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Discover the Great Reform Act of 1832: Learn interesting facts and enjoy worksheets! These resources are made for students aged 11-14 (KS3) and 14-16 (GCSE). They include fun activities to help you understand better. You can use them at home or in class for a great learning experience.

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Importance and Facts of the Great Reform Act of 1832: Worksheets and Activities for Students

Key Facts and Information about the Great Reform Act 1832

Let’s delve deeper into the Great Reform Act of 1832! The Representation of the People Act 1832, commonly referred to as the Great Reform Act or the First Reform Bill emerged from extensive public and parliamentary advocacy. This parliamentary bill reshaped the British electoral system, granting middle-class men voting rights, addressing seat disparities, and eliminating rotten boroughs. Yet, these reforms notably excluded the majority of British citizens, with approximately 90% still disenfranchised, including all women.

Background and Passage of the Act

In the Reign of Henry VI:

During the reign of Henry VI, laws enacted in 1430 and 1432 established standardized property requirements for county voters. Known as the 40 shilling freehold, these laws granted voting eligibility to individuals who owned freehold property or land valued at a minimum of 40 shillings in a given county. However, this criterion remained unchanged for inflation in land value over time, effectively decreasing the amount of land required for voting rights.

Tradition vs. Law:

The right to vote was traditionally confined to men, rather than being established by law. This exclusionary practice persisted into the 19th century, further limiting the electorate.

Parliamentary Representation:

In the 19th century, the composition of Parliament did not accurately reflect the population. Eligibility to vote was restricted to property owners or those who paid specific taxes, disenfranchising the majority of the working class. Consequently, a large portion of citizens were unable to participate in the electoral process.

Uneven Representation:

The electoral system was highly flawed and failed to adapt to demographic shifts and the emergence of new social classes spurred by the Industrial Revolution. Only a fraction of the population—approximately 435,000 individuals out of over 24 million—had voting rights. Meanwhile, constituencies with substantial voter populations were represented by only two Members of Parliament.

Rotten Boroughs and Pocket Boroughs:

The electoral system included “rotten boroughs” with minimal populations and “pocket boroughs” where representatives were selected by wealthy landowners. These boroughs were often under the influence of patrons, typically noblemen or landed gentry, who used their wealth and status to manipulate voting outcomes.

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Corruption and Influence:

Corruption was widespread, with seats often bought and sold, and pressure exerted on voters without the safeguard of a secret ballot. The legislative agenda also favored the interests of wealthy landowners, such as the enactment of the Corn Laws, which protected their economic interests.

Calls for Reform:

Calls for reform had been ongoing for years, fueled by public discontent expressed through various means, including public gatherings, riots, and pamphlets. One notable event was the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, where a peaceful demonstration in Manchester turned violent, resulting in casualties and injuries.

Government Response:

Public outrage against the flawed electoral system peaked in 1830, prompting government action to prevent potential revolutionary upheaval akin to events in France. The expansion of print media and rising literacy rates among lower classes facilitated the dissemination of radical ideas and information, further driving demands for reform.

Tory Dominance and Reform Movements:

The Tories held sway in the House of Commons from 1770 to 1830 and staunchly opposed broadening the voting population. However, pro-reform groups, including political unions representing middle and working-class citizens, emerged. Notably, the Birmingham Political Union, led by Thomas Attwood, gained prominence, advocating for electoral reform.

Arthur Wellesley’s Premiership and Opposition:

Following an election victory, Prime Minister Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, faced diminishing support. When the issue of reform was raised by the opposition, the Duke vigorously defended the existing governance system. However, his stance led to his resignation on 15 November 1830.

Whig Ascendancy and Reform Agenda:

In November 1830, Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, a Whig, assumed the prime ministership and championed parliamentary reform. Grey’s government introduced the First Reform Bill, drafted by Grey himself, with John Russell presenting it to the House of Commons on 1 March 1831.

Legislative Challenges and Objections:

Although the First Reform Bill narrowly passed in the House of Commons, objections arose, particularly from Isaac Gascoyne. Gascoyne objected to provisions that aimed to limit the overall number of seats in the House of Commons, leading to the bill’s eventual failure in the House of Lords.

Key Figures:

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, a renowned military leader and Tory politician, resisted political reforms during his tenure as prime minister. Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, a Whig statesman, supported political reform and served as prime minister from 1830 to 1834.

John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, a Whig-Liberal leader, played a pivotal role in advocating for the Reform Act of 1832. Isaac Gascoyne, a Tory politician and military officer, vehemently opposed reforms such as the abolition of the Slave Trade and the Reform Act of 1832.

