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Thomas Hare

Thomas Hare (born in England, 28 March 1806; died 6 May 1891) was a Britishmarker proponent of electoral reform. He studied law, and was admitted to the Bar in November 1833 and published several works on judges' decisions. In 1853 he became Inspector of Charities and was later Assistant Commissioner on the Royal City Charities Commission, about which he published several books. He was a Conservative Party member who resigned from public life in 1846.


Hare was said to have been 'conspicuous for great industry - to have wide interests in life and clearness of intellectual vision'. He was a member of the London-based Political Economy Club and the British Dictionary of National Biography says of him:

Hare's energies were concentrated in an attempt to devise a system which would secure proportional representation of all classes in the United Kingdommarker, including minorities in the House of Commonsmarker and other electoral assemblies.

His original electoral system ideas included making England one huge electorate (later he changed this to seven or eight hundred electorates) and that each voter would sign and check his vote. By 1873, however, he had adapted his ideas to take account of the secret vote. Under Hare's method, simply dividing the vote by the number of seats constituted the quota and then the surplus was expected to be distributed 'at random'.

Hare's famous original work Machinery of Representation appeared in 1857 (in two editions) and many editions of his equally famous Treatise on the Election of Representatives: Parliamentary and Municipal appeared between 1859 and 1873. In the preface to the fourth edition he stated his belief that proportional representation would '... end the evils of corruption, violent discontent and restricted power of selection or voter choice'. A great deal of writing on this theory developed and several societies were formed worldwide for its adoption, although Hare pointed out that his scheme was not meant to bear the title 'representation for minorities'. Moreover, he noted in the preface to his third edition a point that was to become a feature of Tasmanian politics:

Can it be supposed that the moment the electors are allowed a freedom of choice they will immediately be seized with a desire to vote for some distant candidate with whom they are unacquainted, rather than for those whom they know - who are near to them, whose speeches they have heard and who have personal recommendations to the favour and respect of the town and neighbourhood.

Finally, with the help of contemporaries such as John Stuart Mill and Catherine Helen Spence, Hare popularised the idea of proportional representation worldwide. The permanent recognition of his name in the Tasmanian system is perhaps appropriate despite little being left of his original proposals. His death in May 1891 occurred several years before the first use of proportional representation in Tasmaniamarker in 1897.

The London headquarters of the Electoral Reform Society are named in his honour.


Hare lends his name to the following:

The Single Transferable Vote method has been widely used for multiple-winner elections. While continuing to be the main method of elections in the Republic of Irelandmarker and for some elections in Australia, it has been widely used in numerous corporations and organizations, and has been employed in local elections in a few jurisdictions of the United Statesmarker. 2007 saw the first use of STV in public elections on the British mainland in elections to Scottish local authorities.

Mill described Hare's system as "the greatest improvement of which the system of representative government is susceptible; an improvement which…exactly meets and cures the grand, and what before seemed inherent, defect of the representative system".

Hare was not a mathematician, thus never subjected his STV system to a rigorous mathematical analysis.

Law reports

Hare also obtained minor fame in an entirely different field: law reporting.

At a time when there were no official reports of judicial decisions, Hare published reports of key decisions of the courts to enable them to be used as precedents. Two key judicial decisions, which are still frequently cited today, are reported only in Hare's Reports in Chancery:
  • Henderson v Henderson (1843) 3 Hare 100, from which the rule known as "the rule in Henderson v Henderson" is derived.
  • Foss v Harbottle (1843) 2 Hare 461, from which the rule known as "the rule in Foss v Harbottle" is derived, and which is still the cornerstone of minority shareholder rights in company law in common law legal systems over 160 years later.
The Hare law reports were published from 1841 to 1853.


  • The machinery of representation (1857)
  • A treatise on election of representatives, parliamentary and municipal (1859)
  • The election of representatives parliamentary and municipal: a treatise (1865)


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