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Early involvement with reform

Petition in favour of the ministerial plan of reform Parliamentary Archives, HC/LB/1/133

In the late 18th century, The House of Commons was dominated largely by those from aristocratic and powerful backgrounds. Radical societies, inspired by the French revolution, were growing rapidly across England. These societies were inspired by publications including Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man, which demanded that all citizens have equal political rights. The spread of radical politics among the working classes alarmed contemporary government and property owners.

The Society of the Friends of the People

The Society of the Friends of the People was started by Grey and other members of the Whig party in 1792. The Society advocated wide ranging  Parliamentary reform, and its title was perceived as threatening by many other members of the Whig party. In 1792 Grey gave notice in the House of Commons, stating that he would present a motion for parliamentary reform in the next session, and he did so on 6 May 1793. He based his proposals for reform on a petition drawn up by the Friends of the People. The petition highlighted the level of influence in elections, the small amount of voters in some constituencies, and the lack of representation for industrial towns. The motion was lost by 282 votes to 41, indicating that only a small amount of Grey's peers in the Whig party were interested in reform as a cause.

Tensions in the Whig party

At the start of Grey's time in the House of Commons, he  had been part of a group of progressive Whig party MPs, whose attacks on Pitt's policies were substantial. Towards 1793, this was not the case, and Grey frequently failed to draw support from either side of the House. As a consequence of these tensions, the party split in 1794. For the following years, Grey and a few remaining friends were left in opposition, regularly opposing measures introduced by Pitt to defend the monarchy and constitution from radical groups.

In January 1806 Pitt died and Grey joined the Grenville Administration, serving as First Lord of the Admiralty. He had little experience of naval affairs, however he was known for his energy and spirit in this role.

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