To what extent did the Great Reform Act achieve the aims of the reformers?

Marco Pastor Mayo L6 MED
There were several groups in England who supported the Great Reform Act in 1832, which would enfranchise a larger portion of the population. These supporters could therefore be called ³reformers´ and they came from a wide range of classes and ideology. Each of these groups had different aims, and their goals were achieved to different extents. How far the reform actually achieved the individual aims of each group would determine to what extent it achieved the goal of the reformers as a whole. The reform did achieve several aims that were common in Parliament, to preserve the present system of government and to prevent a revolution. In the aftermath, the reform bills achieved the main goals of the Whigs and the middle-class, which were to consolidate power in government and to be enfranchised respectively. The Tories¶ aims of repealing Catholic Emancipation and gaining wider support in the House of Commons, and the working-class¶ suffrage, were not achieved by the Great Reform Act. So, I would say that the Great Reform Act of 1832 was partially successful at achieving the reformers¶ aims. Supporters of the Great Reform Act belonged to groups both inside Parliament and also to extra-Parliamentary ones. Supporters inside Parliament could have been found within the Whigs and the ³Ultra´ Tories. The largest extra-Parliamentary groups of reformers were the middle-class and the working-class. Few of these groups saw the reform as a goal, instead most reformers saw it as a means to an end, and since all these groups had different aims for the reform, they all had different motivations for supporting it. The Whigs were in power during the passing of the Great Reform Act in 1832 and were led by Earl Grey. There are several reasons why the Whigs wanted to pass a reforming bill. Electoral reform would take away the support that their major opponents, the Tories, had from the pocket boroughs and the Whigs would gain the support of the predominantly Nonconformist new electorate. The Whigs also thought it in their best interest to pass the reform because they thought that it could prevent a revolution in Britain by stopping an alliance between the middle-class and the working-class. This aim was emphasized by the Whigs¶ allied radicals, like William Cobbett, who deliberately overestimated the risk of revolution in order to pressure Parliament to pass electoral reforms. Another motivating factor for the Whigs to pass this reform was because of the libertarian ideological beliefs which some politicians, such as Lord John Russell, held very strongly. Such a liberal agenda would support spreading enfranchisement. These aims were reasonable, since the Whigs had a majority in government and Earl Grey was Prime Minister at the time. In addition to this, the Whigs had the support of a majority in the British population, eager to be enfranchised. For the Whigs, the reforms were supposed to appease the lower-classes (even though they would not benefit the working-class as much as the middle-class). Even though the

the chances of a Revolution would have been high. The suffrage of the middle-class was a much more realistic goal. So. If an alliance was formed between them and the working-class. Also. Some members of the Tories shared the opinion with the Whigs that the popular discontent was a worrying matter. However. Before the reforms were actually past. their goal to repeal Catholic Emancipation and gain support should have been achieved. since they could potentially incite the working-class too to join them in their campaign for reform. including the palace of the Bishop of Bristol were looted.000 people. The middle-class supported electoral reforms because of the potential benefits from the Great Reform Act. After being voted down and dissolved for the first time. it became evident that the middle-class could pose a threat to Parliament because of their economic importance. The Bristol Riots had been triggered by the House of Lords¶ decision to reject the Reform Bill and private properties. If the working-class was not enfranchised. since their support of the reform bills was not intrinsic. and these aims were not shared by many groups in Britain. Parliament would have no need to give the vote to the working-class. The main objective that the Tories had with this strategy was to enfranchise a part of the nation that was anti-Catholic and hopefully be able to overthrow Catholic Emancipation. in order for the Ultra Tories to have had their aims achieved. then the urban population would have a larger say than rural areas and businessmen could prevent a minimum wage from being set. especially after the Swing Riots in 1830 and the Bristol Riots in 1831. the Reform Bill was passed in June 1832.reform was used to get support for the Whigs. The right to vote uniformly would give manufacturing areas representation proportional to their population. Catholic Emancipation was very unlikely to be repealed. These aims were severely conservative and quite unrealistic. If the middle-class obtained this proportional representation in Parliament. since of Panic of 1825 and the recent riots. supporting a reform that would lower the restrictions to vote would help the Tories gain the support of new voters. similarly to what occurred in preRevolutionary France. and the middle-class ever was to organise armed riots. the Ultra Tories were a group in Britain that was isolated by nature from other groups. The act disenfranchised 143 . they would be able to promote legislations that induced freer trade and the relaxation of the Corn Laws. Also. once the middle-class was enfranchised. the working-class and the middle-class were partially allied together in political unions such as the Birmingham Political Union to campaign for the lower-classes¶ suffrage and their representation in Parliament. A good example of this would be when the Birmingham Political Union had a meeting attended by 200. especially if the working-class were not represented. since it had just been conceded in 1829. rejected by the House of Lords the second time. Also. These reasons are why their aims were achieved quite successfully when the reform bill were passed. many of them thought of it as the goal in itself: to give the people of Britain better representation. Those Tories who supported the Bill with the aim to prevent further demonstrations of discontent had much more reasonable and common goals. The Ultra Tories in Parliament were a group that supported the reform for its majority.

medium-term owners of land worth 50 pounds a year and tenants-at-will who rented land worth 50 pounds a year. In counties. but they did get much more involved in politics and were given a large portion of the votes. . These changes in the electoral system already achieved the aims of the middle-class. there was no revolution. gaining the most votes that would now be included in the new electorate. and the Ultra Tories who supported the reform in order to prevent a revolution succeeded at this. No legislation improving the lifestyle of the working-class was passed after the elections in 1833.719 votes. since the working-class did not form part of the electorate of Parliament. so that aim was achieved. the risk of revolution was never high and the radicals pressured the government by overestimating the chances of an uprising caused by popular discontent.0%). The Ultra Tories¶ goal of getting to repeal Catholic Emancipation was never achieved by the Great Reform Act and they also failed to gain popular vote for the conservatives. In boroughs. the Whigs. In the elections of 1833. The middle-class¶ aim of having the Corn Laws repealed was not achieved until 1846. the reform enfranchised copyholders of land worth 10 pounds a year. the Ultra Tories and most of the middle-class had. the reform bill also gave them a larger part of the electoral vote. long-term owners of land worth 10 pounds a year. In conclusion. giving them an absolute majority in Parliament. the middle-class benefitted the most. The enfranchising of the middle-class and the rejection of the working-class in the ballots caused them to split and stop campaigning for universal male suffrage. by Sir Robert Peel. winning 441 seats (67. householders with properties worth 10 pounds a year were now given the vote as well. Nonetheless. since the restrictions were too high for them. Since these amounts of money were not common for the working-class to possess. led by Earl Grey won 554. which was to preserve the existing system and prevent a revolution. the Whigs were the reformers whose aims were achieved to the greatest extent. The reform did not bring great improvements to the middle-class. and so was the Whigs goal of consolidating power by letting the middle-class vote.seats in Parliament from nomination boroughs and redistributed them throughout new counties and boroughs. Apart from succeeding at achieving the Whigs¶ main goal of preventing a revolution. The effects that the Great Reform Act had succeeded at achieving the common goal that the Whigs. The working-class did not achieve at all their aims with this reform. However.

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