Liberalism and Suffrage, 1830–47
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In the 1830s liberalism moved to center stage throughout Europe. In France, the July Revolution of 1830 created a liberal regime and acted as the cata-lyst for liberal political activity elsewhere. In England, partly in fear of a revolution at home, the first Whig government since the French Revolution passed the Great Reform Act in 1832 and liberalized English politics. In Germany, a torrent of liberal political writing began in 1830, and in some parts of Germany liberals entered into a new position of political influence. Suffrage issues rapidly presented themselves as key concerns for liberals. The nature of the franchise was crucial to maintaining liberal political influ-ence and creating a liberal state capable of withstanding threats from above and below. In the various parliamentary debates over the suffrage, and in writings about it, the language of capacity emerged as the common currency of liberal discussion. Of course, this did not mean that liberals always agreed with each other about who had the capacity to vote. Speakers of a language never all agree, especially about important matters. Differences within the liberal movement over questions of “capacity” made themselves increas-ingly evident as the century progressed, but they were present from the beginning.
KeywordsPublic Opinion Middle Class Political Participation Parliamentary Debate Liberal Discourse
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