Political History

Irish General Elections of 1832, 1835 and 1837

Irish General Elections of 1832, 1835 and 1837

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien

 

The 1830s was a decade of reform in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland but the events of 1829 provided an important Irish element to that reform, inside and outside of Parliament.

Catholic Emancipation 1829

In 1829 the future of Ireland and England lay in the balance. Near three hundred years of history was coming to one point in time. Daniel O’Connell had mobilised the Irish people for the cause of Catholic emancipation, freedom from those ancient Penal Laws. The mighty of England were not for moving. The Protestant King, George IV, was fierce against it. The great politicians cried that it was ‘inconsistent with the constitutional oath’; it was ‘incompatible with the British constitution’; it would ‘dismember the empire’, and ‘England would spend her last shilling, and her last man, rather than grant it’. Others feared that if granted there would be a wholesale massacre of Protestants all over Ireland within the week.[1]

Yet the masses still came to Daniel O’Connell and followed his peaceful campaign. British Catholics stayed quiet but in Ireland a tidal wave was growing. The Duke of Wellington (Prime Minister) and Sir Robert Peel (Conservative leader in the Commons) passed several coercion acts and threatened war. The prospects of war were real as the government flooded Ireland with extra troops until Irish regiments were seen cheering for Daniel O’Connell. The Duke of Wellington saw that the writing on the wall and forced Peel to tell the House of Commons that Catholic emancipation must be granted. On 13th April 1829 a Protestant Parliament admitted that Britain was no de jure and de facto Protestant nation.

After the passage of the Act, Parliament increased the voting requirements of Catholic voters to minimise the impact of the Act in Parliamentary representation. In Ireland the people celebrated freedom and there was no great massacre of Protestants. In Britain the Conservative party split over Emancipation and in November 1830 the Duke of Wellington was defeated on the civil list and resigned. The Liberal party formed a government under Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, on a platform of Parliamentary reform.[2]

Life after the great Reform Bill

The campaign for Catholic emancipation was part of a wider movement for Parliamentary reform in the 1820s. The previous century had changed Britain. Thousands of people no longer lived in the countryside but in the new industrial towns and cities. Many of the old constituencies which elected Members of Parliament by 1830 contained only a few voters or even no voters at all. The new industrial towns were greatly unrepresented or even had no M.P.s. In 1831 the Liberal party won most of the seats in the House of Commons on a wave of support for Parliamentary reform. The Conservative party was reduced to 31 members as it tried to defend the old system.[3] In June 1832 the great Reform Bill passed the Lords by 108 votes to 22 on a threat of flooding the House with newly created peers.[4] The expanded franchise in Britain changed the fortunes of the two main parties in a short space of time. The industrial towns and cities of the north and west gained many new seats and an expanded franchise while in the Counties farmers occupying land above £50 as tenants-at-will and copyholder to the value of £10 got the vote.[5]

In Ireland the size of the electorate changed because of other reasons. After the passage of Catholic Emancipation in 1829, the Irish Parliamentary Act abolished the 40s freeholder, leaving £10 freehold as the minimum requirement to vote. This was to limit the Catholic vote. The Representation of the People (Ireland) Act, 1832 extended the number of voters in several categories of leaseholders while transferring the vote from town corporations to the £10 householder.[6]

The reform legislation increased the number of Irish M.P.s from 100 seats following the passage of the Act of Union to 105 seats in 1832 when an addition seat was given to four boroughs and Dublin University got a second seat.[7] Many of the rotten boroughs abolished in England with the Great Reform Bill were in Ireland abolished in 1800 with the Act of Union.

The new names of political parties

In the years after the passage of the Reform Bill the old political parties of Whig and Tory began to change their names to reflect the new political environment. The Whig party was traditionally led by some of the richest aristocrats in the country and supported a strong Parliament with political, social and religious reform.[8] The Tory party supported a greater role for the monarch in government and the preserve of the Anglican Church and an opposition to change.[9]

In the 1830s the Whig party divided into two main divisions, Liberal (supported slow continual reform and considered the Reform Bill as the last measure for a generation) and Radicals (supported further reform and in areas opposed by the great bulk of the party). Gradually the term Liberal was used to describe the party and after 1868 permanently replace the Whig name. Within the Tory party people like Sir Robert Peel saw that simple opposition to everything was not going to gain votes among the new middle class electorate. Peel advocated an orderly progress of change within the constitution and adopted the name Conservative to signal the new party.[10] Old Tories opposite to change faded into the background but never entirely went away. The consistent opposition of part of the present Conservative party to membership of the European Union is a residue of the old Tories of pre1832.

The Irish Repeal party

After the granting of Catholic emancipation, Daniel O’Connell moved to make real his long held project of repeal of the 1801 Act of Union which abolished the Irish Parliament and gave 100 seats for Irish representatives at the Westminster Parliament. Daniel O’Connell launched a Repeal association in the country and a Repeal party to represent that view in Parliament. But the early days of the Repeal movement were far from success. Indeed no sooner had the Repeal Association been established than the government proclaimed it as an illegal organisation.

Daniel O Connell

Daniel O’Connell

Daniel O’Connell established a second Repeal Association which was also suppressed. He founded a third Repeal Association called the ‘Repeal Breakfasts’. If the government suppressed this ‘breakfast’ then O’Connell would form a political lunch and then a political dinner until such time as the British government allowed the Irish people to have their own representatives.

