House of Commons elections pre-1832
Posted by The Mysterious H.C. on August 04, 1998 at 23:45:02:
In response to Lords and Commons, written by Jane Elizabeth on August 04, 1998 at 13:49:31
] I'm not the expert here (Henry?)
I'm far from an expert either, but I do know that before 1832 it was basically true that two members of the House of Commons were elected from each county (shire) of England, and two members were elected from each of a number of towns and cities ("parliamentary buroughs"). Unfortunately, the pattern of which towns had MP's and which towns didn't had been basically determined in a rather unsystematic way in Tudor times (16th century), and so by the nineteenth century the distribution of parliamentary seats was totally out of whack with with the distribution of population and economic activity. The most famous case was Birmingham, which was kind of on the border between three counties, and had no parliamentary representatives at all, even though by 1832 it was becoming one of the biggest cities in England. On the other hand, remote and rustic Cornwall had about a dozen parliamentary representatives (I seem to remember).
As for who was qualified to vote before 1832, the county representatives were elected by those who owned a certain value of land (I think), while there was wild local variation in the qualifications for voting in burough elections -- it depended totally on the town charter. In some towns relatively few could vote, while in many others even small tradesmen could have the vote. There were lots of local anomalies, the most famous of which was "Old Sarum" (Salisbury); the town of Salisbury had moved to a new location a little ways off since medieval days, so the nobleman who owned the land where the medieval town of Salisbury had been single-handedly got to decide who the MP's for Salisbury would be! (This was the rottenest of the "rotten boroughs".)
The above simplifies some complexities and details, no doubt, but I hope conveys the general flavor of the situation. Many parliamentary seats were hotly contested, or at least there were boisterious and noisy electioneering speeches and rallies, but other seats were more or less "safely" under the control of a prominent local landowner or nobleman.
By the way, the usual voting system was was a form of what is called "cumulative voting" -- there were two seats in each constituency, and each voter had two votes, and he could either cast one vote for each of two different candidates, or he could cast both his votes for the same candidate (a "plumper" vote), and the two candidates who got the highest overall number of votes won. Such a cumulative voting system has certain advantages over the "first-past-the-post" system which prevails in the US and in Great Britain nowadays, and avoids many of the inflexible bureaucratic rigidities and party hack manipulations of proportional representation (where you vote for a party slate, not an individual candidate).
- Parliamentary Representation John W 04:48:41 8/08/98 (0)
- Wonderful encapsulation! Now when you say... ElaineL 16:54:41 8/05/98 (0)
- That's about as expert as it gets, H., despite your modesty nfm Jane Elizabeth 13:18:48 8/05/98 (0)
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