Bristol

Double Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen and freeholders

Number of voters:

about 5,000

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
1 May 1754Robert Nugent2592
 Richard Beckford2245
 Sir John Philipps2160
18 Mar. 1756Jarrit Smith vice Beckford, deceased2418
 John Spencer2347
26 Dec. 1759Nugent re-elected after appointment to office 
27 Mar. 1761Robert Nugent 
 Jarrit Smith 
16 Dec. 1766Robert Nugent, 1st Visct. Clare [I], re-elected after appointment to office 
16 Mar. 1768Robert Nugent, Visct. Clare 
 Matthew Brickdale 
27 June 1768Clare re-elected after appointment to office 
3 Nov. 1774Henry Cruger3565
 Edmund Burke2707
 Matthew Brickdale2456
 Robert Nugent, Visct. Clare283
20 Sept. 1780Matthew Brickdale2771
 Sir Henry Lippincott2518
 Henry Cruger1271
 Samuel Peach788
 Edmund Burke18
26 Feb. 1781George Daubeny vice Lippincott, deceased3143
 Henry Cruger2771
10 May 1784Matthew Brickdale3458
 Henry Cruger3052
 George Daubeny2984
 Samuel Peach373

Main Article

In 1754 Bristol was the second largest city in the kingdom and the third largest urban constituency. Elections were extremely expensive: of its 5,000 voters about a third lived outside the town; canvassing was laborious; and the size of the constituency forced it to develop some sort of political organization.

The Steadfast Society, founded in 1737, represented the Tory interest. It never numbered more than 100 members; was as much social as political in its nature; and met infrequently. ‘The interest of this society’, its minute book recorded on 20 Dec. 1758, ‘[has] suffered much from the want of the business being constantly done and the arrears regularly collected’; and there were no meetings 1763-7 and 1769-75. About the Union Club, which represented the Whig interest, little is known; and no accounts of its proceedings seem to have survived. Local issues, especially concerning mercantile and shipping interests, affected the politics of the town.

At the dissolution of 1754 both Members were Tories, and both retired. Committees of the two societies met to try to arrange a compromise on the basis of each nominating one Member. The Union Club put forward the names of Robert Nugent and Lord Barrington for consideration by the Steadfast Society, which declined to accept either; and chose Sir John Philipps for its own candidate. The Union Club then broke off negotiations, and decided to invite Nugent to stand. The Steadfast Society, trying for both seats, joined Richard Beckford to Philipps.

On 6 Apr. 1754 Newcastle wrote to the King:1

I humbly presume to acquaint your Majesty that Mr. Nugent and Mr. Hanbury, the great Quaker, came to me last night and told me that they had received an express from the Whigs at Bristol, who had directed Mr. Hanbury to engage to indemnify Mr. Nugent against all the expenses of his election, if he would immediately go down to Bristol, to the sum of £10,000.

According to Josiah Tucker,2 one of Nugent’s leading supporters at Bristol, ‘there was no one thing which contributed to the success of our cause so much as our continual insisting upon the ill-behaviour of the Tories in rejecting the compromise’. On Beckford’s death in January 1756 Nugent and Tucker urged the Union Club to try again for an agreement with the Tories, but this time ‘a club of low tradesmen among the Dissenters’ rejected all idea of a compromise and persuaded the Whigs to attempt a second Member.3

The contest of 1754 was thus repeated, but with the onus on the Whigs of wishing to monopolize the representation of the city. The Steadfast Society chose as their candidate Jarrit Smith, a Bristol lawyer; and, to show they were not ‘the disturbers of the peace of the city’, announced that if they won they would propose a compromise for the future.4 John Spencer, who stood on the interest of the Union Club, lacked Smith’s strong local connexions; and Nugent, concerned for the safety of his own seat, ‘disapproved and discountenanced’ his candidature.5 But he obtained from the Treasury a payment of £2,000 from secret service funds towards Spencer’s expenses.6

These two contests demonstrated beyond doubt that the attempt by either side to choose two Members would be ruinously expensive and hardly feasible. (Tucker estimated that they had cost over £60,000.) An agreement was reached by which the candidate named by one party should be supported by the other during three successive Parliaments. ‘We are at present in a state of perfect quiet in Bristol’, wrote Tucker to Hardwicke on 3 Jan. 1761.7 ‘Our poverty and the immense sums spent in former elections have done that towards reconciling us which reason and argument could not do.’ At the general election Nugent and Smith were returned unopposed.

