1784 British general election

Last updated
1784 British general election
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg
  1780 30 March – 10 May 1784 (1784-03-30 1784-05-10) 1790  

All 558 seats in the House of Commons
280 seats needed for a majority
 First partySecond party
  George-Romney-xx-William-Pitt-the-Younger-xx-Tate-Britain.jpg Reynolds Charles James Fox.jpg
Leader William Pitt Charles James Fox
Party Pittite Foxite
Leader's seat Cambridge University Westminster (also Tain Burghs in the interim)
Seats won280155
Seat changeIncrease2.svg20Decrease2.svg99

1784 British General Election.svg
Periwinkle represents Government supporters (Pittites), light orange Opposition supporters (Foxites, Northites), cyan and mauve independents

Prime Minister before election

William Pitt
Pittite

Prime Minister after
election

William Pitt
Pittite

The 1784 British general election resulted in William Pitt the Younger securing an overall majority of about 120 in the House of Commons of Great Britain, having previously had to survive in a House which was dominated by his opponents.

Contents

Background

In December 1783, George III engineered the dismissal of the Fox–North coalition, which he hated, and appointed William Pitt the Younger as Prime Minister. Pitt had very little personal support in the House of Commons and the supporters of Charles James Fox and Lord North felt that the constitution of the country had been violated. The doctrine that the government must always have a majority in the House of Commons was not yet established and Fox knew he had to be careful.

On 2 February 1784 Fox carried a motion of no confidence which declared "That it is the Opinion of this House, That the Continuance of the present Ministers in their Offices is an Obstacle to the Formation of such an Administration as may enjoy the Confidence of this House, and tend to put an End to the unfortunate Divisions and Distractions of the Country" by 223 to 204. Pitt remained in office, and government supporters ensured petitions and resolutions of borough corporations were presented to Parliament to encourage members to back Pitt, and slowly Members changed sides.

By 1 March, Fox's motion which concluded by "beseech[ing] His Majesty, that He would be graciously pleased to lay the Foundation of a strong and stable Government, by the previous Removal of His present Ministers" was carried but only by 201 to 189. A week later, a more strongly worded motion threatening the withholding of supply was also passed—but only by 191 to 190. Fox thereafter declined to push motions, as his base continued to crumble. Pitt meanwhile decided to go to the country and on 24 March, Parliament was prorogued and on the following day the Parliament first elected in 1780 was dissolved.

Course of the election

Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin Covent Garden Market, Westminster Election Microcosm of London Plate 026 - Covent Garden Market, Westminster Election (full plate).jpg
Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin Covent Garden Market, Westminster Election

The election was fought very much as a national campaign around the questions of the fall of the Fox–North government and whether or not Pitt should continue in office, rather than a series of local campaigns, which was more common for 18th century British elections.

Thanks to a combination of patronage and bribes paid by HM Treasury, many small pocket boroughs returned Pitt-supporting MPs as widely expected. Additionally, in the constituencies decided by large electorates there was massive support for candidates who backed Pitt. Many of Fox's supporters were forced either to withdraw or to make deals with their opponents to avoid electoral defeat. In the county constituencies only one Fox supporter was elected in a contest, although others returned due to local electoral pacts. Those Members who had remained in opposition, refusing to go over to support Pitt, who failed to return to the House of Commons as a consequence, became known as "Fox's Martyrs" in reference to John Foxe's Book of Martyrs (although the majority were supporters of North).

The first day's polling, 30 March, saw thirteen government supporters and four opponents returned. By the conclusion of the fifth day (3 April), there were already more than 150 government Members and a lead of fifty over the supporters of the coalition. The government achieved an overall majority on 15 April and the election ended on 10 May.

Notable contests

University of Cambridge

Thomas Rowlandson THE DEVONSHIRE, or Most Approved Method of Securing Votes 1784. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire canvassing. The Devonshire, or most approved method of securing votes (BM J,3.24).jpg
Thomas Rowlandson THE DEVONSHIRE, or Most Approved Method of Securing Votes 1784. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire canvassing.

The contests involving both Pitt and Fox attracted particular attention. Pitt had long wished to be a Member of Parliament for the University of Cambridge and had failed to be elected when he stood for the seat in the 1780 general election. Now he was returned at the top of the poll and would hold the seat for the rest of his life.

