The rise of Chartism

The great changes of the industrial revolution brought new social arrangements and new conflicts: the growth of towns and the spread of industrial capitalism as the main driving force of the economy brought many people into a new relationship with their new masters, the capitalists, instead of the farmer or landowner. How were the towns to be governed and the working classes controlled? (The countryside was also affected as relationships became more based on money and profit than customary practices.)

The new policing, the developments in prisons, the New Poor Law (1834) with its harsher and more systematic approach to controlling and disciplining the poor. However, conflict occurred at another level the governing of the country. New ways of regulating the relationship between capitalist and worker were required in law (were wages to be fixed by parliament?), and new ways of governing a changing country were required. Were the working classes to be represented? The slogan of the French revolutionaries was chilling to the higher classes of Britain: would a revolution happen in Britain, or could it be avoided?

The time of the Reform Act (1832) is significant in illustrating these issues. The House of Commons represented landowners and very few others. In some seats, the owner had the right to nominate the MP; in others, where electors were very few, they could be bought (and voting was done in public); and in some, about a third, there was a relatively free vote among a relatively small number of electors.

Pressure to change this came from middle and working classes, culminating in significant unrest and the passing of the Reform Act. This went some way to removing anomalies and making constituencies more representative of the population. Dunwich, under the sea in Suffolk, no longer had representation in parliament, but, after some agitation after the first draft of the Reform Bill, the Parliamentary Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent was formed and two members of parliament granted. However, the vote was not widened very much and the working classes were still excluded, though their bosses had now gained representation.