The Dawn of the Age of Reform

19th century England was wrought with political tensions. The conservative Tories controlled the government while the more liberal Whigs protested from the outskirts of the political arena. Reformers, the majority of whom were radical Whigs, complained about the sins and abuses in the Tory controlled Parliament. (Fraser 328) These tensions came to a head with the Queen Caroline Affair. Her supporters were comprised mainly of Radicals and her return to the British Isles caused much fear of rebellion in the conservative government. (Fraser 328) The Queen Caroline Affair and the resulting trial highlighted the political divisions of the day. The Whig party – the people’s party – took a decidedly liberal turn. The Tories, faced with the threat of unpopularity were forced to adopt a more liberal platform as well. (Hibbert 187)

Hibbert argues that following the Queen Caroline Affair, “an age was dawning in which the Reform Bill could become a reality.” (Hibbert 187) Caroline inspired her people because they saw her trial mirroring as their own plight; she fought against a tyrant King as they fought against a tyrant government. (Fraser 366) With Caroline’s growing popularity, the power of public opinion and its representation of the working, industrial class became quite evident to the conservative members of government; they quickly began to fear the power of Caroline and the power of public opinion. (Fraser 366) The radical movement called for widening the electorate, abolishing boroughs with no electorate, and creating Parliamentary seats in large towns and cities that lacked representation. (Fraser 326) The failure of the Bill of Pains and Penalties against Caroline to pass, and its subsequent abandonment, suggested the possibility for future reform in the English government. The Queen Caroline Affair illustrated the power of the press as well as the power of public opinion; her success, although limited, gave the English people hope for future reform.

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