Baseline characteristics of Preston about 1825
4. Political control: the Whig/Tory coalition and its challengers before 1826.
In the mid-1820s, as if to match the extraordinary economic and hence social transformation of the town, but to a certain extent coincidentally, political control was becoming extremely unstable. There were two interrelated reasons for this. The first was that as a result of conventional 18th century rivalry between Whig gentry and Tory Corporation claims to represent the borough the Whig Stanley family had reversed the return of 1768 by petition on the grounds of the definition of the franchise as vested in ‘all the inhabitants’. The result of this was that from then until 1832 all male inhabitants over 21 years old who had been resident in the borough for six months were qualified to vote. Until 1796 this had given the Whigs both Preston’s seats. But then the Tory Corporation had acquired an inestimable advantage: ‘Mr John Horrocks, employed many work people and was a person of much wealth and local influence’ (22). Horrocks was elected a Bailiff in 1794, and Common Councillor in 1796, and Alderman in 1799. ‘Whig and Tory, Stanley and Corporation, were now equipoised forces, so the Whigs were obliged to share the representation of the borough by splitting the votes between them. This determined the result of the next six elections: 1802, 1806, 1807, 1812, 1818 and 1820.
Not in tranquillity however. The population, and therefore the electorate, was growing rapidly, which attracted independent and, soon, Radical candidates: in 1807 Joseph Hanson son of a Manchester manufacturer and popular idol; in 1812 Hanson’s brother Joseph [Edward, not Joseph:PS]; in 1818 Dr Crompton of Liverpool; and in 1820 two rivals, John Williams an Independent Liberal, and the notorious Radical Henry Hunt. At each election the margin of safety of the coalition was cut down, and the costs of victory were raised. £5,671-17-6d in 1812; £6,017-2-0d in 1818 (including £4,000 on public houses alone); and £11,559-12-8d in 1820 (£8,000 on pubs).
A commercial or political tremor could upset the whole apple cart.