This book relates the political history of mid-nineteenth-century
Britain to the assumptions which then prevailed about the abstract
moral purposes of political activity. A great number of
mid-Victorian writers and politicians expressed far-reaching hopes
for the future development of British society, indeed for its
regeneration; and such hopes were inspired by their religious
outlook. They contended that these aims would be promoted by the
pursuit, by governments, of particular educational, ecclesiastical,
Irish and other policies. Part I of this book examines at length
the varying aspirations, in this direction, of the different
elements of Gladstone's Liberal party. In addition to Gladstone's
own views, those of whigs, broad churchmen, theist intellectuals,
high churchmen, liberal Catholics, nonconformists, secularist
radicals and spokesmen for working-men's interests are all
analysed, in an account which ranges far beyond the time limits
suggested by the book's title. Part II recounts the disputes within
the party which these conflicting aims provoked between 1867 and
1875. These years were marked by the rise and fall of Gladstone's
first and most active government, by the disestablishment of the
Irish Church in 1869 and the passage of the 1870 Elementary
Education Act. In addition, politicians were introduced to a long
series of broader and more intangible problems with connotations
for religious and political stability -- including those thrown up
by the 1867 Reform Act, the Vatican Council, the Franco-Prussian
war, the progress of the free-thinking movement, the rise of the
home rule party in Ireland, and the growth of ritualism within the
Church of England. Dr Parry shows howthe attempt to tackle these
issues slowly paralysed the effectiveness of Gladstone's
government, leading to its fall in 1874, and to a crisis about the
identity of British Liberalism which was never subsequently
resolved. A long introduction and conclusion reassess the history
of the Liberal party between 1832 and 1886, in the light of the
Dr. Parry's work offers a radically new synthesis of political,
intellectual and ecclesiastical history. It challenges the view
that nineteenth-century politics can be understood properly if it
is treated in primarily secular terms.
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