To What Extent Was Popular Pressure Responsible for the 1832 Gra?

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Popular pressure for reform goes back to the 18th century during Pitt’s time in office. During the French revolution, the government had to produce a series of repressive measures to avoid parliamentary reform. It is tempting to see the 1832 Reform Act entirely as a response to popular pressure. There was mass radical agitation due to the economic depression; swing riots had occurred in 1830, and the BPU was threatening an alliance between the middle and lower class behind p.reform. However the reality is more complex.

The Whigs were not being pushed by popular pressure into giving the workers the vote. There is no evidence in the reform act to show that the whigs are responding directly to popular pressure. The popular radicals were calling for democracy, but the whigs were only interested including the middle class into the electoral system, and even then in a subordinate position to the gentry. The terms of the bill were that copyholders with land worth £10 a year were added to the system. The boroughs were given an even franchise of £10 yearly rental. The Whigs made boroughs under 2000 lose both mps, 2000-4000 lose 1 and towns over 10,000 to gain seats. These terms only produced a middle class electorate who were no longer questioning radicalism. The whigs new that the newly industrialised towns had to be incorporated into the system if the middle classes were not to lead the country on a challenge to the aristocratic government.

The limited role of popular pressure in the birth of parliamentary reform is even better seen in the way the whig government was formed. Wellington’s tory government was not swept out of office to be replaced by reforming whigs because it could not cope with the revived radical movement. The radical agitation was no worse than the Tory government had faced in the 1810’s. What destroyed the tories were splits in their ranks after Lord Liverpool’s death in 1829. By 1829, the Canningites in the government had come around to...
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