Reform Act 1832

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First session of the House of Commons, newly elected under the Reform Act of 1832, on February 5, 1833 in St. Stephen's Chapel (painting by George Hayter )

The British Reform Act of 1832 , also known as the Great Reform Act , was a law that changed the constituency for the election of the British Parliament for the first time in nearly 150 years.


The changes had become necessary primarily due to the phenomenon of the rotten boroughs (“rotten districts”) - constituencies whose electorate had fallen so sharply over the years due to census suffrage that the few remaining votes in parliament were far overweighted. The examples of Gatton and Old Sarum aroused particular public outrage, with seven and eleven voters remaining, respectively.

The Tories , who had previously blocked similar reform projects, also opposed this proposal. After the first reading on 14 March 1831, the personal influence of King were William IV. , The resignation of the Whig -Regierung under Earl Gray and new elections required until the law finally in the third reading on June 7, 1832 House of Commons with was adopted by a majority of one vote.

For historical reasons, certain English boroughs had the right to send two MPs to Parliament, while the rest of each individual county was a single constituency. A few boroughs had been added or removed over the years. But the Reform Act made it possible for the first time ever to fundamentally change the constituency of the constituencies. Many cities that emerged during industrialization and were not represented in parliament were given the right to elect their own representatives. In contrast, numerous rotten boroughs lost their seat.

With the new law, the number of eligible voters also increased from 435,000 to 652,000 (around one seventh of the male population). Wealthy city dwellers who paid an annual rent of more than £ 10 benefited from this. This shifted the political weight from the rural, aristocratic south to the new big cities in the north. 58 rotten boroughs were dissolved and boroughs with fewer than 4,000 inhabitants had to give up one of their two seats.

There have been few changes in Scotland. Six smaller counties were combined into three constituencies. Edinburgh and Glasgow now had two MPs, Aberdeen , Dundee , Greenock , Paisley and Perth one each. In Ireland there was no change at all.

Even after the “Great Reform Act”, the gentry , the English landed nobility, remained the politically decisive class. Prime Minister John Russell had hoped that further reforms would no longer be necessary, but public pressure resulted in other major changes such as the Reform Act 1867 .

Reduced representation

Repealed rotten boroughs

The following constituencies were dissolved by this law and integrated into the surrounding counties:

Divided constituencies

The following boroughs only sent one MP instead of the previous two:

Weymouth and Melcombe Regis in Dorset had previously jointly elected four MPs, this has been reduced to two.

New constituencies

The following boroughs were newly represented:

Boroughs with a MP

Boroughs with two MPs

Further changes

The Isle of Wight , which previously had three small boroughs with one MP each, only sent one MP.

Yorkshire , which previously sent four MPs, received two MPs for each of the three Ridings: East Riding , North Riding and West Riding .

The number of seats for Berkshire , Buckinghamshire , Cambridgeshire , Dorset , Herefordshire and Hertfordshire has increased from two to three.

Division of the counties

The following counties were divided into two constituencies, each with two MPs:


  • An Act to amend the Representation of the People in England and Wales , June 7, 1832. In: Hansard ’s Parliamentary Debates. Third Series , Vol. 13, London 1833, pp. 33-68 (the law's wording).

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