KS3 > Political Reform > Parliaments > 1865-68
In the mid-nineteenth century, after Chartism had lost support, Parliament grew less afraid of reform. For many years MPs debated how to continue to reform and give some working class men the vote. Very few wanted to give every man a vote, and only a few, such as John Stuart Mill, wanted votes for women too.
As with most mid-Victorian elections, in 1865 the Liberal party and their allies won the election. Lord John Russell became Prime Minister. He introduced a moderate Reform Bill, which would have given some working-class men living in towns the vote.
This was rejected, however. When a group of Liberals opposed it, Russell resigned, and for the first time since 1859 a Conservative (the successor to the Tory party) formed a government. Lord Derby became Prime Minister but the rising star – Benjamin Disraeli – became Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Disraeli by 'A.T.', 1868
© NPG D4426
Disraeli launched the Conservatives’ own Reform Bill – which ended up being much more radical than the Liberal version! There was opposition to the bill from some Conservatives. These argued that working class people were ‘unfit’ to vote – which certainly upset the working class men! Organisations who supported the Bill arranged marches and petitions around the country to try and influence Parliament. One, called the Reform League, was responsible for the ‘Hyde Park railings incident’ in Marylebone, London.
With the support of the Liberals, who suggested several amendments to the Bill, it was passed. It went much further than anyone had expected – Derby said it was ‘a leap into the dark.’ It gave many more working class men in towns the vote, and made some changes to who could vote in the countryside (depending on what type of house they lived in). The number of men who could vote rose from 1.3 million to 2.45 million. Changes were made to the constituencies which could elect MPs, although not on the same scale as in 1832.
It would, as in 1832, change which towns could elect MPs, based on how many people lived there. Disraeli, who became Conservative leader in 1868 after Derby died, hoped that it would lead to working class votes for the Conservatives. In the 1868 election, however, the Liberals won again. William Gladstone became Prime Minister, and he reformed many parts of government. In the long-term, however, Disraeli was right, and a ‘working-class Conservative’ vote grew.