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

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 repeal of the Corn Laws which Parliament had passed in June 1846.

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 1847–48 had been one of economic stagnation in Britain, but 1849–52 saw a return to prosperity. [2] Indeed, 1852 proved to be "one of the most signal years of prosperity England ever enjoyed". [3] The Whigs and Peelites felt that the repeal of the Corn Laws had brought about the prosperity, and wished to take credit for this. The Free Traders agreed, and continued to press for the repeal of all tariffs on consumer goods to achieve continued prosperity.

Ministerialists and Oppositionists

The split in the Tory party was a significant cause of the reformation of the political parties in Britain in the February 1852 election. To understand this, it may be easier to consider the British political party structure in 1852 by using the labels "Ministerialists" (the protectionist Tory/Conservatives) and the Oppositionists (the Whigs, Free Traders and Peelites). [4]

As noted above, in the election of 1852 the Ministerialists became the party of the rural landholders, while the Oppositionists became the party of the towns, boroughs and growing urban industrial areas of Britain. In the 1852 election, the borough constituencies of England elected 104 Ministerialists to Parliament and 215 Oppositionists; while the (more rural) county constituencies of England elected 109 Ministerialists and only 32 Oppositionists. [4] There were similar results in Wales and Scotland: the boroughs of Wales elected 10 Oppositionists and only 3 Ministerialists, while the counties of Wales elected 11 Ministerialists and 3 Oppositionists. [4] The Scottish boroughs elected 25 Oppositionalists and not a single Ministerialist, while Scottish counties elected 14 Ministerialists and 13 Oppositionists. [4] Only in Ireland was this political formation less clear-cut, as the boroughs in Ireland elected 14 Ministerialists and 25 Oppositionists, [5] while the counties of Ireland elected 24 Ministerialsts and 35 Oppositionists. [5] The Irish Oppositionists were known as the "Irish Brigade".

Fall of the government in December 1852

Although the Ministerialists, elected in 1852, were initially loyal to the Tory/Conservatives, the Irish Brigade knew that they would be able to count on support from some of the Irish Ministerialists if and when a purely Irish issue arose in Parliament. The Irish were seeking tenant rights for Ireland. [6] An opportunity for the Irish Oppositionists to pull some Irish Ministerialists over to the Opposition arose in December 1852 when the Chancellor of Exchequer, Benjamin Disraeli, introduced the budget of the Derby minority government. This budget imposed a number of tax increases on the profits of the rising bourgeoisie and granted a number of tax cuts for the rural landed aristocracy. [7] This budget also extended the income tax to the Irish bourgeoisie, thus angering some of the Irish Ministerialists who had been supporting the minority government. [7] Consequently, a number of Irish Ministerialists voted against the minority government on the Disraeli budget on 17 December 1852. This vote of "no confidence" caused the government to fall. [8]

Following the fall of the minority government, Lord Aberdeen was called on to form a government, and he formed a Peelite/Whig 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.


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 Whigs, 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

See also


  1. Including Peelites. The Peelite faction elected 45 MPs, 28 in England, 6 in Wales, 8 in Scotland and 3 in Ireland.
  2. Marx, p. 358: "Pauperism and Free Trade The Approaching Commercial Crisis"
  3. Marx, p. 359: "Pauperism and Free Trade The Approaching Commercial Crisis"
  4. 1 2 3 4 Marx, p. 348: "Result of the Elections"
  5. 1 2 Marx, p. 349: "Result of the Elections"
  6. Marx, p. 668, note 236
  7. 1 2 Marx, p. 462: "Parliament Vote of November 26 Disraeli's Budget"
  8. Marx, p. 474: "Superannuated Administration Prospects of the Coalition Ministry"

Related Research Articles

Benjamin Disraeli Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, was a British politician of the Conservative Party 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 glory and power of the British Empire. He is the only British prime minister to have been of Jewish birth. He was also a novelist, publishing works of fiction even as prime minister.

George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen British politician

George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen, styled Lord Haddo from 1791 to 1801, was a British statesman, diplomat and Scottish 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.

Robert Peel British Conservative statesman

Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet, was an English Conservative statesman who served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 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.

Corn Laws 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 grain ("corn") enforced in the United Kingdom between 1815 and 1846. The word corn in British English denotes all cereal grains, including wheat, oats and barley. They were designed to keep grain prices high to favour domestic producers, and represented British mercantilism. The Corn Laws blocked the import of cheap grain, initially by simply forbidding importation below a set price, and later by imposing steep import duties, making it too expensive to import grain from abroad, even when food supplies were short.

John Russell, 1st Earl Russell Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1846 to 1852 and 1865 to 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.

Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby British Prime Minister

Edward George Geoffrey Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, was a British statesman, three-time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and, to date, the longest-serving leader of the Conservative Party. He was known before 1834 as Edward Stanley, and from 1834 to 1851 as Lord Stanley. He was scion of one of Britain's oldest, wealthiest and most powerful families. 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 abolished slavery, educated Ireland, and reformed Parliament.

John Charles Herries

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.

1859 United Kingdom general election

In the 1859 United Kingdom general election, the minority Conservative government of Earl of Derby failed to achieve a majority of seats in the House of Commons. Despite making overall gains, Derby's government was defeated in a confidence vote by an alliance of the Whigs, led by Lord Palmerston and other political groupings including the Peelites, Radicals and the Irish Brigade. Palmerston subsequently formed a new government from this alliance which is now considered to be the first official Liberal Party administration.

1847 United Kingdom general election

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 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.

1841 United Kingdom general election

In the 1841 United Kingdom general election, there was a big swing as Sir Robert Peel's Conservatives took control of the House of Commons. Melbourne's Whigs had seen their support in the Commons erode over the previous years. Whilst Melbourne enjoyed the firm support of the young Queen Victoria, his ministry had seen increasing defeats in the Commons, culminating in the defeat of the government's budget in May 1841 by 36 votes, and by 1 vote in a 4 June 1841 vote of no confidence put forward by Peel. The Whigs and Tories were at odds over whether Melbourne's defeat required his resignation, with the Queen being advised by Lord Brougham that calling an election would be without precedent, and that it should only be dissolved to strengthen the government's hands, whereas dissolution facing the Whigs in 1841 was expected to result in their defeat. Melbourne himself opposed dissolution, although his cabinet came to accept it, and Melbourne requested the Queen dissolve Parliament, leading to an election. The Queen thus prorogued Parliament on 22 June.

Sir James Graham, 2nd Baronet 19th-century British statesman

Sir James Robert George Graham, 2nd Baronet was a British statesman. He was descended from a family long famous in the history of the English border.

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.

Radicals (UK)

The Radicals were a loose parliamentary political grouping in Great Britain and Ireland in the early to mid-19th century, who drew on earlier ideas of radicalism and helped to transform the Whigs into the Liberal Party.

Who? Who? ministry

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.

History of the Conservative Party (UK)

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.

In parliamentary politics, balance of power is a situation in which one or more members of a parliamentary or similar chamber can by their uncommitted vote enable a party to attain and remain in minority government. The term may also be applied to the members who hold that position. The members holding the balance of power may guarantee their support for a government by either joining it in a coalition government or by an assurance that they will vote against any motion of no confidence in the government or will abstain in such a vote. In return for such a commitment, such members may demand legislative or policy commitments from the party they are to support. A person or party may also hold a balance of power in a chamber without any commitment to government, in which case both the government and opposition groupings may on occasion need to negotiate for that person's or party's support.

Quintin Dick was an Irish Peelite, independent, Conservative, and Tory politician, and barrister.