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 XVII
CONCLUSION

THE growth of democracy in elections had been slow and it is to be traced out in various directions. The Reform Act of 1832 found the electoral system completely under the control of the peerage and the landed or mercantile aristocracy. Through the close boroughs the House of Commons was dominated by the upper classes, and the open boroughs were, for the most part, at the disposal of the party which furnished the most funds. The lower House, supposedly representative of the common people, was thus the nominee of a restricted and privileged order.

The act of 1832 struck fiercely at this power of the aristocracy. Many of the close boroughs were opened by the introduction of the £10 franchise, and none were so easily controlled by the patron as in pre-reform days. A large number of the family and saleable boroughs disappeared entirely and their place was taken by the new industrial towns, in which there were no pre-reform traditions to break down and which represented an entirely new factor in the electoral system. The introduction of the new borough franchise, moreover, furnished an opportunity to a large class of the community for expressing its opinions at the polls.

But the absolute sway that had been wielded by the landed and commercial aristocracy was by no means destroyed by the act of 1832, nor was full power of representation granted to the middle class, which was sup

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