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Elections and Party Politics

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Elections and Party Politics



It is hard to imagine, but national elections once took place without extensive media coverage and in the absence of well-oiled party machines. The seventeenth century witnessed key experiments and innovations in the election process. Integral to the upheavals were issues regarding who should be able to vote, and what power the electorate ought to have over their representatives. Many pamphlets and prints were produced  not only to inform and influence voters, but also to record the election proceedings.



The Poll of the livery-men of the city of London, at the election for members of Parliament. London, 1710

As the seventeenth century progressed, parliamentary elections were increasingly dominated by political divisions rather than gentlemanly agreements. One result of this change was the increased need to win over the electorate by force of argument. Short tracts, distributed freely among electors, remain as the earliest surviving pieces of electoral propaganda.

 

Englands Remembrancers was a controversial tract pursuing a clear agenda: without naming specific candidates, it opposed the regime of Oliver Cromwell and advocated a policy of religious toleration. By scattering copies about the streets in towns and cities, and encouraging voters to organize meetings to discuss individual candidates and issues, its authors and publishers caused serious concern within the government.

 

The emergence of political parties made elections tense and fractious, and London’s 1710 contest was particularly controversial. Some commentators alleged that the press exerted undue influence in order to ensure that the Tories took all four seats. The above “poll book” revealed the votes—one for each of the available places—cast by individual voters, as well as the final outcome. It reflected a high turnout (around eighty percent), and a highly polarized electorate.

 
A list of one unanimous club of members of the late Parliament, Nov. 11. 1701. London, 1701



Englands remembrancers. Or, a word in season to all English men about their elections. London, 1656



A speech made at Nottingham, April 2. 1660. London. 1660



Some advertisements for the new election of burgesses for the House of Commons. Anno 1645. London, 1645



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The Polls Are Closed



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