Westminster

Fox was one of the two sitting members for the constituency of Westminster, which had the largest electorate of any in the country and a great deal of prestige. His position there was central to his claim to be representing the people. He stood against two Pitt supporters for the constituency's two seats; both sides spent heavily, campaigned bitterly, allegedly libelled and slandered their opponents relentlessly and resorted to all kinds of tactics, including Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, touring the streets and, according to the opposition, kissing many voters to induce them to vote for Fox. Even George, Prince of Wales, campaigned for Fox.

Thomas Rowlandson The Poll 1784 (British Museum) The Poll (BM 1851,0901.203).jpg
Thomas Rowlandson The Poll 1784 (British Museum)

At the conclusion of polling on 17 May, Fox had narrowly succeeded, with 6,233 votes to Sir Cecil Wray's 5,998. However, Pitt's supporters then demanded a scrutiny of the votes and the Returning Officer therefore did not make the return. A scrutiny in a constituency as large as Westminster was an enormously time-consuming process; Fox, suspecting this might happen, had already arranged for his return for the Tain Burghs, which had elected him on 26 April, so that he would not be out of the House during such a scrutiny. The process did not show unexpectedly large numbers of unqualified voters and as the months went by it looked more and more like a political delaying tactic; on 4 March 1785 the House of Commons finally put an end to it by ordering the Returning Officer to declare the result.

Thomas Rowlandson Procession to the Hustings after a Successful Canvass 1784 (Yale Center for British Art) Thomas Rowlandson - Procession to the Hustings after a Successful Canvass - B1981.25.1387 - Yale Center for British Art.jpg
Thomas Rowlandson Procession to the Hustings after a Successful Canvass 1784 (Yale Center for British Art)

The election was notable for being one of the first in history in which visual propaganda, in the form of caricatures satirising or promoting the candidates, played a significant role. Caricatures appeared almost daily, allowing the young artists Thomas Rowlandson and James Gillray both to make their names on the strength of their satirical output. After the election, one of the leading London print sellers William Humphrey, gathered together a number the election plates to illustrate a detailed blow-by-blow account of the election. [1] . It quickly ran to a second edition.

A London constable, Nicholas Casson, was killed during the election.

Ipswich

The election results were originally recorded as being 490 votes for William Fowle Middleton, 297 votes for John Cator (Whig) and 7 votes for Charles Crickitt (Tory). However Crickitt filed a petition against Cator's election, accusing him of bribery. The petition was handled by Bamber Gascoyne, who was both Crickitt's political agent and godfather. John Strutt acted on Crickitt's behalf on the House of Commons committee which investigated the allegation. Crickitt also had the support of the Duke of Cumberland. [2] Cator's election was declared void and Crickett was seated in June 1784.

Results

1784 British general election results.svg

Seats summary

Parliamentary seats
Tory/Pittite
70.8%
Whig/Foxite
29.1%

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Pitt the Younger</span> British statesman and prime minister (1759–1806)

William Pitt the Younger was a British statesman, the youngest and last prime minister of Great Britain from 1783 until the Acts of Union 1800 and then first prime minister of the United Kingdom from January 1801. He left office in March 1801, but served as prime minister again from 1804 until his death in 1806. He was also Chancellor of the Exchequer for all of his time as prime minister. He is known as "Pitt the Younger" to distinguish him from his father, William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, who had previously served as prime minister and is referred to as "William Pitt the Elder".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles James Fox</span> British politician (1749–1806)

Charles James Fox, styled The Honourable from 1762, was a British Whig politician and statesman whose parliamentary career spanned 38 years of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He was the arch-rival of the Tory politician William Pitt the Younger; his father Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland, a leading Whig of his day, had similarly been the great rival of Pitt's famous father, William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Parliament of Great Britain</span> United English and Scottish parliament 1707–1800

The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in May 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union by both the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland. The Acts ratified the treaty of Union which created a new unified Kingdom of Great Britain and created the parliament of Great Britain located in the former home of the English parliament in the Palace of Westminster, near the City of London. This lasted nearly a century, until the Acts of Union 1800 merged the separate British and Irish Parliaments into a single Parliament of the United Kingdom with effect from 1 January 1801.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eleanor Laing</span> British politician (born 1958)

