Aside from more analytical posts, the Causes and Consequences of Electoral Violence project will also be posting short EV Accounts – brief summaries of incidents of electoral violence gleaned from single (and often biased) newspaper reports. Our first EV Account focuses on an election death during the Warwickshire contest of 1832-33, and the editorial line which it provoked:
During the 1832-33 county election for Warwickshire, at the polling place of Nuneaton, a disturbance took place during the polling, though the article’s author asserts that it was of no particular seriousness. Not convinced of this, however, the local Magistrates called in the military to quell the unrest. This action took place (again, asserted by the author) long after any breach of the peace had long since passed. While the crowd was ‘quietly proceeding in the constitutional exercise of their right’, the military force attacked – several people were said to have been wounded, and one elderly person was killed.
At the subsequent legal hearing, it the jury found a verdict of accidental death – which did not sit at all well with the author of the article. Indeed, it was strongly asserted that the members of the jury were in fact the rural tenants of the elite groups with had an interest in ensuring this verdict. Instead, the author suggests that those who called in the military, the Magistrates, ‘had the appointing of persons to decide in their own cause!’.
This incident was used as an illustrative case study in the issue’s editorial, which, given its denigration of both Conservatives and Whigs, strongly suggests that the writer is a radical. The reporter wrote at some length, advocating the introduction of the secret ballot to replace publicly-recorded individual votes. Given the jury’s verdict of accidental death, the writer goes further in suggesting other areas where the secret ballot might be useful – they suggest that the formation of juries themselves should be ‘vested in the people at large’. This is one of many ideas which were being considered by many during the heated period around the passing of the First Reform Act. The secret ballot has, of course, been in place since 1872; the democratic selection by vote of juries is one reform which has never come to pass.
(Bell’s New Weekly Messenger, Sunday 6 January 1833. Retrieved 2018, via British Newspaper Archive).