Assess The Significance Of The Question Of Parliamentary Reform In The Careers Of Gladstone And Disraeli 1865 68?

2189 words - 9 pages

The 1850's were a rather bleak period concerning parliamentary reform. A number of factors contributed to the continual failure of any attempt to secure any reform in the 1850's. Perhaps the greatest of these was indifference. The collapse of Chartism was followed by a period of greatly reduced activism for parliamentary reform, while the Anti-Corn Law League never really moved into the area of political activism once it had achieved its specific objective of repealing the Corn Laws. It could be also argued that the growth of economic prosperity in mid-Victorian Britain reduced the immediate necessity for parliamentary reform, while foreign affairs held public attention in a quite ...view middle of the document...

The latter said in 1865:I regard as one of the greatest dangers with which this country can be threatened a proposal to subvert the existing order of things, and to transfer power from the hands of property and intelligence to the hands of men whose daily life is necessarily employed in a daily struggle for existence.Despite the resistance of the likes of Palmerston and Lowe, the profile of parliamentary reform was gradually raised during the 1860s. Partly responsible for this was Gladstone, who added a moral emphasis. He considered that a working-class aristocracy had developed which had come to accept middle-class values such as industry, sobriety and thrift. He also argued that enfranchising the upper section of the working class would reduce its vulnerability to socialism by attaching it to the principles of free enterprise. Pressure was also reviving from below. The National Reform Union formed in 1864, demanded three year parliaments, secret ballot, equal electoral districts and a ratepayer franchise. The Reform League, originating in the same year, also pressed for universal manhood suffrage. Meanwhile, external factors had also been encouraging the revival of popular enthusiasm for reform. The most important of these was the American Civil War.By 1866, therefore, there was a raised level of consciousness throughout the country and a consensus in the House of Commons said that the issue of parliamentary reform would have to be given another airing. With the death of Palmerston in 1865, the main obstacle to this had been removed. The key questions now were: what form would any new bill take; who would introduce it; and what would be its fate?Knowing all the factors I have mentioned, Gladstone began to believe in parliamentary reform, particularly in extending the franchise, saying how the working classes had the 'moral right to come within the pale of the constitution'. In 1866 he and Russell's Liberal government introduced a parliamentary reform bill to extend the franchise in the boroughs to £7 householders and, in the counties, to £14 tenants. This measure, which would have expanded the electorate by some 400,000, caused immediate disagreement within the Liberal Party. It was savaged from the left by the radicals, who wanted household suffrage, and opposed on the right by the Whigs, who considered that the franchise was insufficiently selective. Derby and Disraeli saw in this a unique opportunity for the Conservatives to help the Liberals destroy themselves. This was accomplished by an alliance with the right-wing Liberal dissidents, the 'Adullamites', led by Elcho and Lowe. In June 1866 this combination introduced an amendment which modified the proposed changes. When this was passed, Russell resigned and Derby found himself in power at the head of a minority Conservative government.Logic would have suggested the introduction of a more restricted bill to enfranchise a group somewhere between the £7 rental proposed by...

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