The Metropolitan Parliamentary Reform Association sought to appeal to moderate reformers but failed to make progress in its 12 months of existence.
By 1842 it had become clear to middle class reformers that there was little prospect of co-opting the national and local leaderships of the National Charter Association to the cause of free trade, and sought instead to appeal directly to their supporters by other means.
In short, they attempted to set up rival bodies which would appeal to the working class by making the case for moderate political reforms alongside the repeal of the corn laws.
In Birmingham, middle-class reformers coalesced around Joseph Sturge’s Complete Suffrage Union, while in London members of the Radical Club led by the long-serving radical MP Joseph Hume and his political mentor Francis Place established the Metropolitan Parliamentary Reform Association.
The metropolitan radicals sought to distance themselves from the “irresponsible” NCA by avoiding terms such as “Chartism”, “universal suffrage” and “annual parliaments” which triggered alarm bells while still seeking shorter parliaments, wider voting rights and the ballot.
A document published at its launch by the Metropolitan Parliamentary Reform Association and held in the Francis Place papers set out the association’s objectives:
1 To obtain for each man of twenty-one years of age the right of voting for a representative to serve in the Commons House of Parliament.
To secure to each man this important right, it is necessary—
That every man, whether he be the occupier of a whole house, or a lodger in some part of a house, who has been rated to any parliamentary, county, municipal or parish rate for six months, shall be rated to an election rate, and be put upon the voting register, for the polling district in which he resides; and every such person, so qualified, shall receive his voting card, entitling him to vote at all elections within that district.
That every man, whether he be the occupier of a whole house, or a lodger in some part of a house, or a servant or inmate, not being rated as above directed, shall have the right to cause himself to be rated to the election rate; and when he has been rated for six months, he shall be put upon the voting register for the polling district in which he resides, and every such person so qualified, shall receive his voting card, entitling him to vote at all elections within that district.
2 That the country be divided into as many polling districts, as there may be representatives in the House of Commons.
3 That the duration of Parliaments may be shorter, but shall not be longer than three years.
4 That every elector shall be eligible to be elected.
5 That the right of voting for a representative shall be exercised secretly by ballot.
6 That each representative of the people shall be paid for his services.
Source: ‘The Metropolitan Parliamentary Reform Association,’ in London Radicalism 1830-1843 A Selection of the Papers of Francis Place, ed. D J Rowe (London: London Record Society, 1970), 236-249, accessed August 26, 2015, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/london-record-soc/vol5/pp236-249
The plan was that a committee would be established to oversee the direction of the organisation, and that it would in turn appoint a paid secretary and assistants to carry out the work. Invitations were sent to 47 mostly well known radicals (listed below), of whom 41 immediately agreed to serve.
At first, prospects for the new organisation appeared good. A long list naming sympathetic newspapers was presented to a business committee meeting chaired by Place on 3 June 1842, along with correspondence from supporters offering donations and support.
Behind the scenes, however, things were already going wrong. Hume lost interest in the MPRA even before its first formal meeting, and a row with Place over changes to the organisation’s address to the people provoked a final break between the two long-standing allies.
In Joseph Hume: The People’s M.P, Ronald Huch notes that
“The Metropolitan Parliamentary Reform Association began its operation on 20 May 1842. It lasted one year; and, in truth, it did not prove to be very successful.”
By March 1843, the business committee was ready to dissolve the organisation, convening a meeting of all members to approve the decision and calling in the auditors to sign off the accounts.
Few bothered to attend. The full list consisted of H Warburton Esq in the chair, F Place, P A Taylor, Samuel Harrison, Thos Prout, Geo Beacon, J Lyon, C Elf, J Dawes, J Duncan, Dr Wade, A Morton, C Westerton, B Wills, W D Saul, Dr Bowkett, Dr Latzky, Muntz, J B Brown and J R Black.
Rather than admit total defeat, those present voted to discontinue their activities “for the present”.
The minutes record:
“Mr Prout then moved and Mr Duncan seconded ‘That a committee be appointed to procure an honorary secretary and to consider further proceedings, with a view to occasional meetings in order to be in readiness for action when necessary’, which was carried; the following gentlemen being appointed the committee: Thos Prout, Dr Wade, Dr Latzky, Mr Mentz [sic], Mr Morton, Jon. Duncan, Dr Bowkett.”
There would be no further meetings.
List of those invited to serve on the general committee of the Metropolitan Parliamentary Reform Association
Ashurst W H
Brown, FC MP
Bowring Dr MP
Ellis Wynn MP
Elphinstone Howard MP
Gibson, TM MP
Hume Jos MP
Leader J Temple MP
Roebuck J Arthur
Scholefield J MP
Tayler PA junior
Williams Wm MP
Crawford W Sharman MP