1880 United Kingdom general election

Last updated

1880 United Kingdom general election
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
  1874 31 March – 27 April 1880 (1880-03-31 1880-04-27) [1] 1885  

All 652 seats in the House of Commons
327 seats needed for a majority
 First partySecond partyThird party
  Photo of Spencer Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire.jpg Illustrirtes Konversations-Lexikon; vergleichendes Nachschlagebuch fur den taglichen Gebrauch. Hausschatz fur das deutsche Volk und "Orbis pictus" fur die studirende Jugend (1870) (14781283621) (cropped).jpg No image.svg
Leader Marquess of Hartington Earl of Beaconsfield William Shaw
Party Liberal Conservative Home Rule
Leader sinceJanuary 187527 February 1868May 1879
Leader's seat North East Lancashire House of Lords County Cork
Last election242 seats, 52.0%350 seats, 44.3%60 seats, 3.7%
Seats won35223763
Seat changeIncrease2.svg110Decrease2.svg113Increase2.svg3
Popular vote1,836,4231,426,35195,535

United Kingdom general election 1880.svg
Colours denote the winning party

Prime Minister before election

Earl of Beaconsfield

Prime Minister after election

William Ewart Gladstone

The 1880 United Kingdom general election was a general election in the United Kingdom held from 31 March to 27 April 1880.


The intense rhetoric of the election was provided by the Midlothian campaign of the Liberals, led by the fierce oratory of Liberal leader William Ewart Gladstone. [2] Gladstone vehemently attacked the foreign policy of the government of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, as utterly immoral.

The Liberals secured one of their largest-ever majorities in the election, leaving the Conservatives a distant second. As a result of the campaign, the Liberal leaders, Lord Hartington and Lord Granville, withdrew in favour of Gladstone, who thus became Prime Minister a second time. It was the last election when the Liberals, or any party other than the Conservatives would win a majority of the votes cast in a general election.

Results summary

LiberalConservativeHome Rule
UK General Election 1880
StoodElectedGainedUnseatedNet% of total%No.Net %
  Liberal 499352+11053.9954.661,836,423+2.7
  Conservative 52123711336.3542.461,426,3511.8
  Home Rule 8163+39.662.8495,5350.9
  Independent 2000000.031,1070

Voting summary

Popular vote
Home Rule

Seats summary

Parliamentary seats
Home Rule


The Conservative government was doomed by the poor condition of the British economy and the vulnerability of its foreign policy to moralistic attacks by the Liberals. Gladstone, appealing to moralistic evangelicals, led the attack on the foreign policy of Disraeli (now known as Lord Beaconsfield) as immoral. [3] Historian Paul Smith paraphrases the rhetorical tone which focused on attacking "Beaconsfieldism" (in Smith's words) as a:

Sinister system of policy, which not merely involved the country in immoral, vainglorious and expensive external adventures, inimical to peace and to the rights of small peoples, but aimed at nothing less than the subversion of parliamentary government in favour of some simulacrum of the oriental despotism its creator was alleged to admire. [4]

Smith notes that there was indeed some substance to the allegations, but: "Most of this was partisan extravaganza, worthy of its target's own excursions against the Whigs." [5]

Crowds wait outside Leeds Town Hall to hear the result Leeds Town Hall, General Election results.jpg
Crowds wait outside Leeds Town Hall to hear the result

Disraeli himself was now the Earl of Beaconsfield in the House of Lords, and custom did not allow peers to campaign. His party was unable to deal effectively with the rhetorical onslaught. Although he had improved the organisation of the Conservative Party, Disraeli was firmly based in the rural gentry, and had little contact with or understanding of the urban middle class that was increasingly dominating his party.

