The 1884 Reform Act, (strictly the Representation of the People Act 1884 though it was also known as the Third Reform Act), was the third reform to Britain’s system of voting in the Nineteenth Century. The 1867 Reform Act had been so extensive that there seemed to be little to change. However, while the 1867 Reform Act had concentrated on urban areas, the 1884 Reform Act was to target rural areas that had been bypassed by the 1867 act.
Gladstone, leader of the Liberal Party, was keen to expand voters rights to rural areas. The Conservative Party, led by Lord Salisbury, was against this. They believed that their powerbase was rural England and that any extension of the franchise in rural England would be at their expense as the poorer people in the counties were unlikely to vote for the party that seemed to ooze wealth and privilege – the Conservative Party. Salisbury also believed that those newly enfranchised in the counties would thank the party that introduced such reform and vote for it accordingly – the Liberal Party.
The Commons accepted Gladstone’s bill to give working men in rural England the same rights as those in the boroughs. However, the Conservative dominated House of Lords rejected the bill. Gladstone persevered and the Lords passed the bill after making an agreement with Gladstone that the 1884 Reform Act would be followed by a Redistribution Bill. The 1884 Reform Act gave the counties the same voting rights as the boroughs had – all adult householders and men who rented unfurnished lodgings to the value of £10 a year. The electorate after this act stood at 5,500,000 – though an estimated 40% of all men still did not have the right to vote as a result of their status within society.