Daniel O’Connell was arrested for crimes against the state but the prosecution was shortly after abandoned as the Liberal party needed O’Connell. The Great Reform Bill was dividing Parliament and the country and the Liberal party needed the votes of Daniel O’Connell and his supporters to pass the Bill. The promise was that the reformed Parliament would bring justice for Ireland.[11]

1832 general election

In the general election of 1832 the Liberal party carried all before it in the new constituencies in Britain with 486 members while the Conservative party was returned with 172 members with strong success in the Counties.[12] The Liberals won votes in the towns while the Conservatives were restored to some form of effective opposition.

In Ireland the 1832 general election was the first in which clear party affiliations were given for each candidate and so the strength of each party can be judged from that time. Daniel O’Connell returned 45 M.P.s (3 were subsequently unseated) under the Repeal banner. A further 5 Liberal M.P.s said they would support Repeal if the government did not address maladministration of justice and the distribution of government jobs. The Irish Conservative party was opposed to Repeal of the Union and the restoration of an Irish Parliament. Indeed they were opposed to anything which diminished the Protestant state and the British constitution. The Irish Conservatives returned 29 M.P.s but two were subsequently unseated by petition. The Irish Liberal party returned 31 M.P.s but the party was not without its own troubles. When in 1831 Irish Liberals proposed a few small measures of reform for Ireland they were told a clear no by Prime Minster Grey.[13]

For many Irish voters the 1832 general election was an non-event as in 21 of the 66 constituencies there was no contest and the declared candidates were returned unopposed.

 

1832 Irish

General election

Conservative Liberal Repealer Contest
Antrim co 1 1 Yes
Armagh city 1 Yes
Armagh co 1 1
Athlone 1 Yes
Bandon 1 Yes
Belfast 2 Yes
Carlow 1 Yes
Carlow co 1 1 Yes
Carrickfergus 1election void on petition Yes
Cashel 1
Cavan co 2
Clare co 2 Yes
Clonmel 1 Yes
Coleraine 1unseated Yes
Cork city 2 Yes
Cork co 1 1 Yes
Donegal co 2 Yes
Down co 1 1
Downpatrick 1
Drogheda 1 Yes
Dublin city 2 Yes
Dublin co 1 1 Yes
Dublin University 2 Yes
Dundalk 1 Yes
Dungannon 1
Dungarvan 1 Yes
Ennis 1 Yes
Enniskillen 1
Fermanagh co 2
Galway 2 Yes
Galway co 1 1 Yes
Kerry co 2
Kildare co 1 1 Yes
Kilkenny city 1
Kilkenny co 2
King’s co 1 1 Yes
Kinsale 1 Yes
Leitrim co 2 Yes
Limerick city 2 Yes
Limerick co 2 Yes
Lisburn 1
Derry city 1 Yes
Derry co 2
Longford co 2 unseated Yes
Louth co 2
Mallow 1 unseated Yes
Mayo co 2 Yes
Meath co 2
Monaghan co 1 1 Yes
New Ross 1
Newry 1 Yes
Portarlington 1 Yes
Queen’s co 1 1 Yes
Roscommon co 1 1
Sligo 1 Yes
Sligo co 2
Tipperary co 1 1
Tralee 1 Yes
Tyrone co 2
Waterford city 1 1 Yes
Waterford co 1 1 Yes
Westmeath co 1 1 Yes
Wexford 1
Wexford co 2 Yes
Wicklow co 2 Yes
Youghal 1 Yes
Total 29 31 45 45
Total no of MPs Constituencies No vote
105 Total 66 21

 

After the 1832 general election

Following the general election a number of petitions were lodged objecting to the result in a few constituencies. In Carrickfergus the result was declared void in March 1833. In May 1833 the Conservative member for Coleraine was unseated on petition and replaced by a Liberal. In Galway city one Repeal candidate unseated another Repeal candidate. In April 1833 the two Repeal members for Longford County were unseated on petition and two Conservative candidates were declared elected. In Mallow the Repeal member was unseated and replaced by the Liberal candidate. At the end of May 1833 the Irish parties stood with Conservative 29 seats, Liberal 33 seats and Repeal 42 seats.[14]

Liberal government

The passage of the 1832 Reform Bill was the great achievement of the government of Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, but the affairs of Ireland was his downfall.[15] It began almost at the start when the new government introduced a most severe Coercion Act upon Ireland.[16] The Tithe War (1830-33) caused a wave of civil disturbances across the country. In 1832 there were about 9,000 crimes including 242 murders. The government responded with the Irish Crimes Act which included a ban on political meetings and a night-time curfew. The tithe question resulted in a number of resignations from the government but the Liberals continued in power and appointed a commission to examine the tithe question.[17]

The new Liberal government also tackled the Irish established church which was a much larger institution than its members required. In 1831 O’Connell called for major change but the government contended itself with reducing the number of bishops and taxing benefices valued at over £2,000 per year. This modest change was viewed by Irish Conservatives with outrage and among sections of the English electorate.[18]

In 1834 Daniel O’Connell used his support of the Liberal government to press for the case of Repeal of the Act of Union. But there was little desire to further reform the British constitution, even among the Radical section of the Liberal party. When O’Connell introduced his Repeal bill in the House of Commons it was defeat by 523 votes to 38.[19]

