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secret ballot

secret ballot was advocated as early as 1656 by James Harrington in Oceana, discussed in pamphlets at the time of the Glorious Revolution, argued by Defoe in 1708, and became a persistent radical demand in the 18th cent. It was adopted by both France and the USA for their new constitutions. Nevertheless, when the reform committee proposed it in 1831 it was struck out by Grey and the cabinet, to the great relief of William IV. The issue was then taken up by George Grote, became one of the chartists' six points, and was urged in the Commons by Henry Berkeley. Opposing it in 1842, George Byng declared that ‘a real Englishman would never conceal his feelings and opinions’ and Sir James Graham agreed that only ‘dirty and hypocritical cowards’ would wish to vote in secret. In 1856 it was introduced into the new constitutions for South Australia and Victoria. A select committee in 1869 reported in favour and in 1872 Forster succeeded in carrying the measure against some opposition by the House of Lords. The introduction of secret ballot did not eliminate bribery and corruption but was a blow to the influence of the propertied classes, particularly when the franchise was further extended in 1884.

J. A. Cannon

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secret ballot

se·cret bal·lot • n. a ballot in which votes are cast in secret.

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