In this exploration of Gladstone’s attitudes we now turn to his attitude to the extension of the Franchise one of the leading questions of the late nineteenth century era he dominated. He played an important part in the 1867 reform bill (though it seems it was actually more radical than he wanted) and the extension of 1885 to the counties. These reforms between them represented the creation of a working class majority in British politics that was to last till the last decades of the twentieth century.
To some degree the same attitudes that shaped Gladstone’s laissez-faire economics or disestablishmentarianism on religious policy also affected his attitude to the Franchise. The dislike of privilege and belief in a free society with adults interacting on equal terms could be extended to politics such as the privileges of the unelected ( the House of Lords) or limitations in the Franchise. Gladstone also increasingly came of the view the will of the masses represented a moral imperative different in type but somewhat similar in nature to his earlier belief in the state being the political representation of the church- the masses could be some substitute for his earlier vision of the church in the state . However he was cautious in his support never proposing full universal suffrage.
Partly that represented his usual desire to make sure there was a short or medium term opportunity for legislation. IT also represented the difficulty in taking an absolute attitude to the Franchise – particularly in a country which possessed (however reluctantly in Gladstone’s case)a vast empire. It also represented his desire both to have a movement behind a proposed change and . There may also have been social aspects he was a very strong supporter of separate roles for women and the “duty” of the aristocracy- though his belief in aristocratic noblisse oblige did not necessarily mean a defence of aristocratic privilege though he tended to be strongly biased in favour of appointing the to his cabinets. Perhaps most important was his belief that to wield such power the electorate must be responsible –thus he tended to talk about a “stake in society” – homeowners or lone term tenants rather than just all adults or even all males.
Several of these are illustrated in the cases of female suffrage. Gladstone is sometimes spoken of as a strong opponent. In fact he was not a clear cut opponent. This is particularly remarkable given his generation-he was part of the generation of the Great Reform (which formally banned women fully from the franchise for the first time). However Gladstone did have a number of objections he was worried that would it would reduce the distinction between women and men. He may also have been reasonably worried that enfranchising women particularly on a property basis would help the Conservatives -the conservative’s most reactionary leader of the era Lord Salisbury supported enfranchising women for exactly this reason. However his strongest objection was probably that only a group of voters who overwhelmingly demanded to be enfranchised should be. In t he 1890’s there was a rather formidable nascent strong female anti suffrage as well as a pro suffrage movement. For Gladstone there as the lack of a “moral force” in the sense of public pressure rallied around principle.
Thus while on the liberal side of the political spectrum of the era Gladstone’s attitude to Franchise extension was highly pragmatic.
Here is a caricature of Robert Lowe- one of the foremost opponents of Gladstone's push to extend the Franchise.
April 16, 2010
We now turn to discussing the economc thought of that greatest of Victorian Statesman William Gladstone . He was in broad measure a “political economist” in the lingo of his era that is a believer in “Laissez-faire” or limited government intervention in the economy-government existing solely to provide a framework of law enforcement. This was particular true in terms of opposing government borrowing. However what were the sources of Gladstone’s beliefs- and their precise nature?
As already stated Gladstone’s religious views did a great deal to influence his political views on nationalism and church government. This was broadly true of his views on political economy as well as.. He believed in a vision of a moral society and believed low regulation low taxatyion and low expenditure would create one.
In this he was hugely influenced by his great mentor Robert Peel. Peel had developed and influenced Gladstone int he notion that removing commercial restrictions ,distortions of taxation and high expenditure could not only promote prosperity but also promote good character. Laissez-Faire is often caricatured as a system of thought which ignores ethical issues and is based on a amoral view of economic transaction, and a “if it feels good do it” ethos. For Peel and Gladstone as for so many Victorian advocates of Laissez-Faire this could not have been further from the truth.
For them it was to promote morality particularly those parts of morality most linked to discipline-such as thrift and self-reliance. They believed that by abolishing special “privileges” such as the Corn laws or by keeping welfare payments in the form of the Poor Law down they would promote a more moral society where people succeeded through their own efforts or through the charity of others (Gladstone was an enthusiastic philanthropist himself) . They also believed this would lead to a more prosperous society but it is important to believe they saw it as achieving both. This is often seen as an expression of Victorian evangelicalism but It’s worth remembering that while Peel was arguably evangelical Gladstone’s own moral ethos was formed in an Anglo-Catholicism which saw the evangelical culture as insufficiently committed to moral discipline.