Instead the government favoured a renewal of the 1832 Crimes Act. Liberal ministers were unsure about continuing the ban on political meetings. The Irish secretary gave Daniel O’Connell the impression that it would not be re-enacted but Prime Minster Grey insisted on continuing the ban and his parry followed his line. Daniel O’Connell withdrew the support of his Liberal Repeal party for the government and Lord Althorp resigned. In July 1834 Earl Grey resigned as Prime Minster. William Lamb, Viscount Melbourne, was called upon by King William IV to form a government. The Crimes Act was toned down and O’Connell renewed his support for the Liberal government.[20]

Viscount Melbourne was the son of an obscure M.P. who was possibly not his real father. An unhappy marriage made him adverse to confrontation. Melbourne served briefly in 1827 as Chief Secretary of Ireland and in 1830 became Home Secretary where he showed unexpected firmness with the Swing riots of 1831 and the 1834 Tolpuddle martyrs.[21]

Irish by-elections 1832-4

Between the general election of 1832 and that of 1835 there were six by-elections held in Ireland. The first was on the death of the Dungarvan member, George Lamb (Liberal). Ebenezer Jacob (Liberal) won the vote but was unseated on petition and a new writ was issued. At the second election Ebenezer Jacob won again with a reduced vote (307 down to 293). In the Monaghan by-election the Liberal candidate at the polls retained the seat but was later unseated on petition by the Conservative candidate who was declared the winner. Elsewhere Fermanagh was retained by the Conservatives while the Repeal party won the Liberal seat in County Wexford but lost Louth to the Liberal party.[22]

Conservative government 1834-5

Towards the end of 1834 King William IV dismissed the Liberal government and asked Sir Robert Peel to form a minority Conservative government. The government only stayed in office for a few months. In January 1835 Sir Robert Peel called a general election in search of an overall majority.[23]

General election 1835

The British general election saw the Conservative party increased its members in Parliament to 300 but it was not enough to win an overall majority.[24] On the eve of the general election in Ireland the three parties had; Conservative 30 seats, Liberal 32 seats and Repeal 42 seats. In the general election the Conservatives increased their seats from 29 in 1832 to 37 in 1835 at the expense of the Repeal party. The battle over tithes and the prospect of repeal of the Act of Union brought out the Conservative vote. The Irish Liberal party gained 2 seats. The biggest loser was Daniel O’Connell’s Repeal party which fell from 45 seats in 1832 to 35 in 1835.

Yet despite his loss, Daniel O’Connell returned with enough Irish members to affect the balance of power at Westminster because the Liberals and Conservatives were so evenly matched.[25]

 

1835 Irish

General election

Conservative Liberal Repealer Contest
Antrim co 1 1
Armagh city 1 Yes
Armagh co 1 1
Athlone 1 Yes
Bandon 1 Yes
Belfast 1 1 Yes
Carlow 1 Yes
Carlow co 2 unseated Yes
Carrickfergus 1
Cashel 1 Yes
Cavan co 2
Clare co 2 Yes
Clonmel 1 Yes
Coleraine 1 Yes
Cork city 2 unseated Yes
Cork co 1 1 unseated Yes
Donegal co 2
Down co 1 1
Downpatrick 1
Drogheda 1 unseated
Dublin city 2 unseated Yes
Dublin co 1 1 Yes
Dublin University 2
Dundalk 1
Dungannon 1
Dungarvan 1
Ennis 1 Yes
Enniskillen 1
Fermanagh co 2
Galway 2
Galway co 2 Yes
Kerry co 2 Yes
Kildare co 1 1 Yes
Kilkenny city 1 Yes
Kilkenny co 2
King’s co 1 1
Kinsale 1 Yes
Leitrim co 2
Limerick city 2
Limerick co 2
Lisburn 1
Derry city 1
Derry co 2
Longford co 2 Yes
Louth co 1 1 Yes
Mallow 1
Mayo co 1 1 Yes
Meath co 2 Yes
Monaghan co 1 1 Yes
New Ross 1 Yes
Newry 1 Yes
Portarlington 1
Queen’s co 2 Yes
Roscommon co 1 1 Yes
Sligo 1
Sligo co 2
Tipperary co 1 1
Tralee 1 Yes
Tyrone co 2 Yes
Waterford city 1 1 Yes
Waterford co 1 1
Westmeath co 1 1
Wexford 1
Wexford co 2 Yes
Wicklow co 2
Youghal 1 Yes
Total 37 33 35 34
Total no of MPs Constituencies No vote
105 Total 66 32

 

After the election, the usual petitions against certain results were lodged. The two Conservative Members for Carlow County were unseated and a new vote in June 1835 returned one Repeal member and one Liberal member. But another petition against this result unseated these M.P.s, and by 19th August 1835 the Conservatives got the two seats. Andrew O’Dwyer was unseated as Member for Drogheda and a new poll in April return him to Parliament. But after another petition O’Dwyer was unseated again and in June 1835 the Conservative Randal Plunkett got the seat. In April 1835 the two Conservative Members for Cork city were replaced by two Repeal candidates. In June 1835 the Repeal Member for Cork County was replace by a Conservative candidate. By May 1836 Daniel O’Connell and Edward Ruthven were replaced in Dublin city by two Conservative candidates. Thus the final result of the 1835 general election in Ireland had the Conservatives with 39 seats, Liberals with 33 seats and Repealers with 33 seats.

