Liberal Thomas McClure elected as Belfast MP -Charles Lanyon Loses Seat
Conservatives lose 5 out of 6 Borough seats
Many contemporary writers concluded that the Ulster Borough Elections of 1868 marked a significant change in voting patterns in Ulster. The conservative party which had previously held all eleven Borough seats lost five of the six which were contested in 1868. The Times suggested that the old party allegiances had broken and new ones formed while the Banner of Ulster contributed the Liberal victories, to the conversion of many Presbyterians to the Liberal cause.[i] In his nomination speech Gladstone emphasised the Liberal victories “in the Tory town of Belfast and still more Tory town of Londonderry”.[ii] However a close examination of the poll books[iii] would indicate that the changes in voting patterns were not nearly as dramatic as the results would suggest.
Studies of elections in various English constituencies show that at this time party loyalties were weak[iv] but it is clear that most voters in Ulster had strong party allegiances. The Belfast poll book for 1865[v] shows strong party identification with less than 4% of the voters sharing their two votes between the Conservative and Liberal candidates.[vi] These party affiliations were to a large extent determined by religion with Catholics supporting the Liberal party[vii] and Episcopalians the Conservatives. The Presbyterian vote was much less predictable. Records of the 1865 Belfast election campaign kept by the liberal agent Charles Brett[viii] show that the liberal campaign concentrated almost entirely on Presbyterian voters and assumed the Episcopalians were hostile and Catholics assured supporters. The liberal canvass showed that 27% of Presbyterians would be voting liberal.[ix]
Apart from Catholics, Liberal support was strongest among businessmen and in the professions. A leading Liberal suggested in terms of property and intelligence the Tory Party was inferior and that “a £30 or £25 franchise would give an overwhelming majority to the Liberals”.[x] While this is clearly an exaggeration of Liberal support there can be no doubt that the party had considerable support among Belfast’s leading citizens. An examination of the 1865 Belfast poll book shows that more than 60% of the office bearers if the Chamber of Commerce voted Liberal.[xi] Many Presbyterian clergy were strong Liberals and a meeting held to support Liberal candidates in the 1868 election drew 150 clergymen.[xii]
In each of the four boroughs Presbyterian ministers played a leading part in the anti-Tory campaign and were particularly active in Belfast and Londonderry.
The electorate for the 1868 elections had increased considerably from that of 1865. The representation of the People (Ireland) Act had reduced the valuation qualification in the boroughs from £8 to £4 and in some boroughs the constituencies were extended to coincide with borough boundaries. In Belfast the electorate increased from 3,615 to 12,168.[xiii] Belfast was a two seat constituency and had been represented for over 20 years by two Conservatives. The liberal candidate from 1865 had been defeated by a majority of almost two to one and an analysis of voters loyalties carried out by the Belfast News Letter indicated that 71% were Conservatives, 15% were Catholics and 14% radicals.[xiv]. This may slightly exaggerate the Tory majority but most evidence would suggest that it was of approximately two to one. To win a seat the Liberals would have to achieve a swing of over 17% and this was inconceivable with the strength of party loyalty. The only alternative was a split in the Tory vote.
For the 1868 election the Conservative nominated one of the sitting members, Sir Charles Lanyon and John Mulholland, a large linen manufacturer. The Liberals choice was Tom McClure, a leading Belfast merchant, who had previously contested the seat in 1857. The fourth candidate was William Johnston a small landowner from Ballykilbeg in Co Down and the Belfast Grand Master of the Orange Order.
In 1865 Johnston had unsuccessfully sought the Conservative nomination for the Belfast following which he wrote to the News Letter threatening that the party would regret not nominating him.[xv] This setback led Johnston to build his support in the Orange Order. On 12th July he led an Orange march which had been banned under the Party Processions Act. He was arrested and jailed for two months. He refused early release, wrote a book in prison and became an Orange martyr. On his release he was welcomed by an estimated crowd of 20,000. At a “Welcome Back” rally organised by the Belfast Working Men’s Protestant Defence Association, speakers talked of “showing our appreciation by returning him to parliament”.[xvi] A campaign then ensued to get him nominated as an official Conservative candidate for Belfast.
