Late Victorian politics: Gladstone and Salisbury until 1902


Gladstone's 2nd Ministry - Parliamentary Reform


Parliamentary Reform:

  • 1883 Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act: implemented to stop bribery in elections and hiring cabs to take voters to polls. Expenses fell by 3/4 by 1885.
  • 1884 Franchise Reform Act: Registration of elections was simplified and voting hours extended. The 1884 Arlington Street Compact saw compromises between Gladstone and Salisbury, as the electorate more than doubled to almost 6 million. 2/3 men could now vote, but 40% were left voteless due to nomadic lifestyle and seasonal work.
  • 1885 Redistribution Act: All counties and boroughs became single member constituencies, and the 142 freed seats were spread out to represent the population. The constituency boundaries were redrawn so that the working class didn't swamp the Tory middle-class vote.
  • The failure of the Liberals to move away from a property-based voting qualification helped to explain why so many working class would-be voters later veered to socialist groups. The Irish electorate tripled.
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Gladstone's 2nd Ministry- Domestic Policy

Domestic Policy:

  • Leader of the Irish MPs, Parnell, led a campaign of obstruction in the Commons that made passing legislation difficult. 
  • Much fuss ensued at the election of the Radical atheist Charles Bradlaugh, as he wanted to take an affirmation instead of an oath. This took up much time and underminded the reputation of parliament. This led to the Affirmation Act of 1888.
  • 1880 Burials Act pleased non-conformists as they could have a burial in their own parish church with their own form of service.
  • Farmers were appeased by the removal of malt and barley tax, which also pleased the temperence faction as this was replaced by a tax on beer.
  • The 1880 Ground Game Act allowed tenant farmers to shoot hares and rabbits on their land, whereas game had previously belonged to the landownders.
  • The 1880 Education Act appointed truancy officers to enforce compulsory education up to the age of 13. 
  • Chamberlain at the Board of Trade introduced financial compensation for those injured at work.
  • 1882 Married Women's Property Act allowed wives to stay in control of their property, which pleased feminists such as Caroline Norton
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Gladstone's 2nd Ministry- Reaction from Radicals

  • Reform was not substantial enough to answer their demands, and they were under-represented in Gladstone's cabinet so influence was limited. 
  • Conflict between Whigs and Liberals impacted on what could be achieved. 
  • By 1885, the country was in trouble due to the mounting deficit and the death of General Gordon at Khartoum. Joseph Chamberlain pre-empted an election by drawing up a Liberal programme for the next government, in an attempt to appeal to budding socialism and workers. This included: total male suffrage, free elementary education, the disestablishment and disendowment of the church, payment of MPs and reform of the Lords.
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Gladstone's 3rd & 4th Ministries- Limited Reform:

1886, 1892-94

  • Reform was limited during this time due to focus on Ireland, which caused a Liberal Split. Chamberlain resigned upon the Home Rule Vote and 93 Liberals voted against Home Rule.

Why were domestic policies so limited?

  • Liberal Split and Gladstone's domination on Home Rule prevented any kind of significant reform.
  • Retrenchment prevented progress, e.g. pensions.
  • Rosebury and Harcourt disagreed, while Campbell-Bannerman didn't offer the dynamism of Gladstone.
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Domestic Reforms 1894-95:

  • Parish Councils were established in 1894 to extend democracy to rural localities, in an attempt to reduce the influence of the landed classes.
  • Efforts were made to reduce working hours for railway men.
  • A 40-hour work week was established for workers in the War Office and admiralty factories.
  • A bill to give miners an 8-hour work day was met by opposition from mine owning Liberals.
  • Harcourt's 1894 Budget was the most notable achievment because it raised income tax but extended relief to those with lower incomes; increased beer and spirit duties (Temperence vs. distillers) and introduced death duties to landed estates.
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Gladstone's 2nd Ministry- Ireland:

How had the situation in Ireland changed by Gladstone's second ministry?:

