Whigs to Liberals:


Reasons for repeal of the Corn Laws:

Corn Laws: Introduced in 1815 and abolished in 1846. This legislation was designed to  protect the price of British wheat and other grains from foreign competition. The laws prevented cheaper corn from entering the country which would otherwise benefit the population. 

Reasons For Repeal of the Corn Laws:

  • Causes suffering as people either can't afford wheat or have to pay high prices for it.
  • Low wages in agriculture and industry mean that people can't afford to buy corn.
  • Corn Laws are a crime against God- Produces a rejection of the authority of religion, bringing danger to the peace and security of all classes. 
  • The starving working classes are the basis of our national strength.

Reasons Against the Repeal of the Corn Laws:

  • Provides certainty that grain will be available.
  • Repeal would put labourers out of work.
  • Higher risk of famine of there was no one to work the land.
  • Lowering the price of grain would lower wages, which wouldn't solve the problem.
  • Feeling that Peel was sidelining agriculture in favour of industry.
  • Dangerous to rely on foreign countries.


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Reasons and Impact of Repeal:

Why did Peel repeal the Corn Laws?:

  • Influenced by the popular Anti-Corn Law League- Cobden and Bright were influential MP leaders, with branches in most major cities. 
  • Support from Lord John Russell, as he called it "the blight of commerce"
  • Whigs came out in support in November 1945
  • The Irish famine caused Peel to realise that the "removal  of impediements to imports is the only remedy"
  • Concern that law and order would break down in Ireland if he didn't take action.
  • To prevent the Tories from defending an unpopular policy.

Impact of repeal on the Conservatives:

  • Caused the Peelite/Protectionist split after 2/3 of Tories voted against repeal.
  • Peel was forced to resign and his career was destroyed by the failure of his Irish Coercion Bill- Many of his own backbench MPs joined Whigs, Irish MPs and independent free traders in voting against him due to repeal resentment.

Emergence of new political groups:

  • Lead to weakness in the two-party system as different groups jostled for power.
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The Emergence of the Liberal Party:

Beliefs of the Liberal Party:

  • Free trade
  • Constitutional government
  • Religious freedom and tolerance
  • Reform of abuses
  • Reduction of privileges

The Liberal Party was formed as a Parliamentary alliance to prevent a Conservative government- Cemented at Willis Rooms on 6th June 1859

The Role of the Radicals:

  • Established power bases in cities like Birmingham, and extra-parliamentary organisations like the NEL.
  • Important in Corn Law repeal and Peelite split which paved the way for the Liberal Party.

Gladstone and the Liberals:

  • Hatred of Disraeli- Destroyed Peel's career
  • 1853 Budget under Aberdeen saw him come out in favour of Free Trade.
  • Beliefs began to align more with Palmerson- Italian unfication 
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The Emergence of the Liberal Party:

Palmerston and the Liberals:

  • Led coalition from 1859-65
  • Widespread popularity was his most important asset.
  • Willing to end rift with Russell.
  • Reluctance for further reform and his noisy patriotism neutralised the Conservatives.
  • "Appealed to a wide spectrum of opinion"- Derby 1856

Other Factors:

  • Rise of the middle classes increased appeal as more people owned small businesses (shop keepers, craftsmen, small farmers etc.)- belief in freedom, free trade, cheap and accountable government, literate and patriotic
  • Growth in Non-Conformists decreased the appeal of the Tories as they were seen as the defenders of the Anglican Church.
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Foreign Policy and the Liberals:

Was Palmerston's foreign policy Liberal?:

  • Yes: He was a Canning-ite (favoured Catholic emancipation and free trade), negotiated independence of Belgium from the Netherlands in 1831 and guaranteed it in 1839, supported constitutional monarchies in Spain, formed an alliance with French constitutional monarch Louis Philippe, critical of the repression of revolutionaries in Russia and Austria, clear sympathy for 1848 revolutions, sent a fleet to support the Turkish decision not to deport Russian revolutionaries. 
  • No: Believed in promoting British interests, worked with Russia and Austria to defend absolutist Sultan of Turkey against more liberal opposition who was backed by the French, engaged in the Opium War with China (1839-42), refusal to aid liberal and conservative forces in Switzerland (1847)

