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Electoral Politics - British Parliamentary and Electoral Politics, 1688-1832 (HI254)

From Lord Wharton's Memoirs (1715)

His Lordship having recommended two candidates to the borough of Wycombe about twenty years ago some of the staunch Churchmen invited two of their own party to oppose them, and money was spent on both sides. A gentleman, a friend of one of the High Church candidates, was desired by him to go down to the borough with him when he went to make his interest. This gentleman told me the story, and that he was a witness of what passed when they came to Wycombe. They found my Lord Wharton was got there before them, and was going up and down the town with his friends to secure votes on their side. The gentleman with his two candidates, and a very few followers, marched on one side of the street, my Lord Wharton's candidates, and a very great company, on the other. The gentleman not being known to my Lord or the townsmen joined in with his Lordship's men to make discoveries, and was by when my Lord entering a shoemaker's shop, asked where Dick was? The good woman said, her husband was gone two or three miles off with some shoes, but his Lordship need not fear him, she would keep him tight. I know that, says my Lord, but I want to see Dick, and drink a glass with him. The wife was very sorry Dick was out of the way. Well, says his Lordship, how does all thy children. Molly is a brave girl I warrant by this time. Yes, and thank you my Lord, says the woman, and his Lordship continued, Is not Jemmy breeched yet? The gentleman crossed over to his friend on the other side of the way and cried, Even take your horse and be gone. Whoever has my Lord Wharton on his side has enough for his election…

[In 1708] there was a trial [in Yorkshire] which lasted two whole days, and the Court kept sitting all the while. His Lordship, taking but one hour's rest, was present from the beginning to the end of it. As soon as the judge began to summon up the evidence to the jury, he left the Court, went to his coach and six horses, and ordered his coachman to drive him directly to Woburn [Wharton's Buckinghamshire seat] where he got about twelve at night, and rose at five next morning, set out at six for Malmesbury, where, having rode thirty miles of the way a-horseback, he arrived at night. The next day was the election for members for that borough, which he managed with that dexterity and dispatch as to carry it for both his friends, and on the morrow took coach for London. A fatigue which I could hardly have believed he was able to have gone through, as zealous and as active as he was, if I had not been informed of it by some of his retinue, who attended him all the time, but as they confessed not with the same cheerfulness and ease.

Flysheet in favour of the corporation candidates at Preston, 1768

To the worthy and independent Freemen of the Borough of Preston in the Interest of the Baronets.

The noble Effort you again make in the cause of Liberty, is the admiration of, and endears you to ev'ry honest Briton: The Infamous attempt now made to Subvert the constitution of your Borough; deserves the contempt and Detestation, with which you treat it, and the Event, I make no doubt, will once more Convince the Author of the faction against you, that no Lordly Tyranny or Oppression, shall ever be introduc'd here, nor shall this Borough ever be annexed to any Family, for its ever envied Independence to be trampled upon by, or Subjected to, ministerial Influence.

To have an Alien too palm'd upon you! a Person without Kindred, Connection, or Property - Disdain my Friends the thoughts - Enumerate but the generality of his Supporters? Boys false to their Engagements - Turn-coats - Persons without either Vote or Interest, the ridiculous Title of Captain conferred on 'em - Sycophants and vile Dependents - Some vain of the Ear of the Titular great - some allur'd with the expectation of Places others with Bishoprics... The wages of Corruption - worthy and independent Electors indeed.

Reflect one moment of your Candidate - his being your Townsman man - his Family - Fortune - Connections - Education - Abilities and Activity - the Gentlemen of Rank, Family, Fortune and Character, not only in the Town, but thro' out the County, and the respectable Body of Tradesmen of the Borough, who support his Cause.

Weigh also the conduct of both Parties - who first introduc'd Mobs and Riots - the attempt upon Sir Frank's Life may remind you - made by a wretched set of Miscreants, - hired by such others, at half a Crown a Piece which was never yet - paid 'em - what a generous notice was taken of that outrage? and how generously since return'd? - by Swords, Shot, Bullets; and a Ream of Warrants - the mean Refuge of the weak and desperate.



The election had seen two polls. One of the resident freemen leading to victory for the Corporation candidates and one of the inhabitants which supported the opposition.

From the Commonplace Book of Horace Walpole

A new Parliament being summoned in 1747 Mr. Nugent carried Mr. Rigby to the Prince [of Wales] who promised to assist him with £1,000 if he would go down and stand for Sudbury in his Interest which he did, and though so populous a Town, and in which he did not know one man, he carried his Election.

Harriet Fox, wife of George Fox [Tory candidate in Yorkshire by-election of 1741] to Catherine, Countess of Egmont, 10 October 1741 in an attempt to win opposition Whig support for the Tory cause.

