibited the introduction of the same bill twice during the same session, the ministry advised the new king, William IV of the United Kingdom, William IV, to Prorogation in the United Kingdom, prorogue Parliament. As soon as the new session began in December 1831, the Third Reform Bill was brought forward. The bill was in a few respects different from its predecessors; it no longer proposed a reduction in the total membership of the House of Commons, and it reflected data collected during the census that had just been completed. The new version passed in the House of Commons by even larger majorities in March 1832; it was once again sent up to the House of Lords. Realizing that another rejection would not be politically feasible, opponents of reform decided to use amendments to change the bill's essential character; for example, they voted to delay consideration of clauses in the bill that disfranchised the rotten boroughs. The ministers believed that they were left with only one alternative: to create a large number of new peerages, swamping the House of Lords with pro-reform votes. But the prerogative of creating peerages rested with the king, who recoiled from so drastic a step and rejected the unanimous advice of his cabinet. Lord Grey then resigned, and the king invited the Duke of Wellington to form a new government. The ensuing period became known as the "Days of May", with so great a level of political agitation that some feared revolution. Some protesters advocated non-payment of taxes, and urged a Bank run, run on the banks; one day signs appeared across London reading "Stop the Duke; go for gold!" £1.8 million was withdrawn from the Bank of England in the first days of the run (out of about £7 million total gold in the bank's possession). The National Political Union and other organisations sent petitions to the House of Commons, demanding that they Loss of supply, withhold supply (cut off funding to the government) until the House of Lords should acquiesce. Some demonstrations called for the abolition of the nobility, and some even of the monarchy. In these circumstances, the Duke of Wellington had great difficulty in building support for his premiership, despite promising moderate reform. He was unable to form a government, leaving King William with no choice but to recall Lord Grey. Eventually the king consented to fill the House of Lords with Whigs; however, without the knowledge of his cabinet, Wellington circulated a letter among Tory peers, encouraging them to desist from further opposition, and warning them of the consequences of continuing. At this, enough opposing peers relented. By abstaining from further votes, they allowed the legislation to pass in the House of Lords, and the Crown was thus not forced to create new peers. The bill finally received royal assent on 7 June 1832, thereby becoming law.



Abolition of seats

The Reform Act's chief objective was the reduction of the number of nomination boroughs. There were 203 boroughs in England before the Act. The 56 smallest of these, as measured by their housing stock and tax assessments, were completely abolished. The next 30 smallest boroughs each lost one of their two MPs. In addition Weymouth and Melcombe Regis's four members were reduced to two. Thus in total the Act abolished 143 borough seats in England (one of the boroughs to be completely abolished,
Higham Ferrers Higham Ferrers is a market town and civil parish in the Nene Valley in North Northamptonshire, England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west ...
, returned only a single MP).

Creation of new seats

In their place the Act created 130 new seats in England and Wales: * 26 English counties were divided into two divisions with each division being represented by two members. * 8 English counties and 3 Welsh counties each received an additional representative. * Yorkshire, which was represented by four MPs before the Act, was given an extra two MPs (so that each of its three Riding (division), ridings was represented by two MPs). * 22 large towns were given two MPs. * Another 21 towns (of which two were in Wales) were given one MP. Thus 65 new county seats and 65 new borough seats were created in England and Wales. The total number of English members fell by 17 and the number in Wales increased by four. The boundaries of the new divisions and parliamentary boroughs were defined in a separate Act, the Parliamentary Boundaries Act 1832.

Extension of the franchise

The Act also extended the franchise. In county constituencies, in addition to forty-shilling freeholders, franchise rights were extended to owners of land in copyhold worth £10 and holders of long-term leases (more than sixty years) on land worth £10 and holders of medium-term leases (between twenty and sixty years) on land worth £50 and to leasehold estate, tenants-at-will paying an annual rent of £50. In borough constituencies all male householders living in properties worth at least £10 a year were given the right to vote – a measure which introduced to all boroughs a standardised form of franchise for the first time. Existing borough electors retained a lifetime right to vote, however they had qualified, provided they were resident in the boroughs in which they were electors. In those boroughs which had freemen electors, voting rights were to be enjoyed by future freemen as well, provided their freemanship was acquired through birth or apprenticeship and they too were resident. The Act also introduced a system of voter registration, to be administered by the Overseer of the poor, overseers of the poor in every parish and township. It instituted a system of special courts to review disputes relating to voter qualifications. It also authorised the use of multiple polling places within the same constituency, and limited the duration of polling to two days. (Formerly, polls could remain open for up to forty days.) The Reform Act itself did not affect constituencies in Scotland or Ireland. However, there were also reforms there, under the Scottish Reform Act 1832, Scottish Reform Act and the Irish Reform Act 1832, Irish Reform Act. Scotland received eight additional seats, and Ireland received five; thus keeping the total number of seats in the House of Commons the same as it had been before the Act. While no constituencies were disfranchised in either of those countries, voter qualifications were standardised and the size of the electorate was increased in both.