Conservative government

After the election the Conservatives struggled on with a minority government in which they were defeated on a number of issues such as the choice of speaker and the Chatham election inquiry. In March 1835 the Irish Chief Secretary introduced a motion to abolish tithe in Ireland and replace it with a rent charge. The bill lacked a clause whereby surplus funds would be granted towards general education. After a protracted debate the motion was carried.

Sir Robert Peel

Sir Robert Peel

On 12th and 23rd March 1835 Daniel O’Connell met with the Liberal leadership at Lichfield House. There they discussed the balance of power and what measures O’Connell wished for Ireland in return for supporting a Liberal government. The resulting agreement was known as the ‘Lichfield House Compact’ yet it was not a written agreement but verbal. Lord Melbourne and the Marquis of Lansdowne at first objected to the Compact but were persuaded by Lord John Russell that no Liberal government could be formed with Irish support.[26] The Compact held for six years with the British Liberal party forming an effective coalition with the Irish Liberal Repeal party.

The Compact’s impact on the voting in the House of Commons was soon evident. On 30th March Lord John Russell proposed that the House go into committee to discuss the use of surplus Irish church money to aid education of people of all religious persuasions. The government opposed the motion but was defeated by 33 votes at three in the morning of 3rd April in which 611 members voted. Among the Irish M.P.s 64 voted in favour while 37 opposed. The Liberals pressed on with another vote for the Commons to consider Irish tithe in which the government lost by 262 votes to 237. On 7th April the government lost another Irish tithe motion and the following day the Conservative government resigned.[27]

Liberals form a government

King William IV asked Lord Grey to form a government but Grey turned down the request. The King then asked Lord Melbourne to form a government, and after the difficulty of who should be Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was resolved, on 18th April the new government was announced. When the writ for the by-election in place of Serjeant Perkin was moved (he had been appointed Attorney-general for Ireland) Daniel O’Connell and the Liberal Repealers crossed the floor of the House to the Liberal benches amidst derisive cries from the Conservatives.[28]

Irish by-elections 1835-7

Between the general election of 1835 and the general election of 1837 there were fifteen by-elections. Seven by-elections were caused by the sitting M.P. receiving a government position. In those days a person appointed to cabinet or to positions like Attorney-general or baron of the exchequer had to resign their seat and contest a by-election to get it back. Five by-elections were caused by the death of the sitting Member, two by the elevation of the sitting Member to the peerage and one to get Daniel O’Connell back in Parliament.

On 16th May 1836 Daniel O’Connell was unseated as Member for Dublin city by petition. Richard Sullivan resigned his Kilkenny city seat so that on 17th May 1836 Daniel O’Connell could become a M.P. again. In Longford the sitting Conservative died and the by-election in December 1836 elected a Repeal candidate but on petition he was unseated and replaced in May 1837 by a Conservative candidate.[29] The state of the parties after all the by-elections was; Conservative 40 seats, Liberal 31 seats and Repeal 34 seats.

Liberal government 1835-7  

But the new Liberal government, dependent as it was on the Irish Repeal party, was under pressure to get its legislative programme through Parliament. In June 1835 Lord John Russell introduced the Municipal Corporations Bill for England and Wales. The bill passed the Commons by about fifty votes but got into trouble in the Conservative controlled House of Lords. In the Lords opposition amendments were carried against the government by 93 votes and 71 votes. The Commons accepted the Lord’s amendments but many on the Liberal benches were unhappy.[30]

In 1835 the Liberal government proceeded with reform of the various town corporations in Ireland. The corporations had ceased to have any electorate function by the 1832 Reform Act and many performed few local services. But the passage of the bill through Parliament was protracted and controversial. Irish Tories complained that the British Conservatives didn’t oppose the measure strong enough while many in the Liberal party had mixed views. It was not until 1840 that a toned down reform bill was passed.[31]

Another controversial Irish reform measure introduced in 1835 was on poverty and the Poor Law system of support. The first report of the Irish Poor Law Commission sought to not just alleviate poverty but prevent it. The Poor Law report in 1836 divided Irish M.P.s. some Irish Tories, Whigs and Repealers joined in opposition while others supported the measure.[32]

The growth of political consciousness

The movement for Catholic emancipation in the 1820s and that of Repeal in the 1830s and 40s is said to have created a political consciousness among the Irish population at local and national level.[33] But Irish people always had a strong political consciousness. How often do we hear stories from the Eighteenth century where the whole population of a constituency got involved in the election when only a very small number of the people had the vote? The distribution of drink by the candidates to all who gave the impression that they were voters, possibly help encourage involvement.

The local political machinery created by the Catholic emancipation did not translate into dominance at the polls by the Repeal party. The Liberal and Conservative parties also had their local machinery in the form of clubs and in the influence of the local landlord. Lay leadership by the new Catholic middle class in the towns would as much support Liberal and Conservative candidates and polices as much as they would of Repeal – politics and money always have a close relationship.

