The Dublin by-election of 1782

By Lisa-Marie Griffith

fishamble finalDue to the size of the Dublin city electorate in the eighteenth century, 3,000 freemen could vote, elections in the capital were hotly contested. Elections in the city were fought between the two city factions- the alderman, pro-castle (government) candidates and the anti-alderman, city radicals (patriots). The 1782 by-election occasioned by the death of Dr. William Clement was fought between the Presbyterian merchant and city radical Travers Hartley and the alderman and pro-castle brewer, Nathaniel Warren. The election was bitterly fought with the Castle newspaper The Freeman’s Journal backing Warren and slandering Hartley and was hotly contested when the Alderman failed to win his seat. 

The election was marred by a city incident in February 1782. A debate was arranged by the printers guild of St Anne at their house beside the music hall in Fishamble Street and was attended by a large number of potential voters. ‘The floor gave way and they all went through except a few who were in the windows. A great number of people had their legs and arms broke and several received great contusions by the fall which was not less than 14 feet.’ While no one died, Saunder’s Newsletter reported 7 February 1782 that many suffered severe injuries and The Freeman’s Journal reported five days later that over fifty people had received fractures. The two candidates escaped with minor bruising.

Warren’s supporters attacked Hartley through the The Freeman’s Journal. They sought to goad electors by suggesting that only city Presbyterians supported him and that he would work only for the good of his co-religionists. 2 February a piece in the paper said ‘Mr. Hartley’s chief interest is publicly mentioned to arise from a respectable body of Presbyterians, who form a strong coalition in his favour’. A letter signed by ‘an independent elector’ claiming that if Hartley was returned to parliament he would forward only Presbyterian causes and therefore the city should rally against him: ‘it should be the business of every other denomination of Protestants as well as Roman Catholics, to counteract so unjustifiable a design’. The letter further claimed that Hartley was a member of a party and therefore a faction, which would make him less independent and more corruptible. Despite the attempt to create anxiety over religion, Hartley defeated Warren and took the seat. He was re-elected the following year during a general election (when Warren was also elected to parliament) and was city M.P. until 1790 when he declined to run again.

Warren took the defeat badly and claimed that the city sheriffs, who oversaw people casting their votes, had ran the election in favour of Hartley. At the polling station, lines of voters would be formed for each candidate. The Sheriffs would take 5 voters from each line to cast their vote working their way through each candidates line and then return to the first line. When Warren failed to present his voters, the sheriffs had returned to Hartley’s queue and he was put ahead of the alderman. Each time there were no voters for the alderman, Hartley was put ahead. This, Warren claimed, was not to his favour and so against his campaign because they should have waited for him to get more voters. He spread this around the city but when the sheriffs responded to his allegations Warren backed down.

Hartley remained a member of parliament for Dublin until 1790 when he resigned due to old age. Warren was elected the following year to the second seat much to the dismay of the city radicals. Nevertheless, his behaviour in parliament against the popular wishes of the Dublin inhabitants meant he was hugely unpopular and we not re-elected in 1790 for the city. Hartley, in contrast, was much loved throughout the city as he worked for the city and his constituents presenting their petitions and voting the way they wished him to vote.

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