Between 1835 and 1841, local Conservative Associations began to educate citizens about the party's platform and encouraged them to register to vote annually, as required by the Act. Coverage of national politics in the local press was joined by in-depth reports on provincial politics in the national press. Grassroots Conservatives therefore saw themselves as part of a national political movement during the 1830s. The size of the pre-Reform electorate is difficult to estimate. Voter registration was lacking, and many boroughs were rarely contested in elections. It is estimated that immediately before the 1832 Reform Act, 400,000 English subjects (people who lived in the country) were entitled to vote, and that after passage, the number rose to 650,000, an increase of more than 60%. Rodney Mace estimates that before, 1 percent of the population could vote and that the Reform Act only extended the franchise to 7 percent of the population. Tradesmen, such as shoemakers, believed that the Reform Act had given them the vote. One example is the shoemakers of Duns, Scottish Borders, Berwickshire. They created a banner celebrating the Reform Act which declared, "The battle's won. Britannia's sons are free." This banner is on display at People's History Museum in
Manchester Manchester () is the most-populous city and metropolitan borough A metropolitan borough is a type of local government district The districts of England (also known as local authority districts or local government districts to distinguis ...

. Many major commercial and industrial cities became separate parliamentary boroughs under the Act. The new constituencies saw party conflicts within the middle class, and between the middle class and working class. A study of elections in the medium-sized borough of Halifax, 1832–1852, concluded that the party organisations, and the voters themselves, depended heavily on local social relationships and local institutions. Having the vote encouraged many men to become much more active in the political, economic and social sphere. The Scottish Act revolutionised politics in Scotland, with its population of 2 million. Its electorate had been only 0.2% of the population compared to 4% in England. The Scottish electorate overnight soared from 5,000 to 65,000, or 13% of the adult men, and was no longer a private preserve of a few very rich families.

Tenant voters

Most of the
pocket borough A rotten or pocket borough, also known as a nomination borough or proprietorial borough, was a parliamentary borough In the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK ...
s abolished by the Reform Act belonged to the Tory party. These losses were somewhat offset by the extension of the vote to tenants-at-will paying an annual rent of £50. This clause, proposed by the Tory Richard Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, Marquess of Chandos, was adopted in the House of Commons despite opposition from the Government. The tenants-at-will thereby enfranchised typically voted as instructed by their landlords, who in turn normally supported the Tory party. This concession, together with the Whig party's internal divisions and the difficulties faced by the nation's economy, allowed the Tories under Robert Peel, Sir Robert Peel to make gains in the elections of 1835 United Kingdom general election, 1835 and 1837 United Kingdom general election, 1837, and to retake the House of Commons in 1841 United Kingdom general election, 1841. A modern historian's examination of votes in the House concluded that the traditional landed interest "suffered very little" by the 1832 Act. They continued to dominate the Commons, while losing a bit of their power to enact laws that focused on their more parochial interests. By contrast, the same study concluded that the 1867 Reform Act caused serious erosion of their legislative power and the 1874 elections saw great landowners losing their county seats to the votes of tenant farmers in England and especially in Ireland.


The Reform Act did not enfranchise the working class since voters were required to possess property worth £10, a substantial sum at the time. This split the alliance between the working class and the middle class, giving rise to the Chartism, Chartist Movement. Although it did disenfranchise most
rotten borough A rotten or pocket borough, also known as a nomination borough or proprietorial borough, was a parliamentary borough In the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK ...
s, a few remained, such as Totnes (UK Parliament constituency), Totnes in Devon and Midhurst (UK Parliament constituency), Midhurst in Sussex. Also, bribery of voters remained a problem. As Sir Thomas Erskine May observed, "it was too soon evident, that as more votes had been created, more votes were to be sold". The Reform Act strengthened the House of Commons by reducing the number of nomination boroughs controlled by peers. Some aristocrats complained that, in the future, the government could compel them to pass any bill, simply by threatening to swamp the House of Lords with new peerages. The Duke of Wellington lamented: "If such projects can be carried into execution by a minister of the Crown with impunity, there is no doubt that the constitution of this House, and of this country, is at an end. [...] [T]here is absolutely an end put to the power and objects of deliberation in this House, and an end to all just and proper means of decision." The subsequent history of Parliament, however, shows that the influence of the Lords was largely undiminished. They compelled the Commons to accept significant amendments to the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, Municipal Reform Bill in 1835, forced compromises on Emancipation of the Jews in England, Jewish emancipation, and successfully resisted several other bills supported by the public. It would not be until decades later, culminating in the Parliament Act 1911, that Wellington's fears would come to pass.

