Importance of the 1832 Reform Act

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To what extent was the 1832 Reform
Act the most important development in
politics and government between 1780
and 1832 (36)

Overall, the 1832 Reform Act was a major development in politics and government between 1780 and 1832; however it was not the most important development. It still remained significant to the growth of the period as this was the first official governmental document on reform that was introduced and it set a precedent for further reforms. Whilst it only removed the worst abuses in the existing system, the Act started to make Britain more democratic. It introduced more just representation of the franchise and made it its primary aim to demolish the majority of pocket and rotten boroughs. Nevertheless, bribery and corruption remained rife and the lower middle class and the entirety of the working class still did not possess the right to vote. The Act also further strengthened the position of the aristocracy as they were forced to bad together against the ever-growing threat of working class revolution, underlined the importance of a strong central government and gave some of the public a political voice. Even though, many other revolutionary developments transpired due to the 1832 Reform Act, it took place right at the end of the period. Therefore other development must be considered because there were a number of key advances in reform before this, leading to changing public opinion that resulted in the Act are passed in the first place.

The most important development of the period was the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Bill. This was passed when the government was put under pressure of growing revolution in Ireland and feared the threat of Civil War. This split public opinion ad also split the Tory party into three warring factions: the Canningites (supporters of Canning), supporters of Robert and Ley and the Ultra Tories (politicians with extreme Tory beliefs). This conflict within the Tory Party angered the Ultra Tories further leading to them ultimately supporting the movement of Catholic Emancipation to aggravate the other more tolerant portions of the Tory government and the Canningites later began to follow the support of the Whigs. This attitude made the concept of parliamentary reform inevitable as it left the existing Tory government in minority. As a result, Catholic Emancipation was granted leading to the fall of Wellington’s government. It also furthered the idea of national reform when the government was replaced by a Whig administration that was committed to the idea of cautious reform. Therefore, Catholic Emancipation was an extremely important factor to reform because it proved that the government could be pressured into reform and that the public did have some control over parliamentary decisions, however little it still gave people hope for further revolution.

A factor of equal importance was the Reform Bill Crisis between 1830 and 1832. Although, the Reform Act was the official political act of reform an equally significant factor were the events leading up to The Reform Bill being passed. The Crisis brought the issue of parliamentary reform right to the top of the political agenda and made it an issue that the government could no longer ignore or deny. During this period, the atmosphere of the nation was very tense and there were

a series of both violent and non-violent protests. Among those who feared revolution was the aristocracy. They realised that in order to maintain their dominant position they had to grant some concessions to the upper portion of the middle class. This would remove risk of a working and middle class alliance that could eventually oppose the aristocracy and the existing upper class government, allowing those in charge to remain in control. However, what the aristocracy did not realise was the real likelihood of revolution was slim due to the rioters having no necessary military ‘teeth’ to be a true opponent. Coupling this with the poor...
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