Oxford University parliamentary election 1865

Until 1950, graduates of Oxford University elected two Members of Parliament - details here. They were almost invariably Tory/Conservative (though in the final years - incidentally, from 1918 elections were by single transferrable vote - there were a few Independents, including the doughty A.P. Herbert). However, future Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, first elected in 1847 as a 'Peelite' or 'Liberal Conservative' (supporting Robert Peel, a previous holder of one of the seats), retained his seat when he became a Liberal in 1859 - but then lost it to a relatively-unknown Conservative, Gathorne Hardy, in 1865 (who became a peer in 1878). Though a devout and committed Churchman, Gladstone had become suspect for his support for Irish disestablishment and electoral reform. (He was elected for South Lancashire a month later, and claimed that he was henceforth 'unmuzzled' - see below - from the rather particular expectations of his Oxford 'constituents'.)

George Akers, curate at St Saviour & St Cross mission chapel (an Oriel College graduate), published a pamphlet Oxford University Election, which is the Church candidate, Mr Hardy or Mr Gladstone? (Masters 1865) urging voters to support Hardy. This was commended in the following article in the high-Tory, high-church Union Review, which makes interesting reading for the following reasons:
- its assumption that 'liberal' is a dirty word, both politically and theologically - equating the two by a series of specious arguments (and in the process misrepresenting Gladstone's position)
-  its smug assumption that Oxford (the 'first university') knows what is best for the church and for the nation, whatever others may say [and note that The Guardian to which it refers in caustic terms was a weekly - and high-church - church publication, and not the daily paper which was then known as the Manchester Guardian].
- its unashamed recognition that the church should have, and fight to maintain, 'privileges'.

Having been lauded for his robust defence of the church-state position which be believed the Conservative candidate would uphold, three years later Akers abandoned his position and became a Roman Catholic.

The issue is not without contemporary resonances, for within the present coalition government it is the Liberal Democrats (whom on other issues many Christians would support) rather than the Conservatives who are bent on elements of disestablishment - such as the removal of bishops from the House of Lords, and opposition to church schools; though both parties seem keen to unpick (perhaps unwittingly) the historic concordance between church and state on the nature of marriage, with novel proposals to create separate categories of civil and religious unions.

The Union Review, a magazine of Catholic Literature and Art, vol 3, page 646ff


ART XLIII.— 1. Is Mr. Gladstone the Right Man for Oxford University? The question ansivered in the negative by himself.
2.    Mr Gladstone and Oxford.  A Vindication of Mr Gladstone's Political Consistency. By SCRUTATOR. London: Rivingtons. 1865
3.    Oxford University Election, which is the Church candidate, Mr. Hardy or Mr. Gladstone?  By A CATHOLIC CHURCHMAN [Rev. George Akers].  London:  Masters. 1865.
4.    An Authentic Copy of the Poll for two Burgesses to serve in Parliament for the University of Oxford etc.  Oxford:  at the Clarendon Press 1865.

The victory is at length won, and we may reasonably sing our Pæan.  Gathering force from every defeat, the Conservatives at Oxford have succeeded in ousting the future leader of the Liberals from his University seat, liberating thereby Catholic Oxford from a son unfaithful to her traditions. Our own sentiments on the subject have often been freely expressed, so that our readers will not be taken by surprise by them now. We have ever adhered to the old-fashioned and somewhat unpopular notion, that the Church finds her truest ally in that party which conserves what is ancient, and suspects what is new; and we have been totally unable to set aside these notions in favour of one brilliant specimen of that monstrous idea, a Liberal Catholic. And at last we rejoice to find that we are not singular in these sentiments, but that a majority of the first University in the world has emphatically declined to substitute such an one for a Conservative Churchman. Moreover, it is an undeniable fact which cannot be glossed over, that the recent majority represents the Church party, whose adhesion on this occasion has turned former defeats into victory. Without their natural leaders, and with thinned ranks, yet they have nobly rallied, and having found a candidate whom all agree in commending, they have triumphantly set him above his redoubtable rival. It is this which ought to make it clear that no mere political bigotry has rejected Mr. Gladstone, but a deep and strong feeling that despite fair-seeming, he was an enemy to the Church, and must be unmasked, even if he were "unmuzzled" in the process.

Of course there has been a noisy chorus of discordant howls from all sides. The Times and the Telegraph have, with much stage thunder, denounced unutterable woes on guilty Oxford; angry ecclesiastics have vented their spleen in the weekly Church papers; the Guardian, with solemn malice has arraigned the successful majority to answer before its bar for their terrible misdemeanour; and last, not least, Mr. Gladstone himself affectionately warns the University that a judgment is coming upon her for the slight she has cast upon him. Meanwhile, with great significance, the Dissenting and Rationalist serials congratulate themselves on the bursting of the last link which bound their champion to the cause of the Church, and all seek to wither with their scorn the unhappy Churchmen who mistrust the politics of the "Liberation" Society even when advocated by Dr. Pusey and Mr. Keble.

