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The Reform Acts: The Struggle for Democracy, traces the progression of parliamentary and electoral reform during a transformational period of British history between 1760 and 1918. The four-volume collection considers early calls for electoral reform and the motivations behind these as well as the responses of those opposed to change. The many facets of reform debated over the period are assessed, including economic reform, the secret ballot, proportional representation, removal of electoral corruption, and universal male and female suffrage. Contributions of key political actors are also analysed including those from John Wilkes, Charles James Fox, William Pitt the Younger, Henry Hunt, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Daniel O’Connell, William Lovett, Annie Besant, Christabel Pankhurst and James Keir Hardie. Alongside these familiar names are the voices of the poor, the unsung, and the unknown who made impassioned pleas either for or against reform.
The volumes acknowledge that the implications of constitutional change reached far beyond Westminster and so examine the impact on Scotland, Ireland and Wales, along with developments in the British Empire. The notion of citizenship (and who is fit to be a proper citizen) infused discussions from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. Should property, education, class, race, religion or gender be distinguishing characteristics of those possessing the franchise? And who should decide? These were debates taking place in Parliament but also on the streets, in the pubs and coffee houses, at the workplace and in the home.
The documents selected represent a fascinating snapshot of issues that captivated men and women across Britain for decades.