During the 1833 and 1834 sessions Lord Althorp, leader of the House of Commons, showed that the energy for further reform remained strong. Although ministers sympathised with and even promoted specific bills in general, legislation to improve the condition of the ‘lower orders’ such as factory, education and Poor Law reform resulted partly because of extra-parliamentary pressure and fact-finding Royal Commissions. Althorp’s record suggests, however, that the Whig government did have certain political principles as well as humanitarian concerns and that their actions cannot be seen simply as a response to external pressures.
Melbourne, Prime Minister briefly in 1834 and between 1835 and 1841 led a government that was far less radical that Grey’s. There were various reasons for this. Melbourne fought General Elections in 1835 (called by the Conservatives after the minority government of Sir Robert Peel was defeated) and in 1837 (after the death of William IV). This reduced the Whig majority to 32 after 1837 and Melbourne had to rely on the support of the Irish MPs or the agreement of the Conservatives to get legislation through Parliament. By temperament Melbourne was not a radical reformer preferring gradual to fundamental change.
By 1835, Britain had experienced almost a decade of frenetic change and need a period of stability. Lord John Russell offended radicals in the autumn of 1837, acquiring the nickname of ‘Finality Jack’, when he strongly defended the reform settlement and declared himself against further reform. By the late 1830s, however, the Whigs were showing signs of stress. Unemployment and manufacturing depression deepened after 1838 and the government appeared to have no answers to the economic and social problems facing Britain.
However, Melbourne’s government did introduce important reforms on church matters. The Ecclesiastical Revenues Commission that had been established in June 1832 to investigate the financial structure of the Church of England was not very effective and, during Peel’s minority administration in early 1835, a new Commission was set up to ‘consider the State of the Established Church’. Made permanent in 1836 as the Ecclesiastical Commission, it introduced a series of major reforms of the Church’s structure. These measures reinforced State control over the Church.
The following is a summary of reforming legislation passed between 1832 and 1841:
Slavery abolished throughout the British Empire and £20 million allocated as compensation for slave owners. The abolition of slavery was clearly influenced by the extra-parliamentary campaign. It also redeemed pledges given to the electorate by many Whig candidates in the 1830 and 1832 General Elections. The measure disappointed humanitarians by delaying full emancipation of slaves until a period of ‘apprenticeship’ in limited freedom had been served (seven years for slaves who worked on the land, five years for the rest).
Factory Act passed but it applied only to the textile industry. It restricted the employment of young children and established an inspectorate to enforce the act. This laid the foundation for later social and industrial legislation.
£20,000 was granted to the voluntary societies providing elementary education. This established the principle of state-assisted education.
Reform of the law by Henry Brougham, Lord Chancellor establishing the central criminal court and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Irish Church Temporalities Act abolished 10 Church of Ireland bishoprics and reduced the revenues of the remainder. Surplus revenues to be used for purely church purposes.
Poor Law Amendment Act reformed the existing system of poor relief. It introduced workhouses and said that all relief should be in the workhouse. Parishes were grouped together into Poor Law Unions to improve efficiency and reduce costs.
Municipal Corporations Act
Commutation of Tithes Act legislated for tithes to be paid in money (a rent charge) based on the average price of corn in previous seven years. Tithes were paid to the Church of England and consisted of a tenth part of the main produce of the land (corn, oats, wood etc.) and a tenth part of the profits of labour. They were very unpopular, especially with Nonconformists and often difficult for clergymen to collect. The rent charge was abolished in 1925 and any remaining tithes in 1936.
Dissenters’ Marriage Act allowing Nonconformists to be married outside an Anglican church, in special circumstances by a civil ceremony. The registration of births, marriages and deaths made compulsory with the introduction of civil registration. This ended the Anglican Church’s monopoly of the registration of baptisms, marriages and burials.
Act enabling London University to grant degrees. This broke the monopoly of Oxford and Cambridge universities where students had to be Anglicans to take a degree. London University was open to all Protestants.
The Pluralities Act placed restrictions on clerical pluralism (clergymen having more than one parish). Acts for building and enlarging churches were also passed.
Education grant increased to £30,000 and government inspectors appointed to supervise the schools receiving the grant.
Excess revenues of cathedrals were distributed to parishes with the greatest needs.
Problems for the Whigs
The Whigs faced threats to public order and property. They inherited the Swing disturbances across southern England when they came to power in November 1830. Melbourne, as Home Secretary urged local magistrates to act vigorously against rioters. Of the 1,976 prisoners tried in thirty-four counties 252 were sentenced to death though only 19 were hanged, 505 were transported and 644 were imprisoned. No other protest movement in this period was treated as severely.
The Whig governments faced other challenges to its authority in the first half of the 1830s. There were campaigns against stamp duties on newspaper taxes, for factory movement, trade union activity on an unprecedented scale and the anti-Poor Law agitation, as well as the campaign for parliamentary reform. Radical working-class opinion was disappointed by the attitude of the Whigs to their demands. The Reform Act was seen as the ‘great betrayal’. The 1833 Factory Act did not meet the aspirations of the extra-parliamentary factory reformers. The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act led to widespread opposition and attacks on trade unions culminating in the case of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.
