On the 21 st of March, 1831, Lord John Russell moved the second reading of the English Reform Bill. The second reading was strongly resisted, and the Tory speakers who had argued against the first reading, declaimed their arguments all over again. Three hundred and two members voted for the second reading, and three hundred and one against it. The second reading, therefore, embodying the whole purpose of the Bill, was carried only by a majority of one. The wildest exultation broke out along the ranks of the Opposition. Every Tory in the House felt satisfied that a Bill which passed its second reading in the House of Commons by only a majority of one would not have the slightest chance of dragging itself through Committee without some mutilation of its principal clauses which would leave it an object of pity to its friends and of ridicule to its enemies. The end of that particular struggle came even sooner than was expected. An amendment proposed by a Tory member, which declared that the number of knights, citizens, and burgesses ought not to be diminished, was opposed by Lord Althorp as fatal to the value of the Bill; and there were two hundred and ninety-nine votes for the amendment and two hundred and ninety-one against it. The Government were, therefore, defeated by a majority of eight votes. There was an end of that particular measure, at all events. Lord Grey and his colleagues were not in the least dismayed. They determined at once to dissolve Parliament and appeal to the country by a General Election, for a reversal of the decision given by the majority of the House of Commons.
The first trouble the Ministry had was with the patriot King. William IV. seemed to think it a monstrous thing that he should be asked to dissolve a Parliament which had just been gathered together, after the cost and turmoil of a General Election, only to put the country to the cost and turmoil of another General Election; and all for the sake of carrying a Reform Bill, about which the Sovereign himself felt no manner of personal enthusiasm. On Lord Grey and Lord Brougham, fell the conduct of the negotiations, and Lord Brougham as Keeper of the King's conscience, had to bear the brunt of the more intimate struggle. All sorts of stories were told about the King's efforts at resistance and Lord Brougham's efforts at persuasion; and it had never been supposed by anybody that bland persuasiveness was one of Brougham's endowments. One legend is to the effect that Brougham might never have prevailed over his Sovereign, if it had not been astutely conveyed to the Sovereign's ears, that certain leading Tory Peers had denied to his Majesty any constitutional right of dissolving a Parliament under such conditions Thereupon, so ran the story, the King declared that if the Peers dared to dispute his prerogative, he would show them that he was determined to exercise it. The story probably is not true, although it found many believers at the time. However, the one thing certain is that the King's showed his good sense by allowing himself to be prevailed upon, and he consented to go down to the House of Lords and declare the Dissolution of the Parliament. Now this, at all events, was recognised by every one as a step in advance of any that would probably have been taken by William's recent predecessors, under similar circumstances; and it gained new credit for the King among the Reformers of the country. Without William's assent the dissolution, of course, could not take place; and therefore the mere announcement that Parliament was to be dissolved was enough to convince all the Reformers of the country that the Sovereign had accepted the views of his constitutional advisers and that William had justified by his action the title of a patriot King. So far as can be guessed the King was pleased by the title; and was hopeful of continuing to deserve it, although he probably could not help wishing every now and then to have a little more of his own way than was permitted to him by the stately and unbending Earl Grey, and the passionate and sometimes blusterous Lord Brougham. The King then gave his consent, and went down to the House of Lords and dissolved the Parliament.
The event was received with tumultuous delight in London, and in nearly all the great towns, and indeed all over the country. London was illuminated, and so were most of the large provincial cities. Unfortunately the exultations were accompanied by a certain degree of violence. In the West-end of London many of the opponents of Reform refused to put lights in their windows, and the windows of such recusants were smashed by a roaring crowd. Apsley House, the town residence of the Duke of Wellington, has a side row of windows which look into Hyde Park. There was a noisy demonstration outside the house, and the Hyde Park windows were all smashed to pieces. The Duke of Wellington's own comment on the event was that the demonstration of hostility ought to have taken place - it was then the month of June - on the fifteenth of that month, the day of the crowning victory of Waterloo. "That day he overcame the Nervii," is the heart-thrilling line in which Shakespeare's Mark Antony tells how the wound of the assassin's dagger came in Caesar's mantle; in that mantle which he put on for the first time on a summer's evening in his tent after his victory. The Duke of Wellington was probably not a great student of Shakespeare, and in any case he was not egotistic enough to think of applying to himself the words that related to Julius Caesar; but the application might have been made for all that. The mob, however, did no great harm and did not mean to do much harm. They broke the unlighted windows as a London mob of June, 1897, might possibly, without meaning much harm, have broken some windows kept ostentatiously dark, on the night of the Queen's Jubilee Celebration. But the Duke, undoubtedly, took the insult to heart; and for some years the windows that turned on the Park were kept rigidly shuttered. When the Election began, the contest was kept up on both sides with an utter prodigality of expense. There was not much to be said in favour of one side against the other, so far as bribery and corruption were concerned. Bribery and corruption ran their unblushing way among Liberals and Tories, throughout nearly all- the constituencies. As the results began to be known, it was found that nearly all the cities and great towns were on the side of Lord Grey and Lord John Russell. One of the most conspicuous opponents of the Reform Bill was turned out of the important town of Liverpool by an immense majority of votes. Many of the counties had likewise "gone solid" for Reform, to use a phrase familiar in modern politics. There was no mistaking the meaning of all this; the feeling of the country was distinctly in favour of Reform. The new Parliament was opened on June 21st by William IV. in person; and as the King went in state to the House of Lords, he was received with immense enthusiasm by the crowds who thronged the streets. William enjoyed the enthusiasm very much, and was more than ever satisfied of his just claim to the title of patriot King.