The French Revolution in the late 18th century inspired popular calls for the vote. Thomas Paine, a leading radical, published 'The Rights of Man' in 1791 which encouraged mass support for parliamentary reform.
The radical movement grew to include the working classes as well as progressive members of the ruling and middle classes.
Calls for reform
These calls for reform were suppressed by those in power who feared violent revolution being sparked in the United Kingdom, as it had been in France.
Radicals were imprisoned, habeas corpus was temporarily suspended and laws were passed prohibiting public meetings and demonstrations.
1832 Reform Act
However, as time passed and memories of the violence of the French Revolution faded, the ruling classes felt less threatened and, by 1832, the mood had changed sufficiently for a Reform Act to be passed. Sixty-seven new constituencies were created.
The Reform Act extended the vote in the counties beyond men holding £2 worth (40 shillings) of their own land to other small landholders, tenant farmers and shopkeepers. In boroughs, the vote was given to all male householders who paid a yearly rental of £10 or more.
Although the vote was extended, power was still in the hands of the landed gentry and men of property. For many this did not go far enough.
The Chartist movement grew from this disappointment and campaigned during the 1830s and 1840s for the vote to be extended further.