This is an abstract of the 1832 Reform Act – or to give its official title, the Act to Amend the Representation of the People in England and Wales. The Act was intended to ‘correct divers abuses’ in the electoral system, by regulating who could vote and how they were represented.

The frontispiece of this item shows William IV surrounded by four men who were instrumental in campaigning for and drafting the Reform Act: the Prime Minister Earl Grey, Lord John Russell, Lord Brougham and Lord Althorp.

Rotten boroughs and new boroughs

Before 1832, whether a male individual was able to vote depended on a number of factors, including whether he owned property, lived in a county or a borough, or paid certain taxes. The organisation of boroughs was particularly haphazard. Some densely-populated boroughs in industrial towns had no MPs to represent them, whereas other ‘rotten’ boroughs had more than one MP representing fewer than 10 voters. Women were unable to vote.

The first sections of the Reform Act contain lists of boroughs that would no longer send members to Parliament (usually because they contained too few voters) and new boroughs that would have representation.

New voters

The Reform Act increased the number of people eligible to vote from 366,000 to 650,000 – still only 18 per cent of the total adult male population of England and Wales. The Appendix of the abstract (pp. 40-43) reproduces the forms and notices that would be used to register new voters.