National Political Union (England)

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The National Political Union was an organisation set up in October 1831, after the rejection of the Reform Bill by the House of Lords, to serve as a pressure group for parliamentary reform: “to support the King and his ministers against a small faction in accomplishing their great measure of Parliamentary Reform”. [1]


Modelled by Francis Place on the influential Birmingham Political Union, [2] (but without its emphasis on currency reform) [3] the N. P. U. was meant to serve both as a co-ordinating body for the country's political unions, and as a particular outlet for London radicals.

Controversies, effects, and demise

The N. P. U. was involved in controversy from its very outset, when the constituting meeting was invaded by a working-class protest against its middle-class membership: agreement on a moderate policy, but with half the Council seats reserved for manual workers, [4] meant that the body would continue thereafter as a moderate centre of focus for both the middle and working classes of London. [5] A month later, a government ban on umbrella organisations effectively put paid to the N. P. U.'s hopes of replacing the Birmingham Political Union as a nationwide co-ordinating body; [6] and in the New Year it found itself divided again on the question of whether to urge the government onwards with reform, or simply express support for the Whig ministry, as its President, Sir Francis Burdett, preferred. [7]

It was only after the dismissal of the Whig ministers, when the so-called Days of May protests against the forming of a Tory administration began, that the N. P. U. came into its own, with a major influx of members, [8] and of finance. [9] A series of co-ordinated measures – a petition to the Commons for the withholding of the budget; public meetings against reaction; and an organised run on the Bank of England's gold [10] helped provide that “pressure from without” to which Earl Grey attributed much of the eventual success of the Whig Bill. [11]

Thereafter however, after a brief attempt by the N. P. U. to organise support for liberal candidates at the 1832 election, a collapse in both membership and finances took place, its very success leading to the undoing of the essentially single-issue body. [12]

See also

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  1. Statutes, quoted in Elie Halévy, The Triumph of Reform (London 1961) p. 45
  2. N. LoPaten, Political Unions, Popular Politics, and the Great Reform Act of 1832 (1998) p. 18
  3. Antonia Fraser, Perilous Question (London 2013) p. 160
  4. Elie Halévy, The Triumph of Reform (London 1961) p. 45
  5. A. E. Musson, British Trade Unions 1800-1875 (London 1972) p. 44
  6. Elie Halévy, The Triumph of Reform (London 1961) p. 46
  7. Antonia Fraser, Perilous Question (London 2013) p. 196
  8. E. Pearce, Reform! (London 2003) p. 279
  9. D. Gross, We Won't Pay (2008) p. 163
  10. Antonia Fraser, Perilous Question (London 2013) p. 220, 234, and 245
  11. Elie Halévy, The Triumph of Reform (London 1961) p. 67
  12. Norman Gash, Aristocracy and People (1979) p. 191

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