In contrast to the revolutionary terror that gripped France at the end of the 18th century, the campaigns for political reform in Britain were relatively moderate. With the economy growing rapidly as a result of industrialisation, a more confident and self-assured mercantile class of mill owners and manufacturers began to assert their right to better representation and influence in parliament. Until then the right to vote was restricted to men of means and property, with many MPs returned by only a handful of voters in ‘rotten boroughs’. Many growing factory towns by contrast had no parliamentary representation whatsoever.
The pamphlet shown here was published in 1793 by a reform organisation seeking a fairer system of voting. Many radical societies at this time campaigned specifically for universal manhood suffrage (votes for all men regardless of property qualifications), arguing that with no right to vote the English people were essentially denied their liberties. According to this pamphlet, 257 of the 512 MPs sitting in parliament were returned by a total of just 11,000 voters in England and Wales, out of a total population of around 8 million people.