Dame Eleanor Fulton Laing, is a British politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for the Epping Forest constituency since 1997. A member of the Conservative Party, Laing has served in the shadow cabinets of Michael Howard and David Cameron. Since 2013, Laing has served as a Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons; and since 2020, as Chairman of Ways and Means, making her the senior Deputy Speaker, and the first woman to hold this post.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fox–North coalition</span> Coalition government in Great Britain 1783

The Fox–North coalition was a government in Great Britain that held office during 1783. As the name suggests, the ministry was a coalition of the groups supporting Charles James Fox and Lord North. The official head was William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, who took office on 2 April 1783.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ipswich (UK Parliament constituency)</span> Parliamentary constituency in the United Kingdom, 1801 onwards

Ipswich is a constituency represented in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament since December 2019 by Tom Hunt of the Conservative Party.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1831 United Kingdom general election</span>

The 1831 United Kingdom general election saw a landslide win by supporters of electoral reform, which was the major election issue. As a result, it was the last unreformed election, as the following Parliament ensured the passage of the Reform Act 1832. Polling was held from 28 April to 1 June 1831. The Whigs won a majority of 136 over the Tories, which was as near to a landslide as the unreformed electoral system could deliver. As the Government obtained a dissolution of Parliament once the new electoral system had been enacted, the resulting Parliament was a short one and there was another election the following year. The election was the first since 1715 to see a victory by a party previously in minority.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Tierney</span> Irish politician

George Tierney PC was an Irish Whig politician. For much of his career he was in opposition to the governments of William Pitt and Lord Liverpool. From 1818 to 1821 he was Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1806 United Kingdom general election</span> 2nd election held after the Union of Great Britain and Ireland

The 1806 United Kingdom general election was the election of members to the 3rd Parliament of the United Kingdom. This was the second general election to be held after the Union of Great Britain and Ireland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1807 United Kingdom general election</span> 3rd election after the union of Great Britain and Ireland

The 1807 United Kingdom general election was the third general election to be held after the Union of Great Britain and Ireland.

Cambridge University was a university constituency electing two members to the British House of Commons, from 1603 to 1950.

Tain Burghs was a constituency of the House of Commons of the Parliament of Great Britain from 1708 to 1801 and of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1832, sometimes known as Northern Burghs. It was represented by one Member of Parliament (MP).

Buckinghamshire is a former United Kingdom Parliamentary constituency. It was a constituency of the House of Commons of the Parliament of England then of the Parliament of Great Britain from 1707 to 1800 and of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1885.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">City of London (UK Parliament constituency)</span> Parliamentary constituency in the United Kingdom, 1885–1950

The City of London was a United Kingdom parliamentary constituency. It was a constituency of the House of Commons of the Parliament of England then of the Parliament of Great Britain from 1707 to 1800 and of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1950.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Westminster (UK Parliament constituency)</span> UK parliamentary constituency in England, 1545-1918

Westminster was a parliamentary constituency in the Parliament of England to 1707, the Parliament of Great Britain 1707–1800 and the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1801. It returned two members to 1885 and one thereafter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">First Parliament of the United Kingdom</span> Parliament of the United Kingdom, 1801–1802

In the first Parliament to be held after the Union of Great Britain and Ireland on 1 January 1801, the first House of Commons of the United Kingdom was composed of all 558 members of the former Parliament of Great Britain and 100 of the members of the House of Commons of Ireland.

The 1796 British general election returned members to serve in the 18th and last House of Commons of the Parliament of Great Britain. They were summoned before the Union of Great Britain and Ireland on 1 January 1801. The members in office in Great Britain at the end of 1800 continued to serve in the first Parliament of the United Kingdom (1801–02).

The 1768 British general election returned members to serve in the House of Commons of the 13th Parliament of Great Britain to be held, after the merger of the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland in 1707.

Shaftesbury was a parliamentary constituency in Dorset. It returned two Members of Parliament to the House of Commons of England, Great Britain and the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1295 until 1832 and one member until the constituency was abolished in 1885.

Sir George Henry Smyth, 6th Baronet of Upton was a British Conservative and Tory politician.

References

  1. Humphrey, William. (1794). History of the Westminster election, containing every material occurrence ... to which is prefixed a summary account of the proceedings of the late Parliament ... / by Lovers of Truth and Justice. London: William Humphrey.
  2. Sommers, Susan Mitchell (2002). Parliamentary Politics of a County and Its Town: General Elections in Suffolk and Ipswich in the Eighteenth Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN   9780275975135.

Bibliography