Here is a term paper on the ‘Society and Politics in England’ during 1868-1885.
1. Term Paper on the Society and Politics in England (Approach to Democracy):
This was the classical age of the two-party system. It set a pattern which writers on the subject have quite incorrectly treated as normal: the Liberals and the Conservatives, each solidly united behind a great leader with a wide popular appeal, alternated in power, on the results of General Elections held every five or six years, using the substantial majorities accorded them to put through large programmes of reform, on their differing principles.
In fact, this model does not apply perfectly even to the age of Gladstone and Disraeli. First, the former’s popular appeal was much more conspicuous than the latter’s. Secondly, in the case of both the Liberal Governments of the period, their initial majorities soon dwindled, and Gladstone resigned both in 1873 and 1885 as a result of Commons defeats. Thirdly, in the late ‘seventies and early ‘eighties there existed, as well as the two major parties, a highly independent party of Irish M.P.s.
However, there is undoubtedly a sharp contrast between this period and the previous one. Parties were now more clearly differentiated and better disciplined; popular participation was greater; and legislation was more important.
There is something of a contrast also with the period after 1886, when the presence of the Liberal Unionists further complicated the situation, when the Conservatives and their allies held power for 17 out of 20 years, and when domestic reform again receded into the background.
Between 1868 and 1885, however, behind the classical pattern, the system was developing very rapidly. The essential steps were being taken towards the democratization of politics and the parties. This can be illustrated in various ways. To begin with, it had hitherto been exceptional for the electorate to make the choice of a Government.
Only in the special case of Melbourne’s second Ministry had it turned out a Government by converting a Parliamentary majority into a minority. In 1868 an already minority Government lost seats, and Disraeli acknowledged the power of the electorate and created a constitutional precedent by resigning office before the new Parliament met.
In 1874 the position was close to that of 1841, the General Election reinforcing the verdict of by-elections. But in 1880, for the first time, a Government with a considerable and perfectly firm Parliamentary majority was displaced by the electorate at one blow, the other party winning a still larger majority. The House of Commons, clearly, no longer chose the Government.
It is striking that at each of these General Elections the proportion of constituencies contested rose. In 1868 two-thirds were fought, as many as in 1832 and more than in any other previous Election.
But, whereas decline set in after 1832, in 1874 the proportion of contests rose to nearly three-quarters, in 1880 to over four-fifths, and in 1885, after another Reform Act, to nine teen- twentieths, the highest ever before 1924. Further, the pattern of results over the country as a whole became more uniform.
Legislation also advanced democracy. In 1869 the electorate was further extended. Hodgkinson’s amendment had proved unworkable: many ratepayers would not or could not pay their rates personally, and so could not vote in 1868. The new measure restored the possibility of compounding for rates while allowing the compounder in some circumstances to vote.
By the Municipal Franchise Act of the same year, single women who were ratepayers received the vote in borough elections. The Ballot Act of 1872 made voting secret, reducing improper influence at elections and satisfying a Radical demand a century old. Then in 1883-5 the whole electoral system was remodelled, more fundamentally than by any of the other bouts of Parliamentary Reform.
The Corrupt Practices Act of 1883 made it at last possible to reduce drastically corruption at elections. The Act provided that it should no longer be necessary, in order to procure a conviction, to prove that a man giving a bribe to a voter or otherwise improperly influencing him was the agent of the candidate concerned. It further set very low limits on what a candidate might spend. The expenditure at the election of 1885, per head of the electorate, was less than a quarter of that of 1880.
In 1884, by the Third Reform Act, the franchise in county constituencies was put on much the same basis as had been established for the boroughs in 1867 and the qualifications to vote were made the same for Ireland as for the rest of the United Kingdom. In consequence, an electorate of about three millions rose to about five millions, 60 per cent of adult males. Women were still un-enfranchised for Parliamentary elections.
By the Redistribution Act of 1885 the old constituency structure was simply swept away. Just over 100 boroughs ceased to be constituencies at all, because their population was below 15,000. Others with fewer than 50,000 inhabitants lost one Member. These seats, and a handful more, were transferred to counties and large towns.
