How far was Lord Liverpool’s government a reforming one in the years 1822 to 1827?

The restructuring of Lord Liverpool’s cabinet in the early 20’s was thought of by many as a change in the direction of the government. Several Historians say that 1822 was a turning point in Lord Liverpool’s government which was, before this date, a government focusing only on repression. I agree with this point of view and will put across evidence and justification for this, throughout my essay.

Firstly, as mentioned in my introduction, a restructuring of Lord Liverpool’s cabinet took place in 1822. As a result of this, Sir Robert Peel was introduced and was responsible for the reforming of the Penal Code between 1824-6. Because of this, a more humane system of punishment was introduced and the death penalty was abolished for the majority of crimes. This, together with the passing of the Jail’s Act in 1823, meant that the treatment of prisoner’s was a lot fairer. The Jails Act meant that the government had reformed the conditions under which prisoners were kept – conditions which had previously been unregulated and inhumane. These are but a few pieces of evidence that prove that Lord Liverpool’s government was a reforming one.

Nevertheless, the government refused to reform several aspects of life regarding the middle and lower class. The poor lived in squalor, in polluted cities with very poor public health. Nothing was done about this. Therefore, it can be argued that many of the reforms that took place served the interests of the rich rather than the poor. This is obviously unreasonable in every sense considering the majority were poor. Therefore, the government was not a reforming one to a large extent in relation to underlying economic problems and status.

Having said this, I still stand by my initial statement. Another reason for this is the modification of the navigation laws which had prevented foreign ships from transporting goods between Britain and the British Empire. The extent at which this was reforming can be understood by the fact that Britain, as a result, gained improved trade, resulting in prospering of the economy. This can therefore counteract the above argument which states that there was little reform to economic problems. This relaxing of the Navigation Acts occurred due to Lord Liverpool’s reform of bringing in William Huskisson as the President of the Board of Trade. As a result of this, more reforms were led to in a cause-and-effect chain – for example, the reduction of customs duties – especially on war materials and indirect taxes.

Nevertheless, another reason that provides evidence for Lord Liverpool’s government not reforming to a high extent in this time is the repealing of the Combination Laws, which suggested that the government was now less concerned with public unrest. However the repealing of the Combination Laws still accounts for reform, whether that reform is positive or negative in the eyes of the public is a different story. Another argument against mines is that there was no major reform of the Corn Laws. Many Historians argue that the introduction of the sliding scale meant that the Corn Laws still benefited the landed classes, and were not catered for the middle and working classes, and that The new strength of the economy meant that as amendment to the Corn Laws was economically viable, and also meant there was less unrest, meaning that trade unions would now be allowed. Thus Liverpool’s government 1822–27 could hardly be called a reforming one. Nevertheless, I disagree and argue that modification of the Corn Laws was reforming as prices at which foreign corn could be imported reduced from 18 shillings per quarter to 70 shillings per quarter which helped both the working class, and the rich. And also the reason for the ‘new strength of economy’ is because of the reforms put in place, such as restructuring cabinet.

Another example of evidence that Lord Liverpool’s government was reforming is the Reciprocity of Goods Act which was passed in 1823 and meant reduction of foreign import prices could be countered by Britain increasing prices. As a result, Britain’s economy and position in trading was reformed for the better as she was now more influential and could compete with other countries. Additionally, the return to gold standard also bolstered the economy as it meant that bank notes could be redeemed for gold. However this idea of reform was, to an extent, not very good as it eventually became apparent that Banks had issued more notes that they had gold supplies. Despite this, the Bank revived their idea of reform through the gold standard, by passing the Bank Act of 1826 which restricted the ability of commercial banks to issue notes.

It is strongly argued by the working class of the time that the government only reformed the small aspects of life and refused to change the important factors. An example of this is the lack of parliamentary reform, and this was the main reason for the Radical threats prior to this time period anyways. Also, there was no education, religious or working-class-assisting reform and so it is argued that the parts that benefited the upper-class were reformed and the middle/lower class were ignored.

All in all, it is argued by many critics of Lord Liverpoo. that the reforms passed at the time were significant for that particular time and by modern standard, were not very reforming. Nevertheless I disagree with this and believe that what matters is the effect that the reforms had on the people that had to endure them. It is unfair to compare the severity of the reforms in a then-now style as the situation of living is a lot different nowadays. Furthermore, those who argue that very little reforms helped the working class are exaggerating as reforms were put into place to help to lower classes, albeit not as much. For example, the allowing of Trade Unions in 1825 was a very important step for the working class who now had support and a voice. It is for these reasons along with those listed throughout my essay that I argue that Lord Liverpool’s government was a reforming one between this time period, to a large extent as a lot was changed/achieved in a small amount of time that benefited the country as a whole.