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In The English Constitution, Walter Bagehot expressed anxiety about the effect of the second reform act on the existing political order. How did the successive reform acts from 1832 (AND 1884) through 1928 impact the course of British politics?

Question 1:


In The English Constitution, Walter Bagehot expressed anxiety about the effect of the second reform act on the existing political order. How did the successive reform acts from 1832 (AND 1884) through 1928 impact the course of British politics?


Possible Additional readings:


  • Adrian Bingham, “‘Stop the Flapper Vote Folly’: Lord Rothermere, the Daily Mail, and the Equalization of the Franchise 1927–28,” Twentieth Century British History (2002) 13 (1): 17-37.


  • Frank Parkin, “Working-Class Conservatives: A Theory of Political Deviance,” The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 18 (1967), pp. 278-290.


  • Matthew Roberts, “‘VILLA TORYISM’ AND POPULAR CONSERVATISM IN LEEDS, 1885–1902,” The Historical Journal / Volume 49 / Issue 01 / March 2006, pp 217-246.


  • Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska, ‘Rationing, Austerity and the Conservative Party Recovery after 1945’, The Historical Journal, 37:1 (1994), pp. 173-97.


Readings from the class lectures


• Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution, 2nd ed (1872), Introduction


Week 5 lecture

-The 1867 and 1884 reform acts and the creation of “mass democracy”


• Manchester and Salford Trades Council, “Circular calling the first Trades Union Congress, 1868”

Bagehot Reading  Summary:




  1. Thesis: British politics were changed in such a fashion because the changes caused something. If these changes had not occurred, it is possible that x could have happened

    1. Before the 19th century Reform Acts, British politics possessed a conservative, statesmanlike, and stable character. The Reform Acts introduced modern republicanism without significant disruption because the working class British that became incorporated respected British hierarchical society and the parliamentary system. Furthermore, many of the substantial social changes from the 19th-20th centuries occurred because of substantial economic changes, not political reform. If the franchise had not been enlarged to eventually encompass the working class, it is quite possible that radical political movements, such as the Charterists, would have gained a political hold.

    1. Bagehot and Government

      1. Bagehot writes from within the period studied

      2. Bagehot takes an aristocratic view of government

        1. Ruling takes education, experience, and sobriety–this is what he calls “statesmanship”

          1. Statesmanship

            1. The job of the political elites is to provide sober judgment on issues

            2. His condemnation of American politics largely rests on the inability of the Americans to reach sober conclusions on politically necessary issues

              1. Because the President and Congress are in constant competition, there can be no statesmanship (37)

          2. The introduction of the working class endangers this statesmanship

            1. Bagehot writes, “I am exceedingly afraid of the ignorant multitude of the new constituencies.” (p. 17)

      3. The introduction of the working class would require specific actions on the parts of the statesmen, and provide a real danger

      4. However, while Bagehot is anxious about reform, he does not dismiss it out of hand — it is a challenge but could provide reasonable results of the Parliament is followed

      5. Was he right or wrong? Were his concerns justified?

        1. Bagehot’s concerns are legitimate. The course of other countries’ attempts to reform would demonstrate that. However, organized, radical labor movements did not form in Britain

    2. 1832

    3. On its face, the 1832 Reform Act was substantial

      1. It brought 10-pound householders into the vote

        1. Functionally, this extended the franchise

      2. In practice, Bagehot, argues, it was not so extreme

        1. In the first place, constitutional changes take time to be discovered, as generational changes matter (7)

          1. Most of the pre-1832 elites, such as Lord Pemberton, remained in power until the mid-1860s (7)

        2. Secondly, England is a “deferential society,” argues Bagehot.

          1. The newly-incorporated members did not participate directly in politics — they remained shopkeepers (8)

            1. “If a hundred small shopkeepers had by miracle been added to any of the ‘32 Parliaments, they would have felt outcasts there.” (8)

              1. Parliament remained the space of the elite

            2. The newly-incorporated did not vote to push their personal interest in politics at the national level

              1. They voted for representatives based on wealth and rank

    4. While one would expect the 1832 Reform Act to be the most radical, it was not. Its incorporation of working and middle classes was, in practice, too limited to have major influence.

  2. 1867

    1. Representation of the People Act of 1867

      1. Expanded representation for urban Englishmen

      2. Gave slight redistribution of seats in Parliament

      3. In decade afterwards, several substantial acts respecting Unions were passed. This continues to support Bagehot’s fears that

  3. 1884

    1. Representation of the People Act of 1884

      1. Considerably widened suffrage to men paying rent or holding land valued at lb10 (⅔ of men in England and Wales)

      2. Redistributed seats in Parliament

  4. 1928

    1. Representation of the People act

      1. (Or equal franchise)

        1. Gave women electoral equality with men

      2. What was the impact? Any decisive elections due to this expanded voter base? Any new legislation? Was it blamed for problems?

  5. Conclusion

    1. Review of changes

      1. Recap before 1832

        1. Who was in power

        2. Extent of franchise

        3. who could vote

      2. Recap after 1832

        1. Who was in power

        2. extent of franchise

        3. who could vote

      3. Besides just the numerical differences, what is the major difference between these two?

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