KS3 > Political Reform > Constituencies
From Rowlandson's 'Sketches of the Lower Orders'
Political life before 1832
The Industrial Revolution had brought major changes to the country. As new industries and new work patterns grew up, new ‘middle’ and ‘working’ classes emerged. They also wanted their say in how the country was run. The only way they could get it was to convince the MPs to let them have a say. They did this through campaigning or protest.
At the start of this period, most people in power were wealthy landowners. They passed laws in Parliament that supported their own interests – such as the Corn Laws that prevented cheap corn from being imported in to Britain. This kept food prices high, so the landowners made lots of profit from their large farms. However, this was bad news for people who needed to buy food like bread to live, like those living in the towns, or those in the countryside who didn’t own land. The middle classes who owned factories in the towns were annoyed as they had to pay their workers higher wages so they could buy expensive bread. It was much more serious for the poor – they struggled to be able to buy enough food!
These articles explain what ordinary people and groups did to try and influence Parliament to change the system. At the start of the period there were laws to stop political movements. Sometimes protest could be very dangerous! This meant that campaigners could be arrested, and in some cases violence was used to stop them. There were often splits between those in the protest movements who wanted to use violence to help make their point, and those who thought that peaceful methods, such as mass petitioning or marching would be more convincing.
One of the ways people wanted to change the system was to make constituencies more representative. At the start of the period many constituencies had only a few people living in them, whereas new towns such as Birmingham did not elect an MP. People believed that this was unfair – especially if they lived in places that did not have their own MP! Over the century different groups (such as the Chartists) argued that constituencies should all have about the same number of people living in them, so that everyone’s vote counted the same. This did not happen until the 1885 Redistribution Act.
Click below to read about some of these protest movements, and see how constituencies changed in the period.
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