A history of parliamentary elections and electioneering
History of parliamentary elections and electioneering in the old days: showing the state of political parties and party warfare at the hustings and in the House of Commons from the Stuarts to Queen Victoria; illustrated from the original political squibs, lampoons, pictorial satires, and popular caricatures of the time.
Apart from political parties, we are all concerned about that important national birthright, the due representation of the people. It will be conceded that the most important element of Parliaments — specially chosen to embody the collective wisdom of the nation — is the legitimate method of their constitution.
Given the unrestricted rights of election, a representative House of Commons is the happy result; the opposite follows tampering with the franchise and debauched constituencies. The effects of bribery, intimidation, undue influence, coercion on the part of the Crown or its responsible advisers, an extensive system of personal boroughmongering, close or pocket boroughs, and all those contraband devices of old to hamper the popular choice of representatives, have inevitably produced a legislature more or less corrupt, as history has registered.
Bad as were the workings of the electoral system anterior to the advent of parliamentary reform, it speaks volumes for the manly nature of British electors and their representatives that Parliaments thus basely constituted were, on the whole, fairly honest, nor unmindful altogether of those liberties of the subject they were by supposition elected to maintain; and when symptom^s of corruption in the Commons became patent, the degeneracy was not long countenanced, the national spirit being sufficiently vigorous to crush the threatened evils, and bring about a healthier state of things.
The comprehensive subject of parliamentary elections is rich in interest and entertainment; the history of the rise, progress, and development of the complex art of electioneering recommends itself to the attention of all who have an interest in the features inseparable from that constitution which has been lauded as a model for other nations to imitate.
The strong national characteristics surrounding, in bygone days, the various stages of the parliamentary election — peculiarly a British institution, in which, of all people, our countrymen were most at home — are now, by an improved elective procedure, relegated to the limbo of the past, while the records of electioneering exist but as traditions in the present.
With the modifying influence of progress, and more advanced civilisation, the time may come when the narrative of the robustious scenes of canvassing, polling, chairing, and election-feasting, with their attendant incidents of all-prevailing bribery, turbulence, and intrigue, may be regarded with incredulity as fictions of an impossible age. It has been endeavoured to give the salient features of the most remarkable election contests, from the time when seats began to be sought after until comparatively recent days.
The " Spendthrift Elections," remarkable in the annals of parliamentary and party warfare, are set down, with a selection from the literature, squibs, ballads, and broadsides to which they gave rise. The illustrations are selected from the pictorial satires produced contemporaneously upon the most famous electoral struggles. The materials, both literary and graphic, are abundant, but scattered; it is hoped that both entertainment and enlightenment may be afforded to a tolerant public by the writer's efforts to bring these resources within the compass of a volume.
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