Helping the political parties

In 1836 two changes were made which greatly influence public opinion in political education. The first measure was the reduction in the duty on newspapers. Since 1712, when a duty of one penny a sheet was imposed on newspapers and one shilling on every advertisement, the duty of newspapers was an important source of government revenue. The duty increased over time to four pence per page and three shillings and six pence per advertisement. In 1836 Spring Rice reduced the duty to one penny per sheet. Circulation of newspapers increased rapidly and by 1854 the government was gathering more revenue than under the old duty.[34]

The Irish newspapers strongly influenced how people voted and many groups and political parties established their own newspaper to communicate their vision of the future.

The other measure was the publication of division lists in Parliament. The public had previously known who voted for or against Parliamentary bills but only by rumour. Now an official list gave authority to that knowledge. Voters now knew how their M.P. voted and how often. They also knew if they M.P. had a regular attendance at Parliament or spent his time in the gentleman reading rooms.[35]

The 1837 Irish election result

The general election of 1837 was occasioned by the death of King William IV in June 1837. In those days, and for centuries before, a new Parliament was automatically provided to a new sovereign. The tired Liberal government was glad of an opportunity to get a working majority and not be dependent on the smaller parties.

In Ireland the 1837 general election returned 33 Conservatives, 42 Liberals and 30 Liberal Repealers under Daniel O’Connell. Among the Members returned were twenty-three new Members.[36] The Conservatives had gone into the election as the biggest party in Ireland but lost six seats while the Repeal party lost three seats. The winner in the election was the Liberal party gaining nine seats to finish as the biggest party. After the usual petitions the final election result was; Conservative 35 seats, Liberal 39 seats and Repealer 31 seats.

An interesting aspect of the 1837 election was the number of uncontested seats. In 32 constituencies there was no vote with candidates returned unopposed. A highlighted feature of the 1918 general election was the number of uncontested constituencies, which facilitated the overwhelming return of Sinn Fein M.P.s, but this feature was not unique to the 1918 general election.[37]

 

1837 Irish

General election

Conservative Liberal Repealer Contest
Antrim co 2
Armagh city 1 Yes
Armagh co 1 1
Athlone 1
Bandon 1 Yes
Belfast 2 unseated Yes
Carlow 1 Yes
Carlow co 1 1 Yes
Carrickfergus 1 Yes
Cashel 1
Cavan co 2
Clare co 2
Clonmel 1 Yes
Coleraine 1 Yes
Cork city 2 Yes
Cork co 1 1 Yes
Donegal co 2
Down co 2
Downpatrick 1 Yes
Drogheda 1
Dublin city 1 1 Yes
Dublin co 2
Dublin University 2 Yes
Dundalk 1
Dungannon 1
Dungarvan 1 Yes
Ennis 1
Enniskillen 1
Fermanagh co 2
Galway 2 Yes
Galway co 2
Kerry co 1 1 Yes
Kildare co 2 Yes
Kilkenny city 1 Yes
Kilkenny co 1 1
King’s co 1 1
Kinsale 1 unseated Yes
Leitrim co 2
Limerick city 2 Yes
Limerick co 2 Yes
Lisburn 1
Derry city 1 Yes
Derry co 2
Longford co 2 Yes
Louth co 1 1
Mallow 1
Mayo co 2
Meath co 2
Monaghan co 1 1
New Ross 1
Newry 1 Yes
Portarlington 1 Yes
Queen’s co 1 1 Yes
Roscommon co 1 1
Sligo 1 Yes
Sligo co 2 Yes
Tipperary co 1 1 Yes
Tralee 1 unseated Yes
Tyrone co 2
Waterford city 1 1 Yes
Waterford co 2
Westmeath co 1 1 Yes
Wexford 1
Wexford co 2
Wicklow co 2 Yes
Youghal 1 Yes
Total 33 42 30 34
Total no of MPs Constituencies No vote
105 Total 66 32

 

The Liberal Repealers

The Liberal Repealer party had 31 M.P.s in the new Parliament but the party was far from a coherent unit. Daniel O’Connell was the leader and was surrounded by four other members of his O’Connell family. But other members like Richard Lalor Sheil, Member for Tipperary Co., held no great love for O’Connell.[38] The majority of the Liberal Repealers were people who had signed the pledge of repeal of the Act of Union but differed from their colleagues on other issues.

Disraeli attack on Irish elections

In England one of the newly elected Members of Parliament was Benjamin Disraeli (M.P. for Maidstone). It was his fifth election in five years for the future Prime Minster. On 7th December he made his celebrated maid speech to Parliament. The topic was the validity of certain Irish elections and an attack on Daniel O’Connell to avenge to the row they had in the press at the Taunton election. Irish M.P.s of the Liberal Repeal party defended their leader with hisses, boos, shouting and laughter plied upon Disraeli. Richard Lalor Sheil (M.P. for Tipperary Co. and Liberal Repealer) famously told Disraeli afterwards that the speech was far from a failure but a success. He advertised Disraeli to put away his genius of oratory and ‘try to be dull’ and in no short time the House would clamour the wit of Disraeli of old.[39]

The 1837 British election result

The result of the general election was a return of the Liberal government with 342 including support from the Radical party and Irish M.P.s. The Liberals didn’t get their majority and in fact lost a number of seats. Without the Irish Liberal Repealer support the Liberal government would have been placed in a poor minority situation or be placed in oposition. The Conservative party was returned with 315 members, a slight improvement. Yet the party was still divided within on Parliamentary reform and sore from the heated Catholic Emancipation debate and was not yet able to unite to form a government.[40] The Conservative party’s high hopes of forming a government were dashed.