The only constituencies unaffected were a few of those which already had only one Member and a group of 24 boroughs with a population of between 50,000 and 130,000, which retained their two Members. All other counties and all larger towns were divided up into new single-member constituencies.
The boundary commissioners were instructed to have some regard to existing local boundaries, and also to ‘the pursuits of the population’, but of necessity they created in most cases artificial electoral districts. Thus ‘community’ representation was abandoned, and the great traditional discrepancies vanished. Wales, Scotland and the North of England were now as adequately represented, on a population basis, as the South of England.
Rural and urban areas were equally treated. Allowing for some flexibility, the day of equal electoral districts had arrived. Now the most glaring anomaly was a new one: it was decided not to reduce the representation of Ireland to take account of the decline in its population. Next is came the survival of nine University seats.
Between 1867 and 1885, again, party organization developed enormously. The Birmingham Liberal Association led the way. Although founded before the Second Reform Act was passed and already then concerned to associate non-electors with electors, it faced new problems after the Act had doubled the town’s electorate.
The matter was further complicated by two other legislative provisions, the ‘minority clause’ of the Second Reform Act and the system of election for school boards prescribed in the Education Act of 1870. Under this system each elector had as many votes as there were seats on the board; he need not use them all, and could give as many of them as he liked to one candidate.
These arrangements made electoral organization especially worthwhile. For the Election of 1868 the Birmingham Association created for itself an elaborate ward organization which gave at least the appearance of democracy.
All members, whether or not they had paid a subscription, had the right to vote for members of ward committees, which elected a central representative committee of 400 members, which in turn delegated its power to an executive committee of over 100 members, some of them co-opted, which finally appointed a small effective management committee.
Technically, the central representative committee chose Liberal candidates for municipal and Parliamentary elections. This structure was the type for the later national party organization. It was known as the ‘Caucus’, was the first to give ordinary voters a say in the choice of their candidates, and was much more effective than previous organizations in getting out the party vote.
There was no difficulty in procuring the election of three Liberal M.P.s, for Birmingham, despite the ‘minority clause’. The town’s Liberal majority was very large. At the first school board election, though, the Association, or more precisely its close relative, the Education League, was defeated by the Church party.
The League was not identical with the Liberal party, but a ginger group within it; and its opponents exploited the more effectively the oddities of the election system. In 1873, however, with Francis Schnadhorst as its organizer, the League won control of the school board, and Chamberlain became Chairman. In the same year he was also elected Mayor.
Four years later, with a view to pressing the aims of Birmingham Liberals on the party as a whole, the same group of men founded the National Liberal Federation, which sought to bring together the numerous Liberal associations all over the country and to standardize their organization.
These objects were not fully achieved until 1888. The Birmingham Federation was the most important organization in the party and had greatly influenced the others. It had become less dissident when Chamberlain had entered the Cabinet, and backed the Government generally, most obviously in carrying and enforcing new rules of Parliamentary procedure.
These rules had been proposed in 1881-82 to thwart obstruction by the Irish party, but were generally destructive of private M.P.s’ independence. The ‘Caucus’ also tried, not very successfully, to make election candidates toe its line.
On the Conservative side Disraeli blessed the foundation in 1867 of the National Union of Conservative and Constitutional Working-Men’s Associations. This body (which soon dropped ‘Working-Men’s’ from its title) held an annual conference and helped to mobilize voters in the constituencies.
In 1870 Disraeli established the Conservative Central Office under John Gorst, who was also prominent in the National Union. After the election victory of 1874, however, the party leaders lost interest in both organizations. The National Union again attracted attention in the ‘eighties because, during Lord Randolph Churchill’s challenge to the regular leadership, he tried to use the annual conference to strengthen his position.
But in 1884 he made a deal with Lord Salisbury under which the organization was restored to docility. In the same year Churchill founded the Primrose League, designed to bring women into the work of the party and to increase the supply of voluntary workers in general, as the new electoral system required.
There was as yet little sign on the Conservative side of mass participation in the choice of candidates or the determination of policy, but at least there were the beginnings of a national party organization, which was to be much extended immediately after the end of the period. Salisbury said his epitaph would have to be: ‘Died of writing inane answers to empty-headed “Conservative Associations”.’