Arguably even more important in his own thought was Gladstone’s strong attachment to absolute rules which could be applied universally and rigidly. This arguably represented his education and the philosophy he absorbed when young-in a sense a reflection of the latter Enlightenment particularly in the British Isles. It also seems to have fitted in way his ideas of justice and the notion of equality before he law that was central to the liberalism he embraced. Just as the state should not make distinctions between religions) so it should not make distinctions on economics.
On economics he was fundamentally Laissez-faire. But it’s important to note that this was much more true in some respects than others.
One area this took the form was his absolute insistence on balancing the budget above all else-including raising taxes to do so. Gladstone believed even in wars taxation not borrowing should pay for spending. This I think clearly reflects both a desire to eliminate limits to spending and the degree to which his belief in “economy” was founded in a form of moral values like responsibility- avoiding the consequences of spending was immoral.
Secondly he was much more hostile to government expenditure than government regulation. IN some fields of regulation such as of sexual behavoiur such as sex by the under sixteens he was if anything unusually enthusiastic for regulation. Even in more purely “economic” regulation such as that of the railways he was often more supportive than the average opinion of the time. One major piece of legislation passed by his government in the 1890’s (it was eviscerated by the House of lords only for the Tories to pass a more extensive one) was a bill to force employers to pay compensation to injured employees. Perhaps most significant of all was his reforms of Irish land reform achieved by his government in the early 1880’s. This by giving tenants in Ireland certain rights of possession and to compensation for deterance was arguably the greatest attack on private property rights by the British government for centuries. This should not be exaggerated Gladstone even in old age was naturally sceptical of most regulation. For example his favoured solution to the problem of alcohol abuse was to reduce taxes on wine imports which he believed would lead to more civilised drinking habits than hard spirits-he was a drag on his party’s support of a more restrictive alcohol regime.
But his attitude on spending was much more rigid. While Gladstone’s decades of influence (till the last decade or saw) saw a temporary freeze in the previous constant rise in government spending and taxation totals he still saw spending as far too high. In His first (1868-1874) ministry Robert Lowe one of the most tight fisted Chancellors in UK history was pushed out by Gladstone for spending too much. Similarly he was proud in reducing by hundreds of thousands and was a fervent opponent of Defence Spending. IN fact the fact defence spending was so large a part of government expenditure (and particularly sudden rises in expenditure) probably does a lot to explain his fairly pacific foreign policies. He finally resigned the premiership in 1894 against an increase in government expenditure on defence.
It is typical of the contrasting attitudes of Gladstone on “economy” vs government spending that his Irish reforms did not involve providing money for tenants to purchase their freeholder. That was done by Lord Salisbury’s government of the late 1880’s. Salisbury was in virtually all respects more supportive of the rights of property than Gladstone. But he was also less fanatical on the issue of Economy. Or to put it another way on matters of regulation Gladstone was probably as regulatory as the average Victorian (which is to say not much). On matters of expenditure and borrowing he was even by Victorian standards a fanatical supporter of Laissez-faire.
What explains these differences in Gladstone’s attitudes to Laissez-Faire? I would suggest partly it was ministerial experience. Gladstone rose from a major minister to the leading political figure in the country was essentially on the back of his experience as Chancellor of the Exchequer-thus he developed an obsession with low expenditure and balanced budgets.this is partly because being measured in terms of money it’s quantifiable - today its not obvious how to “quantify” the restrictions imposed by regulations and that was of course vastly more true then . Also by paying for costs and making people pay as far as possible for their own costs Gladstone’s fundamental belief in responsibility and character development through struggle could drive his fiscal policy in essentially all circumstances (even on military matters his disdain for military culture could feed it) . On matters such as alcohol or the duties of employers and landowners the belief that responsibility could only be enforced by law had more weight.
