Electoral politics in Grimsby 1818-1835

Cooper, Christopher John (1988). Electoral politics in Grimsby 1818-1835. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000d555


Large urban parliamentary constituencies and rural (county> constituencies have received much attention in recent years from historical psephologists: the smaller borough constituencies have received comparatively little yet in important ways these were the 'typical' constituencies. This study is an attempt to remedy that hiatus, and is somewhat novel in examining electoral behaviour over a number of elections spanning the period of the first Reform Act. That voting was open is crucial to an understanding of voting behaviour in this period, for in general the smaller the constituency the greater the opportunities for influencing the vote casting of electors. The existence within small boroughs of a large body of independent electors freely expressing their will in the polls may be an image conveyed by campaign literature, yet it was in large measure a fiction. This study emphasises the pervasiveness and significance of 'influence', both legitimate and otherwise, and suggests that political inclination, social class, and even bribery were relatively unimportant when set against the widely spread tentacles of influence as mediated. through property. Family influences too were significant, and it is clear that electors were calculating individuals.

A detailed longitudinal study has been made possible by the nature of the available data (pollbooks, directories, corporation records, and a singular collection of letters and election material) and some considerable evidence on spatial distribution of partisan votes has emerged. It has also become clear that voting in parliamentary elections resembled closely that in local elections, and was subject to the same influences and directed by the same organisational machine, however informal that may have been.

Finally, the Reform Act of 1832, interpreted by Whig historians as a landmark on the road to democracy, had a quite different impact locally. Formal changes in Grimsby made for a less representative electorate, a regression rather than advance of democracy. The Act left the influences on voters largely unchanged.

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