Gladstone’s version of Liberalism was built up over a long period and consisted of a variety of influences with the underlying religious impact.
Gladstone combined a profound belief in Christian morality with a sense of mission. The result has been described as an ‘equation of private morality with public action’, to an extent unequalled by any of his contemporaries, resulting in a serious of domestic legislation.A major series of changes concerning not only Ireland and the introduction of the secret ballot, but also education, social reform, public houses, and legislation concerning prominent institutions in the country such as the army, the law, the universities, the civil services, local government and Trade unions in his first ministry 1868-74. Gladstonian Liberalism contained a belief in the inherent ‘goodness’ of the masses, by comparison with the increasing selfishness of the governing classes.Impressed by the moderation shown by the cotton operatives in Lancashire despite the hardships they suffered during the American civil war, he argue that they should be entrusted with greater political responsibility. ‘Every man, who is not presumably incapacitated by some consideration of personal unfitness or of political danger, is morally entitled to come within the pale of the constitution’.
He was in favour of extending the franchise for this reason; and his liberalism had caused him to be closely involved in the reform proposals of 1866 and 1884 hence contribute to the domestic legislation of his ministry.The belief in the inherent ‘goodness’ of the masses persevered on to political power, which was seen as a trust which was to be carried out on behalf of, and for the benefit of, the masses. Gladstone’s Liberal ideas developed in previous years were reflected in his dislike in privilege and entrenched corruption, which he was prepared to sweep away wherever it manifested itself. This necessitated administrative efficiency and the elimination of waste through financial stringency.
Socially, given the difficulties and complexities of different matters, the 1870 Education Act was immensely significant as it produced a largely literate generation.This had been a valiant attempt by the government to tackle a growingly important and vital issue, with Liberalistic ideas as the dominant force for reforms. The Education Act reflected Gladstonian Liberalism through the basic intention of spreading Christianity by extending literacy.
Issues of religious equality of opportunity are apparent in a significant reform of Gladstone’s ministry as well, one with which he and his Liberalistic ideas were personally involved. Gladstone’s act meant that all academic appointments at oxford and Cambridge were now open to those of any religious belief. It was a truly liberal measure.However, the aim of the act can be seen as to promote widespread obedience and conformity to the existing system rather than break down class barriers. It could be essentially conservative in this way as it continued to emphasis the importance of self-help. In terms of religious influence, the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Ireland was the most successful piece of Gladstone’s Irish legislation in that it removed a major Irish grievance and extended the principle of religious liberalism to Ireland, which further enhanced the influence of early Liberalism ideas in Gladstone as a root of the reforms.The army reforms of Edward Cardwell improved reputation of the British army, but also brought out the humanitarian side of Gladstonian Liberalism as well as its concern for administrative and operational efficiency, and for the removal of unjustified privilege. Economically, Gladstone had an unshakable commitment to economic laissez-faire, to which he gave a moral and religious tone, influenced by the Liberalism developed within him.
Wealth was a ‘trust’ which should be conserved and increased so that it could ‘fruity in the pockets of the people’.Gladstone considered it essential to promote incentives. The income tax which he consistently sought to eliminate, reducing it to 3d in the pound in 1868 and promising its abolition in the 1874 election campaign, though lost, exhibits the influence of the Gladstonian Liberalism has on the formation and changes in the domestic legislations during his first ministry. However, some of domestic legislations and reforms such as in education and the secret ballot could be seen as a natural result of the 1867 reform act.
Despite Gladstone’s liberalism, there are other factors, mostly pressure, being the trigger of changes and reforms. Firstly, the Lip service paid to laissez-faire was gradually overthrown by the greater complexities of the increasingly urban society. State intervention in social questions such as public health and the problem of alcoholism was seen as increasingly justified and government was pressurized by public hence brought about concerns on the practicality – namely the nonconformists, on whose vote the Liberals relied, were an increasingly numerous and power element in society.They put heavy pressure for changes not only for regulating sales of alcohol but also regarding admission to Oxford and Cambridge Universities. This bring the practicality into account and further enhance the urgency for the government to deal with domestic issues. Gladstonian Liberalism was also limited and in some ways showed Gladstone’s Tory origin.
Adelman pointed out that Gladstone ‘never had very much sympathy with the more obvious causes of nineteen-century Liberalism – democracy, equality, social improvement, republicanism’.Fundamentally, Gladstone had no sympathy with any notion of redistributing wealth; he had no intention of developing a graduated income tax for this purpose and strongly opposed an attempted to introduce death duties in 1894. He opposed any concept of the welfare state since he firmly believed in laissez-faire developed from one of the cardinal Victorian virtues ‘ self-help’. He also did not have any vision of the readjustment of the social order which might be accomplished by education. The extend to which he aimed to improve the condition of the working class due to his Liberalism previously developed, was highly questionable.
Nonetheless, the catalogue of achievement was considerable and the character of nineteenth-century liberalism is clearly shown in the various issues tackled. Although such measure showed that Gladstonian Liberalism had an unintentional capacity of provoking discontent in a wide range of public opinion and interest groups, It cannot be denied that Gladstone’s liberalism was the dominant force behind the domestic legislation of his ministry; on a social, economical, political and religious aspect.