The Second Reform Act, passed in 1867, created a million new voters, doubling the electorate and propelling the British state into the age of mass politics. It marked the end of a twenty year struggle for the working class vote, in which seven different governments had promised change. Yet the standard works on 1867 are more than forty years old and no study has ever been published of reform in prior decades. This study provides the first analysis of the subject from 1848 to 1867, ranging from the demise of Chartism to the passage of the Second Reform Act. Recapturing the vibrancy of the issue and its place at the heart of Victorian political culture, it focuses not only on the reform debate itself, but on a whole series of related controversies, including the growth of trade unionism, the impact of the 1848 revolutions and the discussion of French and American democracy.
'This is an important book on an important subject. Saunders provides yet another reminder that this so-called "age of equipoise" should not be dismissed as lacking in interest, controversy and vitality. He manages to convey the detail but also the drama and tension of the debates - in sum this is an excellent book, an enjoyable read, and an important contribution to the political history of Victorian Britain.' David Brown, University of Strathclyde , Scotland 'This study, Robert Saunders's first book, is a comprehensive, well-written, subtle and incisive discussion of the mid-Victorian parliamentary Reform debate. It is a major contribution to our historical understanding of the discussions about the nature of the franchise and the extension of the vote, which culminated in the 1867 Reform Act. As now the best and most authoritative guide available to the Reform debates of the period, it explores the questions of why governments felt compelled to legislate on Reform and what it was they hoped to achieve… His important, lucid and richly rewarding study places our understanding of the mid-Victorian Reform debates on a new, secure and sophisticated footing.' English Historical Review 'Saunders's well-written and accessible book will be essential reading for scholars and students of mid-Victorian politics.' Reviews in History 'This is a highly welcome addition to the historical literature, for surprisingly no detailed account exists of the post-Chartist history of the numerous but neglected reform bills preceding the successful one of 1867… a highly serviceable, lively, and well-written history of reform which will become required reading for all who wish to understand democracy and the Victorians.' Cercles 'This is a brilliant piece of political history and one that undoubtedly deserves a wide readership.' Journal of Modern History