This is a picture of Robert Peel the Great Prime minister who did so much to shape Gladstone’s views of the proper role of a minister and the proper role of the state.
April 14, 2010
Nationalism was not the only way Gladstone’s religous views led to radicalism. Another was in the matter of Church establishment. This was an enormous issue in late in nineteenth century British politics. Only a minoiryt of churchgoers attended the established churches but they had a full staple of links to the state and legal privileges including tithes(that is taxes paid to clergy of the established church). At a time when sectarian alignment was perhaps the biggest dividing line socially these links were fiercely resented and defended . Radical cries of “free church” and conservative of “church in danger” were the staples of election campaigns. As the narrow foundations of a welfare state in education were laid from the 1870's onwardsthe funding of this also became a huge issue-particularly as religious schools were nearly all Anglican or belonged to the unpopular Catholic minority.
As mentioned in a previous post in his youth Gladstone believed the state needed to be the political expression of the state. He soon cast this aside as impractical. In it’s place developed an opposition to the merger of Church and state (albeit one subject to caution and pragmaticism) . This was based in large part on the very absolutism of his religous views. Gladstone believed that such measures as the legalisation of divorce and remarriage involved the state rejecting it’s Christian identity. Thus drawing further arbitrary (in his view) lines was merely a form of tyranny. It was in large measure for that reason he risked a great deal of criticism by supporting the case of Charles Brandlaugh who as a freethinker refused to swear an oath to god to sit in Parliament and clashed viciously with Lord Randolph Churchill on this issue.
AT the same time the compromises involved in the practical politics risked in his view corrupting distinctive Anglican doctrines. In the 1870’s education funding became significant and rapidly became the subject of sectarian and religious controversy over what schools should be funded and what religious education should be provided . Gladstone tended to the most hard core “secularist” position no funding for religious education by the government at all. Nearly all the other advocates of this support were hostile or indifferent to religion or militant anti Anglican Nonconformists. Nonconformists lacked schools of their own –though most of them unlike Gladstone were supportive of “non denominational” bible teaching. Gladstone’s logic was very different then he was against “non denominational” teaching because he believed it would miss the most important religious teaching and he was against funding of religious schools because he believed that would determine content. Gladstone’s fussy Anglicanism led him to oppose any government support of the Anglican church. This was a very rare combination of cause and motive! Though in a deeper sense it was arguably typical the opponents of establishment feared the combination of state and religion usually because they saw it as a threat to their own religious convictions.
It should be noted this was not just a form of fussy Anglicanism. In a sense Gladstone’s Anglo-Catholic tendencies were partly responsible for his disestablishmentarianism as well as the sectional Anglicanism linked to it. The more the state was involved with the church or church schools the more control nonconformist had over it- with their virulently protestant view (and to a much lesser extent sceptics and rationalists). Similarly Priests tended to much more supportive of Anglo-Catholicism than devout laity unsuprinsgly perhaps given the emphasis Anglo Catholicism lays on the role of the Priest ( as one sign Anglo-Catholic Churches generally got lower attendance than the Evangelical) . The Establishment of the church and government funding of education gave more power to lay members of the Church of England as compared to the clergy. Gladstone both saw this as a diminishing of the proper role of the Clergy and as a threat to his preferred theology .
This was certainly a legitimate fear. AS late as the 1920’s Anglo Catholics now the most powerful force in the church hierarchy pushed a new more Catholic addition to the Prayer book –only to see it beaten in the House of Commons after enormous opposition from “low church” Anglicans and nonconformists alike . Within the Church of England evangelicals were the strongest supporters of establishment for exactly these reasons well into the twentieth century. Ironically they often had extremely similar personal theology to nonconformists who were among the most fervent opponents-in large part because they saw establishment as the government blessing of "catholic"practices and beliefs.