Superficially, then—constitutionally, electorally and organizationally—democracy was advancing. The various factors in the process interacted. The legislation helps to explain the development of organization. No doubt both together help to explain the increase of electoral activity.
The Act of 1867 and subsequent measures created much uncertainty in the minds of election managers. Their forecasts proved wrong both in 1874 and 1880. Hence, partly, the number of constituencies contested, without which there could, hardly have been such large transfers of seats in the House and such large majorities. These, better disciplined with the improved organizations, could be mobilized to pass reforms previously considered hopeless.
Less tangible influences were working in the same direction. In discussing the background to Gladstone’s success in 1868, it has already been argued that there is more to take into account than the Reform Act of 1867 and the manner of its passage.
During the months following the settlement of the Reform question, a Parliamentary coalition of Whigs, Liberals, Radicals and Irish, the old combination of 1835, was reconstructed, but backed this time by an alliance in the country between reformers variously interested in education, church matters, Trade Unions and temperance.
Though the Conservatives carried Reform, it was Gladstone and his supporters who exploited it. As Derby had foreseen, his party could not hope to win an Election until after the Liberals had exhausted a reforming mandate. It was certainly not party organization which gave Gladstone his majority in 1868.
He had the help of the Nonconformists and their societies, of the Trade Unions and of the small number of up-to-date organizations in the big towns. Otherwise his appeal had to be to opinion. He made speeches in the constituency he was fighting, S. W. Lancashire, on a scale hitherto unknown. He lost the seat, but the speeches were reported nationally in the Press and had wide effect. Gladstone adopted the role of Bright in the office of Palmerston.
Gladstone’s personal part in the politics of these years can hardly be exaggerated. It is impossible to imagine anyone else making so much capital out of the new electoral system. If he had not lived to play the demagogue, the Liberal party must have wasted some of its opportunities.
That Providence has endowed me with anything that can be called a striking gift. But if there be such a thing entrusted to me it has been shown at certain political junctures, in what may be termed appreciations of the general situation and its result.
To make good the idea, this must not be considered as the simple acceptance of public opinion, founded upon the discernment that it has risen to a certain height needful for a given work, like a tide. It is an insight into the facts of particular eras, and their relation one to another, which generates in the mind a conviction that the materials exist for forming a public opinion and directing to a particular end.
This was how he saw his demand in the Election of 1868 for a mandate to disestablish the Irish Church. It was not how he saw the crusade of 1876-80 against the Turks’ Bulgarian policy and ‘Beaconsfieldism’. He felt then that he was carried along by the public. But this was truer at first than later.
He had resigned the leadership of the party after the election defeat of 1874, which he took as a personal rejection. He at first devoted himself to tree-felling, to ordering his vast collection of papers, and to theology, especially the question of Papal Infallibility. Very soon, however, the agitation arose against the Government’s policy towards the Ottoman Empire.
It was a movement of moralists and of churchmen of all denominations. What persuaded Gladstone to come out of his retirement was a meeting of working-men in Hyde Park in August 1876 which supported the agitation. He closed the file on which he was working, docketing it:’ “Future Retribution”: From this I was called away to write on Bulgaria.’
He completed in a week a pamphlet on Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East. It was published almost at once and sold 200,000 copies in a month. While the party in Parliament, under Granville in the Lords and the Marquess of Hartington in the Commons, was divided, outside Westminster Gladstone refashioned the coalition of 1868.
He seemed to have failed in 1878, when Disraeli was triumphing. But Gladstone agreed to stand for Midlothian at the next General Election, and during 1879-80, in his campaigns there, he set new precedents in speech- making, appealing to the people to sit in judgment on the whole record of the Conservative Government.
When the country responded, Gladstone became Prime Minister, although not the official party leader in either House. Hartington and Granville told the Queen there was no alternative.
Organization mattered more in this Election than before. Though Chamberlain much exaggerated the success of the National Liberal Federation, it had some impact. But there still nothing resembled a countrywide party organization. The victory, like that of 1868, was achieved by an alliance in the country behind a coalition in Parliament, both welded together by Gladstone.