On Nugent’s re-election after taking office in December 1766 the compromise was confirmed with respect to the forthcoming general election. When in February 1768 Smith announced his intention to retire, Richard Combe and Matthew Brickdale offered themselves to the Steadfast Society, who chose Brickdale. Combe began a canvass against the candidates of both parties, but declined before the poll.

His candidature was not a serious threat, but reflected dissatisfaction with caucus politics. (The meeting of the Steadfast Society which selected Brickdale was attended by only eleven members.8) And Nugent (now Viscount Clare) wrote after his re-election on 28 June that there had been ‘some untoward circumstances arising from a jealousy conceived by the multitude of too much power assumed by the two societies in nominating their candidates’.9

By 1774 the two societies had ceased to play much part in the political life of Bristol. The Union Club had been gradually running down since 1758, when Tucker, its leading spirit, moved to Gloucester; and Clare made no effort to reinvigorate it: he is not known to have visited Bristol between his re-election in 1768 and the general election of 1774. The old type of Toryism was by then almost extinct; and Brickdale, the so-called Tory, was indistinguishable politically from Clare, the so-called Whig. New trends arose in politics, which were not catered for by the existing clubs.

Of these new trends, the most important was radicalism. On 8 Mar. 1769 a public meeting drew up instructions to be sent to Clare and Brickdale: they were to press for shorter Parliaments, and for bills limiting the number of placemen in Parliament and excluding pensioners and contractors—typical Radical demands, which must have appealed to those who had formerly professed the old Tory creed. The radicals followed this up with a petition against the Middlesex election, which was countered by a loyal address from the Government supporters. A number of citizens decided ‘to form themselves into an independent society, and that, unconnected with party and uninfluenced by ministerial power, they will support those measures only expressive of their loyalty to their King and asserting the independence of the people’.10 In 1772 Wilkes visited Bristol, and fresh instructions were sent to the Members to support Sawbridge’s motion for annual Parliaments. By 1774 Government supporters had formed the Loyal and Constitutional Club, and the radicals were divided amongst themselves—the less extreme elements had broken away from the Independent Society, but as yet had formed no club of their own.

Well in advance of the general election of 1774 the radicals had selected Henry Cruger as their candidate—apparently without reference to the political clubs.11 Cruger’s business partner, John Mallard, proposed at one time to stand with him but later withdrew, presumably because the radicals felt that to try for two seats would be overreaching themselves. However, there were some who wished to make the attempt. In June 1774 the Rev. Thomas Wilson, a prominent London radical and a friend of Wilkes, approached Burke on behalf of a group of Bristol merchants. Burke’s response was cold: he was not prepared to stand as an avowed radical, and informed Wilson that in any case he could contribute nothing towards election expenses.

About the same time Richard Champion, a Bristol porcelain manufacturer, unaware that Wilson had already approached Burke, suggested that Burke and Dunning, the recorder, should stand on a joint interest. Champion was a Quaker, who had supported the petition of 1769 on the Middlesex election, but had subsequently broken with the radicals. He disliked Cruger intensely, and was determined to bring in Burke. He was supported by another Quaker, Joseph Harford, partner in the firm of Harford, Cowles, and Co., iron merchants.12 Champion and Harford now worked towards getting Burke and Cruger as candidates on a joint interest.

