• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Do you agree with the contemporary view that the Reform Act of 1832 was a victory for the middle classes?

Extracts from this document...


Do you agree with the contemporary view that the Reform Act of 1832 was a victory for the middle classes? The 1832 Reform Act, often referred to as the 'Great' Reform Act, is traditionally perceived in one of two main ways. Firstly, the act can be viewed as an important, progressive step towards the establishment of Britain as a modern, democratic and representative state. This idea supports the idea of a key victory for the disenfranchised majority of British citizens and the first sign that the grip of the aristocracy on the state being weakened. Alternatively, it can be viewed as something of a non-entity, an act designed to appease the increasingly discontented masses. This line of argument suggests that the act in many ways strengthened the existing system, splitting and dividing the reformers while re-legitimising the status quo. More recently, however, it has been argued that the 1832 Reform Act primarily was to the benefit of the middle classes. This essay intends to examine the validity of this more modern viewpoint, and attempt to evaluate the extent to which the provisions and outcomes of the act support it. It is important to note that the idea of a victory is a very subjective one; a particular outcome of an event can only be judged a victory if it is a realisation of the aspirations of the affected parties. To this end, it is necessary to establish what pressures and demands brought about the passing of the 1832 Reform Act before its outcomes can be examined as a success for any particular groupings. ...read more.


The disequilibrium of interests would remain unresolved until the next Reform Act of 1867. An area that the 1832 Reform Act is usually praised for, the reform of the enfranchisement qualification, could also be viewed as a defeat for the middle classes. Under the original terms of the Act, there was a requirement for voters in the boroughs to own or rent property worth �10 per year, effectively excluding the majority of industrial workers from the electorate. County constituencies remaining contested by largely locally determined qualified voters, however, were subject to one key change, undoubtedly to the benefit of the landed interests. This section of the act, the Chandos clause, granted a vote to tenant farmers whom paid rent of �50 or more per year. It was thought that this group would be vulnerable to pressure brought about by their landlords, strengthening their position in the parliamentary system. It could therefore be suggested that reform weakened the position of the middle classes by disproportionately enfranchising agricultural voters over industrial ones. However, Gash highlights the fact that even before the Reform Act, tenant farmers could become enfranchised with little difficulty, and it would be absurd to suggest that the later influence of protectionist, agriculturally based MPs on this clause alone.7 If this is indeed the case, it would imply that while the 1832 Act was by no means a victory in this respect, it could not be deemed a defeat either. Another way by which the Reform Bill can be seen as a victory for the middle classes rests on the contemplation of what an alternative bill have contained, or indeed, what may have happened if no Bill had been passed at all. ...read more.


Parliament continued to be overwhelmingly dominated by aristocrats. In its purest form therefore, the act cannot be seen to be a middle class victory. The question as to whether the 1832 Reform Act was a victory for the middle classes is really a question of scale. The middle classes did gain some political benefits from the act, although these were quite obviously less that they aspired to. Violent revolution did not take place, and I believe the act must take some credit for this, although there is no agreement on this issue. I am inclined to believe the significance of the act lay more in the precedents it set and the tacit admission of the increasing significance of the middle classes than in its actual content. The act was intended to be a means of preserving the power and position of the aristocracy rather than a deliberate attempt to redefine the political spectrum. Although the middle classes made some gains, I personally view the act as victory primarily for the aristocracy. The true middle class victory came later. Notes 1) Norman Lowe, Modern British History (London: Macmillan, 1998), p.48. 2) D. Moore, "Concession or cure: the sociological premises of the First Reform Act," Historical Journal, (1966), p.39. 3) Michael Bentley, Politics Without Democracy (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985), p.87. 4) W.D. Rubenstein, Britain's Century (London: Arnold, 1998), p.45 5) Norman Gash, Politics in the Age of Peel ( London: Longmans Green and Co, 1969), p.22. 6) Rubenstein, Britains Century, p.32. 7) Norman Gash, Aristocracy and People (London: Arnold, 1992), p.149. 8) Gash, Aristocracy, p.150 9) W.D. Rubenstein, "The end of Old Corruption in Britain" Past and Present, (1983), p.80. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level British History: Monarchy & Politics section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level British History: Monarchy & Politics essays

  1. Marked by a teacher

    Do you agree with the view that the 1832 reform act was a conservative ...

    Firstly i am very much able to see that for the country at the time the act was seen as very radical. Source 6 states that "Their solution was more radical than most parliamentarians wanted, and Tories who opposed reform remained convinced that catastrophe would follow."

  2. Peer reviewed

    Do you agree with the view that the main reason for the emergence of ...

    3 star(s)

    Concluding this source it shows that the middle class were the main priority to the chartist. Therefore that links back to the question as this links to the disappointment among the working class. Now looking at source 5 which came from the poor man's guardian.

  1. Why was the reform act of 1832 passed?

    The process began in March when the initial bill was issued by Lord John Russell. The Tories however did not like the extent of reform and they were able to still have enough say in parliament to defeat it in the committee stage though it had passed a second reading the House of Commons by a majority of one.

  2. Why was The Great Reform Act passed in 1832 ?

    At the current time in 1815 small boroughs were represented in Parliament, however, major industrial towns were not. The middle class wanted the pocket boroughs in which the number of representatives had been controlled by aristocratic landowners to be disenfranchised along with the rotten boroughs which had no or very small population.

  1. Do you agree with the view that the 1832 reform act was a conservative ...

    already failed saying that his stance was anti violence can only make him look Good.


    Significant number of Whigs were from the middle classes. Sponsored reforms in 1792, 1793 and 1797. Removal of forces against change * Liverpool's stroke meant Tories were in disarray, death of George III (1830) 1867 Public Pressure (external to Parliament) * Alliance between middle and working classes, various political pressure groups; Chartism (1830's and 40's); Northern Reform Union; Manhood Suffrage and Vote by Ballot Association (1862); National Reform League(1864)

  1. To what extent does the Reform Act of 1832 deserved to be called Great?

    This change was important as it enabled the middle class ideas, votes and opinions that would be taken into consideration which reflected the positive development of the middle class. In addition to the above changes, the franchise was made more uniform.

  2. The changing position of women and the suffrage question. Revision notes

    However, women were explicitly removed from the democratic process. The 1832 Great Reform Act had referred to ?male? rather than ?persons?. By 1884 two thirds of men could vote, but along with criminals and inmates of lunatic asylum?s women could not vote.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work