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Tory arguments against reform

Tory arguments against reform of parliament were an accurate analysis of the real consequences of reform. The Whigs denied the accuracy of these forecasts in order to retain the support of their own followers. Neither party was democratic and both parties dissociated themselves from the implications of democracy. Furthermore, although neither party was royalist, both were monarchical; both were aristocratic and oligarchic; both opposed demagogy. When either party spoke of 'the people', they meant the middle classes. The working classes were 'the mob', 'the masses' or (as Burke called them) 'the swinish multitude'.

Tory arguments against parliamentary reform

  1. a Reform Bill would destroy the existing balance of the constitution. The influence of the Crown, based on the control of patronage, had almost disappeared since the 1780s. Under a new system, ministers effectively would be imposed on the Crown by the House of Commons. Peel said

    He saw no prospect that the King would hereafter be enabled to exercise an unpopular prerogative, however necessary that prerogative might be to the permanent interests of the country.... How could the King hereafter change a Ministry? How could he make a partial change in the Administration in times of public excitement with any prospect that the Ministers of his choice, unpopular, perhaps, from the strict performance of necessary duties, would be returned to Parliament?


  2. Any strengthening of the Commons would mean a corresponding decline in the influence of the Lords. Any reduction in the influence of the non-elected House would widen the difference between two Houses and deprive the Constitution of the checks and balances implicit in the character of the House of Lords.
  3. With the Crown and Lords weakened as independent working features of the Constitution, nothing could challenge the power of the Commons, which was elected by the "sovereignty of the people".

    When you have once established the overpowering influence of the people over this House, when you have made this House the express organ of the public voice; what other authority in the State can - say, more, what other authority in the State ought to control its will or reject its decisions?

    Peel, Hansard

  4. the Bill would create a division in the Legislature between rural and industrial interests, divided geographically by a line between the Wash and Severn. The scene would then be set for a struggle between classes and economic interests and as Alexander Baring said

    The field of coal would beat the field of barley; the population of the manufacturing districts was more condensed, and would act with more energy, backed by clubs and large assemblages of people, than the population of the agricultural districts. They would act with such force in the House that the more divided agriculturalists would be unable to withstand it, and the latter would be overwhelmed... In a Reformed Parliament, when the day of battle came, the country Squires would not be able to stand against the active, pushing, intelligent people who would be sent from the manufacturing districts.

    July 1831, Hansard

  5. County MPs would be unable to maintain and protect landed interests without the help of MPs for closed boroughs: placemen were the 'true protectors of the landed interest' (Wellington).
  6. Reform would lead to a campaign against the Corn Laws. In fact petitions to the Commons in 1830 and 1831 coupled demands for the reform of parliament with repeal of the Corn Laws. In 1831, Lord Wharncliffe said

    He believed that when once this Bill was passed, the landed interest would find, when it was too late, that the opening was made for the total repeal of the Corn Laws'.


  7. Property as the basis of society and the Constitution would decline. The Reform Bill was a moderate proposal but

    Once admit the principle of breaking down the traditional structure of government in deference to popular demand, then it mattered little if on the first occasion a decent moderation confined the additions to the electorate within the half-million mark. It was the first step which marred all.

    N. Gash, Politics in the Age of Peel, p.7.

 It was on these grounds - among others - that Peel was opposed to the Reform Bill. In his own defence after the passing of the Act, he said, 'I was unwilling to open a door which I saw no prospect of being able to close.' (Hansard)

By 1830 the Tory party was divided. Wellington's ministry (1828-30) had repealed the Test and Corporation Acts in 1828 and passed the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829. This had completed the disintegration of the Tories and converted the multitudes to the idea of reform. It has been suggested that the Reform Crisis was precipitated in Ireland by the Catholic Association's successful demand for emancipation. Wellington had alienated both the 'liberal' and the 'ultra' Tories by his policies:

  1. the 'liberal' Canningites, now led by Huskisson, were disgruntled because Wellington refused to transfer Retford 's parliamentary seats to Birmingham
  2. the ' Ultras' led by the Marquis of Blandford were hostile to Catholic Emancipation, to the extent that in February 1830 these 'Brunswickers' proposed a reform of parliament including

Wellington's 'party' was now a three-way split: the Ultras, the Canningites and Wellington/Peel.

Catholic Emancipation thus led to support for reform from the die-hard Tories, as well as those who saw reform as a panacea. The split in the Tory ranks let in the Whigs at a time when fear of reform was abating. Also, there was a severe economic recession 1829-30, which led to general and intense distress that manifested itself in industrial (Luddism), and agricultural (Swing) discontent.

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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