It is very significant that, whereas in 1875 Chamberlain had written Gladstone off—’an ex-Minister of the first rank who devotes his leisure to a critical examination of the querulousness of an aged priest is hardly in sympathy with the robust commonsense of English Liberalism’—in 1877 he was pressing him to sanctify the inaugural meeting of the National Liberal Federation with his presence.
Hartington had refused to attend. Gladstone, by agreeing to do so, probably contributed more to the success of the Federation than the Federation did to the victory of 1880. It was Gladstone who made the new voters Liberal, and Gladstone who made the Elections national rather than local contests.
Gladstone’s success as a party leader, however, does not rest solely on the fact that he was so effective a demagogue. He was also a marvellous administrator and, more significantly still, a traditionalist, even aristocratic statesman. He genuinely regretted his demagogy, his support of denominationalism, his disputes ‘with the House of Lords.
They were all undertaken faute de mieux. His ideal remained the old Tory ideal of a beneficent paternalism in Church and State. In a letter to his grandson and heir, written in 1897, he expressed the hope that the family property based on Hawarden Castle might be enlarged.
The influence attaching to [estates] grows in a larger proportion than mere extent, and establishes a natural leadership, based upon free assent, which is of especial value at a period when the majority are, in theory, invested with a supremacy of political power which, nevertheless, through the necessities of our human nature, is always in danger of slipping through their fingers.
Unfortunately, landlords as a body had abused their trust. They had been personally extravagant and politically irresponsible. This was Gladstone’s justification for attacking the House of Lords. They ought to have led the people in the right paths. Since they had not done so, others must do it for them.
The same sort of argument applied to the Church. In Ireland she had proved unequal to the duties of an Establishment. In England she had shown herself unfitted for the full role Gladstone had attributed to her in his book of 1838.
The next best thing was to encourage all reputable denominations. The Midlothian campaign he defended on the ground that Parliament was not doing its duty. Yet part of him remained a committed landowner, Anglican and House-of-Commons man.
With these attributes he was a nearly perfect leader for the Liberal party in these years. Kitson Clark, in his The Making of Victorian England, ‘The Nobility and Gentry—Old Style’ and ‘The New Politics and the New Gentry’. Historically, the one did not simply succeed the other.
Between 1867 and 1885 they co-existed, and Gladstone contrived to live in both worlds. The Second Reform Act established mass electorates in the large towns. Until after the Liberal party split over Home Rule in 1886 they always produced a large majority of Liberal M.P.s.
The Redical Programme of 1885 could reasonably say:
The great towns as they now are constitute the source and centre of English political opinion. It is from them that Liberal legislation receives its initiative; it is the steady pressure exercised by them that guarantees the political progress of the country.
In the English counties, on the other hand, the Conservatives had a large majority, and increased their representation as a result of the redistribution of 1868. In the smaller boroughs, which still included after the Second Reform Act over 50 constituencies with an electorate of less than a thousand, the Liberals tended to do rather better than the Conservatives.
This would not have remained true, and so the Liberals would never have won an election, if the leaders had ignored the interests of these towns, most of them closely involved with agriculture.
Among both the counties and the smaller boroughs there survived seats which were virtually in the gift of landed patrons, to the number of about 80. Of these, though the majorities were normally Conservative, about 30 were generally Liberal.
Earl Fitzwilliam could write to Granville in 1880 as follows:
I believe it is mainly throwing my instrumentality that six liberal members have found seats in this parliament. My own political opinions are well known, and I have every reason to believe, that it was confidence in the moderation of my views, which brought about this success—you will therefore understand that I must take a deep interest in the formation of a cabinet which I and mine will have largely contributed to place in power.
There were good reasons, therefore, apart from personal predilection, why Gladstone put so many peers in his Cabinets. They could allege the same claim as Chamberlain put forward, that they had powerfully contributed to the victory of 1880, as by their inactivity or opposition they had abetted the defeat of 1874.
In the absence of arrangements for collecting small subscriptions from the party’s poor supporters, the great Whigs’ donations constituted the chief source of election funds. It is often forgotten, too, that the House of Lords remained comparable with the House of Commons in power and prestige. A Government needed as much Front Bench talent in the Upper House as in the Lower.