  • 1879 had been a disasterous agricultural depression with a slump in agricultural prices. The potato harvest had failed again and farmers were faced with eviction because they couldn't pay their rents.
  • Michael Davitt and Charles Parnell exploited discontent and the National Land League led resistance to evictions with Parnell as president. 
  • Parnell wanted the Irish Parliamentary Party to be independent and free to pursue their own ends. 
  • Social and political grievances merged into a unified movement. 
  • By 1877, Parnell was president of the Home Rule Confederation and began using obstructive tactics to disrupt parliamentary proceedings. This was a marked contrast to the previous moderate and conservative leadership. 
  • Parnell urged tenants to send those who paid higher rents or took over evicted farms to a "moral coventry".
  • The Land War, with rent strikes, outrages and challenges to lawful government, was supported across Ireland by richer farmers and poor labourers.
  • Irish immigrants to the US, who had prospered there, where ready to make financial contributions to the Home Rule Movement. Parnell visitied the US in 1879 to publicise the movement. 
  • In 1880, Parnell led a Home Rule Party with 63 MPs in the Commons.
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Policies in Ireland, 1880-85:

  • The Liberals followed a "carrot and stick" approach as most of them supported the Union over Home Rule and were not prepared to remedy grievances under such disregard for the law. 
  • Irish Secretary William Forster favoured the stick so Michael Devitt was arrested and a Coercion Act proposed to give more power to the police and to suspent habeus corpus. 
  • Mass resistance to the Coercion Act conveys a lack of effectiveness as hugely different English and Irish viewpoints were revealed. 36 Irish MPs were suspended for using violent language and some were bodily removed from the Commons. Forster wanted to arrest disruptors, while Parnell argued that Ireland was being bullied.
  • Arrests under the Coercion Act did not halt crime and agitation. 
  • The Liberals then put forward another Land Act in 1881, which granted fixity of tenure, fair rents, free sale of leases and courts to decide fair rents. Within a few years, Irish rents had fallen by 20% and showed tenants that the British government was not wholly hostile. The Act was a success to an extent as over 250,000 rents were decreased and agrarian outrage diminished considerably.  However, the Act ignored peasant proprietorship, economic development and relief from distress. Leaseholders and those in arrears were also excluded. 
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Policies in Ireland, 1880-85:

  • The arrest of Parnell in 1881 caused violence to resume, so Gladstone's government made an informal agreement, later known as the Kilmainham Treaty, with Parnell:
    • Parnell would be freed if he agreed to try and stop the violence and give the Land Act a chance.
    • Gladstone agreed that those who had fallen behind in their rent in the Land League Troubles need not pay the arrears.
  • Both Gladstone and Parnell were committed to the Treaty, even after the 1882 Phoenix Park Murders. The extreme nationalist gang responsible- 'The Invincibles'- were hanged with Parnell's full support.
  • Parnell used his popularity to wind up the Land League and replace it with the National League, shifting focus onto Home Rule. He also began to think that co-operation with England would be more fruitful than resistance.
  • Irish peasants began to work with the government and utilised Land Act Courts.
  • However, Gladstone had not succeeded at reconciling Ireland with the Union and Home Rule candidates continued to do well in elections, showing the inevitability of Home Rule.
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Why did Gladstone change his mind on Home Rule?:

  • He came to believe that Irish nationalism should be accomodated.
  • Logical conclusion of his "mission to pacify Ireland".
  • He believed that it would bring peace to the Irish countryside and therefore reduce government costs.
  • He thought the issue may unify the Liberals. 
  • He visited Norway in 1883- then part of the Swedish Kingdom- where Home Rule worked well.
  • He thought that Home Rule could prevent the break up of the Union and perhaps hold out some hope to Scotland and Wales. 
  • It was a bid to reassert his leadership in the face of younger, more radical leaders like Chamberlain. 
  • He hoped that the Whigs and the Radicals might be provoked into leaving the Liberal Party which would then revert his control. 
  • He held a strong personal conviction that only he could solve the Irish Problem. 
  • Home Rule candidates continued to do well in elections, making Home Rule seem inevitable. 
  • The Howarden Kite: Herbert Gladstone leaked his father's change of mind to the press in order to bring his father back into politics and prevent Chamberlain and the Radicals from taking over the Liberal Party.
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Outcome of Gladstone's change of mind:

  • Gladstone became Prime Minister for the third time in January 1886. He introduced an Irish Home Rule Bill which was defeated by 30 votes in the Commons after two weeks of solid debate. 93 Liberals voted against it. 
  • Gladstone called another general election, with Home Rule as the major issue. The results for the Liberals were disasterous: 191 Liberal MPs were elected, 317 Conservatives, 77 Liberal Unionists and 85 Irish Nationalists. Salisbury formed a government. 
  • The Liberals were divided and Home Rule looked even more remote, as the Conservatives stayed in power for much of the next 20 years.
  • There was further agitation in Ireland regarding land reform and the 'plan of the campaign' - Parnell disliked this campaign as it drew attention away from Home Rule and looked to be an attack on property rights, which would decrease Liberal support. 
  • A discovery that Parnell that a long-term affair with a married woman ruined his reputation. He was deposed as Home Rule leader in 1890 and died in 1891. His fall left the Irish Nationalists weak and no other leader was as effective. 
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Why was there so much opposition to Home Rule?:

  • Strong sentiments of "playing the Orange Card" in Ulster. There was talk of armed resistance in the north and even civil war if Home Rule was passed.
    • The Orange Card: The Orange Order, who were particularly strong in Ulster. They were protestants who were loyal to church and crown. The Orange Card refers to the Conservatives gaining support from Ulster protestants to oppose Home Rule. 
  • Public opinion saw Home Rule as the start of the disintegration of the Empire and feared that Ireland could join with Britain's enemies in war. 
  • Considerable anti-Catholic feeling. 
  • Fears that Scotland and Wales would want independence too, which would cause the breakdown of the Union. 

Gladstone tries again: 

  • The Liberals won the 1892 election with a majority of 40 seats. 
  • Gladstones second Home Rule Bill was rejected in the Lords by 419 votes to 41. 
  • Gladstone resigned in February 1894 over navy estimates. He died in 1898.
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Salisbury and the Irish Question:

Rosebury (Liberal) forms his ministry in 1894, then Salisbury in 1895 after Tory election victory.

  • Salisbury sent Arthur Balfour to Ireland as Chief Secretary in 1887, in response to unrest caused by the Plan of Campaign.
  • Balfour supported forceful repression of protests and earned himself the nickname "bloody Balfour" due to his drastic Crimes Act, which caused intimidation, police violence and mass incarcaration, including that of 20 MPs.
  • The creation of county councils in Ireland reduced the influence of landowners, and allowed the demand for Home Rule to be heard. 
  • The policy of "killing Home Rule with kindness" continued after 1894. 
  • The Congested Districts Act of 1891 did a great deal to set up new enterprises, especially in impoverished parts of western Ireland and to consolidate land holdings so they would become viable. 
  • The Land Purchase Act of 1903 loaned money from the treasury to tenants so they could buy their farms. This decreased the landowning aristocracy, and more prosperous land owning peasants meant more chance of supporting the Union.
  • Salisbury succeeds in sidelining the call for Home Rule until 1906.
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Gladstone's foreign policy in his 2nd ministry:

  • Aims: Unravel Beaconsfieldism and "forward policies", and promote the Concert of Europe 


  • The Conference of Ambassadors made revisions to the border of Turkey, with Thessaly being transferred from Turkey to Greece due to its largely Greek population.
  • Withdrawal of troops from the Kandahar in 1880 was seen as a sensible withdrawal as the Afghans preferred a lack of occupation. 
  • Khyber Pass retained which provided a route in and out of East Afghanistan. 
  • Gladstone looked tough upon a confrontation with Russian troops near Pendjeh in 1885, but a settlement was agreed without violence. This was peaceful yet strong. 
  • Boers placated to an extent under the Convention of Pretoria which gave British suzerainty, which allowed the British to remain in control of their foreign policy. German influence was also prevented by the annexing of St. Lucia bay. 
  • The defeat of Egyptian troops protected the Suez Canal, which was vital to trade as 4/5 of the ships using it were British. 
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Gladstone's foreign policy in his 2nd ministry:


