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Why Was There A Reform Act In 1832

In 1832 the British Government passed a highly influential reform, which greatly shaped the political structure throughout the country and for many years to come. The reform was made in reaction to many events, particularly extra-parliamentary pressure, which I shall further explain in this essay.The French Revolution in 1789 inspired many people and ideas, though more specific to this essay; it influenced Englishmen to examine their own constitution and provided confidence in the possibility of change. The writings of Tom Paine, who himself was a working class man, included such radical ideas as the Declaration Of The Rights Of Man. The way he tackled the oppression and inequality in this period, and fought against it with well educated pieces of writing was highly inspirational to the French Revolution, and consequently in Britain.There were many problems with Britain’s political system at this time to rebel against. The system of voting was fundamentally inconsistent. The qualification for voting differed throughout the country, though it was mostly the rich he could vote. Representation also greatly contrasted. Some areas were greatly under-represented (typically the new, large industrial towns such as Manchester), and in turn some towns were over-represented. Due to this poor organisation there were high levels of corruption, through bribery and patronage. The whole arrangement was a mess, providing great reason for a reform act to be passed.In result of these thoughts, two main groups were established which both began to push for reform, though in entirely different ways for entirely different reasons. The London Corresponding Society greatly followed the writings of Tom Paine, and was formed in January 1792 by a Scottish shoemaker. It was especially popular amongst working class, and through public houses and detailed published pamphlets, the society’s radical message spread. This led to similar societies being established throughout the country, which shows how much unrest there was.The second is ‘The Association of the Friends of The People’, and comprised mainly of Whig Aristocrats. This group were in favour of moderate reform, as they felt this would satisfy the rebellion, before it got out of control. Their plea was denied, as it was seen as the ‘thin end of the wedge’- once the government was open to one reform there was nothing stopping others being passed. The establishment of these two different societies shows the main two groups who would highly influence the reform act in 1832- the determination of the Whigs, and the radical thoughts of the population.In 1815 the government passed two laws, which resulted in much unrest and a new wave of radicalism. The Corn Laws and the abolition of income tax greatly favoured people who owned lots of land, helping them to become richer. This inspired and influenced more people to rebel, as they felt parliament was not representing the entire population and ignoring the demands and rights of the working and middle classes. The most significant reaction to these laws was the groups and leaders that rose to spread the message of reform. The Hampden Clubs, Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt and Cobbett were the most prominent, as they used new methods to popularise the radical ideas of change, such as lecture tours and newspapers.These new radical groups resulted in new radical demonstrations throughout the country, which became a great threat to the government. The Pentrich Rising in June 1817 involved 500 workers from Nottingham villages marching in protest to the city, which was eventually crushed by the local yeomanry. The Manchester yeomanry also arrested Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt at the peaceful and well-organised Peterloo meeting in 1819, due to authorities suspicions that it was the beginning of a revolt after witnessing drilling on the moors. This shows how these groups and meetings were starting to worry the government. This event led to many injuries, though gained national coverage in newspapers, and led to more public demonstrations taking place. The unsuccessful ‘Cato Street Conspiracy’, which planned to assassinate the cabinet, also shows the radical and negative attitude of people in this period.These events, although show great unrest throughout the country, failed in achieving parliamentary reform. This is mainly because the government policy was too effective, as whilst the Tories were the greatest power they continually used yeomanry, spies and many repressive measures to ensure that no reform would take place. The fact that these methods had to be introduced does represent the threat and pressure the radical groups were placing on the government. Another problem was that the radicals themselves were divided and inconsistent, as they all worked in different ways, in different places and for different reasons, which provided no unity that may of spurred a revolution.As we know, reform would not take place under the Tory Government. This is why the success of Grey’s New Whig government is a very important reason to why reform took place. The Whig’s gained power due to a series of events; Rapid changes in leadership at the time greatly weakened the Tories, and the rows over Catholic Emancipation revealed a lot of division within the party, and the threat that groups did have the power to pressure the government into change. The death of George IV in 1830 greatly benefited the push for reform, as the King would never of agreed to the change, and it meant a new general election was to take place. The Whig’s won the election over the weakened Tories, and the Grey’s new government began to support moderate reform, though only to prevent further revolution.The crisis and events of 1830-2 provided many problems for the new Whig government, and created great pressure towards parliamentary reform. In 1829 the harvest failed leaving many people starving. There were also major problems with the economic situation in agriculture and industry, resulting in an increase of unemployment. The desperation of the population reflected in the widespread radical groups and riots that followed. It was an ideal opportunity to push for reform, and the pressure for change greatly increased by the ‘swing riots’, demonstrations, rallies and petitions.These events made the politicians in Westminster increasingly nervous. The fact that the middle and working classes had united in political unions provided a strong threat to the government. The establishment of the Melbourne courts in response to the swing riots also represented how serious the situation was becoming. Agricultural workers, who typically did not get involved in political matters and were easy to handle, were also rebelling. In July 1830 a rebellion in France against Charles X reminded the British government of the significant events of the French Revolution in 1789, and the Whig’s decided that reform was the only way to avoid revolution.The Whig’s determination to pass reform is a major reason why the change took place. The bill was passed June 1832 after it’s third reading, and received Royal Assent. The Whig’s struggled through a lot of political change and unrest to make this happen, and all though it did not please everyone, it answered the demands of the masses.In conclusion, there were two major reasons why the reform act was passed in 1832. The first is political changes; it was very important that the Whig’s dominated over the Tories for any change

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