To what extent was popular pressure an important factor in determining the progress of the campaign for parliamentary reformin the period 1780-1885?

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To what extent was popular pressure an important factor in determining the progress of the campaign for parliamentary reform

in the period 1780-1885?

Parliamentary reform was a multi-causal landed elite led campaign in the name of the aristocracy. It was the MPs and the Lords who attained the power and even by the end of 1885 there was still no universal manhood suffrage. Although popular pressure was notable, it was only periodically important. A number of other key factors allowed the three reform acts to be passed by 1885. The desire to prevent revolution and the reactionary nature of government was an extension of popular pressure and contributed to the first to reform acts in different ways. The need to gain party advantage, and to ‘dish the liberals’ in the case of the Conservatives, was prevalent throughout the century. McCauley’s notion to ‘reform that you may preserve’ and the wish to gain personal advantage over each party’s counterpart was also significant throughout the campaign period.

Pre-1832 the reform movement was mainly a popular movement. By 1782, the Conservative Pitt the Younger raised hopes of modest parliamentary reform. In 1785 Pitt proposed a modest reform bill, however it was defeated 248-174. The French Revolution of 1789 stimulated reformist sentiments and thus created more popular support for the movement, even prompting the creation of pamphlets, such as, Thomas Paine’s ‘The Rights of Man’ in February 1791 and also the creation of political groups, for instance, the British Jacobins in 1791-3 and the Hampden clubs in 1815. Although pro-reform, each group contained only middle-class citizens and artisans but none of the lower classes. This therefore did not create any form of progress towards reform. In fact, it created only reactionary pressures resulting in ‘Pitt’s Reign of Terror’ in 1794, where 50 radicals were arrested and the Habeas Corpus was suspended, however this was rarely used. Also the Peterloo massacre in August 1819 was where the Army killed 12 after ‘Orator Hunt,’ a radical, rallied a 60,000 strong crowd. Although the Army was used it was only a magistrate’s decision not a government reaction. The unrest between 1816 and 1820, such as the Spa Field Riots (1816), the attempted assassination of the Prince Regent (1817) and the Cato Street Conspiracy (1820) where the assassination of the cabinet was plotted, provided the government with ample justification of government repression, and discredited the MPs who supported reform. Thus, before the first act was passed the movement was unable to make any progress.

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The Reform Act of 1832 was produced for a number of different reasons by the Whig government. The Swing Riots of 1830-31, due to an atmosphere of social and economic crisis and the 1830 French Revolution, created growing popular pressure on the Conservative government before 1831, the latter showing Wellington, the PM, the consequence of failing to reform Parliament. The riots in Derby, Bristol and Nottingham in September 1832 also conveyed the popular reformist pressure, leading to a fear of revolution. The Whig government came to power after in 1831 and introduced a reform bill. The fear of revolution ...

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