The House of Lords in the Age of Reform, 1784-1837: With an Epilogue on Aristocracy and the Advent of Democracy, 1837-1867

By A. S. Turberville | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI
After the Reform Act: (3) Counter-
attack

The struggle over the Municipal Corporation Bill was more protracted and more momentous. This great piece of legislation, introduced in the Lower House by Russell on 5 June, 1835, ushered in a new era in local government as momentous as that marked in the history of Parliament by the great Reform Act, bringing an end as it did to the longstanding anomalies in the administration of the boroughs, sweeping away the old exclusive oligarchies, the peculiar privileges and trading rights enjoyed by the freemen, and substituting the rule of elective corporations chosen by the rate-payers. 'There never was such a coup as this Municipal Reform Bill . . .' Creevey wrote. 'It marshals all the middle classes in all the towns of England in the ranks of reform; aye, and gives them monstrous power too. I consider it a much greater blow to Toryism than the Reform Bill itself.'1 Even the silliest soul that ever was a lord, Francis Place thought, must see the importance of resisting this new threat to aristocratic dominance.2

The Bill had an easy passage in the Lower House; there was not even a division on the second reading. The opposition offered many amendments, and the committee stage was very protracted, but it passed on 21 July with all its essential features intact. But although Peel and the Duke had been in consultation regarding the Bill while it was yet in the Lower House, Peel's influence could not curb the indignation of the Tory peers, who massed all their strength against these outrageous inroads upon the old system which they represented.

The Duke of Newcastle was early in the forefront, suggesting

____________________
1
Creevey Papers, Vol. II, p. 308.
2
Graham Wallas, Life of Francis Place, p. 344.

-351-

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