In the early part of the century the St George family exercised considerable political influence in Roscommon, but through a failure of male heirs in successive generations the family property eventually passed to the Dukes of Leinster by the marriage in 1775 of Olivia Emily Ussher-St George to William, 2nd Duke of Leinster (0745). The Mahons, Frenches, Croftons and Kings disputed the representation of the county throughout the period, and at least six disputed county elections came before parliament. Roscommon was a very Catholic county and its electorate was probably about 1,500-1,600 before the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1793, but by 1815 it had climbed to about 6,000.
The families remained very much the same throughout the century, and the interests were evenly enough divided for elections to be hard fought and often violent. For instance, in 1768 the minor sins of impersonation and perjury were added to the major crimes of riot, destruction, bribery and theft. Following the 1768 election for Co. Roscommon: 'Anthony Broderick was tried at Roscommon and is to be pilloried for wilful and corrupt perjury at the late election for the county, where he voted for two of the candidates'336 (i.e. used his double vote twice). Edward Crofton, one of the candidates, was accused of provoking a riot and the House declared that he was not duly elected. However, after the House had been prorogued in December 1769 following the rejection of the army augmentation, the Dublin Journal reported in March 1770 that:
We hear from Roscommon, that on Wednesday last the trial of Edward Crofton, Esq.; on a traverse to an indictment for a riot at the last Election for that county came on; the prosecution was carried on with every token of virulence. The trial lasted seven hours, and Mr Crofton was honourably acquitted by the jury without even leaving the box, so that the prosecution carried the entire air of being malicious.337
It would be interesting to know a little more about the judge, defence and prosecution, and especially the jury. John French was returned in place of Edward Crofton. He died in October 1775 and Crofton replaced him and subsequently sat for Co. Roscommon until his death in 1797.
The 1776 election threw more light on the conduct of county elections in Roscommon. When the poll closed, the numbers stood as follows: Mr Mahon 510, Mr Crofton 419, Mr French 361.338 Mahon and Crofton were returned. Mahon, who sat for the county from 1761 until his death in 1782, 'came in by his own interest which is very great. All his relations residing in this county and marrying through one another.'339 Arthur French (nephew of John French) then challenged Crofton's election on the grounds of excessive entertainment and the lack of qualification of some of his voters. The case came before a Select Committee of the House on 10 October 1777.340 The question of bribery came up, but as it had not been one of the original complaints it was negatived. One of the witnesses alleged that Crofton used Edmond Giraughty, an innkeeper, as his agent (he did not know about what!). Another witness was more explicit and said that freeholders were lodged and fed free at Giraughty's - he and others drank wine and did not pay for it. The first witness gave details of the entertainment of freeholders Dawson, Simpson and White, some of whom were sober and others drunk, who voted for Mr Crofton and were entertained in the kitchen of Moate House, Mr Crofton's residence, during the election. Regarding the freeholders' qualifications, witnesses declared that Michael Byrne, No. 97 on the Sheriff's book, was a Roman Catholic, although he had conformed 16 years ago, while No. 76, Robert Codner, was a Protestant born but had married a Roman Catholic; similar claims were made against a number of voters. Another issue was the validity of the freehold. The minutes of evidence taken by the committee amounted to 103 pages. The election was declared void. The leading counsel for the petitioner was the young John Fitzgibbon (0749). Crofton was returned on re-election. In 1783 Sir Edward Crofton and Arthur French were returned, and French sat for Co. Roscommon in both the Irish and united parliaments until his death in 1820.
In 1790 it was said that:
All election contests here have been for the support of Frenches or Mahons, of Croftons or Sandfords and not for the encouragement of genius or the reward of ability. The number of electors is, in truth, very small, as this district, though spacious in extent, is limited in population and of the scanty number of inhabitants a large majority are of that religious faith that excludes from the possession of a freehold. But did the Freeholders bear ever so great a proportion to the surface of the County, unless the true spirit of a manly yeomanry actuated their bosoms, their numbers would contribute nothing to independence of choice.341
Co. Roscommon had three parliamentary boroughs: Boyle, Roscommon and Tulsk. They were all disfranchised by the 1800 Act of Union.