The Age of Reform, 1815-1870

By E. L. Woodward | Go to book overview

II
MONARCHY, MINISTERS, AND PARTIES, 1832-46

THE AGE OF MELBOURNE AND PEEL

THE extension of the franchise and the redistribution of seats in 1832 added 217,000 voters to an electorate of 435,000 in England and Wales. Whigs and tories alike had expected a larger figure. The rise in the population and wealth of the country brought a further increase of about 400,000 before 1867. The number would have been greater, especially during the early part of the period, if the register of voters had included all who were qualified to vote. Before 1832 there were no official lists of voters; the electorate was small in most boroughs, and impostors would have been detected, while in the counties most voters could prove their qualifications by producing receipts for the payment of land tax. The larger franchise made a list necessary, if only to avoid delays at the polling-booths while the electors established their identity. The employment of registration officers would have been the simplest method of drawing up a list, but, apart from the expense of this method, there was a fear that the party in power would make appointments in their own interest; hence the duty of keeping the lists was given to the overseers of the poor, who compiled the rate-books. Claims and objections were settled in court through special 'revising barristers'. The system worked badly for some time. The voters took little trouble to find whether their names were on the list; many people did not think it worth while to pay the registration fee of a shilling. The overseers were slack and, as a voter had to appear in person to defend his claim, the party organizations could raise frivolous or unfair objections. These organizations gained in importance after 1832; hitherto the tories had taken less trouble than the whigs to keep in touch with the constituencies, but the foundation of the Carlton Club in 1831, as a centre of tory interests, and Peel's efforts to build up local associations, soon put the tories ahead of their rivals.1 In any case the Tadpoles and Tapers whom Disraeli described in Coningsby were quick to see the importance of registration. They

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1
The radicals opened a registration office in London in 1835. For the conservative associations, see R. L. Hill, Toryism and the, People, especially ch. ii.

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