William Michael Rossetti wrote the sonnet in July 1849. In his introduction to the 1901 facsimile of The Germ he explains that he wrote the sonnet
when the great cause of the Hungarian insurrection against Austrian tyranny was, like revolutionary movements elsewhere, precipitating towards its fall. My original title for the sonnet was, "For the General Oppression of the Better by the Worse Cause, Autumn 1849." When the verse had to be published in The Germ, a magazine which did not aim at taking any side in politics, it was thought that this title was inappropriate, and the other was substituted. At a much later date the sonnet was reprinted with yet another and more significant title, "Democracy Downtrodden."
The sonnet was reprinted in T. Hall Caine, Sonnets of Three Centuries (London, 1882) and William Sharp, Sonnets of This Century (London, 1886). WMR republished it in his anthology of Democratic Sonnets (London, 1907).