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The Reform Act of 1832

Statutes 2 & 3 Will. IV cap.45

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Two features of the act in particular were not in accordance with the real wishes of the cabinet:
    1. the retention of the freemen, a notoriously corrupt class of voter, in the boroughs.
    2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

An Act to amend the Representation of the People in England and Wales (7 June 1832)

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.

  1. … each of the Boroughs enumerated in the Schedule marked (B.) to this Act annexed, (that is to say,) Petersfield, Ashburton, Eye, Westbury , Wareham, Midhurst, Woodstock, Wilton, Malmesbury, Liskeard, Reigate, Hythe, Droitwich, Lyme Regis, Launceston, Shaftesbury, Thirsk, Christchurch, Horsham, Great Grimsby, Calne, Arundel, St. Ives, Rye, Clitheroe, Morpeth, Helston, North Allerton, Wallingford, and Dartmouth, shall from and after the End of this present Parliament return One Member and no more to serve in Parliament.
  2. … each of the Places named in the Schedule marked (C.) to this Act annexed, (that is to say,) Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Greenwich, Sheffield, Sunderland, Devonport, Wolverhampton, Tower Hamlets, Finsbury, Mary-le-bone, Lambeth, Bolton, Bradford, Blackburn, Brighton, Halifax, Macclesfield, Oldham, Stockport, Stoke-upon-Trent, and Stroud.. shall from and after the End of this present Parliament return Two Members to serve in Parliament.
  3. … each of the Places named in the Schedule marked (D.) to this Act annexed, (that is to say), Ashton-under-Lyne, Bury, Chatham, Cheltenham, Dudley, Frome, Gateshead, Huddersfield, Kidderminster, Kendal, Rochdale, Salford, South Shields, Tynemouth, Wakefield, Walsall, Warrington, Whitby, Whitehaven, and Merthyr Tydvil... shall from and after the End of this present Parliament return One Member to serve in Parliament....
  4. … in all future Parliaments there shall be Six Knights of the Shire, instead of Four, to serve for the County of York, (that is to say,) Two Knights for each of the Three Ridings of the said County.…
  5. … in all future Parliaments there shall be Four Knights of the shire, instead of Two, to serve for the County of Lincoln, (that is to say,) Two for the Parts of Lindsey in the said County, and Two for the Parts of Kesteven and Holland
  6. … each of the Counties enumerated in the Schedule marked (F.) to this Act annexed shall be divided into Two Divisions, which Divisions shall be settled and described by an Act to be passed for that Purpose in this present Parliament … and that in all future Parliaments there shall be … Two knights of the Shire for each Division of the said Counties..
  7. … in all future Parliaments there shall be Three Knights of the shire, instead of Two, to serve for each of the Counties enumerated in the Schedule marked (F.2) to this Act annexed, and Two Knights of the Shire, instead of One, to serve for each of the Counties of Carmarthen, Denbigh, and Glamorgan.…
  8. … the Isle of Wight in the County of Southampton shall for the Purposes of this Act be a County of itself… and shall return One Knight of the Shire to serve in every future Parliament.…
  9. … no Person shall be entitled to vote in the Election of a Knight or Knights of t