Electoral Corruption in England (October 1859)

From Marxists-en
Jump to navigation Jump to search

London, Oct. 18, 1859

The Commissions appointed to investigate the state of the Parliamentary constituencies of Gloucester and Wakefield only confirm, by their daily disclosures, the saying of old Coppock, the late electoral agent of the Reform Club[1], that the real Constitution of the British House of Commons might be summed up in the word Corruption. The present inquiry derives a peculiar interest from the circumstance that Gloucester is a rotten borough[2] of old standing, while Wakefield is a constituency created by the Reform act[3], and that the Gloucester briber is an outrageous Tory, Sir Robert Carden, of Dogberry memory, while the Wakefield briber is a Radical, Mr. Leatham, the brother-in-law of Mr. Bright. In both cases, the childlike innocence of the Parliamentary candidates is something refreshing in this wicked age of skepticism. Both candidates find the money for the purchase of votes, but both take good care not to know where the money goes. From the beginning of the election to its end, their solicitors' bills run up in a geometrical progression, but at the same ratio increases their belief in the immaculate purity of the constituencies which to represent in Parliament they confess the highest aim of their worldly ambition[4]. Take, first, that pattern of a Quaker, honest Mr. Leatham. In 1857, he stood for Wakefield, and employed a solicitor of the name of Wainwright as his "legal friend". This Wainwright, in a fit of openheartedness, takes his friend the Quaker aside and surprises him, innocent Leatham, who had considered himself l'homme qu'on aime pour lui-même[5], and the candidate to be elected pour le roi de Prusse[6], by the shakingly shrewd remark that an election was a question of £. s. d., and that consequently the "needful" ought to be found. Wainwright fixed the amount of cash required at £1,000. Leatham exclaims: "I have not got it, but I will borrow it," and, as true as his word, has £1,000 sent over to Wainwright by Overend & Gurney, the Quaker bankers of Lombard street, London. Shortly after, Wainwright, who seems given to confidential pourparlers[7], takes Leatham again "aside," whispers in his ear that he had found out the election would grow more expensive than at first contemplated, and insists upon another £500. Innocent Leatham "thinks this rather strange," but, on further consideration, and remembering that the election of 1852 had cost £1,600, he extended the credit to £500 more, but the most curious thing is that he feels not quite sure as to the source from which these £500 flowed. Again, two weeks later, stern Wainwright insists upon another supply of £1,000, and now Purity Leatham waxes quite melodramatic.

"I was," says he, "much vexed at this, and said as much to him, and also said that there were a great many things I did not like about his office. I had noticed a great many strange people about the office, and hoped there was nothing wrong going on. He said, 'You must leave that to me and ask no questions. You must give me the command of another £1,000, though I don't think I shall want it'. I was foolish enough to consent, and I believe the money was obtained from the same source as before."[8]

The mysterious stranger who "obtained the money" is Mr. Leatham's partner, being not present at the pending inquiry because, at this rather unseasonable time of the year, he has caught the whim of setting out upon a trip over the Continent.

If Quaker Leatham, despite his credulous temper, has misgivings of his own, but contrives to comfort his conscience by "asking no questions," Sir R. Carden, on the other hand, since "to the pure all things are pure,"[9] felt so much edified by his Gloucester election experiments in 1857, that, in 1859, he stood again for the same borough, although this time unsuccessfully. The very reason that induced him to walk into St. Stephen's[10] on the shoulders of Gloucester was, that he thought Gloucester to be so pure that it would be an honor and distinction to represent it in Parliament, "whereas Coppock and his myrmidons[11] used to call Gloucester the cheese," because it was "so deliciously decayed"; in one word, so fully-flavored a sink of corruption. From £500, at which the necessary electoral expenses were at first settled, they were by sudden expansions swelled to something like £6,000, but still, and even after the Auditor's return fixing the legal expenses at £616 8s. 1d., Sir R. Carden's conviction of the purity of the Gloucester proceedings remained unshaken.

"He had believed the election had been pure until only a day or two ago, when he was positively shocked to hear the horrible revelations that had been made. Those revelations had taken him quite by surprise."

The electoral philosophy of the Parliamentary candidates, then, consists simply in allowing their left hand not to know what their right hand does, and thus they wash both hands in the water of innocence. To open their breeches' pockets, ask no questions, and believe in the general virtue of mankind, serves best their purpose.

