Most textbooks correctly stress that liberalism characterized the Victorian legislative mind and was central to Victorian middle-class needs and national ideals. Here are some of the legislative changes in the period of the "Age of Reform":
- 1829 — Catholic Emancipation Act enables Catholics to sit in Parliament.
- 1832 — Parliamentary Reform Act enfranchises the middle classes; now one in five adult males have the vote.
- 1833 — Ten of 22 Church of Ireland (Anglican) sees are united, that is, abolished.
- 1834 — Poor Law Amendment Act replaces outdoor relief (subsidies and hand-out system) by poor houses.
- 1835 — Municipal Corporations Act widens suffrage for town government.
- 1838 — Charter of London University creates a non-denominational university.
- 1850 — Catholic hierarchy restored in England.
- 1854, 1856 — Oxford and Cambridge open to Nonconformist undergraduates.
- 1858 — Jewish Emancipation Act: Jews can now enter Parliament.
Each of these Acts, which contributed importantly to the progress towards a much more diverse and open society, also produced a sharp reaction. After all, what an enormous challenge to the Anglican establishment these reforms represented and what lightning changes! Nonconformists, Catholics, and Jews now voted in a Parliament responsible for Anglican ritual and organization; the Catholic church was allowed, for the first time since Mary Tudor's day, to re-establish its entire hierarchy; Nonconformists could now enrol in those seminaries for Anglican ministers, Oxford and Cambridge; and, by the Reform Act and the Municipal Corporations Act, Nonconformists (associated with the urban middle class) now voted in their thousands for MPs and town governments and possessed a non-denominational university of their own in the nation's capital. These reforms also challenged (although perhaps not so evidently) established society as well as the Established Church. Liberalism thus represented the threat of a pluralistic, relativistic, open society.
Last modified 15 November 2002