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British History VI (1815-1924) Gladstone and later Victorian Liberalism To what extent did Gladstone successfully refashion the nature of liberalism in the later 19th century?
Introduction Changing status quo/Palmerston/Conservative threat Finance Foreign Policy Ireland Domestic Legislation Electoral performance of the party Refashioning owed to others?
Conclusion Gladstone and the Liberal Party: M. Winstanley
- 1868 - Supported the abolition of Church Rates
- 1869 - Disestablished the Irish Anglican Church
- 1870 - Irish Land Act
- 1872 - Secret Ballot
- 1879 - Midlothian Campaign
- 1882 - Arrears Act
- 1883 - Corrupt Practices Act
- 1884 - Third Reform Act - enfranchises rural households
- 1885 - Redistribution of Seats Act
- 1885/86 - Support for Home Rule splits Liberals
- Gladstonian Liberalism: 'emphasis on individual freedom and responsibility...free-trade and cheap government.'1
- The State was there to enable, not provide, whilst promoting the welfare of the nation as a whole.
- Gladstone remained socially conservative and a supporter of the State, Crown, and Church.
- In 1878, he said: 'I am a firm believer in the aristocratic principle, the rule of the best.'2
- He reluctantly accepted the secret ballot.
- He objected to the terms of the Second Reform Act.
- Whilst the Liberal party was not 'formed' until 1859, post-18446 many non-Tory newly elected MPs referred to themselves as Liberals.
- Party and policy remained fluid.
- Only with the 1877 foundation of the National Liberal Federation did a structured party machine emerge.
- Make-up of the Liberal party3:
- A total of 457 Liberal MPs sat between 1857 and 1874.
- Nearly half came from significant landowning families, although this was soon to change.
- 100 or so were of aristocratic or gentry origin.
- A quarter were relatives of peers.
- One in ten earned Anglican livings. 1 Gladstone and the Liberal Party: M. Winstanley 2 Gladstone and the Liberal Party: M. Winstanley 3 Gladstone and the Liberal Party: M. Winstanley
- On the front bench, the landowning class continued to dominate.
- Only around a fifth of Liberals were non-conformists.
- After 1849, the majority of Irish Liberal MPs were Roman Catholics.
- Palmerston had been an obstacle to reform, particularly in fiscal and franchise matters.
- Gladstone's attack on Irish land ownership and the Anglican church drove some Liberals into alliance with the Tories as 'Liberal Unionists.'
- Gladstone, 1877: 'Nonconformity supplies the backbone of English Liberalism.'4 Maybe in the country, but not in parliament.
- Gladstone's support base was public, not parliamentary, as the 'People's William'.
- His first administration faced the dual challenges of sectionalism within the Liberal party and a Tory dominated Lords.
- Irish disestablishment was a cause that served to unite many within the party.
- However, Gladstone did not exercise a firm grip on policy.
- The 1870 Education Act was drafted without much input, likewise the 1872 Licensing Act.
- He was unhappy about the abolition of university religious tests.
- In 1881, the government began to dismantle Disraelian diplomacy, re-introducing coercion in Ireland and withholding self-government from the Transvaal.
- Most Bills passed were the result of compromise, not a reflection of Gladstone's wishes. Apart from fiscal issues, he had little direct involvement in the development of domestic legislation.
- His 1870 Land Act did not appease the Irish, but merely further raised expectations.
- If the Liberals were to recover from their 1874 defeat, they needed to adjust their policies to the new electorate and the new rhetoric of the Tories.
- By 1892, Liberalism had lost most of its landed contingent - with only 8% of MPs coming from this group. In contrast, the overwhelming majority of Liberals came from the professions.
- Some of the party's old Whigs had deserted over Irish Home Rule.
- However, the most significant factor was the deteriorating economic position of the landed class and their resultant loss of interest in parliament.
- Gladstone wanted the party to harness 'the great social forces of the age'5 in order to survive.
- Home Rule was constitutionally unacceptable to most Liberals. Gladstone had committed himself to an impractical and unpopular cause.
- By the late 1880s, Gladstone was not working constructively to reform the party, 'a survivor from a previous age who found it difficult to adapt to the new political climate.'6 He had dominated his party for 30 years and constructive debate had largely been quashed.
- Whilst a strong leader, he was also stubborn and inflexible, failing to reassess the meaning of 'Liberalism' in the last quarter of the century.
- His 1868 decision to concentrate on Irish disestablishment did much to reunite the divided Liberals. Britain and the European Powers, 1865-1914: R. Pearce 4 Gladstone and the Liberal Party: M. Winstanley 5 Gladstone and the Liberal Party: M. Winstanley 6 Gladstone and the Liberal Party: M. Winstanley
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