1852 United Kingdom general election

Last updated

1852 United Kingdom general election
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
  1847 7–31 July 1852 (1852-07-07 1852-07-31) 1857  

All 654 seats in the House of Commons
328 seats needed for a majority
 First partySecond party
  Frederick Richard Say (1805-1868) - Edward Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby - NPG 1806 - National Portrait Gallery.jpg John Russell, 1st Earl Russell by Sir Francis Grant detail.jpg
Leader Earl of Derby Lord John Russell
Party Conservative Whig
Leader sinceJuly 1846October 1842
Leader's seat House of Lords City of London
Last election325 seats, 42.7%292 seats, 53.8%
Seats won330 [1] 324
Seat changeIncrease2.svg5Increase2.svg32
Popular vote311,481430,882
Percentage41.9% [n 1] 57.9% [n 1]

1852 UK general election map.svg
Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results

Prime Minister before election

Earl of Derby

Prime Minister after election

Earl of Derby

The 1852 United Kingdom general election was a watershed in the formation of the modern political parties of Britain. Following 1852, the Tory/Conservative party became, more completely, the party of the rural aristocracy, while the Whig/Liberal party became the party of the rising urban bourgeoisie in Britain. The results of the election were extremely close in terms of the numbers of seats won by the two main parties.


As in the previous election of 1847, Lord John Russell's Whigs won the popular vote, but the Conservative Party won a very slight majority of the seats. However, a split between Protectionist Tories, led by the Earl of Derby, and the Peelites who supported Lord Aberdeen made the formation of a majority government very difficult. Lord Derby's minority, protectionist government ruled from 23 February until 17 December 1852. Derby appointed Benjamin Disraeli as Chancellor of the Exchequer in this minority government. However, in December 1852, Derby's government collapsed because of issues arising out of the budget introduced by Disraeli. A Peelite–Whig-Radical coalition government was then formed under Lord Aberdeen. Although the immediate issue involved in this vote of "no confidence" which caused the downfall of the Derby minority government was the budget, the real underlying issue was the repeal of the Corn Laws which Parliament had passed in June 1846 and had split the Conservative Party. In this election, there were 18 Peelites elected in England and Wales. The constituency of St Albans (UK Parliament constituency), with its two members, was disfranchised due to corruption. This accounts for the fact that there were two fewer seats in the House of Commons as compared to the previous election, though no redistribution took place.

Corn Laws

A group within the Tory/Conservative Party called the "Peelites" voted with the Whigs to achieve the repeal of the Corn Laws. The Peelites were so named because they were followers of Prime Minister Robert Peel. In June 1846, when Peel was the Prime Minister of a Tory government, he led a group of Tory/Conservatives to vote with the minority Whigs against a majority of his own party.

"Corn" was important to the cost of living of the average person in Britain during the early 19th century. The term "corn" did not refer to maize, as it did in the United States. In Britain, "corn" refers to wheat, rye and/or other grains. Wheat, or corn, was used in the baking of bread and was the "staff of life". Thus the price of wheat was a very substantial part of the cost of living. The Corn Laws enforced a very high "protective" tariff against the importation of wheat into England. These high tariffs raised the cost of living and increased the suffering of poor people in England. Agitation for the repeal of the Corn Laws had begun in England as early as 1837, and bills for their repeal had been introduced in Parliament each year from 1837 until their actual repeal in 1847.

Split in the Tory party

For some parliamentary leaders, like John Bright, Richard Cobden and Charles Pelham Villiers, the repeal of tariffs on imported corn was not enough. They wished to reduce the tariffs on all imported consumer products. These parliamentary leaders became known as "free traders". The repeal of the Corn Laws irrevocably split the Tory/Conservative party. The Peelites were not free traders, but both the Peelites and the free traders were originally Tories. Thus both the free traders and the Peelites tended to side with the Whigs against the Tories on international trade issues. This presented a real threat to any government the Tories attempted to form. The effect of this split was felt in the election of July–August 1847, when the Whig party won a 53.8% majority of seats in Parliament. The Whigs knew that they could count on the Peelite Conservatives when an international trade issue came before Parliament. In June 1852, the effects of the split in the Tory/Conservative party was having even more effect. The period after about 1847 was one of economic stagnation in Britain. [2]

Political parties

The split in the Tory party was a significant cause of the reformation of the political parties in Britain in the February 1852 election.

