Sundry other Reasons Fear of Revolution One of the motives put forward by historians as a motive for the growth of democracy was the fear of Revolution. With the growing population it became clear to many politicians that reform of some type would need to be implemented to appease the growing numbers of the working class. The politicians of Victorian Britain did not want to see the people rising up and taking power by force as had happened in France which robbed the wealthy of all their privileges and land. As the distance in time increased from the French revolution, this fear decreased and the need to keep the “mob” under control became seen as less vital.
Examples of developments abroad.
A middle class revolution in 1848 in many of Europe’s states suggested that the wish for reform was not just happening in Britain. The influence of the United States, seen as a democratic nation was apparent through two way travel over the Atlantic. During the American Civil War many working class British men supported the North although their own livelihood was being threatened by their blockade of Southern raw cotton. This showed a sophisticated level of citizenship and helped to remove the idea of them as the “mob”. Also, when the Italian Garibaldi and the Hungarian Kossuth, visited Britain, their interest in greater democracy in their own countries caught a nerve with the British public.
Another motive put forward by historians in terms of the extension of the franchise was the growth in access to information. This new access to information was a largely down to the growth of the railway system that began to appear in Britain. The railways were important in helping to create a national rather than a local identity. They provided people through-out Britain quick, up to date and important information in the form of cheap national daily newspapers. This also led to people in far flung parts of Britain becoming more aware of National issues and led to a more national rather than parochial view. The spread of these cheap newspapers gave the British public political information and, for the first time, an insight in to the different policies of the different parties. Consequently, the public were no longer ignorant of politics. Moreover, the development of new printing presses and libraries meant that candidates could distribute their policies far and wide (leaflets for example). Furthermore, the spread of basic education due to the 1870 Education Act (1872 Education Act in Scotland) meant that more people could access and understand information available on the political parties as they were literate. Not to have enfranchised a more politically aware educated population could have led to protest or possible revolution. Therefore, once again democratic reform was passed to appease revolutionary ideas.
The effects of the First World War. A further motive for increasing the franchise was World War 1. The war resulted in the issue of voting returning. Politicians grew anxious to enfranchise more men, many of whom had lost their residency qualification for the right to vote as a result of moving from home for war service. Before 1918 voters had to be established in a permanent address for one year. It was politically unacceptable to tell those ex-soldiers they had lost their right to vote, so the rules had to change.
The War also resulted in the relationship between male citizens of the UK and their government changing. In 1916 conscription was introduced for the first time in Britain. Men were ordered to join the armed forces or do work of national importance. Women also proved their worth during the war by carrying out important war time tasks and their cries for suffrage could no longer be ignored. The government could no longer justifiably not allow those men they had forced to fight, not to have a right to choose a government and women could no longer be ignored as weak and foolish creatures after their sacrifices in the war. This led to the 1918 Representation of the People Act given men over 21 the vote and women over the age of 30. This was followed up by the passing of the 1928 Representation of the People Act which put woman on the same democratic rights as men.
World War One was perhaps the most influential factor in the extension of the franchise. It gave the British public the chance to show the Government that they were worthy of the vote and put them in a moral and political situation where they had no option but to grant them it.