Great Britain Toward Democracy study guide summary chapter




Great Britain Toward Democracy study guide summary chapter


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Great Britain Toward Democracy study guide summary chapter

Great Britain: Toward Democracy
Section Overview

  • Britain symbolized the confident liberal state in the late nineteenth-century.
  • The British did not have to create new liberal institutions—as they already had them—and then learn how to live within them.

The Second Reform Act (1867)

  • Due to the rise in social respectability of the working classes in England, many in England agitated for the expansion of the franchise.

Reform League

    • Organization led by John Bright (1811-1889) brought this issue to Parliament and in 1866, Lord Russell’s Liberal ministry introduced a reform bill that a coalition of traditional conservatives and antidemocratic liberals defeated- , a manufacturer, anti-corn law, contributed significantly to the development of the Liberal Party
    • After 1865 Britain saw expanded democracy under Disraeli and Gladstone (who were political opponents)
  • Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) and the expansion of suffrage
  • Conservative leader in the House of Commons who proposed a Reform Bill in 1867 that was amended by Liberals so much that increased the number of voters from approximately 1,430,000 to 2,470,00
    • Almost all men over 21 who resided in urban centers were granted the right to vote
      • Essentially doubled the number of men who could vote but still fell short of universal suffrage.
  • Disraeli, knowing reform was inevitable, decided that the Conservatives should take credit for it and believed it would help solidify Conservative control in British government.

Gladstone’s Great Ministry (1868-1874)
The Most important liberal figure in 19th century England

  • Supported Irish Home Rule, fiscal policy, free trade, and extension of democratic principles while opposing imperialism
  • This era witnessed the culmination of classical British liberalism and saw the following reforms:
    • institutions that remained the preserve of the aristocracy and the Anglican church were open to people from other classes and religious denominations.
    • competitive examinations for the civil service replaced patronage.
    • purchase of officers’ positions in the army was abolished.
    • voting by secret ballot was introduced
  • Education Act of 1870
    • government assumed the responsibility for establishing and running elementary schools


  • Reform Act of 1884  (Representation of the People Act of 1884)
    • Granted suffrage to adult males in the counties on the same basis as in the boroughs
      • Two million agricultural voters were added to the franchise
      • Brought Britain close to universal male suffrage
  • During the 1880s and 1890s, new groups emerged seeking to further extend democracy
    • Included women’s suffrage advocates, anti-imperialists, socialists, and anti-nationalists
      • Fabian Society (1883) among the most significant: advanced a form of revisionist Marxism
        • Sought political democracy and economic socialism

Disraeli in Office (1874-1880)

  • Disraeli succeeded Gladstone as prime minister in 1874
    • Both men believed social reform was necessary but disagreed on the means.
    • Whereas Gladstone looked to individualism, free trade, and competition to solve social problems, Disraeli believed in paternalistic legislation to protect the weak and ease class antagonisms.
  • Public Health Act of 1875
    • Biggest legislation of Disraeli’s term but it was primarily the work of his home secretary, Richard Cross (1823-1914)
    • This act reaffirmed the duty of the state to interfere with private property to protect health and physical well-being.
  • Artisan Dwelling Act of 1875
    • Government became involved in providing housing for the working class
  • The Irish Question
    • In 1880, Gladstone became prime minister again after an agricultural depression and an unpopular policy undermined the conservative government of Disraeli.
  • Major issue of Gladstone’s second term: The Irish Question
    • Irish nationalists promoted the idea of “home rule” for Ireland.
  • Irish Land League
  • led by Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891)
    • they wanted a land settlement since much of the land in Ireland was owned by Protestants of English descent
    • Irish land act of 1881 strengthened tenants’ rights
    • Parnell organized Irish members of Parliament to agitate for home rule in Parliament; an opportunity arose in the election of 1885 when the Irish votes were needed by Gladstone to win the election.
  • Gladstone announced his support for Irish home rule
    • Then, a group known as Liberal Unionists joined the Conservatives and defeated home rule for the Irish.
  • Ireland remained firmly under British control.
    • In 1903, the Conservatives sponsored a bill that carried out the final transfer of land to tenant ownership.
    • Home Rule Bill of 1912 granted this right to Irish but it was not to be implemented until after World War I.


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Great Britain Toward Democracy study guide summary chapter