As noted above, in the election of 1852 the protectionist rump of the Conservatives became the party of the rural landholders, while the Liberals and Peelites became the party of the towns, boroughs and growing urban industrial areas of Britain.

In 1852, England elected 244 Conservatives and 216 non-Conservatives; Wales elected 20 Conservatives and 12 non-Conservatives, Scotland elected 20 Conservatives and 33 non-Conservatives, Ireland elected 40 Conservatives and 63 non-Conservatives whereas the Universities elected 6 Conservatives. [3]

Fall of the government in December 1852

The election of 1852 returned a majority in support of free-trade, but the minority Conservative government continued in office. An opportunity for the opposition arose in December 1852, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Benjamin Disraeli, introduced the budget of the Derby minority government. Due to the worsening economic situation, the budget imposed a number of tax increases on the profits of the middle class and granted some tax cuts for the rural landed aristocracy. The budget also extended the income tax to the Irish middle class, angering some of the members from Ireland who had supported the minority government on the Irish Church issue and were opposed to the previous Prime Minister, the Liberal leader Russell. [4] Consequently, a number of Irish Conservatives voted against the minority government on the Disraeli budget on 17 December 1852. This vote of "no confidence" caused the government to fall.

Following the fall of the minority government, Lord Aberdeen was called on to form a government, since the Irish Conservatives who opposed Disraeli's budget were opposed to Lord John Russell on religious issues and he formed a Peelite/Whig coalition government on 19 December 1852. This government served until 30 January 1855, when it too collapsed due to issues surrounding British involvement in the Crimean War. [5]


1852 UK parliament.svg
UK general election 1852
StoodElectedGainedUnseatedNet % of total %No.Net %
  Conservative 461330+550.4641.87311,4810.5
  Whig 488324+3249.5457.92430,882+4.1
  Chartist 400 1 100.211,541+0.1

While the Conservatives had, in theory, a slim majority over the Whigs, the party was divided between Protectionist and Peelite wings: the former numbered about 290 and the latter 35–40. The Whigs themselves represented a coalition of old Whigs (conservative Protestant/dissenter aristocrats), Liberals, Radicals, and Irish nationalists. The above numbers therefore do not represent the true balance of support in Parliament.

Voting summary

Popular vote
Whig and allies

Seats summary

Parliamentary seats
Whig and allies

Regional results

Great Britain

PartySeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Conservative & Liberal Conservatives 290+5
Whig 261-7
PartySeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Conservative & Liberal Conservatives 244+5
Whig 216-7
PartySeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Whig 33=
Conservative & Liberal Conservatives 20=
PartySeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Conservative & Liberal Conservatives 20
Whig 12


PartySeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Irish Conservative & Liberal Conservatives 40
Whig & Repealers 63


PartySeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Conservative & Liberal Conservatives 6Steady3.svg
Whig 0Steady3.svg

See also


  1. 1 2 Several country and university seats held by Conservatives were uncontested, and many urban multi-member constituencies that tended to vote Liberal had multiple candidates, so this is an misleading figure. Therefore, national swing is not applicable to elections in this era.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Benjamin Disraeli</span> Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1874 to 1880

Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, was a British statesman, Conservative politician and writer who twice served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He played a central role in the creation of the modern Conservative Party, defining its policies and its broad outreach. Disraeli is remembered for his influential voice in world affairs, his political battles with the Liberal Party leader William Ewart Gladstone, and his one-nation conservatism or "Tory democracy". He made the Conservatives the party most identified with the British Empire and military action to expand it, both of which were popular among British voters. He is the only British Prime Minister to have been born Jewish.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Liberal Party (UK)</span> Major political party in the United Kingdom from 1859 to 1988

