The study which follows attempts to trace in a single field the extraordinary transformation which took place in English political conditions during the nineteenth century. It was first inspired by the difficulty of obtaining exact information upon the effects of the reforms in the electoral franchise and of the redistribution of seats; and it has been developed in the hope of determining the changes in the practical operation of the electoral system which were effected by these and supplementary reforms. It makes no claim to be a history of the popular movement for parliamentary reform, nor does it attempt to describe the parliamentary tactics incident to the passing of the Reform Bills. I have sought to confine myself to a clear statement of electoral conditions and the democratic development resulting from the reforms in the franchise, distribution of seats, registration, and methods of electioneering.
Two facts stand out as the result of such a study. In the first place, very obviously, there was a constant advance towards democracy in elections, so that the continual transfer, bit by bit, of electoral power from the landowning classes and the commercial plutocracy to the masses, becomes inevitably the leit-motif of the whole movement. It is the thread which runs through the various phases of electoral development, connecting the different aspects of the reforms; aspects which at the time and since, have not always been correlated in the popular mind.
In the second place, and it is a fact less generally recognized, the progress of democracy in the electoral system,