Besides their trouble with foreign policy issues, it was even more important that the Conservatives were unable to effectively defend their economic record on the home front. The 1870s coincided with a long-term global depression caused by the collapse of the worldwide railway boom of the 1870s which previously had been so profitable to Britain. The stress was growing by the late 1870s; prices fell, profits fell, employment fell, and there was downward pressure on wage rates that caused much hardship among the industrial working class. The free trade system supported by both parties made Britain defenceless against the flood of cheap wheat from North America, which was exacerbated by the worst harvest of the century in Britain in 1879. The party in power got the blame, and Liberals repeatedly emphasised the growing budget deficit as a measure of bad stewardship. In the election itself, Disraeli's party lost heavily up and down the line, especially in Scotland and Ireland, and in the urban boroughs. His Conservative strength fell from 351 to 238, while the Liberals jumped from 250 to 353. Disraeli resigned on 21 April 1880. [6]

Regional results

Great Britain

United Kingdom general election 1885 (by country).svg
Largest party in each constituent country
PartySeatsSeats changeVotes%% change
Liberal 334Increase2.svg1041,780,17157.3Increase2.svg1.9
Lib-Lab 3Increase2.svg1
Conservative 214Decrease2.svg1051,326,74442.7Decrease2.svg1.9


PartySeatsSeats changeVotes%% change
Liberal 251Increase2.svg821,519,57656.2Increase2.svg2.4
Lib-Lab 3Increase2.svg1
Conservative 197Decrease2.svg831,205,99043.7Decrease2.svg2.5


PartySeatsSeats changeVotes%% change
Liberal 52Increase2.svg12195,51770.1Increase2.svg1.7
Conservative 6Decrease2.svg1274,14529.9Decrease2.svg1.7


PartySeatsSeats changeVotes%% change
Liberal 29Decrease2.svg1050,40358.8Decrease2.svg2.1
Conservative 4Decrease2.svg1041,10641.2Decrease2.svg2.1


PartySeatsSeats changeVotes%% change
Home Rule 63Increase2.svg395,53537.5Increase2.svg2.1%
Irish Conservative 24Decrease2.svg899,60739.8Increase2.svg1.0%
Liberal 15Increase2.svg556,25222.7Increase2.svg4.3%


PartySeatsSeats changeVotes%% change
Conservative 75,50349.2
Liberal 25,67550.8

See also

Related Research Articles

Benjamin Disraeli British Conservative Prime Minister

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.

Liberal Party (UK) political party of the United Kingdom, 1859–1988

The Liberal Party was one of the two major parties in the United Kingdom with the opposing Conservative Party in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The party arose from an alliance of Whigs and free trade-supporting Peelites and the 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 then won a landslide victory in the following year's general election.

William Ewart Gladstone British Prime Minister

William Ewart Gladstone was a British statesman and Liberal politician. In a career lasting over 60 years, he served for 12 years as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, spread over four terms beginning in 1868 and ending in 1894. He also served as Chancellor of the Exchequer four times.

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Historical sovereign state from 1801 to 1921

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was a sovereign state established by the Acts of Union 1800, which merged the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland. It existed until the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922 and the later renaming of the country to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1927.

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 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.

Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury British politician

Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury,, styled Lord Robert Cecil before the death of his elder brother in 1865, Viscount Cranborne from June 1865 until his father died in April 1868, and then the Marquess of Salisbury, was a British statesman, serving as prime minister three times for a total of over thirteen years. A member of the Conservative Party, he was the last prime minister to serve his term while a member of the House of Lords.

Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery British politician

Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, 1st Earl of Midlothian,, was a British Liberal politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from March 1894 to June 1895. Between the death of his father, in 1851, and the death of his grandfather, the 4th Earl of Rosebery, in 1868 he was known by the courtesy title of Lord Dalmeny.

Spencer Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire British statesman

Spencer Compton Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire,, styled Lord Cavendish of Keighley between 1834 and 1858 and Marquess of Hartington between 1858 and 1891, was a British statesman. He has the distinction of having served as leader of three political parties: as Leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons (1875–1880) and as of the Liberal Unionist Party (1886–1903) and of the Unionists in the House of Lords (1902–1903). He also declined to become prime minister on three occasions, not because he was not a serious politician but because the circumstances were never right.

Edward Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby British politician

Edward Henry Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby,, known as Lord Stanley from 1851 to 1869, was a British statesman. He served as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs twice, from 1866 to 1868 and from 1874 to 1878, and also twice as Colonial Secretary in 1858 and from 1882 to 1885.