  • During the Conference of Ambassadors in Berlin, Gladstone was unable to find a settlement for Cyprus (as it belonged to the Ottoman Empire) and Armenia as he had for Thessaly, and he had to live with what he condemned when in opposition. 
  • Withdrawal from the Kandahar in Afghanistan was also widely unpopular as it seemed inglorious. 
  • The Boers defeated a small British force and killed Major George Colley in 1881, which caused public outrage at limited British action. The consequent settlement of Pretoria caused much resentment and contributed to lasting Boer hostility.
  • The first Boer war revealed divisions in the government, as the Radicals wanted a quick settlement while the Whigs pushsed for retaliation. 
  • A revolt against the Khedive in Egypt threatened the Suez Canal and the consequent bombardment of Alexandria echoed Palmerston's 'gunboat diplomacy' and went against the Concert of Europe as the French had dual control of the Egyptian economy and all other partners opposed the action. This also looked amoral due to the might of British forces up against a small army. A power vacuum in Egypt was also created. 
  • The murder of General Gordon in Sudan upon Gladstone's inaction caused him to become the "Murderer of Gordon" instead of the "Grand Old Man" in the eyes of the Queen and public.
  • Gladstone became a "reluctant imperialist"
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Gladstone's impact on late Victorian politics:

  • Prestige built up in 1876 allowed him to dominate the Liberals, which meant that the Radical wing led by Chamberlain was marginalised, leaving little reform to be contemplated. 
  • Whigs became uneasy and alarmed by the appeal of the Midlothian Campaign to the masses and his apparent disregard for landownders in the Irish Land Act. 
  • In 1885, his leadership was questioned and his cabinet in disarray. Gladstone couldn't call on his previous uniting strength as Home Rule wasn't a uniting factor. 
  • Resistance to Home Rule would have been huge in Ulster and partition was never considered. 
  • By concentrating on Ireland, Gladstone lost the chance to bring in serious social reform and took up an unsuccessful moral cause. 
  • Focus on Home Rule created the Liberal split in 1886 and ushered in a period of Conservative domination. 
  • Gladstone could be seen as pre-empting a possible desertion from the left-wing, while not keeping an eye on the right, due to working class and ex-chartist sympathy for Ireland. Gladstone was not a true expansionist, and heirs like Asquith and Campbell-Bannerman wanted to invest in domestic policy. 
  • Caution over social reform alienated the Radicals and business men resisted expansion in the role of the state.
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Significance of the Liberal Unionists:

  • Liberal unionists: Members of the Liberal Party who disagreed with Home Rule. They left the Liberals in 1886 and had virtually joined the Conservatives by 1895. They included Lord Hartington (leader of Whig faction) and Radicals such as Bright and Chamberlain.
  • Most of the aristocratic Whigs in the Lords followed Hartington, making the Liberals weak in the upper house as they were prevented from passing much legislation while in power. 
  • After the 1886 election, the Conservatives needed Liberal Unionist support to form a government. Their impact was weakened by factions having different priorities: Chamberlain expected his detour from Liberalism to be temporary as he believed that Gladstone would be removed from power and then the Liberals would be more open to reform so he could rejoin; Hartington was more committed to preserving the Union that reform. 
  • On some key votes, it was only the Hartington group who saved the Conservatives from defeat. 
  • In 1891, Chamberlain and Salisbury brought the Conservatives and Liberal Unionist organisations in Birmingham together, and Chamberlain no longer expected a Liberal reunion. 
  • Liberal Unionists lost seats in the 1892 election but remained powerful in Scotland and the West Midlands. They increased their seats in 1895. 
  • The Liberal government of 1892-95 showed Chamberlain the inherent dangers in Liberal policies- e.g. threat to property- pushing him into the arms of Salisbury.
  • Formation reflected the common issue of smaller parties finding a voice. 
  • Divisions within the party hindered the establishment of a clear identity. 
  • They held the balance of power in late Victorian politics, even if their influence was fleeting.
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Salisbury's domestic policies:


  • Local Government Act 1888 set up 62 county councils to take over from the Justice of the Peace. They were elected by ratepayers, including women who made up almost 20% of all contributors. 
  • 1891 Elementary Education Act made elementary education free and established the Board of Education. 
  • 1887 Voluntary Schools Act increased elementary school funds. 
  • 1889 Technical Instruction Act aimed to improve technical skills for those entering industry, in order to create a workforce to rival that of Germany. 
  • Establishment and encouragement of scientific research by Chamberlain and Rosebury. 
  • 1890 Housing of the Working Class Act allowed local authorities to buy land for housing and rent it out for working class tenants.
  • Land reform seen as necessary due to a fall in price of agricultural products, such as cereals from the US, meat from Argentina and NZ once refrigeration was invented. 
  • 1891 Tithes Act ended the payment of tithes by tenant farmers. 
  • 1897 Workmen's Compensation Act provided compensation for work injuries and benefitted families who would have previously been left with nothing
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Salisbury's domestic policies:


