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On what basis did contemporaries criticise the pre-1832 electoral system and on what basis was it defended?

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Introduction

On what basis did contemporaries criticise the pre-1832 electoral system and on what basis was it defended? Up until 1832 there was a lot of criticism, which was aimed at the British electoral system. Despite this criticism there was some support and defence of the system stemming through the country's social situation and that of neighbouring nations. First of all, the misrepresentation of the electorate was a main criticism; it meant that there was a large uneven distribution of constituencies throughout the country, which could have been seen as now useless. The divisions originally occurred before industrialisation and the urban sprawl, therefore the original parliamentary divisions were based on tradition and thus were not based on the growing urban trends. An example of this was the towns such as Birmingham and Manchester, which were growing rapidly due to the influx of working class, labour and therefore deserved a greater representation. This trend was evident throughout the Midlands and North-east England, with many cities such as Leeds and Newcastle having insufficient representation despite becoming new industrially influential areas. ...read more.

Middle

patron, which almost took advantage of the system and upset many of the middle classes as it lead to many uncontested seats. At one point it was thought that there was at least two thirds under extreme patronage, only taking into account the view of the landowning class. This patronage also meant that many families would maintain control of a borough for many years; an example being the Bridgnorth family whose constituency remained in their control for over two hundred years. Lastly, there was also a key problem with bribery and treating. This was most common in larger constituencies. Bribery was used to sabotage the ballot box or voting process and also directly win support, whereas treating consisted of supplying the voters with food, drink and accommodation in order to gain support. With the lack of secret ballot it meant that many of the bribed targets could be checked up on with the voting register being made readily available. This made sure of the success of the two methods and therefore increased their impact and therefore also the costs in which had to be incurred. ...read more.

Conclusion

This dilemma had been previously debated with the lower classes in the Putney Debates in of 1647. The fear of revolution however was real threat, with the upper classes feeling if the vote was given to the lower classes it could spark a revolt for change, similar to that of the French Revolution from 1789-1794. The upper classes also argued that the Rotten boroughs and Pocket boroughs actually contributed to a stable political system and the removal of them would therefore lead to the collapse of this long traditional system. In conclusion, it is true to say that the electoral system was not always fairly represented both locally and nationally, with many constituencies being decided due to tradition, landed power or bribery, however the counter argument was that the more radical lower classes could not be trusted with any real political power due to the fear of a revolt similar to that seen in the French revolution. However it is most likely that that the upper class was against any change mainly in their own interests in order to keep large amount of power it held of the country. ...read more.

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