Leap in the Dark

Leap in the Dark
Article by Paul Smith
• ‘Leap in the Dark’ = a hunting metaphor.
What would happen after the 1867 Reform Bill?
2 big questions
Why did Conservatives pass such a radical Bill?
How did they get it through the House of Commons?
• Answers either through a macro (big social forces) approach
or a micro (look at details of events) approach.
Great social forces (macro approach)
• Powerful forces in British society in 1860’s
• Victory of ‘democratic’ north over ‘aristocratic’
south in Am civil war
• British w/c more respectable – worthy of full
• But Macro approach must combine with micro
Pressure from below
• Historian Royden Harrison- Hyde park riots
against background of cholera epidemic and
economic depression put pressure on Parliament.
Reform league.
• But recent studies are sceptical of this view – no
evidence that the govt or parl was intimidated or
coerced by pressure of agitation (no external
• Activity of Reform league and demonstrations
helped persuade politicians of necessity for
reform but not to pass such a radical Act
The Conservatives’ position
• Party politics sees manoeuvring for position
• Disraeliregains initiative after 20 years out of
office - ‘cynical opportunism’ or ‘Tory
• Strategic needs of Tories? How to get back to
power and square things with their principles?
Tactical opportunity
Death of Palmerston
Liberal split – Adullamites
Tories need to settle great debate over Reform
It was a major advantage to keep details of
Reform in Con hands so that franchise and
redistribution were adjusted to their needs.
Tory Democracy?
• Disraeli’s vision of Tory Democracy. i.e the idea that Disraeli
passed 1867 act because there might be large numbers of
working classes who would vote Tory.
• Modern historians say this was not the case.
• In fact Disraeli had been wary of introducing a reform bill at
• The reality was that it did not matter how many voted in the
boroughs (towns) because this could be balanced out by
redistribution of seats to the counties.
• The point was that Disraeli preferred any concessions to avoid
his Conservative bill being defeated.
Ideological Dimension
•How did men of property reconcile themselves to a new
working class majority in the boroughs?
•Himmelfarb says – it was easier for Conservatives to accept
reform than Liberals. Why?
•Conservatives had a greater faith in the obedience of the
masses to traditional authority.
•Vincent says ‘Disraeli was a Conservative social optimist….. Too
sceptical to feel threatened or fearful as Liberals did.’
•After the Bill passed at the Carlton Club – Conservative HQ
‘here’s to the man who rode the race, who took the time, who
kept the time, and who did the trick’
•Disraeli ‘dished the Whigs’

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