Although he had some support among the Tory establishment the campaign was unsuccessful, partly due to the fact that the party elite did not want to be seen to being dictated by the Orange working class. This split in the Tory party presented the Liberals with an ideal opportunity to win a seat which they cleverly exploited.[xvii] The Tory establishment remained loyal to the official candidates and Johnston’s supporters mainly the Orange artisans, did not have the resources to finance his campaign. When it seemed that Johnston may have to withdraw because of the lack of finance, leading Liberals donated £500 to his campaign.[xviii]
The issue of the 1868 election was the position of the Irish church. In April the Disraeli government had been defeated when Gladstone moved a bill to suspend the powers of the Irish Church. Disraeli tended his resignation and agreed to appeal to the country in the autumn when the new constituencies would be in operation. The election took place in November and the Liberal proposals to disestablish the Church dominated political speeches in Ireland and in the rest of the country.
In Belfast two additional issues were hotly debated. The Liberals tried to exploit the fact that McClure, a Presbyterian elder, was the only candidate of his faith although Presbyterians were the largest single denomination in Belfast.[xix] Mulholland was attacked on the grounds that he left the Presbyterian Church to become an Episcopalian to advance his political career. A liberal leaflet depicts Mulholland saying that “Presbyterians are a low vulgar set” and that he is delighted with the state religion as “it is cheap and profitable”.[xx] This appeal to the Presbyterians is well summarised in a Liberal cartoon entitled Political Steeplechase.[xxi] This shows two racehorses, Independence (Johnston) and Liberty (McClure) passing the winning post while two others Aristocratic Influence (Lanyon and Mulholland) were pulled up at a fence called Insulted Presbyterianism. The Liberals fought a vigorous and expensive campaign but it appeared to have little influence on the Presbyterian voter.[xxii]
The most controversial issue however was treatment of Johnston by the Tory establishment. His supports attacked the Belfast Tory clique and blamed them for the imprisonment of their candidate while Fenians were marching freely in Dublin.[xxiii] A leading supporter Robert Maxwell Secretary of the Belfast Workmans Protestant Defence Association, told an election meeting that Johnston had been deserted by the aristocrats of Ulster and that Orangemen had been a political puppet in the hands of the aristocracy. He concluded “We have been quiet too long and have almost allowed ourselves to be trampled on but a worm turns when it is trampled on and we gave turned now”.[xxiv]
The history of Belfast elections is one of sectarian riots[xxv] but the 1868 election was relatively peaceful. Violence was mainly directed at the supporters of the Conservative candidates and in particular the Belfast News Letter whose offices were attacked by an Orange mob and reporters forcefully removed from Johnstons meetings. The liberals enjoyed an unusually peaceful campaign and were even more sympathetically received at meetings of their traditional enemy the Orangemen.[xxvi] The voting strategy of the contestants is clearly reflected in their supporters in the press. The mainly Presbyterian Banner of Ulster and Northern Whig asked voters to vote for McClure and exchange their second vote with a supporter of Johnston.[xxvii] The catholic Northern Star advised readers to vote for McClure and if necessary the man who would give assistance in his return but refused to come out and openly support of Johnston.[xxviii] The News Letter called for support for Lanyon and Mulholland but recognised that some readers would support Johnston and begged them not to plump but to give the second vote to Lanyon or Mulholland. It also carried out an extremely accurate analysis warning on what would happen if voters pumped for Johnston.[xxix] In a number of editorials it stressed the dangers of plumping an emphasised that the voters’ first duty was to “Keep Out McClure”[xxx].
However these warnings were not heeded and at the close of the poll Johnston and McClure were elected. The voting being as follows.
While the above account of the campaign, the issues and the tactics may explain the result it does no really indicate how the individual voters reacted. This information can only be obtained by a careful examination of the poll books which record the voters of each individual.[xxxi] The first stage of examination was to compare the voting behaviour of electors who voted in both the 1865 and 1868 elections.[xxxii] This creates a problem of positive identification but it was possible to identify 1303 voters who appeared on both poll books of those 446 voted Liberal in 1865 while 857 voted Tory.[xxxiii] For convenience these will be referred to as “old” voters while those who appeared only in the 1868 poll book will be referred to as “new” voters.
