During the period 1815–1848, both Britain and France were constitutional monarchies, based on heavily restricted parliamentary franchises. Yet this did not prevent those excluded from the suffrage from participating in regular elections, which lasted for a few days, sometimes longer. This essay undertakes a comparative analysis of the extent and nature of popular involvement on either side of the Channel, and argues that the two countries were home to a broadly similar culture of elections. This culture was highly public, focused on a number of prominent towns, and festive. Crucially, we find the same variety of participatory forms afforded to non-electors in Britain and France: as spectators; as abusive members of a crowd; as violent partisans; as recipients of largesse; and as agents of mockery, ‘rough music’, and symbolic protest. Ironically, the advent of a wider franchise, which was accompanied by closely regulated and more confined electoral procedures, brought about the decline of this colourful culture. Nonetheless, the strength of this kind of popular electoral agency, beyond the vote, should not be exaggerated, for while a role for ordinary people was acknowledged, elections were decided by those wealthier citizens who monopolized the suffrage at this point. Ultimately, established power relations, though they might be challenged and mocked, were left intact.
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Crook, MalcolmCrook, Tom
Department of History, Philosophy and Culture
Year of publication: 2022Date of RADAR deposit: 2022-12-16
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