Victorian Liberalism Notes
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Victorian Liberalism Revision
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British History VI (1815-1924) To what extent was Victorian Liberalism between the 1832 and 1867 Reform Acts coherent and successful?
Introduction - state of politics - what do we mean by liberalism 'Coherent thought among leading Liberals was as rarefied as the atmosphere on the moon.'1 Composition of the liberal Party Leadership/key characters Palmerston Russell Gladstone Cobden, Bright, Mill et al Legislative achievements Electoral Success Conclusion For many MPs, 'Liberalism amounted to little more than common good nature.'2 Reaction and Reconstruction in English Politics, 1832-52: N. Gash
- The old Whig Party was effectively destroyed by the 1832 Reform Act. However, it gave Whig Liberalism a new lease of life.
- What was Liberal Whiggism?
- 'The enemy of exclusion and monopoly, the friend of non-intervention and peace, the unqualifying advocate of retrenchment, and the stern opponent of profligate patronage.'3 Whilst still wedded to the aristocracy, the Whigs emerged to present valid leadership to the other classes that now had a stake in the new political consensus.
- After the 1841 election, the Whig Liberals emerged as the largest single group of Irish MPs. Conversely, in English counties, the Whigs were in retreat, their numbers falling by 29 seats in 1835, 23 seats in 1837, and a further 22 seats in 1841.
- Read up on the Corn Laws.
- Weakness: 'the social composition of their parliamentary leadership was at odds with their electoral basis and their natural political allies.'4 Their leaders were aristocratic and conservative.
- The name 'Liberal' was commonly used by 1835, and applied to both the government and the party.
- The Whigs sought to guide radicalism down practical paths. They succeeded in emasculating the Radicals and subsuming them into the Liberal fold. The Radical presence in the Commons shrank from 150 members in 1832 to around 20 by 1836.
- What did the emergent Liberals support?
- Supporters of the government and the crown, lords, and commons.
- Undecided on the need for Lords reform. 1 The Formation of the British Liberal Party: J. Vincent 2 The Formation of the British Liberal Party: J. Vincent 3 Reaction and Reconstruction in English Politics, 1832-52: N. Gash 4 Reaction and Reconstruction in English Politics, 1832-52: N. Gash
- Against universal suffrage.
- Seeking moderate church reform.
- In favour of the ballot and shorter parliaments.
- Borough reform and improved electoral practice.
- Abrogation of the Corn Laws.
- Reform of the Irish church.
- Three events between 1834-41 were catalysts in the growth of the Liberal party:
- 1835 - Lichfield House Compact and the subsequent defeat of Peel's ministry.
- 1839 - Cabinet reshuffle and open question on the Ballot and Corn Laws.
- 1841 - Free Trade budget.
- 'Admittedly, none bore the stamp of clarity of success.'5 The 1841 budget was the first Liberal attempt to offer financial and administrative leadership to rival that of Peel - and was not repeated until Gladstone's 1853 budget.
- The Lichfield House Compact was a an agreement by the parties of the Left to work together to bring down the Conservative government - and was a step towards establishing a Liberal party.
- The Radicals argued over the terms on which they would support the Whigs. They opposed clericism, privilege, and oligarchy.
- The Whig dilemma: if they attempted too little, their friends grew slack; if they attempted too much, their enemies grew strong.6
- 'The fundamental defect of the Whigs was that they could not make up their mind after the 1832 election whether to be an oligarchic or popular party.'7 The UK constitution remained largely oligarchic, and the Liberal executive had to govern within the context of this constraint.
- Lack of leadership - the fact that questions over the Ballot and Corn Law were allowed to be open votes is an indictment of the lack of clear policy among the Whig leadership.
- Was Peel running a liberal-conservative programme that was difficult to oppose? The Whigs were irresolute and incoherent on many issues.
- Importance of the omission of Cobden from the Cabinet?
- Peel died in 1850
- 'Russell's Cabinet had no strategy, and the attempt to conciliate all the great interests earned the steady support of none.'8
- Russell had failed to impose his will on either the Cabinet or the Commons. He has been called a poor administrator and an inefficient PM.
- 'They were unable to evolve a continuous and consistent policy which would harness and yet ratify the aspirations of the Left.'9 Was the age of reform over?
- Between 1832 and 1867 the Whigs governed the country, but little more. Palmerston emerged from the chaos as a leader of a Liberal, rather than a Whig party. Palmerston and Liberalism, 1855-1865: E.D. Steele 5 Reaction and Reconstruction in English Politics, 1832-52: N. Gash 6 Reaction and Reconstruction in English Politics, 1832-52: N. Gash 7 Reaction and Reconstruction in English Politics, 1832-52: N. Gash 8 Reaction and Reconstruction in English Politics, 1832-52: N. Gash 9 Reaction and Reconstruction in English Politics, 1832-52: N. Gash
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