As Mr. Fox has the honour to be nominated a candidate for this county in the room of the late Lord Morpeth, l think myself obliged to omit no means that can be of service to him at the ensuing election, which is the occasion of the freedom l take in sending your Ladyship a few lines on public affairs; but now to explain my preface - Lord Salisbury has a considerable estate and interest in Yorkshire, Mr. Fox wrote to him soon a after the meeting of the gentlemen at York, to beg his approbation and concurrence with their nomination, but having received no answer yet from my Lord, believe the Post House has been unjust to Mr. Fox by delay of the letter, for as my Lord has always espoused the true interest of his country I flatter myself his declaration will be in Mr. Fox's favour [section missing, ending possibly 'to judge'] by his former actions, of Placemen and Pensioners... my Lord's speedy influence to his tenants whom to vote for, will be of infinite service to Mr. Fox to have the knowledge off, in this warm contest he is now engaged in, and as I am well assured you are always ready to serve your friends, shall believe your Ladyship's solicitations as you have so near an alliance to his family will be the most effectual means to procure my Lord's determinations.


Catherine is Lord Salisbury's sister.

An account of the by-election at Westminster in 1782 from Carl Philipp Moritz, Travels, chiefly on foot, through several parts of England in 1782

[London, 13th June, 1782. ]

The cities of London and Westminster send, the one four, and the other two members to parliament. Mr Fox is one of the two members for Westminster one seat was vacant; and that vacancy was now to be filled. And the same Sir Cecil Wray. whom Fox had before opposed to Lord Hood, was now publicly chosen. They tell me, that at these elections when there is a strong opposition-party, there is often bloody work; but this election was, in the electioneering phrase, an hollow thing i.e. quite sure; as those who had voted for Admiral Hood now withdrew, without standing a poll; as being convinced beforehand, their chance to succeed was desperate.

The election was held in Covent-Garden, a large market-place, in the open air. There was a scaffold erected just before the door of a very handsome church, which also is called St. Paul's; but which however is not to be compared to the cathedral.

A temporary edifice, formed only of boards and wood nailed together, was erected on the occasion. It was called the hustings: and filled with benches, and at one end of it, where the benches ended, mats were laid; on which those, who spoke to the people, stood. In the area before the hustings, immense multitudes of people were assembled; of whom the greatest part seemed to be of the lowest order. To this tumultuous crowd however, the speakers often bowed very low, and always addressed them by the title of gentlemen. Sir Cecil Wray was obliged to step forward and promise these same gentlemen, with hand and heart, that he would faithfully fulfil his duties as their representative. He also made an apology, because on account of his journey and ill-health, he had not been able to wait on them, as became him, at their respective houses. The moment that he began to speak even this rude rabble became all as quiet as the raging sea after a storm; only every now and then rending the air with the parliamentary cry of hear him! hear him! and as soon as he had done speaking, they again vociferated a loud and universal huzza, every one at the same time waving his hat.

And now, being formally declared to have been legally chosen, he again bowed most profoundly, and returned thanks for the great honour done him: when a well-dressed man, whose name I could not learn, stepped forward, and in a well indited speech congratulated both the chosen and the chusers. " Upon my word," said a gruff carter, who stood near me, " that man speaks well."

Even little boys clambered up and hung on the rails and on the lamp-posts; and as if the speech had also been addressed to them, they too listened with the utmost attention: and they too testified their approbation of it, by joining lustily in the three cheers, and waving their hats.

All the enthusiasm of my earliest years, kindled by the patriotism of the illustrious heroes of Rome, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, and Antony, were now revived in my mind: and though all I had just seen and heard, be, in fact, but the semblance of liberty, and that too tribunitial liberty, yet at that moment, I thought it charming, and it warmed my heart. Yes, depend on it, my friend, when you here see how in this happy country, the lowest and meanest member of society thus unequivocally testifies the interest which he takes in every thing of a public nature; when you see, how even women and children bear a part in the great concerns of their country; in short, how high and low, rich and poor, all concur in declaring their feelings and their convictions, that a carter, a common tar, or a scavenger, is still a man, nay, an English-man; and as such has his rights and privileges defined and known as exactly and as well as his king, or as his king's minister-take my word for it, you will feel yourself very differently affected from what you are, when staring at our soldiers in their exercises at Berlin.

When Fox, who was among the voters, arrived at the beginning of the election he too was received with an universal shout of joy. At length when it was nearly over the people took it into their heads to hear him speak, and every one called out Fox! Fox! I know not why; but I seemed to catch some of the spirit of the place and time; and so I also bawled, Fox! Fox! and he was obliged to come forward and speak: for no other reason that I could find, but that the people wished to hear him speak. In this speech, he again confirmed, in the presence of the people, his former declaration in parliament, that he by no means had any influence as minister of state in this election, but only and merely as a private person.

When the whole was over, the rampant spirit of liberty, and the wild impatience of a genuine English mob were exhibited in perfection. In a very few minutes the whole scaffolding, benches, and chairs, and every thing else, was completely destroyed; and the mat with which it had been covered torn into ten thousand long strips or pieces, or strings; with which they encircled or enclosed multitudes of people of all ranks. These they hurried along with them and every thing else that came in their way as trophies of joy: and thus, in the midst of exultation and triumph, they paraded through many of the most populous streets of London.