It is this strange determination to treat Oxford Conservatives as either criminals or idiots which moves us to say a faw words, not so much in defence— for a righteous act needs no defence, —but in vindication of the motives of Mr Hardy's supporters. Faithful to the motto "throw mud enough, and some of it will be sure to stick", the motley crowd of Mr. Gladstone's supporters seeks by mere iteration to convince the world that political Churchmen are but ignorant bigots, and that to be an Establishmentarian it is necessary to be an Erastian. They decline to allow the possibility of honourable conviction to their opponents. Party spite or rustic stupidity must have actuated them, and the most educated constituency in the world is gravely informed that the roughs of Lambeth or Marylebone are more worthy the franchise than they. Let it be noted, however, before we proceed with our vindication, that this same tempest of spleen, rising from such diverse quarters, is in itself a very sufficient justification of the conduct of Churchmen. Why should the Guardian be spiteful, or the Times in a passion, but that they and theirs have suffered a terrible blow?  What is there to resent in the choice of Oxford, but that it indicates indisputably that educated England will not endure democracy in politics or religion? Churchmen do not generally seek for commendation in the pages of the Times or the Telegraph; and Catholics seldom find it in the now Whig-Liberal Guardian. The favourite of these, then, is not likely to be approved of by those, and their indignation ought to satisfy a Catholic Churchman that he has acted rightly in provoking it.

The broad ground on which the opposition to Mr Gladstone was taken up, was that Oxford is conservative in its politics, ecclesiastical as well as civil, and that therefore no "Church Liberal" (if such a being exists in very truth), however splendid his talents, however immaculate in his private character, could fitly represent her in Parliament. The issue had not been fairly tried in any former election, for so Tory were Mr. Gladstone's antecedents, and so specious his professions, that the Church party could never before persuade itself to distrust its favourite champion. Yet even then murmurs were heard. Eminent Churchmen withdrew themselves, one by one, from his ranks and those who remained grew, in many instances, very cold in their allegiance. Besides which, there had never before been proposed a candidate who had won the confidence of Churchmen. Mr. Round [who stood, unsuccessfully, as a Conservative in 1847] was a Low Churchman, and then Mr. Gladstone came in triumphantly on the shoulders of the Church party; Dr. Marsham and Mr. Perceval [unsuccessful Conservative candidates in 1852 and 1853] were not well enough known, nor indeed definite enough in their professions to be satisfactory, though the latter was very much under-rated. Still, therefore Mr. Gladstone remained. The strong support given to Lord Chandos (now Duke of Buckingham) [unsuccessful Conservative candidate in 1859] evidenced growing discontent, but the complaint was still the same—no rival candidate had been found with sufficient claims to stir up Churchmen, as a body, to support him. So Mr. Gladstone still held his own, and the representative of Oxford, and through Oxford, of the Church of England, was still permitted to advocate in Parliament the loosening of those bonds which hold together Church and State, with a scarcely concealed view to their final dissolution.

But no sooner was a man found who claimed to be a Tory in the fullest and truest sense of the word, namely a conserver of Ecclesiastical traditions as well as of those of the State, than the case was altered. An escapement was offered for the growing discontent of men who had once been fervent adherents of Mr. Gladstone. For in Mr. Gathorne Hardy they found the champion, not of the Record (as "Scrutator" unworthily suggests), but of the Church, and one in whose ability they could confide, without mistrusting his political principles. They had observed and admired Mr. Hardy's chivalrous defence of the Church in the various parliamentary assaults made upon her, and they could not help contrasting it with the silence or hostility of their then representative. Time after time, as one debate or division had succeeded another, tbey had asked "What further defence can be made for Mr. Gladstone?" and on each occasion the shifty Guardian, or yet more shifty "Scrutator", would put them off with excuses, themselves needing an apology, and grossly-perverted rendering of the case. There had been a traditional policy belonging to Oxford, that of respecting the past and resenting all radical change, but this, when applied to the Church, and the relations of Oxford to the Church, became of yet greater moment. Churchmen know that Oxford was founded by and for the Church, to strengthen her stakes and lengthen her cords. They expect Oxford's sons to be the Church's champions, and to vindicate for her the exclusive right religiously to teach and govern Christian England. Now there has grown up round Mr. Gladstone a school calling themselves "Liberal" Churchmen, who look on Oxford indeed as the educator of the nation, but would compel her to educate each man in his own pet heresy or schism; and who, as a matter of taste, attach themselves to the Church, but would deny to their spiritual mother the exclusive monopoly of the truth which she claims. Oxford and Oxford Churchmen have, over and over again, emphatically disowned such unworthy sentiments. And yet they have been compelled to endure the very man for whose sake compelled very these sentiments have been enunciated, as their mouth-piece in Parliament.  We have all along been convinced that Oxford would in due time see the rottenness of such novel notions, and reject the hero whom they flatter. In strict conformity with her ancient principles, Oxford has declined to be "Liberal" in her Churchmanship, and will no longer be led blindfold by an honoured name into an unknown political track.