The Liberals, in a minority in the Lords, had a special problem here. In addition, politicians as a whole, and probably the public, still ‘deferred’. Further, they accepted the notions that to deserve appointment to the Cabinet a man needed to have had junior ministerial experience, and that anyone who had once held major office had a presumptive claim to hold it again.
Derby had had to make exceptions to the first principle on a large scale in 1852. Gladstone made special cases for Bright in 1868 and Chamberlain in 1880. But there was remarkable continuity of personnel from one Whig-Liberal Cabinet to another, and evidently this was considered right.
Despite the fact that there were nearly 100 Nonconformists amongst them, and from 1874 even a few working-men, the majority of Liberal M.P.s were still Anglican country gentlemen. Hence, partly, the presence of Earl Granville in every Liberal Cabinet from 1851 to 1886, of the Duke of Argyll from 1852 to 1881, of the Earl of Kimberley from 1868 to 1895, and of the Marquess of Ripon from 1863 right down to 1908.
Gladstone himself, of course, had a longer Cabinet life still, from 1843 to 1894. But, apart from him, it was the peers, who could easily start a political career early and had secure seats in the Lords, who provided the continuity. That it was necessary to humour them is evident from the importance attached to the defection from the Liberals in the ‘eighties of Hartington and Goschen, who had both entered the Cabinet for the first time in 1866 and were still serving with the Conservatives at the turn of the century.
The electoral reforms of 1883-85, followed by the Home Rule split, much reduced the weight of the Whig peers in the party. But at least until then it was necessary for the leader, if he was to win elections, to preserve the balance between the old and the new politics.
The Radicals recognized Gladstone as far the most sympathetic leader they could hope for, while the Whigs, fearing that without him the Radicals might break away and form a new and more advanced party, confided in his conservative predilections.
For the Conservatives there was the same problem of balancing old and new, with the balance naturally tilted towards the old. In general, of course, they could not be the initiators and innovators in this field. Most of their followers even in the ‘new’ constituencies must be presumed to have been deferential, content to be ruled by squires.
The preservation in 1867 of the old franchise in the counties ensured the continuance of Conservative control there, using traditional methods. Conservative leaders scarcely competed with the Liberals in electioneering speeches. But there was reality to Disraeli’s intermittent visions of Tory Democracy and the Tory workingman, especially in areas where the Liberals were the oppressive ‘Establishment’ or, as around Liverpool, tied to Roman Catholicism.
To win a majority, the Conservatives certainly needed to take some urban seats. They began in this period to benefit from the growth of suburbs, the physical separation of employers from workmen, middle-class from working-class, made more general by the development of public city transport.
Districts like Edgbaston and Headingley joined Clifton as superior residential areas distinct from industrial and commercial slums in the same cities. Business, especially commerce and banking, was ceasing to be purely Liberal. The Conservative party was no longer overwhelmingly agrarian.
There was a time-lag, as on the Liberal side, before Cabinet composition reflected this change adequately; but Cross was a Lancashire banker, and W. H. Smith, of the railway book-stalls, became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1877. Cross had won S.W. Lancashire against Gladstone in 1868 and Smith sat for Westminster.
After the reforms of 1883-85 the Conservatives lost ground in rural areas, but, as well as strengthening their hold on Lancashire, gained heavily in the metropolitan boroughs and in the middle-class constituencies carved out of the large towns.
It now seemed essential for them to take more seriously, not only Churchill’s talk of Tory Democracy, but also the organizations and the genuine constituency opinion, which he had exploited for his personal advantage. However, the Home Rule split and the un-covenanted accession to the Conservative side of both Hartington and Chamberlain postponed the reckoning.
Little attention has been given to the question why the Third Reform Act and the related measures were passed. The two Front Benches worked together, with the aid of the Queen, against old- guard opposition from back-benchers of both parties. The Liberals had not intended to propose such a drastic redistribution.
That the Conservatives pressed for something like equal electoral districts astonished Gladstone and must surprise anyone familiar with the debates of 1867. One factor influencing their attitude was the belief that the division of towns for electoral purposes would be to their advantage.
They thought of themselves as undermining the ‘Caucus’. But, especially given the lack of interest shown by Parliament and the public in the Corrupt Practices Act, it seems right to conclude that between 1867 and 1883 the supporters of the old politics had simply been discredited.