The Don Pacifico Affair 1850:

  • British fleet sent to blockade the Greek port of Piraeus and Greece forced to pay compensation after an attack on a British citizen.
  • This overreaction outraged Russia and France (co-guardians of Greek independence) which nearly caused the downfall of the government.
  • Palmerston censured by the Lords but saves himself with his "I am a Roman citizen" speech.
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Foreign Policy and the Liberals:

The 1848 Revolutions:

  • Palmerston is renounced by Autocratic regimes in Europe.
  • Palmerston is criticised by the Conservatives for his inaction and limited support.

Causes of the Crimean War:

  • Began in 1855 when Louis Napoleon of France claimed to be the protector of Catholics within the Ottoman Empire- Russia wanted the Christian population and holy sites in Palestine to be controlled by Eastern orthodox monks; the French wanted them controlled by Catholics.


  • Russian troops enter Moldavia in July 1853 after the Turkish sultan rejects demands regarding holy places- Britain and France are concerned that Russia aims to seize Constantinople and the Dardanelles, threatening trade routes in the Black Sea.
  • Austria destroys a Turkish fleet in November 1853.
  • An Anglo-Franco fleet was sent to the Black Sea in January 1854.
  • War is declared on Russia in March 1854.
  • A year-long seige to capture Sevastapol is launched in September 1854.
  • Badly managed battles at Balaclava, Alma and Inkerman were inconclusive.
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Foreign Policy and the Liberals:

Impact of the Crimean War- Peace negotiated in 1856

  • Harsh conditions and work of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole were publicised.
  • 4x men died of disease than in combat.
  • January 1855: Roebuck's committee enquiry wins by 305 votes to 105. Aberdeen resigns.
  • The following Prime Ministerial negotiations that followed illustrated the changeable nature of political allegiences, the importance of the monarch and individual decisions- Palmerston is asked to be Prime Minister as a last resort.
  • Palmerston goes ahead with Roebuck's enquiry. Gladstone and two other Peelite ministers resign just days after being appointed. 
  • Palmerston's position is boosted after the fall of Sevastapol in September 1855.
  • Army reform is not implemented until Gladstone becomes Prime Minister in 1868.

The Arrow Incident 1856-57:

  • In October 1856, the British governor of Hong Kong regards the arrest of alleged Chinese smugglers aboard a British ship (The Arrow) as an insult and violation of rights.
  • Palmerston regarded this as a threat to British prestige, but many in the Commons disagreed. In March 1857, critics united behind a motion to prevent action (introduced by Cobden)- passed by a slim majority.
  • The election becomes about foreign policy as Palmerston exploits the patriotism of voters. The Whig-Liberal majority increases but the Peelites are weakened. Hostility increases between Palmerston and Russell. Bright and Cobden lose their seats.
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Foreign Policy and the Liberals:

The Orsini Bomb Plot and the Fall of Palmerston:

  • In January 1858 an Italian republican by the name of Felice Orsini tried to kill the French emperor- the French were seen as the enemy of Italian unity as they had been defending the Pope in Rome since 1848, who stood against reuinification.
  • Orsini's bomb had been made in London and he had links to London's Italian community, so the French government demanded Britain to help prevent future conspiracies. Palmerston was willing to comply, but others in the Commons disliked allowing the French to determine British policy.
  • Conservatives, Peelites and Radicals combined to defeat the government by 234 votes to 215 and Palmerston resigned- The Radicals were opposed to the reactionary Napoleon III and were supporters of Italian Liberals; the Conservatives were eager for power; Gladstone and the Peelites saw Palmerston as an irresponsible leader.

Gladstone and Italy:

  • Gladstone came to support Italian unification in Italy by 1854, and this won him popularity.
  • The impact of the study of Latin and ancient Rome by many Britons was considerable in creating sympathy for the Italians.
  • The fight of Garibaldi against the king of Naples enthralled the British public.
  • Reports of Austrian brutality against Italian idealism created a moral cause. 
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