|Long title||An Act further to amend the Laws relating to the Representation of the People in England and Wales.|
|Citation||30 & 31 Vict. c. 102|
|Territorial extent||United Kingdom|
|Royal assent||15 August 1867|
|Text of statute as originally enacted|
The Representation of the People Act 1867, 30 & 31 Vict. c. 102 (known as the Reform Act 1867 or the Second Reform Act) was a piece of British legislation that enfranchised part of the urban male working class in England and Wales for the first time. It took effect in stages over the next two years, culminating in full enactment on 1 January 1869.
Before the Act, only one million of the seven million adult men in England and Wales could vote; the Act immediately doubled that number. Moreover, by the end of 1868 all male heads of household were enfranchised as a result of the end of compounding of rents. However, the Act introduced only a negligible redistribution of seats. The overall intent was to help the Conservative Party, yet it resulted in their loss of the 1868 general election.
For the decades after the Great Reform Act of 1832, cabinets (in that era leading from both Houses) had resisted attempts to push through further reform, and in particular left unfulfilled the six demands of the Chartist movement. After 1848, this movement declined rapidly, but elite opinion began to pay attention.It was thus only 27 years after the initial, quite modest, Great Reform Act that leading politicians thought it prudent to introduce further electoral reform. Following an unsuccessful attempt by Benjamin Disraeli to introduce a reform bill in 1859, Lord John Russell, who had played a major role in passing the 1832 Reform Act, attempted this in 1860; but the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, a fellow Liberal, was against any further electoral reform.
The Union victory in the American Civil War in 1865 emboldened the forces in Britain that demanded more democracy and public input into the political system, to the dismay of the upper class landed gentry who identified with the US Southern States planters and feared the loss of influence and a popular radical movement. Influential commentators included Walter Bagehot, Thomas Carlyle, Anthony Trollope, Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill.
Palmerston's death in 1865 opened the floodgates for reform. In 1866 Russell (Earl Russell as he had been since 1861, and now Prime Minister for the second time), introduced a Reform Bill. It was a cautious bill, which proposed to enfranchise "respectable" working men, excluding unskilled workers and what was known as the "residuum", those seen by MPs as the "feckless and criminal" poor. This was ensured by a £7 annual rent qualification to vote—or 26 shillings a week. This entailed two "fancy franchises," emulating measures of 1854, a £10 lodger qualification for the boroughs, and a £50 savings qualification in the counties. Liberals claimed that "the middle classes, strengthened by the best of the artisans, would still have the preponderance of power."
When it came to the vote, however, this bill split the Liberal Party: a split partly engineered by Benjamin Disraeli, who incited those threatened by the bill to rise up against it. On one side were the reactionary conservative Liberals, known as the Adullamites; on the other were pro-reform Liberals who supported the Government. The Adullamites were supported by Tories and the liberal Whigs were supported by radicals and reformists.
The bill was thus defeated and the Liberal government of Russell resigned.
The Conservatives formed a ministry on 26 June 1866, led by Lord Derby as Prime Minister and Disraeli as Chancellor of the Exchequer. They were faced with the challenge of reviving Conservatism: Palmerston, the powerful Liberal leader, was dead and the Liberal Party split and defeated. Thanks to manoeuvring by Disraeli, Derby's Conservatives saw an opportunity to be a strong, viable party of government; however, there was still a Liberal majority in the House of Commons.
The Adullamites, led by Robert Lowe, had already been working closely with the Conservative Party. The Adullamites were anti-reform, as were the Conservatives, but the Adullamites declined the invitation to enter into Government with the Conservatives as they thought that they could have more influence from an independent position. Despite the fact that he had blocked the Liberal Reform Bill, in February 1867, Disraeli introduced his own Reform Bill into the House of Commons.
By this time the attitude of many in the country had ceased to be apathetic regarding reform of the House of Commons. Huge meetings, especially the ‘Hyde Park riots', and the feeling that many of the skilled working class were respectable, had persuaded many that there should be a Reform Bill. However, wealthy Conservative MP Lord Cranborneresigned his government ministry in disgust at the bill's introduction.
