14.5 Democratic Reforms in Britain

In his 1845 novel, Sybil, or The Two Nations, Benjamin Disraeli describes the tremendous gap between the living conditions of the rich and the poor. In one scene, a man boasts to a stranger that Queen Victoria “reigns over the greatest nation that ever existed.”

Illustration of a crowded dirty room, with unkempt children sitting and men and women in tattered clothing.

Draw Conclusions

Poor living conditions, such as in this London slum, were a common sight in British industrial cities in the early 1800s. How do you think scenes like this affected British government leaders?


  • Understand how political reforms in Britain affected suffrage and the nature of Parliament.
  • Identify the influence of Queen Victoria and the values she represented.
  • Describe social and economic reforms enacted by Parliament in the 1800s.
  • Describe the efforts by British women to win the vote.
  • Explain the struggle for Irish home rule and the impact of famine on Ireland.

Key Terms

  • rotten borough
  • electorate
  • secret ballot
  • Queen Victoria
  • Benjamin Disraeli
  • William Gladstone
  • parliamentary democracy
  • free trade
  • repeal
  • abolition
  • capital offense
  • penal colony
  • absentee landlord
  • home rule

“Two Nations”: The Rich and the Poor

Which nation? asks one of the strangers, “for she reigns over two… Two nations; between whom there is no [communication] and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were … inhabitants of different planets.

What are these “two nations,” Egremont asks. “The Rich and the Poor,” the stranger replies.

—Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil

Benjamin Disraeli and other British leaders worked to bridge the gap between the “two nations” by expanding democratic rights and introducing social reforms to end deeply rooted inequalities.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments