REFORM ACT:1832 | Background to Chartism in Stoke-on-Trent


Reform Bills or Reform Acts, series of 19th- and 20th-century enactments of the British Parliament that resulted in electoral reforms. The general purposes of such acts were the achievement of a more representative government and the democratization of the electoral process. Another aim was the elimination of corrupt electoral practices, such as bribery. The most important of these enactments were the Reform Bills of 1832, 1867, and 1885.

Reform Bill of 1832

The Reform Bill of 1832 provided for the redistribution of parliamentary seats, and virtually tripled the electorate. It disenfranchised 56 boroughs, among them the so-called rotten boroughs, some of which had no population at all, and those known as pocket boroughs, in which the number of representatives had been controlled by aristocratic landowners. The parliamentary representation of other boroughs was reduced, while that of a number of large towns and of the counties generally was increased. Representation in Ireland and Scotland was also increased. The electorate was broadened by the elimination or lessening of various restrictive residential requirements and financial qualifications.

On the whole, the Reform Bill of 1832 resulted in the transfer of political power from the landowning aristocrats to the middle class, and in the subordination of the House of Lords to the popular will.

Reform Bill of 1867

The Reform Bill of 1867, prompted by widespread dissatisfaction with the limited reforms of the 1832 act, created a number of new boroughs; decreased the parliamentary representation of boroughs with populations of fewer than 10,000; increased the representation of the cities of Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, and Salford; enlarged the representation of the counties; and broadened the electorate by decreasing financial qualifications and by enfranchising householders, mostly workingmen, in the boroughs.

Reform Bill of 1885

One of the most important features of the Reform Bill of 1885 was a provision that virtually doubled the electorate by enfranchising workers and agricultural labourers. This act made representation almost proportionate to the male population.

Subsequent Reform Acts

Among later reform bills, the most important were those of 1917, which fixed the ratio of parliamentary representation as one seat for every 70,000 inhabitants, and provided for universal suffrage for men of 21 years of age or over, and women of 30 or more years of age; and of 1928, which set identical voting qualifications for men and women.