R. W. Church began his classic work on The Oxford Movement with the remark that “What is called the Oxford or Tractarian movement began, without doubt, in a vigorous effort for the immediate defence of the Church against serious dangers, arising from the violent and threatening temper of the days of the Reform Bill.” Historians of the Oxford Movement who, unlike Church, were not participants in the events of which they write need continually to remind themselves that the Oxford Movement was not a premeditated and carefully planned theological campaign. Rather, it was an ad hoc measure to meet a definite and immediate problem.
In the second and third decades of the nineteenth century, agitation for reform of all the national institutions swept across England, and included in these national institutions was the Church of England. In 1828 a resolution favoring the repeal of the Test Act was carried in the House of Commons by Lord John Russell, and in 1829 the Relief Bill was carried, allowing Catholics to sit in Parliament and to hold offices under the crown. With the Reform Bill of 1832 the electoral structure for seating men in Parliament was brought into partial conformity with contemporary developments and population distribution. And with the success of parliamentary reform, English churchmen feared that church reform would soon be thrust upon them. The bishops as a group had been hostile to parliamentary reform and to reform in general, with the result that popular pamphlets against churchmen and demand for church reform reached alarming proportions.