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The Electoral System

 


 

Contested Elections, 1701-1715 (England and Wales)

1701 92

1702 85

1705 119

1708 97

1710 120

1713 94

1715 111


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


Franchise before 1832

English counties: Uniform qualification, those possessing a 40 shilling freehold could vote. ‘Freehold’ included leases for lives, annuities, rents and mortgages on freehold property; ecclesiastical benefices and appointments in government service. There were 40 counties.

County boroughs: cities like Lincoln and Hull which had county status conferred upon them and thus the franchise was a 40 shilling freehold

Inhabitant boroughs: 55, where any resident could vote. Included scot and lot boroughs where those who paid the poor rate could vote and ‘potwalloper’ boroughs where anyone resident for the last 6 months and not a charge on the poor rate could vote

Burgage boroughs: 41 where the possession of a piece of property known as a ‘burgage’ entitled you to vote

Corporation boroughs: 19 where only members of a corporation possessed the vote

Freemen boroughs: 100 where all freemen could vote

University boroughs: Oxford and Cambridge universities also returned 2 MPs each, Doctors and Masters of Arts could vote

Wales: 12 one member counties and 12 one member boroughs. The county franchise was 40 shilling freehold. The boroughs were divided into 1 corporation borough; 9 freemen boroughs and 2 inhabitant boroughs, with electorates ranging from 80-2000

Scotland: joined the English system after the Act of Union in 1707. Were 30 one member counties and 15 burghs returning one Member each. In counties the qualification was based on the ‘old extent’ - land worth £70 or £130 per annum. In burghs there was a method of indirect election. Voters at the first stage were members of the self electing burgh corporations

Ireland: The Irish constituencies consisted of 32 two member counties, 2 2 member boroughs - Cork and Dublin, 31 one member boroughs and the university seat of Trinity College, Dublin returning a total of 100 MPs. The Irish system dated, like the Scottish organisation from the Act of Union, 1801 which abolished the old Irish boroughs and counties and reformed them.


The Electorate

Plumb gives an estimate of 200,000 voters in William IIIs reign to around 250,000 by 1715, although Holmes demonstrates that this was done by measuring the number of people who actually voted rather than those entitled to vote, thus the total electorate was probably 340,000 by 1715. This gives a total of 1 in 4 adult males. Growth was achieved by an increase in 40 shilling freeholders because of inflation and artificial means of increasing the vote. Although there were geographical anomalies the population was more fairly represented than later in the century. The Triennial Act of 1694 ensured there were contests on average every 2 years and the number of contests was never lower than 85 with only 30 seats having no contests between 1691 and 1715


Changes in the distribution of seats by the 1832 Act

England

Seats disenfranchised:

 

55 boroughs returning 2 MPs -110

Higham Ferrers -1

30 boroughs deprived of 1 MP -30

Weymouth and Melcombe Regis return 2 MPs not 4 -2

 

Total -143

 

Seats enfranchised:

 

22 boroughs to return 2 MPs +44

19 boroughs to return 1 MP +19

26 counties divided, each returning 2 MPs +52

Yorkshire split into 3, each returning 2 MPs +2

rather than 4 for the whole county

Isle of Wight made a county with 1 MP +1

7 counties to return 3 MPs +7

 

Total +125

 Net reduction in English seats 18

 

Wales

3 counties given an additional MP +3

2 new boroughs enfranchised +2

 

Scotland

Additional MPs for Edinburgh and Glasgow +2

Perth, Aberdeen and Dundee to return 1 MP +3

Paisley, Greenock and Leith to return 1 MP +3

 

Ireland

Additional MPs for Belfast, Dublin University, +5

Galway, Limerick and Waterford

 

Net increase 18

Voting Qualifications after 1832

 

English Counties

1. 40 shilling freeholders

2. £10 freeholders

3. £10 copyholders

4. Tenants with a yearly rent of £50

5. Leaseholders for 60 years at clear yearly value of £10

6. Leaseholders for 20 years at clear yearly value of £50

7. Freehold mortgagees with a clear yearly value of £10

8. Leasehold mortgagees with a clear yearly value of £10

9. Trustees in receipt of requisite rents

10. Beneficed clergymen

11. Annuitants from freehold or copyhold

12. Holders of life offices with emoluments arising out of lands worth at least 40 shillings

13. Purchasers of redeemed land tax worth at least 40 shillings

14. Irremovable schoolmasters, parish clerks and sextons

15. Proprietors of tithes and rent charges worth at least 40 shillings

16. Joint tenants whose separate interests amounted to 40 shillings freehold or £10 leasehold

17. Owners of shares in mines, rivers, canals, fairs, markets etc.

NB. No person could vote in a county in respect of property which would confer on him a qualification to vote for a borough; but a freehold in a borough of the annual value of 40 shillings and under £10 entitled the owner to vote for the county. If a property was above £10 and occupied by a tenant, the tenant could vote for the county.

 

English Boroughs

1. The ancient franchise holders in boroughs not disenfranchised if their qualifications existed on the last day of July in the year for which they claimed, and if they had resided for 6 months in the borough or within 7 miles, and their names were on the register.

2. Occupiers, either as owners or tenants of any house, warehouse, counting house, shop or other building, either with or without land, of the clear yearly value of £10 within the borough, providing they had been in possession 12 calendar months prior to the last day of July in the year of the claim and had paid before the 20th July all the poor rates and assessed taxes payable from them in respect of the premises previous to the April preceding.

3. Lodgers if sharing with other lodgers and the value divided by the number of lodgers came to £10 each

 

Scotch counties

1. Persons possessed of franchise before 1831, or who would have possessed it - tenants in chief of the Crown with lands of 40 shillings (old extent) or of £400 Scotch valued rent

2. Owners of land of £10 annual value

3. 57 years leaseholders and life holders with a clear £10 annual value

4. 19 years leaseholders with a clear £10 annual value

5. Yearly tenants at a £50 rent

6. All tenants whose interest cost them £300

Scotch cities, burghs and contributory districts

1. Occupiers of houses of £10 annual value with non-resident true owners

2. Husbands jure uxoris after the deaths of their wives

 

 Irish counties

1. £10 freeholders

2. Leaseholders for lives and copyholders of estates of £10

3. 60 years leaseholders and their assignees of estates of the same value

4. 14 years leaseholders of £20 estates

 

Irish cities and boroughs

1. £10 occupiers

2. Resident freemen if admitted before March 1831


Number of individuals voting at general elections (England and Wales)

1826 1830 1831 1832 1835

106,397 88,216 74,638 390,700 272,946