Family history mystery solved.

I was watching “A History of Scotland” this evening. At one point, Neil Oliver was speaking about the Representation of the People (Scotland) Act 1832. It was along awaited and hard fought battle to obtain electoral reforms. I can’t pretend to understand the voting methods but the part that interested me was that the Act extended the vote to any man (women, needless to say, were still excluded) who owned land worth £10 or more. Which brings me to the family history thing….

While doing some family research, I came across an ancestor who, amongst a number of others, who was brought up on charges for some sort of electoral fraud which I was at a loss to work out. It seems that it was not an uncommon practice for property owners to create the illusion that their property was worth more than it actually was worth. For instance, A man would “sell” his property to his neighbour and would then within the year “buy it back” for more than they sold it for. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would pretend to sell their land and then immediately buy it back for more money than they sold it originally…. and within a short time. Since they didn’t actually “sell” it and no money actually changed hands, who was to gain from this? And what did this have to do with voter fraud?

NOW I understand that in order for a man whose property was worth less than £10 to vote, he would have to involver himself in a little subterfuge in order to be able to vote.

Apparently, though, this was also tied up in rigging votes for certain candidates. Reforms had not yet eliminated the problem of rotten boroughs and intimidation, bribery, and blackmail which were the result of open ballots. It wasn’t until 1872 the the secret ballot was legislated. Prior to 1872 (and as alleged in this case), candidates would “facilitate” the transfer of land back and forth between the owners in order to “legitimize” a landowner as a voter.

I don’t know what the result of this particular case was and can’t find the site where I located this information. If I do find it, I will fill in the blanks to this post.

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