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Why Did The Liberals Lose The 1874 Elections?

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Why did the Liberals lose the 1874 elections?

There are of course several main reasons why the liberals lost the elections. Opinions of historians vary on this topic. Some historians see the defeat as the result of unpopular domestic and foreign policies, like Alabama Arbitration, however they cannot agree on which policies contributed the most. Others see this defeat as the consequence of poor election campaign by Gladstone; his promise to cut income tax simply did not appeal to people. On the other hand the importance of Conservative party in this defeat should not be overshadowed. After 1868 elections the Conservative reorganised the party and managed to create more positive and popular image.

When Gladstone became the Prime Minister he emphasised that his mission was to pacify Ireland, however the reforms he carried out in Ireland not only had limited effect but also alienated landlords and Anglicans. The disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869, although appeared to deal with obvious Irish grievance, had little effect on ordinary people and was viewed by Whigs with deep suspicion.

The Irish Land Act 1869 gave certain rights to tenants; however tenant continued to be evicted because there was nothing to prevent a landlord from raising rents so high that the tenant was unable to pay. This attack on landlords rights when against 19th centaury beliefs about the Ð''rights of property owners'. This alienated upper classes. Even in Gladstone's own cabinet Whigs like Clarendon and Argyll saw it as an outright attack on property which could spread to England. B Harrison claims that "fears for the security of property were more important than the licensing question in weakening the Liberal party".

The Irish University Bill 1873, which attempted to integrate university education in Ireland, was a complete disaster. The bill alienated Anglicans who wanted to keep control over education, whilst it was defeated by 3 votes, Gladstone resigned over it. However Disraeli declined the opportunity to form a minority government and Gladstone was forced to keep the office; this affaire demoralised and weakened the liberals just before the elections. Martin Howard puts it this way "Disraeli appeared conservative and safe whilst the Liberals displayed ineffectiveness and division".

The various reforms in education also weren't completely successful and the Foster Elementary Education Act 1870 managed to alienate both Anglicans and Nonconformists. This Act gave an opportunity for all children to have an elementary education but it has created so called Ð''dual system'. Anglicans disliked that Gladstone limited their influence in education, whilst National Education League, founded by Joseph Chamberlain in 1869, thought that this Act to as far reaching as necessary and even put their own candidates against the liberals in the 1874 elections. However Francis Adams estimated that about 20 seats were lost to the Liberals though Nonconformist abstentions at the polls and their loyalty to Gladstone, but Professor Hanham points out that this is an exaggeration.

The aristocrats and wealthy upper classes disliked the army reform and the civil service reform because they limited their power and influence. The army reform designed by Cardwell, like abolishion of the purchase of commissions, were aimed to increase efficiency and modernise the army, however this alienated a lot of aristocrats who occupied this area for canaries. The Civil Services Reform of 1870 created an open competition for jobs in civil service. Although the civil service was divided into grades which roughly corresponded to the classes in society it was still opposed by aristocrats. The Foreign Office, for example, was excluded from the scheme as Foreign Secretary Clarendon and his successor Granville opposed to such reforms.

Gladstone himself considered Licensing Act to be the main reason why the liberals lost the elections and he hints on it when said "we have been borne down in a torrent of gin and beer". The Act restricted opening hours and increased the powers of magistrates. On one hand it alienated the drinking classes and brewers; on the other hand it disappointed Liberal pressure groups, like The United Kingdom Alliance as too lenient.

The Ballot Act 1872, which was part of the electoral reform, gave electors the protection of the secret ballot; however it was resented by landlords as they no longer had an influence in the vote. In Ireland it also gave people an opportunity to vote for the candidates of their own choice, who were often locals and not liberals.

Apart from alienating the upper classes Gladstone managed to lose the favour of working classes by two acts on passed shortly after another. The Trade Union Act 1871 legalised trade unions, however it was then limited by the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which made peaceful picketing



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