Among the returning M.P.s were 38 free traders who opposed the Corn Laws and all protectionism.[41] These would cause problems for both main parties in future years.

New Liberal government

Thus the general election saw the return to power of the Liberal party under Viscount Melbourne. In his new administration Lord Melbourne famously educated the young Queen Victoria on good government while failing in the number of areas to implement good government. The fact that the government was dependent upon the Irish vote did them great harm in England. The character of Lord Melbourne further weakened the government as he cared little for further reform and was seen by many to be just the same as if a Conservative government were in place.[42]

Viscount Melbourne

Viscount Melbourne by Landseer

In 1837 armed rebellions broke out in Canada. The country was an uneasy place with a strong French community under threat from an expanding British community. The high commissioner of Canada, the Earl of Durham, used the extreme edges of his constitutional authority to control the country. His decision to send some guilty rebels into exile in Bermuda created Parliamentary opposition led by Lord Brougham who was overlooked by Lord Melbourne for the office of chancellor. Melbourne caved into pressure and withdrew support for Lord Durham who subsequently resigned. The cabinet backed Melbourne but a large part of the Liberal party felt bad about the affair.[43]

In 1837 an Irish Poor Law Bill was introduced to Parliament and became law in 1838. The bill established poor law unions with a workhouse in each supported by a levy on landlords and tenants, split 50/50. The Board of Guardians were elected and not appointed which displeased Irish Tories.[44]

In 1838 the tithe war was finally settled when the tithe was commuted to a rent-charge and reduced in amount. The tithe was payable by the landlords but they could recover the amount from their tenants. Previous tithe bills in 1835 and 1836 passed the Commons but were rejected by the Lords. In 1838 O’Connell ad the Liberal Repealers compromised with the Liberal government. Robert Peel and the British Conservatives supported the bill. But the measure was opposed by Irish Conservatives and a large number of Irish Liberal M.P.s who wanted the total abolition of tithe.[45]

The three main Irish political parties may have had their own, often differing policies on Ireland, but were sometimes helpless in the face of the main British parties. Westminster was the seat of power and Irish M.P.s were not given any illusions that power was elsewhere, even in the Irish benches, when it came to Irish policy. In such an environment Daniel O’Connell declared that the Liberal government was not secure.[46]

Across Britain the government faced growing agitation from two quite different classes of people. Manufacturers wished to abolish the Corn Laws so as to reduce the wages of their workers on the back of cheap grain imports. The Corn Laws received little attention until the trade depression of 1836 when manufacturers saw the price of bread was artificially raised. These manufacturers represented a sizeable proportion of the electorate in the newly enfranchised industrial towns.[47]

Inside of Parliament Charles Villiers led the opposition to the Corn Laws with a vote on the issue nearly every year but without a great following. In 1839 his motion for petitioners against the Laws to be allowed to come to the bar of the House to state their case was defeated by 361 votes to 172. It seemed that the government was unaffected by all these failed motions but winning all the battles doesn’t mean victory in the war. Later that year Charles Villiers introduced another motion against the Corn Laws which was debated for five days. On this occasion Daniel O’Connell supported the motion. He said that the Corn Laws were ‘to get more money for the landed proprietors out of the working classes. It is a principle that I repudiate.’ O’Connell declared himself to be a supporter of ‘free trade in everything’. The motion was defeated by 344 votes to 197 votes.[48]

The other group of agitators were the Radical faction within the Liberal party and outside who wanted to see further political reform. The Radicals wanted, among other things, universal male suffrage, vote by ballot so as to avoid vote intimidation, payment to M.P.s so poor people could sit in Parliament if elected, equal electoral districts so as to make the value of each man’s vote the same in each district and annual Parliaments to secure dependence of the members on the wishes of the voters. Daniel O’Connell gave his support for such demands when he said ‘There is your charter; agitate for it, and never be content with anything less’.[49]

In 1839 the government was further weakened by the Jamaica bill. Jamaica was a West Indies colony with its own self-governing status with a governor and legislative assembly. Since the abolition of slavery the planters had blocked efforts to have emancipated slaves enter the assembly and have an equal said in the government. The governor and executive council supported the slaves. With this impasse the Melbourne government proposed to suspend the Jamaican constitution for five years until the matter could be cleared. The bill was attacked by the Conservative party and the Radical party who were shocked that a Liberal government would suspend the constitution of a self-governing colony. The bill was defeat by five votes and Melbourne resigned.[50]

Sir Robert Peel and the Conservatives were asked to form a government but met with trouble. At every change of government it was usual the personal of the king’s bedchamber would also be changed to have both sides of the government of the same thinking. Many of the ladies of the queen’s bedchamber were the wives or relations of Liberal politicians. Queen Victoria refused to change her household and Peel didn’t press the matter. Lord Melbourne returned as Prime Minster for another two years.[51]

On a positive note the government did have a few successes. In 1839 the government adopted Rowland Hill’s scheme of a uniform charge for letters of one penny paid in advance by the sender by way of a stamp. The measure was opposed by the post-office and some politicians. Yet when introduced the public embraced the new system with enthusiasm and the number of letters sent increased enormously. Junk mail also increased as businessmen sent out advertisements of their goods.[52]