Table 1 How Liberal “Old Voters Voted in 1868
|McClure and Johnston||149||33|
|McClure and Lanyon||3||1|
|McClure and Mulholland||5||1|
|Johnston and Lanyon||4||1|
|Johnston and Mulholland||1||–|
|Lanyon and Mulholland||5||1|
96% Voted Liberal. N = 446
Table 2 How Conservative “Old” Voters Voted in 1868
|Lanyon and Mulholland||312||36|
|Lanyon and Johnston||257||30|
|Johnston and Mulholland||14||2|
|Johnston and McClure||150||18|
|Lanyon and McClure||10||1|
|Mulholland and McClure||8||1|
N = 857
These tables do not indicate that there was any great changes in the party allegiances. Less than 4% changed from Liberal to Conservative and even fewer changed in the opposite direction. It would appear that few voters were influenced by the disestablishment debate and the liberal’s campaign to attract greater support from Presbyterians. It is impossible to be certain however as the picture us confused by the intervention of Johnston. Although there is no evidence of changes in party allegiance there is a much greater willingness for voters to split their votes between Liberal and Conservative parties. If it is assumed that Johnston was basically a conservative candidate the figures show that 20% of the old voters split their votes, this is an extremely high figure when compared to the 4% of 1865.[xxxiv] This could be explained by McClure and Johnston supporters exchanging their second votes.
The Total Votes Cast By The Identified Old Voters Are As Follows
Allowing for sampling error these figures are too close to indicate who would have won if only the old voters had been taken into account. However it is probable that McClure and Lanyon would have been successful. In order to save one of the Conservative seats Mulholland withdrew at eleven o’clock and called on all Tories to vote for Lanyon and Johnston.[xxxv] At this time Mulholland had polled slightly fewer votes than Lanyon. The Morning News shows that at ten o’clock Mulholland had polled at 18% – just one per cent less than Lanyon.[xxxvi] Mulholland’s withdrawal meant that many voters who would have voted Lanyon/Mulholland voted Lanyon/Johnston (few plumped for Lanyon). Therefore Johnston received many more votes than he would have if Mulholland had not withdrawn. If only the old voters had been voting Mulholland’s position would not have been hopeless so he probably would not have withdrawn.[xxxvii]
Irrespective of Mulholland’s withdrawal it is impossible to say who would have been successful if the electorate had remained that is 1865. It is possible that Johnson would have been elected but he certainly would not have obtained the majority he achieved with the extended franchise.
It is clear from the above figures that there was a distinct difference between the voting patterns of the “old voters” and the “New voters”. This can be seen by comparing a sample of 600 new voters with the old voters.[xxxviii]
Table 3 Comparison of New And Old Voters
|Old Voters %||New Voters %||Difference|
|McClure and Johnston||23||25||-2|
|Johnston and Lanyon||20||23||-3|
|McClure and Mulholland||1||1||–|
|McClure and Lanyon||1||1||–|
|Johnston and Mulholland||1||2||-1|
|Lanyon and Mulholland||24||11||-13|
|(N = 1303)||(N = 600)|
Even allowing for possible sampling error there were clearly significant differences between the voting patterns of the old and new voters. While many of the old voters were likely to remain loyal to the official candidates the new voters were more likely to support Johnston.[xxxix] In addition the new voters were much more likely to plump for Johnston rather than give their second vote to an official Conservative candidate. These figures provide no evidence of significant changes in party allegiances.
Newspaper reports of Johnston’s meetings suggest that strongest supporters were the newly enfranchised Orange artisans. This is clearly supported by a comparison of old and new voters.
While McClure’s support remained stable Johnston increased his share of the poll significantly among new voters. This was at the expense of two candidates. Many of the working class were extremely bitter. They felt that they had been exploited by the aristocracy to demonstrate their bitterness many voted for the anti-Tory candidate and others abstained.
