Electoral Reform in England and Wales: The Development and Operation of the Parliamentary Franchise, 1832-1885

By Charles M. A. Seymour | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION

"UPON the matter of regulating the suffrage," said Montesquieu, "depends the destruction or salvation of States," and more than a century later the same thought is reëchoed in one of Gladstone's speeches. During that century Europe saw the truth of the dictum constantly and vehemently asserted by every class in every nation. Paris labourers inveighing against the suffrage restrictions of the Constitution of 1791, and, later, demanding universal suffrage on the barricades of 1848; British shopkeepers threatening revolution in 1832; philosophical Germans in their discussions at Frankfort; all upheld the vital importance of the question. Nor did those who resisted the onward march of liberalism regard the matter in less serious light, for to them the advent of democratic or even middle class suffrage meant the loosening of the bond that held society together, the speedy dissolution of the forces of order and discipline. And the importance of the question has not faded in recent years, as will be witnessed by those who have seen Austrian suffrage riots, demonstrations against the Prussian electoral system, and the activities of British feminists.

It may be that both liberals and reactionaries have exaggerated the practical importance of the arrangement of the suffrage. We know that the will of the masses may be carried into effect through the force of

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