Journal of Historical Political Economy > Vol 3 > Issue 1

The Political Economy of Suffrage Reform: The Great Reform Act of 1832

Gary Cox, William Bennett Munro Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, Stanford University, USA, , Adriane Fresh, Department of Political Science, Duke University, USA, , Sebastian Saiegh, Department of Political Science, UC San Diego, USA,
Suggested Citation
Gary Cox, Adriane Fresh and Sebastian Saiegh (2023), "The Political Economy of Suffrage Reform: The Great Reform Act of 1832", Journal of Historical Political Economy: Vol. 3: No. 1, pp 65-93.

Publication Date: 17 May 2023
© 2023 G. Cox, A. Fresh, and S. Saiegh
Democratization,  Representation
Franchise extensiondemocratizationstate capacityGreat Reform Act


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In this article:
Suffrage Reforms to Protect Parliament's Independence 
Our Account of the Great Reform Act 
The Local Response to Social Disorder 
Exploring the Repression Model 
From Demand for Repression to the Great Reform Act 
Exploring the Concession Model 
Reconsidering the First West European Suffrage Reforms 


We argue that the Great Reform Act's suffrage provisions were part of a broader effort to constrain the executive, thereby enabling an expansion in the state's repressive capacity. When they came to power, the Whigs first increased parliament's power over the purse; and then bolstered its independence from the monarch and allied patronal peers by reforming parliamentary elections. These reforms to constrain the executive were followed almost immediately by substantial investments in the state's policing capacity. Professional police forces had been stoutly opposed by the gentry since the Glorious Revolution on the grounds that they would unreasonably increase royal power. Once budgets and elections had been reformed at all levels of governance (national, municipal, and county), taxpayers could be confident that their elected representatives would control the finances, and hence the behavior, of the new forces.