This text explores the role of elections in the public culture of Britain's most populous North American colony during the middle decades of the 18th century. In this pre-Revolutionary world, the author explains, wealthy men with stately homes, fine clothes and a genuine belief in rule by "Gentlemen of Ability and Fortune" shared the local political arena with common freeholders - small planters with 100 acres and a servant or slave to help cultivate the labour intensive tobacco crop. Gentlemen clearly ruled this society; yet they did so with the electoral support of the freeholders. How did such a system work? Many previous studies of 18th-century Virginia's local politics have portrayed a stable, consistent and uniform public culture extending from 1725 to 1815 and variously described as aristocratic, oligarchic, democratic or ritualistic. Kolp proposes a model of local political culture as shaped by regional , provincial and imperial influences but primarily conditioned by local personalities and issues.
Drawing on a variety of primary sources, he reveals who ran for office, who voted and with what frequency; he explains how candidates jostled for position before running for office, how they appealed to freeholders, how public issues and private considerations influenced voter behaviour and whether levels of competition can contribute to a better understanding of social stability and unrest.
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Number of pages: 240
Weight: 560 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 21 mm
'From the Introduction:' "One-hundred years ago, a New England historian discovered in the records of colonial Virginia a peculiar set of documents called 'pollbooks'. Frequently found in county deed and record books and occasionally in private papers, pollbooks report the voting behavior of individual adult male freeholders in elections for the provincial legislative assembly, the House of Burgesses. They include not only a listing by name of all persons voting for each candidate, but often the total votes appear at the bottom followed by the signatures of the county sheriff and clerk attesting to the document's accuracy and authenticity. Concentrated in the 50-year period before the American Revolution, these surviving colonial pollbooks have long puzzled historians, for it has never been perfectly clear what they reveal about the political culture of this critical era in Virginia's and America's past."