Pressure groups

Changing political attitudes and examples of popular rebellion abroad inspired many groups within Britain to demand a more open and genuine democracy.

The Reform Union and Reform League

In 1864, the National Reform Union was formed to promote the idea of common interests between the middle and working classes.

It argued that the political aims of the two classes were similar and that they could work together politically. The organisation campaigned for:

  • a secret ballot
  • equal distribution of seats in parliament
  • votes for all ratepayer
A painting of a Hyde Park riot
Demonstrators broke through railings after police chained Hyde Park's gates shut

The Reform League was also formed in 1864. It was a much more radical movement.

The League attracted many followers including trade unionists, socialists and former Chartist sympathisers. It campaigned for universal male suffrage and a secret ballot.

A number of demonstrations and marches were organised by the League prior to the passing of the Second Reform Act in 1867. After proceedings turned violent in Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park, protests spread to other parts of the country, albeit on a smaller scale.

The protests increased in number during the 'Winter of Discontent' of 1866-67.