Great Reform act 1832 and Riots that Preceded the Law

A debatable title for this act it set out the basis of electoral reform and for the first time enshrined in law the prohibition of womens rights to vote.

The Act was a response to the unfair electoral system and sought to resolve  some of the inherent problems caused by unfair boundaries and rotten boroughs but it tacitly set back the emancipation of women.

In 1831 the Reform Act passed in the Commons but the Tory dominated House of Lords defeated it. There followed much civil unrest with serious disturbances and rioting in London, Birmingham, Derby, Nottingham, Leicester, Yeovil, Sherborne, Exeter and Bristol.  The riots were the worst seen in the 19th century. They were sparked when Sir Charles Weatherall who opposed the earlier act opened the Assize Court. Public buildings and private houses were arsoned. 102 people were arrested and 12 sentenced to death.

The Great Reform Act of 1832 was an attempt to head-off (having witnessed the revolution in July 1830 in France) the possibility of a similar revolt in England. The King, William IV, had also lost popularity because he had opposed reform, eventually giving way to creating new Whig Peers which then led to the Lords conceding and approving the 1832 Bill.

But the rights established were still very limiting as to who could vote:

  • only men who owned property worth a minimum of £10 could vote
  • this excluded most of the working people
  • and candidates for parliament had to be able to afford to pay for such a right
  • women were excluded by the specific use of the word man as opposed to person
  • these reforms did not go far enough and in itself the act inspired further future campaigning against the limited rights it granted
So was it such a GREAT Reform Act? Certainly not if you were a woman or a poor young man working for a miserly living with no prospect of owning property assets.