Nineteenth Century Politics – The Leeds Parliamentary Election of 1868

This week we hear from Josh Flint of the Local and Family History Department, who will look at the Parliamentary Election held on the 17th November 1868. The 1868 election in Leeds was fought between two Liberal candidates Edward Baines Jr and Robert Meek Carter; an Independent Liberal Sir Andrew Fairbairn and two Conservatives Admiral A. Duncombe and William Wheelhouse. This article will use the exciting Leeds Central Library collection to show how this election was represented locally.

The 1868 Parliamentary Election was the first since the Reform Bill of 1867 which raised the amount of seats for Leeds from one to three. This made Leeds a much more important area for the two main Political Associations, the Conservatives and the Liberals. The Leeds Liberal Association split because it selected a Radical Liberal, Robert Meek Carter, to stand as their candidate. Carter’s candidacy selection outraged fellow Liberal Sir Andrew Fairbairn who decided to stand as an Independent Liberal candidate.

The Leeds Central Library has a great selection of Political Cartoons from the 1868 election. This Political Cartoon shows how the Liberal’s decision to stand a Radical Liberal candidate, Robert Meek Carter, caused a huge amount of questioning of the their judgement. This Political Cartoon shows Carter and Baines in a box symbolising the Liberal Association being defeated by the sound judgement of the electorate. This cartoon assumes that Sir Andrew Fairbairn, standing as an Independent Liberal, will benefit from this lack of faith in the Liberal Association’s judgement.

Scene from the new pantomime to be played on Tuesday next ‘Mr Fairbairn’s Benefiit’ – No.9 – 1868 – JF Masser.

This second political cartoon depicts how Sir Andrew Fairbairn will defeat Carter and Baines to the Liberal votes. Again this shows how confident Fairbairn was that the Radical Liberal element of the Liberal Association would deter voters.

Sir Andrew Fairbairn defeating Mr Baines and Alderman Carter – 1868 – B.Bingley

The Radical Liberal’s, including Carter, though supporting many of the key Liberal policies such as peace, developing a strong economy and reforming the country to help the working classes, heavily criticised the Liberal’s for their policies in Ireland. Robert Meek Carter is credited with organising a huge demonstration against the government’s policies, around 200,000 people attended the demonstration on Woodhouse Moor. This fantastic third cartoon artistically shows how established Liberal candidate Edward Baines Jr was seen to be carrying the Radical Liberal, Robert Meek Carter, to Parliament with great difficulty.

How Edward Baines, Esq. M.P. tries to get Alderman Carter into Parliament – 1868 – R Bownas

The Leeds Borough Election Poll Book 1868 shows who voted at the 1868 election and who they voted for. Poll Books existed from 1700 up until 1872 when the secret ballot was introduced. The Leeds 1868 Poll Book is split up into local divisions, such as the Bramley Division, and it shows who could vote in that local division in alphabetical order. The Poll Book includes details such as the voter’s name, address and two numbers which represent the candidates that they voted for. The picture below shows each candidate and their respective number. The picture also give the past national election results.

Candidate List, Leeds Borough Election 1868 Poll Book pg. 8

The next picture shows the start of the Bramley Division. The names are in alphabetical order and the two numbers represent the candidates that they are voting for. For example the first person recorded in the Bramley Division is Jesse Abbott, who lives in West Royd, and they have voted for candidate number 1. Baines and 2. Carter, the two Liberal candidates.

Bramley Division, Leeds Borough Election 1868 Poll Book pg. 102

The beginning of the Poll Book gives a detailed look at how many votes each candidate received and how many votes they received in each division. The first picture shows how many votes each candidate received, this shows that the two Liberal candidates, Baines and Carter, received the most votes and the third Parliamentary seat went to the Conservative candidate William Wheelhouse. The Poll Book then begins to analyse the votes including how many votes each candidate received at different times of the day. The second picture represents the breakdown of how many votes each candidate received from each division.

Overall Votes, Leeds Borough Election 1868 Poll Book pg. 4
Local area breakdown, Leeds Borough Election 1868 Poll Book pg. 5

The Leeds Mercury on the 18th November 1868 states that during the course of the election day the result of a Liberal victory was never in doubt. This does contradict some of the Political Cartoon depictions of Sir Andrew Fairbairn, the Independent Liberal candidate, defeating the two Liberal candidates in dramatic fashion. The Leeds Mercury also records, much like the Poll Book, how each district voted and interesting the time each candidate received their votes.

1868 Election Report, Leeds Mercury 18.11.1868 pg 3. The Leeds Mercury is part of the Local and Family History Department’s Newspaper Archive. Here is a list of the newspapers held in the Leeds Central Library

This last Political Cartoon shows how the Liberal’s Carter and Baines won two seats in the Leeds elections finishing with the most votes on policies focusing on Education, a strong constitution, free trade and reform. The Liberal Party gained 387 seats at the 1868 election and the Conservatives only won 271 winning a majority of 116.

Victory – No.10 – 1868 – JF Masser

The 1868 election in Leeds represents one of the last elections held before the beginning of the modern area of national elections with the introduction of the secret ballet and the increases in suffrage. The 1868 election in Leeds showed the power that the Liberals had in the area as both of their candidates gained large majorities in Leeds. The similarities between modern elections and the election of 1868 can be seen, exemplified in the last political cartoon with the Liberal’s championing the policies of education, free trade and the will to reform the country, which are still seen as election defining policies today.

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