The history of the Liberal Party between 1830 and the World War may be divided into three periods. In the first (183o-65), which may be called the Whig period, the Whig aristocracy still filled all the cabinets, but the driving force came from other elements, notably the Benthamites (the Mills, Chadwick, Place, Parkes, etc.), the radical imperial ists (Durham, Wakefield, Molesworth, etc.), and the Manchester industrialists (Cobden, Bright, etc.). The foreign policy of this period was marked by a warm sympathy with the liberal and nationalist movements on the Continent, and a spirited opposition to the repressive policy still maintained by the monarchies of Eastern Europe. Palmerston was the chief representative of this view. In imperial affairs the period was of supreme importance ; it completely transformed the character of the British empire. The English-speaking colonies were systematically settled, they were also equipped with the full machinery of self-government. India was thrown open to western traders, teachers and missionaries (1833), the bar against the employment of Indians in responsible positions was removed, and a system of western education was introduced. Slavery was abolished throughout the empire (1833) and in the government of backward peoples the principle was es tablished that the first duty of administration was to protect the rights of native populations and safeguard them against exploita tion. In fiscal policy the agitation of the Anti-Corn-Law League brought about the establishment of free trade, which was com pleted by the budgets of Gladstone. In the political sphere the Reform Act of 1832 was followed by the creation of elected municipalities (1835) and boards of guardians (1834), as well as many other ad hoc local bodies. In the social sphere the foun dations of the factory code were laid by the act of 1833, which set up a body of factory inspectors whose reports led to later acts— mostly passed by Liberal Governments. The State regulation of education was begun (1839), and systematic provision for public health began with the Public Health Act of 1848. The new municipalities were given large social duties. The press was freed and the penny post established. The railway monopolies were brought under control; joint-stock companies were regulated; savings-banks were instituted, and friendly societies and other thrift organizations brought under State supervision.
The second period (1865-95) was the Gladstonian era, so completely dominated by the personality of Gladstone that Liberalism almost became Glad stonianism. In this period the .catchword "peace, retrenchment and reform" pre-eminently expresses the character of Liberal policy. Gladstone was profoundly pacific : in a famous speech at West Calder (1878) he laid down the principles of foreign policy in terms that almost anticipated the ideas of the League of Na tions. He and his foreign ministers strove to avoid foreign en tanglements, and "splendid isolation" became the note of British foreign policy. Nevertheless Gladstone retained a passionate sympathy with struggling nationalities (e.g., in the Balkans). He had little interest in imperial affairs and distrusted the school of radical imperialists, represented in this period by Forster, Dilke and Chamberlain. He disliked imperial expansion ; held aloof from
the race for African possessions; adopted a magnanimous but misunderstood policy of withdrawal in South Africa; and though he was drawn into Egypt, hated the entanglement and bungled the situation. In India, under Ripon and Lansdowne, the first steps were taken towards a system of self-government. Glad stone's main interests lay in finance, where he established exacting standards of economy under Treasury control, and in constitu tional reform. From 1868 to 1894 he was preoccupied with Ire land, where he strove to heal an age-long sore. This crusade aroused intense bitterness and severed from the Liberal Party most of the Whig aristocracy who had hitherto clung to it; but Gladstone has been justified by the later course of events. One aspect of his Irish policy—the Land Acts—involved a very sweeping departure from laissez-faire in the establishment of rent fixing courts. The period of his dominance also saw the establish ment of a national system of education (1870) ; an extension of democracy by the introduction of ballot-voting (1872) and the enfranchisement of the agricultural labourers (1884) ; the legali zation of trade unions (1871) ; a reconstruction of the army and the abolition of purchase of commissions; a complete reorganiza tion of the judicial system; and the abolition of religious tests in the universities.
Before the end of the Gladstonian regime the long ascendancy of the Liberal Party was waning. Apart from the short and em barrassed Ministry of 1892-95, there was a continuous period of Conservative government from 1886 to 1905. A fresh inspira tion was needed. An educated democracy was beginning to resent its position in the industrial order. The service of liberty de manded not merely the removal of restrictions, but the creation of the positive conditions in which the healthy development of individual faculty would be possible. The stir of ideas led, on the one hand, to a revival of Socialism and to the organization of the Labour Party. On the other hand, it brought about a steady change in the orientation of the Liberal Party; and the third period in the history of Liberalism (1895-1914) was pre-emi nently a period of social reorganization.
In 1906—largely as a result of Chamberlain's challenge to free trade—the Liberals returned to power with an overwhelming majority, and the next eight years were perhaps the most strenuous in the history of British politics. The whole period was overhung by the menace of Germany; and though Grey strove resolutely for peace, Britain was forced out of her traditional isolation and drawn into the vortex of European politics. At the same time a remarkable reorganization of the navy and the army was carried out—not without misgiving among the pacifist elements of the party. Without Haldane's work in the creation of the expeditionary force, of the territorial army, of the imperial general staff, and of the officers' training corps, Britain could not have played her part in the coming struggle.