1859 United Kingdom general election

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1859 United Kingdom general election
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
  1857 28 April – 18 May 1859 (1859-04-28 1859-05-18) 1865  

All 654 seats in the House of Commons
328 seats needed for a majority
 First partySecond party
  Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston.jpg Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby (cropped).jpg
Leader Viscount Palmerston Earl of Derby
Party Liberal Conservative
Leader since6 February 1855July 1846
Leader's seat Tiverton House of Lords
Last election377 seats, 64.8%264 seats, 33.5%
Seats won356298
Seat changeDecrease2.svg21Increase2.svg34
Popular vote372,117193,232

1859 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

Viscount Palmerston

The 1859 United Kingdom general election returned Liberal Party to a majority of seats (356 out of 654) 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.


There is no separate tally of votes or seats for the Peelites. They did not contest elections as an organised party but more as independent Free trade Conservatives with varying degrees of distance from the two main parties.

It was also the last general election entered by the Chartists, before their organisation was dissolved. As of 2024, this is the last election in which the Conservatives won the most seats in Wales, [1] as well as being the last election to date in which the Conservative Party took less than a third of the vote in England.

The election was the quietest and least competitive between 1832 and 1885, with most county elections being uncontested. The election also saw the lowest number of candidates between 1832 and 1885, with Tory gains potentially being the result of a lack of opposition as much as a change in public opinion. [2] According to A.J.P. Taylor:

the government which Palmerston organized in June 1859 was a coalition of a different kind: not a coalition of groups which looked back to the past, but a coalition which anticipated the future. Had it not been for Palmerston himself—too individual, too full of personality to be fitted into a party-pattern—it would have been the first Liberal government in our history. Everything that was important in it was Liberal—finance, administrative reform, its very composition: the first government with unmistakable middle-class Free Traders as members. [3]


1859 UK parliament.svg
1859 United Kingdom general election
StoodElectedGainedUnseatedNet % of total %No.Net %
  Liberal 4653562154.4365.80372,1170.2
  Conservative 394298+3445.5734.17193,232+0.3
  Chartist 1000000.031510.1

Regional results

Great Britain

PartyCandidatesUnopposedSeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Liberal 392157306314,70866.6
Conservative & Peelites 327160245157,97433.4
Chartist 1001510.0
PartyCandidatesUnopposedSeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Liberal 330109251307,94967.1
Conservative & Peelite 286129209152,59132.9
Chartist 1001510.0
PartyCandidatesUnopposedSeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Liberal 4434405,17466.4
Conservative & Peelite 1711132,61633.6
PartyCandidatesUnopposedSeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Conservative & Peelite 1814172,76763.6
Liberal 1814151,58536.4


PartyCandidatesUnopposedSeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Irish Conservative & Peelite 67365335,25838.9
Liberal 73265057,40961.1


PartyCandidatesUnopposedSeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Conservative & Peelite 666

See also

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  1. Scully, Roger (4 May 2017). "Why Wales decided to forgive the Tories". The Spectator . Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  2. Hawkins, A. (18 June 1987), Parliament, Party and the Art of Politics in Britain, 1855–59, p. 377, ISBN   9781349089253
  3. A. J. P. Taylor "Lord Palmerston", History Today (1951) 1#7 pp 35-41 at p. 39