The Second Reform Bill

Reintroduction and Electoral Mandate:

In July 1831, the Reform Bill was reintroduced in the House of Commons and garnered significant support in the subsequent general election of 1831. The bill passed its second reading with an overwhelming majority.

Obstruction and Progress:

Opponents of the bill employed delaying tactics during the committee stage, engaging in lengthy discussions to stall its progress. Despite these efforts, the bill was ultimately passed by a substantial margin of more than 100 votes in September 1831.

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House of Lords Resistance:

Upon reaching the House of Lords, known for its opposition to reform, the bill faced considerable resistance. While some Tory peers abstained from voting, the majority of Lords Spiritual, including Church of England bishops, opposed the bill. Consequently, the bill failed by 41 votes on 8 October 1831.

Social Unrest and Riots:

The rejection of the Second Reform Bill sparked widespread public discontent, leading to riots in several British towns. Bristol experienced particularly severe unrest in October 1831, with all four of the city’s jails being set ablaze. In London, the residences of the Duke of Wellington and bishops who opposed the bill in the House of Lords were targeted in attacks. The Bristol riots were part of a broader wave of reform riots across England, reflecting the populace’s frustration with the delay in electoral reform efforts.

The Third Reform Bill

Introduction and Royal Resistance:

In December 1831, the Third Reform Act was introduced, aiming to extend parliamentary representation to the middle and working classes. Prime Minister Grey and Henry Brougham sought King William IV’s support by proposing the appointment of numerous Whig peers to ensure the bill’s passage in the House of Lords. However, William IV, skeptical of legislative change, refused to endorse the proposal.

Government Resignation and Political Turmoil:

Following the King’s refusal, Lord Grey’s government resigned, prompting William IV to invite the Duke of Wellington, leader of the Tories, to form a new administration. However, internal dissent among Tories, particularly from figures like Sir Robert Peel, who opposed defying the public’s will, complicated Wellington’s efforts to establish a stable government.

Social Unrest and Opposition:

Protesters, disenchanted with the government’s resistance to reform, advocated for tax resistance and initiated a run on the banks. Signs reading “Stop the Duke; go for gold!” appeared across London, reflecting public frustration and agitation.

The “Days of May” and Public Pressure:

The ensuing political crisis, known as the “Days of May,” heightened social unrest and political tension throughout the UK. The Tories’ opposition to the Third Reform Bill in the House of Lords intensified public outcry, fueling fears of revolution.

Royal Intervention and Legislative Victory:

In response to mounting pressure, Lord Grey once again appealed to the monarch to appoint a significant number of new Whig Lords. King William IV acquiesced to the request, prompting the House of Lords to pass the Reform Act as a concession to public sentiment.

Royal Assent and Legal Implementation:

On 7 June 1832, the Third Reform Bill received royal assent, officially becoming law. This landmark legislation marked a significant milestone in extending parliamentary representation to broader segments of society, albeit amidst intense political turmoil and public resistance.

Reform Act of 1832

Reform Act of 1832

Introduction and Legislative Changes: In response to riots, Parliament passed the Reform Act of 1832. This legislation expanded property requirements for voting eligibility in counties, granting male small landowners, tenant farmers, and merchants with property worth at least £10 per year the right to vote. Additionally, it extended voting rights to middle-class males.

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The act also abolished the representation of 56 rotten and pocket boroughs in the House of Commons, redistributing seats to new industrial areas like Birmingham to better reflect population changes. Furthermore, it established a voter registration system overseen by parish and township overseers to prevent voting fraud. Notably, the act explicitly prohibited women from voting in Parliamentary elections.

Effect of the Act: While the Reform Act of 1832 marked progress, many believed it fell short. The property requirements still excluded most working men from voting, prompting continued calls for reform. Some rotten boroughs, such as Totnes in Devon and Midhurst in Sussex, persisted, and bribery remained a concern, leading to the sale of votes. The act’s failure to enfranchise the working class strained relations between them and the middle class, leading to the growth of the Chartist Movement from 1838 to 1848.

This movement, demanding democracy and expanded voting rights for the working class, arose due to political disillusionment and economic hardships exacerbated by the Reform Act’s limitations. While the agitation for further change initially yielded no results, it paved the way for subsequent reforms, including the Second Reform Act of 1867 and the Third Reform Act of 1884.

Read In hindi- इंग्लैंड में 1832 के सुधार अधिनियम के प्रमुख प्रावधान

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