The Liberals appeal to Presbyterians would not appear to have any effect although the voting of the clergy is interesting.
|McClure and Johnston||–||7|
|McClure and Mulholland||1||1|
|Lanyon and Mulholland||9||2|
The clergy were extremely polarised with the eleven Episcopalians voting conservative and 17 out of the 20 Presbyterians voting Liberal. Again it is interesting to note that the Episcopalians as part of the establishment voted solidly for the official candidates. This support for the Liberal party by the Presbyterian clergy is not reflected among Presbyterians in general. In fact after exchanges with Johnston’s supporters are excluded it would appear that the Liberal proportion of the poll remained fairly stable. The News Letter states that 1,152 Johnston supporters voted Liberal[xli] which would mean that out of the total of 9,313 who voted 3,052 (33%) were genuine Liberals compared with 34% in 1865. If Presbyterians who constituted more than 35% of the population had been converted to Liberalism in any great numbers, McClure would have increased his vote considerably. There is no indication that a significant number of people changed their party allegiance.
It could be argued however that the fact so many voters split their votes was significant in itself given the traditional polarisation of the Belfast electorate. The News Letter figures indicate that 38% of Liberals were willing to give one of their votes to the traditional enemy while 18% of Conservatives did the same. It is clear that the Catholic Liberals were less willing to vote for Johnston than other Liberals the 3 catholic clergy plumped for McClure and in Smithfield ward (the ward with the highest proportion of Catholics) the percentage of the Liberals voting for Johnston fell to 30%, however many Catholics did vote for the extreme Orangeman. On the other hand almost one in five conservatives gave a vote to the candidate supported by the Catholic clergy.
Therefore an analysis of the Belfast Poll book shows that there was no significant change in party support. The efforts to increase Presbyterian support for Liberalism were unsuccessful contrary to the claims of the contemporary press. The decisive factors were the extension of the franchise and the divisions within the Tory party. It is not possible to predict the result if the electorate had been that of 1865 but the enfranchisement of the artisans gave Johnston a comfortable victory despite many of the old voters remaining loyal to the official candidates.
In addition to those Conservatives who gave one of their votes to McClure 1433 others plump for Johnston despite the warnings of the News Letter. Therefore over 41% of the voters with the Conservative sympathies refused to vote for either of the official candidates. If even half of these Conservatives abstainers had voted for Lanyon he would have been elected. This clearly reflects considerable disillusionment with the party establishment by its traditional supporters. However this is not so great among the old voters only 27% of whom did not give at least one vote to the official candidates.
It is clear from examining the poll book that there was no real change in party support. Many Tory supporters disaffected with the party establishment exchanged votes with McClure supporters or plumped to ensure Johnston’s success. There was much hostility to the official candidates because of the manner in which Johnston had been treated but there was no widespread conversion to Liberalism.
This resentment of the Tory establishment also affected the election for the borough of Carrickfergus. This borough was traditionally represented by the nominee of a leading Orangeman and Tory, the Marquis of Downshire. The catholic population was small and the Catholic electorate even smaller with the result that the Liberals had no won the seat since 1832. The sitting member was Robert Torrens who had been elected in 1859. He had little personal support and owed his seat to the backing of Downshire. The challenger was Marriott R. Dalway, A landowner with strong local ties who stood as an Independent. His father was a leading Tory and had nominated Torrens in 1865.
Dalway fought an anti-establishment campaign emphasising that he was no the nominee of any man or clique. His supporters claimed he was “another Johnston” and pointed out that the previous Marquis of Downshire had insulted Johnston at an orange protest meeting against disestablishment. The resentment was so great that Downshires agent was attacked and beaten when he visited the polling booth to observe the state of the poll.
