Gladstone and Parliamentary Reform, 1832 – 1894
Michael Partridge charts the changing political views of the Grand Old Man of 19th-century British politics.
If, Sir, the nobility, the gentry, the clergy are to be alarmed, overawed, or smothered by the expression of popular opinion such as this, and if no great statesman be raised up in our hour of need to undeceive this unhappy multitude ... the day of our greatness and stability is no more, and ... the chill and damp of death are already creeping over England’s glory.
This comment, on a Bill designed to reform the House of Commons, was written by the 21-year-old William Ewart Gladstone in 1832, while a student at Oxford University. When, 63 years later, he made his final speech in the Commons, he warned the House of Lords that their days were numbered if they continued to oppose the wishes of the majority of the population. Far from becoming more conservative as he grew older, Gladstone became one of the more radical supporters of Parliamentary reform, a move which puzzled many of his contemporaries.