As to the legal gentry, solicitors, attorneys, and barristers, employed in the electoral business, they, of course, have a legal claim to their professional fees. They cannot be expected to spend their time and "manage" the thing for nothing. Why, exclaimed one of the Gloucester M.P. makers,

"I bean't a-going to let'em have my vote for nothing. Look at the twenty-four lawyers having their £25 down and five guineas a day a piece, and I bean't a-going to let'em have mine for nothing."

And, says Mr. George Buchanan, a gentleman who canvassed in company with Sir R. Carden,

"In fact, it was a general scramble for money, and I do not like to hear so much obloquy thrown on poor men who took 3s. 6d. a day, while the professional men who made heavy charges for doing nothing, escaped."[12]

Now, as to the M.P.'s makers themselves, a few examples will suffice to characterize them. Mr. W. Clutterbuck, a solicitor, and canvasser in behalf of Sir R. Carden, chuckles in his sleeves while stating that

"Gloucester is as corrupt a place as any in England."[13]

He had set his eyes upon "the Coopeys". There are eight or nine of the Coopeys, a family that, from immemorial times, have played a prominent part in the Gloucester elections. They are, says Clutterbuck, "people you must amuse," and, consequently, he went to the Coopeys, and smoked a pipe with the Coopeys, and gossiped with the Coopeys, and held out to them no direct promises, by no means, but "led them to believe so and so.'" In his track, there followed Mr. John Ward, a builder, who offered the Coopeys £5 each. Two of the Coopeys, he says, were bribed. One of them was dead, but somebody polled in his stead.

"I," says Mr. John Ward, builder, "gave to nine of them £5 each[14], and the dead man £3. The man was dead at the election of 1857, but he polled for Sir R. Carden there."

Then comes Mr. Maysey.

"I," says he, "I keeps a general shop, and are a hairdresser."[15]

He found "bribery was going on to any extent" and consequently he bought electors from £2 to £12 the piece. The fortunate mortal who fetched £12 was one Evans.

"The man," says our venerable hairdresser, "was well acquainted with all the low voters. Evans was worth £20, both as a voter and a spy."

It appears that Maysey, the heroic hairdresser, instructed a number of roughs with one Clements at their head, on the nomination day, to forcibly carry off an old voter named Wathen from the White Lion, but he (Maysey) did not see that lion's "coat torn off his back." The man, he says, by way of examination, "was too old and blind to resist, and was drunk beside." At Wakefield, higher prices were paid than at Gloucester, one vote costing from £5 to £70. At the same time, more violent means were here resorted to by the contending parties. One Mr. Smith, whose experience extends over a great many years, expressed his opinion that Wakefield was the most corrupt constituency in Europe, and that money and beer would carry any election there[16]. In the latter stage of the fight going on between Quaker Leatham, the Radical, and Mr. Charlesworth, the Conservative, "it was known all over town that there was plenty of money to be got at the office of Wainwright," the immaculate Quaker's agent. The one great feature that distinguished the Conservatives from the Liberals, was that the latter did not occasionally refrain from issuing "flash notes"[17], while the former paid in sterling money. About half a dozen Wakefield voters formed a club, with a view of turning the scale whichever way they liked when the poll should come to a close. One J. F. Tower, a barber, voted for Mr. Leatham because one of Mr. Leatham's canvassers gave him £40 for a hair-brush. John Wilcox, a peculiarly conscientious fellow, did not vote at all, having received £25 to vote for Leatham and £30 to vote for Leatham's rival. "So he balanced it by staying away altogether." One Benjamin Ingham, who voted for Leatham, could not say how much money he got, since "he was generally drunk at the time."[18] The Tories inveigled one James Clark, a fortune-teller and planet-ruler, into an inn, where they got him drunk, and "kept him for some days in a room of the hotel, with plenty to eat and to drink." He, nevertheless, tried at last to escape, and voted for Leatham, "partly a desire to spite the Blues[19] for keeping him locked up, and partly to get £50."

There was, furthermore, one William Dickinson, a plumber by profession, and at work in the morning at Mr. Teal's bleach-works:

"On going into a room upstairs, to get some more piping to finish his job, the door was suddenly banged to from the outside, locked and nailed. There were three men and a boy in the room to keep him quiet, and they had a rope to tie him with if necessary."[20]

Altogether, if the Liberals excelled by their "flash-notes," the Conservatives were remarkable for their resort to main force.