  • 1888 Local Government Act useful but didn't provide opportunity to many people as county councils met in the afternoons which was impractical for working men and rural areas were dominated by Tory gentry. 
  • Delay in listening to commission reports of a need for secondary education from 1895-1902.
  • Small-scale scientific grants didn't do much for secondary and higher education in the short-term. Many families still needed their children to work and there was no financial support for poor would-be students.
  • The Allotments Act 1887 and Smallholdings Act 1892 allowed local authorities to aquire land for allotments or smallholdings. This was ineffective as they weren't compulsory, so very little land was bought (permissive). Unemployed town dwellers saw no benefit to tilling soil. 
  • Agricultural Land Rating Act reduced poor and general rates for tenant farmers, but not all landowners reflected reductions in rents.
  • The reluctance of the treasury under Sir Michael Hicks Beach to fund serious social reform prevented any serious social change, and Chamberlain was kept away by Colonial Office duties.
  • Only private charity was available to relieve social issues. 
  • Pensions were deemed to expensive, despite investigations backed by Chamberlain.
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Chamberlain as colonial secretary:

  • He advocated improvements in public health in the colonies, such as the establishment of the School of Tropical Medicine in London, where research into Malaria was conducted. 
  • In the West Indies, he encourages diversification from sugar production to boost trade following European competition. 
  • Provided subsidies for better inter-island transport in the West Indies. 
  • He developed a policy of low interest loans to develop railways and harbours in West Africa. 
  • He supported the Royal Niger Company, which built up trade in Nigeria. 
  • The Ashanti Kingdom on the Gold Coast was annexed to Britain and the brutal ruler was deposed- slavery and human sacrifice were ended. 
  • He organised a Colonial Conference in 1887 to coincide with the Queen's jubilee, providing a platform for the exchange of views with colony leaders. 
  • Instrumental in persauding the 6 Australian colonies to join together in a Federation in 1900. 
  • Became entangled in plans with Cecil Rhodes to overthrow Kruger's government in South Africa and may have been involved in planning the Jameson raid, but was cleared by a comittee of enquiry. 
  • Sent Milner to South Africa to bring Kruger under control. 
  • Some hold him responsible for inciting the Boer War.
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Salisbury's foreign policy aims:


  • To find an ally for Britain and recieve support, but not to become involved in European conflicts. 
  • Britain to remain independent and secure. 
  • To isolate whichever power who seemed to be the enemy of Britain, primarily France. 
  • Protect British interests as peacefully as possible to reduce expenditure.
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Salisbury's foreign policy:


  • Coherence within the foreign office avoided clashes between the government and civil service.
  • 1887 Mediterranean Agreements with Austria-Hungary pledged to prevent French and Russian expansion in the Med and North Africa, and to preserve existing straits. Some support was aquired, and curbed the Russian threat in the Balkans, thus reducing conflict between Russia and Austria which improved Anglo-German relations. 
  • 1889 Naval Defence Act embodied the two-power principle, and ensured naval security, as well as better relations with the Triple Alliance. 
  • Ceding Heligoland to Germany 1890 in exchange of surrendering claims to Zanzibar protected approaches to the Nile Valley. 
  • Victory at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 and the avoidance of a diplomatic incident at Fashoda secured control of Egypt and the Suez Canal. 
  • Avoidance of war over spheres of influence in China avoided expenditure and disruption to trade. 
  • 1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance said that if either power was faced with two enemies, the other would help. This combatted Russian power in the Far East and created a free hand in Europe, as well as overcoming post-Boer War isolation. 
  • Maintained peace in Europe.
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Why was the Conservative party dominant in the 189

Party Organisation:

  • Headed by Akers-Douglas (chief whip) who kept in close touch with Salisbury, so was soon aware of any unrest within the party. 
  • Salisbury's wife held regular receptions and the chief whip helped her to target invitations where they would help the party the most. 
  • Captain Middleton (the chief agent) kept Salisbury informed about the opinion in the constituencies and ran propaganda campaigns. 
  • Middleton was also very efficient at ensuring that voters were registered, so they could actually vote.

