Saturday, 23 January 2016

Education in the nineteenth century

Maths class at the Cable Street Board School
Eric J. Evans (The Forging of the Modern State, 3rd edition, p. 290) has written:
‘The spectre of an irreligious, overcrowded, and brutalized working class herded together in monstrously multiplying towns … haunted more than the humanitarian reformers’ and educational reform became an urgent question.'
By the early 1830s about one and a half million pupils were enrolled in schools – and these schools were extremely varied.

Educational provision comprised:
  • a handful of public schools for aristocrats and the upper middle classes,
  • a number of endowed grammar schools in the older towns,
  • Sunday schools
  • charity schools.
There were various kinds of charity schools, ranging from the large foundations of the 1690s to small village establishments. Some charity schools catered for middle-class children whose parents could not afford anything better. The most notorious is the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire, attended by Charlotte Brontë and her two elder sisters. It was renamed Lowood  and described in vivid and unforgiving detail in Jane Eyre.

Working-class politics and the rise of the Labour party

The creation of a working-class electorate posed challenges to the Conservatives and the Liberals, in Europe as well as Britain. In the last three decades of the nineteenth century Socialist parties were founded on the Continent. The Marxist-inclined German Social Democrats, founded in 1875, were the most influential of these parties. 

Socialist ideas met with more resistance in Britain. Most British Socialists were not working class and were frequently hostile to the unions. Henry Hyndman, the Cambridge graduate who, along with Eleanor Marx, founded the Marxist Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in 1883, openly despised what he saw as their narrowly reformist agenda. Other middle-class socialists were William Morris, leader of the Socialist League and the anarchist Edward Carpenter.  The Fabians, founded in 1884, were middle class intellectuals (George Bernard ShawSidney and Beatrice Webb, Hubert Bland) with little contact with trade unionism. (Bland's wife is much better known!)

However, these were a minority. The British trade union movement was less ideological than its continental counterparts.


The 'new unionism'

For a while it looked as if working-class voters and activists would support the Liberals. However, Liberal constituencies were slow to adopt working-class candidates. The Liberals were also reluctant to adopt socialist policies such as the eight-hour day, being preoccupied instead with issues such as land control and public control of denominational schools rather than with workers' rights.

Monday, 18 January 2016

The fall of Parnell




This post owes a great deal to Paul Bew's entry on Parnell in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. You may be able to access it through your library website.

After 1886, with the failure of Gladstone's bill and the subsequent Liberal defeat in the general election, Home Rule remained the polarizing issue in British politics.

From March 1887 the Chief Secretary for Ireland was Salisbury’s nephew, Arthur Balfour, who was determined to assert the rule of law in that country. This was also the policy of his uncle, who believed that the Irish must take ‘a good licking’. Balfour stiffened the provisions of the Crimes Bill and subjected disaffected areas to a kind of martial law, under which Nationalist politicians, Roman Catholic priests and the poet Wilfred Scawen Blunt were imprisoned. In September 1887 an illegal demonstration took place at Mitchelstown, Co. Cork. The police panicked and fired into an unarmed crowd, killing three civilians and wounding others.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Ireland disrupts British politics

The debate over Home Rule 

The election of 1874 returned a spectacular number of fifty-nine MPs to Westminster who were committed to 'Home Rule', a demand for the repeal of the Act of Union of 1800. From 1878 their leader was an unlikely one -  the Protestant Irish landlord, Charles Stewart Parnell. His tactic of deliberately obstructing the business of the Commons led to the first impositions of the parliamentary 'guillotine'.

Charles Stewart Parnell (1841-91)
the 'uncrowned king of Ireland until
his fall in 1890 over a sex scandal

According to the great Irish historian, Roy Foster, the politics of Parnellism meant that 
'Home Rule was converted under a charismatic leader to an aggressive political campaign of threat and bluff, based on …a disciplined, pledge-bound, dictatorially organised party machine.…The Home Rulers would institutionalise Anglophobia, play publicity politics by demonstrating ostentatious "independence" on foreign policy issues, and emphasise the rhetoric of separatism when it suited them.' Modern Ireland (1989), pp. 398-9

From 1879 the Irish Land League disrupted the life of the Irish countryside in a campaign of implicit (sometimes explicit) rural violence that lasted for three years
Land League poster
and was as near to a revolutionary movement as anything seen in the United Kingdom between 1800 and 1914. Sixty-seven people were killed between 1879 and 1882.


One of the most prominent victims of the Land League policy was Captain Charles Boycott, sent to 'moral Coventry' for bidding for a farm that had previously been held by an evicted tenant.

Gladstone's second administration (1880-85) responded with a mixture of stick and carrot: a Coercion Act designed to restore order, and a land reform that provided tenants with the ‘3 Fs’: fair rents, fixity of tenure, and ‘free sale’ (of their holdings). This was the beginning of a movement that was to transform Ireland into a land of peasant proprietors.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

History of liberalism

John Stuart Mill, theorist of liberalism
For those who missed Anne McElvoy's very interesting history of liberalism on Radio 4, the link to all the programmes is here

Friday, 8 January 2016

Gladstone, Disraeli, and the creation of a mass electorate

Gladstone in old age

Politics in the 1870s and early 1880s was dominated by the figures of William Ewart Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. Both rose from middle-class backgrounds to lead their respective parties, and both presided over major reforms to the electoral system. 


The Second Reform Act

In 1859 Gladstone, previously a Peelite, now a Liberal, joined Palmerston’s government as Chancellor of the Exchequer. By the mid-1860s he had come to accept the necessity of further political reform, but everyone knew this could not happen while Palmerston was still alive. The old man had set his face against further reform and as long as he was Prime Minister there would be no changes to the Reform Act of 1832.


The first Earl Russell, the former Lord John Russell
Palmerston died in October 1865, shortly after winning another election for the Liberals, and he was succeeded by Earl Russell (the former Lord John Russell). Gladstone remained Chancellor of the Exchequer, but also became Leader of the Commons. Because the Conservative leader, the earl of Derby was in the Lords, Disraeli was the Tory spokesman in the Commons.

In March 1866 Gladstone introduced a bill for modest electoral reform, designed to enfranchise the ‘respectable’ working class. This was opposed by the Conservatives and some Liberals (whom the radical Liberal, John Bright derisively called 'Adullamites'. The bill was passed but by a very narrow majority. In June the bill was defeated on a wrecking amendment and Russell resigned. The Queen then sent for the Conservative leader.


Edward Stanley-Smith, 14th earl of Derby

For the third time in his political life, Derby found himself head of a minority Conservative administration, with Disraeli as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House. But the change of government did not mean that the reform issue was going away. With this in mind, Derby wrote to Disraeli: 
‘I am coming reluctantly to the conclusion that we shall have to deal with the question of reform’.
By early 1867 the Conservative government was in deep crisis. Derby and Disraeli believed that some reform was necessary but they were a minority government and they faced cabinet resignations and a backbench revolt. The only way to survive was to bring in a measure of reform. On 18 March Disraeli introduced a bill giving household suffrage in the boroughs, with other clauses, derisively known as 'fancy franchises' designed to ensure that the middle classes retained their political dominance. At this stage he did not want anything too radical.