It may lately have seemed to some that we could not speak of the present Oxford as adhering to her past principles when, as the Guardian ostentatiously affirms, so many leading men have still clung to Mr. Gladstone. Doubtless the late parliamentary changes, and the noxious influence of the Oxford Essayists, has formed a larger Liberal party than before existed there. But it is at best a small one, and powerless by itself to move the mind of the University.
 We are not then to seek here for the true cause of Mr. Gladstone's former successes. We have to look farther back. We have to recall how, almost before he left College, he came to be regarded as the rising hope of the Church; and how, as member for Newark, he was a constant terror to the Whigs in their dishonest plots to weaken the Church for the sake of a short-lived alliance with the Dissenters.  We must re-peruse his elaborate treatise on "The State in its relations with the Church".  And then, living in that bygone epoch when Mr. Gladstone was a Tory, we may learn what attracted the enthusiastic adherence of Churchmen to the brilliant zeal of their most prominent advocate.  And those who attached themselves to him were no fickle adherents. Dr. Pusey and Mr. Keble, with a host of minor names, were not men to choose lightly, nor to fall away easily from their chosen candidate. Nor was Mr. Gladstone the man to fail by his skill in dialectics and his apparent sincerity of purpose, to rivet the chains which he had cast about them. Besides, his descent to the Avernus of Radicalism was easy and gradual, and hia wonderful powers of fascination readily drew his followers into his own downward path. We may be bold to affirm that at the outset of his career, none of his adherents were expected to admire democracy and long for a disestablished Church. Dr. Pusey would in those days have been startled had he foreseen that he himself would be an advocate of Universal Suffrage; and the correspondents of the Guardian were certainly not then prepared to defend the desecration of our burial-grounds and the secularization of Church property. So then, because the Mr. Gladstone of the past had claimed their allegiance, and in changing his principles had succeeded in retaining it, Churchmen were called upon to frame a new system of Church politics wherein Liberalism, i.e. anti-dogmatism, should be allied with the Church, which is founded upon dogma. By time this necessity became apparent, champions of the new opinions had been prepared to come forward, and at length a chorus of voices was to be heard, and among them some of the names most venerated among us, hymning the new alliance, and vigorously striving to groan down the antiquated Toryism of an elder race of ecclesiastics. Unhappily Mr Gladstone's syren powers, together with the noisy asseverations of his partisans, availed for awhile to persuade, or to mystify, the Church party at large. The Conservative party are always slower than the agitators in moving, and in this case Churchmen were prepared to grant Mr. Gladstone the greatest possible amount of indulgence. But dust will not blind a man for ever; and at length they awoke fully to see where they were drifting. With much pain, but with a stem sense of duty, a large proportion of those Churchmen who had always before supported Mr. Gladstone, invited a new candidate to take the field; and, allying themselves to those who had been earlier awakened, and to those who were newly entering the battle-field, they at length vindicated their ancient principles, and sent a Conservative Churchrnan to watch their threatened privileges in the House of Commons. And an examination of the Poll-book will conclusively prove that the election of Mr. Hardy is a Church victory, won by Church men, and not the consequence of supposititious intrigues from the Carlton Club.

Now this is the great charge which the Guardian is constantly repeating—namely, that politics overrode Churchmanship in the late election. It would be strange in that case that Mr. Perceval or Lord Chandos were not elected, for they were quite as acceptable to the Carlton Club as the newly-elected member for Oxford. In like manner we are twitted by the fact that many of the Evangelical party voted with the winners, and Mr. Hardy is therefore called the Record's candidate. Only, unfortunately, almost every one of the two hundred who turned the scale on this occasion by transferring their votes from Gladstone to Hardy, is a more or less pronounced High Churchman. When there are three parties in ecclesiastical matters, and only two sides possible to be taken in the election, it is no wonder if each side contains members of each party; but in this case the Low Church party were fairly divided, while the whole body of Rationalists were, as is natural, fervent Gladstonians. Hence it is inevitably to be concluded that the High Church party turned the scale.