Cruger’s candidature was announced on 6 July, and his campaign began immediately. A merchant, a member of the common council, and the son-in-law of Samuel Peach, a wealthy linen-draper, he had close connexions with the mercantile community; and was a strong candidate. Soon after the dissolution Clare and Brickdale were adopted as candidates by their respective societies. An attempt was made by Champion and Harford to nominate Burke: Cruger and Peach are said to have favoured the idea, but their supporters overruled the proposal. Burke had gone to Bath, intending to go on to Bristol if he won the nomination; he now set off for Malton where he was to be returned on Rockingham’s interest.

It was generally believed at Bristol that Lord Clare’s seat was safe, and that only Brickdale was in danger. Hence many of Cruger’s supporters did not wish to see Burke adopted. Two Opposition candidates might draw down on them the charge of trying to monopolize the representation. Burke had made it clear that he could contribute nothing towards his expenses, which would fall mainly on Cruger’s supporters: they would have more to pay, and less chance of seeing their man elected. Nor was the conduct of Burke’s supporters such as to deserve confidence. On Burke’s rejection, Champion made overtures to Brickdale’s committee ‘that Mr. Brickdale should resign his pretensions and that Mr. Burke should be declared a candidate, whose friends in that case should vote for Lord Clare, who as Brickdale’s principal friends were equally friends of his Lordship and wished for one court Member, they still would be gratified’. In short, there was no basis for a joint interest between Burke and Cruger.

The poll opened on 7 Oct. On the first day Clare received 12 votes, Cruger 11, and Brickdale 10; yet at the close of the poll Clare declined. ‘He has written a long letter to Mr. Robinson’, wrote North to the King on 10 Oct.,13 ‘explaining his reasons for declining the poll, which it seems he did to save his colleague Mr. Brickdale. He lays the blame upon the conduct of his friends in the town.’ The London Chronicle reported that Clare’s friends had been ‘supine and negligent, and when the day of election came seemed to be in confusion’. Six years later (18 Sept. 1780) Clare (now Earl Nugent) wrote to Burke after Burke’s defeat at Bristol:

Whatever the comparative strength of parties may be at Bristol, I am sure the difference is not so decisive as to render it wise in either to contend for two Members. I believe with you that the Whigs have a superior weight of property, but however that may operate uniformly upon counties, where every voter must have property, and may sometimes prevail in great towns where the majority of the electors have no property, as I presume is the case of Bristol, other indefinable causes, when they coincide, will render a shoemaker presiding over a club an overmatch for a rich alderman who licenses the alehouse where they meet, and enables them by employment to pay their reckoning. When I first was chosen for Bristol property prevailed over an old-established interest, and would have prevailed in favour of any colleague whom I should choose to name. The next year, with the same interest to support him, Lord Spencer was beat by an attorney; and at the end of twenty years’ service, with six unanimous elections and all the great property of Bristol on my side, except what was possessed by one unpopular man (Peach), I should have been lower on the poll than Cruger had I persevered.

Champion, on hearing of Clare’s withdrawal, made a fresh approach to Cruger, but obtained no clear or decisive answer. Despite this he was determined to nominate Burke, and was now supported by two of Clare’s former committee, Paul Farr and John Noble (henceforth two of Burke’s strongest supporters). When the poll re-opened the next day, Champion nominated Burke. Cruger adhered to his resolution to stand alone, but many of his followers were prepared to support Burke. Brickdale objected to Burke’s being nominated after the poll had begun, and claimed that Clare’s withdrawal had ended the election. The sheriffs postponed the poll; consulted the town clerk and recorder on the legal aspects; and on 10 Oct. announced that they would accept votes for all four candidates. Burke, summoned from Malton, arrived at Bristol on 13 Oct.

