The Ministerial Crisis of 1885

Robert Rhodes James describes the unexpected fall of Gladstone's government in June 1885, a cause of acute embarrassment to the parliamentary Opposition, whose victory caught them unprepared.

On Monday, June 8th, 1885, the second Gladstone Administration was defeated in the House of Commons by twelve votes on an Opposition amendment to the Budget moved by Sir Michael Hicks Beach.

The division 'which concluded the term of office of the Liberal Government is one of the minor curiosities of our political history.

The debate had been lifeless and torpid until Gladstone rose, just before one o’clock in the morning, to denounce the Opposition in his most scathing and energetic manner; he reiterated a warning made by Sir Charles Dilke earlier in the evening that the government regarded the motion as one of censure.

“It is a question of life and death,” he declared. “As such we accept it, and as such we do not envy those who if they gain the victory will have to bear the consequences.”

The House was puzzled, but it was not until the Question had been put from the Chair for the second time and the doors had been locked that it was realised that the ranks of the Ministerialists were unusually thin.

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