The Age of Reform, 1815-1870

By E. L. Woodward | Go to book overview

IV
PARTY POLITICS AND POLITICAL LEADERS 1846-70 THE CONFUSION OF PARTIES: THE REFORM ACT OF 1867

A LONG period of confusion and instability followed the break- up of the conservative party. From the beginning of the year 1846 until the passing of the reform bill of 1867 there were nine administrations; between 1846 and 1852, from 1858 to 1859, and from 1866 to 1868 no ministry had a stable majority in parliament. In 1852 Russell was beaten by eleven votes, and Derby by nineteen. After a parliamentary defeat of sixteen votes in 1857 Palmerston obtained a majority of 70-80 at a general election, and lost a critical motion in the following year by nineteen votes. The reform bill of 1866 passed its second reading by five votes, and the government was defeated soon afterwards by eleven votes. Party discipline was still very loose; it was impossible, after a general election, to know the exact state of parties until the first division had been taken in a new parliament. In 1852 the estimates of conservative strength varied between 320 and 290. Gladstone put the strength of the coalition government at the beginning of 1853 at about 310, 'liable on occasions, which frequently arise, to heavy deductions'; the government was defeated three times in one week even before the budget. The very names of parties were unstable for a time. The terms 'conservative-liberal' and 'liberal- conservative' came into use, though Russell thought whiggism a simpler term than 'conservative progress', and the protectionists were inclined to give up the name 'conservative party' owing to the 'odious associations' with Peel. Lord John Manners spoke of his dislike of 'wearing dirty men's dirty linen'. Leaders of parties were as undecided in their allegiance as their followers. Palmerston was offered a place in Derby's administration of 1852; a few months later he served with Aberdeen in the coalition, although the two men had quarrelled over foreign policy. Russell was reconciled with Palmerston after no less bitter personal opposition. Disraeli, after attacking Peel for giving up protection, led the way in accepting free

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