This chapter seeks to lay out some of the principal Victorian political debates and events. It treats the Victorian era in three parts: the early Victorian period, from 1820 until the 1840s, during which politics was marked by the extension of the franchise to most middle-class men and by an increasingly formal, organized national politics; the mid-Victorian years, from the 1850s until the 1880s, which saw the passage of two major Reform Acts enlarged the electorate and saw the development of political parties and party leadership in their modern incarnations; and the late Victorian period, from the mid-1880s until the start of World War I, which saw major unrest in the unresolved areas of working-class and female political power and the Irish question, and a constitutional crisis. We focus here on national electoral politics, rather than local or regional politics – important as they were to so many lives on a day-to-day basis – except as they impact the national level. The British constitution, unlike the constitution of the United States, is not a single document. It is made up of laws, convention, and tradition, both written and unwritten, which dictate the form of government and the limits of power of its various branches. Britain’s government includes both monarchy and
Parliament, whose powers are defined and limited by the constitution. Since the late seventeenth century, the balance of power between the two had been tipping away from the monarch and towards Parliament. During the nineteenth century, the monarchy would become symbolic. Parliament’s lower house, the House of Commons, would definitively come to be the center of government, although its upper house, the House of Lords, remained important into the twentieth century, before being reformed in 1911.