In particular, it was scarcely possible for the party of the counties and of agriculture to defend the narrowness of the county franchise against the Liberal demand for extension. In general, while it was still thought necessary to tie the right of voting to the possession of a minimum of property or income, evidently, in the climate of opinion created by Gladstone and the Liberals since 1867, the old system as a whole was felt to be indefensible.
In this case, the prior change of opinion was very much more significant than the Acts it furthered. The years 1886 to 1906 were hardly years of reform. But Parliament could not foresee this outcome. As with other legislation, it showed itself remarkably ready, to act against the personal interests of its membership.
2. Term Paper on Society and Politics in England (Anticipations of Twentieth Century Developments):
As in strictly economic affairs, so in social and political matters, there are evident in this period anticipation of twentieth- century developments. First, as was perceived by Maitland long before most commentators, the output of legislation had become so great that Parliament had of necessity to delegate much legislative power to Ministers. New regulations and orders made by or on the advice of Ministers, under the authority of Acts of Parliament, already filled as large a volume each year as new Statutes of the Realm.
Secondly, the ways in which people outside the government service and outside Parliament sought to influence ministerial policy were changing. The characteristic method of the early nineteenth century, a society using meetings, petitions, pamphlets and so on, was much less important later.
The extension of the franchise had brought politicians and the public into closer contact with each other. The Press afforded means for continuous dialogue between them. But the greater rigidity of Parliamentary alignments had reduced the extent to which agitation outside could act on individual Members, regardless of party.
A political campaign was now much more likely to be attached to a party, as, for instance, Chamberlain’s causes became embodied in the National Liberal Federation. Home Rule created its own party. The close discipline of the Parnellites, and their success in bringing their case before Parliament, encouraged the Labour movement to form a party in 1900.
For special interests, like the railways, the shippers and the brewers, which at one time had been able to achieve much through a few M.P.s, it became necessary to organize lobbying more effectively and perhaps to identify themselves with either Liberals or Conservatives.
Thirdly, the relationship between the components of ‘High Society’, the Court, the aristocracy and the plutocracy, was changing, as was the nature of their connexion with the political and intellectual elites. From the Regency down to the death of Prince Albert, they were all closely interconnected.
Thereafter disruption was quite rapid. The Court went into endless mourning. The Queen became somewhat more active again in the ‘seventies, but spent as much time as possible away from London, at Balmoral in Scotland, at Osborne in the Isle of Wight, in Germany, or, if Ministers pressed her, at Windsor.
Intellectual Republicanism seems to have reached its highest point about 1870 and to have declined later in the century. The Queen did not cease to command, as a figurehead, the devotion of the mass of the people, which was to be revealed in the Jubilees of 1887 and 1897. But her Court did not recover its significance for ‘High Society’.
To some extent the void was filled from the ‘seventies by the Court of the Prince of Wales, where the aristocracies of birth and wealth were welcome, and where some effort was made to cater for political and intellectual society. But the Prince’s Court lacked the prestige of the monarch’s, it was not entirely respectable, and in any case the difficulty of relating the various elites was growing.
The hold of the landed aristocracy on politics was diminishing, and many lesser politicians could hardly attune themselves to Court life. The class of intellectuals was emerging as to a greater degree distinct from the governing class.
At length the power of the aristocracy was seen to be seriously threatened. The contraction of the agricultural population and the effects of the agricultural depression, which rendered it very difficult to profit much from rents, made it increasingly absurd that the peerage was still restricted to large landed proprietors.
Indeed, few of the latter were able to maintain their position without converting themselves into businessmen as well. In 1880 there was still a sufficient supply of Liberal peers for the aristocracy to be credibly regarded as a governing class of broad enough sympathies to command continued deference.
But no sooner was Gladstone’s Government in office than the defections began: the Marquess of Lansdowne among others in 1880, over the Compensation for Disturbance Bill; the Duke of Argyll among others over the Second Irish Land Act. The Whigs and the Radicals campaigned in virtual opposition to each other in the Election of 1885. This time no Bulgarian agitation arose, to enable Gladstone to reunite the coalition.
