1867 Reform Act

In March 1860 Lord John Russell attempted to introduce a new Parliamentary Reform Act that would reduce the qualification for the franchise to £10 in the counties and £6 in towns, and effecting a redistribution of seats. Lord Palmerston, the prime minister, was opposed to parliamentary reform, and with his lack of support, the measure did not become law.

On the death of Palmerston in July 1865, Earl Russell (he had been raised to the peerage in July 1861) became prime minister. Russell, with the once again tried to persuade Parliament to accept the reforms that had been proposed in 1860. The measure receive little support in Parliament and was not passed before Russell's resignation in June 1866. William Gladstone, the new leader of the Liberal Party, made it clear that like Earl Russell, he was also in favour of increasing the number of people who could vote.

John Tenniel, Punch Magazine (3rd August, 1867)
John Tenniel, Punch Magazine (3rd August, 1867)

Although the Conservative Party had opposed previous attempts to introduce parliamentary reform, Lord Derby's new government were now sympathetic to the idea. The Conservatives knew that if the Liberals returned to power, Gladstone was certain to try again. Benjamin Disraeli, leader of the House of Commons, argued that the Conservatives were in danger of being seen as an anti-reform party. in 1867 Disraeli proposed a new Reform Act. Lord Cranborne (later Lord Salisbury) resigned in protest against this extension of democracy. In the House of Commons, Disraeli's proposals were supported by Gladstone and his followers and the measure was passed.

The 1867 Reform Act gave the vote to every male adult householder living in a borough constituency. Male lodgers paying £10 for unfurnished rooms were also granted the vote. This gave the vote to about 1,500,000 men.

The Reform Act also dealt with constituencies and boroughs with less than 10,000 inhabitants lost one of their MPs. The forty-five seats left available were distributed by: (i) giving fifteen to towns which had never had an MP; (ii) giving one extra seat to some larger towns - Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds; (iii) creating a seat for the University of London; (iv) giving twenty-five seats to counties whose population had increased since 1832.