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Growth of Democracy: essays. What progress did Britain make towards becoming a democracy between 1850 and 1914 ? Would you agree that the Representation of the People’s Act of 1918 virtually completed the democratisation of Britain?

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Growth of Democracy: essays

  • What progress did Britain make towards becoming a democracy between 1850 and 1914?

  • Would you agree that the Representation of the People’s Act of 1918 virtually completed the democratisation of Britain?

  • ‘’By 1928 , the essential of democracy had been achieved.’’ How far would you agree with this statement?


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‘’By 1928 , the essential of democracy had been achieved.’’ How far would you agree with this statement?

  • Intro: You need to define your terms of reference i.e. the ‘essentials of democracy’

  • Then you can go on to to discuss each one of the essentials in turn or take each ‘step on the road to democracy’ and evaluate whether and to what extent it advanced the cause of democracy


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The ‘essentials of democracy’

  • Universal suffrage (one man one vote)

  • A system which allows the unhindered use of the vote (secret ballot)

  • A system which gives equal weight to each vote (equal constituencies) regular elections

  • Right to participate in the political process (e.g. to stand for election)

  • Government by elected representatives (HOC)

  • Government based on majority support

  • Basic freedoms e.g. freedom of speech,assembly


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Franchise in 1850: context

  • Had been set by the reform Act of 1832

  • Franchise based on property

  • Therefore deeply undemocratic since democracy is based on voting as of right not property

  • Voters mainly from upper land owning classes, large tenant farmers from middle class


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The Second Reform Act (1867)

  • MPs were taken from very small boroughs and counties (52 seats). The following groups were now entitled to vote

  • Boroughs- all householders who paid rates and had lived in the property for at least one year + lodgers paying £10 a year

  • Counties- owners of property valued at £5 for rates + tenants of property valued at £12 for rates


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Electorate up from 1.5 million to 2.5 million

1 in 3 men could vote before ratio was 1 in 7

Most new voters were in the boroughs (skilled artisans benefited the most)

Largest increases were in large industrial boroughs e.g. Manchester and Leeds

In counties and smaller boroughs the balance of political forces remained the same- landowners, middle class still in control

Comment on 1867 Act


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Comment on 1867 Act- step towards democracy

  • Right to vote still based on property and its value- undemocratic

  • MPs still unevenly distributed, with too many in the counties and small boroughs

  • New industrial areas such as lowlands of Scotland seriously under-represented


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Dealing with corruption

  • Democracy implies the exercise of the vote free of fear, intimidation and corruption. 2 laws passes by Gladstone to curb abuses

  • The Ballot Act (1872)- introduced the secret ballot( enquiry had revealed scale of corruption) Intimidation declined, but corruption was not completely wiped out

  • Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act (1883)- set limits on the amount to be spent on elections and how it could be spent. Also made corruption offence by law. Thorough and effective


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Representation of the People Act(1884)

  • Franchise in the counties to be the same as the boroughs since 1867, not that simple, 20 regulations

  • Electorate doubled up to 5 million

  • 2 out of 3 men could vote

  • Right to vote still linked to complex series of property-related qualifications rather than universal suffrage

  • Still groups not included- live in servants, sons living at home, paupers (12% of population)


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Representation of the People Act(1884)Comment:

  • Many who were technically qualified still could not vote because they were unable to prove that they were qualified and so could not get on the electoral register

  • It is estimated that 2.5 million men were in this situation- mainly from the lower working class

  • In 1913, only 63% of adult males were registered to vote

  • Plural voting still existed, accounted for 7% of electorate

  • Women not allowed to vote, move towards democracy but far less than often supposed


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Redistribution of seats Act(1885)

  • Aimed to make constituencies equal

  • Vast majority of constituencies now had only one MP

  • Boundaries were redrawn so that most constituencies had an approximate population of 50,000

  • Redistribution ended the old problem of too many MPs in the South of England as small boroughs lost MPs to industrial areas

  • Brought into being a recognisably, ‘modern’ system of electoral representation


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Obstacles removed

  • House of Lords able to reject legislation passed by HOC

  • Passing of Parliament Act of 1911 significantly restricted power

  • Removed lords power over Bills dealing with finance and removed right to veto outright other bills

  • Only able to delay Bills for 2 sessions of Parliament

  • Elections to be held now every 5 years rather than 7 further strengthened democracy

  • Payment of MPs established salary of £400 a year


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Franchise had been extended to the lower middle class and much of the working class

However MPs remained ’gentlemen of means’ main change was increasing number of MPs whose wealth came from industry rather than land

MPs not paid until 1900 and no separate Labour party yet for working class to vote for.

Methods of electioneering had to change to attract voters – national parties/ less independent MPs

How well represented were the new voters by 1900?


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Representation of the People Act(1918) much of the working class

  • Significant step/ arguably more important in enfranchising all men than in giving the vote to some women

  • 8.5 million women over 30 were given the vote and 13 million men over 21

  • Plural voting reduced

  • Distinction between ‘county’ and ‘borough’ ended, single member constituencies

  • Increased number of MPs for industrial areas

  • The industrial working class become for the first time the majority for industrial cities

  • 1928: female franchise made the same as men- 21


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  • Conclusion much of the working class

  • Tie up all the key areas of analysis which you have developed during the course of your essay

  • Historiography: Remember your quotes throughout to back up your arguement


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