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Taken from Norman Gash, The Age of Peel (London, Edward Arnold, 1973), with the kind permission of Professor Gash. Copyright of this document, of course, remains with him.
Most text-books for the period summarise the main provisions of the reform act. A few special points may be noticed here.
- A large proportion of pre-1832 voters continued to enjoy their old franchise. In the counties the historic 40/- freeholder was not disturbed. Even if his property lay within a borough boundary he remained a county elector unless otherwise qualified for the borough franchise. In the old boroughs which still returned members after the act the ancient franchises also remained intact during the life-time of their possessors and subject to residence.
- Two features of the act in particular were not in accordance with the real wishes of the cabinet:
- the retention of the freemen, a notoriously corrupt class of voter, in the boroughs.
- the enfranchisement of the £50 tenant-at-will in the counties (cl. XX). This was the so-called Chandos clause (from the name of its mover, Lord Chandos) which received support not only from country gentry anxious to strengthen landlord and agricultural interests but also from radicals favouring: any extension of the suffrage. It was probably the government's defeat on this issue which prompted them to insist on the retention of the county vote by the urban 40/- freeholder since this especially in the populous areas would offset the effect of the Chandos clause.
- A number of provisions were designed to keep down expenses of elections and diminish disorder and riot, notably the limitation of the poll to two days (cll. LXII, LXVII), the division of large constituencies into separate polling districts (cl. LXIII), and the institution of electoral registers with provision for annual revision before special courts (cll. XXXVII, XLI, XLIX L). The introduction of annual registration as a qualification for voting provided an unintended stimulus to electoral organisation in the constituencies which was a powerful factor in the growth of party activity during the next decade.
- Separate reform acts were passed in 1832 with differing sets of provisions for Scotland (2 & 3 Will. IV cap. 65), and Ireland (cap. 88). The changes effected were greater in Scotland where the franchise had been extremely limited, than in Ireland where the Union Act of 1800 and an act accompanying Catholic Emancipation in 1829 had already made major changes. In 1800 most of the small Irish boroughs had been disfranchised and in 1829 the county freehold franchise had been raised from 40/- to £10.
Whereas it is expedient 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, to deprive many inconsiderable Places of the Right of returning Members, to grant such Privilege to large, populous, and wealthy Towns, to increase the Number of Knights of the Shire, to extend the Elective Franchise to many of His Majesty's Subjects who have not heretofore enjoyed the same, and to diminish the Expense of Elections; be it therefore enacted.... That each of the Boroughs enumerated in the Schedule marked (A) to this Act annexed, (that is to say,) Old Sarum, Newtown, St. Michael's or Midshall, Gatton, Bramber, Bossiney, Dunwich, Ludgershall, St. Mawe's, Beeralston, West Looe, St. Germain's, Newport, Blechingley, Aldborough, Camelford, Hindon, East Looe, Corfe Castle, Great Bedwin, Yarmouth, Queensborough, Castle Riding, East Grinstead, Higham Ferrers, Wendover, Weobly, Winchelsea, Tregony, Haslemere, Saltash, Orford, Callington, Newton, Ilchester, Boroughshire, Stockbridge, New Romney, Hedon, Plympton, Seaford, Heytesbury, Steyning, Whitchurch, Wootton Bassett, Downton, Fowey, Milborne Port, Aldeburgh, Minehead, Bishop's Castle, Okehampton, Appleby, Lostwithiel, Brackley, and Amersham, shall from and after the End of this present Parliament cease to return any Member or Members to serve in Parliament.