Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)




The decline of British influence in world affairs is one of the more pronounced political phenomena of modern times. Over the past century key territories subject to British rule have been slipping loose from their imperial moorings at an ever more rapid rate. Those remaining subject to British authority grow progressively more belligerent.

In his search for an understanding or this eclipse or British sovereignty, the contemporary historian finds himself groping through a network of complexly interrelated social, political, economic, and psychological processes. One or another student or history has argued that specific instances or groups of these processes are the mechanisms motivating the collapse of the British hegemony. Among those more commonly cited is that group of influences intimately allied with and stimulated by the progressive maturation of voting franchise reform movements within the United Kingdom. In effect, this view argues that franchise reforms introduced radical changes in imperial attitudes in the United Kingdom and that these in turn led to long-range trends pointed at the splintering of the empire: e.g., the political decline of the landed aristocracy resulted in the creation of the Commonwealth; or, the rise or the Labor Party carried with it a campaign successfully aimed at the deliberate discarding of imperial holdings.

It is the purpose or this study to examine this argument. Such an examination, it would seem, demands first of all a review of the more obvious factors concerned in the integration and disintegration of the British empire. This review should provide a context within which specific franchise reform within the United Kingdom can be related to other historical events contemporary with them but more specifically related to the disintegration of Britain's imperial hegemony. It is proposed that these relationships should lead to an effective basis for accessing the relative truth or falsehood of the argument that progressive franchise reform has been one of the historical trends largely contributory to the dismemberment of the British empire.

Since the analysis to be presented is in part contingent upon a specialized understanding of the term empire, it would appear necessary to begin with a definition of this term.





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