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The Inheritance
Reform to 1850
Twentieth Century
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The Voice of Radicalism

The Reformed Elections - Reform to 1850

Politics were very different in the burghs and counties:

  • The towns had different rules to the counties for how someone would qualify to vote
  • There were important social differences between town and county societies.

Radicals wanted candidates who supported:

  • Free Trade. This meant removing the Corn Laws that taxed corn coming into the country and made food expensive
  • A foreign policy that encouraged other countries not to tax products manufactured in the United Kingdom
  • Elected local Councils
  • Church reform. The Church of Scotland and The Church of England should no longer be legally recognized by the state
  • More people qualifying to vote
  • Land Reform.

Candidates supporting and opposing these ideas published their views in newspapers and pamphlets. They addressed packed public meetings. Many poems and songs were written about political issues.


In Aberdeen, in the Elgin Burghs, and in the Montrose Burghs:

  • Liberal candidates spoke in favour of more reform, but did go as far as the radicals wanted
  • Liberal MPs were not usually radicals and were keen on reforms that helped the middle class. Joseph Hume was both a Radical and a Liberal. He was elected to the Montrose Burghs in 1842
  • Conservatives were against the radical programme, so found it impossible to win. They were so unpopular that they often did not bother to put up candidates.


  • Radical ideas were not popular with the voters and their leaders
  • Tory and Whig lairds fought each other to decide who should be the MPs, but neither side wanted to end the landlords’ rule
  • Tory (Conservative) candidates were more successful than Whigs (Liberals).

Lists of Electors

Voting was not secret, so:

  • Newspapers published lists of electors that showed who had backed which candidate
  • Pamphlets or Poll Books were published revealing who had voted for the various candidates.

In 1872 the Ballot Act ensured that voting became secret.

Reform to 1850 >>

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