The impact of the Union of 1707 on early eighteenth-century Fife electoral politics, 1707-1747
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In an unprecedented act of peaceful, albeit contentious, statesmanship, the 1707 Treaty of Union joined Scotland and England into one sovereign country. Now governed by the Parliament of Great Britain, Scotland was allowed forty-five parliamentary members divided between the country's counties and burghs. Relinquishing its own Parliament, Scotland was obligated to adapt and to accept a seismic shift in the political management of its government. Not only were Scottish politics affected by this shift at a national level, but local elections were also significantly impacted by this change. Due to its physical size, peculiar demographics, and politically-active gentry, the county of Fife has proven to be an ideal subject for studying this process. By providing a comprehensive examination of the impact of the Union on the local government and electoral politics of one Scottish county, this study shows that while the Union fundamentally altered the manner in which local politics functioned, the localities not only adapted to the new electoral procedures, but party politics in particular were allowed to grow and flourish. Fife's county records have proven to be a particularly rich and underused resource for this study. The minute books of town council meetings for each of Fife's major royal burghs, covering the years 1707-1747, have been examined, along with a complete set of minutes from the Commissioners of Supply, the county body responsible for the collection of the land tax and, crucially, for determining electoral qualification. Correspondence, in the form of letters and memoranda from Fife's leading politicians, has allowed the reconstruction of several important elections which in tum provide evidence for the argument that party politics in Scotland not only survived after Union but also thrived in an era of unparalleled electoral competition. Partially owing to the reduction in parliamentary representation at Westminster, the political parties in Scotland experienced tremendous growth. Contrary to recent historiography, however, no significant evidence of corruption was found in the operations of the county franchise from the first Fife elections held in 1708 through to 1747, the end of the present study's span. The burgh electoral structure, conversely, both permitted and experienced gross manipulation by the parties competing for the few parliamentary seats now allocated to the Scottish burghs. This study demonstrates that political parties thrived in the new era of Scottish partisan politics ushered in by Union. Fife, in particular, adapted creatively to the new order. This suggests that an increasingly vibrant culture oflocal political competition and argument in the early eighteenth century was actually a likely consequence at the local level of Scotland's national integration into the new state of Great Britain.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy