William Gladstone and the 1884 Reform Act (Classroom Activity)

William Gladstone and the 1884 Reform Act (Classroom Activity)

In The 1880 General Election was won by William Gladstone and the Liberal Party that obtained 352 seats with 54.7% of the vote. The party had gained from an increase in the number of working-class male voters. Queen Victoria and Gladstone were in constant conflict during his premiership. She often wrote to him complaining about his progressive policies. When he became prime minister in 1880 she warned him about the appointment of advance Radicals such as Joseph Chamberlain, Charles Wentworth Dilke, Henry Fawcett, James Stuart, Thorold Rogers and Anthony Mundella,

Queen Victoria was especially opposed to parliamentary reform. In November, 1880, Queen Victoria she told him that he should be careful about making statements about future political policy. In 1881 she told Gladstone: "I see you are to attend a great banquet at Leeds. Let me express a hope that you will be very cautious not to say anything which could bind you to any particular measures."

William Gladstone, but not most of his cabinet, was committed to parliamentary reform. The 1867 Reform Act had granted the vote to working class males in the towns but not in the counties. Gladstone argued that people living in towns and in rural areas should have equal rights. Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquis of Salisbury, leader of the Conservative Party, opposed any increase in the number of people who could vote in parliamentary elections. Salisbury's critics claimed that he feared that this reform would reduce the power of the Tories in rural constituencies.

In 1884 William Gladstone introduced his proposals that would give working class males the same voting rights as those living in the boroughs. The bill faced serious opposition in the House of Commons. The Tory MP, William Ansell Day, argued: "The men who demand it are not the working classes... It is the men who hope to use the masses who urge that the suffrage should be conferred upon a numerous and ignorant class."

A total of 79 left-wing members of the Liberal Party urged Gladstone to give women's householders the vote. Gladstone replied that if votes for women was included Parliament would reject the proposed bill. He explained that "I am myself not strongly opposed to every form and degree of the proposal, but I think that if put into the Bill it would give the House of Lords a case for postponing it and I know not how to incur such a risk."

The bill was passed by the Commons on 26th June, with the opposition did not divide the House. The Conservatives were hesitant about recording themselves in direct hostility to franchise enlargement. However, Gladstone knew he would have more trouble with the House of Lords. Gladstone wrote to twelve of the leading bishops and asked for their support in passing this legislation. Ten of the twelve agreed to do this. However, when the vote was taken the Lords rejected the bill by 205 votes to 146.

Queen Victoria thought that the Lords had every right to reject the bill and she told Gladstone that they represented "the true feeling of the country" better than the House of Commons. Gladstone told his private secretary, Edward Walter Hamilton, that if the Queen had her way she would abolish the Commons. Over the next two months the Queen wrote sixteen letters to Gladstone complaining about speeches made by left-wing Liberal MPs.

The London Trades Council quickly organized a mass demonstration in Hyde Park. On 21st July, an estimated 30,000 people marched through the city to merge with at least that many already assembled in the park. Thorold Rogers, compared the House of Lords to "Sodom and Gomorrah" and Joseph Chamberlain told the crowd: "We will never, never, never be the only race in the civilized world subservient to the insolent pretensions of a hereditary caste".

Queen Victoria was especially angry about the speech made by Chamberlain, who was President of the Board of Trade in Gladstone's government. She sent letters to Gladstone complaining about Chamberlain on 6th, 8th and 10th August, 1884. Edward Walter Hamilton, Gladstone's private secretary replied to the Queen explaining that the Prime Minister "has neither the time nor the eyesight to make himself acquainted by careful perusal with all the speeches of his colleagues."

One of Gladstone's MPs advised him to deal with the House of Lords with the words: "mend them or end them." However, Gladstone liked "the hereditary principle, notwithstanding its defects, to be maintained, for I think it in certain respects an element of good, a barrier against mischief". Gladstone was also secretly opposed to a mass creation of peers to give it a Liberal majority. However, these threats did result in conservative leaders being willing to negotiate over this issue. Hamilton wrote in his diary that "the atmosphere is full of compromise".

Eventually, Gladstone reached an agreement with the House of Lords. This time the Conservative members agreed to pass Gladstone's proposals in return for the promise that it would be followed by a Redistribution Bill. Gladstone accepted their terms and the 1884 Reform Act was allowed to become law. This measure gave the counties the same franchise as the boroughs - adult male householders and £10 lodgers - and added about six million to the total number who could vote in parliamentary elections.

However, this legislation meant that all women and 40% of adult men were still without the vote. According to Lisa Tickner: "The Act allowed seven franchise qualifications, of which the most important was that of being a male householder with twelve months' continuous residence at one address... About seven million men were enfranchised under this heading, and a further million by virtue of one of the other six types of qualification. This eight million - weighted towards the middle classes but with a substantial proportion of working-class voters - represented about 60 per cent of adult males. But of the remainder only a third were excluded from the register of legal provision; the others were left off because of the complexity of the registration system or because they were temporarily unable to fulfil the residency qualifications... Of greater concern to Liberal and Labour reformers... was the issue of plural voting (half a million men had two or more votes) and the question of constituency boundaries."

The Queen is extremely anxious to point out to Mr. Gladstone the immense importance of the utmost caution on the part of all the Ministers but especially of himself, at the coming dinner in the City. There is such danger in every direction that a word too much might do irreparable mischief.

The tragedy of Queen Victoria's relations with Mr. Gladstone was a tragedy of growth. Time and growth altered both of them... Such changes are inevitable, and they might both have aged together without uncomfortable consequences. But unhappily the processes of growth took them in opposite directions, and they grew away from one another. As the years went by, Gladstone moved steadily towards the Left in politics, while by a sad mischance his sovereign inclined towards the Right. Worse still, Gladstone did not stop growing... Mr. Gladstone continued to grow visibly more Radical.

If the Tory party is to continue to exist as a power in the State, it must become a popular party. A mere coalition with the Whig aristocracy might delay, but could not avert its downfall. The days are past when an exclusive class, however great its ability, wealth, and energy, can command a majority in the electorate. The liberties and interests of the people at large are the only things which it is now possible to conserve: the rights of property, the Established Church, the House of Lords, and the Crown itself must be defended on the ground that they are institutions necessary or useful to the preservation of civil and religious liberty and securities for personal freedom, and can be maintained only so far as the people take this view of their subsistence. Unfortunately for Conservatism, its leaders belong solely to one class; they are a clique composed of members of the aristocracy, land-owners, and adherents whose chief merit is subserviency. The party chiefs live in an atmosphere in which a sense of their own importance and of the importance of their class interests and privileges is exaggerated, and to which the opinions of the common people can scarcely penetrate. They are surrounded by sycophants who continually offer up the incense of personal flattery under the pretext of conveying political information. They half fear and half despise the common people, whom they see only through this deceptive medium; they regard them more as dangerous allies to be coaxed and cajoled than as comrades fighting for a common cause.

The argument against the enfranchisement of the working class was this - and no doubt it is a very strong argument - the power they would have in any election if they combined together on questions of class interest. We are bound not to put that risk out of sight. Well, at the last election, I carefully watched the various contests that were taking place and I am bound to admit that I saw no tendency on the part of the working classes to combine on any special question where their pecuniary interests were concerned. On the contrary, they seemed to me to take a genuine political interest in public questions ... The working classes have given proofs that they are deeply desirous to do what is right.

To make women more independent of men is, I am convinced, one of the great fundamental means of bringing about justice, morality, and happiness both for married and unmarried men and women. If all Parliament were like the three men you mention, would there be no need for women's votes? Yes, I think there would. There is only one perfectly just, perfectly understanding Being - and that is God.... No man is all-wise enough to select rightly - it is the people's voice thrust upon us, not elicited by us, that guides us rightly.

The question with what subjects... we can afford to deal in and by the Franchise Bill is a question in regard to which the undivided responsibility rests with the Government, and cannot be devolved by them upon any section, however respected , of the House of Commons. They have introduced into the Bill as much as, in their opinion, it can safely carry.

