“The representation of the people (reform) act of 1832 transformed the British political systems”
How far do you agree with this statement?
Regardless of the elements of continuity, the Reform Act of 1832 undoubtedly created a marked change in the nature of the British political systems. Factors such as the redistribution of seats (specifically rotten and pocket boroughs) and changes to the voting qualifications display this. Ultimately, even though the aristocracy still retained a great deal of power within parliament, and the issues around the elections still persisted, the changes that did occur were significant enough to merit a transformation.
To start with, the Reform Act had a large effect on the distribution of seats throughout the boroughs and counties which was a step forward towards democracy. Due to the unrepresentative nature of ‘Rotten Boroughs’ and the corrupt nature of ‘Pocket boroughs’, fifty six of them lost (both) their MP’s. As a result, one hundred and forty five borough seats were abolished. This was an immense alteration considering there had been no change for hundreds of years. With regards to improving democracy, twenty two new boroughs, with two representative MP’s each, were created. Some large industrial towns benefitted from this change, such as Manchester, Leeds and Bradford, who prior to the Reform Act were extremely discounted for in terms of representation in parliament (especially considering their large populations). This marked a change in the nature of the system as it was usually the ‘rural south’ that dominated representation over the ‘industrial north’.
The changes to the industrial towns also helped deal with the growing size of the electorate because, as a result, there was a greater increase in urban voters. In fact, estimations suggest that the total electorate increased from around 490,000 to 800,000. The Act also broadened the franchise significantly with the majority of the middle classes (and some skilled craftsmen) eligible to vote while small landowners, tenant farmers and shopkeepers could now vote under the expanded property franchise. This franchise also extended to the counties where adult males renting a property with fifty pounds, or owning a property worth two or more pounds, had the vote as well. Significantly, even some of the working class, who had been politically neglected, now had access to the vote through the ‘ten pound householder’ qualification. Essentially, even though all this amounted to less than twenty percent of males that could vote it does not take away from the fact that it was a vast increase and deserves recognition within this transformation.
However, the aristocracy still had much power in parliament and continued to exert their influence. In the thirty years after 1832 the majority of cabinet ministers and all prime ministers, with the exception of Robert Peel, were members of the aristocracy. Landlords, who were mainly from the landed classes, still used their power during elections in some counties (and some of the remaining pocket boroughs). This problem was exacerbated by the fact that voting still remained ‘open’ and not secret , which shows how corruption endured the Reform Act. In spite of this, power of the aristocracy had been reduced, in correlation with the reduction of pocket boroughs, and was proven when the House of Lords had to back down over the passing of the Act. This also showed that royal patronage had been diminished to the point that the monarch could be forced to act if without a majority in the Commons and the backing of the electorate. This remarkable situation shows the power and change the Reform Act held on the British political systems.
In short, the Representation of the People Act of 1832 indeed displayed a marked change in the nature and appearance of British politics. This is presented with significant examples of transformation in the redistribution of seats with special regards to the abolition of ‘Rotten and Pocket’ boroughs. The increase and widening of the electorate shows that despite not being a significant percentage is was undoubtedly a immense increase and this justifies the term ‘transformation'. The power of the aristocracy, although still dominant in parliament, was notably reduced by the impact of the redistribution of seats and changes to the electorate and therefore the Reform Act did transform the British political system.
what grade would you say this history essay it? A-level
|TSR's new app is coming! Sign up here to try it first >>||17-10-2016|
|REMINDER: Do not post your personal statement on TSR, otherwise you may have to rewrite it from scratch. Click here for more info.||11-10-2016|