Further reform

During the ensuing years, Parliament adopted several more minor reforms. Acts of Parliament passed in 1835 and 1836 increased the number of polling places in each constituency, therefore reduced polling to a single day. Parliament also passed several laws aimed at combatting corruption, including the Corrupt Practices Act 1854, though these measures proved largely ineffectual. Neither party strove for further major reform; leading statesmen on both sides regarded the Reform Act as a final settlement. There was considerable public agitation for further expansion of the electorate, however. In particular, the Chartism, Chartist movement, which demanded universal suffrage for men, equally sized electoral districts, and voting by secret ballot, gained a widespread following. But the Tories were united against further reform, and the Liberal Party (successor to the Whigs) did not seek a general revision of the electoral system until 1852. The 1850s saw Lord John Russell introduce a number of reform bills to correct defects the first act had left unaddressed. However, no proposal was successful until 1867, when Parliament adopted the Reform Act 1867, Second Reform Act. An area the Reform Act did not address was the issue of municipal and regional government. As a result of archaic traditions, many English counties had enclaves and exclaves, which were mostly abolished in the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844. Furthermore, many new conurbations and economic areas bridged traditional county boundaries by having been formed in previously obscure areas: the West Midlands conurbation bridged Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire, Manchester and Liverpool both had hinterlands in Cheshire but city centres in Lancashire, while in the south Oxford's developing southern suburbs were in Berkshire and London was expanding into Essex, Surrey and Middlesex. This led to further acts to reorganise county boundaries in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


Many historians credit the Reform Act 1832 with launching modern democracy in the United Kingdom. G. M. Trevelyan hails 1832 as the watershed moment at which the sovereignty of the people' had been established in fact, if not in law". Erskine May, 1st Baron Farnborough, Sir Erskine May notes that the "reformed Parliament was, unquestionably, more liberal and progressive in its policy than the Parliaments of old; more vigorous and active; more susceptible to the influence of public opinion; and more secure in the confidence of the people", but admitted that "grave defects still remained to be considered". Other historians have argued that genuine democracy began to arise only with the Reform Act 1867, Second Reform Act in 1867, or perhaps even later. Norman Gash states that "it would be wrong to assume that the political scene in the succeeding generation differed essentially from that of the preceding one". Much of the support for passage in Parliament came from conservatives hoping to head off even more radical changes. Earl Grey argued that the aristocracy would best be served by a cautiously constructive reform program. Most Tories were strongly opposed, and made dire predictions about what they saw as dangerous, radical proposals. However one faction of Ultra-Tories supported reform measures in order to weaken Wellington's ministry, which had outraged them by granting Catholic emancipation. Historians in recent decades have been polarized over emphasizing or downplaying the importance of the Act. However, John A. Phillips, and Charles Wetherell argue for its drastic modernizing impact on the political system: :England's frenzy over the Reform Bill in 1831, coupled with the effect of the bill itself upon its enactment in 1832, unleashed a wave of political modernization that the Whig Party eagerly harnessed and the Tory Party grudgingly, but no less effectively, embraced. Reform quickly destroyed the political system that had prevailed during the long reign of George III and replaced it with an essentially modern electoral system based on rigid partisanship and clearly articulated political principle. Hardly "modest" in its consequences, the Reform Act could scarcely have caused a more drastic alteration in England's political fabric. Likewise Eric Evans concludes that the Reform Act "opened a door on a new political world". Although Grey's intentions were conservative, Evans says, and the 1832 Act gave the aristocracy an additional half-century's control of Parliament, the Act nevertheless did open constitutional questions for further development. Evans argues it was the 1832 Act, not the later reforms of 1867, 1884, or 1918, that were decisive in bringing representative democracy to Britain. Evans concludes the Reform Act marked the true beginning of the development of a recognisably modern political system.Eric J. Evans, ''The Forging of the Modern State: Early Industrial Britain, 1783–1870'' (2nd ed. 1996) p. 229

See also

* 1832 United Kingdom general election * Elections in the United Kingdom#History, Elections in the United Kingdom § History * Jacksonian democracy * List of Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, 1820–39 * List of constituencies enfranchised and disfranchised by the Reform Act 1832 * Reapportionment Act of 1929 * Reform Act, other legislation concerning electoral matters




* * * Lady Holland and Sarah Austin. (1855). ''A Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith by his daughter, Lady Holland, with a Selection from his Letters edited by Mrs Sarah Austin.'' 2 vols. London: Brown, Green, and Longmans. * * * * * * Smith, E. A. (1992). ''Reform or Revolution? A Diary of Reform in England, 1830-2.'' Stroud, Gloucestershire: Alan Sutton. * * Trevelyan, G. M. (1922). ''British History in the Nineteenth Century and After (1782–1901).'' London: Longmans, Green, and Co.