Chartism posed a more serious challenge to the government. Russell, as Home Secretary until late August 1839, initially behaved with restraint, assuming that its appeal was limited. By mid-1839, however, a harder policy had emerged as the Home Office recognised that local authorities could not manage without support. Drilling was banned. Six thousand regular troops were stationed in the north and leading Chartists were arrested, tried and imprisoned or, in some cases, transported.
The Whig party found itself under attack from a revitalised Tory party led by Sir Robert Peel and by internal divisions. The Tory party, trounced in the 1832 General Election revived and the Whigs saw their majority in the Commons gradually eroded. The number of Conservative MPs rose from 150 after the 1832 election to about 290 in 1835 and then 313 in 1837 and finally 370 when they won in 1841.
Some MPs who had voted for reform in 1832 returned to Conservative ranks. There was a long-running battle between Edward Stanley, the Irish Secretary, and Lord John Russell over the direction of Irish policy especially lay appropriation contained in the Irish Temporalities Bill of 1833 but later dropped when it encountered opposition in the House of Lords. Russell, however, continued to urge the principle. This led to the resignation of four cabinet ministers, Edward Stanley,  Sir James Graham, the Duke of Richmond and the Earl of Ripon, the so-called ‘Derby Dilly’.  Policies, largely initiated by Russell, towards Ireland and in favour of nonconformists led to a gradual alienation of some of the government’s more moderate supporters in the House of Commons. Over thirty MPs who had voted for reform in 1832 crossed to the Conservative benches between 1833 and 1837.
In July 1834, the government was embarrassed by revelations that it had negotiated with O’Connell when deciding whether to renew the Irish Coercion Bill. This led to Grey’s retirement and his replacement by Lord Melbourne. Melbourne proposed that Russell should become leader of the House of Commons in November. William IV objected to this and Melbourne resigned. Peel formed a minority Conservative administration and gained about 100 seats in the early 1835 General Election. This did not give him a parliamentary majority and was forced to resign in April 1835. His defeat was made possible by the ‘Litchfield House compact’ of March 1835 when the Whigs and O’Connell’s Irish MPs agreed to cooperate to remove Peel. Melbourne returned with Russell as Home Secretary. The Whigs’ relations with the Crown improved with the accession of Victoria in June 1837. A close personal relationship developed between Melbourne and Victoria. This was exploited in the ‘Bedchamber crisis’ of 1839. In May 1839, the Whig majority was reduced to five and Melbourne decided to resign. The Queen, however, refused to change any of the Ladies of her Bedchamber who were all Whigs. Peel would not form a government under such circumstance—a very useful excuse for him as he would again lead a minority government--and Melbourne returned to office. This gave the Whigs two more years in power but Peel no longer supported them on moderate issues.
 John Charles Spencer, Viscount Althorp, 3rd Earl Spencer (1782-1845) preferred private life to politics but played a central role in Grey’s and Melbourne’s ministries as Chancellor of the Exchequer. She succeeded his father as Earl Spencer in November 1834 and left political life. He was not an eloquent speaker but had the confidence of the House of Commons because of his honesty.
 William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (1779-1848) was Home Secretary 1830-1834 and Prime Minister in 1834 and against from 1835 to 1841. Though he led a Whig government, he was by nature conservative in his attitudes. He holds the distinction of being the last Prime Minister to be dismissed by the monarch (William IV in 1834).
 Lord John Russell, 1st Earl Russell (1792-1878) was a radical Whig politician, at least in his youth. He was Postmaster General 1830-1834, Home Secretary 1835-1839 and Colonial Secretary 1839-1841. He served as Prime Minister between 1846 and 1852 and again in 1865-1866.
 Henry Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux (1778-1868) was a barrister and writer by profession. He helped found the Edinburgh Review in 1802 and London University in 1828. He was Lord Chancellor between 1830 and 1834 introducing radical reform of the legal system and supervising the passage of the Reform Act but never held office again.
 There was a stamp duty on newspapers. This was very unpopular as it pushed up prices. Many believed it was a government device for keeping information out of the hands of the working-class
 The Tolpuddle Martyrs were six farm labourers from Dorset transported to Australia for trade union activity. Their plight, seen by many of grossly unfair, proved an important focal point for radical activity in 1834 and 1835. Lord Melbourne refused to pardon them as Home Secretary but when Prime Minister he allowed Lord John Russell, his Home Secretary to do so.
 Lay appropriation meant using the revenues of the Church of Ireland for non-church or temporal activities such as funding non-denominational schools.
 Lord Edward Smith-Stanley, (1799-1869) 14th Earl of Derby (1851-1869) was Chief Secretary for Ireland 1830-1833 and Colonial Secretary 1833-1834 but resigned over the question of lay appropriation. He served in Peel’s government as Colonial Secretary 1841-1845 before resigning over the proposal to repeal the Corn Laws. He was later Prime Minister of Conservative governments in 1852, 1858-1859 and 1866-1868.
 Sir James Graham (1792-1861) backed Canning in the 1820s but supported the Whig government until 1834. He was Peel’s Home Secretary between 1841 and 1846.