Result of the Elections (August 16, 1852)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 16 August 1852


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First published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 3558, September 11, 1852; reprinted in the Semi-Weekly Tribune [No. 762], September 14, and in The People's Paper, No. 25, October 23, 1852
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 11 (pp.348-353), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
Collection(s): The People’s Paper

Originally, "Corruption at Elections" and "Result of the Elections", were written by Marx in German as a single article which he sent to Manchester, about August 16, to be translated into English by Engels. Engels divided it into two; when Marx sent these articles to New York, he dated the first article August 20, 1852 and the second August 27, 1852.

London, Friday, August 27, 1852I propose now to consider the results of the late general election.

If we resume Whigs, Free Traders and Peelites, under the generic name of the Opposition, thus in common oppose them to the Tories, we find the statistics of the new Parliament to express evidently the great antagonism alluded to in a preceding letter -the antagonism of city and country.

There were elected in England, in the Boroughs 104 Ministerialists, 215 Oppositionists; but in the Counties 109 Ministerialists and only 32 Oppositionists. From the Counties, the strongholds of the Tories, must be deducted the richest and most influential ones: the West Riding of Yorkshire, South Lancashire, Middlesex, East Surrey and others, possessing a population of four millions, out of the ten millions who compose the population of the Counties, independent of the towns sending members to Parliament.

In Wales, the results of the elections in town and country are exactly opposed to each other: the Boroughs here elected 10 Oppositionists and 3 Ministerialists, the Counties 11 Ministerialists, and 3 Oppositionists.

Scotland shows us the contrast in its clearest form. The Boroughs, to 25 Oppositionists, elected not a single Ministerialist. The Counties sent 14 Ministerialists and 13 Oppositionists.

In Ireland the proportion is different from what it shows itself in Great Britain. In Ireland the national party is the strongest in the country where the population is more directly under the influence of the Catholic clergy, while in the towns of the North English and Protestant elements predominate. Here, then, the proper seat of Opposition is the country, though with the present mode of election this cannot show itself so very strikingly. In Ireland the Boroughs sent 14 Ministerial and 25 Opposition, the Counties 24 Ministerial and 35 Opposition.

If you ask me now which party has conquered at the elections, the reply is, they have each and all defeated the Tories, for they evidently are in a minority, in spite of bribery, intimidation, and Government influence. The most correct statements give: Ministerial, 290; Liberals or collective Opposition, 337; doubtful, 27. Now, even if you add these 27 doubtfuls to the Ministerial strength, there remains a majority of twenty for the Liberals. The Tories, however, had calculated upon a majority of 336 at least. But leaving out of the question this numerical minority, the Tories succumbed in the elective struggle, for their leading men were forced to deny their own protectionist principles. Of 290 Derbyites 20 pronounced against all and every sort of protection, and of the remainder many, even Disraeli[1] himself, against the Corn Laws.

Lord Derby had assured in his parliamentary declarations[2] that he would change the commercial policy of the country only if supported by a large majority so little did he anticipate that he would find himself in a minority. Though, therefore, the result of the election is far from corresponding to the sanguine expectations of the Tories, it is yet far more favorable to them than the Opposition ever expected.

No party has been defeated more severely than the Whigs and in t hat very point where the inherent strength of this party lies: in its old ministers. The mass of the Whigs confounds itself on one hand with the Free Traders, on the other with the Peelites. The real vital principle of British Whiggery concentrates itself in its official head. The chief of the late Whig Ministry, Lord John Russell, has been re-elected, it is true, by the City of London; but in the city election of 1847 Mr. Masterman (Tory) stood 415 votes below Lord J. Russell. In the election of 1852 he stood 819 votes above him, and headed the poll. Eleven members of the late Whig Government have been right down turned out of their Parliamentary seats, viz.: Sir W. G. Craig, Lord of the Treasury; R. M. Bellew, Lord of the Treasury; Sir D. Dundas, Judge-Advocate-General[3]; Sir G. Grey, Home Secretary; J. Hatchell, Attorney-General for Ireland; G. Cornewall Lewis, Secretary to the Treasury; Lord C. E. Paget, Secretary to the Master-General of the Ordnances; J. Parker, Secretary to Admiralty; Sir W. Somerville, Secretary for Ireland; Admiral Stewart, Lord of the Admiralty; and to these you may add Mr. Bernal, the Chairman of Committees[4]. In short, since the Reform Bill, the Whigs have not experienced a similar rout.

