Gladstone's Reform Acts 1869-1873

After becoming Liberal party leader in 1868, he immediately put into practice what he had promised in his 1864 speeches saying that all men would be considered for having the vote in the future. He had begun to see the working class as increasingly hard working and sensible due to being better off and more literate. His acts that were passed between the years of 1869 and 1873 reflected his new direction of Gladstonian Liberalism.

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Disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Ireland

  • 1869, year after he became PM and the first act that he passed
  • Whole of the Liberal party wanted religious liberalism so they were all in agreement
  • Act led to Church no longer being legally established by Parliament
  • Gladstone was the Minister responsible as he took a very personal interest in the matter
  • Most successful piece of Gladstones Irish legislation as he managed to do what he had set out to do
  • Only opposition was from Conservatives as they argued that it would lead to a similar occurence in England
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Irish Land Act

  • 1870
  • So far, the law in Ireland regarding legal rights to hold on to a property (tenure) had always been in favour of the landlords
  • Due to the act, no more exorbitant rates, if tenants were evicted they had to be given compensation for any improvements they had made
  • Gladstone was the Minister responsible
  • However this reform was not enough as Gladstone had misjudged the scale of the problem and what an "exorbitant rate" was had never been defined
  • Lords disliked the Act as they saw it as an attack on their property and Irish Nationalists didn't like it as it wasn't Radical enough - Gladstone stuck between a rock and a hard place
  • This Act caused a growth in Fenian activity as Irish hopes had been raised and then drastically dropped
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Irish Universities Bill (failed)

  • 1873, Act failed as there was too much opposition
  • Gladstone wanted to set up a new university for Roman Catholics and Protestants to mix, in the hope that this would ease tensions between the nations
  • Only certain subjects would be taught to cater for both religions, however this was not liberal because it did not allow people the freedom to decide what they wanted to learn
  • Opposition from Catholics, Protestants, Catholic Bishops
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Education Act

  • 1870, first step towards state education in Britain EVER
  • Britain was falling behind other countries in education, needed more skilled workers, many working class people had got the vote
  • Due to the Act, all children aged 5-13 were given the opportunity to attend school, Board Schools were set up in areas where church education was not sufficient, Boards could excuse fees of poor children (around £1.50 a year)
  • Minister responsible was Gladstone and W.E Forster
  • Produced a largely literate generation, improved educational opportunities for girls
  • Main opposition was from non-conformists and Anglicans who had strong religious feelings and weren't happy with the "Godless Board Schools" that couldn't teach from any religious point of view
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Religious Equality and University Tests Act

  • 1871
  • Gladstone wanted to achieve complete religous equality rather that just religious tolerance
  • Due to the Act, all academic appointments at Oxbridge were open to any religious beliefs
  • Minister responsible was Gladstone
  • Did not cause an immediate change as most colleges remained with a predomionantly with an Anglican atmosphere
  • Some Anglicans were opposed to it
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Civil Service

  • 1870
  • The need for change had become apparent after the Crimean War, in which Civil servants were often seen as lazy inefficient and lacking in initiative
  • After the Act, anyone wishing to enter the civil service would have to sit an entrance exam
  • Gladstone was the Minister responsible
  • Caused the development of the Civil Service so it was more efficient and there was a greater competition from the well educated to gain a position
  • Opposition from the upper classes as it had been their opportunity for poorly qualified younger sons to enter a well paid profession
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Judicature Act

  • 1873
  • Many people had complained about the slowness, complexity and cost of the English law system as there were two law systems
  • The two law systems were then fused and complex court system was simplified
  • Lord Selbourne, Lord Chancellor in 1872, was the Minister responsible for the Act
  • Much of the system made in 1873 is still used today
  • The Act was passed without any difficulty
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Public Health Act

  • 1872
  • Britain had many health problems and a lack of a good health system
  • It was created to encourage local authorities to take responsibility for public health in their areas
  • Gladstone was the Minister responsible
  • Unfortuantely, the Act was not compulsory (too laissez-faire) and Gladstone was not sufficiently interested
  • The only opposition was from ordinary people who wanted a more forceful approach
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Trade Union Act

  • 1871
  • Due to a severe economic recession in winter of 1866-7, there were difficulties between Trade Unions and the Law
  • New Act meant that peaceful picketing was outlawed, however Trade Unions felt that picketing was essential to a successful strike
  • Gladstone was the Minister responsible
  • Disraeli opposed the Act
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Ballot Act

  • 1872
  • There was a corrupt voting system ripe with bribery and intimidation
  • This Act made voting secret
  • Gladstone was the Minister responsible
  • Did not remove all bribery and corruption as there were still ways in which to buy votes
  • Opposition from landlords and employers as they could not control the way tenants and workers voted
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Municipal Elections Votes for Women

  • 1869
  • Radicals wanted this Act to be passed as they felt that all rate payers should have a say in the vote
  • Female householders were allowed to vote in municipal elections
  • Minister responsible was Jacob Bright, a Radical
  • This began the political involvement of women in local governments which led to the right to vote at parliamentary level
  • Some mild opposition from Gladstone as he was not keen on women having the vote
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Army Reforms

  • Faults and inefficiencies within the army had been exposed during the Crimean War
  • The Act meant that the purchase of Commisions was abolished, different sections of the war department were combined for better efficiency, the length of service was reduced and flogging in peace time was abolished (after 1880 all flogging was abolished)
  • The Act improved the reputation of the British Army and the shortened length of service increased the army's strength
  • There was some opposition from the Army's senior officers but overall very liberal as it met humanitarian issues i.e. flogging
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Licensing Act

  • 1872
  • many people turned to alcoholism to get over the problems, which was seen as a major cause of poverty, crime and violence
  • There was a lot of pressure from the UK Alliance who campaigned for restricted drinking hours or even a total ban on alcohol
  • Minister responsible was Henry Bruce, Home Secretary
  • Licensed hours were determined by local authorities, there were penalties for tampering with beer (adding salt etc) and enforcement by the police was allowed
  • Opposition from aristocracy because they were big drinkers, and working class opposition because they needed alcohol as a form of escape
  • This was not a liberal act as it was forcing people to do something and in the end Gladstone felt that it was this Act that cost him the next election
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Overview of Acts of Gladstones First Ministry 1868

  • Gladstone - "my mission is to pacify Ireland"
  • Reformed some of the countrys major institutions such as Army, Civil Service and Universities
  • Removed unjustified privilege - class divide
  • Gave religious liberalism, gave non-Anglicans full legal equality
  • Increased efficiency Army, Judicature and Civil Service Act
  • Had achieved most of his objectives and stuck to Liberal principles
  • Education for the masses
  • Prepared to pass acts that he didn't personally agree with because he believed the Acts were necessary
  • Irish Land and Universities Acts failed to meet objectives and raised further issues
  • Lost popularity with the upper class
  • Upset the working class - forbade picketing, cut back drinking, public health, many reforms didn't directly affect them
  • 1874 lost election - public questioned the Liberals, Disraeli counter attack called Liberals "range of exhausted volcanoes"
  • Only passed acts to keep party together and to keep people happy
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Anusha Subash


Very useful summary! 

callum lightfoot



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