William Burge

MP (Conservative)


Burge stood unsuccessfully in the (celebrated) Oldham election of 1832. The candidates were as follows, with votes cast: John Fielden, 675; William Cobbett, 644; B. H. Bright, 153; William Burge, 101; George Stephen, 3. Field and Cobbett thus both returned.
Burge was received with considerable hostility at the hustings. In his speech he claimed:
Contrary to a placard, he received £1,500 per annum but claimed that this did not come for the ‘West Indians’ i.e. slaveowners, though he did not say where it did come from.
‘...he hated slavery himself, and if he saw a way of abolishing it with safety to the slaves, he would rejoice to support its abolition – but they were not prepared for freedom – they must first receive moral instruction – they must be taught how to use their freedom.’
He also declared himself in favour of removing corn duty if it could be safely effected, relieving tax if this could be done while ‘safely providing for the exigencies of the state', nor was he adverse to commutation of tithes.
But he was ‘a friend to the security of property – of all property – and he would manfully declare that property must not be endangered’.
Reminded his audience of the importance of the colonial market.
It’s true that he owned 136 slaves, which had come to him via his marriage, slaves ‘who had entreated him not to free them’.
Source: The Manchester Times and Gazette, Saturday, 15 December, 1832.

He was opposed, in particular, by George Stephen of the Anti-Slavery Society. Stephen later gave an account of the election (in which he did very badly) in his Recollections:
'More for a frolic than with any serious intention, I went to Oldham at the first election after the reform bill had passed, to oppose Burge. I only arrived the day before the nomination, and had no committee, and sent out no address. Mr. Burge, though a practical and able tactician, was annoyed beyond measure when I, thus unexpectedly, appeared in the field; having preceded me in his canvass, he was entitled to speak before me, and unwisely broke out into a violent pro-slavery philippic. I thanked him cordially in my heart, and when my turn came, retorted with an Antislavery sermon. Sermons are rarely suited to the hustings, but as I proceeded to dissect the condition of slavery, and proved it to be a violation of every syllable in the decalogue, I carried all along with me. Mr. Burge was hissed, and hooted, and rejected. He was, in many respects, a worthy man, and in after years I was often consulted by him on points of West Indian economy: when we thus became in some measure [p. 248] familiarly acquainted, he told me that my Oldham sermon had deprived him of more than a hundred promised votes!' [p.249]
Source: Sir George Stephen, Antislavery Recollections: in a series of letters addressed to Mrs Beecher Stowe (London, Thomas Hatchard, 1854), pp. 248-9.

Elections / Constituences

Eye Suffolk
1831 - 1852 

Parliamentary Notes

Parliamentary reform - Bill for England - Committee - Seventh day House of Commons 21/07/1831

Burge a strong opponent of Parliamentary Reform:

He expressed his own and his constituents' 'decided opposition to the measure'; he was not a representative of a rotten borough: 'The only species of influence used was the good feeling which generally subsisted between a resident landlord and his tenantry.'

Colonial representation House of Commons 16/08/1831

Argued for direct representation of colonial possessions. Not least because of the economic importance of the colonies: 'it was to her colonial possessions that England owed the greater part of her wealth and splendor, aye, and of her greatness, and even her security. It was the colonists who spent their accumulated wealth in England, and to none had they ever yielded in loyalty and attachment to the Throne.' (col. 140)

Sugar Refining Bill House of Commons 12/09/1831

Burge an important figure in the debates over whether the Sugar Refining Act (1828) should be renewed. Renewal was debated each year. The key issue was about the protection of West Indian sugar against foreign competition. Burge a spokesman for the defence of the WI sugar interest. The debates stretched over August-October 1831. (Series 3, vols. 6-8.)

Negro slavery [Abolition of slavery: debate on Buxton's motion] House of Commons 15/04/1831

Burge argued against the abolition of slavery. It was the colonial legislatures which should have the power to decide on the question. Besides, the slaves themselves were not yet ready for emancipation:

Called for an enquiry into the condition of slaves as there hadn’t been one since 1799. "How was it possible to pretend, that in the short space of twenty-two years, a change of the most extensive kind had taken place in the condition and character of the negroes, for twenty-two years only had elapsed since their civilization had really begun, by the abolition of that infamous slave-trade, which had so long disgraced this country, and which the colonists never wished to be continued?" (1429)

He claimed that the planters had wanted abolition of the trade: it was the merchants who had wished that it continue. Added that it should be the colonial legislatures which should decide on abolition of slavery. (1429-30)

And a key question was, "was the owner to give up his freehold right in the slave without compensation?" (1431)

The fact was, that the slave-population was not yet in a fit condition for emancipation. (1437)