Independence and deference : a study of the West Riding electorate, 1832-1841
The importance of the Great Reform Act and its positive effect upon the development of popular, participative politics has recently been challenged. This study seeks to rehabilitate the 1832 Act and to examine the consequences of this major piece of franchise reform upon the electorate of the West Riding of Yorkshire. The central focus is the twin themes of independence and deference; the two are not necessarily opposing forces. Both were essential elements in the electoral politics of the region and both had clearly defined and demonstrable boundaries. The region under investigation, the West Riding, portrayed a range of electoral experiences in the early nineteenth century and thus provides an important local case-study which can add a further dimension to perceptions of electoral politics in the nation as a whole. A comparative examination is made of the pre-existing small boroughs of the West Riding; the smaller new boroughs under varying degrees of influence; the large independent boroughs and the county electorate. The thesis concentrates on the voting populations of these constituencies - an analysis of over forty thousand individuals. A separate chapter is devoted to a psephological appraisal of the West Riding electorate which emphasises the voters' heightened motivation, partisanship and participation in the decade after 1832. In addition, other players in the electoral politics of the period are incorporated into this assessment. The unenfranchised used the knowledge and the confidence that they had gained from the reform agitation in the early eighteen-thirties to enhance their role in the early post-reform elections. The policy issues which dominated the hustings of West Riding in that decade were centred around demands from the working classes for social and political reform. Much of the initiative was wrested away from candidates, voters and patrons and focused upon the canvassing and campaigning of those without the vote. The position of the electoral patrons is also examined with a particular focus on female patrons and electoral politics in the West Riding. Finally, the processes and procedures of electoral politics are investigated including a survey of the men who stood for parliament, the substance of their campaigns, the political parties and the ceremony and ritual of elections.