Electoral Reform in England and Wales: The Development and Operation of the Parliamentary Franchise, 1832-1885

By Charles M. A. Seymour | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
DEMOCRATIC SUFFRAGE IN THE COUNTIES: THE
FRANCHISE ACT OF 1884

Reform waves --The legislation of 1883, 1884, 1885--Franchise and redistribution--The movement for franchise reform --Demonstrations in 1883 and 1884--General consensus as to necessity of reform--Attitude of various elements--Gladstone's plan --Its simplicity and moderation--General acceptance of the principle of the bill--Demand for concurrent redistribution --Compromise arranged--Radical attack upon plural voting --Gladstone insists upon retention of freehold qualification and county voting rights of borough freeholder--Attack upon university representation -- The franchise for women--General character of the act as passed--The ancient right voters--Importance of the freeholders in counties--Effect of ownership vote on party strength --The new county voters--Ratio of voters to population in counties and boroughs--Advantage of rural divisions disappeared --General regularity in relative size of electorate--Summary of franchise development from 1832 to 1884.

STUDENTS of constitutional development have not failed to observe that the legislatures of a democracy are subject to what may be termed periodic waves of reform, under the impulse of which the remodelling of the outworks and sometimes the basic structure of government proceeds apace. An impatience with mere tinkering, a desire for real "finality," characterizes the attitude of the legislators. A lassitude of the question so long discussed and a desperate acquiescence in the leap in the dark paralyzes their powers of resistance to the demand for reform. It was such a wave that caught the Tory government of Disraeli in 1867 and 1868, inducing the enact-

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