The Reform League, agitating for universal suffrage, became much more active, and organized demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people in Manchester, Glasgow, and other towns. Though these movements did not normally use revolutionary language as some Chartists had in the 1840s, they were powerful movements. The high point came when a demonstration in May 1867 in Hyde Park was banned by the government. Thousands of troops and policemen were prepared, but the crowds were so huge that the government did not dare to attack. The Home Secretary, Spencer Walpole, was forced to resign.
Faced with the possibility of popular revolt going much further, the government rapidly included into the bill amendments which enfranchised far more people. Consequently, the bill was more far-reaching than any Members of Parliament had thought possible or really wanted; Disraeli appeared to accept most reform proposals, so long as they did not come from William Ewart Gladstone. An amendment tabled by the opposition (but not by Gladstone himself) trebled the new number entitled to vote under the bill; yet Disraeli simply accepted it. The bill enfranchised most men who lived in urban areas. The final proposals were as follows: a borough franchise for all who paid rates in person (that is, not compounders), and extra votes for graduates, professionals and those with over £50 savings. These last "fancy franchises" were seen by Conservatives as a weapon against a mass electorate.
However, Gladstone attacked the bill; a series of sparkling parliamentary debates with Disraeli resulted in the bill becoming much more radical. Having been given his chance by the belief that Gladstone's bill had gone too far in 1866, Disraeli had now gone further.
Disraeli was able to persuade his party to vote for the bill on the basis that the newly enfranchised electorate would be grateful, and would vote Conservative at the next election. Despite this prediction, in 1868 the Conservatives lost the first general election in which the newly enfranchised electors voted.
The bill ultimately aided the rise of the radical wing of the Liberal Party, and helped Gladstone to victory. The Act was tidied up with many further Acts to alter electoral boundaries.
Four electoral boroughs were completely disenfranchised by the Act, for corruption:
Seven English boroughs were disenfranchised by the Representation of the People (Scotland) Act 1868 the subsequent year:
Three of these (Honiton, Thetford, Wells) had two MPs, but had been due to have their representation halved under the terms of the 1867 Act. However, the 1868 Act disenfranchised them altogether before the reduction in representation took effect. The other four boroughs had had one MP since 1832.
The following boroughs were reduced from electing two MPs to one:
Three further boroughs (Honiton, Thetford, Wells) were also due to have their representation halved under the 1867 Act, but before this reduction took effect they were disenfranchised altogether by the 1868 Scottish Reform Act as noted above.
The Act created a number of new boroughs in Parliament. The following boroughs were enfranchised with one MP:
The following boroughs were enfranchised with two MPs:
In addition, the Act adjusted the representation of several existing boroughs. Salford and Merthyr Tydfil were given two MPs instead of one. Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester now had three MPs instead of two.
The reforms for Scotland and Ireland were carried out by two subsequent acts, the Representation of the People (Ireland) Act 1868 and the Representation of the People (Scotland) Act 1868.
In Scotland, five existing constituencies gained members, and three new constituencies were formed. Two existing county constituencies were merged into one, giving an overall increase of seven members; this was offset by seven English boroughs (listed above) being disenfranchised, leaving the House with the same number of members.
The representation of Ireland remained unchanged.
The unprecedented extension of the franchise to all householders effectively gave the vote to many working class men, quite a considerable change. Jonathan Parry described this as a 'borough franchise revolution';the traditional position of the landed gentry in parliament would no longer be assured by money, bribery and favours; but by the whims and wishes of the public. However, to blindly consider the de jure franchise extensions would be fallacious. The franchise provisions were flawed; the act did not address the issues of compounding and of not being a ratepayer in a household. The compounding of rates and rents was made illegal, after it was abolished in a bill tabled by Liberal Grosvenor Hodgkinson (this meant that all tenants would have to pay rates directly and thus qualify for the vote). The preparation of the register was still left to easily manipulated party organisers who could remove opponents and add supporters at will. The sole qualification to vote was essentially being on the register itself.
The Liberal Party was worried about the prospect of a socialist party taking the bulk of the working-class vote, so they moved to the left, while their rivals the Conservatives initiated occasional intrigues to encourage socialist candidates to stand against the Liberals.
Trollope's Phineas Finn is concerned almost exclusively with the parliamentary progress of the Second Reform Act, and Finn sits for one of the seven fictional boroughs that are due to be disenfranchised.
