The Parliamentary Reform Association – 1849

This was about a month after the Parliamentary and Financial Reform Association had been set up in 1849 by John Bright, Joseph Hume, Sir Joshua Walmsley, and George Wilson, amongst others, to campaign for parliamentary reform, and reduced government expenditure. The argument being put forward that an increased electorate would naturally vote for less, rather than more government spending.


Yesterday evening a meeting of the inhabitants of the borough of Finsbury was held in Sadler’s Wells Theatre, for the purpose of supporting the views and objects of the Metropolitan Parliamentary and Financial Reform Association, Sir Joshua Walmsley, M.P., in the chair. Before entering upon the business of the evening, letters from several gentlemen apologising for their unavoidable absence, were read. Amongst the names were those of Messr. C.J. Fox, E Miall, C. Lushington, T. Wakley, and T. Duncombe, who in his rote enclosed a check for £10.,to be applied to the purposes of the association.

The chairman in his address to the meeting referred to the great inequality in the present system of representation, both as regarded the numbers of people and the amount of property represented.  These evils could only be met by an extension of the suffrage to every adult male who paid anything towards the poor rates, by a more equal apportionment of the electoral districts, and also by the abolition  of the property qualification. In addition to these it was the conviction of the members of the association that the principle of voting by ballot, and  triennial Parliaments were essentially necessary to that which it was their object to attain –  a full, free, and fair representation of the people in Parliament.

Mr G. Thompson, M.P. proposed  the first resolution, as follows: ”  That the absence of a really representative House of Commons, the preponderance of class legislation, the unequal pressure of taxation, the general extravagance of the public expenditure, and the consequences of these evils, engendering discontent and threatening disorders fatal to the political and social prosperity of this empire render the combination of the middle and working classes for the attainment of the reform advocated by the Metropolitan Parliamentary and Financial Reform Association a matter of momentous importance to the State.”

Mr  Thompson, after stating that Mr. Wakley was so much indisposed as to be unable to attend without danger to his life, proceeded to call to the remembrance of the meeting all the reforms which had been carried since the great one of Catholic Emancipation, and advocated the system of peaceful agitation as a weapon which the higher powers had always been unable to cope with, and which was the only means by which they could at present attain their end. Mr.Thompson referred to the disturbances of the continent, and the fact that the English people had not followed the example set them of warring against their own Government, as a proof that they deserved the extension of the suffrage that they asked. They did not seen to sap the foundations of the throne, nor to do anything to disturb the most illustrious lady in the land (enthusiastic cheering which lasted some time), nor did they wish to disturb the House of Lords (a storm of yells and hisses) They sought simply a fair representation of the people, and that they would obtain whether the reform came sooner or later. (Great cheers.) Mr. Barney seconded this resolution, which was carried nem. con.; and others of a similar tendency were proposed and carried, several gentlemen addressing the meeting in support of them. The meeting, which was a very crowded one, the theatre being filled in every part, separated at a late hour, after a vote of thanks to the chairman.

The above text was from the Times Tuesday June 19, 1849. p.8

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