Electorale agenten aan de vooravond van de partijformaties. Aantekeningen bij brieven en nota's van senator F. Béthune.

Electioneering Before The Time Of Political Parties: After Belgium became independent in 1830, it lasted nearly twenty years before there came actual party organisation. How did one get oneself elected in that period ? One has to consider two quite different possibilities, depending on the candidate's view : did he, generally speaking, subscribe to the ideas of the "catholics" or to those of the "liberals" ? The basic difference between the two tendencies was that the liberals had their strongholds in the towns, amongst the businessmen and the intellectuals, and resented the interference of the church in matters of government whilst the catholics had their strongholds in the country, their most faithful partisans being amongst landholders, and felt strongly that the catholic church owed to itself to strenghten its grip on the nation as much as possible. Let us consider first the case of the catholic candidate : certainly, the strong organisation of the church would take up his cause : the bishop would take the lead, and make known the name of the approved candidate to the deans, who got instructions on how to organize the political drive : the actual canvassing and propaganda was to be carried out by the parish priest and the curate, as being dosest to the electors. To achieve their aims, the priests used religious and moral pressure. But a catholic candidate stood a very good chance, in the period before 1847, of benefitting from the support of the governmental agencies too : with very few exceptions, the catholics were in office all the time from 1834 to 1847, and as the spoil system was in use, most officials held political beliefs, closely connected with those of the cabinet. The part the officials had to play in electoral work was supervised and organised by the ministers themselves, and the instructions laid down were transmitted from the ministers down to the governors, from the governors to the burgomasters, and from those to the petty officials, even the policemen, or to the more influential members of the judiciary. What ever pressure was applied by those agents consisted of pledges, outright commands or threats. Let us consider now the case of the liberal candidate : he did not stand as destitute as one might think : if the church worked against him, the free- masonry was on his side : the freemasons aimed more and more at political influence during these years, and they acted as electioneering aids. But of course, the freemasonry was in no way as strong as the catholic church, and this accounts for the fact that the liberals had to organize themselves into a political party very early (1846). The catholics could afford to go on living for a long time without a straight party organisation. The whole of those more or less active electioneering aids was supple- mented, of course, by friends and relatives : the actual numbers of voters were small. This put a premium on the candidate's own social position. The actual mechanism of electioneering given here is based on the intimate political correspondance of a catholic member of parliament (F. Bethune) and on some masonic records.