Now, with respect to these disgusting disclosures of the English electoral system, old Lord Brougham thought fit to make a long speech at Bradford[21], wherein he confesses that the offense of bribery has been growing rapidly, that it was comparatively rare before 1832, but had increased fast since the Reform Act of that year and that he intended to diminish it. And what is the curious remedy hit upon by Lord Brougham? To withhold the Franchise from the working classes until the lower-middle class, which is bribed, and the higher classes that bribe them, shall have mended their ways! The dotage of old age can alone account for such a paradox.

  1. Reform Club—a liberal political club in London founded in 1834, the centre of the Liberals' struggle against the Conservatives.
  2. Rotten boroughs—sparsely populated or depopulated small towns and villages in England which enjoyed the right to send representatives to Parliament since the Middle Ages. These representatives were practically appointed by the landed aristocracy, who controlled the handful of "free voters" who formally elected them. The "rotten boroughs" were disfranchised by the electoral reforms of 1832, 1867 and 1884.
  3. The reference is to the Reform Bill which was finally passed by the British Parliament in June 1832. The Reform Act of 1832 consisted of three acts adopted accordingly for England and Wales on June 7, for Scotland on July 17, and for Ireland on August 17, 1832. It was directed against the political monopoly of the landed and finance aristocracy and enabled the industrial bourgeoisie to be duly represented in Parliament. The proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie, the main forces in the struggle for the reform, remained disfranchised.
  4. Here and below Marx quotes Robert Carden's testimony at a sitting of the commission of enquiry into the elections in Gloucester, October 12, 1859, The Times, No. 23436, October 13, 1859.—Ed.
  5. A man who is loved for his own sake, for his personal qualities.—Ed.
  6. Literally: for the King of Prussia; here: just to gratify a person.—Ed.
  7. Negotiations.—Ed.
  8. From William Leatham's testimony at a sitting of the commission of enquiry into the elections in Wakefield, October 11, 1859, The Times, No. 23435, October 12, 1859.—Ed.
  9. The Epistle of Paul to Titus 1:15.—Ed.
  10. St. Stephen's Chapel—part of Westminster Palace, where the House of Commons has sat since 1547.
  11. Myrmidons is the name given to a legendary tribe in South Thessaly whose warriors fought in the Trojan War under Achilles; it also means base servants, hired ruffians.
  12. Here and below Marx quotes George Buchanan's testimony at a sitting of the commission of enquiry into the elections in Gloucester, October 10, 1859. The Times, No. 23434, October 11, 1859.—Ed.
  13. Here and below Marx quotes W. Clutterbuck's testimony at a sitting of the commission of enquiry into the elections in Gloucester, October 7, 1859. The Times, No. 23432, October 8, 1859.—Ed.
  14. The Times has here: "gave nine of them £7 each". From John Ward's testimony at a sitting of the commission of enquiry into the elections in Gloucester, October 7, 1859. The Times, No. 23432, October 8, 1859.—Ed.
  15. Here and below Marx quotes J. Maysey's testimony at a sitting of the commission of enquiry into the elections in Gloucester, October 8, 1859. The Times, No. 23433, October 10, 1859.—Ed.
  16. Here and below Marx quotes J. Burtenshaw's testimony at a sitting of the commission of enquiry into the elections in Wakefield, October 7, 1859. The Times, No. 23432, October 8, 1859.—Ed.
  17. Here and below Marx quotes James Clark's testimony at a sitting of the commission of enquiry into the elections in Wakefield, October 8, 1859. The Times, No. 23433, October 10, 1859.—Ed.
  18. Benjamin Ingham's testimony at a sitting of the commission of enquiry into the elections in Wakefield, October 8, 1859, The Times, No. 23433, October 10, 1859.—Ed.
  19. "True blues"—the term that appeared in Great Britain in the seventeenth century to designate the representatives of the moderate wing of the Puritans who chose blue as their colour in contrast to the red of the monarchy. Later it was applied to members of the British Conservative Party.

    While Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1797-1801, Castlereagh supported the Orangemen's policy of terror in respect of Ireland's Catholic population. Green Erin—an ancient name for Ireland.
  20. William Dickinson's testimony at a sitting of the commission of enquiry into the elections in Wakefield, October 8, 1859, The Times, No. 23433, October 10, 1859.—Ed.
  21. Henry Brougham's speech at the Third Congress of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, Bradford, October 10, 1859, The Times, No. 23435, October 12, 1859.—Ed.