The poll resulted in a victory for Dalway by 262 votes. It is apparent that this victory was largely due to the mood of resentment created by the treatment of Johnston and a rejection of the establishment. There were no major differences in views between the two candidates and policy was rarely discussed. Although most newspapers recorded Carrickfergus as a Liberal victory this is incorrect. It is true that Dalway was supported by local Liberals and his campaign was organised by a Liberal Presbyterian clergyman, the Rev James White but as one of his supporters pointed out in a letter to the Morning Herald Dalway was a Conservative and an Orangeman. He was a strong Episcopalian, an Orangeman, a leader of Protestant Defence Association who voted later against the dis-establishment bill.
The loss of the Carrickfergus seat was clearly due to disenchantment with the Tory establishment and its nominee together with Dalways local popularity. There was no other issues and the extension of the franchise was irrelevant as Dalway’s maority of 262 was greater than the increase in the electorate.
The election in Newry differed considerably from those in Belfast and Carrickfergus. While those towns had large Protestant majorities the population of Newry was 63% Catholic, although in 1865 only 41% of the registered voters were Catholics. However the high percentage of Catholic voters made Newry a marginal seat. Prior to 1868 it had been held by conservatives for nine years but previously had a Liberal MP in William kirk. In 1868 Kirk a Presbyterian elder regained the seat and turned a Conservative majority of 31 votes into a Liberal majority of 7. A comparison of the religious voting patterns at the two elections is significant.
|Con Lib||Con Lib|
|Presbyterians||262 29||171 30|
|Other Protestants||2||23 2|
|Catholics||5 201||11 341|
|Total||267 236||379 386|
Table 6 shows that there was little change in voting patterns between the two elections. At both elections voting was extremely sectarian with Catholics overwhelmingly supporting the Liberals and Episcopalians the Conservatives. While a big majority of the Presbyterians voted Conservative a small but important number supported the Liberals. A detailed examination of the poll book shows that the rateable value of the property owned by Presbyterian :Liberals was more than twice that of other Presbyterians and that only one of the 25 newly enfranchised Presbyterians voted for the Liberal candidate. The Liberal Presbyterians included many of the boroughs leading citizens, doctors, lawyers and businessmen but support outside this elite group was negligible. The fact that the Liberal vote among the Presbyterians was only one more than in 1865 would suggest that the Liberals campaign on disestablishment had little effect on the Presbyterian voters. The reason for the Conservative defeat is clear if those qualified by the £4 franchise are extracted from the poll book. This shows that of the 188 newly qualified voters 113 are Catholics – a net increase of 38 Catholics. These newly enfranchised Catholics voted Liberal and eliminated the Conservative majority of 31. Johnston, the division among Conservatives and the Liberal campaign to win Presbyterian support would have appear to have little effect on the result. It is clear that although the main reason for the Liberal victory in Newry was the newly enfranchised Catholic voters this victory would not have been possible without the small number of Presbyterians who supported the Liberal candidate.
As in Newry there was a Catholic majority in Londonderry. Catholics constituted 58% of the population but even after the 1868 Reform Act only 38% of the registered electors. The Presbyterian vote was therefore extremely important as no Liberal could be elected unless he received significant Presbyterian support. In 1868 the Liberals selected an Episcopalian, Richard Dowse Q.C. but this does not appear to have effected Liberal support among Presbyterians.
The Tory candidate was Lord Claude Hamilton the second son of the Duke of Abercorn. Hamilton had won the seat in 1865 with a majority of 48 over his Liberal opponent. However the extension of the franchise had increased the electorate by 620 and when the new register had been prepared the Liberal Northern Whig suggested that it gave the Liberals a majority of 126. This claim was contested by the Conservatives who claimed an increased majority.
Disestablishment dominated the campaign with the clergy leading the debate. The Liberal platform included most of the lecturers at the Presbyterian Magee College and a prominent speaker was the Rev. William McClure, the younger brother of Thomas McClure and minister of the first Presbyterian Church. The campaign as a whole concentrated on winning Presbyterian support.
As can be seen from Table 7 the Episcopalians and Catholics voted as in Newry but the split among Presbyterians was greater. The Liberal Presbyterians in Londonderry were a much wider cross section of the community than in Belfast or Newry but again it was highest among the professions, businessmen and clergy. A comparison of the Presbyterian and Episcopalian clergy shows that eight of the nine Presbyterians voted for Dowse and all eleven Episcopalian voted for Hamilton.
