Gladstonian Liberalism

What was Gladstonian Liberalism?

Gladstone believed in:

  • Retrenchment (cheap government and low tax)
  • A minimalist state
  • Equal opportunities: "I will always back the masses against the classes"
  • Traditional roles of the monarchy and arisocracy
  • Free trade
  • Laissez faire (lack of government interference)
  • Morality due to his Anglican faith

Gladstone wanted to:

  • Increase equality of opportunity
  • Increase Liberal appeal
  • Peace in foreign policy
  • Pacify Ireland
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Gladstone Overview:

  • 1841: Served in Peel's government
  • 1852-5: Chancellor of the Exchequer under Lord Aberdeen
  • 1859-66: Chancellor of the Exchequer under Palmerston (and Russell 1865-66)
  • 1865: Leader of the LIberals in the Commons
  • 1868-74: First Ministry
  • 1876: Returns from retirement over the Eastern Question
  • 1879: Midlothian Campaign
  • 1880-5: Second Ministry
  • 1886: Third Ministry but Irish Home Rule Bill is defeated
  • 1892-4: Forth Ministry
  • 1894: Resignation
  • 1898: Died
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Ireland Policy:

  • Irish Land Act 1870: Tenants were compensated for improvements to property if evicted. The Act ensured fixity of tenure, fair rents and free sale of leases.
    • Strengths: Compensation encouraged better farming and land improvement; disturbance allowance provided for those evicted for non-rent related reasons; landlords were not allowed to charge exorbitant rents to force tenants off their land; John Bright set up 5% mortgages to increase peasant property owners.
    • Limitations: No definition for exorbitant rent; Bill excluded long leaseholders of 31 years; few had the money to buy land and few wanted to sell; did little to protect tenants in the late 1870's agricultural depression which led to extensive evictions and violence; legal problems in claiming compensation.
  • Irish Church Act 1869: Disestablishment of unity between the Church of England and the Church of Ireland.
    • Strengths: 80% of the Irish population were Catholic so why should they pay for the C of E?; proposed £10 million to pay to pay clergy and maintain Irish church buildings, as well as £5 million to aid the poor; pleased non-conformists
    • Limitations: Pushed many aristocratic whigs towards the Conservatives; the Church of England kept lots of its property; later Bill (1881) was seen as attacking property rights.
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Ireland Policy:

  • Irish University Bill 1873: Aimed to establish a new university of Dublin, unaffiliated with any particular religion.
    • Strengths: Non-conformist approval; would hopefully discourage intolerance.
    • Limitations: Disappointed those who wanted secular education; opposed by the Roman Catholic Church as it meant the loss of its independent colleges; came at a time of strong anti-Catholic feeling; government defeated in the measure by 3 votes in 1873 and Disraeli refused to form a minority government, which allowed Liberal divisions to widen further.
  • Other problems: The 1872 Secret Ballot Act increased support for the Home Rule Party, thus decreasing Liberal support in Ireland.
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Domestic policy:

  • 1870 Education Act: Demand for reform came from industrialists who were concerned that an uneducated workforce were damaging economic competition, as well as NEL demands.
    • The Act increased pupils in education but led to local tensions as non-conformists tried to dominate school boards. Gladstone was criticised for wanting secular education, and non-conformists were angry at paying Anglican rates. The NEL was displeased as they were a secular organisation, and the Act discounted that many children had to work. Education wasn't free until 1893 and the Cowper-Temple clause wasn't specific.
  • 1871 University Test Act: Allowed non-conformists to attend Oxbridge universities and dealt with their grievances of higher education.
  • Army/Civil service reform: Expanded to be more meritocratic to an extent to accomodate the new middle class, but upper classes still kept their positions and the foreign office wasn't open to the middle classes.
    • "careers open to the talents" supposedly; exams in the civil service created more opportunity but private schools could prepare for them; conditions for soldiers were improved with the abolition of flogging and paying bounties for recruitment; the practice of buying commissions was abolished; liason between the army and navy remained weak; upper ranks still dominated by the upper classes.
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Domestic policy:

  • 1871 Trade Unions Act gace unions legal recognition, and recognised a need for change. 
    • The Act failed to see that effective unionism required group action to be legalised. Effect was limited as the picketing claused wasn't repealed until 1875 under Disraeli.
  •  1872 Secret Ballot Act was in line with the needs of an enlarged electorate. The Act lost the Liberals support in Ireland as it encouraged support for the Home Rule Party.
  • 1872 Public Health Act appointed "inspectors of nuisances"  and a medical officer of health for towns. This was limited due to reluctance to interfere with individuals and businesses, as well as a desire to keep costs low. 
  • 1872 Licensing Act set up opening and closing hours for pubs, and limited the number of drinking establishments. This was incredibily unpopular and arguably contributed to Gladstone's defeat in 1874.
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Foreign policy:

  • Italian unification: Gladstone's 1850 visit to Italy marked a turning point in his view of foreign policy. The sympathy for European liberals was one of the major reasons behind the formation of the Liberal Party in 1859. It allowed Gladstone to be prepared to serve under Palmerston, and he spoke in favour of a new Italian nation. However, Gladstone couldn't take action after Austria crushed an Italian rebellion as Austria was a valuable ally.
  • The US Civil War: While Gladstone doesn't recognise the Confederacy as independent, weak support for the Union made Gladstone complicit with an amoral cause. He allowed the Union naval blockade to continue, despite the fact that it was impacting British mills. Here, Gladstone appeared weak and neglectful of British interests.
  • The Franco-Prussian War: Gladstone kept the peace by obtaining a declaration from the warring parties, but a lack of action led to Germany becoming a major commercial and military rival to Britain by the late 19th century. Inaction also contributed to WWI due to resentment as a result of Bismarck's annexing of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871. Gladstone secured free trade with France in 1861 with the Cobden Treaty.
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Foreign policy:

  • The situation in 1868: Proved to be a moral victory with the Union winning the US civil war, but Gladstone's position was precarious as the threat of war between Prussia and France would go against Liberal ideals and national interests. Austrian weakness led to Russian threats to British trade routes to India. This threatened Britain's buffer zone and the idea of splendid isolationism. 
  • Russia and the Black Sea: Gladstone keeps the peace by not intervening, but Britain looks weak as international law and the Concert of Europe is undermined when Russia repudiates the Black Sea clauses. This also threatens British trade routes. 
  • The Alabama Arbitration: Gladstone avoided conflict but made Britain look weak and went massively against retrenchment as solving the dispite cost £3 million.
  • The colonies: Supported retrenchment with withdrawal of forces from Canada, but failed to control his men on the spot, such as in Fiji where Australian settlers dominated the constitutional monarchy. He was also forced into an expedition to quell unrest on the Gold Coast in 1873, and failed to prevent Canadian import duties. Gladstone also failed to act upon the discovery of African diamond mines, so annexation fell to the governor who secured Britain money from the discovery.
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Gladstone's impact on foreign policy:

  • Gladstone condemned Disraei for foreign expansion but authorised colonial expansion himself.
  • Demonstrated an inconsistent attitude to Italian liberalism, as he admired nationalists and condemned the fate of prisoners, but was not a strong supporter of unity.
  • Supported liberty but ignored the plight of slaves in America.
  • Supported international law in the Alabama Arbitration but accepted Russia repudiating treaties.
  • Agreed to theb Cobden Treaty with France but did nothing to prevent their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War.
  • Lack of effort in preventing expansionism caused the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine which contributed to WWI.
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Was Gladstone the "People's William"?

  • Yes: Budgets of 1860 and 1861 reduced the costs of living; ended the "tax on knowledge" (newspapers) in 1861; large trade in Gladstone merchandise showed his popularity; popular with non-conformists due to the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland and allowing them to attend Oxbridge in 1871; support from the middle classes due to increased opportunities (civil service, education, end on purchase of commissions); growing number of skilled tradesmen and clerical workers were drawn to low cost and morality; appealed to a range of social groups (e.g. the Duke of Devonshire due to free trade); "pale of the constitution" speech in 1864 showed that Gladstone supported extending the franchise; greeted by huge crowds in his 1862 northern tour; many people supported individualism so state provision wasn't really called for. 
  • No: Varied appeal of the coalition eventually caused divisions after 1874; few of the measures taken to open up opportunities affected the working classes as most remained outside the "pale of the constitution"; there was little in the way of factory legislation to protect workers; limited public health improvements (ineffectiveness of the 1872 Public Health Act); less outdoor poor relief; offered little help or value to those at the bottom of society; state education ended at 12; Gladstone lost his Oxford university seat of 18 years in 1865; 1872 Licensing Act was very unpopular with the working classes; low appeal in Lords and Commons.
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Did Gladstone rely on his colleagues?:

  • Yes: Home Secretary Henry Bruce was instrumental in passing the 1872 Licensing Act (arose due to pressure from the Band of Hope and drunkeness); 1872 Public Health Act was the result of a royal commission under Disraeli (much of the work for this and the Local Government Act was done by George Goschen, leader of the Poor Law Board); Education Acts associated with W.E. Forster (Forster's broad religious background allowed for compromise and broadly Anglican worship); Forster also carried out the 1972 Secret Ballot Act; Edward Cardwell was also involved in trying to pass education reform in 1867, as well as army reform; John Bright was influential in the Irish Land Act in 1870 as he persauded Gladstone to let tenants borrow money to buy land; Gladstone's government is ministerial.
  • No: Gladstone's popularity was essential to maintaining Liberalism; Gladstone's insistence on secular schooling led to Forster accepting the Cowper-Temple Clause; Gladstone gave his full support for army reform and was willing to use the royal warrant to end the purchase of commissions; Gladstone piloted the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland and the 1870 Land Act; it was Gladstone's decision to press on with the Irish University Bill and propose the abolition of income tax in 1874.
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Reasons for the Liberal defeat in 1874:

The 1874 election saw the Liberals lose 139 seats and the Conservatives gain 79.

  • Liberal weakness: Abolition of income tax failed to rally support as reform had in 1868; some reforms led to dissatisfaction (trade unions wanted picketing to be decriminalised; many non-conformists were angry at paying Anglican school rates); the Licensing Act didn't go far enough for Temperance supporters but angered the majority who saw it as infringing the liberty to drink; ministers seemed to have lost their energy, and Disraeli referred to the Liberal front bench as a "row of exhausted volcanoes"; the party depended on Gladstone's reputation, and they lacked local organisation when divided on some isses; foreign policy was seen as week and was largely unpopular.
  • Conservative resurgence: From 1872, Disraeli's speeches returned to their old effectiveness, with key addresses at Manchester and the Crystal Palace in 1872 leading people to rally behind his ideals of empire and sanitation; John Gorst renewed party organisation by encouraging Conservative associations locally and a National Conservative Association; the Conservatives put up more candidates and contested more seats than they had in 1868 (more active foreign policy increased appeal, as well as willingness to abandon laissez-faire to ensure better urban conditions); Disraeli tapped into the popular assertiveness of Palmerston and the traditional Tory reformers ideal of helping people on the basis of need rather than individualism; anti-immigration feeling against Irish Catholics in Lancashire and Cheshire led to Tory support as they won 34/46 seats; the growth of London's middle classes also favoured the Conservatives.
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