Burke’s nomination speech dealt primarily with the American problem, but judging from election broadsides this was a minor issue. The Quebec Act, with its concessions to Roman Catholicism, was the one Government measure which was frequently criticized. Burke drew much of his support from the well-to-do Quaker merchants, while Cruger relied heavily on the poorer Methodists. The Anglican clergy voted overwhelmingly for Brickdale. Cruger got an early lead on the poll, and the contest developed into a struggle for second place between Burke and Brickdale. Burke’s propaganda endeavoured to persuade Cruger’s supporters to give their second votes to Burke, and seems to have been successful: 2,668 voted for Cruger and Burke, and only 675 for Cruger and Brickdale. Brickdale received 1,504 plumpers, Cruger 220, and Burke 21. The election is said to have cost Burke’s friends £10,000, including the expenses involved in meeting Brickdale’s petition; presumably Brickdale and Cruger spent about the same. Cruger was financed in part by his wealthy father-in-law, while Brickdale received £2,000 from secret service funds.

Burke was proud of his success in a great open constituency, and intended to use his position to further the cause of the Rockingham party. ‘All opposition is absolutely crippled if it can obtain no kind of support without doors’, he told Rockingham on 23 Aug. 1775. The friends who had helped Burke in his election formed themselves into a club which met regularly at the Bell tavern; led by Champion, Burke intended them to mould opinion in Bristol. ‘All direction of public humour and opinion must originate in a few’, he wrote to Rockingham on 23 Aug. And to Richmond on Sept.: ‘The people are not answerable for their present supine acquiescence ... God and nature never made them to act without guidance and direction.’ Burke was conscious of great issues depending in America; and now he was able to reinforce his eloquence in the House of Commons with organized and directed support from outside.

In one of his first letters to his new constituents (20 Jan. 1775) he reported Chatham’s motion in the Lords to withdraw the troops from America; and took care to point out how remiss Chatham had been not to consult the Rockinghams before making his motion. Burke hoped to be able to leave to the Bell Club the work of marshalling Bristol into the ranks of the Rockingham party; he would exercise a general control from London but would not intervene in person. He was ‘infinitely grieved’ to find that his supporters in Bristol expected him to visit the city to celebrate the defeat of Brickdale’s petition. ‘How can they imagine I am such a fool as to neglect my duty for a foolish piece of pageantry,’ he wrote to Champion.14 Burke always treated his Bristol constituents with a certain hauteur: while sincerely devoted to their interests, he claimed to know better than they what those interests were—and sometimes did not hesitate to tell them so.

In September 1775 he made his first visit since his election. ‘An annual complimentary visit is, I find, necessary even in the most quiet times’, he wrote to Rockingham on 14 Sept. ‘It is a mark of decent attention and respect which they require from their Members.’ But the times were not quiet. ‘The ruin of your country ... is approaching with the greatest rapidity’, he wrote to Richmond on 26 Sept.; and he tried to stir the leaders of the Rockingham party into doing something in the constituencies to prevent the impending war in America. ‘As sure as we have now an existence’, he told Rockingham on 23 Aug., ‘if the meeting of Parliament should catch your Lordship and your friends in an unprepared state, nothing but disgrace and ruin can attend the cause you are at the head of.’ At Bristol an address was being prepared in support of Administration, and Burke’s friends were rallying against it. He wrote to Rockingham on his return (14 Sept.):

I think ... I can undertake to answer to your Lordship for the readiness of a number there ... to take any proper part and which your Lordship shall think advisable. A trusty secret committee is formed to digest business, and to correspond with other towns. I am persuaded that the movement of our city would be followed by that of twenty or thirty other places, and some of them of consideration.

And in the same letter, after having talked with Champion: ‘Our friends in Bristol are beginning to execute the plan; but they neither can proceed, nor do I wish they should, until I know your Lordship’s final resolution.’ But Rockingham was sceptical of Burke’s project. He replied on 24 Sept.: ‘I see and lament that the generality of the nation are aiding and assisting in their own destruction; and I conceive that nothing but a degree of experience of the evils can bring about a right judgment in the public at large.’ Burke prepared straightway to drop his plan.

