Gladstone, William Ewart - Don’t hurt - Political franchise only for those who do not hurt
Type of Spiritual Experience
Gladstone sought to introduce spirituality in order to engender a conscience in people, the naturally moral and ethical behaviour of one who is in touch with ‘God’. Conscience is a feature of spiritual input. Without this input Nemesis and the Furies cannot work their divine will.
Gladstone tackled this firstly by seeking to enlarge the franchise thus providing a brake on parliament and business via laws made in parliament, via the people themselves.
In May 1864 Gladstone said that he saw no reason in principle why all mentally able men could not be enfranchised and in 1868, when he became Prime Minister for the first time, his first ministry saw the introduction of secret voting. On Palmerston's death in October, Earl Russell & Gladstone attempted to pass a reform bill. This was defeated in the Commons and the Conservatives under Disraeli passed the Second Reform Act of 1867. Gladstone extended the vote to agricultural labourers in the 1884 Reform Act, and added six million to the total number of people who could vote in parliamentary elections. Parliamentary reform continued with the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885.
During his 1886 administration he introduced his Home Rule Bill for Ireland. It failed, but Gladstone, says his biographer, "totally rejected the widespread English view that the Irish had no taste for justice, common sense, moderation or national prosperity and looked only to perpetual strife and dissension".
In February 1893 he introduced the Second Home Rule Bill, which was passed in the Commons at second reading on 21 April by 43 votes and third reading on 1 September by 34 votes. The House of Lords defeated the bill by voting against by 419 votes to 41 on 8 September.
It appears to have been this vote that helped to reinforce his view that the necessary balance between religion and power had broken down. At the time, the House of Lords was filled with landed gentry and religious leaders from the main institutionalised churches, as such it became more and more important to him that democracy was enlarged to dilute the power of a tiny unrepresentative few.
He continued to campaign to enlarge the number of people allowed to vote, but he also continually emphasised the need to place restrictions of who was allowed to vote. Voting was not a right but a privilege and one that, in a sense, needed to be earned. In simplified terms he said that
- those who showed them in some way mentally unable, or appeared to be disinclined to want to bother, to comprehend the intricacies of the subjects on which they were being asked to vote should not be allowed to vote
- those who had in any way hurt others by their actions and as such were MORALLY UNFIT to vote were also excluded
The difficulties he faced with these provisos were how does one measure them? In order to judge whether a person is morally fit and has not hurt anyone, one needs a far more effective justice system than was in place then and now.
And so he set about improving the justice system. As well as court reorganisation: in 1873, his leadership led to the passage of laws restructuring the High Courts.
Judging someone’s mental abilities is also tricky as who does the assessment? The fool is often more perceptive than the apparent clever man. These difficulties were never solved, although he continued to press the whole time to extend the number of people who were allowed to vote on the basis that democracy is better than dictatorship.
A description of the experience
John Ruskin's account of a dinner with Gladstone on 14 December 1878, published in Life of William Ewart Gladstone Volume II (1903) by John Morley, p. 582
Something like a little amicable duel took place at one time between Ruskin and Mr. G., when Ruskin directly attacked his host as a “leveller.”
“You see you think one man is as good as another and all men equally competent to judge aright on political questions; whereas I am a believer in an aristocracy.”
And straight came the answer from Mr. Gladstone,
“Oh dear, no! I am nothing of the sort. I am a firm believer in …. — the rule of the best. I am an out-and-out inequalitarian,” a confession which Ruskin treated with intense delight, clapping his hands triumphantly.