I am myself not strongly opposed to every form and degree of the proposal, but I think that if put into the Bill it would give the House of Lords a case for postponing it and I know not how to incur such a risk.

Mr. Gladstone contended that every Reform Bill had improved the House as a Representative Assembly, on which cries of "No, no !" were heard from the Conservative benches, and received with laughter by the House, whereupon Mr. Gladstone insisted that whatever might be the effect on the House from some points of view, it was past doubt that the two Reform Acts had made the House far more adequate to express the wants and wishes of the nation as a whole. He denied that in 1866 there was any more excitement amongst the unenfranchised classes than there now is; but the Bill of 1866 was no sooner defeated, than the Conservatives found it absolutely necessary to deal with the question, and so it would be again.

The House of Lords has for a long period been the habitual and vigilant enemy of every Liberal Government... It cannot be supposed that to any Liberal this is a satisfactory subject of contemplation. Nevertheless some Liberals, of whom I am one, would rather choose to bear all this for the future as it has been borne in the past, than raise the question of an organic reform of the House of Lords. The interest of the party seems to be in favour of such an alteration: but it should, in my judgement, give way to a higher interest, which is national and imperial: the interest of preserving the hereditary power as it is, if only it will be content to act in such a manner as will render the preservation endurable.

I do not speak of this question as one in which I can have a personal interest or share. Age, and political aversion, alike forbid it. Nevertheless, if the Lords continue to reject the Franchise Bill, it will come.

I wish (an hereditary House of Lords) to continue, for the avoidance of greater evils. These evils are not only long and acrimonious controversy, difficulty in devising any satisfactory mode of reform, and delay in the general business of the country, but other and more permanent mischiefs. I desire the hereditary principle, notwithstanding its defects, to be maintained, for I think it in certain respects an element of good, a barrier against mischief. But it is not strong enough for direct conflict with the representative power, and will only come out of the conflict sorely bruised and maimed. Further; organic change of this kind in the House of Lords may strip and lay bare, and in laying bare may weaken, the foundations even of the Throne.

He (John Morley) was himself, be said, convinced that compromise was the life of politics; but the Franchise Bill was a compromise, and if the Lords threw it out again, that would mean that the minority were to govern, and that a Liberal Government must pass a Tory Reform Bill. The demand for Redistribution was a demand that Tory Lords should dictate to the Commons the method of Reform. He held that the offer to pass the Franchise Bill if a Redistribution Bill were introduced would,.if accepted, be "a betrayal and a humiliation," and that the proposal to send up the Bill again and again was useless under the Septennial Act. He has, therefore, occasionally thought that Mr. Gladstone, if thus driven, might propose a complete Reform Bill, one including the Franchise, Redistribution, and "the clipping of the pinions of the House of Lords." The English people were a patient and a Conservative people, but they would not endure a stoppage of legislation by a House which had long been as injurious in practice as indefensible in theory. If the struggle once began, it was inevitable that the days of privilege should be numbered.

On 21 July, an estimated 30,000 people marched through the city to merge with at least that many already assembled in the park... "Down with the Lords - Give us the Bill" was the universal slogan. The Radical MP for Southwark, Professor Thorold Rogers, likened the House of Lords to "Sodom and Gomorrah and the abominations of the Egyptian temple". Joseph Chamberlain told the biggest of the seven crowds: "We will never, never, never be the only race in the civilized world subservient to the insolent pretensions of a hereditary caste." His speech produced a furious response from Her Majesty the Queen. Queen Victoria was opposed to the extension of the franchise - no one, after all, had elected her - but she was much more concerned that the rising temperature of popular fury would sweep away her beloved House of Lords. In August, Chamberlain held a series of enormous meetings in Birmingham at which he denounced the Lords with renewed fervour. The Queen protested again - and again: on 6, 8 and 10 August. In the pathetic belief that as many of her people supported the Lords as opposed them, she encouraged the Tory leaders to whip up counter-demonstrations in favour of the Lords and against the extension of the suffrage. Lord Randolph Churchill obliged at once and urged Midlands Tories to organize a huge ticket-only Queen, Country and Lords meeting at Aston Park for 13 October. Birmingham Radicals organized a mass purchase of tickets. When the meeting opened, it was immediately clear that the Tories were in a minority. A near-riot ensued. Seats were ripped up and hurled at the platform. "At last - a proper distribution of seats!" was the triumphant shout of the demonstrators.

When Parliament reconvened, on 6 November, Gladstone brought a new, very similar franchise Bill to the Commons once again, and the Tories moved the same amendment. The speeches bore witness to the mood of the country. Thorold Rogers persisted in his contemptuous assault on the House of Lords. For this blatant defiance of the rules of the House, Rogers was not even reprimanded.

In the country, the agitation has reached a point which might be described as alarming. I have no desire to see the agitation assume a revolutionary character which it would certainly assume if it continued much longer.... I am afraid that there would emerge from out of the strife a new party like the social democrats of Germany and that the guidance of parties would pass from the hands of wise statesmen into that of extreme and violent men.

Membership of most socialist organizations signified a commitment to certain principles followed by a list of immediate reforms, such as the eight-hour day, state pensions, and free, secular education to sixteen. The oldest socialist organisation was the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), founded in 1881... In 1884 the Fabian Society was formed by a group of middle-class intellectuals.

Questions for Students

Question 1: Read the introduction and read sources 2, 3 and 14 and explain why William Gladstone and Queen Victoria were in dispute between 1880-1884.

Question 2: How many Liberal MPs wanted women to have the same voting rights in 1884? Why did William Gladstone disagree with these MPs?

Question 3: John Eldon Gorst was a Conservative MP who disagreed with the House of Lords blocking the 1884 Reform Act. Read source 4 and explain why he took this position.

Question 4: Why did William Gladstone send Queen Victoria his memorandum on the House of Lords in August 1884 (source 11)?

Question 5: Explain the connections between sources 5, 8, 12 and 15.

Question 6: John Tenniel was an opponent of the 1884 Reform Act. How does source 17 help to explain source 18?

Answer Commentary

A commentary on these questions can be found here.

Gladstone and Parliamentary Reform, 1832 – 1894

Michael Partridge charts the changing political views of the Grand Old Man of 19th-century British politics.

If, Sir, the nobility, the gentry, the clergy are to be alarmed, overawed, or smothered by the expression of popular opinion such as this, and if no great statesman be raised up in our hour of need to undeceive this unhappy multitude . the day of our greatness and stability is no more, and . the chill and damp of death are already creeping over England’s glory.

This comment, on a Bill designed to reform the House of Commons, was written by the 21-year-old William Ewart Gladstone in 1832, while a student at Oxford University. When, 63 years later, he made his final speech in the Commons, he warned the House of Lords that their days were numbered if they continued to oppose the wishes of the majority of the population. Far from becoming more conservative as he grew older, Gladstone became one of the more radical supporters of Parliamentary reform, a move which puzzled many of his contemporaries.

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William Gladstone and the 1884 Reform Act (Classroom Activity) - History

William Ewart Gladstone served as Prime Minister four times — from 3 December 1868 to 17 February 1874 from 23 April 1880 to 9 June 1885 from 1 February to 20 July 1886 and from 15 August 1892 to 2 March 1894.

Gladstone, who was born on 29 December 1809 at Rodney Street, Liverpool, was the fourth son and fifth child of a family of six born to Sir John Gladstone and his wife Anne Mackenzie Robertson. Sir John Gladstone made his fortune in trade especially with America and the West Indies: it was there that he owned sugar plantations. William Gladstone was educated at a preparatory school at Seaforth Vicarage near Liverpool before attending Eton between 1821 and 1827. From there he went to Christ Church, Oxford, between 1828 and 1831. In 1831 he spoke at the Oxford Union against the Reform Act, saying that any electoral reform would lead to revolution. His Degree was in Classics but he also studied Mathematics and in 1831 was awarded a Double First in the subjects. In the 1832 election following the passing of the Reform Act he was elected as the Tory MP for Newark-on-Trent, on the influence of the Duke of Newcastle he took the seat of Michael Sadler, the factory reformer. He then went on a Grand Tour of Europe, visiting Belgium, France and various centres in Italy. On his return in 1833 he entered Lincoln's Inn, but by 1839 he had requested that his name should be removed from the list because he no longer intended to be called to the Bar.

