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Why was The Great Reform Act passed in 1832 ?

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Introduction

Why was The Great Reform Act passed in 1832 ? Since the Industrial Revolution the population of Britain was growing rapidly. The census figures were 12,000,000 in 1811, over 14,000,000 in 1821, 16,500,000 in 1831, and, in 1851 over 21,000,000. The causes of the massive increase were not clear to contemporaries and indeed are still in doubt. There was one definite reason for the soaring population after 1760. This was that, in comparison with the fearful infant mortality rates in earlier centuries, a much smaller proportion of children now died at birth or before they were six years old. The saving of these lives explained why, despite some decades when there was a fall in the birth rate, the population began steeply increasing. There were also fewer deaths in childhood, early youth and middle aged people, mainly because they were better fed, better clothed, more temperate in their habits than in the days of cheap gin, and less likely to catch diseases like smallpox which had been endemic in earlier times. As well as the population rising, the growth of the towns was also quite great. This surge in the population and size of towns occurred pretty much over the whole of the United Kingdom. Liverpool had grown from 82,000 in 1801 to 202,000 in 1831, and Leeds from 53,000 in 1801 to 123,000 in 1831. Sheffield and Birmingham doubled in size during the same period; Manchester and Salford increased from 95,000 to 238,000 and Glasgow from 77,000 to 193,000. The up and rising population of these cities, including London, came largely from neighbouring counties, but there was also a movement of population from Ireland, and the mass amount of Irish immigrants entering the country. In 1835 there were 100,000 Irish living in Lancashire alone. The growth of the towns was caused because the population was growing rapidly and so there was a much bigger demand for industrial goods. ...read more.

Middle

Considering that in 1830 there was another revolution in Paris and the government that had denied the reforms was thrown out, this doubled the worries of the Tory government. By 1830, the Tory party had enjoyed rule as the government party for almost two generations. Largely because of the savage measures of the 1790s and the years after the war, the Tories were regarded as men of unflinching reaction - men who as long as they remained in power would stop all hope of parliamentary reform. So naturally in November 1830 when Earl Grey, a Whig, became Prime Minister, the poor and the radical leaders sensed better times. They were right to feel this way but their struggle for reform was to be a long one. The cry for votes grew louder and louder and in spite of Acts of Parliament men held public meetings, published pamphlets, and wrote violent articles in newspapers. The big industrial towns insisted that the 'pocket' boroughs must go and the vacant seats in the House of Commons allotted to them. So on 22nd September 1831, the House of Commons passed the Whig Reform Bill. However, the Tories still dominated the House of Lords, and after a long debate the bill was defeated. When people heard the news, riots took place in several British towns. Earl Grey, in an attempt to get a reform passed, warned King William IV that unless the government made changes to the way the House of Commons was elected, Britain faced the grave danger of revolution. So again in 1832 Grey tried putting the bill through the House of Lords but again it was dismissed. Lord Grey now appealed to William IV for help. Although William IV did not agree with parliamentary reform, he feared the possibility of revolution. He therefore agreed to Grey's request to create a large number of new Whig peers. ...read more.

Conclusion

The most important reason for the reform act being passed in 1832 was a combination of two significant factors. The Whigs coming to power in government and the intervention in the House of Lords by the new king, William IV. When the Whigs came to power there was an excitement among the working and middle class of the chance of reform. Their excitement was correct because on the 22nd September 1831, the House of Commons passed the Whig Reform Bill. However, the Tory traditionalists, dominated the House of Lords and there was not a hope that the reform would be passed. Sure enough the reform was rejected so Earl Grey, the Prime Minister appealed to the new king for help. Earl Grey explained to the King that unless the government made changes to the current political system relating to how the House of Commons was elected Britain would be in danger of a violent revolution. Although William IV did not totally agree with the idea of parliamentary reform he feared greatly the idea of a revolution, so he agreed to help. William IV threatened the Tory peers in the House of Lords that they would be replaced by Whig peers unless they passed the reform bill. When the Tory peers heard the news they passed the reform bill. These two factors had the most important influence in the passing of the bill because if the Whigs had never come to power the Tories would have always rejected the idea of reform. Also if William IV had not agreed to help the Whigs get the reform passed, it would have constantly been rejected in the House of Lords. The Great Reform Act of 1832 signalled a change in the way the House of Commons was represented. It redistributed nearly a quarter of the seats in the House of Commons from the agricultural south west to the big industrial towns in northern England. More importantly it disenfranchised 56 boroughs with little or no population. ...read more.

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