The Peelites, whose numbers were already feeble in the late Parliament, have shrunk to an even less considerable group, and many of their most important men have lost their seats, for instance Cardwell, Ewart (both for Liverpool); Greene (Lancaster[5]); Lord Mahon (Hertford); Roundell Palmer (Plymouth), & c. The greatest sensation was created by the defeat of Cardwell, not only on account of the importance of the town represented by him, but also on account of his personal relations to the late Sir R. Peel. He is, with Lord Mahon, his literary executor. Cardwell was defeated because he supported the repeal of the Navigation Laws[6], and because he would not join the No Popery cry; and the Church and State party influenced the elections considerably in Liverpool.

"That very busy and very money-making community," observes an English Free Trade paper on this occasion[7], "has little time to cultivate religious feelings, it must rely, therefore, on the priesthood, and become an instrument in their hands."

Besides this, the electors of Liverpool are not, like those of Manchester, "men," but "gentlemen," and striving for the old orthodoxy faith is a main requisite of a gentleman.

The Free Traders, lastly, have lost some of their best known names at the electoral contest; thus, at Bradford Col. Thompson (alias Old Mother Goose), one of the oldest preachers and literary representatives of Free Trade; at Oldham, W. J. Fox, one of their most renowned agitators and most witty speakers; Bright and Gibson themselves beat at Manchester, the stronghold of the party, their Whig opponents by a comparatively weak majority only. It is, however, a matter of course that, under the existing electoral system, the Manchester School counts not, and cannot count, upon a Parliamentary majority. But it had, nevertheless, boasted for many years, that if only the Whigs were turned out and the Tories returned to office, it would excite a tremendous agitation and perform heroic deeds. And now, instead, we see it again, in the late electoral battle, modestly go hand in hand with the Whigs, and this alone is equal to a moral defeat.

If thus none of the official parties has obtained a victory, if, on the contrary, all of them have been beaten in their turn, the British nation retains the consolation that, though no party, yet a profession, is more imposingly represented in Parliament than ever the profession of lawyers. The House of Commons will count above a hundred lawyers in its ranks, and this number of jurisconsults is perhaps no favorable augury, neither for a party that it will gain its action before Parliament, nor for Parliament that it will carry a verdict with the nation.

According to the numerical proportions stated, there is no doubt of it the total opposition disposes of a negative majority against the Tories. By united operations, it can upset the Ministry in the very first days after the meeting of Parliament. It is, itself, incapable of forming a durable Administration from its own body. A fresh dissolution and a fresh General Election would be necessary; a fresh General Election, in its turn, would only necessitate a fresh dissolution. In order to break through this vicious circle, a Parliamentary reform is needed. And antiquated parties and a new Parliament will even prefer Tory rule to such a heroic operation.

The Tories, though in a minority compared to the combined opposition, are yet the strongest faction of Parliament, if every party is considered separately. They are, besides, entrenched in the strongholds of office, they have a well disciplined, compact, pretty homogenous army to back them, and they are, finally, certain that their game is played out for ever if they lose this time. Opposed to them is a coalition of four armies, each under a different chief, composed of badly amalgamated fractions, divided by interest, principle, souvenirs and passions, mutinous against paramount parliamentary discipline, watching jealously their respective pretensions.

The parliamentary proportions of the different Oppositionist sections, as a matter of course, in no ways correspond to their national proportions. Thus it is that the Whigs in Parliament still form the most numerous mass of the Opposition, the nucleus around which the other sections group themselves; and this is the more dangerous as this party, in its imagination always at the head of the Administration, is far more eager to back out of the pretensions of its allies than to beat the common enemy. The Peelite, the second Oppositional section, counts 38 members, directed by Sir J. Graham, S. Herbert and Gladstone. Sir J. Graham speculates upon an alliance with the men of the Manchester School. He aspires too much to the premiership, to feel any inclination of helping the Whigs to recover their old Government monopoly. On the other hand, many of the Peelites share the conservative views of the Tories, and the Liberals can count upon their regular support in questions of commercial policy only.

