1841 United Kingdom general election


In the 1841 United Kingdom general election, there was a big swing as Sir Robert Peel's Conservatives took control of the House of Commons. Melbourne's Whigs had seen their support in the Commons erode over the previous years. Whilst Melbourne enjoyed the firm support of the young Queen Victoria, his ministry had seen increasing defeats in the Commons, culminating in the defeat of the government's budget in May 1841 by 36 votes, and by 1 vote in a 4 June 1841 vote of no confidence put forward by Peel. The Whigs and Tories were at odds over whether Melbourne's defeat required his resignation, with the Queen being advised by Lord Brougham that calling an election would be without precedent, and that it should only be dissolved to strengthen the government's hands, whereas dissolution facing the Whigs in 1841 was expected to result in their defeat. Melbourne himself opposed dissolution, although his cabinet came to accept it, and Melbourne requested the Queen dissolve Parliament, leading to an election.[1] The Queen thus prorogued Parliament on 22 June.[2]

1841 United Kingdom general election

 1837 29 June – 22 July 1841 (1841-06-29 1841-07-22) 1847 
 outgoing members
elected members 

All 658 seats in the House of Commons
330 seats needed for a majority
  First party Second party Third party
 
Leader Sir Robert Peel Viscount Melbourne Daniel O'Connell
Party Conservative Whig Irish Repeal
Leader since 19 December 1834 16 July 1834 15 April 1840
Leader's seat Tamworth House of Lords County Cork
Last election 314 seats, 47.6% 344 seats, 52.4% Did not contest
Seats won 367 271 20
Seat change 53 73 20
Popular vote 306,314 273,902 12,537
Percentage 51.6% 46.2% 2.1%
Swing 4.0% 6.2% New party

Colours denote the winning party

Composition of the Commons after the election

Prime Minister before election

Viscount Melbourne
Whig

Prime Minister after election

Sir Robert Peel
Conservative

The Conservatives campaigned mainly on the issue of Peel's leadership, whilst the Whigs emphasised an impersonal platform of reforming the import duties on corn, replacing the existing sliding scale with a uniform rate. The Whig position lost them support amongst protectionists, and the Whigs saw heavy losses in constituencies like the West Riding, where aristocratic Whig families who held a strong tradition of unbroken representation in Parliament were rejected by the electorate. Even radical support coalesced around the Tories, with it being felt that Peel would be more open to electoral reform. Radical opinion also appeared to favour the business background of Peel and his supporters to the aristocratic and political background of Melbourne's Whigs, with it being felt that the Whigs made poor governors.[1]

The Whigs also lost votes to the Irish Repeal group. The Chartists picked up only a few votes despite their popular support, because voting was still restricted to a small percentage of the population. Only 3.17% of the total population voted. It is regarded as having been one of the most corrupt elections in British parliamentary history; the Westminster Review stated in 1843 that the "annals of parliamentary warfare contained no page more stained with the foulness of corruption and falsehood than that which relates the history of the general election in the year 1841".[3]

Results


UK General Election 1841
Party Candidates Votes
Stood Elected Gained Unseated Net % of total % No. Net %
  Conservative 498 367 +53 55.78 51.62 306,314 +2.6
  Whig 388 271 73 41.19 46.15 273,902 4.8
  Irish Repeal 22 20 20 0 +20 3.04 2.11 12,537 N/A
  Chartist 8 0 0 0 0 0 0.12 692 N/A

Voting summary

Popular vote
Conservative
51.62%
Whig
46.15%
Irish Repeal
2.11%
Chartist
0.12%

Seats summary

Parliamentary seats
Conservative
55.78%
Whig
41.19%
Irish Repeal
3.04%

Regional results

Great Britain
Party Candidates Unopposed Seats Seats change Votes % % change
Conservative 439 185 326 +42 286,650 52.7 +4.5
Whig 333 83 229 42 256,774 47.2 4.6
Chartist 8 0 0 692 0.1
Total 780 268 555 544,116 100
England
Party Candidates Unopposed Seats Seats change Votes % % change
Conservative 374 147 277 272,755 53.1
Whig 277 62 187 236,813 46.8
Chartist 4 0 0 307 0.1
Total 655 209 464 509,875 100
Scotland
Party Candidates Unopposed Seats Seats change Votes % % change
Whig 40 13 31 16,356 60.8
Conservative 35 16 22 9,793 38.3
Chartist 3 0 0 385 0.9
Total 78 29 53 26,534 100
Wales
Party Candidates Unopposed Seats Seats change Votes % % change
Conservative 24 16 21 4,102 53.2
Whig 16 8 11 3,605 46.8
Chartist 1 0 0 0 0.0
Total 41 24 32 7,707 100
Ireland
Party Candidates Unopposed Seats Seats change Votes % % change
Whig 55 30 42 17,128 35.1
Irish Conservative 59 27 41 19,664 40.1
Irish Repeal 22 12 20 12,537 24.8
Total 136 69 103 49,329 100
Universities
Party Candidates Unopposed Seats Seats change Votes % % change
Conservative 6 6 6 Uncontested Uncontested
Total 6 6 6 Uncontested Uncontested

Whig MPs who lost their seats


References


  1. Kemp, Betty (June 1952), "The General Election of 1841", History, 37 (130): 146–157, doi:10.1111/j.1468-229X.1952.tb00231.x, JSTOR 24402876
  2. Saint James's Chronicle Tuesday 22 June 1841, p.2.
  3. "Election Compromises", The Westminster Review, 39: 114, 1 January 1843, retrieved 28 November 2018
  4. British Electoral Facts 1832–2006, compiled and edited by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher (Parliamentary Research Services, 2007)

Further reading