Electoral Reform in England and Wales: The Development and Operation of the Parliamentary Franchise, 1832-1885

By Charles M. A. Seymour | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
ELECTORAL MORALITY BEFORE 1854

Electoral corruption under the unreformed system --Attempts made to check it--Their failure --Effect of Reform Act on corruption -- Extent of corruption after 1832 --Bribery at Stafford, Leicester, Liverpool, and elsewhere--Direct purchase of votes --Indirect bribery--Loans, payment of rates, head-money --Intimidation -- Exclusive dealing --Treating --Number of elections voided because of corruption--Constant increase --General attitude towards electoral corruption--Control of elections by upper classes through corruption.

IT is obvious that the act of 1832 was not completely effective in its attack upon the abuses of the old electoral system. The disfranchisement of many small boroughs and the widening of the suffrage, it is true, did check the system of nomination to a large extent, and the control of boroughs by the classes of birth and wealth became more indirect. But we have seen how deficiencies in the registration system robbed the people of much of that electoral independence which they had been led to expect. The tricks of election agents and the complexities of registration law combined to restrict or distort the enfranchisement of 1832, and protect the electoral power of the aristocracy. A far greater barrier to the complete independence of the voters, however, was the system of bribery and intimidation, which assumed such proportions after 1832 that in many constituencies the popular interests were no better represented than in the days of direct nomination.

Venality and corruption in English elections date from the time when the acquisition of seats in the House of

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