My study blog

Democracy in Britain between 1850 and 1900

Posted by lednum on August 30, 2006


Prior to 1832, Britain was an oligarchy


Three national parties to vote for by the early 1900s Labour, conservative and liberals


Education act 1870 (1872 in scotland)


Abolition of property qualification for MPs; 1857 payment for MPs, 1911


Second reform act, 1867

The Reform Act 1867 (also known as the Second Reform Act, and formally titled the Representation of the People Act 1867), 30 & 31 Vict. c. 102, was a piece of British legislation that greatly increased the number of men who could vote in elections in the UK. In its final form, the Reform Act 1867 enfranchised all male householders and abolished compounding (the practice of paying rates to a landlord as part of rent). Due to this act working-class men gained suffrage for the first time in Britain. However, there was little redistribution of seats; and what there was had been intended to help the Conservative Party.

Third reform act, 1884 The 1867 Reform Act had granted the vote to working class males in the towns but not in the counties. William Gladstone and most members of the Liberal Party argued that people living in towns and in rural areas should have equal rights. Lord Salisbury, leader of the Conservative Party, opposed any increase in the number of people who could vote in parliamentary elections. Salisbury’s critics claimed that he feared that this reform would reduce the power of the Tories in rural constituencies.
Representation of the people act, 1918 

The Representation of the People Act 1918 was an Act of Parliament passed to reform the electoral system in the United Kingdom. It is sometimes known as the Fourth Reform Act.

Following the horrors of World War I, millions of returning soldiers were still not entitled to vote. This posed a dilemma for politicians since they could not withhold the vote from the very men who were considered to have fought to preserve British democracy.

The Representation of the People Act 1918 widened suffrage by abolishing practically all property qualifications for men and by enfranchising women over 30 who met minimum property qualifications. The enfranchisement of this latter group was accepted as recognition of the contribution made by women defence workers. However, women were still not politically equal to men (who could vote by age 21); full electoral equality wouldn’t occur until the Representation of the People Act 1928.


The ballot act, 1872 After the passing of the 1867 Reform Act working class males now formed the majority in most borough constituencies. However, employers were still able to use their influence in some constituencies because of the open system of voting. In parliamentary elections people still had to mount a platform and announce their choice of candidate to the officer who then recorded it in the poll book. Employers and local landlords therefore knew how people voted and could punish them if they did not support their preferred candidate. In 1872 William Gladstone removed this intimidation when his government brought in the Ballot Act which introduced a secret system of voting.

Redistribution of seats act, 1885 ( and also in 1867 and 1918)

The Act allowed Britain to advance a step further in gaining equal representation before this Act seats were unfairly distributed leading to harsh and unfair representation. This Act improved the balance of seats.

Each of these Acts allowed Britain to bridge the gap on reaching democracy, the Secret ballot Act minimised bribery and corruption which infiltrated the voting system they however did not wipe the system totally clean until the 1883 Corrupt Practices Act made it presence felt and eradicated both bribery and corruption for the system. The Third reform Act expanded the franchise by 50% but it was simply not a great enough extension to brand Britain democratic. The redistribution of seats Act improved equality in representation but the improvement was not immense. As a whole these Acts before 1900s edged Britain further to democracy but they did not deliver enormous changes, they of course were a vast improvement to the system to the way it stood before 1832, they were to be the last changes to the electoral system for some 30 years.

corrupt and illegal practices act

The Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act 1883 (46 & 47 Vict c. 51) was an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom. It was a continuation of policy to make votes free from the intimidation of landowners and politicians.

Despite the Ballot Act 1872, William Gladstone‘s Second Ministry (1880-85) knew that to make voting less corrupt, certain measures were required to eradicate intimidation and bribery. The act meant that the expenses of candidates were published and could be measured against a limit as to how much could be spent on “political campaigns”. It laid down rules for the conduct of parliamentary candidates, including a strict limit on expenses. Poorer men could also become parliamentary candidates and under the Act stiff penalties were imposed on those breaking it such as heavy fines and imprisonment. Although it did not entirely remove corruption from the voting system, it strengthened the Corrupt Practices Act 1854 and was aided by a number of disenfranchised, small boroughs.


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