Reform Act 1832

The Representation of the People Act 1832 (also known as the 1832 Reform Act, Great Reform Act or First Reform Act) was an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom (indexed as 2 & 3 Will. IV c. 45) that introduced major changes to the electoral system of England and Wales. It abolished tiny districts, gave representation to cities, gave the vote to small landowners, tenant farmers, shopkeepers, householders who paid a yearly rental of £10 or more, and some lodgers. Only qualifying men were able to vote; the Act introduced the first explicit statutory bar to women voting, by defining a voter as a male person.[1]

Representation of the People Act 1832
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Act to amend the representation of the people in England and Wales
Citation2 & 3 Wm. IV, c. 45
Introduced byLord Grey, Prime Minister
Territorial extentEngland and Wales

In Scotland and Ireland, the Scottish Reform Act 1832 and Irish Reform Act 1832 applied, respectively.
Dates
Royal assent7 June 1832
Other legislation
Relates toReform Act 1867
Status: Repealed
Text of statute as originally enacted
Start of parchment roll of the Reform Act 1832, with royal assent of King William IV marked above Le Roy le veult.
A painting by Sir George Hayter that commemorates the passing of the Act. It depicts the first session of the newly reformed House of Commons on 5 February 1833 held in St. Stephen's Chapel. In the foreground, the leading statesmen from the Lords: Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1764–1845), William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (1779–1848), and the Whigs on the left; and Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769–1852), and the Tories on the right. Currently in the National Portrait Gallery.

It was designed to correct abuses – 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".[2] 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 Members of Parliament (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.

There had been calls for reform long before 1832, but without success. The Act that finally succeeded was proposed by the Whigs, led by Prime Minister Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. It met with significant opposition from the Pittite factions in Parliament, who had long governed the country; opposition was especially pronounced in the House of Lords. Nevertheless, the bill was eventually passed, mainly as a result of public pressure. The Act granted seats in the House of Commons to large cities that had sprung up during the Industrial Revolution, and removed seats from the "rotten boroughs": those with very small electorates and usually dominated by a wealthy patron. The Act also increased the electorate from about 400,000 to 650,000, making about one in five adult males eligible to vote.[3]

The full title is An Act to amend the representation of the people in England and Wales. Its formal short title and citation is "Representation of the People Act 1832 (2 & 3 Wm. IV, c. 45)". The Act applied only in England and Wales; the Irish Reform Act 1832 brought similar changes to Ireland. The separate Scottish Reform Act 1832 was revolutionary, enlarging the electorate by a factor of 13 from 5,000 to 65,000.[4]