The election of 1841 was the first to conform approximately to the model of general elections familiar today. The government dissolved Parliament, in effect at a moment of their own choice. Admittedly the Melbourne ministry was defeated by a majority of one on a vote of no confidence on 4 June 1841; but they had already taken the decision some weeks previously to seek an early dissolution. In the elections the Conservative opposition which had up to then been in a minority was returned with a clear majority. This had never happened before in British history and it was not to happen again until after the second Reform Act of 1867. The fall of the Whigs had been a long time a-coming. First there was the false start of the Bedchamber crisis. Then at the opening of the session of 1840, the impatience of his followers for office and the mistaken prognostications of his whips had led Sir Robert Peel towards another false dawn — the government won in a no-confidence debate with a majority of twenty-one. All this was not modern, for in the twentieth century an opposition hardly ever expects to beat a government in a parliamentary vote on an issue of confidence. But it was again a modern feature of the election of 1841 that for the first time, in a reformed Parliament with a more representative electorate, the voters inclined to the right.
KeywordsFree Trade Tariff Reduction Select Committee Import Duty Representative Electorate
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