Gladstone's maiden speech was made on 3 June 1833 during the Committee stage of the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery in the British empire. His father was a West Indian slave-owner and Gladstone defended him against allegations of maltreating his slaves. The following year Gladstone was appointed as a junior Lord of the Treasure by Sir Robert Peel who had just formed his first ministry. Two weeks later Disraeli and Gladstone met for the first time: Gladstone was appalled by Disraeli's "foppish" attire. Later in life the two would become great parliamentary rivals there was no friendship between them throughout their long political lives. On 27 January Gladstone was made Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies but his appointment lasted only until April when Peel resigned.

In June 1839 Gladstone became engaged to Catherine Glynne, the daughter of Sir Stephen Glynne of Hawarden Castle. The Glynnes were an old Whig family and Catherine was related through the maternal line to the Grenville family. The couple were married the following month and had a family of four boys and four girls. In January 1840 Gladstone began his work of rescuing and rehabilitating London prostitutes, and in 1848 he founded the Church Penitentiary Association for the Reclamation of Fallen Women.

Following the defeat of Lord Melbourne's government in 1841, Sir Robert Peel formed his second ministry and Gladstone was appointed to the post of Vice-President of the Board of Trade he accepted reluctantly on the grounds that his lack of knowledge of trade made him unfit for the appointment. It was in his official capacity that he first dined with Queen Victoria at Buckingham palace and was appalled to find that there was no chaplain present and that grace was not said prior to the meal. In May 1843 Gladstone was made President of the Board of Trade and a Cabinet member he was responsible for the passing of the 'parliamentary train Act' in 1844 that provided for one train each way, each day, carrying third class passengers at no more than 1d. per mile at not less than 12 miles per hour.

In 1838 Gladstone had published his book The Church and its Relations to the Church , in which he said that

the State possessed a conscience and had a duty to distinguish between truth and error in religion. Doctrinal differences were, therefore, matters of great importance. The Established Church was the conscience of the English state, and that State was bound to give an active , informed, consistent, and exclusive financial and general support to the Anglican religion which was of the purest and most direct Apostolic descent. [Magnus, p. 35.]

He had also attacked the annual grant of £9,000 that was given to the Maynooth Seminary in Ireland, saying that giving money for the training of Roman Catholic priests was inappropriate for a Protestant nation and would lead to mortal danger. However, in 1844 Peel was attempting to pursue a policy of conciliation in Ireland. A perpetual grievance of the Catholic Church in Ireland was the disparity in finances between the wealth of the Anglican establishment that ministered to about a twelfth of the people and the poverty of the Catholic Church, that ministered to the vast majority of the population. Peel had no intention of changing the privileges of the Anglican Church but did enter into indirect communication with the Vatican about how to conciliate Catholic opinion. In February 1845 Peel proposed to increase — and make permanent — the Maynooth grant from £9,000 to £30,000 p.a. Although in the interim, Gladstone had changed his mind about the value of the grant, he had not repudiated his book: he wanted to vote for the increase but felt that he could not do so as a Minister in the government. He tendered his resignation rather than compromise his integrity. Peel's reaction was, 'I really have great difficulty sometimes in comprehending what Gladstone means'.

In 1846 Gladstone's sister Helen had been restrained by the Lunacy Commission she had a long history of instability and opium addiction she also had had a series of lovers but the final straw for Gladstone was her conversion to Roman Catholicism. He could tolerate her other failings but not her apostasy. However, Gladstone was happy to join with Disraeli in 1847 in voting for Lord John Russell's motion to allow Jews to take the oath on becoming a member of the House of Commons. Gladstone's high moral stance was a source of irritation to his colleagues. As Henry Labouchere said: while he had no objection to Gladstone's habit of concealing the ace of trumps up his sleeve, he did object to his reiterated claim that it had been put there by Almighty God.

In 1848 the third Chartist petition was presented Gladstone served as a Special Constable, as did Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, soon to be the Emperor Napoleon III of France. Gladstone did not return to office until 1852 when the Earl of Aberdeen formed his ministry Gladstone was appointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer and based his first Budget on public expenditure economies. One of his first acts was to order the Foreign Office to stop using large thick sheets of double notepaper when single, thinner sheets would do. Gladstone also 'invented' the postcard on grounds of economy. He also decided to maintain income tax as an equitable means of collecting revenue for the government. Soon it became necessary to increase the levels of tax because Aberdeen allowed Britain to drift into the Crimean War in 1854 Gladstone increased taxation from 7d in the £1 to 10½d in the £1. Aberdeen's handling of the war led to the ministry's downfall and in 1855 Palmerston formed his first ministry without Gladstone who resigned in protest at Palmerston's acceptance of a Committee of Inquiry into the conduct of the war. He did accept the post of Lord High Commissioner Extraordinarily to the Ionian Islands- a British protectorate-between November 1855 and June 1859 when he returned to take up the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer in Palmerston's second ministry along with Palmerston, Gladstone was one of the founding members of the Liberal Party in 1859. However, their working relationship was not easy and Gladstone said later that he never attended a Cabinet meeting during this time, without ensuring that he carried a letter of resignation in his pocket.

Gladstone's second Budget followed the Cobden Treaty with France, a reciprocity agreement that called for another increase in income tax to cover the shortfall of revenue for the government. The treaty did bring about a decrease in the standard of living, however, since foodstuffs became cheaper. His introduction of the Post Office Savings Bank enables small savings to be made by ordinary people and gave an extra source of revenue for government purposes. As a result of this, he was able to reduce income tax in 1861 he also brought about the single Money Bill form of the Budget this meant that henceforward, Budgets had to be accepted or rejected in their entirety. The Hon. Emily Eden commented to Lord Clarendon in 1860 that if Gladstone 'were soaked in boiling water and rinsed until he were twisted into rope, I do not suppose a drop of fun would ooze out'. Disraeli's assessment of Gladstone was that he 'had not one single redeeming defect'.

During the American Civil War (1861-65) Gladstone provided relief work on the Hawarden estates for workers in the Lancashire cotton industry who had been put out of work because of the blockade of the Confederate ports by the North, preventing the export of raw cotton. Nevertheless, in 1863 he attempted to tax the incomes of charities on the grounds that all money was a trust from God and should be taxed like everything else. His proposal was defeated in the Commons. He supported the second Reform Bill that was intended to lower the franchise qualification in towns, saying, 'I venture to say that every man who is not presumably incapacitated by some consideration of personal unfitness or of political danger is morally entitled to come within the pale of the Constitution'. This was seen by the radicals as a move towards universal suffrage, which horrified the Queen and also resulted in him losing his seat at Oxford. Following the death of Palmerston, Gladstone served in Lord John Russell's ministry as Leader of the House of Commons and Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was responsible for the first attempt to extend the franchise, in 1866 he also continued to reduce duties on imported goods.

In December 1868 Gladstone was appointed as PM for the first time following the Liberal victory in the General Election that followed the passing of the second Reform Act and Gladstone announced that his 'mission was to pacify Ireland'. The ministry (1868-74) passed a whole spate of reforms but lost the 1874 general election at which Disraeli's Tory party won a majority. In 1876 Gladstone published The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East , attacking the government's policy towards the Ottoman Empire. During this period, Gladstone constantly attacked the PM and ultimately launched his Midlothian Campaign prior to the next general election on 1880. He was able to discredit Disraeli and the Liberals won the election Gladstone had offended Queen Victoria in 1866 when he refused to support the purchase of gun metal for a memorial to Prince Albert that was to be erected in Kensington Gardens, and relations between the two were always difficult. Gladstone formed his second ministry even though Queen Victoria attempted to appoint Lord Hartington instead. The queen was widely reported to have commented that, 'He speaks to me as if I were a public meeting'. Just before she appointed Gladstone, Victoria wrote to Sir Henry Ponsonby that she would 'sooner abdicate than send for or have anything to do with that half-mad fire-brand who would soon ruin everything and be a dictator'.

