[1831] - Lord John Russell introduces Reform Bill

On 1 March 1831 the Reform Bill was first introduced to parliament by Lord John Russell. After considerable revision, it was passed into law as the Representation of the People Act (often referred to as the Great Reform Act) in the summer of 1832. The Act created seats in the House of Commons for the large industrial cities in the north, and dissolved rotten boroughs with small populations.

Although electoral reform had been the topic of much debate during the English civil wars, the issue had been largely dormant until it was taken up by Pitt the Younger in the 1780s. In 1786 Pitt had proposed a reform bill which was rejected in the Commons. The issue of parliamentary reform had, however, been developed by groups such as the London Corresponding Society and the Hampden Clubs, and popular pressure for reform gained momentum throughout the first two decades of the nineteenth century. In 1820 Lord John Russell introduced a proposal for the disenfranchisement of the corrupt borough of Grampound in Cornwall, suggesting that its two seats be transferred to the disenfranchised city of Leeds. In 1830 Russell proposed another scheme for the enfranchisement of Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham, but again it was rejected. It was in fact the realization of Wellington’s Tory government of the need for reform to offset the possibility of revolution that led to the introduction of the First Reform Bill in March 1831.

On 16 November 1830 the Duke of Wellington was forced to resign and his government was replaced by that of Earl Grey, a prominent Whig reformer. His first resolution was to bring about an extensive parliamentary reform. The bill that he introduced to the House of Commons on 1 March 1831 proposed the disenfranchisement of sixty of the smallest boroughs, a redistribution of a number of seats and an extension of the franchise. Parliament, however, proved to be generally averse to the idea of reform. Consequently, Grey dissolved parliament on 10 April in order to appeal to the electorate directly. On 14 June the Whigs won an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons and were returned to government.

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