Abolition of Slavery,York Election, Lord Milton Silver Medal
The York Election took place in May 1807 only a couple of months after the passing of An Act For the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which had just had its final reading in the House in March of that year.
Apart from the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce, the other two candidates were the heirs of Earl Fitzwilliam (Milton) and Lord Harewood (Lascelles), a family with extensive ongoing slavery interests in the West Indies. Henry Lascelles's father Lord Harewood owned large properties in Barbados.
Fitzwilliam and Harewood spent over £100,000 each on their respective candidates and the seat of the county of Yorkshire was seen as something of a microcosm of the whole country, returning, two members of Parliament.
Not only was it the largest constituency in the country, but this was also the largest electorate with potentially 40,000 voters, some 7-10 % of the "Political Nation" as a whole. It was the largest election ever held prior to the Reform Bill in 1832,
Local issues surrounding coal, iron, manufacturing and cloth were all very significant, not to mention agriculture. It was these factors that made the constituency genuinely independent, with so many diverse interests, not least the Independent Clothiers who made the seat impossible to control. This grouping was not to be taken lightly, as Lascelles found to his cost.
Milton was quick to produce a handbill entitled-"A Few Plain Questions Answered", in which he attacked the slave holdings of the Lascelles. He produced a further handbill in parody of a York race meeting "Lord H-W-Ds black horse BARBADOES by SLAVERY rode by a Leeds Merchant in deep Mourning."
Although the Fitzwilliam family had had their own slavery interests, Lascelles attacks on Milton were based on Catholic toleration.
Such was the battle for the 1807 York election that it was dubbed the "Austerlitz of Electioneering". The Hon. Henry Lascelles, his family with West Indian interests, tried to unseat anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce, who had already held a Yorkshire seat for 23 years.
They spent over a quarter of a million pounds and pre-empted all of York's facilities, "including every species of conveyance in the town". Nevertheless, by boat, farm wagon, donkey and on foot Wilberforce's supporters got to the poll.
A measure of the money no object attitude taken towards the campaign can be seen by this very rare medal which produced by Westwood at a not inconsiderable cost which was presumably handed out to his inner circle following his victory.
In subsequent electoral reform measures, paying for conveyances to take electors to the poll was made illegal.
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