Example research essay topic: Fundamental Steps Britain Took To Become Truly Democratic – 1,424 words

Britain aimed to become a democratic country
throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
By 1928, a democracy was very close to being
achieved. For a democracy in Britain, there had to
be universal suffrage, where every man and women
have the right to vote regardless of class. Also a
secret ballot must be in place to prevent
corruption. Equal sizes of constitutions need to
be enforced, with regular elections and elected
members of government. In a democracy, the voters
must have civil rights, such as freedom of speech
and the right to stand in elections. There were a
number of reforms that preceded the 1928, some
more progressive than others.

In the early
nineteenth century, Britain was very undemocratic.
It was only the very rich and upper class men who
were eligible to vote. Middle and lower classes
had no representation and consequently no say in
how the country was run. This was partly due to
the fact that the members of Parliament were not
paid, again in only the very rich being able to
stand for elections. The House of Lords was the
same, the only way of becoming a Lord was to
inherit the title and position, making the House
of Lords a very exclusive and conservative House.
At this time, a severely small percentage of the
population controlled British politics. Other
problems in the early nineteenth century included
the open voting. The fact that there was no secret
ballot made it possible for candidates to bribe
the voters.

It was thought to be honourable to
vote in the open. Pocket and Rotten boroughs were
very common. Pocket boroughs were situations in
which the MP standing was also the landlord. In
this way, the MP could threaten his tenant voters
with eviction if they were not to vote for him.
Rotten boroughs were situations where the MP
represented no one, as the boroughs were
completely uninhabited. There were no voters to
oppose the MP, therefore the success was
inevitable. Some Rotten boroughs were even partly
covered by the ocean.

There were no regular
elections, no limits on how much an MP could spend
on his campaign, and little or no representation
for the ever-growing industrial towns. Britain was
far from democracy in the early nineteenth
century. This began to change by means of reform
under the Liberal government. The first of these
was the 1832 great reform act. Its main
progression was the passing of suffrage to some of
the middle class. It abolished rotten and pocket
boroughs through the process of redistributing
constituencies and allowing more representation
for the bigger cities.

Eight extra MPs were given
to Scotland to represent the cities. The number of
voters in Britain had increased slightly to
653,000, leaving twenty million people without the
vote. British politics had made a move in the
right direction, although the act had failed to
change much, the very wealthy still dominated
politics. The 1867 reform act gave the vote to the
cities working class. All men who lived in or
rented a house worth more than 10 were given the
vote. In rural areas, men paying more than 12 a
year in rent were given the right to vote.

In
addition, seven more MPs were assigned to
Scotland. While the working class now had
suffrage, the very poor and the urban working
class still had no representation. No women were
eligible to vote. While the 1867 Reform Act
gradually moved the nation towards a democracy,
the Secret Ballot Act of 1872 was essential in
that it was needed to rid the voting system of
bribery and corruption. Once voting was done in
private, intimidation decreased dramatically.
However, the act did not wipe out corruption
completely, between 1867 and1885, four towns were
disenfranchised owing to corruption. It took the
Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act of 1883 to stop
corruption altogether.

Candidates were restricted
in how much they could spend campaigning and what
they could spend it on. The modern historian David
Thomson said of Secret Ballot Acts the workers of
both town and country were able to use their vote
freely without fear of reprisals from employer or
landlord However much remained to be done still.
The acts of 1884 and 1885 were very progressive in
moving towards democracy in Britain. The
Representation of The Peoples Act, passed in 1884,
dealt with extending the vote. The electorate was
increased to five million. Voting qualifications
in the towns and in the countryside were now
identical males renting or owning property worth
10 or more in rent per annum were granted
suffrage. This act was closely followed by the
Redistribution of the Seats Act in 1885, which was
aimed to construct constituencies roughly of equal
size.

This meant a lot of smaller places lost
seats, whilst the larger old constituencies gained
by the change. The total number of MPs increased
from 652 to 670. Otherwise known as the Third
Reform Act, this has had mixed interpretations
from modern historians. GDH Cole wrote, the
franchise had ceased, at last, in the countries as
in the boroughs, to be a class privilege
Conversely, TC Smout wrote, Unfortunately, due to
the continued existence of groups who were not
enfranchised, the act left some 40% of the adult
males in the United Kingdom still unenfranchised
in 1911, clearly concentrated in the poor and
younger working class The acts of 1884 and 1885
had brought Britain closer again to democracy, but
still no women had the vote, and this hindered
democracy. Although the Third Reform Act had
brought democracy for men a lot closer than eighty
years before, women had no vote still. In 1867,
John Stuart Mill suggested to Parliament that
women should be considered for the vote.

He drew
little support, but in 1869 the Municipal
Franchise Act was introduced which allowed single
female ratepayers to vote in local elections.
Married women were given this vote later in 1894,
in this same year, women were allowed to stand for
elections in organisations such as school boards.
With no further progress for women suffrage
apparently near, the National Union of Womens
Suffrage (NUWSS) was set up in 1897 by Mrs
Millicent Fawcett. It aimed for universal adult
suffrage, making the point that a man could be a
lunatic or a drunk and have the vote, while a
women could be a doctor, teacher or lawyer and not
have any say in how the country was run. Their
methods were lawful and peaceful, they would
organise protest marches, send petitions of to the
government and hold fetes. These methods did gain
support with 55,000 paid members by 1914, however,
they did not put pressure on the government to
change. Some grew impatient, and, in 1903, the
NUWSS split in two. Ms Emmeline Pankhurst founded
the Womens Social and Political Union (WSPU).

They
were nicknamed the Suffragettes as opposed to the
Suffragists (NUWSS). The Suffragettes thought that
change would only happen through action,
therefore, a militant campaign was started.
Methods such as heckling the Prime Minister
wherever he went, the burning of buildings, acid
attacks on golf course greens and blowing up post
boxes were common. These actions did gain huge
publicity, however they put a lot of men in doubt
to whether they deserve the vote. The campaign
lasted until the outbreak of WWI, when it was
immediately called off. Women then helped a huge
war effort, doing many jobs never done by women
before as men were sent abroad. Many historians
say this is what forced the government to change.
The Representation of the Peoples Act in 1918 gave
the vote to some women.

Women had to be over 30,
married and educated. These women had, in general,
not made many contributions to the war effort and
would generally follow their husbands vote. This
act also gave the right to vote to all men over 21
and the introduction of general elections being
held on one day to stop multiple voting. The 1918
Representation of the People Act had given some
women the right to vote and granted all adult men
suffrage. In 1928, the second Representation of
the Peoples Act was passed by Stanley Baldwins
government. This gave all men and women over 21
the right to vote, making universal suffrage
complete.

In conclusion, it is clear that, through
time and large reform, Britain became a democracy,
meeting all the requirements. 1832 had started
reform off, giving some of the middle class the
vote. 1867 saw the skilled working class
enfranchised, and more MPs to represent Scotland.
The Secret Ballot Act in 1872 was essential
towards democracy, as were 1884 and 1885 acts that
redistributed the constituencies. The two
Representation of the Peoples Acts in 1918 and
1928 were the final steps in making Britain truly
democratic..

Research essay sample on Fundamental Steps Britain Took To Become Truly Democratic