The challenges of running for power in the past

Jan 31, 2014

Modern politicians may feel they have it tough – but they should thank their lucky stars they weren't standing for election in the Westminster constituency in 1741. On that occasion, angry voters pelted the candidates and the tellers with dead cats and dogs, dirt, stones and sticks.

It's a striking image, which fits with a Hogarthian view of the eighteenth century. Yet experts from Newcastle University argue that such rumbustious episodes were very far from the whole story. They are putting the full history of London's elections under the spotlight to present a new view.

Their arguments and evidence are freely available in a new website, www.londonelectoralhistory.com/ , which is accompanied by their new book Elections in Metropolitan London 1700-1850.

Author Professor Penelope Corfield, a Visiting Professor in Newcastle University's School of History, Classics and Archaeology, said: "We were interested in the period 1700 and 1850 as it was the time before true democracy, but it was a key era which allowed democracy to happen. So while women couldn't vote, many men, from a wide range of social backgrounds, could do - and did so enthusiastically.

"Our investigations show that the number of elections which took place is staggering. Between 1700 and 1852, there were 873 recorded contests across metropolitan London. That meant 174 alone, 93 for municipal posts and 595 for modest but vital positions such as common councilman, alderman or beadle. We think even more may actually have taken place."

Newcastle Research Fellow Dr Edmund Green explained further: "It was a great research discovery to find reports of these forgotten elections in the eighteenth-century London newspapers. Tens of thousands of Londoners voted regularly, with levels of turnout that put today's stay-at-home no-voters to shame. Our website and database make information about these pioneer voters available to all."

Professor Charles Harvey, Pro Vice Chancellor for Humanities and Social Science at Newcastle University said: "These resources certainly give a unique insight into how voting and democracy was developing in the 18th Century. Around a quarter of a million individuals polled half a million times -casting, in multi-member seats, a million votes.

"Throwing cats and dogs was a striking way for voters in one to protest. But in most cases, these eighteenth-century elections were conducted seriously. In fact, these voters, all named individually in our website database, were taking the first steps on the road to real democracy. "

Explore further: All together now – three evolutionary perks of singing

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Contented citizens vote against change

Mar 23, 2011

US citizens who have a high quality of life are more engaged in the direct democracy process, according to Ryan Yonk from Utah State University and Professor Shauna Reilly from Northern Kentucky University in the US. Their ...

Recommended for you

All together now – three evolutionary perks of singing

Dec 24, 2014

We're enjoying the one time of year when protests of "I can't sing!" are laid aside and we sing carols with others. For some this is a once-a-year special event; the rest of the year is left to the professionals ...

We're simply having an analogue Christmas time

Dec 23, 2014

The British Christmas that Charles Dickens serves up to us is rich in food and warmth, two things that in his day were often thinly stretched throughout the year in many homes. These days, for most of the y ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Squirrel
not rated yet Feb 01, 2014
"put today's stay-at-home no-voters to shame". No--eighteenth century MPs had real power, today potential voters know visiting the poling station is a waste of time--MPs or whatever merit or party are mere couriers of decisions already made in Brussels.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.