History Optional Paper- 2 Solution – 2005: Q.5 (a)
Q.5 (a) “Though reform was inevitable, the Act (1832) by which it was accomplished was open to grave criticism.” Comment.
The Reform Act of 1832 was inevitable. The rapid insutrialisation in Britain had led to urbanisation with new social order dominated by the middle class and working class in place of clergy and landlords. But they had much lesser political power. The new towns had no right to send any member to the Parliament while some depopulated places were represented. Elections were controlled by the landlords and franchise was limited. This led to demand for the Parliamentary reform from the middle class and working class.
The Reform Act of 1832 granted seats in the House of Commons to 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, apart from creating new seats in England and Wales, also was instrumental in extension of the franchise to vote.
The Act of 1832 was the first parliamentary reform which effectively transferred sovereignty from the aristocracy to the middle class. It weakened the influence of the House of Lords and raised the status of the House of Commons. But it was gravely criticised by many.
Criticism of the Reform Act 1832
(1) The Reform Act cruelly disappointed the hopes of the working classes. They were not franchised since voters were required to possess property worth £10. This split the alliance between the working class and the middle class, giving rise to the Chartist Movement by the working class.
(2) The Act did not satisfy the Philosophical Liberals. It abolished some of the abuses, but it left innumerable anomalies; it broke the principle of aristocracy without admitting that of democracy where representation should have been based neither on numbers, nor wealth, nor education. No effort was made to secure representation for minorities.
(3) The Act did not have provisions for the franchise and representation for women.
(4) Although the Act did disenfranchise most rotten boroughs, a few remained. Also, bribery of voters remained a problem. Tenants typically voted as instructed by their landlords.
(5) The subsequent history of Parliament shows that the influence of the House of Lords was largely undiminished. The Hoise of Lords compelled the House of Commons to accept significant amendments to the Municipal Reform Bill in 1835, and successfully resisted several other bills supported by the public.
Hence, though reform was inevitable, the Act by which it was accomplished was criticised by many for being insufficient in achieving the objectives of reform.