IN Gladstone’s own lifetime “anti-ritualist” laws to curb the more extreme anglo catholic ceremonies were a staple of late nineteenth century British politics. Perhaps the most extreme moment was under Disraeli Gladstone’s arch rival whose hatred of “rits and rats” (ritualists/ Anglo-Catholics and rationalists- those who called for a less supernatural Christianity ) led to them being excluded from appointment as bishops(and the appointment of lots of evangelicals. Similarly Gladstone’s new embrace of “free church” seems to have owed something to the Gorham judgement which in the early 1850’s ruled that clergy of the Church of England could deny baptismal regeneration if they saw fit (the doctrine that baptism in itself supernaturally wipes away sin in infants). Thus Anglo-Catholicism as well as nervous Anglicanism contributed a great deal to Gladstone’s wariness of the union of Throne and Altar that was at the heart of the UK right as with just about every other western state of the era.
National issues and church policy broadly defined are not the only ways in which Gladstone’s politics was affected by his religion though they are probably the preeminent. In the relatively narrow area of sexual morality he tended to champion restrictive laws and in old age bemoaned he could not lead a crusade against contraception-though religious differences on such matters were relatively minor in his lifetime. He had a deep belief in the importance of character formation and responsibility that partly lay behind his belief in “economy” and h is vision of economics as discussed in the next post. He believed very much in the need for morality backed by religious sentiment to determine political action- in many ways his socio-economic vision as we will see in the next post was heavily driven by belief in the importance of character, general rigid and clear rules and the need to have ethical themes run through society. His emphasis on peace in foreign affairs may also have held some religious roots.
This is a picture of Gorham the priest whose survival in the church of England (thanks to courts) while denying the key catholic doctrine of baptismal regeneration so angered Gladstone.
So how did Gladstone’s “Puseyite” Anglo-Catholic views lead Gladstone (unlike so many other “Puseyites” to the “left” of his day? I should add another reason why religion was once underplayed as a factor in Gladstone’s decision making is that because most of his supporters had very different religious views (indeed the majority were “nonconformists” Protestants who found the Church of England too Protestant not to Catholic) and partly because of a certain basic secularism to public debate (indeed the Sectarian diversity of the UK then was a major cause of that) Gladstone was very careful in public in expressing the religious motivations of his policies.
One way it did so was by the way in which it developed is support of nationalism and the form it took. For Gladstone this was based in his theory of the church which saw the Christian church as divided into national institutions of a universal Catholic Church-and individual institutional churches that were the creation of divine will (unlike the evangelical/Protestant view) but were also independent and equal (unlike the Roman Catholic theory of the Primacy of the Roman Pontiff). AT the same time they were part of one general body Over time this led Gladstone to embrace nationalism and internationalism two of the great liberal causes of the nineteenth century-but for very unusual reasons. His belief in the spiritual reality of national churches led to a belief in real nations which he saw as fundamentally the expression of such a nation.
In terms of British politics the most radical manifestation of this was to be Home Rule for Ireland that is the repeal of the Union and the creation of a much looser relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom- a view he only saw as “ripe” and correct after years of battling against Home Rulers –when he became convinced Ireland was indeed naturally a nation. It also rendered him highly sympathetic to national movements in Europe (and a foe of the Roman Catholic Church on almost all such issues unlike Ireland). Another flip side of this was his deep scepticism about imperialism which clashed with the growing support for the British empire in the nineteenth century. There is evidence that by the end of his career he was more or less opposed to the British Empire. At the very least he was an extreme sceptic of any strong measures to expand it including a virulent opponent of military spending (which also reflected his support for economy) and opposed efforts in the 1880’s to expand the British empire.
Nowadays “anti-imperialism” put as such seems at the very least such an uncontroversial cause that it is hard to see how Gladstone’s position invoked such strong negative emotions and led to such tensions even within his own party. It’s worth remembering the empire was the field in which the UK was involved in international power politics, carried out any form of “civilising” mission, using force to protect British interest, preventing French or German international dominance and so forth. In a sense the empire was the equivalent of NATO , military action and political intervention and overas abroad today- and thus Gladstone’s deep scepticism was extremely unpopular with the political class and controversial at least with the public. There was a reason why Gladstonian radicals were often called “little Englanders”. It also helps explain Gladstone's enormous popularity abroad -he was the voice agianst the assertion of the Power of the world's mightest country (for example when the US sought reparations from the UK over confederate shipping based in the UK)
These kind of sentiments lay in large measure behind his campaign in the 1870's agianst “Bulgarian atrocities” the notion of supporting supposed Turkish oppression of an independent nation infuriated him-and the Tory argument that the Ottoman empire was necessary to protect the British had little resonance with Gladstone . IN this case simple Christian sectarianism may also have played a role – and it may be relevant Gladstone more than most Englishman identified with Christianity in general much more than Protestantism- and the Bulgarians were Christians if not Protestants.
