Gladstone and the Bulgarian Agitation 1876

Gladstone and the Bulgarian Agitation 1876

Gladstone and the Bulgarian Agitation 1876

Gladstone and the Bulgarian Agitation 1876

Excerpt

The agitation in 1876 in condemnation of the atrocities inflicted by the Turks on their Bulgarian subjects has a double interest. It was one of the great semi-religious, semi-political agitations which aimed in nineteenth-century Britain at bringing the force of organised moral indignation to bear on the conduct of public affairs. These agitations are well worthy of study. Together with the purely religious revivals, which clearly tapped the same spiritual and emotional head springs, they reveal much about the nature of public opinion in a large section of society and about the spiritual to which it responded. Because they operated on parliament and public from outside the ordinary party system and did not need to employ the ordinary social influences which controlled the constituencies, they were an effective instrument for the self-expression of classes who had inherited little traditional political power. Moreover, this anti-Turk agitation has peculiar characteristics which give it a special interest. It developed suddenly and apparently spontaneously as the result of tragic events in a strange environment in countries remote from Britain; it was partly sponsored by men who did not normally take part in these agitations; it came remarkably quickly to boiling point; and it influenced an unusual cross-section of opinion.

However, the anti-Turk agitation has an additional interest of a different nature. Because it was what it was and came when it did, it probably affected the history of the Liberal party decisively, and it provided the prologue to the most interesting portion of the career of Gladstone, that ultimately tragic part which starts when he became Prime Minister for the second time and ends with the failure of the Second Home Rule Bill. It brought to him, in the retirement in which he had taken refuge after the failure of his first ministry, an inescapable challenge, and it committed him to the . . .

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