The second ministry was taken up mainly with Irish affairs. Gladstone was obliged to increase income tax from 5d to 6d in the £ and he also increased the duty on beer. A Coercion Act for Ireland was passed in an attempt to deal with increasing violence and Gladstone was able to pass the second Irish Land Act that introduced the 'three Fs"-fixity of tenure, fair rents, and free sale of land. Just after the Bill went through parliament, Disraeli died not surprisingly, Gladstone did not attend the funeral.

Although Gladstone was a committed Anglican, in 1881 he introduced a Bill that would enable non-believers to affirm their allegiance to the Crown. Jews and Quakers were already able to do that, but not atheists. Charles Bradlaugh had been expelled from the House of Commons on four occasions because of his atheism. Eventually Bradlaugh moved his own Affirmation Bill in 1888 but in the attempt to secure fair treatment for Bradlaugh, Gladstone brought down a great deal of criticism on his own head. The following year, Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Burke were murdered in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Cavendish — Gladstone's nephew-by-marriage-was the Chief Secretary for Ireland Burke was his Undersecretary Gladstone introduced an even more severe Coercion Act as a result of the murders.

Gladstone's foreign policy was less successful than his domestic policies. The British army was involved in actions in the Sudan and Afghanistan. General Gordon disobeyed orders to evacuate Khartoum in 1884 and Gladstone was blamed for his death when the town fell to the Mahdi and his troops. In the same year, Gladstone's ministry passed the third Reform Act and also the Redistribution Act that provided for alterations being made to constituency boundaries. However, the Conservatives and Irish Nationalists worked together to remove Gladstone's ministry he resigned on 9 June 1885 and was replaced by the Marquess of Salisbury. On 17 December 1885, Gladstone's son Herbert revealed to the press that his father was dedicated to achieving Home Rule for Ireland: the incident has become known as the 'Hawarden Kite'. Herbert Gladstone's announcement did nothing to endear his father to the Liberals or the Irish and gave the Conservatives another stick with which to beat the elderly statesman. The Irish saw an opportunity to wring concessions from the British government and joined the Liberals to defeat the Conservatives: this political seesaw continued for many years.

In January 1886 Gladstone formed his third ministry at the age of 76 by that time the Liberal Party was divided over his Irish policies and he failed to have the legislation passed. Gladstone called an election but found himself attacked from all directions the Conservatives won and he resigned. In 1890 the Liberal-Irish alliance ended with the Parnell scandal and in 1891 Gladstone announced the 'Newcastle Programme' that included a battery of reforms as well as Home Rule for Ireland. The Liberals won a majority at the 1892 election and Gladstone formed his fourth and last ministry. Soon afterwards he introduced another Home Rule Bill that failed in the House of Lords almost concurrently he refused to accept the increased Naval estimates and resigned on 2 March 1894. His last speech was delivered in Liverpool it was a protest against the Armenian massacres in Turkey. On 19 May 1898 Gladstone died at Hawarden and he was later buried in Westminster Abbey. He was 88 years old.


For the decades after the Great Reform Act of 1832, cabinets (in that era leading from both Houses) had resisted attempts to push through further reform, and in particular left unfulfilled the six demands of the Chartist movement. After 1848, this movement declined rapidly, but elite opinion began to pay attention. [4] It was thus only 27 years after the initial, quite modest, Great Reform Act that leading politicians thought it prudent to introduce further electoral reform. Following an unsuccessful attempt by Benjamin Disraeli to introduce a reform bill in 1859, Lord John Russell, who had played a major role in passing the 1832 Reform Act, attempted this in 1860 but the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, a fellow Liberal, was against any further electoral reform. [ citation needed ]

The Union victory in the American Civil War in 1865 emboldened the forces in Britain that demanded more democracy and public input into the political system, to the dismay of the upper class landed gentry who identified with the US Southern States planters and feared the loss of influence and a popular radical movement. Influential commentators included Walter Bagehot, Thomas Carlyle, Anthony Trollope, Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill. [5] Proponents used two arguments: the balance of the constitution and "moral right". They emphasized that deserving, skilled, sober, thrifty, and deferential artisans deserve the franchise. Liberal William Gladstone emphasized the "moral" improvement of workingmen and felt that they should therefore have the opportunity of "demonstrating their allegiance to their betters". However the opposition warned against the low-class democracy of the United States and Australia. [6]

Palmerston's death in 1865 opened the floodgates for reform. In 1866 Russell (Earl Russell as he had been since 1861, and now Prime Minister for the second time), introduced a Reform Bill. It was a cautious bill, which proposed to enfranchise "respectable" working men, excluding unskilled workers and what was known as the "residuum", those seen by MPs as the "feckless and criminal" poor. This was ensured by a £7 annual rent qualification to vote—or 2 shillings and 9 pence (2s 9d) a week [n 1] . [7] This entailed two "fancy franchises", emulating measures of 1854, a £10 lodger qualification for the boroughs, and a £50 savings qualification in the counties. Liberals claimed that "the middle classes, strengthened by the best of the artisans, would still have the preponderance of power". [8]

When it came to the vote, however, this bill split the Liberal Party: a split partly engineered by Benjamin Disraeli, who incited those threatened by the bill to rise up against it. On one side were the reactionary conservative Liberals, known as the Adullamites on the other were pro-reform Liberals who supported the Government. The Adullamites were supported by Tories and the liberal Whigs were supported by radicals and reformists. [ citation needed ]

The bill was thus defeated and the Liberal government of Russell resigned. [ citation needed ]

The Conservatives formed a ministry on 26 June 1866, led by Lord Derby as Prime Minister and Disraeli as Chancellor of the Exchequer. They were faced with the challenge of reviving Conservatism: Palmerston, the powerful Liberal leader, was dead and the Liberal Party split and defeated. Thanks to manoeuvring by Disraeli, Derby's Conservatives saw an opportunity to be a strong, viable party of government however, there was still a Liberal majority in the House of Commons.

The Adullamites, led by Robert Lowe, had already been working closely with the Conservative Party. The Adullamites were anti-reform, as were the Conservatives, but the Adullamites declined the invitation to enter into Government with the Conservatives as they thought that they could have more influence from an independent position. Despite the fact that he had blocked the Liberal Reform Bill, in February 1867, Disraeli introduced his own Reform Bill into the House of Commons.

By this time the attitude of many in the country had ceased to be apathetic regarding reform of the House of Commons. Huge meetings, especially the ‘Hyde Park riots', and the feeling that many of the skilled working class were respectable, had persuaded many that there should be a Reform Bill. However, wealthy Conservative MP Lord Cranborne resigned his government ministry in disgust at the bill's introduction.

The Reform League, agitating for universal suffrage, became much more active, and organized demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people in Manchester, Glasgow, and other towns. Though these movements did not normally use revolutionary language as some Chartists had in the 1840s, they were powerful movements. The high point came when a demonstration in May 1867 in Hyde Park was banned by the government. Thousands of troops and policemen were prepared, but the crowds were so huge that the government did not dare to attack. The Home Secretary, Spencer Walpole, was forced to resign.

Faced with the possibility of popular revolt going much further, the government rapidly included into the bill amendments which enfranchised far more people. Consequently, the bill was more far-reaching than any Members of Parliament had thought possible or really wanted Disraeli appeared to accept most reform proposals, so long as they did not come from William Ewart Gladstone. An amendment tabled by the opposition (but not by Gladstone himself) trebled the new number entitled to vote under the bill yet Disraeli simply accepted it. The bill enfranchised most men who lived in urban areas. The final proposals were as follows: a borough franchise for all who paid rates in person (that is, not compounders), and extra votes for graduates, professionals and those with over £50 savings. These last "fancy franchises" were seen by Conservatives as a weapon against a mass electorate.