The flip side of his religious motivation was that nations should also have a harmonious relationship like (ideally) the different national churches. This does a great deal to explain Gladstone’s enthusiasm for international law and for multilateral trade agreements for example the Anglo-Franco trading treaty. He was a believer in a “Cobdonite” theory that a network of trade could be set up building a commonwealth of sovereign nations united in harm-but the values that underlay his vision were very different.
Some of what one might see as Gladstone’s eccentricities in his policy also owed a great deal to these religious roots. One was his absolute failure to compromise on including Ulster in a home Rule Ireland an incredibly unpopular and potentially civil war causing position. This owed a good dela to pressure from his Irish nationalist allies but arguably even more to his simple belif (partly rooted in Church government) that Ulster was part of the Irish nation –regardless of the majority of Ulsterman’s views which he ascribed to religious bigotry. His fairly strong Confederate (unusual in a British liberal though not necessarily their American counterparts) sympathies during the war itself arguably reflect to some degree his Liverpool and pro slavery background. But they probably eve more reflect his view that once one had “made a nation” then that nation’s rights should be respected.
He is a picture of Gladstone speaking against the Bulgarian atrocities just one of his many “secular” campaigns that had deep religious roots.
Here is a picture of the Same Cobdon whose views on foreign policy were so similar (if less pragmatic) as Gladstone's -but for very different reasons.
April 13, 2010
IN our exploration of Gladstone the Victorian Titan we now turn to perhaps the most important source of his political views- the way in which his religious views shaped the views of the latter Gladstone the “Grand Old Man”.
This was absolutely central to Gladstone’s political thought as is very well shown by Matthew’s work and more generally in Gladstonian scholarship. This can be seen partly as a significant part of the rediscovery of the central role of religion in the Victoria era. IT also reflects the expansion of scholarshi8p on Gladstone-and access to Gladstone’s own papers and Diary. It’s also represents the slow overcoming of the negative legacy of his official biographer.
His official biographer was John Morley one of Gladstone’s closest political allies. IN terms of the role of religion however he was badly chosen. For while Morley’s politics were close to Gladstone’s own his religious views as a “freethinker” (that is an opponent of the claims of organised religion) could scarcely be more different. Unsurprisingly he did not do their central role of the latter in the former justice.
IN order to access the effect of these it is necessary first of all to establish the nature of these views. The mature Gladstone was not an evangelical it needs to be strongly emphasised. He had it is true come from an evangelical background particularly his devout mother. Several of the Gladstone children moved far away from this theology. One Robertson at one point Mayor of Liverpool become I think a Unitariain that is a denier of the Trinity the central doctrine shared by Catholics and Protestants alike . Another the possibly mentally unstable Helen became a Roman Catholic at one point using some works of Anglican divines as toilet paper.
William Gladstone moved less far but still far from his background. HE was an early enthusiast for the “oxford movement” that is the revival of Catholicism within the Church of England. This was to take him far from central evangelical themes such as the sufficiency of scripture and faith alone as the road to salvation. Despite this many seem today under the impression he was an evangelical. The writer had one conversation with a well informed historian (albeit not of this era) who was sure he was a nonconformist (that is a Protestant non Anglican) .
Many commentators have empathised supposed evangelical roots of his character and thought often in the teeth of the evidence in way that’s hard not to ascribe to prejudice or ignorance . One common one is the supposed evangelical roots of his emphasis on moral discipline and mortification. In Fact Gladstone like much of the early Oxford movement (the same was true of John latter Cardinal) Newman was partly attracted to it because he saw evangelicalism particularly with it’s emphasis on salvation through faith and a single moment of decision as insufficiently committed to the development of moral discipline and character.
