Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Curious Curio -Tuesday's findings

Part Two

What I'm finding out about the franchise demonstration badge which came to me via my aunt, who kept it in a box for many years...

It was 1867 before the Second Reform Bill made its way through the British Parliament. By then, there had been sufficient grumbling around the country for the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, Benjamin Disraeli, to decide it was prudent to push through some reforms. It became dubbed as ‘A Leap in the Dark’, made famous by this Punch cartoon since no-one knew quite how the newly enfranchised men would vote, and what that might mean to the political party in power.

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In England and Wales, the proposal extended the right to vote to more men of 21 years of age and above, who resided in towns. Male householders of property valued at £10 a year was still a requirement, but the vote was extended to male lodgers of unfurnished properties who paid rent of £10 a year.  (£12 rental in the counties secured the vote- which was better than before the 1867 Act - but this was hardly equality). With help from Liberal leader, William Gladstone, the Bill passed through all stages and became law for England and Wales as the Representation of the People Act 1867.

Wikimedia Commons
In Scotland, it took a little while longer for it to become law. The Representation of the People (Scotland) Act 1868 (Second Reform Act) meant changes to the constituencies as some areas had many more enfranchised men living in the urban areas. Some new constituencies were created, Scotland returning 7 new MPs. Other constituencies had boundary changes to reflect the new amounts of enfranchised men. 

In general terms, Scotland was better represented than before with more MPS in the London Parliament. The electorate of Scotland had roughly tripled in number with more men, some of those of the respectable working classes, fulfilling the qualifications to enter the electoral role. Through Benjamin Disraeli's push for reform Scotland benefited somewhat, though many of the working classes still did not qualify for the vote.

John Stuart Mill, one of the enlightened men of the age had proposed extending the vote to women. It was met mostly with derision –though it did get support in some circles. 

The Second Reform Act passed through without major demonstrations in Scotland- though there were demonstrations for other needs at that time, the parliamentary changes only one area of concern for the Government of the era to make changes to. 

In 1872 the Ballot Act introduced secret voting which aimed to eliminate the corruption which had pervaded during elections. This was considered a very good step forward.

Please click HERE to read the banner displayed (I'm unable to show the banner directly on my blog) 

So, by 1884 what made the workers take to the streets again to form huge demonstration marches in cities across Great Britain?

Men in the countryside were still penalised in terms of those voting qualifications, so the push was on to give all men the right to vote whether they lived in the countryside or the town.

A bill was introduced to parliament on the 28th February 1884. Though the £10 a year value on property - or £10 a year rental paid - qualification still remained, the new proposal included every male householder/ occupier/ lodger in town or in the country in England and Wales. The passing of this Act would add some two million more people onto the Voters Roll, but it was considered worth demanding. There was a general excitement and much debating all over Great Britain from March onwards. In June, 1884, there was an excellent turnout at a demonstration by rural Agricultural workers in favour of the Bill - men who would benefit if the Bill became an Act.

By July, the Bill was introduced to The House of Lords. They wanted redistribution of seats to be included. This was a problematic notion which needed much careful planning since the Prime Minister of the time, William Ewart Gladstone, did not want to mix up the simple franchise question with other more demanding issues.

The usual summer recess of Parliament took place during which time Gladstone urged the people to have dignified and orderly protests. The general working populace were in agreement, concerned that the Lords would not pass the Bill through Parliament.

Over the next 3 months more than 1000 mass meetings and demonstrations were planned

On July 21st some 40,000 men gave up on earning a day’s wages to march through London - the message being that The House of Lords should pass the bill without further conditions being set.

Similar rallies and meetings were held in many cities in England and Scotland. On the 6th September, 1884, it was Glasgow’s turn. The Liberal Association claimed some 70,000 men demonstrated that day, though the more Tory-leaning newspaper – The Glasgow Herald - claimed only half of that number turned out.

It was a fully ticketed demonstration, the tickets being distributed through the Trades Unions and Political Associations. The Glasgow Herald newspaper had wide coverage of the event. 

The preparations in Glasgow had gone on for weeks prior to the actual event.

On Friday 5th September, the Liberal Association representatives met for long hours with representatives of the unions and relevant trades association to discuss the details which had been arranged for the procession. Details such as there being a marshal for every 100 marchers, and assistant marshals for smaller sections were agreed on. Workers, from firms which had ambulance appliances, were urged to bring the appliances along on the day of the procession in case of emergencies. A chief medical officer was appointed for the event. Dr. Mather would liaise with assistants placed at medical stations on Glasgow Green - near sites where platforms for speeches would be set up.   

The procession comprised of 8 divisions, marching along 8 abreast. Commencing at different start points, each division followed their prearranged route through the city of Glasgow. Each division entered the mustering area at Glasgow Green from different streets to minimise the congestion, and made their way to their allocated platform. It was a very orderly and well orgnaised march.

I have no way of bringing that scene to life for you save to say that it must have been one of magnificent colour and sound. A 'union' would likely have had its own banner which was paraded in advance of its members - the imagery portrayed on it bright, colourful and quite artistically magnificent. The members walking behind their banner would no doubt have worn their Sunday best with their badges (like my example), or a Gladstone medal, prominently pinned to their chest. Bands played along with each Division which, undoubtedly, kept them in step and boosted the morale.

How do I know this?

The Glasgow Herald article of Friday the 5th September outlined the order of the procession for all to read. I’m sure plenty of copies of this edition were bought and devoured that night. 

If my franchise badge was worn by my great grandfather he may have been in this division illustrated here - Division II - since there was a contingent of 650 Cabinetmakers and French Polishers.  
At the St. Andrews Halls, in the evening of Saturday 6th September, the Chairman of the meeting, Mr. Thomas Russell, said...

 ‘This has indeed been a memorable day in the political history of the City of Glasgow. You have been demonstrating in probably the greatest, the grandest, in the most imposing manner that has ever been done in the West- indeed, I may say, in all Scotland….’

A spectacular day indeed! 

Look out for Part 3- how poet William Topaz McGonagall described the demonstration in Dundee. 


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