It is difficult to say why a much higher percentage of Presbyterians voted Liberal in Londonderry than in other boroughs. It was probably due in part to the fact that they city lacked a long history of bitter sectarian elections having been represented for 30 years by Sir Robert Ferguson who was popular with all sections of the community and termed himself a Liberal-Conservative. The sectarian violence which regularly accompanied elections in Belfast was rare in Londonderry.
As in Newry Johnston was rarely mentioned and dis-establishment dominating the campaign. There is no evidence that Presbyterians support for the Liberal party was influenced by disestablishment. In fact it would seem to have little effect. An examination of the poll book for the Londonderry election of 1870 a year after the Act was passed shows that four Presbyterians (less than 2%) changed allegiances between the two elections three from Liberal to Conservative and one from Conservative to Liberal. This would suggest that the Presbyterians were extremely stables and largely unaffected by the issues of the disestablishment debate. In fact there was little overall change between the elections as Table 7 would indicate.
|Liberal Majority 105 88|
The voting patterns in both elections are similar the major difference being an increase of 82 in non-voters the most of whom were Presbyterians.
A comparison of the poll books for 1868 and 1870 shows that of 938 voters who can be traced with certainty only 15 (under 2%) changed their party allegiance. The fact that the Northern Whig was able to calculate quite accurately the advantage of the Liberals of the franchise extension would also suggest that party loyalties were stable and well known.
If party loyalties were stable it is almost certain that the Liberal victory in Londonderry is due to the extension of the franchise. The Newry Chronicle states that most of the newly enfranchised voters in Londonderry were Catholics the voting pattern would suggest that this was correct. Therefore we saw in Newry personalities and issues played little part in the result of the election which was determined by a change in the electorate.
It would be wrong therefore to attribute the loss of five Conservative seats to any single cause. However the Banner of Ulster’s assertion that there had been a dramatic increase in Liberal support is clearly incorrect.
St Anne’s Ward
|Johnston and Lanyon||339|
|Lanyon and Mullholland||316|
|Lanyon and McClure||8|
|Johnston and Mulholland||63|
|Mulholland and McClure||20|
|Johnston and McClure||642|
|Johnston and Lanyon||444|
|Lanyon and Mulholland||255|
|Lanyon and McClure||7|
|Johnston and Mulholland||18|
|Mulholland and McClure||11|
|Johnston and McClure||467|
|Johnston and Lanyon||444|
|Lanyon and Mulholland||299|
|Lanyon and McClure||13|
|Johnston and Mullholland||47|
|Mulholland and McClure||35|
|Johnston and McClure||408|
|Johnston and Lanyon||441|
|Lanyon and Mulholland||229|
|Lanyon and McClure||6|
|Johnston and Mulholland||31|
|Mulholland and McClure||27|
|Johnston and McClure||444|
|Johnston and Lanyon||216|
|Lanyon and Mulholland||134|
|Lanyon and McClure||5|
|Mulholland and McClure||2|
|Johnston and McClure||309|
St Anne’s Ward
Roman Catholic and Liberals Split with Johnston and McClure 291
Protestant Conservative split with Johnston and McClure 351
Roman Catholic and Liberal Split with Johnston and McClure 178
Protestant Conservative split with Johnston and McClure 351
Roman Catholic and Liberal Split with Johnston and McClure 178
Protestant Conservative split with Johnston and McClure 217
Roman Catholic and Liberal Split with Johnston and McClure 276
Protestant Conservative split with Johnston and McClure 168
Roman Catholic and Liberal Split with Johnston and McClure 182
Protestant Conservative Split with Johnston and McClure 127
|Johnston and Lanyon||Johnston and McClure||Lanyon and Mulholland||Lanyon and McClure||Johnston and Mulholland||Mulholland and McClure|
Total of Votes polled
|St Anne’s Ward||2395|
Number of Electors who did not vote
|St Anne’s Ward||698|
Number of Electors on Roll
|St Anne’s Ward||3314|
The Mayors Official Declaration