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Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday Ground Up: Liberalism During the 19th Century

Liberalism, such as parliaments and constitutions, during the 19th century was making great strides in the western European states. Mass politics, due to the emergence of a mass society during the Second Industrial Revolution, paved the way for ordinary citizens to be involved in the everyday operations of political life. Therefore, while reforms encouraged expansion of political democracy through voting rights for men, one Liberal leader was hindering the political and ideological movement towards modernization, and later on the spread of liberalism would be affected by the creation of new political parties.

New reforms in Great Britain, including the right to vote, were extended during the second ministry of William Gladstone with the Reform Act of 1884. All men that paid regular rents and taxes were able to vote and agricultural workers, previously excluded, added another 2 million voters to the electorate.

The following year, the Redistribution Act, introduced equally-populated constituencies and eliminated historic boroughs and counties. In 1911, salaries were paid to members of the House of Commons, thus further democratizing the institution, opening the door to individuals other than the wealthy.

In Ireland, reforms failed to solve issues related to land rights. The Irish were subject to British rule, especially since both the British and Irish parliaments had united in 1801. The Irish grew to detest the absent landowners, thus they continued to be self-conscious of their nationalistic tendencies.

When William Gladstone attempted to enact limited land reforms, all while the Irish were still being evicted, the Irish decided to make new demands. The formation of the Irish Land League called on the parliament to institute new land reform. The leader of the party, Charles Parnell, asked for home rule, which simply asked for a separate parliament, but lacking independence. The British failed to react to the demands, thus leading to attacks. William Gladstone attempted to pass a home rule bill in 1886, however it was shot down by the British Parliament, or more specifically the conservatives. Gladstone tried once again in 1893 while he was Prime Minister, however he once again met defeat.

In France, after the revolutionary Commune was crushed leaving a legacy of hatred, an improvised constitution was established that lasted for more than 65 years. This constitution did solidify the Third Republic of France, however it did still maintain enemies including the army officers, Catholic clergy, and monarchists.

General Georges Boulanger, a military officer, attracted public attention by all those discontented with the Third Republic. However, he lost his nerve to attack and fled France, thus rallying support for the republic.

On the other hand, Spain and Italy had not responded to liberal reforms. In Spain, conservatives sought to win support for their policies. In Italy, very few Italians felt empowered to embrace the new state, especially due to the constant corruption among government officials and changing coalitions. In Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary, authoritative forces, especially powerful monarchies and conservative social groups remained strong. Thus, liberalism could hardly hinder or help the old system of autocracy in the eastern European states.

During the 19th century, states experienced an atmosphere of national loyalty. However, in the western Europeans states, the government was reaching out to its citizens in order to encourage active loyalty to their nation. The same cannot be said for the eastern European states, who sought to maintain the old order.

Also check out: 

Authentic German Liberalism of the 19th Century--First of all, a massive shift has taken place in scholarly attention away from socialism, and especially from Marxism, towards liberalism. This has to do with some well-known events in world politics, namely, the collapse of "real-existing" socialist regimes. With that has come the general recognition that private property and free enterprise are indispensable for the furtherance of the wealth of nations. Read More about German Liberalism of the 19th Century

Picture Sources

William Gladstone

Gladstone and Land League


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