The Liberal Party was one of the two major political parties in the United Kingdom, along with the Conservative Party, in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Beginning as an alliance of Whigs, free trade–supporting Peelites, and reformist Radicals in the 1850s, by the end of the 19th century, it had formed four governments under William Gladstone. Despite being divided over the issue of Irish Home Rule, the party returned to government in 1905 and won a landslide victory in the 1906 general election.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen</span> British politician

George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen,, styled Lord Haddo from 1791 to 1801, was a British statesman, diplomat and landowner, successively a Tory, Conservative and Peelite politician and specialist in foreign affairs. He served as Prime Minister from 1852 until 1855 in a coalition between the Whigs and Peelites, with Radical and Irish support. The Aberdeen ministry was filled with powerful and talented politicians, whom Aberdeen was largely unable to control and direct. Despite his trying to avoid this happening, it took Britain into the Crimean War, and fell when its conduct became unpopular, after which Aberdeen retired from politics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Robert Peel</span> English statesman (1788–1850)

Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet,, was a British Conservative statesman who served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, simultaneously serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1834–1835), and twice as Home Secretary. He is regarded as the father of modern British policing, owing to his founding of the Metropolitan Police Service. Peel was one of the founders of the modern Conservative Party.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Corn Laws</span> 19th-century trade restrictions on import food and grain in Great Britain

The Corn Laws were tariffs and other trade restrictions on imported food and corn enforced in the United Kingdom between 1815 and 1846. The word corn in British English denoted all cereal grains, including wheat, oats and barley. They were designed to keep corn prices high to favour domestic producers, and represented British mercantilism. The Corn Laws blocked the import of cheap corn, initially by simply forbidding importation below a set price, and later by imposing steep import duties, making it too expensive to import it from abroad, even when food supplies were short. The House of Commons passed the corn law bill on 10 March 1815, the House of Lords on 20 March and the bill received royal assent on 23 March 1815.

The Liberal Unionist Party was a British political party that was formed in 1886 by a faction that broke away from the Liberal Party. Led by Lord Hartington and Joseph Chamberlain, the party established a political alliance with the Conservative Party in opposition to Irish Home Rule. The two parties formed the ten-year-long coalition Unionist Government 1895–1905 but kept separate political funds and their own party organisations until a complete merger between the Liberal Unionist and the Conservative parties was agreed to in May 1912.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Russell, 1st Earl Russell</span> Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, 1846–1852 and 1865–1866

John Russell, 1st Earl Russell,, known by his courtesy title Lord John Russell before 1861, was a British Whig and Liberal statesman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1846 to 1852 and again from 1865 to 1866.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby</span> British statesman (1799–1869)

Edward George Geoffrey Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby,, known as Lord Stanley from 1834 to 1851, was a British statesman and Conservative politician who served three times as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. To date, he is the longest-serving leader of the Conservative Party. He is one of only four British prime ministers to have three or more separate periods in office. However, his ministries each lasted less than two years and totalled three years and 280 days. Derby introduced the state education system in Ireland, and reformed Parliament.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Charles Herries</span> British politician and financier

John Charles Herries PC, known as J. C. Herries, was a British politician and financier and a frequent member of Tory and Conservative cabinets in the early to mid-19th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1859 United Kingdom general election</span>

The 1859 United Kingdom general election returned Liberal Party to a majority of seats in the House of Commons. The Earl of Derby's Conservatives formed a minority government. but despite having made small overall gains in the election, Derby's government was defeated in a confidence vote by an alliance of Palmerston's Whigs together with Peelites, Radicals, and the Irish Brigade. Palmerston subsequently formed a new government from this alliance which is now considered to be the first Liberal Party administration.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1857 United Kingdom general election</span> Parliamentary elections