Support Amongst the People:

  • Many of the growing middle class agreed with Salisbury: they favoured low taxation and a limited role of the state, as well as appreciating the development of railways for commuting.
  • The Conservatives benefitted in areas such as Lancashire and the East End of London where there were significant immigrant populations as xenophobic patriots became Tories. 
  • Tory emphasis on the empire appealed to those whose jobs depended on imperial expansion and the development of trade, and those who resented German competition. 
  • Party stability and a belief in hierarchy appealed to the working classes, as well as the lack of temperance.
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Why was the Conservative Party dominant in the 189

The Primrose League: 

  • Founded in 1883 in memory of Disraeli by Sir Henry Drummond Wolff, Lord Randolph Churchill and John Gorst, amongst others. It was created to "uphold God, Queen, country and the Conservative cause".
  • 1 million members by 1891 and 1.5 million by 1901.
  • It worked well due to the big programme of social events it ran: Many events took place at aristocratic homes, allowing members to access stately grounds and even talk to MPs. The organisation appealed to women, with some branches being entirely female. The league provided women with leadership roles and political activism in a time of limited opportunity, such as the Women's Grand Council, canvassing and sending letters. 
  • The league also "nursed" seats between elections with programmes to keep the interest of prospective Tory voters, allowing them to be fully prepared for elections as support was already in place.
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Causes of the Boer War 1899-1902:

  • South Africa was divided between the British colonies of Natal and Cape Colony, and the independent Dutch-founded colonies and Transvaal and the Orange Free State. 
  • The discovery of gold in the Transvaal in 1886: Led to an influx of mostly British prospectors. Their way of life was repellent to the religious and clean-living Boers. The Boers taxed newcomers but would not give them voting rights. The Boers profitted from a monopoly on the sale of dynamite and President Kruger could now afford to buy arms and court European powers who were hostile to Britain. 
  • Joseph Chamberlain: Saw the Boers as obstacles in the way of his imperial aims for Africa and feared that they would strive to take over South Africa, as well as taking up a common cause with Germany as they were trading in Portuguese territory.
  • The Jameson Raid (1895): Failure of the raid by Dr Jameson embittered feelings between the British and the Boers, and created hostility amongst the large Dutch population in Cape Colony. The "Kruger Telegram" from the Kaiser also worsened relations with Germany.
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Causes of the Boer War 1899-1902:

  • Sir Alfred Milner: Appointed as British High Commissioner for South African colonies. Milner provoked a war because he believed that the Boers would be destroyed by one. Uitlanders were encouraged to complain about their lack of voting rights to bring the issue to a head. In June 1899, Milner rejected Kruger's proposed seven year residency voting rights and desire to take other disputes to arbitration. Milner insisted on a five year residential qualification, possibly because he thought that Kruger would back down rather than risk war. 
  • The immediate cause of the war: In autumn 1899, the British sent troops into South Africa and in October, Kruger demanded that they should be removed from the borders of the Transvaal. He recieved no reply, so he attacked Cape Colony two days later.
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Significance of the Boer War:

  • The weakness of the British army negatively affected British world standing. The fact that 2/5 volunteers were rejected as unfit led to calls for state intervention in living and working conditions. The loss of 20,000 lives and expenditure of £200 million seemed disproportionate.
  • By March 1901, there were about 400,000 people in camps. Emily Hobhouse, a Quaker social worker, inspected the camps and reported dreadful conditions. Ladies committees were set up to raise funds to help those in camps, and the suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett also went to see for herself. She found that 30% of people in camps died due to poor conditions. This reflected poorly on a country who claimed to be bringing civilisation to Africa.
  • The war highlighted Britiain's isolation as they had no ally during the war. Kruger failed to secure European aid in 1900 due to British action in getting European delegations held hostage in Peking released, followingt the 1900 "Boxer Rebellion". This still hightlighted a potential threat. 
  • Australia, New Zealand and Canada sent a total of 30,000 men to aid Britain as they saw the war as Britain upholding the rights of settlers. This exemplified the unity of the empire and encouraged Chamberlain to look for other ways of bonding the nation together.
  • Overall: revealed dangerous isolation; increased concerns about Germany as a future enemy; revealed the weakness of the British army; raised issues about poverty and national efficiency; diminished the popularity of aggressive imperialism in Britain.
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