‘I wish they would make me Chancellor of the Exchequer’, Lowe had confided to Lady Salisbury in September 1868, in a broadside against the profligacy of Disraeli’s first government. ‘I think I possess the faculty of saying No as well as anyone and in that and not in superfine finance lies the real secret of financial prosperity/1 Now, three months later, he was Chancellor, appointed by a prime minister to whom saying No was ever a major virtue, albeit one which sprung from roots little recognised by Lowe. In Professor Winter’s words, Gladstone ‘was a passionate economiser because he had a social conscience; Lowe was a zealous economiser because he was a rationalist.’2 On 26 December 1868 Gladstone sent Lowe a long memorandum ‘trust[ing] to your indulgence in volunteering any suggestion’, and restating his confidence that Lowe could hold public spending down. The job was the hardest in the cabinet, Gladstone warned, not least because Lowe would find that whenever he did recommend any new expenditure, all those ministers whose demands he had refused ‘will look out with a preterhuman sharpness for the joints in your own armour’. If the proposals then failed to get through parliament, Lowe could expect to feel like ‘an ancient soldier wounded in the back’.


Public Spending Public Money Defence Spending Social Conscience Major Virtue 
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  1. 1.
    Lady Burghclere (ed.), A Great Lady’s Friendships: Letters to Mary, Marchioness of Salisbury and Countess of Derby, 1862–90, London, 1933, p. 197. At this stage Lowe believed that minority Conservative governments were the worst, being forced to bribe any number of special interests with public money if they wanted to stay in office. Gladstone, in contrast, thought lack of a majority was an essential restraint on Disraeli’s largesse. The experience of Disraeli with a majority, after 1874, soon converted Lowe to Gladstone’s view.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    James Winter, Robert Lowe, Toronto, 1976, p. 248.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    See G.C. Peden, ‘Public Expenditure, 1832–1914’ in Donald Winch and Patrick K. O’Brien (eds), The Political Economy of British Historical Experience, 1688–1914, Oxford, 2002.Google Scholar
  4. 15.
    Gillian Knight, Illiberal Liberal: Robert Lowe in New South Wales, 1842–50, Melbourne, 1966, p. 255.Google Scholar
  5. 17.
    Lowe to Earl Stanhope, 10 March 1873, quoted in Arthur Patchett Martin, Life and Letters of the Right Honourable Robert Lowe, Viscount Sherbrooke, London, 1893, vol. 2, p. 376.Google Scholar
  6. 22.
    Diary of Sir Henry Cole, 11 January 1869, quoted in D.W. Sylvester, Robert Lowe on Education, Cambridge, 1974, p. 210.Google Scholar

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© John Maloney 2005

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