Further reading

* Aidt, Toke S., and Raphaël Franck. "How to get the snowball rolling and extend the franchise: voting on the Great Reform Act of 1832." ''Public Choice'' 155.3–4 (2013): 229–250
* Brock, Michael. (1973). ''The Great Reform Act.'' London: Hutchinson Press
* Butler, J. R. M. (1914). ''The Passing of the Great Reform Bill.'' London: Longmans, Green, and Co. * Cannon, John. (1973). ''Parliamentary Reform 1640–1832.'' New York: Cambridge University Press. * Christie, Ian R. (1962). ''Wilkes, Wyvill and Reform: The Parliamentary Reform Movement in British Politics, 1760–1785.'' New York: St. Martin's Press. * Conacher, J.B. (1971)''The emergence of British parliamentary democracy in the nineteenth century: the passing of the Reform Acts of 1832, 1867, and 1884–1885'' (1971). * * Ertman, Thomas. "The Great Reform Act of 1832 and British Democratization." ''Comparative Political Studies'' 43.8–9 (2010): 1000–1022
* Evans, Eric J. (1983). ''The Great Reform Act of 1832.'' London: Methuen and Co. * Foot, Paul (2005). ''The Vote: How It Was Won and How It Was Undermined.'' London: Viking. * Fraser, Antonia (2013). ''Perilous question: the drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832'' London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. * Maehl, William H., Jr., ed. ''The Reform Bill of 1832: Why Not Revolution?'' (1967) 122pp; brief excerpts from primary and secondary sources * Mandler, Peter. (1990). ''Aristocratic Government in the Age of Reform: Whigs and Liberals, 1830–1852.'' Oxford: Clarendon Press. * Morrison, Bruce. (2011)
Channeling the “Restless Spirit of Innovation”: Elite Concessions and Institutional Change in the British Reform Act of 1832.
''World Politics'' 63.04 (2011): 678–710. * Newbould, Ian. (1990). ''Whiggery and Reform, 1830–1841: The Politics of Government.'' London: Macmillan. * O'Gorman, Frank. (1989). ''Voters, Patrons, and Parties: The Unreformed Electoral System of Hanoverian England, 1734–1832.'' Oxford: Clarendon Press. * Phillips, John A., and Charles Wetherell. (1995) "The Great Reform Act of 1832 and the political modernization of England." ''American historical review'' 100.2 (1995): 411–436
* Phillips, John A. (1982). ''Electoral Behaviour in Unreformed England: Plumpers, Splitters, and Straights.'' Princeton: Princeton University Press. * Pearce, Edward. ''Reform!: the fight for the 1832 Reform Act'' (Random House, 2010) * Trevelyan, G. M. (1920). ''Lord Grey of the Reform Bill: Being the Life of Charles, Second Earl Grey.'' London: Longmans, Green, and Co. * Vanden Bossche, Chris R. (2014) ''Reform Acts: Chartism, Social Agency, and the Victorian Novel, 1832–1867'' (2014
excerpt and text search
* Veitch, George Stead. (1913). ''The Genesis of Parliamentary Reform.'' London: Constable and Co. * Warham, Dror. (1995). ''Imagining the Middle Class: The Political Representation of Class in Britain, c. 1780–1840.'' Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. * Whitfield, Bob. ''The Extension of the Franchise: 1832–1931'' (Heinemann Advanced History, 2001), textbook * Wicks, Elizabeth (2006). ''The Evolution of a Constitution: Eight Key Moments in British Constitutional History.'' Oxford: Hart Pub., pp. 65–82. * Woodward, Sir E. Llewellyn. (1962). ''The Age of Reform, 1815–1870.'' Oxford: Clarendon Press.

External links

* Full original text of the Act as passed:

* BBC Radio 4, In Our Time (radio series), In Our Time List of In Our Time programmes, podcast,
The Great Reform Act
'' hosted by Melvin Bragg, 27 November 2008
Image of the original act on the Parliamentary Archives website
{{authority control United Kingdom Acts of Parliament 1832 1832 in law Representation of the People Acts 1832 in politics Election law in the United Kingdom June 1832 events Electoral reform in the United Kingdom