When businessmen in Britain sought to carry out the reforms they believed to be necessary if commerce and industry were to flourish, they often came up against the hostility of an aristocratic legislature unsympathetic to their endeavours. Inevitably, therefore, many urban Radicals were driven to wonder whether limited reforms were worth pursuing at all until such time as the basis of representation had itself been changed. The majority of the middle-class reformers, however, drew back from initiating a campaign for parliamentary reform because they doubted whether so ambitious an objective was at that moment attainable. Some sceptics argued that the success of the Anti-Corn Law League had demonstrated that even an aristocratic-dominated Parliament and government could be successfully pressured when ‘opinion out of doors’ had been mobilized on an issue possessing popular appeal. This chapter examines the debate over parliamentary reform and the events surrounding the Reform Act controversy of 1865–1867.
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