"In many other topics," says a liberal paper, "it will be easy for Ministers so to frame their measures as to secure a great majority of them."[8]

The Free Traders, par excellence, stronger than in the last Parliament, are said to number 113 members. The struggle with the Tories will force them more onwards than will be considered advisable by the cautious policy of the Whigs.

The Irish Brigade[9], finally, about 63 strong, since the death of King Dan[10], not exactly smothered by laurels, but in a position to hold, numerically, the balance of power, shares nothing with the British Opposition party but the hatred against Derby. In the British Parliament it represents Ireland against England. For a somewhat lengthy campaign no Parliamentary party can with certainty count upon its support.

If, in a few words, we resume the results of the preceding disquisition, viz.: that the Tories are opposed by a negative majority, but not by a party which in their stead could seize the helm of Government that their downfall necessarily would bring on a Parliamentary reform that their army is compact, homogenous, disciplined and in possession of the Government fortresses that the Opposition is a conglomerate of four different sections that coalition armies always fight badly and maneuver clumsily that even the negative majority only amounts to 20 or 30 votes that one-fourth of Parliament, 173 members, are new men, who will anxiously avoid anything that could endanger their dearly-bought seats we come necessarily to the result that the Tories will possess the strength, not to vanquish, but to force on things to a crisis. And to this they appear resolved. The fear of such a crisis, which would revolutionize the whole of the official superficies of England, speaks through every organ of the London daily and weekly press. The Times, The Morning Chronicle, The Daily News, The Spectator, The Examiner they all shout out, because they all of them have their fears. They would prefer reasoning the Tories out of office by hard words, and thus prevent the crisis. The collision will come over them in spite of all hard words and of all virtuous indignation.

  1. See Disraeli's address to the electors of the County of Buckingham on June 2, 1852, and his speech at a dinner of the electors of this county on July 14, 1852, The Times, Nos. 21135 and 21168, June 7 and July 15, 1852.—Ed.
  2. The reference is to his speech in the House of Lords made on May 24, 1852, The Times, No. 21124, May 25, 1852.—Ed.
  3. The New York Daily Tribune has here "Judge-Advocate of Scotland".—Ed.
  4. In accordance with the procedure adopted in the British Parliament, the House of Commons, when discussing certain important questions, declares itself the Committee of the Whole House. The functions of the Chairman of the Committee at such sittings are fulfilled by one of the list of chairmen specially appointed by the Speaker to conduct this sitting.
  5. The New York Daily Tribune has here "Lanark".—Ed.
  6. Navigation Laws--a series of acts passed in England to protect English shipping against foreign competition. The best known was that of 1651, directed mainly against the Dutch, who controlled most of the sea trade. It prohibited the importation of ally goods not carried by English ships or the ships of the country where the goods were produced, and laid down that British coasting trade and commerce with the colonies were to be carried on only by English ships. The Navigation Laws were modified in the early nineteenth century and repealed in 1849 except for a reservation regarding coasting trade, which was revoked in 1854. p. 350
  7. The Economist. (The quotation is from the article "The Elections" published in its issue No. 463, July 10, 1852.)—Ed.
  8. "The Results of the Elections", The Economist, No. 465, July 24, 1852.—Ed.
  9. The Irish Brigade —the Irish faction in the British Parliament in the 1830s-1850s. Until 1847 it was led by Daniel O'Connell, who adopted in the main the tactics of parliamentary manoeuvre to secure concessions for the big Irish bourgeoisie from the British Government. Early in the 1850s, a number of deputies belonging to this faction entered into an alliance with the radical Irish Tenant-Right League and formed in the House of Commons an Independent Opposition. However, the leaders of the Irish Brigade soon came to terms with the British ruling circles and refused to support the League's demands, which led to the demorali¬sation and final dissolution of the Independent Opposition in 1859.
  10. Daniel O'Connell.—Ed.