Gladstone’s reforms during his first ministry Part 2

Gladstone disliked the approach taken by Palmerston to foreign policy. Palmerstone pursued an aggressive ‘gunboat-diplomacy’ style, which Gladstone found distasteful and ‘un-British’. (Evidence of this can be seen in the Don Pacifico affair in 1850). (Read more after Break)

Gladstone’s Contradictions

·      Gladstone was very keen on Italian unification in 1858/9. He believed in self-determination and the liberty of small nations. But, what about India and the rest of the empire? The British were harsh on the Indians after the 1857 Mutiny.
·      There was also a tension between maintaining an empire with all its costs and demands associated with doing so, and his attachment to low government spending.
·      Gladstone spoke about protecting the empire and British interests but his rational approach to foreign policy made him look weak and spineless.

Franco-Prussian War
·      France attacked Prussia: Gladstone was determined to stay out of the conflict.
·      Britain had neither the military strength nor will to get involved.
·      The problem for Britain was that she was then not involved the peace negotiations that followed.

Black Sea Clauses
1.   Russia had been forbidden from keeping her fleet in the Black Sea after her defeat in the Crimean War.
2.   During the Franco-Prussian war Russia broke this agreement.
3.   At the London Conference Gladstone agreed to Russia’s decision to rearm.
4.   The British public believed Gladstone was too scared to stand up to a great power such as Russia.

Alabama arbitration
Gladstone agreed to pay £750,000 compensation to the USA for damage done by the Alabama, a British-built ship, during the American civil war. This gave the impression that Gladstone was weak and feeble, giving in to American demands in an instant.  It wasn’t that Gladstone was making the wrong decisions, but rather that he was being perceived as a coward and a push-over who was willing to avoid conflict at all costs, to the detriment of the Empire.

Final Analysis
·      It was proving difficult to keep together the conflicting parts of the Liberal Party.
·      Lots of important legislation: Gladstone also set up a Royal Commission to look into the important issue of public health.
·      Problem was that legislation was often half-hearted or contradictory. It couldn’t go far enough for fear of offending one or more groups. For example, Trade Union legislation: offered legal rights but banned strikes. This irritated both the Whigs and the Radicals.
·      The Forster Education Bill only succeeded with the help of the Conservatives: even then it alienated both Anglicans and nonconformists. His Irish legislation alarmed property owners.
·      All of this was a gift to Disraeli and the Tories. Disraeli was able to promise unity for the nation. In his Crystal Palace and Manchester speeches of 1872 he promised to bring about ‘Tory Democracy’: emphasising traditional institutions which were Crown, Church and Constitution, the significance of the Empire and an acceptance of social reforms. Disraeli promised a period of stability after the manic years of Gladstone.

Further comments on Foreign Policy:

·      Emphasised nationalism: people should have the right to self-determination.
·      Wanted to revive the idea of the Concert of Europe.
·      Wanted to maintain the balance of power.
·      Contradictions: for example he is determined to retain Ireland within the Union of the UK. Rights to Independence are not extended to India or to Africa
·      In 1884, Gladstone allows for Egypt to be bombarded by British warships and annexed. The reason for this was that Egypt was facing a nationalist struggle; it is an important strategic route to India.
·      By taking Egypt it could be argued that Gladstone was defending British strategic interests.

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