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Although it has long been recognised that the politics of the larger Irish borough constituencies before the reform acts of 1832 turned on conflicts of opinion over serious issues, thorough analysis has been hampered by the paucity of one crucial type of evidence — the poll book. This necessary resource for candidates in the days of open voting, in which in their most complete form the names, addresses, qualifications, occupations and votes of the voters at a particular election are recorded, has survived in substantial numbers for English constituencies but rarely for those in Ireland. Cork City is an exception. Poll books for the seven contested elections in this constituency between 1812 and 1830 have survived, and these, together with the more commonplace statistical and written evidence which they enrich, provide ample material for a thorough analysis — in this case of voting behaviour. In this paper we provide a description of the general social and economic contexts of elections in Cork and focus upon the results of a variety of psephological tests to which the poll books have been subjected.
Significant change in the relationships between rulers, elites, and political authority is a common feature of the major European states in the last half of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries. In Russia, under Peter III and Catherine II, the nobility was released from the obligation to serve the state as established by Peter the Great and allowed to own property, engage in trade and manufacturing, and participate in local assemblies. In the course of the nineteenth century the hereditary landowning nobility, particularly the wealthiest elements of it, became firmly entrenched in the upper reaches of the bureaucracy without ever being able to dominate it. In Prussia, under Frederick the Great and Frederick William III, noble and gentry landowners were allowed to filter into the ranks, especially the higher ranks, of the bureaucracy; this reversed the embourgeoisement that had occurred under Frederick William I, but not so far as to threaten seriously the bureaucracy's loyalty to the Hohenzollerns or to weaken its reputation for efficiency. Thus the great reforms that followed the defeat by France in 1807 and were designed in part to lay the basis for recovery were executed by a combination of noble and non noble officials, and the latter were especially encouraged in order to ensure that merit rather than birth prevailed as the qualification for state service. In both cases, it could be argued, rulers found it necessary to recruit officials as well as an officer corps from the landed classes when war and territorial aggrandizement expanded the scope of government; they were loath to encourage the idea that landed wealth could automatically bestow political authority.
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