Disraeli And Gladstone Essay Examples

The most remarkable features of this act and of the parliamentary debates that led to its passage were the almost revolutionary effect of the former and the largely pedestrian, disengaged tenor of the latter. The rate-paying clauses of both the First and Second Reform Acts had been seen from the early 1830s through the 1860s as safeguards against democratic rule. Conservatives held that the personal payment of rates was the only way to prevent the disempowerment of the middle and upper classes, which together constituted less than approximately 20% of the population. Yet Gladstone now sounded a bit like Disraeli trying to reassure his Conservative colleagues after the passage of the Second Reform Act: the Liberal leader weakly contended that an assessed rates act would leave untouched the rate-paying clauses of the Second Reform Act (H 197: 528). Other Liberals also tried to downplay both the intention and effects of the bill under discussion. George Goschen, president of the Board of Trade, held that the bill involved matters of finance, not of politics (H 196: 1303). Why the tone of the debates in Parliament was so relatively subdued remains an open question. Some members on both sides of the House seem to have feared that the confusions and consternation of 1866 and 1867 might be revived. Moreover, “a great number” of the Liberal candidates in the election of 1868 had pledged to “disconnect, as soon as they possibly could . . . the suffrage from the payment of rates,” as one of them put it (H 194: 330); and any movement toward that goal might have seemed worthy of support.

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Why the act passed is similarly unclear. Any conventional Victorian political wisdom would have predicted that the Whigs or Liberals, as many Whigs were being called with increasing consistency, would have ushered in electoral reform, thereby confirming the widespread belief among workers that the Tories or Conservatives were indifferent to the interests and needs of the so-called people. Such a logical outcome was not to be. In 1867 the Conservatives, led by Lord Derby as prime minister in the House of Lords and by Benjamin Disraeli as chancellor of the exchequer in Commons, sponsored a reform bill a year after the Liberals, led by Earl Russell as prime minister in Lords and W. E. Gladstone as chancellor in Commons, had failed to pass their own version of such a measure. Like the earlier repeal of the Corn Laws (1846), the Second Reform Act proved that conservative politicians can sometimes pull off a reform beyond the power of their more progressive opponents. Most conservative thinkers, however, deplored that outcome. Even a moderately liberal political analyst like Walter Bagehot, looking back on the recent passage of the act, conjured up a vision of a political defeat that would lead inevitably to further defeats: “The Conservative party relinquished the citadel without a fight. . . . After this triumph, innovators will believe that they can have what they wish, and they will attack with the vigour of men who have just won and who mean to win again; while the Conservatives will defend like men who have just lost, and lost not after an heroic struggle, but meanly and by surrender” (Works 6: 390-91). Yet the metaphor of the state as a fallen citadel – a metaphor that appeared in many Victorian accounts of the Second Reform Act – is no more an adequate account of what caused that fall than a comparison of pre- and post-reform statistics is of its effects.

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The quality of political debate in Victorian Britain, in newspapers and in both houses of parliament, was also very high. The struggle for political supremacy between William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli in the late 1860s and 1870s represents perhaps the most sophisticated political duel in the nation's history.

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SparkNotes: Queen Victoria: The Age of Disraeli and Gladstone

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The Age of Disraeli and Gladstone - SparkNotes

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