In those boroughs which had freemen electors, voting rights were to be enjoyed by future freemen as well, provided their freemanship was acquired through birth or apprenticeship and they too were resident. The Act also introduced a system of voter registration , to be administered by the overseers of the poor in every parish and township. It instituted a system of special courts to review disputes relating to voter qualifications. It also authorised the use of multiple polling places within the same constituency, and limited the duration of polling to two days.
Formerly, polls could remain open for up to forty days. The Reform Act itself did not affect constituencies in Scotland or Ireland. Scotland received eight additional seats, and Ireland received five; thus keeping the total number of seats in the House of Commons the same as it had been before the Act. While no constituencies were disfranchised in either of those countries, voter qualifications were standardised and the size of the electorate was increased in both.
Between , local Conservative Associations began to educate citizens about the party's platform and encouraged them to register to vote annually, as required by the Act. Coverage of national politics in the local press was joined by in-depth reports on provincial politics in the national press. Grassroots Conservatives therefore saw themselves as part of a national political movement during the s. The size of the pre-Reform electorate is difficult to estimate. Voter registration was lacking, and many boroughs were rarely contested in elections. Tradesmen, such as shoemakers, believed that the Reform Act had given them the vote.
One example is the shoemakers of Duns , Berwickshire. They created a banner celebrating the Reform Act which declared, "The battle's won. Britannia's sons are free. Many major commercial and industrial cities became separate parliamentary boroughs under the Act. The new constituencies saw party conflicts within the middle class, and between the middle class and working class. A study of elections in the medium-sized borough of Halifax, —, concluded that the party organisations, and the voters themselves, depended heavily on local social relationships and local institutions.
Having the vote encouraged many men to become much more active in the political, economic and social sphere.
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The Scottish Act revolutionised politics in Scotland, with its population of 2 million. Its electorate had been only 0. Most of the pocket boroughs abolished by the Reform Act belonged to the Tory party. This clause, proposed by the Tory Marquess of Chandos , was adopted in the House of Commons despite opposition from the Government. The tenants-at-will thereby enfranchised typically voted as instructed by their landlords, who in turn normally supported the Tory party. A modern historian's examination of votes in the House concluded that the traditional landed interest "suffered very little" by the Act.
They continued to dominate the Commons, while losing a bit of their power to enact laws that focused on their more parochial interests. By contrast, the same study concluded that the Reform Act caused serious erosion of their legislative power and the elections saw great landowners losing their county seats to the votes of tenant farmers in England and especially in Ireland.
1789: George Washington – unopposed
This split the alliance between the working class and the middle class, giving rise to the Chartist Movement. Although it did disenfranchise most rotten boroughs , a few remained, such as Totnes in Devon and Midhurst in Sussex. Also, bribery of voters remained a problem. As Sir Thomas Erskine May observed, "it was too soon evident, that as more votes had been created, more votes were to be sold". The Reform Act strengthened the House of Commons by reducing the number of nomination boroughs controlled by peers.
Some aristocrats complained that, in the future, the government could compel them to pass any bill, simply by threatening to swamp the House of Lords with new peerages. The Duke of Wellington lamented: "If such projects can be carried into execution by a minister of the Crown with impunity, there is no doubt that the constitution of this House, and of this country, is at an end.
They compelled the Commons to accept significant amendments to the Municipal Reform Bill in , forced compromises on Jewish emancipation , and successfully resisted several other bills supported by the public. During the ensuing years, Parliament adopted several more minor reforms. Acts of Parliament passed in and increased the number of polling places in each constituency, and reduced polling to a single day.
Neither party strove for further major reform; leading statesmen on both sides regarded the Reform Act as a final settlement. There was considerable public agitation for further expansion of the electorate, however. In particular, the Chartist movement , which demanded universal suffrage for men, equally sized electoral districts, and voting by secret ballot , gained a widespread following. But the Tories were united against further reform, and the Liberal Party successor to the Whigs did not seek a general revision of the electoral system until The s saw Lord John Russell introduce a number of reform bills to correct defects the first act had left unaddressed.
However, no proposal was successful until , when Parliament adopted the Second Reform Act.
An area the Reform Act did not address was the issue of municipal and regional government. As a result of archaic traditions, many English counties had enclaves and exclaves, which were mostly abolished in the Counties Detached Parts Act Furthermore, many new conurbations and economic areas bridged traditional county boundaries by having been formed in previously obscure areas: the West Midlands conurbation bridged Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire, Manchester and Liverpool both had hinterlands in Cheshire but city centres in Lancashire, while in the south Oxford's developing southern suburbs were in Berkshire and London was expanding into Essex, Surrey and Middlesex.
This led to further acts to reorganise county boundaries in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many historians credit the Reform Act with launching modern democracy in the United Kingdom. Trevelyan hails as the watershed moment at which " 'the sovereignty of the people' had been established in fact, if not in law". Norman Gash states that "it would be wrong to assume that the political scene in the succeeding generation differed essentially from that of the preceding one". Much of the support for passage in Parliament came from conservatives hoping to head off even more radical changes.
Earl Gray argued that the aristocracy would best be served by a cautiously constructive reform program. Most Tories were strongly opposed, and made dire predictions about what they saw as dangerous, radical proposals. However one faction of Ultra-Tories supported reform measures in the order to weaken Wellington's ministry, which had outraged them by granting Catholic emancipation. Historians in recent decades have been polarized over emphasizing or downplaying the importance of the Act. Phillips, and Charles Wetherell argue for its drastic modernizing impact on the political system:. Likewise Eric Evans concludes that the Reform Act "opened a door on a new political world".
Although Grey's intentions were conservative, Evans says, and the Act gave the aristocracy an additional half-century's control of Parliament, the Act nevertheless did open constitutional questions for further development. Evans argues it was the Act, not the later reforms of , , or , that were decisive in bringing representative democracy to Britain. Evans concludes the Reform Act marked the true beginning of the development of a recognisably modern political system. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. United Kingdom legislation. Main article: Unreformed House of Commons.
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The American Historical Review. Scotland: A Very Short Introduction. Neale pages — Grampound was one of the 31 boroughs disenfranchised but was disenfranchised prior to the Reform Act in Citizenship in Britain: A History. Edinburgh University Press. II, pp.
I, pp. II, p. Transaction Publishers. Lings  4CP In the case of Regina v. Harrald  7QB it was ruled that married women, otherwise qualified, could not vote in municipal elections. This decision made it clear that married women would be excluded from the operation of any Act enfranchising women for the parliamentary vote, unless special provision to the contrary was made. Manchester UP. Picket Line Press. The Interpretation Act cap.
To enable Wales to retain all of its existing borough seats the Act therefore simply increased, where necessary, the number of towns in these groupings and created entirely new groupings for Beaumaris and Montgomery. Their numbers dwindled by death, and by apparently only one ancient right "potwalloper" remained a registered elector.
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