Also in 1839 the government increased the education grant and established an education department to oversee the schools receiving government grants. The Conservatives opposed the establishment of the department but the Irish Liberal Repealers helped carried the bill.[53]

In 1840 the government conducted a successful war against China and gained, among other things, the island of Hong-Kong in perpetuity.[54]

In 1840 the Liberal government finally passed the Irish Municipal Reform Bill but the bill had to be considerably watered down or suffer defeat. The municipal franchise was confined to £10 householders and not all rate payers while control of the police remained with Dublin Castle.[55]

In 1840 Daniel O’Connell finally established the Repeal Association to repeal the Act of Union. The Irish Liberal party, especially among its northern M.P.s, was fearful of repeal and sought Irish reform with the Union. Irish Conservatives were opposed to repeal but not always in a united group.[56]

Irish by=elections 1837-41

Between the general elections of 1837 and 1841 there were twenty-three by-elections in Ireland. The Conservatives won or retained Dungannon, Cavan County (Feb. 1839), Tyrone County, Fermanagh County, Cavan County, Carlow County (Dec. 1840), and Antrim County. The Liberals won or retained Cashel, Clonmel (July 1838), Clonmel (Feb. 1839), Carlow town (by petition), Leitrim County, Waterford city, Meath County, Armagh city, Louth County, Clonmel (Aug. 1840), Waterford County and King’s County. The Repeal party won or retained Galway city, Tipperary County (Feb. 1838), Tipperary County (Sept. 1839) and Mayo County.[57] In the by-elections the Conservatives gain one seat, the Liberals two seats and the Repeal party lost three seats. On the eve of the 1841 general election the Irish parties stood at Conservative 36 seats, Liberal 41 seats and Repeal 28 seats.

1841 general election

One of the notable characteristic of the Melbourne government was its ability to keep introducing bad budgets that failed to balance. In 1841 the government made a desperate attempt to balance the books by increasing the duties on Colonial sugar and timber and reducing the duty on foreign sugar. The foreign sugar was usually slave-grown. The protectionists joined with the anti-slavery members to defeat the budget.[58]

On 27th May 1841 the Liberal government finally fell after it lost a vote of confidence tabled by Sir Robert Peel. The vote was carried 312 votes for and 311 against. The government appealed to the country in the hope that some good will existed for all its measures of Parliamentary reform.[59] But the years of weak government and a reaction against reform among the population increased the Conservative vote along with support gained by defending the Corn Laws. The Conservatives returned with 367 members against the Liberal vote of 286. The Conservative return was assisted by Liberal M.P.s who had broken from the party on Lord Grey’s Irish church policy. Sir Robert Peel became Prime Minster for the second time.[60]

Irish political party results 1832-41

At the beginning of this period of study the Repeal party was the largest political party in Ireland from 1832 until 1835 when the Conservative party became the largest party until 1837 after which the Liberal party became the largest. No one party dominated the Irish political scene and this reflected the political climate of the 1830s.

The 1830s saw minority governments dependent on smaller parties with some successes for each of the Irish political parties and some failures. Each of the parties thought that they had a special influence on Westminster politics but when the key decisions were made it was the Westminster parties that decided on the fate of Ireland.

 

Conservative Liberal Repeal
1832 general election 29 31 35
After petitions 29 33 42
1832-5 by-elections 30 32 42
1835 general election 37 33 35
After petitions 39 33 33
1835-7 by-elections 40 31 34
1837 general election 33 42 30
After petitions 35 39 31
1837-41 by-elections 36 41 28

 

Conclusion

In the 1840s the Repeal party continued to have elective success and the Repeal movement gathered many thousands of followers. The celebrated monster meetings about repeal attracted large audiences culminating in the great meeting at Tara at which an estimate one million people attended. The British Conservative government grew alarmed at the growing movement which to their annoyance was peaceful and law abiding.

But in 1843 Daniel O’Connell committed the fatal error of promising repeal within six months. Sir Robert Peel saw his chance to discredit the magical image of Daniel O’Connell. All he had to do was hold the line for six or twelve months and break the movement. The country was flooded with troops and the monster meeting at Clontarf was called off under treat of government intervention. O’Connell and his chief supporters were arrested. Although their conviction was overturned by the law lords in the House of Lords the repeal movement was dead.

The Irish Repeal party continued until about 1848 when it ceased to exist after the death of its founder, Daniel O’Connell. Many former members of the Repeal party joined the Liberal party such as John Patrick Somers, M.P. for Sligo town.[61] Others of younger blood joined the Young Ireland movement and prepared for armed rebellion. The rebellion when it came in 1849 was a small affair and was easily crushed. The ordinary people meanwhile had more pressing issues of basic survival as the Great Famine gripped the land for near six years. The 1850s saw another independent Irish political party but it was not until after the Ballot Act of 1872 that a truly independent and effective Irish political party was born, the Home Rule party.

