The political meaning of the elections in the 19th Century

The political meaning of the elections in the 19th Century

The value and political meaning of the elections in the eighties are certainly one of the most controversial and problematic subjects of the historiography on the  19th.century.At the time, both politicians and writers have never ceased to stress that the elections  were  a "farce" or "clowning", just a matter of form or ritual that governments accomplished by constitutional imperative. The reading of the book by Varela Ortega, The political friends (Madrid, 2001), prompted me the possibility that this traditional view - as a matter of fact undertaken by contemponareous historiography, with the solitary exception of Rui Ramos - is after all impregnated by a crude simplism. I therefore decided to undertake a re-evaluation of Portuguese elections in the eighties, in the second half of the century. I made an exhaustive survey of all parliamentary debates - in the Chamber of Deputies as well as in the Chamber of Lords - on the electoral laws of 1859, 1878 and 1884. I also thoroughly went through the debates on the verification of the powers of the elected deputies. The conclusions I arrived to led me to substantially modify the traditional image or images and they are registered in a study I called The greatest patron of Portugal (Problems around the elections in the eighties, 1852-1884), a tittle suggesting one of the main vindicated theses, namely the one claiming that in Portugal "caciquismo" was from the beginning "burocratic" and that no "landowner cacique" had the means to compete with the government  for the regimentation of votes.            The other conclusions I got to can be summarized as follows:

1) The rooting in the liberal political culture of the democratic concept of representation generated irreparable frustrations in relation to National Representation that politicians and the politicized public invariably accused of not portraying the will of the nation.

2) The elections of the eighties were far from being perfect but they expressed nevertheless the consent given by the electorate in exchange for certain electoral promises that are in essence the equivalent to those that nowadays are made through the media.

3) According to the norms that governed the representative system under constitutional monarchy, it was the task of governments to make and win elections from the moment they were named by the king. The established doctrine considered that the electoral intervention of governments was legitimate and necessary, provided that it did not violate the law. Several circumstances, indicated in the study, limited the need for fraud, coercion or violence to a reduced number of electoral circles. As concerns the processual irregularities, they were the norm, but generally insusceptible of reversing the electoral results.

4) Because of the referred historical reasons, there were not in Portugal, but for very rare exceptions, great and powerful "landowner caciques"; besides, these took their power from the influence they obtained near the State authorities. The true influent, in Portugal, were the agents of central power. The reason for that is simple: government was the greatest patron in Portugal. It is not correct that the electorate changed of party: they voted for the government, with the assurance of having from there the greatest benefit.

The elections in the eighties are looked upon as opposing two or more parties. In fact, that was not what happened. The elections were runned by a government and one or more parties. More than that, the government substituted the party through "official candidatures" and played the role of "great elector". The elections were not the signalling of some party preference. They were the - imperfect -  process through which governments were authorized  to govern.

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The value and political meaning of the elections in the eighties are certainly one of the most controversial and problematic subjects of the historiography on the  19th.century.At the time, both politicians and writers have never ceased to stress that the elections  were  a "farce" or "clowning", just a matter of form or ritual that governments accomplished by constitutional imperative. The reading of the book by Varela Ortega, The political friends (Madrid, 2001), prompted me the possibility that this traditional view - as a matter of fact undertaken by contemponareous historiography, with the solitary exception of Rui Ramos - is after all impregnated by a crude simplism. I therefore decided to undertake a re-evaluation of Portuguese elections in the eighties, in the second half of the century. I made an exhaustive survey of all parliamentary debates - in the Chamber of Deputies as well as in the Chamber of Lords - on the electoral laws of 1859, 1878 and 1884. I also thoroughly went through the debates on the verification of the powers of the elected deputies. The conclusions I arrived to led me to substantially modify the traditional image or images and they are registered in a study I called The greatest patron of Portugal (Problems around the elections in the eighties, 1852-1884), a tittle suggesting one of the main vindicated theses, namely the one claiming that in Portugal "caciquismo" was from the beginning "burocratic" and that no "landowner cacique" had the means to compete with the government  for the regimentation of votes.            The other conclusions I got to can be summarized as follows:

1) The rooting in the liberal political culture of the democratic concept of representation generated irreparable frustrations in relation to National Representation that politicians and the politicized public invariably accused of not portraying the will of the nation.

2) The elections of the eighties were far from being perfect but they expressed nevertheless the consent given by the electorate in exchange for certain electoral promises that are in essence the equivalent to those that nowadays are made through the media.

3) According to the norms that governed the representative system under constitutional monarchy, it was the task of governments to make and win elections from the moment they were named by the king. The established doctrine considered that the electoral intervention of governments was legitimate and necessary, provided that it did not violate the law. Several circumstances, indicated in the study, limited the need for fraud, coercion or violence to a reduced number of electoral circles. As concerns the processual irregularities, they were the norm, but generally insusceptible of reversing the electoral results.

4) Because of the referred historical reasons, there were not in Portugal, but for very rare exceptions, great and powerful "landowner caciques"; besides, these took their power from the influence they obtained near the State authorities. The true influent, in Portugal, were the agents of central power. The reason for that is simple: government was the greatest patron in Portugal. It is not correct that the electorate changed of party: they voted for the government, with the assurance of having from there the greatest benefit.

The elections in the eighties are looked upon as opposing two or more parties. In fact, that was not what happened. The elections were runned by a government and one or more parties. More than that, the government substituted the party through "official candidatures" and played the role of "great elector". The elections were not the signalling of some party preference. They were the - imperfect -  process through which governments were authorized  to govern.

Objectivos: 
See 'Abstract'
Coordenador 
Start Date: 
02/01/2007
End Date: 
31/01/2009
Duração: 
24 meses
Closed