Publication Date

April 1, 2002

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam

David Cresap MooreDavid Cresap Moore, historian of 19th-century British political institutions, died December 27, 2001, at the age of 75. He was born in 1925 in Leavenworth, Kansas, the son of an army colonel. After attending Shady Hill, Choate, and Le Rosey (in Switzerland), he entered Princeton in 1943. A naval reservist, he served on active duty (as Lt. j.g.) in the South Pacific from 1943 to 1946. Postwar adventures sailing and exploring the Caribbean were followed by his return to university, this time Columbia, where he received his BS in history, summa cum laude, in 1950. As a graduate student at Columbia, he carried out much of his research during a two-year stay at Cambridge with a Fulbright grant, and was awarded his PhD in 1958. Following junior faculty posts at Rutgers, Wesleyan, SUNY Binghamton, and Yale, he was appointed to a position at UCLA in 1961, where he remained for 20 years, taking early retirement in 1981. Thereafter, he was an associate at the Center for European Studies at Harvard.

Cresap's many important contributions to 19th-century British history began in 1961 with his revisionist article, "The Other Face of Reform," in Victorian Studies. In this seminal piece (reprinted in several collections) and other articles that followed, he challenged commonly held views concerning the Reform Act of 1832, especially the belief that the measure undermined the landed interest’s political ascendancy. He was the first scholar to make systematic use of pollbooks, those printed records of how electors cast their votes in the days of open (pre-secret ballot) voting. Through a close analysis of electoral behavior in various rural constituencies, he was able to demonstrate a strong tendency for voting along community lines, following the lead of locally dominant landed families. In refuting both the class model and the individual voter model of electoral behavior through his pollbook analyses, Cresap also drew attention to the significance of previously neglected aspects of the 1832 reform. These included the borough freeholder clause and the boundary provisions, the function of which, he contended, was to enhance those relatively harmonious rural constituencies threatened before 1832 by advancing urbanization. Thus the Great Reform Act was, as he put it, a “cure” for a perceived erosion of control by the landed interest rather than a “concession” to middle-class demands.

Cresap developed these revisionist points most fully in his magnum opus, The Politics of Deference (1976). Here he deployed a greater range of evidence and extended the argument to the Second Reform Act of 1867, which he conceived of as an attempt to “repair” the social and political integrity of constituencies affected by major demographic changes since 1832. This book intensified the debate that had begun following the earlier articles. Critics were not convinced that deference was the dominant factor in determining electoral behavior, and insisted upon the vitality of political parties and ideologies, arguments he responded to in closely argued articles and in a revised edition of his book in 1994. Whatever one’s views of the merits of his thesis, it cannot be doubted that he had launched an extraordinarily fruitful debate and permanently transformed scholarly thinking about the 19th-century British political system.

In the classroom, Cresap was the ideal scholar/teacher. With few notes, he deftly explicated the topic at hand, bringing to bear his wide reading, recent research, and brilliant insights. His passion for his subject and deep knowledge were graced by wit and eloquence. For those of us fortunate enough to be his graduate students, he was a skilful, dedicated mentor. Always available, quick to respond to requests for help, and never delaying reading draft chapters, he yet managed to give us enough breathing space for our work to develop along channels not necessarily parallel to his own, remaining always a firm friend and a ready source of wise counsel. Cresap will be sorely missed. He is survived by his wife, Harvard anthropologist and legal scholar Sally Falk Moore, and by their two daughters, Penelope and Nicola.

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona


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