 

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[1] A.M. Sullivan, The Story of Ireland (M.E. Gill, Dublin, 1898), p. 547

[2] Judith F. Champ, ‘Catholic Emancipation’, in The Oxford companion to British History, edited by John Cannon (Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 177

[3] John Morley, The life of William Ewart Gladstone (2 vols. Edward Lloyd, London, 1908), vol. 1, p. 102

[4] Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910 (Rivingtons, London, 1910), p. 943

[5] Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, pp. 940, 943

[6] Brian Walker (ed.), Parliamentary election results in Ireland, 1801-1922 (Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 1978), p. xii; Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, p. 944

[7] Brian Walker (ed.), Parliamentary election results in Ireland, 1801-1922, p. xi

[8] Hugh Berrington, ‘Liberal Party’, in The Companion to British History, edited by John Cannon, p. 575

[9] Andrew A. Hanham, ‘Tories’, in The Companion to British History, edited by John Cannon, p. 924

[10] Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, p. 949

[11] A.M. Sullivan, The Story of Ireland, pp. 549, 550

[12] Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, p. 944

[13] D. George Boyce, Nineteenth-Century Ireland: The Search for Stability (Gill & Macmillan, Dublin, 1990), pp. 59, 60, 66

[14] Brian Walker (ed.), Parliamentary election results in Ireland, 1801-1922, pp. 50-55

[15] Dr. E.A. Smith, ‘Grey, Charles, 2nd Earl Grey’, in The Oxford Companion to British History, edited by John Cannon, p. 438

[16] A.M. Sullivan, The Story of Ireland, p. 550

[17] Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, p. 948

[18] D. George Boyce, Nineteenth-Century Ireland: The Search for Stability, p. 63

[19] D. George Boyce, Nineteenth-Century Ireland: The Search for Stability, p. 65

[20] Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, p. 949

[21] J.A. Cannon, ‘Melbourne, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount’, in The Oxford companion to British History, edited by John Cannon, p. 634

[22] Brian Walker (ed.), Parliamentary election results in Ireland, 1801-1922, pp. 55, 56

[23] D.C. Somervell, Disraeli and Gladstone: A duo-biographical sketch (Faber & Faber, London, 1932), p. 29

[24] John Morley, The life of William Ewart Gladstone, vol. 1, p. 102

[25] W.J. Fitzpatrick (ed.), Correspondence of Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator (2 vols. John Murray, London, 1888), vol. II, p. 1

[26] W.J. Fitzpatrick (ed.), Correspondence of Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, vol. II, pp. 2, 3

[27] J. Ewing Ritchie, The Life and Times of Lord Palmerston (6 vols. London, 1866), part II, pp. 412, 414, 415

[28] J, Ewing Ritchie, The Life and Times of Lord Palmerston, part II, p. 416

[29] Brian Walker (ed.), Parliamentary election results in Ireland, 1801-1922, pp. 60, 61, 62

[30] J. Ewing Ritchie, The Life and Times of Lord Palmerston, part II, pp. 457, 458, 459

[31] D. George Boyce, Nineteenth-Century Ireland: The Search for Stability, pp. 68, 69

[32] D. George Boyce, Nineteenth-Century Ireland: The Search for Stability, p. 71

[33] Fergus O’Ferrall, ‘The Growth of Political Consciousness in Ireland 1824-1848(Ph.D. thesis, University of Dublin, 1978)’, in Irish Economic and Social History, Vol. VI (1979), pp. 70, 71

[34] Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, p. 952

[35] Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, p. 953

[36] J. Ewing Ritchie, The Life and Times of Lord Palmerston, part II, p. 477

[37] Dr. Steven O’Connor (ed.), The Revolution Papers 1916-1923, No. 18, The 1918 General Election: A political earthquake shakes Ireland (Albertas & National Library of Ireland, 2016), p. 3

[38] Robert Blake, Disraeli (Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1966), p. 149

[39] Robert Blake, Disraeli, pp. 147, 148, 149

[40] John Morley, The life of William Ewart Gladstone, vol. 1, p. 106

[41] J. Ewing Ritchie, The Life and Times of Lord Palmerston, part III, p. 688

[42] Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, p. 957

[43] Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, p. 956

[44] D. George Boyce, Nineteenth-Century Ireland: The Search for Stability, pp. 71, 72

[45] D. George Boyce, Nineteenth-Century Ireland: The Search for Stability, p. 73

[46] D. George Boyce, Nineteenth-Century Ireland: The Search for Stability, p. 74

[47] Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, pp. 957, 958

[48] J. Ewing Ritchie, The Life and Times of Lord Palmerston, part III, pp. 683, 685

[49] Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, p. 957

[50] Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, p. 959

[51] Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, pp. 959, 960

[52] Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, p. 961

[53] Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, p. 961

[54] D.C. Somervell, Disraeli and Gladstone, p. 42; Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, p. 961

[55] D. George Boyce, Nineteenth-Century Ireland: The Search for Stability, p. 69

[56] D. George Boyce, Nineteenth-Century Ireland: The Search for Stability, pp. 75, 76

[57] Brian Walker (ed.), Parliamentary election results in Ireland, 1801-1922, pp. 67, 68

[58] D.C. Somervell, Disraeli and Gladstone: A duo-biographical sketch, pp. 35, 45, 46

[59] J. Ewing Ritchie, The Life and Times of Lord Palmerston, part III, p. 628

[60] Cyril Ransome, An advanced History of England, 1603-1910, p. 962

[61] Brian Walker (ed.), Parliamentary election results in Ireland, 1801-1922, pp. 80, 85

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