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Electoral Reform at Work

Electoral Reform at Work: Local Politics and National Parties, 1832-1841

Philip Salmon
Volume: 27
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Electoral Reform at Work
    Book Description:

    This book charts the political transformation of Britain that resulted from the "Great" Reform Act of 1832. It argues that this extensively debated parliamentary reform, aided by the workings of the New Poor Law (1834) and Municipal Corporations Act (1835), moved the nation far closer to a "modern" type of representative system than has previously been supposed. Drawing on hitherto neglected local archives and the records of election solicitors, Dr Salmon demonstrates how the Reform Act's practical details, far from being mere "small print", had a profound impact on borough and county politics. Combining computer-assisted electoral analysis with traditional methods, he traces the emergence of new types of voter partisanship and party organisation after 1832, and exposes key differences between the parties which resulted in a remarkable national recovery by the Conservative party. In passing he provides important new perspectives on issues such as MPs' relations with their constituents, the expense and culture of popular politics after 1832, the electoral impact of railway development, and the role of 'deference voting' in the counties. Dr PHILIP SALMON is Editor of the 1832-1945 House of Commons project at the History of Parliament.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-069-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-vii)
  5. List of Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  6. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
    Philip Salmon
  7. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    This book is about the political modernisation of Britain that resulted from the ‘Great’ Reform Act of 1832. It argues that this extensively debated parliamentary reform moved the nation far closer to a modern type of electoral system than has previously been supposed, and that this happened in two principal ways. First, this study explains how the Reform Act’s curiously neglected practical provisions, far from being mere ‘small print’, as has often been assumed, transformed the business of obtaining the vote and led to the emergence of new forms of party organisation and voter partisanship after 1832. Second, it demonstrates...


    • 1 Voter Registration and the Reformed Electorate
      (pp. 19-42)

      Of the eighty-two clauses in the Reform Act of 1832, nearly a third dealt with the setting up of a system of voter registration, which was designed to settle who could and who could not vote in parliamentary elections, well in advance of any contest that might take place.¹ Despite frequent complaints, mainly by Tory MPs, that ‘registration had nothing whatever to do with the principle of reform’ and that the Whig government was ‘acting unfairly towards the county in introducing, under the “halo” of the Reform Bill, such an innovation in the whole system of conducting elections’, these clauses...

    • 2 Conservative and Liberal Electoral Organisation
      (pp. 43-86)

      Historians of the nineteenth century have long recognised the role of central election management and constituency organisation in shaping Britain’s transition to a modern two-party political system. Considerable confusion, however, surrounds the extent to which the Reform Act triggered new developments in these areas, with obvious implications for any assessment of its long-term political significance. The 1830s, of course, have been traditionally viewed as a ‘golden age’ of club government, in which the pre-Reform political centres of Brooks’s and White’s were supplanted by an entirely ‘new type’ of central party organisation based around the Carlton and Reform Clubs.¹ But the...

    • 3 The Election after 1832: Tradition and Transformation
      (pp. 87-116)

      The previous two chapters have demonstrated how the annual registration system introduced by the Reform Act transformed the business of acquiring the vote and encouraged the development of far more modern types of party organisation and electoral behaviour after 1832. Alongside these dramatic developments, however, there were obviously elements of continuity, especially in terms of the established traditions of electioneering, that also need to be taken into account. O’Gorman, in particular, has written of how ‘the carnival, the ritual, the processional and festive aspects of a campaign’ were ‘largely unhindered’ by Reform, and has argued that ‘the men, the institutions,...


    • 4 Electoral Behaviour in the Counties: Influence and Independence
      (pp. 119-145)

      Much attention has recently been focused on re-examining the electoral dynamics of borough constituencies, both before and after 1832.¹ By contrast, there has been a marked absence of similar revisionist work on the reformed rural electorate. This is surprising given that the existing literature is so sharply divided into two schools of thought. First, there are the detailed local studies which tend to stress the importance of issues and the active political agency of individual voters in determining patterns of rural voting after 1832.² The variety and particularism of these political issues, however, has made it difficult to draw any...

    • 5 County Politics and Registration: Case Studies
      (pp. 146-182)

      It has long been recognised that national political history can only really be written ‘on an established basis of local history’.¹ Countering the thematic approach adopted elsewhere in this book, this chapter presents a detailed analysis of six county divisions during the post-Reform decade. Although each study is firmly rooted within its local context, particular attention has been paid to the role of landed influence and the impact of registration activity, the former because it has hogged so much of the historiographical debate and the latter because it continues to be widely regarded as mainly a borough phenomenon.² The following...


    • 6 No Representation Without Taxation: Rates and Votes
      (pp. 185-209)

      Most accounts of the Reform Act see its impact primarily in terms of parliamentary elections and party organisation. Political life in these areas, as the previous two parts of this study have shown, was profoundly altered after 1832, mainly as a result of the practical but largely unintended effects of voter registration. One of the Reform Act’s most dramatic long-term consequences, however, has yet to be explored. In the third part of this book, its politicising effects are examined not only from an electoral perspective, but also from a bureaucratic one. Numerous studies have observed that after 1832, ‘political attitudes...

    • 7 The Electoral Politics of Municipal Reform
      (pp. 210-237)

      The Great Reform Act of 1832 continues to hog much of the limelight in accounts of Britain’s political development during the nineteenth century and to fuel an ongoing historical debate. The electoral impact of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, with its creation of new town councils and annual municipal elections across England and Wales, is by contrast often overlooked. Existing accounts tend to view it either in terms of the political development of local government in rapidly expanding towns,¹ or as a parliamentary postscript to 1832, which reinforced the attack on old political corruption by abolishing the unreformed ‘closed’...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 238-248)

    This study set out to fill an obvious gap in the historiography of the Great Reform Act of 1832, by examining the practical consequences of its curiously neglected provisions concerning voter registration, rate payments and other such ‘small print’. But in tracing these developments, it has also helped to clear up much of the confusion surrounding the Reform Act’s broader impact and meaning, especially with regard to its dramatic modernising effects on the ground. In particular, it has been able to relate the widely-noted emergence of more modern types of voting behaviour after 1832 to the new ways in which...

  13. Appendices

    • APPENDIX 1 The Re-distribution of English and Welsh Seats in 1832
      (pp. 251-252)
    • APPENDIX 2 Voting Qualifications after 1832 (England and Wales)
      (pp. 253-255)
    • APPENDIX 3 Registration and Polling Returns by Borough and County, 1832–1839
      (pp. 256-264)
    • APPENDIX 4 The Assimilation of English Boroughs to the New Poor Law
      (pp. 265-266)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 267-294)
  15. Index
    (pp. 295-302)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 303-303)