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1802 Rewind: True stories of the 1802 general election

Updated Thursday, 2nd April 2015

If the 1979 election isn't far enough back in time for you, in a one-off special we take you back to the first election of the 19th Century.

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Henry Addington, Prime Minister Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: Public domain Henry Addington The 1802 general election was the first after the Act of Union with Ireland of 1800, and brought 100 Irish MPs directly into the house for the first time (The year before, MPs from the Irish Commons had been co-opted to sit in Westminster). William Pitt the Younger had resigned on New Year's Day, 1801 and his replacement, Henry Addington, went to the country after the Treaty Of Amiens put a temporary pause on hostilities with Revolutionary France. This breathing space, Addington believed, would allow him to secure his his government.

In most places, you could only vote if you held property - and had paid taxes on it…

All persons possessed of messuages, lands & c. for which the Land Tax has been redeemed shall be entitled to vote for the election of Members of Parliament to serve for counties, the the messuages, lands & c. for which he votes shall have been, at the time of the redemption of the Land Tax, regularly charged or assessed. The Clerk of the Peace to be obliged to attend at the election, if required by the candidate, with the necessary duplicates and proofs, on being satisfied for his attendance.
-The Ipswich Journal, 12-06-1802

The ballot wasn't secret. In any sense…

The contest at Lewes has been very warm, and the successful candidates have spared no means of securing their election. One voter, not having the clearest notions after taking the oaths, was asked who he voted for?

He said "Shelley and Co."

It was tolerably obvious who he meant, as Mr Shelley and Lord F Osborne united their interests; but the answer not being sufficient, on being further pressed, he said "Shelley and partner."

The poor man was sent up to vote for Mr S and Lord FO but on the way he forgot the latter's name and all that could be got from him was "Shelley and Co"; "Shelley and partner."

At last Mr Kemp, the unsuccessful candidate, who was in opposition to the other two asked if the Partner he meant was not Mr. Kemp?

The man answered "Yes", and the vote was so taken down amidst bursts of laughter.
- The Bury & Norwich Post - 14-07-1802

Things could get very heated…

The election at Liverpool was productive of fatal consequences. Two men were shot in the street; and the populace were so incensed, that they broke open the house, dragged the delinquent out, and literally trampled him to death.
- The Bury & Norwich Post - 14-07-1802

And even if they weren't violent, the proceedings could still be tumltuous…

Yesterday there was a meeting of the Lord Mayor, aldermen, and Livery of London, in Common Hall assembled, for the purpose of nominating persons to represent the City in the ensuing Parliament.

At one o'clock, this spacious hall - second only in magnitude to Westminster Hall - was filled from end to end with the Livery.

The Aldermen and Sheriffs as they passed through the crowd and happened to be noticed, preparatory to the opening of the business, were received according to their several degrees of popularity.

Alderman Combe, as usual, met the most flattering reception - next to him were Sir Watkin Lewes, Alderman Skinner, Boydell, and Curtis. The Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Sheriffs having ascended the Hustings, the business of the day was opened in usual form by reading the Precept for the return of Representatives, and the list of Aldermen, as the person immediately eligible to that high trust, was read by the proper Office from the Hustings.

Alderman T Rigby was the last upon the list, and the announcement of his name produced a burst of lauighter through the Hall.

The Officer then asked if there were any other candidates? In consequence of this question, a conversation took place between him and some Gentleman upon the Hustings, and he came forward and said that two other candidates were proposed, viz. Mr Benjamin Travers (a violent effusion of hisses and plaudits); and, Mr Robert Waithman, proposed by Mr Jospeh Howell, and seconded by Mr Robert Percy. (This nomination was followed by a furious uproar, in which hisses and plaudits contended for superiority.)
- The Morning Post and Gazetteer, 07-07-1802

Even in 1802, politicians were pretending they didn't seek power for themselves…

Mr Fox shows in his advertisement that he would not have attempted to gain a seat in Parliament, had he not been pressed by his friends, and had he not entertained a sincere affection for the Electors of Westminster. Mr Honywood, it is thought, entertains exactly the same sentiments with regard to the County Of Kent.

It was mentioned to Mr Fox on the Hustings, how happy he was, that he stood as Mr Honywood would certainly have declined, had not Mr Fox agreed to come into Parliament.

"Aye" said Mr. Fox with great pleasantry, "one fool makes a many."
- The Morning Post and Gazetteer, 10-07-1802

Although sometimes victory could be bought, money wasn't always a guarantee of success…

Sir William Manners, and his friend James Graham Esq., have lost their election for Ilchester by a majority of 20 votes; notwithstanding Sir William's late purchase of the borough at the trifling costs of 43,000 [pounds]; but it is said they mean to petition.
- The Bury & Norwich Post - 14-07-1802

The shadow of the recent French Revolution hung over the hustings…

Though the elections have not produced more violence than formerly, they have served to bring forth a species of malignity, which never before existed, and which is directed against established authority in all its branches. It is not, as heretofore, a contest between such a gentleman and such a gentleman, but between the high and low, the rich and the poor. In many places, at least, almost all the rich are on one side, and all the poor on the other.
The road to Brentford is lined with ragged wretches from St Giles' bawling out "Sir Francis Burdett and no Bastille"; and at the hustings there are daily some half dozen convicts, who have served out their time in the house of correction, employed in amusing the rabble with execrations on the head of Mr Mainwaring.

At Nottingham, the rabble seem to have assumed a very decisive character. They hoisted the tricoloured cockade, played ca ira, the Marsellois hymn, and other revolutionary tunes; and, indeed, were to all appearances and all purposes, a republican revolutionary mob.
- Cobbett's Annual Register, 17-07-1802

1802 parliamentary politics was pretty much exclusively male, to the extent that a woman out campaigning was considered as remarkable as a statue drumming up votes…

A bust of the Marquis of Granby was carried in procession through Cambridge, to excite an interest in the cause of his grandson, Lord C Manners. It was joined, however, to the witchcraft of the dark ages, for the presence of the Duchess Dowager did all that beauty could effect.
- The Ipswich Journal, 24-07-1802

Some 1802-style satire…

A gentleman, who had business at Brentford during the late election for Middlesex, called a hackney-coach in Piccadilly, and desired the coachman to drive the The Three Pigeons, one of the inns known by that name.

But the fellow drove him to the hustings.

On the gentleman's interrogating him why he did not go where he was ordered, the coachman archly called out - "there they are", pointing to the three candidates.
- The Aberdeen Journal, 11-08-1802

One thing is common to the 1802 and 2015 elections, though: They're expensive things...

"The expenses of elections has been great beyond measure. The Treasury had but one seat to dispose of for nothing, and Mr. Addington's brother was, I know, obliged to give £1,500 for his election" [as member for Bossiney].
- Letter from Lord Hawkesbury to his father, September 1802

The results…

Although 97 seats were contested for the new House, and despite the presence of the new Irish members, there was little overall change in the complexion of the House following the elections. Addington's government would up with 467 supporters against 124 opposition supporters of Charles Fox, 25 'new opposition', and 42 'doubtful'. (The figures are only approximate; in the 19th century psephology wasn't a thing, and nobody kept accurate records of this sort of thing).

The resumption of war with France in 1803 scuppered Addington's Prime Ministership; a resurgent Pitt would return to Downing Street.

If you enjoy this sort of thing, you might like our 79 Rewind - replaying the general election of that year in real time.




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