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The Unreformed Electoral System after 1715

Electoral Politics in Hanoverian England

Contested elections (England and Wales), 1761-1831

Year Boroughs Counties Total %

1761 42 5 47 18

1768 62 11 73 27

1774 71 15 86 32

1780 65 3 68 26

1784 66 8 74 28

1790 67 8 75 28

1796 56 6 62 23

1802 67 8 75 28

1805 55 7 62 23

1807 59 13 72 27

1812 59 5 64 24

1818 84 12 96 36

1820 66 11 77 29

1826 78 11 89 33

1830 75 10 85 32

1831 65 13 78 29

Voting for established candidates at 5 constituencies, by occupational category

Gent/Prof Merch/Mfr Retail Craft Labourers Overall

Chester

1812 63 55 49 48 53 51

1820 74 52 45 54 64 53

Colchester

1790 70 74 73 72 72 72

1820 75 63 57 56 61 62

St Albans

1820 78 73 78 85 59 81

1831 52 23 30 27 37 26

Shrewsbury

1806 62 66 77 73 73 72

1819 30 61 69 58 63 58

Southampton

1774 58 57 65 60 59 60

1820 35 30 30 30 28 31

Historians' views of the unreformed electorate

These can be divided roughly into 4 groups:

a) Whig historians who emphasised corruption and venality

b) Namier and his colleagues who view electoral politics as the extension of the economic power of landowners

c) historians of the early 18th century who write dismissively of the Hanoverian electorate

d) writers such as O'Gorman and Phillips who want to rehabilitate the voters and argue (i) that although the electoral system was controlled by local elites it was with some difficulty (ii) the electoral system was never closed (iii) electoral system was primarily local and thus had variety of local traditions and political cultures

Patronage

Definition - a constituency where one man and his heirs had complete control - in practice this was rare and patronage merely meant domination but this could never be seen as absolute

In eighteenth century patronage was defined in 2 ways: nomination, as found in rotten and pocket boroughs and influence - a natural consequence of wealth and power and found in all constituencies. A second distinction could be added - government, where influence was supplied and controlled by the Treasury and private, coming from family connexions. The former was increasingly seen by the Whigs (and Pitt) as anachronistic and illegal

The exercise of patronage depended upon a number of variables:

a) exerting influence was usually done positively (for the good of the constituency) rather than negatively eg by coercion which often backfired

b) control was not absolute

c) loyalty could be seen as compliance but was often the product of shared values

d) voters had a definite idea of their own importance

e) dissidence was common

Mutual theory of deference

a) the Namierite school argues voters were dominated by landlords and free choice was minimal

b) D C Moore in The Politics of Deference argues that local deference communities were the decisive units of politics and 1832 was an attempt by landlords to preserve these

c) O'Gorman's mutual theory of deference explains that the landed aristocracy preserved the status quo by acknowledging a customary set of values, deference was a reciprocal relationship in which both partners had obligations as well as rights