Nothing more than your Lordship’s final determination [he wrote to Rockingham on 1 Oct.] was required to satisfy my mind most perfectly on the prudence and propriety of the plan to which you adhere. ... I only wish your Lordship to be persuaded that if I had known it were thought most advisable to rest on our arms, and to let the court get out of wind by pursuing its own schemes uninterrupted in the cities and boroughs, I should never have suffered any motions repugnant to that arrangement in Bristol.

He apologized for the steps which had already been taken, but they were necessary; an address in favour of Administration having been proposed, ‘my friends were of opinion that they could not continue longer inactive without great prejudice to their credit and interest’, and a petition against the Government’s policy was circulated. Thus ended Burke’s first attempt to win Bristol for the Rockingham party.

Burke next visited Bristol in August 1776 at the pressing request of his friends, who were making a bid for control of the corporation. A visit to Bristol was an expensive business which he could ill afford, and he did not go again until shortly before the general election of 1780. Yet it seems unlikely that the expense alone prevented him from going. By the beginning of 1777 he was disillusioned about trying to win support for the Rockingham party in the constituencies. Rockingham would not give a lead, and Burke would not act without one. His friends in Bristol must do what they could without him: ‘You ought not to wait any other or greater movements which may never be’, he told Champion on 13 Jan.

On the secession of the Rockinghams from Parliament (January 1777) Burke took no steps to explain to his constituents why he had decided to absent himself from his duty. Only in April, in his pamphlet A Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, did he publicly attempt a justification of his conduct—two paragraphs in a pamphlet of nearly a hundred pages. The corporation’s decision in August to present the freedom of the city to Sandwich and Suffolk exasperated him, and he declined to make the presentation. This seems to have been the last straw,15 and henceforth Burke almost ceased to care what his Bristol constituents did.

There is a well-known passage in Burke’s speech previous to the election of 1780 in which he defended his conduct in not coming more frequently to Bristol:

A visit to Bristol is always a sort of canvass. ... My canvass of you was not on the ’Change nor in the county meetings nor in the clubs of this city: it was in the House of Commons; it was at the custom house; it was at the Council; it was at the Treasury; it was at the Admiralty. I canvassed you through your affairs, and not your persons... There was nothing too laborious or too low for me to undertake. The meanness of the business was raised by the dignity of the object.

As an Opposition Member, Burke was debarred from soliciting patronage for his constituents; he could only help to forward their business with Government departments, and the evidence fully confirms his own statement about his diligence in this respect.16 Much of it concerned the private affairs of his friends, but a good deal was done on behalf of the Society of Merchant Venturers, the collective body of Bristol merchants. Burke wrote to Champion on 26 June 1777:

I am sure that you are perfectly in the right about the importance of these little things, and the still greater importance of not suffering my services in them to be forgot. Until I knew it, both by my own particular experience and by my observation of what has happened to others, I could not have believed how very little the local constituent attends to the general public line of conduct observed by their Member. They judge of him solely by his merits as their special agent.

‘Not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good.’17 The conflict between Burke’s conception of the duty of an M.P. and that of his constituents came to a head over the Irish trade proposals. ‘The interest of your constituents and of the English manufacturers call for your strenuous opposition to this plan’, wrote Samuel Span, master of the Society of Merchant Venturers, to Burke and Cruger on 13 Apr. 1778; and Burke’s friends in Bristol were in agreement. To Champion Burke wrote on 14 Apr.:

I find that the people of Bristol are about as wise as I expected they would turn out ... As to ... my friends, I rather fancied they would so much have entered into my views as rather to have co-operated with me than thwarted me in a manner in which I must be at least as good a judge as they ... But I shall go on my own way, and they will find the error of their’s in the long run.

