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The 1830 General Election

1830 proved to be a turning point for the people who wanted parliamentary reform:

  1. George IV died on 26th June 1830. He was succeeded by his brother William IV who disliked Wellington and the Ultras but liked Grey and the Whigs. More importantly, the death of George IV necessitated a general election, which took place in July and August. Although Wellington returned as Prime Minister, the results were more far-reaching that were anticipated. Anti-reformers began to think that refusing reform might be more dangerous than conceding
  2. the July Revolution in France replaced Charles X with Louis Philippe, the Duc d'Orleans
  3. the August Revolution in Belgium saw the removal of the Dutch from Belgium
  4. there was a downturn in trade by the end of September, which led to discontent in the industrial north among the middle and lower classes
  5. the Spinners' Union and other Trade Unions in the north were now a militant and formidable force
  6. Swing Riots had been occurring in southern England since June
  7. a financial crisis in London had led to a run on gold
  8. the death of Huskisson on 15 September meant that his followers (who were Canningites prior to the death of Canning in 1827) would be absorbed by some other group as they were unlikely to stand alone, leaderless. The Whigs and Ultras were free to bid for Huskisson's group

The 1830 election weakened Wellington's government and strengthened the reformers. Wellington needed substantial gains, which did not materialise. Unexpected losses damaged his prestige, however. Electors unexpectedly voted for reform candidates and revolted against their usual allegiances. This was indicative of:

In the 1830 election, reformers urged voters to be independent of influence: the press advocated honest voting. This led to some odd results.

The electoral protest was directed more against the system than the government. A system so widely hated by the middle classes - now men of property and education - began to threaten the aristocracy who decided that their best course might be to scrap the old system.

The Rev. W Shepherd, writing in The Times on l4 May 1832 said that the 1830 election

taught the small freeholders their real importance, and ... had shown how titled wealth may be driven from the field. When swarms of independent yeomen repair to the county town at their own expense ... the unpopular candidate ... retires worn and discomfited.

Expensive elections actually helped popular candidates because they put unpopular ones to heavy expenses bringing in outvoters, 'treating' and bribing electors. The events of the 1830 election brought a sense of urgency to the Whigs' championship of reform and converted many to the idea. Sir Robert Heron wrote on November 1830:

Two years ago I thought Reform of Parliament almost hopeless. I now believe it to be certain and approaching. The longer delayed, the more it will be radical.

Anti-reformers blamed the July Revolution in France for the demands for political reform in Britain. In October 1831, Lord Lyndhurst told the House of Lords that until news of the revolution in France arrived

the cry was all over the country for negro emancipation. But after the news arrived ... the cry was changed, and the universal demand was for reform.

The facts do not support Lyndhurst's opinion. News of the events in France arrived in Britain on 3 August, after most of the elections had been held. The July Revolution affected British politics more after the election than during it. It helped to determine the behaviour of MPs when parliament met, because as Lord Wharncliffe wrote to Wellington on 30 November 1831, 'The demonstration in favour of Reform at the General Election of 1830 satisfied me that the feeling upon it was not ... temporary and likely to die away'.

Few people actually opposed reform in the 1830 general election, apart from Wellington and Peel. The idea had general support from radicals to Ultras.


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Last modified 26 October, 2013

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