As pressure for greater democracy increased during the early part of the 19th century, many politicians favoured granting limited political reforms rather than risk a revolution.
The French Revolution of 1789 had resulted in increased interest in democracy across Europe.
The ruling classes in Britain watched with fear the turmoil and bloodshed that went hand-in-hand with greater democracy in France. Some of them thought that if it had happened in France it could happen in Britain.
Popular uprisings had occurred throughout Europe in 1848. Although these were mainly fuelled by social and economic factors, it demonstrated the destructive power of a dissatisfied working class.
In the United States and Europe, struggles were taking place for liberty and for the people to have greater political influence. This put pressure on the British government to make similar changes.
The American Civil War of 1861 to 1865 provided a stimulus to reform. It renewed the debate of political rights in Britain. Popular enthusiasm for democracy coincided with popular support for the Unionists.
As the British government tended to support democratic reform in other countries, it seemed logical that it should encourage such moves in Britain.
By the time America joined World War One, some US states had granted women the vote. Other countries, such as New Zealand, Australia, Finland and Denmark, along with most of Canada, had enfranchised women.
It was increasingly difficult for Britain to continue denying women a political voice.
In addition, Britain's propaganda during World War One stressed that the Allies were fighting for democracy - this implied universal suffrage.