Instead, in 1886 Home Rule made the split in the party still more serious, and apparently irreversible. The aristocracy was already approaching the position of a mere interest attached to one party.
However, though the militia had been wrested from the direct control of Lords Lieutenant, they continued to play a great part in choosing J.P.s. Representation was introduced into the government of the counties only in 1888, and the powers of the House of Lords were not curbed until 1911.
At pains to deny that socialism, on any definition which would be considered appropriate in the mid-twentieth century, had much influence in the 1870s and 1880s, and to show that, even on definitions acceptable to publicists of the period, it was less important than has been supposed as an inspiration for reforms.
But the beginnings of serious socialist thought and action in Britain are to be found at this time. The general situation was favourable. The ‘Great Depression’ discredited for some the orthodoxy of Free Trade economics. In 1881 the Fair Trade League was founded, to work for a measure of protection for British producers against foreign competition.
It was a period of growing concern with discovering the truth about the conditions in which the poor lived, and with considering how they might be improved. The Salvation Army was founded in 1878 by William Booth, who had been for thirteen years a ‘missionary’ in the East End of London.
The organization belongs to the Evangelical tradition in that it was primarily devoted to spreading the Gospel. It belongs to the new tradition of ‘social work’ in that it was especially directed at the population of the slums.
In 1883 was published The Bitter Cry of Outcast London, the most effective of several accounts of conditions in the East End produced in these years. In 1884 was established the first significant ‘University settlement’ in the East End, Toynbee Hall. By then Charles Booth had begun work on his vast survey of London, which began to appear in 1889.
When Karl Marx died in 1883, his principal work, Das Kapital, was still not translated into English. However, his thought was at last beginning to exert influence in Britain. Three years before his death, H.M. Hyndman, a wealthy old Etonian and Trinity man, read Das Kapital in French, and was converted to its brand of socialism.
In 1881 he founded the Democratic Federation, to propagate his views. The tours and writings of Henry George, though he was far from Marx’s position, led many people nearer to it. The most significant convert made by the Democratic Federation was William Morris. He was already famous and prosperous as a result of his promotion of new styles and standards in design of all kinds of furnishings.
In 1876 and the following years, he had taken an enthusiastic part in the agitation over Bulgaria. He served as Treasurer of the Eastern Question Association and was especially active in mobilizing working- class support. But the behaviour of Gladstone’s second Ministry quickly disillusioned him. As soon as he joined the Democratic Federation in 1883, he read and absorbed Marx’s writings.
He had abandoned the mid-Victorian programme of class co-operation and adopted revolutionary aims:
The basis of all change must be. . . .the antagonism of classes: I mean that though here and there a few men of the upper and middle classes, moved by their conscience and insight, may and doubtless will throw in their lot with the working classes, the upper and middle classes as a body will by the very nature of their existence, and like a plant grows, resist the abolition of classes: neither do I think that any amelioration of the poor on the only lines which the rich can go upon will advance us on the road; save that it will put more power into the hands of the lower class and so strengthen both their discontent and their means of showing it: for I do not believe that starvelings can bring about a revolution.
There is not a terrible side to this: but how can it be otherwise? Commercialism, competition, has sown the wind recklessly, and must reap the whirlwind: it has created the proletariat for its own interest, and its creation will and must destroy it: there is no other force, which can do so.
In 1884 he broke away from Hyndman’s organization (now called the Social Democratic Federation) and founded a Socialist League, intended to be the nucleus of a new political party. Another body of middle-class sympathizers with socialism dates from 1884; the Fabian Society, which soon contained among its members George Bernard Shaw, an Irishman later to become through his plays the best propagandist of the creed in Britain, and Sidney Webb, who was to be one of its most important theorists.
The Society was explicitly opposed to revolution. As yet, there was very little sign of working-class socialism of a Marxian character, but the movement for the eight-hour day and the first extension of Trade Unionism to the unskilled has been traced to the early ‘eighties.
In 1885, it so happens, James Ramsay MacDonald, illegitimate son of a Scottish ploughman, brought up in poverty in the fishing village of Lossiemouth, first took the train for England, where, in Bristol, later in the year, he joined the Social Democratic Federation. Within forty years he was Prime Minister.