‘A Leap in the Dark’, 1866–8

  • Angus Hawkins


The turbulent events of 1866 brought to a head those party tensions deferred, since 1859, by Palmerston’s longevity. The dramatic outline of what occurred reveals the powerful undercurrents that surged just below the calm surface of Palmerston’s genial dominance. In March 1866 Russell and Gladstone introduced a modest reform bill. They proposed a £7 borough franchise qualification and a £ l4 household county franchise. Subsequently they proposed that 49 seats be taken from small boroughs for redistribution. Yet, despite its cautious character, the bill prompted vigorous opposition from a group of dissident Liberals, labelled by Bright the ‘Adullamite Cave’, which included Robert Lowe, Edward Horsman, Lord Elcho and Lord Grosvenor. Bright’s jibe was a Biblical reference to the Book of Samuel and the cave in which David sought refuge from Saul. In June 1866 the Liberal reform bill was brought down by a hostile amendment moved by the Adullamite Lord Dunkellin. Some 48 Liberals voted with the Conservatives. Russell resigned and Derby formed his third ministry. Gladstone had pushed for a dissolution, the election to be held on the reform issue; but Brand warned that this would be a fatal mistake, putting the Conservatives in power for years.


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© Angus Hawkins 1998

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  • Angus Hawkins

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