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Great Reform Act

Great Reform Act, 1832. The first major reform of the representative system since the time of Cromwell. The demand for reform at the end of the 18th cent. had been tainted by association with the French Revolution and it was not until the Whigs came to power in 1830 that there was any prospect of successful legislation. Lord Grey saw reform as a means of satisfying the desire of the respectable middle classes for greater representation and the character of the Act was accordingly moderate. Only the mechanics of the system were changed. The principal changes were:1. Redistribution of constituencies. Boroughs with a population of less than 4,000 were either disfranchised, or reduced to one member instead of two. Some seats were added to the rural counties and others to towns such as Birmingham and Manchester, where industries or trade had developed since the 16th cent.2. Changes in the electoral qualifications: long leaseholders were added to the ‘40s. freeholders’ in the counties and in the boroughs a uniform franchise, vested in householders occupying property valued at £10 or more for local rates, was established. All voters were to be resident adult males.3. Rules were established for the conduct of elections.

The Act satisfied the middle classes in general but agitation for more radical reform continued among the working classes, though no further general changes were made until 1867.

E. A. Smith

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