They thus joined the growing “Catholic” element in the Church of England-one that was less Protestant and closer to the Church of Rome than any salient faction had been in the established churches of the British Isles for centuries the movement initially known as the “oxford movement” ( the university where it had arose in the 1830’s) has often become known as Anglo-Catholicism . IT was to develop into a broad group including those who agreed with the Roman Church doctrine on virtually every issue (even to the extent of denouncing many catholic priests as too Protestant) as well as those who had various problems with “catholic” doctrine whether the traditional Protestant objections or others.
So what was Gladstone’s personal version of Christianity? He was called by John Keble's the movement's founder “Pusey in a blue coat” –Pusey was one of the founders of the Oxford Movement one who left Protestant doctrines behind but remained Clearly distant from the Church of Rome. So for example he donated money (to the furry of some of the “higher” or more Catholic members of the Oxford Movement ) and rejected the official Roman Catholic understanding of Papal authority. This is quite a good way of understanding Gladstone’s theological views which were both Catholic and a long way from Rome.
On the one hand he was very clearly not a traditional Protestant. He believed for example that the communion service had a real effect in causing salvation, he emphasised a Priesthood ordained by bishops as central to the full Christian faith and saw the church in institutional and historic terms marked by these marks. That is in direct contradiction is contrary to the evangelical (and with some ifs and but the more broadly protestant insofar as it was separate) conception of the church as a union of believers. Gladstone’s belief in the Church as an institutional body with different national parts and compositions (and including Roman Catholics) was to be central to his politics. It was also bitterly controversial seen as heretical at a time when such things still mattered for politics. Gladstone was for eighteen years the mp for Oxford University (graduate of the universities had constituencies of their own untill the Atlee government). His deposition as mp for their, was significantly to the candidate of the “low church and anti-Puseyite party”.
On the other hand he was no Roman Catholic. Many Catholic doctrines he opposed even with abhorrence including their beliefs on the Virgin Mary. He was happy with the Book of Common Prayer (The Anglican liturgy) inherited from the Reformation and unlike many “Anglo Catholics” saw no reason to change it. Most significantly of all he saw the Pope as the foremost bishop of Christendom. The declaration of “Papal Infallibility” by the Vatican Council (though a more nuanced doctrine than the name suggests ) in 1870 sparked of a virulent polemic against it from Gladstone. This distance from Rome is perhaps significant though for complex reasons most British Catholic voters inclined overall to the left most English Catholic intellectuals were not on the left- and they certainly were rarely Gladstonian progressives.
Nonetheless it should be noted that Anglo Catholics including those with distance from Rome were rarely “Gladstonian” either, indeed they tended to be strongly conservative (though some were early Socialists). Indeed Gladstone himself when early an Anglo Catholic had been a “stern and unbending” Tory. Lord Salisbury had unsually close theology indeed it's important for the history of the Church of England that two such powerfull politicans were so sympathetic to the "ritualists" whom there was huge popular and lay pressure to expel from the Chruch of England).But Salisbruyt had very different political views from Gladstone So it is to the way he developing a “liberal” politics on the basis of his religious convictions to which we will now turn.
The picture above is of the same Pusey whose theology so closed matched Gladstone's
April 12, 2010
Having given a bird’s eyes view of his massive political impact and striking personality of Gladstone we now turn to examine his ideological world view. IT is worth noting in this context that there is a great degree of scholarship on William Gladstone of which my knowledge is rather sketchy. Perhaps my most important guiding light has been Matthew perhaps the greatest Gladstone scholar ever (sadly he died before writing a full biography) though several other writers among them Shannon and Boyd Hilton have shaped my views. I do not fill ;that confident my views so those who know about Gladstone do explain where I’m wrong or where addition gives a better picture!
It is worth noting that many of his political enemies and some of his closest political allies for example his deputy i the Commons William Harcourt saw him as constantly or often disingenuous and/or unprincipled. This contributed to the strong liberal's commen "I don't object to Gladstone always having the ace of trumps up his sleeve, but merely to his belief that the Almighty put it there."This goes against the beliefs of the great majority of historians and this author but there are several reasons why this was held against and believed of Gladstone.
