The Irish Reform Act of 1868

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Abstract

From the Act of Union until 1884, the Irish electoral franchise was different to that in England or Scotland. The history of its reform also followed a different calendar: 1829, 1832, 1850, and 1868 were the waypoints on the path to homogenization with the rest of the United Kingdom. But the Irish Reform Act of 1868 has received little attention, and is usually dismissed as a minor technical alteration of minimal political or social importance. When set against the changes in England the year before, this is true. But it is worthy of study, and this article is the first to examine the 1860s campaign for Irish reform, its relationship to events in Britain, the expectations for the Act, its various drafts and its political consequences. It traces the short-lived alliance between the catholic church, the Irish Liberal party and often secular working class radicals in both Ireland and England, as well as the parallel but quite distinct campaign for reform on the part of working class northern protestants, many associated with the Orange Order. Although political circumstance resulted in the abandonment of most of the projected reforms, the drafting process and accompanying debates reveal important aspects of Irish political realities and expectations, as well as the limits of parliamentary interest in Ireland. Even in its abbreviated form, the Act had a significant impact on Irish politics, substantially increasing the borough electorate across the island and dramatically so in Ulster.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-116
Number of pages19
JournalParliamentary History
Volume36
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 9 Feb 2017

Keywords

  • Ireland
  • franchise reform
  • Irish Reform League
  • Orange Order
  • Lord Mayo
  • Irish Catholic Church
  • Irish Liberal Party
  • Irish Conservative Party

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