His reply to Span, written on 23 Apr., began: ‘You will be so good as to present my best respects to the Society, and to assure them that it was altogether unnecessary to remind me of the interests of the constituents.’ There followed a long and statesmanlike justification of the policy of commercial concessions to Ireland—which was entirely lost on the Bristol merchants. Harford, Cowles, and Co., Quaker iron merchants, wrote to Burke on 5 May: ‘We do not yet find one amongst us who can declare in favour of thy sentiments under the present situation of things.’ A writer in the Gentleman’s Magazine (1780, p. 619) summarized Bristol opinion on Burke’s part in this affair:

He considered first the interest of his native country, and conducted himself through the whole of this matter more like a representative of Cork or Dublin than as a Member for a trading city in England.

And here is the conclusion Burke drew from his six years as Member for Bristol:18

I have a notion that men who take an enlarged line on public business and upon grounds of some depth, and that require at every instance the appearance of doing something in appearance wrong in order to do what is really and substantially right, ought not to sit for these great busy places. Besides, their local agency is vexatious and sometimes humiliating. I have looked back at my conduct and its relation to the public for some years past, and if I had followed the humours of this town, which are called opinions, I should have been more frequently wrong than even if I had been guided by the court; for I should have fallen into not a few of their mistakes and have had a whole class of errors of another kind to answer for into the bargain.

It was much easier to take an ‘enlarged line’ as Member for Wendover or Malton than for Bristol.

Burke went to Bristol in August 1780, and, while there, received the news of the dissolution. On 3 Sept. he sent Portland a long review of the political state of the city. ‘Our grand division is of Whigs and Tories.’ The ministerialists (they never called themselves Tories) ‘have made a constant, unremitting canvass from the end of the last election, and have received all possible assistance from the Treasury’. The Steadfast Society had been revived, and together with the Loyal and Constitutional Club, formed a nucleus of Government supporters, well led by George Daubeny. Combe and Brickdale had been adopted as their candidates on 24 July, and Combe had received £1,000 from secret service funds.19 Burke admitted that the Government party had received a ‘uniform growth of strength’, and it was generally agreed they were certain to carry at least one seat.

‘As to the Whigs, or such as call themselves so’, wrote Burke, ‘they are entirely, and as I conceive, irretrievably divided.’ In April Cruger had told Burke that he had ‘secured his particular and personal interest’ at Bristol ‘beyond a doubt’.20 His father-in-law’s money and his own popularity with the lower class of voters were good reasons for his feeling complacent; there was plainly no room for two Opposition Members at Bristol, and Cruger probably hoped that Burke would leave him a clear field. Burke, left to himself, would probably have done so. Though he claimed to have the support of ‘the most opulent, the most sober, the most understanding part’ of the Whigs, he knew he was not a popular candidate; and in April had offered to withdraw in favour of Harford. When Harford declined to stand, Burke felt that he could not let down the friends who had stood so loyally by him in 1774.

The key to Burke’s position was finance. Several of his friends had suffered considerably through the American war, and they were not in a position to face once more the expenditure of 1774. ‘It was hinted to me before I came hither’, wrote Burke to Portland on 3 Sept., ‘that no subscription could go on with the least spirit in a second expensive contest if I did not myself take a lead in it in some sort of proportion to my interest. I could not resist it, and accordingly engaged for a thousand pound.’ Burke, of course, had no such sum but hoped it might be raised by the Rockingham party. In any case, he was determined not to risk a contest. If he could not come in by a compromise with the Government party, he would decline.

Cruger, who was prepared to face a contest, was obviously in a much stronger position. According to Champion, he had used the ‘most treacherous means’ to destroy Burke’s interest21—certainly he had no reason to wish it well. On 2 Sept. Burke’s friends offered Cruger £3,000 to buy a seat elsewhere, plus the payment of his expenses to date, if he would withdraw.22 Cruger naturally refused. Even had he accepted, Burke’s friends would have had to face ‘a dubious and expensive battle at their own charge’.23 Burke seems to have been unaware that Champion invited Brickdale to stand on a joint interest with Burke, opposed to both Combe and Cruger.

