The Rise of Democracy in Britain
The dynamic course of the nineteenth century set off a revolution
within the realm of British politics. Foreign influence and domestic
transformation created a situation where individual interests were
forced into the public sphere for political reconciliation. The shift
towards democratic government was largely unscripted because Britain
had no written constitution to guide its path. Thus, Britain’s pursuit
of democracy was not prescribed by any rules or written precedents.
Instead, it was the outgrowth of an immediate national responsibility
to fulfill the demands of the disenfranchised. Britain’s journey
towards democracy cannot be explained without taking into account the
many factors that spurred its development. The forces responsible for
advancing democratic government in Great Britain were the diverse
products of a unique set of evolving social, economic, and political
To understand the forces that propelled Britain towards democracy in
the nineteenth century, one must first look back to the preconditions
that fostered contemporary social change. The development of
democratic government and the rise of capitalism are intrinsically
linked. Necessary to the ideology of capitalism was the notion that
the free individual was making a personal investment of labor or
service and receiving the means with which to purchase property in
return. Thus, a person of property was politically invested.
Industrialization, however, changed the economic climate that had
defined the way politics operated prior to the nineteenth century.
Suddenly, society contained groups of people who were working and
amassing capital but who did not fall into the category defined by
landed interests. The rise of industry and urbanization accompanied
the rise of the economic bourgeoisie, a group that would be essential
in the fight for the extension of franchise later on in the century.
As society began to develop along the values of an economic nexus, the
entrenched aristocratic social order of yesteryear started to lose
dominance in the political sphere. What resulted was a conflict that
would characterize the politics of the long nineteenth century.
As the working and middle class gained economic autonomy, an
intellectual revolution began and propelled these classes further into
public life. Education is perhaps the force most central to the rise
of democracy in Britain. Growing literacy among the working and middle
classes allowed for the political awakening of a previously isolated
section of society. Property qualifications for enfranchisement had
originally served the purpose of ensuring an educated electorate.
However, as the social and economic changes of the nineteenth century
brought education to the masses, a large portion of the population was