However, Gladstone attacked the bill a series of sparkling parliamentary debates with Disraeli resulted in the bill becoming much more radical. Having been given his chance by the belief that Gladstone's bill had gone too far in 1866, Disraeli had now gone further.

Disraeli was able to persuade his party to vote for the bill on the basis that the newly enfranchised electorate would be grateful, and would vote Conservative at the next election. Despite this prediction, in 1868 the Conservatives lost the first general election in which the newly enfranchised electors voted.

The bill ultimately aided the rise of the radical wing of the Liberal Party, and helped Gladstone to victory. The Act was tidied up with many further Acts to alter electoral boundaries.

Reduced representation Edit

Disenfranchised boroughs Edit

Four electoral boroughs were completely disenfranchised by the Act, for corruption:

Seven English boroughs were disenfranchised by the Representation of the People (Scotland) Act 1868 the subsequent year:

Three of these (Honiton, Thetford, Wells) had two MPs, but had been due to have their representation halved under the terms of the 1867 Act. However, the 1868 Act disenfranchised them altogether before the reduction in representation took effect. The other four boroughs had had one MP since 1832.

Halved representation Edit

The following boroughs were reduced from electing two MPs to one:

    , Hampshire , Cornwall , Shropshire , Dorset , Buckinghamshire , Sussex , Wiltshire , Gloucestershire , Cumberland , Wiltshire , Dorset , Worcestershire , Surrey , Essex , Hertfordshire , Huntingdonshire , West Riding of Yorkshire , Herefordshire , Sussex , Staffordshire , Shropshire , Hampshire , Essex , Buckinghamshire , North Riding of Yorkshire , Isle of Wight , Dorset , North Riding of Yorkshire , West Riding of Yorkshire , Lincolnshire , Devon , Gloucestershire , Berkshire , Buckinghamshire

Three further boroughs (Honiton, Thetford, Wells) were also due to have their representation halved under the 1867 Act, but before this reduction took effect they were disenfranchised altogether by the 1868 Scottish Reform Act as noted above.

Enfranchisements Edit

The Act created a number of new boroughs in Parliament. The following boroughs were enfranchised with one MP:

    , Lancashire , County Durham , West Riding of Yorkshire , Kent , County Durham , North Riding of Yorkshire , Cheshire , County Durham , Staffordshire

The following boroughs were enfranchised with two MPs:

In addition, the Act adjusted the representation of several existing boroughs. Salford and Merthyr Tydfil were given two MPs instead of one. Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester now had three MPs instead of two.

Other changes Edit

  • The West Riding of Yorkshire divided into three districts each returning two MPs. , Derbyshire, Devonshire, Essex, Kent, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Somerset, Staffordshire and Surrey divided into three districts instead of two, each returning two MPs. divided into four two-member districts instead of a three-member district and a two-member district. was given one seat.
  • Parliament was allowed to continue sitting through a Demise of the Crown.
  • MPs exempted from having to seek re-election upon changing offices.

In Scotland, five existing constituencies gained members, and three new constituencies were formed. Two existing county constituencies were merged into one, giving an overall increase of seven members this was offset by seven English boroughs (listed above) being disenfranchised, leaving the House with the same number of members.

The representation of Ireland remained unchanged.

Direct effects of the Act Edit

The issue of bribery and corruption played a major role in the debates in 1867-8. The decision to confine discussion of electoral malpractice largely to the separate 1868 Election Petitions Act facilitated the progress of the main Reform Act. [9]

The unprecedented extension of the franchise to all householders effectively gave the vote to many working class men, quite a considerable change. Jonathan Parry described this as a "borough franchise revolution" [10] the traditional position of the landed gentry in parliament would no longer be assured by money, bribery and favours, but by the whims and wishes of the public. However, to blindly consider the de jure franchise extensions would be fallacious. The franchise provisions were flawed the act did not address the issues of compounding and of not being a ratepayer in a household. The compounding of rates and rents was made illegal, after it was abolished in a bill tabled by Liberal Grosvenor Hodgkinson (this meant that all tenants would have to pay rates directly and thus qualify for the vote). The preparation of the register was still left to easily manipulated party organisers who could remove opponents and add supporters at will. The sole qualification to vote was essentially being on the register itself.

Unintended effects Edit

  • Increased amounts of party spending and political organisation at both a local and national level—politicians had to account themselves to the increased electorate, which without secret ballots meant an increased number of voters to treat or bribe. [citation needed]
  • The redistribution of seats actually served to make the House of Commons increasingly dominated by the upper classes. Only they could afford to pay the huge campaigning costs and the abolition of certain rotten boroughs removed some of the middle-class international merchants who had been able to obtain seats. [5]

The Liberal Party was worried about the prospect of a socialist party taking the bulk of the working-class vote, so they moved to the left, while their rivals the Conservatives initiated occasional intrigues to encourage socialist candidates to stand against the Liberals. [ citation needed ]

Trollope's Phineas Finn is concerned almost exclusively with the parliamentary progress of the Second Reform Act, and Finn sits for one of the seven fictional boroughs that are due to be disenfranchised. [11]

The influence of Peel

Gladstone’s early parliamentary performances were strongly Tory but time after time contact with the effects of Tory policy forced him to take a more liberal view. His conversion from conservatism to liberalism took place in prolonged stages, over a generation. Peel made Gladstone vice president of the Board of Trade, and Gladstone’s application astonished even hardworking colleagues.

He embarked on a major simplification of the tariff and became a more thoroughgoing free trader than Peel. In 1843 he entered the Cabinet as president of the Board of Trade. His Railway Act of 1844 set up minimum requirements for railroad companies and provided for eventual state purchase of railway lines. Gladstone also much improved working conditions for London dock workers. Early in 1845, when the Cabinet proposed to increase a state grant to the Irish Roman Catholic college at Maynooth, Gladstone resigned—not because he did not approve of the increase but because it went against views he had published seven years before. Later in 1845 he rejoined the Cabinet as secretary of state for the colonies, until the government fell in 1846. While at the Colonial Office, he was led nearer to Liberalism by being forced to consider the claims of English-speaking colonists to govern themselves.

Gladstone and Ireland

William Gladstone tried all he could to help Ireland and Gladstone’s name is frequently mentioned in Irish history from the 1880’s to Gladstone’s retirement from politics in 1894. Home Rule and the issues surrounding it was central to Gladstone’s Irish policy.

The Great Famine had deeply impacted British politics. The 1 million deaths and the 1 million emigrants who left Ireland – some on so-called ‘coffin ships’ – had left their mark. In 1858, the Fenian Society was started in America. In Ireland, Fenians committed acts of violence to bring attention to their grievances. Those who wanted issues resolved in a constitutional manner formed a Home Rule party in 1870. The introduction of the secret ballot in 1872, allowed those who could vote in Ireland to vote free from intimidation by landlords. As a result, from 1872 onwards, there were usually about 80 Irish MP’s in Westminster who were committed to home rule. These Irish MP’s always had the hope that a Tory or Liberal government would be elected on a very small majority and would need to support of the Irish MP’s to stay in power.

What were the grievances of the Irish MP’s?

Politically, they could not accept British domination of the island. However, it would be wrong to assume that all MP’s resented the position Britain had in Ireland.
The privileged position of the protestant Church of Ireland in a predominantly catholic country did cause resentment.
The abuses committed by many landlords was also a major cause of resentment.

In 1868, Gladstone became Prime Minister for the first time. He declared that it was his mission to “pacify Ireland”. Gladstone was a man who held strong religious views but he was not a bigot. He was driven by what he considered to be right and wrong and he viewed that many things in Ireland were wrong. Therefore, he set himself the task of righting those things he considered to be wrong.

In his 1868 to 1874 government, Gladstone disestablished the Church of Ireland. This meant that Catholic farmers no longer had to pay tithes to the Church. Gladstone also pushed through the first Irish Land Act. This meant that any farmer who had been evicted but had done improvements to his land, was entitled to compensation. This law barely had any impact in Ireland as the landlords and the legal system in Ireland were seemingly interlinked, with the latter supporting the former. Also very few farmers could afford to pay a lawyer to represent them if they had a claim against a former landlord. However, the land law was symbolic that someone in the highest authority was doing something for Ireland, and any measure could be built on.