Two motives seem to have influenced Burke to remain in the contest: the hatred of Cruger felt by his supporters; and the belief that Combe, who was seriously ill, would die—the Government party might then accept a compromise. When Combe died on the day polling began (8 Sept.) the hopes of Burke’s friends rose high—‘we conceived ourselves at the eve of success’, wrote Champion to Rockingham on 11 Sept. Their hopes were dashed when Lippincott was immediately nominated in Combe’s place, and that night Burke declined.

Peach then became a candidate to prevent Cruger’s second votes going to Brickdale or Lippincott. Champion’s hatred of Cruger was now such that he would go to any lengths to defeat him; and he induced Burke’s supporters to abstain, thus ensuring Cruger’s defeat. His letter to Portland of 19 Sept. announcing the result was almost a paean of triumph:24

Mr. Cruger has declined this morning. The neutrality of our friends must now convince him how little he ought to have depended upon that vain security which made him act so treacherous a part. ... Some of our friends, from hatred to the Tories, could not be kept back, but with every assistance he has polled only 1271. Our friends have in general been steady, which has left a great number unpolled.

But in view of Cruger’s performance at the by-election of 1781 it seems doubtful if he would have won even with the full support of Burke’s friends. The ministerial tide was in full flow at Bristol in 1780, though in most parts of the country it was ebbing—a tribute to the importance of good local organization.

On 27 Sept. Burke wrote to Lady Rockingham:

I wish Lord Rockingham to know that so far from your having lost Bristol you never had it until now. My election was a matter of mere accident, and I never had an inch of firm ground under me whilst I sat for that place. But now things are got into a train that can hardly fail of securing at least one Whig Member, and at the same time of bringing the whole efficient corporate capacity of the city entirely into the scale of that one.

The Union Club, revived for the purposes of the Rockingham Whigs and under the control of Champion, was purified, Burke hoped, from all dross. ‘I rely much on that club’, he wrote to John Noble on 5 Oct., ‘not only for the reformation of Bristol, but ... for a principal means of reforming the adjacent counties.’ And to Champion on 15 Oct.: ‘I am extremely pleased with your limiting the club, and your resolution of keeping out persons who are not true to the principles on which it is formed.’

The by-election following Lippincott’s death tested these new arrangements earlier than Burke would have liked. On 5 Jan. 1781 the Club offered the Steadfast Society a compromise, the Union Club to fill the vacancy on a promise of support for the Steadfast Society’s candidate should Brickdale die or vacate before the next general election. The compromise was rejected, as was also a second proposal to support the Steadfast Society candidate provided the Union Club should be allowed to nominate on the next vacancy.

If the Whigs wanted a Member at Bristol they would have to fight. And the first fight would be amongst themselves. Cruger, kept out of the newly constituted Union Club, was early in the field. On 8 Jan. there was a meeting of his followers, said to be mostly journeymen.25

So earnest did they appear in the cause of Mr. Cruger that above a thousand of them subscribed their names to vote for him. They also sent a deputation to the Union Club, requesting them to unite in support of the Whig interest in the person of Mr. Cruger.

Further resolutions were passed: that it was ‘a high infringement of the privileges of the freemen and freeholders ... for any club or combination of men to declare who shall or who shall not become candidates to represent us in Parliament’; and that journeymen should refuse to work for employers who attempted ‘to oblige any man to vote contrary to his conscience’.

The Steadfast Society selected Daubeny as their candidate. Cruger, in an attempt to achieve Whig unity, put forward a proposal to support Burke, provided Burke would recommend him to Rockingham for a seat at Malton. Burke scorned this suggestion, yet refused to stand himself. His advice to the Union Club indicates that he failed to appreciate the weakness of their position.26

Whoever comes in should come in obliged, directly and plainly obliged, to the Union Club, and to that only, and not entertain a shadow of his being brought in upon an idea of pleasing Mr. Cruger’s personal friends. ... Don’t let Cruger’s friends a second time trifle Bristol out of a Whig representative. ... I wish to be out of the question, but let not any one be put upon you on the idea of the existence of a powerful party under the name of Cruger’s friends and the necessity of managing them.