In the 1857 United Kingdom general election, the Whigs, led by Lord Palmerston, won a majority in the House of Commons as the Conservative vote fell significantly. The election had been provoked by a vote of censure in Palmerston's government over his approach to the Arrow affair which led to the Second Opium War.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1847 United Kingdom general election</span>

The 1847 United Kingdom general election was conducted between 29 July 1847 and 26 August 1847 and resulted in the Whigs in control of government despite candidates calling themselves Conservatives winning the most seats. The Conservatives were divided between Protectionists, led by Lord Stanley, and a minority of free-trade Tories, known also as Liberal Conservatives or the Peelites for their leader, former prime minister Sir Robert Peel. This left the Whigs, led by Prime Minister Lord John Russell, in a position to continue in government.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sir James Graham, 2nd Baronet</span> British statesman (1792–1861)

Sir James Robert George Graham, 2nd Baronet was a British statesman, who notably served as Home Secretary and First Lord of the Admiralty. He was the eldest son of Sir James Graham, 1st Baronet, by Lady Catherine, eldest daughter of the 7th Earl of Galloway.

The Peelites were a breakaway dissident political faction of the British Conservative Party from 1846 to 1859. Initially led by Robert Peel, the former Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader in 1846, the Peelites supported free trade whilst the bulk of the Conservative Party remained protectionist. The Peelites later merged with the Whigs and Radicals to form the Liberal Party in 1859.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Leader of the Opposition (United Kingdom)</span> Politician who leads the official opposition in the United Kingdom

The Leader of His Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition, more commonly referred to as the Leader of the Opposition, is the person who leads the Official Opposition in the United Kingdom. The position is seen as the shadow head of government of the United Kingdom and thus the shadow prime minister of the United Kingdom.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Who? Who? ministry</span>

Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby led the "Who? Who?" ministry, a short-lived British Conservative government which was in power for a matter of months in 1852. Lord Derby was Prime Minister and Benjamin Disraeli served as Chancellor of the Exchequer. It marked the first time the protectionist wing of the Conservative Party had taken office since the Corn Laws schism of 1846. It is also called the First Derby–Disraeli ministry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of the Conservative Party (UK)</span> Aspect of British political history

The Conservative Party is the oldest political party in the United Kingdom and arguably the world. The current party was first organised in the 1830s and the name "Conservative" was officially adopted, but the party is still often referred to as the Tory party. The Tories had been a coalition that more often than not formed the government from 1760 until the Reform Act 1832. Modernising reformers said the traditionalistic party of "Throne, Altar and Cottage" was obsolete, but in the face of an expanding electorate 1830s–1860s it held its strength among royalists, devout Anglicans and landlords and their tenants.

The Derby Dilly was a name given to a group of dissident Whigs who split from the main party under the leadership of Edward, Lord Stanley on the issue of the reorganisation of the Church of Ireland in 1834. Stanley and three others resigned from the cabinet of Lord Grey on this particular issue but other factors included their fear that the Whigs were appeasing their radical and Irish allies with further reforms.


  1. Including Peelites, who elected 14 MPs in England, 2 MPs in Scotland, 3 MPs in Ireland and 4 MPs in Wales, as well as 1 MP from Oxford University.
  2. Duncan Brack; Robert Ingham; Tony Little, eds. (8 September 2015). British liberal leaders. Biteback Publishing. ISBN   9781849549714.
  3. Craig, Fred W. S. (1989). British parliamentary election results, 1832-1885 (2nd ed.). Aldershot, Hants, England: Parliamentary Research Services. ISBN   0900178264.
  4. Clarke, Charles (2015). British Conservative leaders. London. ISBN   9781849549707.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  5. Hawkins, Angus (2007–2008). The forgotten prime minister : the 14th Earl of Derby. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN   9780199204410.

Further reading