Trouble continued on the land in Ireland when Gladstone started his second ministry in 1880. Violence against landlords or their agents was becoming more common as support for the Fenians grew. Whilst Gladstone wanted to work for Ireland, he was not willing to tolerate violence. As a result, he brought in the Coercion Act for Ireland which temporarily suspended Habeas Corpus so that those people suspected of committing an offence could be detained without trial. However, Gladstone’s ministry also passed a second Irish land Act which guaranteed the ‘Three F’s’: fixity of tenure, fair rents and free sale. The Coercion Act did not stop the disorder in Ireland’s rural community, but the second Land Act was seen as a way forward which could reduce the violence being experienced in Ireland. The faith Gladstone put in his acts was blown away by the Phoenix Park murders of 1882.

Up until 1882, violence had been perpetrated against landlords, their agents or against Irish families that had taken up land from which a family had been evicted. Politicians were not seen as targets. The murder of Lord Cavendish (Chief Secretary of Ireland) and T Burke (Permanent Under-Secretary of Ireland) in Phoenix Park by a gang armed with knives, shocked Victorian society. The murders were a blow to Gladstone who was trying to persuade not only his party but also Parliament to persevere with reforms for Ireland. He expanded the legal powers that the police had in Ireland but at the same time passed an act (the Arrears Act) which meant that any tenant with a total annual rent of under £30, no longer had to pay rent arrears if they had any. This was one way Gladstone tried to stop the flood of evictions that Ireland was experiencing after Europe was hit by an agricultural depression in the 1870’s and 1880’s.

Gladstone’s third ministry was from 1886. Gladstone had made it public knowledge that he supported Home Rule for Ireland, and, as a result, got the political backing of the Irish MP’s in the House of Commons who had temporarily gone over to the side of the Tory Party who had promised to repeal coercion laws introduced by Gladstone in Ireland. By declaring support for Home Rule, Gladstone trod a dangerous political path. The Tories were adamantly against it many Liberals did not support it and many people in the street felt that the Irish were not up to governing themselves at that time in history. Gladstone also failed to carry support from Queen Victoria who simply did not like the man:

“(I have) the greatest possible disinclination to take this half-crazy and in many ways ridiculous old man.” (Victoria having to accept Gladstone as Prime Minister for the third time in 1886.

In 1886, Gladstone announced that he was “examining the practicality” of introducing Home Rule to Ireland. But some senior Liberals assumed that they knew what this meant – that he had already made up his mind – and refused to serve in his government. This meant that the 76 year old Prime Minister had to work with a cabinet of younger men who were probably more compliant to his ideas. In March 1886, Gladstone and his cabinet formally announced their support for Home Rule.

In April 1886, a Home Rule Bill was placed before Parliament. Its main proposals were:

A separate parliament and government should be set up in Dublin

This parliament would control all Irish affairs except defence issues, foreign relations, trade and issues relating to customs and excise. Westminster would deal with these issues.

Westminster would no longer have any Irish MP’s in it.

There were two main criticisms of the Bill:

1) It failed to take on board the fears of Protestant Ulster who were deeply concerned by a parliament being based in an essentially Catholic Dublin. Who would look after the people of Ulster?

2) Many were concerned that there would no longer be Irish MP’s at Westminster. As Westminster planned to maintain control over certain key areas, surely Ireland needed a voice actually in Westminster? Also, as Ireland would continue to pay its share into Britain’s budget (regardless of whether it had its own parliament), it should have MP’s in Westminster to see where this money was going to be spent.

Sixteen days were spent arguing about the bill. On June 8th 1886, the Home Rule bill was defeated by 30 votes. Of those who voted against it, 93 MP’s were Liberals and 46 of these MP’s were known to be radicals. Gladstone decided to take the issue to the people. Parliament was dissolved and a general election was set for July 1886.


During the Christmas of 1867 The Earl Russell announced that he would not lead the Liberal Party at the next general election and so Gladstone succeeded him as Liberal Party leader. The resulting general election of 1868 (the first under the extended franchise enacted in the Reform Act 1867) returned a Liberal majority of 112 seats in the House of Commons.

As prime minister 1868 to 1874 Gladstone headed a Liberal Party that was a coalition of Peelites like himself, Whigs and radicals Gladstone was now a spokesman for "peace, economy and reform." [3]

Between 1870 and 1874 religious disputes played a major part in destroying the broad Liberal Party coalition. Disputes over education, Irish disestablishment, and the Irish universities showed the divergence between, on the one hand, Whigs, who wanted state control of education and the propagation of a nondenominational, morally uplifting Christianity, and on the other hand Gladstone and his supporters, who sought to guard religion's independence from a modernising civil power. This division struck a lasting blow to prospects of agreement on future policy over education and Ireland. [4]

Major legislation Edit

The first major reform Gladstone undertook was the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland as embodied in the Irish Church Act 1869. This was followed by the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1870 which attempted to protect Irish tenants from unfair treatment from landlords by lending public money to tenants to enable them to buy their holdings. The Act limited landlords' powers to arbitrarily evict their tenants and established compensation for eviction, which varied according to the size of holdings and was not eligible for those evicted for failing to pay rents. [5]

Gladstone's government also passed the Elementary Education Act 1870, which provided England with an adequate system of elementary schools for the first time. It established a system of elective school boards which were founded to provide education where there were no voluntary schools. These boards had the power to levy rates and from which construct schools, employ teachers, and the ability to force children to attend (if they thought fit) those who were receiving no other education. They were also able to pay certain children's fees for voluntary schools. [6]

In 1871 Gladstone's government passed the Trade Union Act making membership of trade unions legal for the first time. However, picketing remained illegal, with the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1871 making it a specific criminal offence punishable by three months' hard labour in prison. [7] The Ballot Act 1872 was also passed, which established secret ballots for general and local elections.

The Licensing Act 1872 restricted the opening hours in public houses regulated the content of beer gave local authorities the power to determine licensing hours and gave boroughs the option of banning all alcohol. These policies were enforced by the police. This Act was generally unpopular and led to rioting in some towns. [8] The liquor industry had Liberal leanings before the Act but now this totally changed, and from "midsummer 1871 [when the first Licensing Bill was discussed] till the dissolution of 1874 nearly every public-house in the United Kingdom was an active committee-room for the Conservative Party". Gladstone blamed the Act for the Conservative victory in the 1874 general election, writing: "We have been borne down in a torrent of gin and beer". [9]

The Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873 remodelled the English court system (establishing the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal). It also attempted to remove the House of Lords's role as a judicial body for England, but this provision was not implemented due to the Conservative victory of 1874.

As Gladstone's Secretary of State for War, Edward Cardwell enacted far-reaching reforms of the British Army in what would become known as the Cardwell Reforms.

Finance Edit

In 1868 Gladstone appointed Robert Lowe (1811–92) Chancellor of the Exchequer, expecting him to hold down public spending. Public spending rose, and Gladstone pronounced Lowe "wretchedly deficient." Maloney notes that historians concur on that. Lowe systematically underestimated revenue, enabling him to resist the clamour for tax cuts, and to reduce the national debt instead. He insisted that the tax system be fair to all classes. By his own criterion of fairness—that the balance between direct and indirect taxation remain unchanged—he succeeded. Historians point out that this balance had never been a good measure of class incidence and was by that time thoroughly archaic. [10]

Public expenditure on the military and the navy by 1871 was at its lowest level since 1858. Overall, national public expenditure was reduced from £71,000,000 in 1868 to £67,000,000 in 1870 and 1871. However, it rose to £74,604,000 in 1874. Nevertheless, Gladstone was able to produce five surpluses for each year amounting to £17,000,000. He was also able (he resumed the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer in August 1873 till the dissolution of Parliament in early 1874) to reduce the income tax to 3 pence in the pound in 1873, and the next year proposed to abolish it altogether if he won the next general election. [11]

Foreign policy Edit

In the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71 Gladstone attempted to persuade the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck to forbear from annexing Alsace and Lorraine from defeated France. Gladstone published an anonymous article in the Edinburgh Review in October 1870 espousing his views, but it did not remain anonymous for long. The Germans remained unconvinced by Gladstone's overtures, however. France would regain both provinces in 1919 and 1944—but only after two World Wars with Germany.

