Before the later 19th and early 20th century only a small minority of men were entitled to vote in parliamentary elections. Parliament was dominated by rich landowners and reflected their interests.
Their priorities were to defend their property rights against taxation and state interference. Social disorder was not tolerated. Women did not have any right to vote at all.
Effects of industrialisation
The growth of industry in the 18th century brought great change to the country, its people and their aspirations. Towns and cities increased in population as factories grew in number and people were drawn to work in urban areas as agriculture declined.
This led to further inequalities in representation in Parliament. Urban areas such as Birmingham and Manchester had no Members of Parliament while small villages which had once been important in the middle ages sometimes sent two representatives to Parliament.
American and French revolutions
A sense of injustice and a growing political consciousness outside the landed classes, as well as the influence of revolutions in America and France, contributed to a small but growing demand for parliamentary reform.
The violence of the French Revolution entrenched the ruling elite's belief that the lower orders should be kept in their place but as the 19th century progressed, it was less easy for calls for change to be ignored.