The Representation of the People Act 1832 was an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom that introduced wide-ranging changes to the electoral system of England and Wales. According to its preamble, the Act was designed to "take effectual Measures for correcting divers Abuses that have long prevailed in the Choice of Members to serve in the Commons House of Parliament". Before the reform, most members nominally represented boroughs. The number of electors in a borough varied widely, from a dozen or so up to 12,000. Frequently the selection of MPs was effectively controlled by one powerful patron: for example Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk, controlled eleven boroughs. Criteria for qualification for the franchise varied greatly among boroughs, from the requirement to own land, to merely living in a house with a hearth sufficient to boil a pot.
Robert Lowe, 1st Viscount Sherbrooke, GCB, PC, British statesman, was a pivotal but often forgotten figure who shaped British politics in the latter half of the 19th century. He held office under William Ewart Gladstone as Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1868 and 1873 and as Home Secretary between 1873 and 1874. Lowe is remembered for his work in education policy, his opposition to electoral reform and his contribution to modern UK company law. Gladstone appointed Lowe as Chancellor expecting him to hold down public spending. Public spending rose, and Gladstone pronounced Lowe "wretchedly deficient"; most historians agree. Lowe repeatedly underestimated the revenue, enabling him to resist demands for tax cuts and to reduce the national debt instead. He insisted that the tax system be fair to all classes. By his own main criterion of fairness – that the balance between direct and indirect taxation remain unchanged – he succeeded. However historians do not believe this balance is a good measure of class incidence and was by that time thoroughly archaic.
Gathorne Gathorne-Hardy, 1st Earl of Cranbrook,, known as Gathorne Hardy until 1878, was a prominent British Conservative politician, a moderate, middle-of-the road Anglican. He held cabinet office in every Conservative government between 1858 and 1892 and notably served as Home Secretary from 1867 to 1868 and as Secretary of State for War from 1874 to 1878.
The 1868 United Kingdom general election was the first after passage of the Reform Act 1867, which enfranchised many male householders, thus greatly increasing the number of men who could vote in elections in the United Kingdom. It was the first election held in the United Kingdom in which more than a million votes were cast; nearly triple the number of votes were cast compared to the previous election of 1865.
In the United Kingdom under the premiership of Gladstone, the Representation of the People Act 1884 and the Redistribution Act of the following year were laws which further extended the suffrage in the UK after the Derby Government's Reform Act 1867. Taken together, these measures extended the same voting qualifications as existed in the towns to the countryside, and essentially established the modern one member constituency as the normal pattern for Parliamentary representation.
The Conservative government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland that began in 1866 and ended in 1868 was led by Lord Derby in the House of Lords and Benjamin Disraeli in the House of Commons.
The Adullamites were a short-lived anti-reform faction within the UK Liberal Party in 1866. The name is based on a biblical reference to the cave of Adullam where David and his allies sought refuge from Saul.
The Reform Bills were a series of proposals to reform voting in the British parliament. These include the Reform Acts of 1832, 1867, and 1884. The bills reformed voting by increasing the electorate for the House of Commons and removing certain inequalities in representation. The bill of 1832 disfranchised many boroughs which enjoyed undue representation and increased that of the large towns, at the same time extending the franchise, and was put through by the Whigs. The bill of 1867 was passed by the Conservatives under the urging of the Liberals, while that of 1882 was introduced by the Liberals and passed in 1884. These latter two bills provided for a more democratic representation.
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Eastern West Riding of Yorkshire was a parliamentary constituency covering part of the historic West Riding of Yorkshire. It returned two Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, elected by the bloc vote system.
Southern West Riding of Yorkshire was a parliamentary constituency covering part of the historic West Riding of Yorkshire. It returned two Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, elected by the bloc vote system.
Women's suffrage in the United Kingdom was a movement to fight for women's right to vote. It finally succeeded through two laws in 1918 and 1928. It became a national movement in the Victorian era. Women were not explicitly banned from voting in Great Britain until the Reform Act 1832 and the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. In 1872 the fight for women's suffrage became a national movement with the formation of the National Society for Women's Suffrage and later the more influential National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). As well as in England, women's suffrage movements in Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom gained momentum. The movements shifted sentiments in favour of woman suffrage by 1906. It was at this point that the militant campaign began with the formation of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU).
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