The urbanization and industrialization brought changes to many Western nations. People began to look for solutions to the problems brought on by the developments – they demanded reform and better conditions for the poor. Many people also called for political reforms and demanded that more people have a say in government. Many groups such as the middle class, workers, and women, all demanded for the right to vote.

  • Britain Enacts Reforms

    Britain became a constitutional monarchy in the 1600s, with the monarchy acting as the head while the Parliament has the real power. The British Parliament had a house of lords and a house of commons. Usually, the members of the house of lords inherited or were appointed the position. However, in 1999, the legislation abolished hereditary peers in the House of Lords. Meanwhile, the House of Commons was elected by the British people.

    However, this system was not a true democracy as only 5 percent of the people could elect members of the House of Commons. The right to vote was limited to men with large amounts of land. The upper class ran the government.

    • The Reform Bill of 1832
      • The upper half of the middle class was first to demand a larger influence on politics. Starting in the 1830s, protests spread across England in favor of a bill to extend suffrage (the right to vote). The simultaneous revolution of 1830 in France frightened the parliamentary leaders, and they passed the Reform Bill of 1832. This law allowed any well-to-do man in the middle class to vote and also modernized the districts for electing for the Parliament by giving industrial cities more representation.
    • Chartist Movement
      • The Reform Bill succeeded in increasing the number of voters, however, only a small percentage of men could vote. The Chartist movement arose among the groups that could not vote. This was named the Chartist movement because they presented their demands to Parliament in “The People’s Charter of 1838”.
      • The People’s Charter demanded suffrage for all men and annual elections. The People’s Charter also proposed other reforms such as secret votes, an end to property requirements, and paid positions in Parliament.
      • Parliament rejected these demands but the protests convinced many more people. The workers pressed political reform and Parliament finally responded. It gave the vote to working men in 1867, all men in 1884. By the 1900s, all the demands except annual elections became law.
    • The Victorian Age
      • This historic change was presided over by Queen Victoria. Victoria ruled from age 18 for 64 years in 1837. The British Empire reached the height of its glory – however, she refused to give up any power from the monarchy.
      • The kings before Victoria in the 1800s shifted political power to the Parliament, making the government completely led by the prime minister and the cabinet.
  • Women Get the Vote

    By 1890, many industrial countries had given all men the right to vote. However, no country had given women the right to vote.

    • Organization and Resistance
      • During the 1800s, women gained the right to vote in Great Britain and the United States. British women organized reform societiies and protested unfair laws and customs. However, the resistance to their demands grew as many people of both sexes felt that this was too radical a change. Some claimed that women did not have the ability to be in politics.
    • Militant Protests
      • After decades of peace, women began to take drastic measures. In Britain, Emmeline Pankhurst formed the Women’s Social Political Union in 1903. This group grew attention through militant means.
      • Emmeline Pankhurst and her family and other members were arrested and imprisoned many times. While jailed, the Pankhursts led hunger strikes. British officials force fed Sylvia and other activists to keep them alive.
      • Even with this much attention, the women did not gain the right to vote until after World War I.
  • France and Democracy

    Britain moved to more democracy in the late 1800s – France had just gained it.

    • The Third Republic
      • After the Franco-Prussian War, France went through crises, constantly changing government. The National Assembly agreed on a new government in 1975, a republic. This republic, The Third Republic lasted 60 years. However, France was still divided.
    • The Dreyfus Affair
      • The Third Republic was threatened by many groups such as monarchists, aristocrats, clergy, and army leaders. These groups wanted a monarchy. A controversy named the Dreyfus affair started the battle. Widespread feelings of anti-Semitism (anti-Jews) was an important part in this scandal.
      • In 1894, Captain Dreyfus was accused of selling military secrets to Germany. He was found guilty based on false evidence because he was Jewish. After a few years, new evidence showed he was framed.
      • Public opinion was strongly divided. Many anti-Jewish groups, army leaders, and clergy members did not want the case reopened as they were afraid this would make the army seem dishonorable. However, Dreyus’ defenders said that Justice was more important. In 1898, the writer Emile Zola wrote an letter accusing the army of covering up a scandal. Zola was sentenced to a year in prison. However, this letter gave Dreyfus’s cause more strength, leading to the French government declaring his innocence.
    • The Rise of Zionism
      • The Dreyfus case was an example of the anti-Semitism in Western Europe. However, this was even worse in Eastern Europe. Russian officials allowed organized violence against Jews, forcing Jews to flee in the 1800s and head for other countries like the US.
      • Many Jews wanted to create their own homeland in Palestine. In the 1890s, Zionism developed and the leader was Theodor Herzl of Vienna. However, it was many years before Israel was established.