Gary Cox - The Political Economy of Suffrage Reform: The Great Reform Act of 1832


Prominent scholars have viewed the Great Reform Act as a concession made by incumbent elites in order to defuse a revolutionary threat. In this paper, we argue that the threat from below increased private policing costs and was addressed by establishing professional police forces. Such forces had been stoutly opposed by the gentry since the Glorious Revolution, on the grounds that they would increase Crown power too much. To make professional police forces palatable to the middle class required reforming both budgets and elections at all levels of governance (national, municipal and county), to lessen crown influence and so ensure taxpayers that their representatives would control the finances of the new forces. Suffrage expansion was part of a broader effort to constrain the executive and was followed almost immediately by substantial investments in the state's policing capacity.

Keywords: Franchise extension; Democratization; State capacity


Gary W. Cox, William Bennett Munro Professor of Political Science. In addition to numerous articles in the areas of legislative and electoral politics, Cox is author of The Efficient Secret (winner of the 1983 Samuel H Beer dissertation prize and the 2003 George H Hallett Award), co-author of Legislative Leviathan (winner of the 1993 Richard F Fenno Prize), author of Making Votes Count (winner of the 1998 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award, the 1998 Luebbert Prize and the 2007 George H Hallett Award); co-author of Setting the Agenda (winner of the 2006 Leon D. Epstein Book Award), and author of Marketing Sovereign Promises (winner of the William Riker Prize, 2016). A former Guggenheim Fellow, Cox was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1996 and the National Academy of Sciences in 2005. Ph.D. California Institute of Technology, 1983.