The Reform Bill 1832
Before 1832 the right to vote in Britain, and to be a Member of Parliament (MP), was held only by men who owned property, were nobility, and were wealthy. This was exclusively the upper classes. This meant that middle class business owners and the working class were excluded from voting and representing themselves.
There were also many areas of the country where the vote and representation were not allowed, including large industrial cities, while smaller districts were sometimes allowed to have two MPs with a small voter base. This uneven representation was a product of a government that wanted to keep power among prominent families, and their failure to modernise society at the same pace as the industrial revolution. In addition to this there was no secret ballot.
Following years of criticism and protests, a change in the law was finally introduced. The Representation of the People Act, or the Reform Bill of 1832, extended the vote to middle-class property and business owners, but it did not stretch to the working classes of Britain.
This had come during a time of industrial expansion, when most booming cities like Manchester and Birmingham were overcrowded with workers who had to endure the worst living conditions and devote 12 to 16 hours on the factory floors, all while their higher-class managers grew richer for little effort.
Two years later the Poor Law Amendment was passed, meaning that unemployed workers and paupers could only receive poor relief by committing themselves to the workhouses and being made to work for several hours a day. Following this deterioration of workers’ rights came a sense that change was needed, and if parliament would not grant it democratically, then it would be demanded by organised force.