During the American Civil War 1861-1865, Gladstone as Chancellor of the Exchequer favoured British and French intervention on the side of the Confederacy. His advice was rejected by the Prime Minister and Britain remained uninvolved. However, the Confederate ship CSS Alabama had been built in an English port and had subsequently damaged Union shipping. In 1872 Gladstone settled the Alabama Claims by giving the United States $15,500,000 as part of the Treaty of Washington.

Army reform Edit

Gladstone paid little attention to military affairs but in 1870 pushed through Parliament major changes in Army organisation. Germany's stunning triumph over France proved that the Prussian system of professional soldiers with up-to-date weapons was far superior to the traditional system of gentlemen-soldiers that Britain used. [12] The reforms were designed to centralise the power of the War Office, abolish purchase of officers' commissions, and to create reserve forces stationed in Britain by establishing short terms of service for enlisted men. [13]

Edward Cardwell (1813–1886) as Secretary of State for War (1868–1874) designed the reforms that Gladstone supported in the name of efficiency and democracy. In 1868 he abolished flogging, raising the private soldier status to more like an honourable career. In 1870 Cardwell abolished "bounty money" for recruits, discharged known bad characters from the ranks. He pulled 20,000 soldiers out of self-governing colonies, like Canada, which learned they had to help defend themselves. The most radical change, and one that required Gladstone's political muscle, was to abolish the system of officers obtaining commissions and promotions by purchase, rather than by merit. The system meant that the rich landholding families controlled all the middle and senior ranks in the army. Promotion depended on the family's wealth, not the officer's talents, and the middle class was shut out almost completely. British officers were expected to be gentlemen and sportsmen there was no problem if they were entirely wanting in military knowledge or leadership skills. From the Tory perspective it was essential to keep the officer corps the domain of gentlemen, and not a trade for professional experts. They warned the latter might menace the oligarchy and threaten a military coup they preferred an inefficient army to an authoritarian state. The rise of Bismarck's new Germany made this reactionary policy too dangerous for a great empire to risk. The bill, which would have compensated current owners for their cash investments, passed Commons in 1871 but was blocked by the House of Lords. Gladstone then moved to drop the system without any reimbursements, forcing the Lords to backtrack and approve the original bill. Liberals rallied to Gladstone's anti-elitism, pointing to the case of Lord Cardigan (1797–1868), who spent £40,000 for his commission and proved utterly incompetent in the Crimean war, where he ordered the disastrous "Charge of the Light Brigade" in 1854. Cardwell was not powerful enough to install a general staff system that had to await the 20th century. He did rearrange the war department. He made the office of Secretary of State for War superior to the Army's commander in Chief the commander was His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge (1819–1904), the Queen's first cousin, and an opponent of the reforms. The surveyor-general of the ordnance, and the financial secretary became key department heads reporting to the Secretary. The militia was reformed as well and integrated into the Army. The term of enlistment was reduced to 6 years, so there was more turnover and a larger pool of trained reservists. The territorial system of recruiting for regiments was standardised and adjusted to the current population. Cardwell reduced the Army budget yet increased its strength of the army by 25 battalions, 156 field guns, and abundant stores, while the reserves available for foreign service had been raised tenfold from 3,500 to 36,000 men. [12]

In the 1880 general election Gladstone's Liberals won 352 seats, a gain of 110, against 237 for the Conservatives and 63 for the Irish Home Rule League. It was a comfortable margin, but defections always seemed to whittle down the lead and sometimes produced defeat. Despite his age Gladstone was an indefatigable leader and organiser, and the most brilliant speaker however he wasted energy by serving as his own Chancellor of the Exchequer for a while. His Liberal party was increasingly factionalised between the smaller "radical" contingent and the larger "Whig" grouping. Gladstone selected a relatively weak cabinet that favoured the Whigs. Even so, some Whigs were alienated because of his imperial policy, while the radical leader, Joseph Chamberlain broke away in because they opposed his home rule plan for Ireland.

It has been argued that Gladstone mishandled the Bradlaugh affair, giving the opposition a religious cudgel which they used for years, with the result that his second ministry was not nearly as successful as the first. [14]

One of the first major pieces of legislation introduced by the new government was the Elementary Education Act 1880, which enshrined the principle of compulsory education (for all children aged 5–10 years of age) into law for the first time.

In 1881 Gladstone was convinced that to pass a Land Bill for Ireland, law and order should be restored. In February 1881 the government therefore passed the Peace Preservation (Ireland) Act 1881 which gave the Viceroy of Ireland powers to suspend habeas corpus, and gave him in effect the power to lock up anyone he liked for as long as he liked. This was the Act used to arrest Irish Nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell. In August that year Parliament passed the Land Law (Ireland) Act 1881 which gave Irish tenants "the three Fs" fair rent, fixity (security) of tenure and the right to freely sell their holdings. [15] Gladstone's government also passed the Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act 1882, which cancelled rent arrears for Irish tenants occupying land worth less than £30 per annum who were unable to pay. [16]

The Married Women's Property Act 1882 gave married women the same rights to buy, sell, and own property as unmarried women did and had the effect of women being legally recognised as individuals in their own right for the first time in history.

Gladstone's second government also saw a number of electoral reforms. The Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act 1883 aimed at eliminating corruption in elections and the Representation of the People Act 1884, which gave the counties the same franchise as the boroughs—adult male householders and £10 lodgers—and added about six million to the total number who could vote in parliamentary elections. Parliamentary reform continued with the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885.

Public expenditure was reduced to slightly under £81,000,000 in 1881 from the £83,000,000 inherited from the previous administration of 1879. However it rose to £89,000,000 in 1885. [17] For nearly three years into his second government Gladstone resumed the office of Chancellor. He abolished the tax on malt for the farmers, funding this by adding one pence on income tax and introducing a duty on beer, in 1880. In 1881 he reduced the income tax to five pence in the pound, funding this by increasing the duty on spirits, probates and legacies. In his last Budget in 1882 Gladstone added to the income tax. [17]

Gladstone's government was unexpectedly defeated on the Budget vote on 8 June 1885 and therefore Gladstone resigned the premiership the next day, with Lord Salisbury forming a minority Conservative administration.

Foreign policy Edit

While in opposition Gladstone spoke out against Disraeli's aggressive imperialism. Especially in his Midlothian campaign speeches of 1880 he had expounded on his Liberal philosophy of government. The major concern of the campaign was with foreign affairs with evangelical fervour he articulated his vision of a world community, governed by law, and protecting the weak. The basis was universalism and inclusiveness his emotional appeals reached to the sense of concern for others, rising eventually to the larger picture of the unity of mankind. [18] Gladstone intended to restore right conduct and right principles when he returned to office, but public opinion—especially among the rural gentry—forced his government to continue imperial defence and expansion, most notably in Egypt. [19] At a time when France, Germany and others were rapidly expanding their empires, he opposed expanding the British Empire. [20]

Gladstone won the 1880 election on the back of his Midlothian campaign against Disraeli's support for the Ottoman Empire. He proceeded to reverse Disraeli's foreign policy by withdrawing the British garrison in Kandahar in Afghanistan and wanted to cede Cyprus to Greece, although he was dissuaded from this by Lord Granville. [21] Although he had denounced the annexation of the Transvaal in the election campaign, he announced in January 1881 that self-government was not going to happen. The Boers rebelled against this in February and drove the British out by force at the Battle of Majuba Hill. Gladstone implemented the Pretoria Convention later in August which ended the First Boer War. In October in a speech at Leeds, Gladstone proclaimed: "While we are opposed to imperialism, we are devoted to the empire". [22]