Presumably the thousand journeymen who had promised to support Cruger did not count as a powerful party—they were not of the propertied classes. Burke’s advice was not practicable, and Champion and his friends knew it. They had no candidate of their own, and had they a second time wrecked Cruger’s chances they would have become impotent forever in Bristol politics. Reluctantly, the Union Club endorsed Cruger’s candidature. But Whig unity could not prevail against the ministerialists, backed with £5,000 from secret service funds.27

On 18 Feb. 1781 Harford wrote an embarrassed letter to Burke, explaining how inevitable had been the Union Club’s decision:

Our forces, brave but undisciplined, would have deserted almost to a man if we had refused the combat, and though I am apprehensive we shall be defeated, yet from the spirit our people show I am persuaded we shall gain firmness, and be convinced of the necessity of system and regularity by the event of the contest.

The two organizations once again swayed Bristol’s politics; but the issues they stood for were no longer those of 1754. Burke’s attempt to win Bristol for the Rockingham Whigs had failed irretrievably. By 1780 it was clear that in large boroughs with a wide franchise aristocratic Whiggism had no appeal. To survive, the Whigs must become radicals. The great weakness of the Rockingham party was that it had no roots in the nation at large, and Burke’s attempt at Bristol proved that it could never strike any.

At the general election of 1784 Cruger stood in absentia (he was in America) as a supporter of Pitt, Peach being again put up to take his second votes. Brickdale and Daubeny stood as supporters of the Coalition. Cruger and Peach were sponsored by the Union Club, the Bristol Whigs; Brickdale and Daubeny, who acted with the Whigs at Westminster, were the candidates of the Steadfast Society, the Bristol Tories. So meaningless had party names become that a resolution was passed at Cruger’s adoption meeting that ‘the nominal distinction of parties by the appellation of Whig and Tory, and blues and yellows, which has long prevailed in Bristol, be no longer remembered or adopted by this meeting’.28 The result showed that a state of equilibrium had been reached in Bristol politics, which was acknowledged by a fresh agreement in March 1790 to share the representation between the two organizations.

Author: John Brooke

Notes

Bristol Univ. M.A. and London Univ. Ph.D. theses by P. T. Underdown, ‘Parlty. Hist. Bristol, 1750-90’ and ‘Edmund Burke as M.P. for Bristol’.

  • 1. Add. 32735, ff. 48-49.
  • 2. About Tucker, see DNB.
  • 3. Tucker to Dr. Nathaniel Forster, 25 Feb. 1756, Add. 11275, ff. 147-9.
  • 4. Add. 35692, ff. 130-1.
  • 5. Tucker, A Review of Lord Clare’s Conduct (1775), p. 5.
  • 6. Namier, Structure, 440.
  • 7. Add. 35596, f. 207.
  • 8. John Hugh Smith (son of Sir Jarrit) to his bro. Thomas, 25 Feb. 1768, Smyth mss at Bristol RO.
  • 9. HMC Var. vi. 96.
  • 10. London Chron. 11 Mar. 1769.
  • 11. About the election of 1774, see Underdown, ‘Henry Cruger and Edmund Burke: Colleagues and Rivals at the Bristol Election of 1774’, William and Mary Quarterly 1958, and the authorities there cited.
  • 12. About Champion and Harford, see Underdown, ‘Burke’s Bristol Friends’, Trans. Bristol. Glos. Arch. Soc. 1958.
  • 13. Fortescue, iii. 137.
  • 14. Undated, but before 27 Feb. 1775.
  • 15. For his bitter comments on this episode, see his letter to Fox of 8 Oct. 1777.
  • 16. Underdown, ‘Edmund Burke, the Commissary of his Bristol Constituents, 1774-80’, EHR, 1958.
  • 17. Burke’s speech at Bristol, 3 Nov. 1774.
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