Partly of course it was the usual pragmatism that is endemic to practical politicians combined with a deep refusal to acknowledge them. So for example Matthew suggests that his scepticism of votes for women owed a great deal to the very possibly they would vote for women (since women who owned or rented a home tended to be from much more affluent families than men) but one cannot find a quotation to back up this very plausible theory.
In this Gladstone was the opposite of Salisbury a man probably equally (which is to say highly) principled but a politician who frequently used “party opinion” to block progressive measures –in many cases this was almost certainly based on his own objections as much or more so than any supposed electoral backlash. Salisbury and Gladstone were diametric opposites in this on pretended to be less principled/ doctrinaire, the other more than they really were.
There was however a way in which Gladstone acknowledged Pragmatic considerations at least after the 1840’s where he first achieved high level government experience That was his emphasis on Statecraft and particularly the need for a statesman to deal only with the the issue of immediate legislation and/or governmental action -that is he did not believe in setting up vague general future aspirations- only ones that could be dealt by legislation soon”.This was very unlike his great ally and enemy Joe Chamberlain who was almost the opposite-the master of the extreme comment and the comparatively moderate policy.
This both integrates a certain pragamsticism in the teeth of politicians and the electorate and meant this this most ideological of Victorian Prime ministers put clear limit on his ideological statements. This pragmatisicm could be said to have parallels among great reforming Prime Ministers (Reform does not have to be a good idea!) whether Thatcher , Attlee or Asquith . It is probably no coincidence virtually all of them also left intact policies left they hated. They were both pragmatic enough to avoid issues which they regarded as excessively dangerous (disestablishment of the Church of Scotland being an example for Gladstone) and on the other ideologically motivated enough to actually achieve major reforms in the teeth of intense opposition.
Finally perhaps the biggest cause of Gladstone’s occasional reputation for being shifty was that he simply changed his mind a great deal not constantly but in great (nearly always permanent) shifts on a position.
IN his youth when he entered Parliament in the 1830's he was not just a member of the conservative party (This was an era of fairly weak party ties after all) but the “rising hope of the stern unbending Tories” in the name of the Whig Maccalay (a man whose politics were mch more conservative than the latter Gladstone. . At that point he certainly was not a “political economist” that is a supporter of laissre-faire or of “liberal” nationalist forces internationally. His biggest interests was in religion and the state –he horrified the conservative leadership particularly Robert Peel the then leader by the degree to which he sought to link the Church of England and the state- backing with his usual ferocious logic the exclusion of non Anglicans from the political world. This was set out in his first major work "The State in it's Relations with the Church".
Indeed the backlash by many against the book including his hero Peel seems to have been a major reason behind his latter refusal to write generally on political philosophy . This was at least in terms of policy- as said in the previous post Gladstone was to be the man who rolled back so many of such. So were large aspects- the man who was to become the exponent of lassire-faire in markets was the same man who gave his maiden speech in the Commons against the abolition of the slave trade (his father and native city Liverpool were both massively involved in the slave trade). AS we shall see many of his earlier views in particular the religous helped shape his latter views. However the evolution of his thought occurred in a series of stages culminating in major shifts often accompanied by personal crisis from the 1840’s onwards . The last truly major shift was on Home Rule in 1886 previously a fringe opinion among the non Irish. Gladstone’s often very sudden change in position often bewildered and infuriated those who had previously been supportive and gave him something of his reputation with his foes for both fanaticism and unreliability. Thus enormous loyalty could turn to huge resentment. The Duke of Norfolk rather paradoxically as both England’s most senior aristocrat and something of an outsider as a Roman Catholic. His love of Gladstone’s policies was so passionate he kept a Portrait on the wall of his mansion. When Gladstone endorsed Home Rule Norfolk sold the Portrait!
In conclusion Gladstone’s contemporary reputation for trickery was not composed of pure whole cloth. It was based in large measure on his failure to come to grips with his own political calculations emphasised specific legislation and changed his mind over the course of his sixty year political career. This did not mean that the mature Gladstone of the 1860’s and 1870’s did not have a finely worked political ideologynow.It is now to the political thought of him as a liberal that we will now turn
Here on the other hand is a picture of Gladstone when he was still a "stern and unbending" Tory. .