An Age of Democracy and Progress: Democratic Reform and Activism





  • Urbanization and industrialization brought sweeping changes to Western nations
    • People began to call for work reforms and political reforms
      • Demanded that more people be given a greater voice in government
        • Many different groups, including the middle class, workers, and women, argued that the right to vote be extended to groups that were excluded


  • Britain became a constitutional monarchy in the late 1600s
    • Under this system of government, the monarch serves as the head of state, but Parliament holds the real power
    • The British Parliament consists of a House of Lords and a House of Commons
      • Traditionally, members of the House of Lords either inherited their seats or were appointed
        • However, this changed in 1999 when legislation was passed that abolished the right of hereditary peers to inherit a seat in the House of Lords
      • Members of the House of Commons are elected by the British people
  • In the early 1800s, the method of selecting the British government was not a true democracy
    • Only about 5% of the population had the right to elect the members of the House of Commons
      • Voting was limited to men who owned a substantial amount of land
      • Women could not vote at all
      • Result = The upper classes ran the government

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The Reform Bill of 1832

  • The first ground to demand a greater voice in politics was the wealthy middle class – factory owners, bankers, and merchants
  • Beginning in 1830 – Protests took place around England in favor of a bill in Parliament that would extend suffrage, or the right to vote
  • The Revolution of 1830 in France frightened parliamentary leaders
    • They feared that revolutionary violence would spread to Britain
      • Thus Parliament passed the Reform Bill of 1832 – This law eased the property requirements so that well-to-do men in the middle class could vote
        • The Reform Bill also modernized the districts for electing members of Parliament and gave the thriving new industrial cities more representation

Chartist Movement

  • Although the Reform Bill increased the number of British voters, only a small percentage of men were eligible to vote
  • A popular movement arose among the workers and other groups who still could not vote to press for more rights
    • It was called the Chartist movement because the group first presented its demands to Parliament in a petition called “The People’s Charter 1838”
  • The People’s Charter called for suffrage for all men and annual Parliamentary elections
    • It also proposed to reform Parliament in other ways
      • At the time, men voted openly. Since their vote was not secret, they could feel pressure to vote in a certain way
      • Members of Parliament had to own land and received no salary, so they needed to be wealthy
        • The Chartists wanted to make Parliament responsive to the lower classes – To do this, they demanded a secret ballot, an end to property requirements for serving in Parliament, and pay for members of Parliament
  • Parliament rejected the Chartists’ demands
    • However, their protests convinced many people that the workers had valid complaints
    • Over the years, workers continued to press for political reform and Parliament responded
      • It gave the vote to working-class men in 1867 and to male rural workers in 1884
      • After 1884, most adult males in Britain had the right to vote
        • By the early 1900s, all the demands of the Chartists, except for annual elections, became law

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The Victorian Age

  • The figure who presided over all of this historic change was Queen Victoria
    • Victoria came to the throne in 1837 at the age of 18
    • She was queen for nearly 64 years
  • During the Victorian Age, the British Empire reached the height of its wealth and power
    • Victoria was popular with her subjects
      • She performed her duties capably
        • However, she was forced to accept as less powerful role for the monarchy
  • The kings who preceded Victoria in the 1700s and 1800s had exercised great influence over Parliament
    • The spread of democracy in the 1800s shifted political power almost completely to Parliament, and especially to the elected House of Commons
      • Now the government was completely run by the prime minister and the cabinet


  • By 1890 – Several industrial countries had universal male suffrage (the right of all men to vote)
    • No country allowed women to vote
    • As more men gained suffrage, more women demanded the same


Organization and Resistance

  • During the 1800s – Women in both Great Britain and the United States worked to gain the right to vote
    • British women organized reform societies and protested unfair laws and customs
      • As women became more vocal, however, resistance to their demands grew
  • Many people, both men and women, thought that woman suffrage was too radical a break with tradition
    • Some claimed that women lacked the ability to take part in politics

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Militant Protests

  • After decades of peaceful efforts to win the right to vote, some women took a more drastic step
  • In Britain, Emmeline Pankhurst formed the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903
    • The WSPU became the most militant organization for women’s rights
    • Its goal was to draw attention to the cause of woman suffrage
  • Emmeline Pankhurst, her daughters Christabel and Sylvia, and other WSPU members were arrested and imprisoned many times
    • When they were jailed, the Pankhursts led hunger strikes to keep their cause in the public eye
      • British officials force-fed Sylvia and other activists to keep them alive
  • Though the woman suffrage movement gained attention between 1880 and 1914, its successes were gradual
    • Women did not gain the right to vote in national elections in Great Britain or the United States until after World War I


  • While Great Britain was moving towards greater democracy in the late 1800s, democracy finally took hold in France

The Third Republic

  • In the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War, France went through a series of crises
    • Between 1871 and 1914, France averaged a change of government almost yearly
      • A dozen political parties competed for power
      • Not until 1875 could the National Assembly agree on a new government
        • Eventually the members voted to set up a republic
          • The Third Republic lasted over 60 years but France remained divided

The Dreyfus Affair

  • During the 1880s and 1890s, the Third Republic was threatened by monarchists, aristocrats, clergy, and army leaders
    • These groups wanted a monarchy or military rule
  • A controversy known as the Dreyfus affair became a battleground for these opposing forces
    • Widespread feelings of anti-Semitism, or prejudice against Jews, also played a role in this scandal
  • 1894 – Captain Alfred Dreyfus, one of the Jewish officers in the French army, was accused of selling military secrets to Germany
    • A court found him guilty based on false evidence, and sentenced him to life in prison
      • A few years later, new evidence showed that Dreyfus had been framed by other army officers
  • Public opinion was sharply divided over this scandal
    • Many army leaders, nationalists, leaders in the clergy, and anti-Jewish groups refused to let the case be reopened
      • They feared sudden action would cast doubt on the honor of the army
    • Dreyfus’s defenders insisted that justice was more important
  • 1898 – Writer Emile Zola published an open letter titled L’accuse! (I accuse) in a popular French newspaper
    • In the letter, Zola denounced the army for covering up a scandal
      • Zola was sentenced to a year in prison for his views, but his letter gave strength to Dreyfus’s cause
        • Eventually the French government declared his innocence

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The Rise of Zionism

  • The Dreyfus case showed the strength of anti-Semitism in France and other parts of Western Europe
    • However, persecution of Jews was even more severe in Eastern Europe
      • Russian officials permitted pogroms (puh-GRAHMS), organized campaigns of violence against Jews
  • From the late 1880s on, thousands of Jews fled Eastern Europe – Many headed for the United States
  • For many Jews, the long history of exile and persecution convinced them to work for a homeland in Palestine
    • In the 1890s, a movement known as Zionism developed to pursue this goal
      • Its leader was Theodor Herzl (HEHRT-suhl), a writer in Vienna
        • It took many years, however, before the state of Israel was established

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Beck, Roger B., Linda Black, et al. World History: Patterns Of Interaction: Atlas By Rand McNally. 1st. 21. Illinois: McDougal Littell/Houghton Mifflin, 2012. Print.