The Rise and Fall of Gladstonian Liberalism

  • T. A. Jenkins
Part of the British Studies Series book series (BRSS)


The history of the Liberal Party during the second half of the nineteenth century might have been a great deal simpler if W. E. Gladstone had been born a Liberal. As the son of a successful Liverpool merchant — the Gladstone family were among the nouveaux riches created by the ‘industrial revolution’ — he would seem to have been ideally suited to lead a party that derived much of its support from the rapidly expanding towns and cities: he might, in fact, have been the first ‘businessman’ to hold the Liberal premiership. In reality, matters were tremendously complicated by the nature of Gladstone’s upbringing. So far from being a Liberal, Gladstone’s early politics were shaped by the Canningite Tory principles of his father, and, rather than training in the family business, he received a classic, aristocratic education at Eton and Oxford. His early, evangelical, religious beliefs were also overlaid with the then fashionable High Church doctrines of Oxford. Identified as a young man of obvious promise, Gladstone’s election to the House of Commons, at the age of only twenty-three, was facilitated by the patronage of one of the great Tory magnates, the Duke of Newcastle. The young Gladstone thus represented the antithesis of everything the Whig governments of the 1830s stood for, in terms of political reform and religious equality.


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© T. A. Jenkins 1994

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  • T. A. Jenkins

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