Gathorne Gathorne-Hardy, 1st Earl of Cranbrook British politician

Gathorne Gathorne-Hardy, 1st Earl of Cranbrook,, known as Gathorne Hardy until 1878, was a prominent British Conservative politician, a moderate, middle-of-the road Anglican. He held cabinet office in every Conservative government between 1858 and 1892 and notably served as Home Secretary from 1867 to 1868 and as Secretary of State for War from 1874 to 1878.

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.

This article gives an overview of liberalism in the United Kingdom. It is limited to liberal parties with substantial support, mainly proved by having had a representation in parliament. The sign ⇒ denotes another party in that scheme. For inclusion in this scheme, it is not necessary that parties labelled themselves as a liberal party.

Midlothian campaign campaign

The Midlothian campaign of 1878–80 was a series of foreign policy speeches given by William Ewart Gladstone, leader of Britain's Liberal Party. It is often cited as the first modern political campaign. It also set the stage for Gladstone's comeback as a politician. It takes its name from the Midlothian constituency in Scotland where Gladstone successfully stood in the 1880 election.

Third Derby–Disraeli ministry Government of the United Kingdom

The Conservative government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland that began in 1866 and ended in 1868 was led by Lord Derby in the House of Lords and Benjamin Disraeli in the House of Commons.

Second Disraeli ministry Government of the United Kingdom

Benjamin Disraeli was appointed Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for a second time by Queen Victoria after William Ewart Gladstone's government was defeated in the 1874 general election. Disraeli's foreign policy was seen as immoral by Gladstone, and following the latter's Midlothian campaign, the government was heavily defeated in the 1880 general election, whereupon Gladstone formed his second government. The ailing Disraeli, by now created Earl of Beaconsfield, died in April 1881.

First Gladstone ministry Government of the United Kingdom

The Conservative government under Benjamin Disraeli had been defeated at the 1868 general election, so in December 1868 the victorious William Ewart Gladstone formed his first government. He introduced reforms in the British Army, the legal system and the Civil Service, and disestablished the Church of Ireland. In foreign affairs he pursued a peaceful policy. His ministry was defeated in the 1874 election, whereupon Disraeli formed a ministry and Gladstone retired as Leader of the Liberal Party.

Second Gladstone ministry Government of the United Kingdom

After campaigning against the foreign policy of the Beaconsfield ministry, William Gladstone led the Liberal Party to victory in the 1880 general election. The nominal leader of the Party, Lord Hartington, resigned in Gladstone's favour and Gladstone was appointed Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for a second time by Queen Victoria. He pursued a policy of parliamentary reform, but his government became wildly unpopular after the death of General Gordon in 1885. Gladstone was held responsible, and resigned, leaving the way free for the Conservatives under Lord Salisbury to form a government.

Gladstonian liberalism

Gladstonian liberalism is a political doctrine named after the British Victorian Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party, William Ewart Gladstone. Gladstonian liberalism consisted of limited government expenditure and low taxation whilst making sure government had balanced budgets and the classical liberal stress on self-help and freedom of choice. Gladstonian liberalism also emphasised free trade, little government intervention in the economy and equality of opportunity through institutional reform. It is referred to as laissez-faire or classical liberalism in the United Kingdom and is often compared to Thatcherism.

Premierships of William Ewart Gladstone

William Ewart Gladstone was Prime Minister of Great Britain on four separate occasions between 1868 and 1894. He was noted for his moralistic leadership and his emphasis on world peace, economical budgets, political reform and efforts to resolve the Irish Question. Gladstone saw himself as a national leader driven by a political and almost religious mission, which he tried to validate through elections and dramatic appeals to the public conscience. His approach sometimes divided the Liberal Party, which he dominated for three decades. Finally Gladstone split his party on the issue of Irish Home Rule, which he saw as mandated by the true public interest regardless of the political cost.

Premierships of Benjamin Disraeli

Benjamin Disraeli was the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on two separate occasions, first in 1868 and then between 1874 and 1880.


  1. "Data" (PDF), parliament.uk
  2. Fitzsimons 1960, pp. 187–201.
  3. Matthew 1997, pp. 293–312.
  4. Smith 1996, pp. 198–99.
  5. Smith 1996, p. 199.
  6. Smith 1996, pp. 202–3; Blake 1967, pp. 707–13, 717.