The Reform of Parliament: The Middle-class Threat
Parliamentary reform became a popular movement in the years following the Napoleonic Wars, and it was the hope of many of its leaders that it would become the sole popular movement, for they argued with each discontented group that a reform of parliament would provide them with the means of satisfying their particular needs. Success in 1817 or 1819 would have put their argument to the test, but they were not successful and the needs remained, as they did in most cases after the moderate Reform Bill of 1832. It is not then surprising that a recent study of popular movements in the period 1830–50 should have been concerned with a wide variety of popular agitations of which only two were concerned with parliamentary reform, the campaigns of 1830–2, and Chartism. [s61] The reform campaign retained and increased its status as a mass movement, but its supporters were not consistently active and were always liable to lapse into long periods of apathy and inertia; it was also likely to find itself in competition with other popular movements, such as trade unionism, which offered scope for improvement outside the political sphere, or the Anti-Corn-Law League, which offered a more precise and realisable asset than political rights. Yet at times, particularly during the Reform Bill crisis of 1831–2 and the years of most intensive Chartist activity, the movement for political reform recovered temporarily its capacity to unite large numbers of people behind a common cause and generate a great deal of popular excitement.
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