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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 the Shire to serve in any future Parliament, or in the Election of a Member or Members to serve in any future Parliament for any City or Town being a County of itself, in respect of any Freehold Lands or Tenements … except such Person shall be in the actual and bonâ fide Occupation of such Lands or Tenements, or except the same shall have come to such Person by Marriage, Marriage Settlement, Devise, or Promotion to any Benefice or to any Office, or except the same shall be of the clear yearly Value of not less than Ten Pounds.…
  10. … every Male Person of full Age, and not subject to any legal Incapacity, who shall be seised at Law or in Equity of any Lands or Tenements of Copyhold or any other Tenure whatever except Freehold … of the clear yearly Value of not less than Ten Pounds … shall be entitled to vote in the Election of a Knight or Knights of the Shire to serve in any future Parliament for the County, or for the Riding, Parts, or Division of the County, in which such Lands or Tenements shall be respectively situate.…
  11. [Holders of sixty-year leases for lands or tenements of not less than £10 clear annual value, or of twenty-year leases of not less than, £50 clear annual value, and tenants of lands or tenements liable to a yearly rent of not less than £50, to qualify as voters for county elections.]
  12. , XXV. [Persons with property qualifications for a borough franchise not to qualify for the county franchise by reason of the same property whether or not they have actually acquired the right to vote for the borough.]
  13. … in every City or Borough which shall return a Member or Members to serve in any future Parliament, every Male Person of full Age, and not subject to any legal Incapacity, who shall occupy … as Owner or Tenant, any House, Warehouse, Counting-house, Shop, or other Building, being, either separately, or jointly with any Land within such City, Borough, or Place occupied therewith by him as Owner, or occupied therewith by him as Tenant under the same Landlord, of the clear yearly Value of not less than Ten Pounds, shall, if duly registered according to the Provisions herein-after contained, be entitled to vote in the Election of a Member or Members to serve in any future Parliament for such City or Borough.… [Registration to be conditional on previous occupation for at least twelve months, residence for at least six months within seven miles, and payment of rates and assessed taxes in respect of the qualifying property.]
  14. And whereas it is expedient to form a Register of all Persons entitled to vote in the Election of a Knight or Knights of the Shire to serve in any future Parliament … the Overseers of the Poor of every Parish and Township shall on the Twentieth Day of June in the present and "in every succeeding Year cause to be fixed on or near the Doors of all the Churches and Chapels within such Parish or Township, or … in some public and conspicuous Situation within the same respectively, a Notice … requiring all Persons who may be entitled to vote … in respect of any Property situate wholly or in part in such Parish or Township, to deliver or transmit to the said Overseers on or before the twentieth Day of July in the present and in every succeeding Year a Notice of their Claim as such Voters.…
  15. … the Overseers of the Poor of every Parish and Township shall on or before the last Day of July in the present Year make out or cause to be made out.… an alphabetical List of all Persons who shall claim as aforesaid to be inserted in such List as Voters … and … before the last Day of July in every succeeding Year make out or cause to be made out a like List, containing the Names of all Persons who shall be upon the Register for the Time being as such Voters, and also the Names of all Persons who shall claim as aforesaid to be inserted in such last-mentioned List as such Voters.…
  16. … the Lord Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench … for Middlesex, and the Senior judge for the Time being in the Commission of Assize for every other County shall … nominate and appoint for every such County … or Divisions of such County, a Barrister or Barristers to revise the Lists of Voters in the Election of a Knight or Knights of the Shire; and such Barrister or Barristers … shall give public Notice.… of the several Times and Places at which he or they will hold Courts for that Purpose, such Times being between the Fifteenth Day of September inclusive and the Twenty-fifth Day of October inclusive in the present and in every succeeding Year, and he or they shall hold open Courts for that Purpose at the Times and Places so to be announced…
  17. -L. [Similar provisions for the preparation of lists of voters in cities and boroughs, appointment of revising barristers, and revision of electoral lists.)
  18. … at every contested Election of a Knight or Knights to serve in any future Parliament for any County, or for any Riding, Parts, or Division of a County, the polling shall commence at Nine O'Clock in the Forenoon of the next Day but Two after the Day fixed for the Election, unless such next Day but Two shall be Saturday or Sunday, and then on the Monday following.… and such polling shall continue for Two Days only.
  19. … the respective Counties in England and Wales, and the respective Ridings, Parts, and Divisions of Counties, shall be divided into convenient Districts for polling …provided that no County, nor any Riding, Parts, or Division of a County, shall have more than Fifteen Districts and respective Places appointed for taking the Poll.
  20. [Similar provisions as in LXII for limiting the poll in cities and boroughs to two days.]
SCHEDULE (F.)
COUNTIES to be Divided
Cheshire
Cornwall
Cumberland
Derbyshire
Devonshire
Durham
Essex
Gloucestershire
Kent
Hampshire
Lancashire
Leicestershire
Norfolk
Northumberland
Northamptonshire
Nottinghamshire
Shropshire
Somersetshire
Staffordshire
Suffolk
Surrey
Sussex
Warwickshire
Wiltshire
Worcestershire
   
SCHEDULE (F.2.)
COUNTIES to return Three Members Each
Berkshire
Buckinghamshire
Cambridgeshire
Dorsetshire
Herefordshire
Hertfordshire
Oxfordshire

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