However, in 1882 a nationalist revolt occurred in Egypt, headed by Colonel Urabi. There was a perceived danger to the Suez Canal, and therefore British communications with its to Indian empire, as well as to British holders of Egyptian bonds. [23] At first, Gladstone appealed to the Concert of Europe to take collective action, although this was met by unenthusiastic responses. France initially sent warships to join the Royal Navy at Alexandria, but refused to send military forces in fear of weakening its defences against Germany. On 10 July Gladstone instructed that an ultimatum be given to Urabi to halt military fortifications of Alexandria within twelve hours. Urabi did not answer and so on 11 July the Royal Navy bombarded the city while the French withdrew. This resulted in rioting and Gladstone got from Parliament £2,300,000 and raised the income tax from 5d. to 6½d. to finance a military campaign. [24] The decision to go to war met with opposition from within the Liberal Party, and the Radical MP John Bright resigned from the Cabinet in protest. [25] On 19 August British troops commanded by Sir Garnet Wolseley landed at Port Said and on 13 September defeated Urabi's forces at the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir. On hearing news of the British victory Gladstone was ecstatic and ordered salutes of the guns in Hyde Park in their honour. [26]

In January 1884 Gladstone consented to sending General Gordon to the Sudan to report on the best means of evacuating Egyptian garrisons there in the aftermath of the Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad's rebellion. When Gordon arrived in the Sudan he wanted to hold the capital, Khartoum. At first Gladstone refused to send a relief expedition but a few months later he consented and in October 1884 General Wolseley embarked from Cairo to Khartoum but arrived there too late to save Gordon, who had died when Khartoum fell to the Mahdi. "No single event in Gladstone's career made him more unpopular" [27] and a vote of censure in the Commons reduced the government's majority to fourteen.

Religious issues Edit

Enormous publicity was accorded the case of Charles Bradlaugh, who was elected as a Liberal to Parliament again and again but could not be seated because he was an atheist. Bradlaugh was a conventional Liberal on most issues, but he was also a highly controversial proponent of birth control. The technical issue was whether an atheist could "affirm" his loyalty rather than "swear to God." Gladstone fought to get Bradlaugh seated, but took a legalistic approach which allowed the Conservatives to attack the Liberals with an appeal to religious sentiment. The Liberals were split and their cause suffered. Bradlaugh was finally seated in 1886 and in 1888 Parliament passed a law that allowed affirmations instead of oaths. [28]

With very little publicity Gladstone after 1880 was increasingly estranged from Queen Victoria on issues of Church of England patronage. Gladstone's policy was to nominate bishops and deans solely on the basis of merit and leadership ability. The Queen, encouraged by Disraeli, favoured moderates who would restrain the High Church party (which tended to support the Liberals). [29] [30]

The general election in November/December 1885 saw the Liberals lose 33 seats but in January 1886 Salisbury resigned the premiership after losing a vote in the Commons and so Gladstone formed a government on 1 February. Historians point to his age as an explanation for his inflexibility. He minimized the Radical role in his cabinet, with only Joseph Chamberlain representing that faction. The result was internal feuding that so weakened the cabinet that solid achievements were lacking. The historian Donald Southgate argues:

Gladstone, age and ailing, had lost his effectiveness. The party was suffering because the desire to preserve it took precedence, even with the leading Radicals, over the desire to employ it for any particular purpose, such as the grant of local representative institutions to Ireland. [31]

Never in the modern era has a triumphant House of Commons majority achieved so little. The reason was not merely the continuing economic unrest outside, nor the new phenomena of two oppositions—an Irish as well as a conservative. It was that. there persisted a hidden [conflict] within the majority itself, which palsied the government's consuls and zigzagged its policy. His own method of adjustment, which was to be radical in the open and whiggish behind the scenes, allowed neither side to feel secure. Now, too, that he was past 70, mere egotism grew on him and within a habit of playing this mystery—man and puzzling his followers by unexpected moves. [32]

Gladstone turned to Ireland. The First Home Rule Bill was introduced to Parliament on 8 April and the Land Purchase Bill on 16 April. Joseph Chamberlain and George Otto Trevelyan resigned from the Cabinet when Gladstone told them that he intended to introduce the bills. [33]

The Land Purchase Bill enabled landlords in Ireland—mostly Protestants—to sell their land to their tenants for the price of 20 years' rent. The purchases were to be financed by government loans funded by £120,000,000 secured on British credit at 3%. [34] The bill was a shock to Liberals and brought down Gladstone's government in a matter of months. Irish nationalist reaction was mixed, Unionist opinion was hostile, and the election addresses during the 1886 election revealed English radicals to be against the bill also. Among the Liberal rank and file, several Gladstonian candidates disowned the bill, reflecting fears at the constituency level that the interests of the working people were being sacrificed to finance a rescue operation for the landed elite. The Land Purchase Bill was criticised from all sides and was dropped. The Home Rule Bill was defeated by 343 votes to 313, with 93 Liberals voting against. [35] [36] Thus nothing was accomplished except the permanent disruption of the Liberal Party.

Men who left the Liberal Party now formed the Liberal Unionist Party. Gladstone dissolved Parliament and called a general election which resulted in a Unionist (Conservative and Liberal Unionist) landslide victory under Salisbury. [37]

The general election of 1892 returned more Liberals than Unionists but without an overall majority. The Unionists stayed in office until they lost a motion of no confidence moved by H. H. Asquith on 11 August. Gladstone became Prime Minister for the last time at the age of 82, and was both the oldest ever person to be appointed to the office and when he resigned in 1894 aged 84 he was the oldest person ever to occupy the Premiership. [38]

Gladstone was the first Prime Minister to make it a condition of ministers to resign directorships of public companies in 1892. This was abandoned by Salisbury in 1895 and Arthur Balfour after him but was restored by Liberal Henry Campbell-Bannerman in 1905 and was observed ever since. [39]

Having to rely on Irish Nationalist votes, Gladstone introduced the Second Home Rule Bill in February 1893, passing second reading on 21 April by 43 votes and third reading on 1 September by 34 votes. However the House of Lords killed the Bill by voting against by 419 votes to 41 on 8 September. Gladstone wanted to call a general election to campaign against the Lords but his colleagues dissuaded him from doing so.

Public expenditure in the years 1892–93 was £80,000,000 with income tax at seven pence in the pound. In 1894 Britain's imports totalled £408,000,000, with total British-made exports at £216,000,000 (and the re-export of imports valued at £57,000,000). [40]

In December 1893 an Opposition motion proposed by Lord George Hamilton called for an expansion of the Royal Navy. Gladstone opposed increasing public expenditure on the naval estimates, in the tradition of free trade liberalism of his earlier political career as Chancellor. Almost all his colleagues, however, believed in some expansion of the Royal Navy. Gladstone also opposed Sir William Harcourt's proposal to implement a graduated death duty, which Gladstone denounced as "the most radical measure of my lifetime". [41]

Gladstone decided to resign the Premiership, ostensibly on health grounds, on 2 March 1894. The Queen did not ask Gladstone who should succeed him but sent for Lord Rosebery (Gladstone would have advised on Lord Spencer). [42]

The third ministry, 1886

In 1886 his party was allied with Irish Nationalists to defeat Lord Salisbury's government Gladstone regained his position as PM and combined the office with that of Lord Privy Seal. During this administration he introduced his Home Rule Bill for Ireland for the first time. The issue split the Liberal Party and the bill was thrown out on the second reading. The result was the end of his government after a few months and another government headed by Lord Salisbury.

Hughenden Manor The home of Benjamin Disraeli, leader of the Conservative Party during Victoria's reign, from 1848 until his death in 1881. This was his retreat from the rigours of parliamentary life and houses many of his personal effects. Hughenden Manor, High Wycombe, Hertfordshire HP14 4LA Tel: 01494 532580

Kilmainham Gaol Opened in 1796 and 1924, leaders of many Irish rebellions were detained here such as Robert Emmet, Thomas Francis Meagher, Charles Stewart Parnell and the key figures of the 1916 rebellion. Kilmainham Gaol, Kilmainham, Dublin 8 Tel: 00353 1 4535984

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