Reform Acts

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Reform Acts

Reform Acts or Reform Bills, in British history, name given to three major measures that liberalized representation in Parliament in the 19th cent. Representation of the counties and boroughs in the House of Commons had not, except for the effects of parliamentary union with Scotland (1707) and Ireland (1800), been materially altered since the 17th cent. The system was very irregular and greatly restricted the franchise; it failed to take into account the great shifts of population and the growth of new social classes that attended the Industrial Revolution. "Pocket boroughs," controlled by the crown or large landholders, and "rotten boroughs," whose populations had declined (the most notorious was Old Sarum, which had virtually ceased to exist) were amply represented. Yet large cities such as Manchester and Birmingham returned no members of their own. Out of a population of about 24,000,000 in the British Isles (including Ireland), only about 435,000 were qualified to vote. Corruption and the sale of seats flourished. Reform agitation, beginning to develop in the 1760s, was supported by William Pitt and others, but the emergency period of the French Revolution interrupted it. Revived c.1807, it had become the leading issue of the day by 1830.

The Reform Act of 1832, enacted under the Whig administration of the 2d Earl Grey, redistributed seats in the interest of larger communities; it also extended the franchise in the boroughs to those who occupied premises of an annual value of £10 and in the counties to similar leaseholders—to the advantage of shopkeepers and other middle-class men—and it simplified registration and voting procedure. The bill was passed in the House of Lords only as a result of the government's threat to overcome opposition by creating enough Whig peers to ensure passage. The electorate was increased by about 50%, but the new distribution of seats still allowed the rural areas to retain their supremacy.

Agitation by the advocates of Chartism and others for further reform produced no results until Benjamin Disraeli made a bid for the support of the working classes by enacting the Reform Act of 1867. This act, which further redistributed the seats and more than doubled the electorate, gave the vote to many workingmen in the towns. The Reform Act of 1884, passed during the administration of William Gladstone, removed the distinction between county and borough franchises and, by the reduction of rural qualifications, added about 2,000,000 more men to the electorate. A redistribution act in 1885 rendered representation nearly proportional to population. It was not, however, until the passage of the Representation of the People Acts in the 20th cent. that the British Parliament adopted universal male and female suffrage.

See studies of electoral reform by C. Seymour (1915, repr. 1970) and H. L. Morris (1921, repr. 1971); N. Gash, Politics in the Age of Peel (1953); F. B. Smith, The Making of the Second Reform Bill (1966); see more general studies by A. Jones (1972), J. Cannon (1973), M. Barker (1975), and T. A. Jenkins (1988).

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Reform Acts
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.