There was for long a consensus among scholars to depict the electoral system of the Hanoverian period as corrupted. Most of historians agreed on the fact that the system was not only deficient quantitatively because of the low number of enfranchised people, but also qualitatively because of the patronage and influence exercised on the voters. If only 3,1% of the population could vote before the Reform of 1832, the historian Namier evaluated that not one voter in twenty could freely exercise his statutory rights . This influence on voters and the corruption were made easier by the fact that most of them did not really have a political consciousness yet. It is only in 1832 that the first improvements to the system were made, with the Great Reform, increasing the representation and decreasing the extent of corruption. Taking this information into consideration, it is legitimate to wonder if the right of vote had any value in an electoral system which was unreliable and in which many voters were controlled or influenced. However, it seems that the historiographical debate is not settled and that some more recent historians, such as O'Gorman, argue that the corruption has been exaggerated and try to relativize the unreliability of system. This revisionist historiography tries to emphasize the virtue of the right to vote at the period. Considering both side of the debate, I am going to demonstrate what was the right to vote worth, by looking at its impact at different scales individually, at local and national level, and for the society as a whole. I think it is important to move from an exclusively political and systemic point of view to a more sociological one, in order to avoid depicting only the systemic failings and to be able to focus on the social worth of the right to vote.
[...] As a result, the right to vote was a kind of virtuous cycle: the more people participated to election, the more they learned about political life and the less they were likely to be influenced. According to Evans, in 1830, Wellington tried to win seats with patronage but patronage had been “wasting away since 1780s” and government could no more rely on influence. Consequently, rather than trying to influence the voters ‘opinion, the politicians tried to make them satisfied and voters made more ideological choice. To finish, I would argue that in fact the right to vote has indirectly triggered the further reforms of the electoral system. [...]
[...] In this last part, I will argue that the involvement of population in local political life allowed by the right to vote had far- reaching consequences for the national political life. Indeed, it had the long-term impact to stabilize political life and to politicize the population, paving the way for later improvements and reforms of the political life. A. Because the population had the feeling to have its word to say in the political life of the country by legally approved means (via the right to vote and the ritual of elections), the people were less likely to revolt, and as a result, the right to vote preserved national stability, by bringing consensus and compromise in political life. [...]
[...] Moreover, at local level, the right to vote had the virtue to involve the whole community in the local political life. In fact, the local impact of the right to vote did not only concerned the voters but also the whole local community and permitted even to the un-enfranchised to feel involved in the local political life, via what O'Gorman calls the “ritual of elections”. For O'Gorman these rituals which encompass the festivities that occurred at each contested election (such as the chairing of the candidate, at the beginning of the elections, the canvassing) was like a spectacle that everyone could attend and it “delivered certain messages to the entire community”. [...]
[...] Philips, ‘Popular politics in unreformed England', Journal of Modern History (1980) - L.B. Namier, men went into Parliament' in The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George II - Jeremy Black, Eighteenth-Century Britain 1688-1783, Publisher Palgrave Macmillan - F. O'Gorman, The unreformed electorate system of the Hanoverian England', in Social History - F. O'Gorman, long Eighteenth century: British political and social history, 1688-1832', Bloomsbury Publishing Chapters and 10. - F. O'Gorman, ‘Campaign rituals and ceremonies : the social meaning of elections in England, 1780-1860', Past & Present - F. [...]
[...] O'Gorman, The unreformed electorate system of the Hanoverian England', in Social History Page 35 L.B. Namier, men went into Parliament' in The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George II, (1929) Jeremy Black, Eighteenth-Century Britain 1688-1783, Edition Palgrave Macmillan Page 218 John A. Philips, ‘Popular politics in unreformed England', Journal of Modern History (1980), page 616 Ian Newbould, Robert Peel and the conservative party, a study in failure?', The English Historical Review, Oxford University Press Peter Fraser, The Growth of Ministerial Control in the 19th century House of Commons, English Historical Review L.B. [...]
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