But if we be still pressed with the question why Churchmen have preferred Mr. Hardy, who is comparatively unknown, to Mr. Gladstone, who is so well known, when at best Mr. Hardy is no better Churchman in his private life than Mr. Gladstone, we repeat that in public life we must judge a man by his friends. Mr. Gladstone speaks, votes, associates with men who are not only Liberals in politics, but Free-traders (or rather free-handlers) in religion also; that as far as our present experience goes, so far from controlling them into neutrality or friendliness towards the Church, they have increased in bitterness of opposition, and gradually drawn him into their counsels. It may be a sincere conversion which has changed the champion of the Clergy Reserves in Canada into the ceder of Church property in England, but it is a conversion which alienates from him all who used to rally round him as the defender of the Church and her privileges. And for Mr. Hardy's positive title to preference by Churchmen, we have to say that ever since his public life commenced, he has constantly thrown himself into the side of Church defenders; and just at the time when Mr. Gladstone fell over to the enemy he became a very prominent and influential speaker on that side. We are not prepared, like "Scrutator", to enact the boy Jones by spying into Mr. Hardy's private life and conversation.  We are satisfied to find that his public action is in all respect just what we could desire; just as it is for his public faults, not for his private virtues, that we rejoice at the ostracism of Mr. Gladstone.

So much then for the two grand sneers, that the Oxford victory was won by the Carlton Club, or by the Low Church party. But there are plenty more in reserve, and the Guardian freely uses them, with no more important result we suspect, than troubling a few nervous parsons with the pains of a moral indigestion. We are told that the voting-papers made all the difference, enabling the country party to set aside the residents. And then the country clergy are withered with contemptuous pity for their narrow-mindedness. If it had been contemplated that this would be their effect, it is strange that they were introduced at the instance of a not unprominent member of Mr. Gladstone's committee. But unfortunately it is in the pages of the Guardian that we are informed that the country clergy were pretty fairly divided [footnote: unhappily this is too true, and it comes from the fact that for years past they have been in the habit of reading, many of them, no paper but the Guardian], so that the charge of stolid bigotry will not help out the Liberal scoffers. It is really unnecessary to defend that most intelligent class of electors from the ribaldry of a beaten clique, for nobody in the face of facts really believes the county clergy to be unreasoning opponents of progress. or more liable to be influenced by party cries than their neighbours. On the contrary, when it serves the occasion, the Times and its satellites are wont to charge the resident body at Oxford with being bigoted and narrow-minded, obfuscated by the close atmosphere of the common rooms in which they live.

In this case, however, the residents are lauded to the skies, because a majority of them voted for Mr. Gladstone. It is true that they did so, influenced no doubt by the potent example of Dr. Pusey. Yet even here we shall find that with a few striking exceptions, the Church party voted for Mr. Hardy; and the majority against him is not nearly so imposing as the Guardian would make it out. Indeed, of the heads of houses, ten voted for Mr. Hardy, and only eight for Mr. Gladstone, among the ten being such thorough Churchmen as Dr. Leighton of All Souls, and Dr. Bulley of Magdalene, while among the eight we find the President of Lincoln College, one of the Essayists and Reviewers, and the Dean of Christ Church.

"Then," it is said, "the votes were given in haste by a sudden impulse of party feeling." If any one who has watched our political history of late, and conversed with Oxford men, can deliberately assert this, we shall be much surprised.  We recommend such a one to read the very sensible and convincing in a recent number of the Ecclesiastic, and we think that he will uo longer retain so strange an opinion.

The fact is, that Mr. Gladstone's party, i.e., the "religious" Liberals, strangely allied with a few prominent high Churchmen, have been soundly beaten, and are very sore about it. To impute motives is natural to them in such a case, and we can bear it with a smile. But let not any one be deluded into the notion that the Church has lost by discarding Mr. Gladstone. It is her own truest sons, including ,we are glad to observe, many warm friends of the Union movement, who have deliberately elected to stand in the old paths, and have finally set the seal of the University to a protest against the spoliation of the Church and her own secularization.

One of the ablest of these rendered a signal service to the good cause at the recent election, by the publication of a pamphlet, the title of which stands (No. 3) at the head of this article [George Aker's pamphlet]. It deals thoroughly with the false principles of Liberalism in their bearing both at home and abroad; setting forth, with singular perspicacity, the gradual change which has come over so many members of the Catholic school with regard to politics, and as well by the clever array of important facts, as by the crushing deductions drawn from the arguments of opponents, sets forth the whole matter at issue in language which is as intelligible and forcible, as it is clear and conclusive. It was a most timely publication, and rendered—as we know by experience—most efficient help in removing those erroneous impressions and mischievous principles which had gained currency, and had so well done their unhappy work on previous occasions. Moreover, it was a telling and conclusive rejoinder to the special pleading of "Scrutator", and entirely refuted the spacious reasoning of that most unreasonable partizan.

It is not in the compass of this paper to discuss the question of the advantage or disadvantage of a disestablished Church at any length. We take it for granted that most of our readers are at one with us on this point, and are convinced that whatever possible good might accrue to the Church from a real emancipation from State trammels, yet the separation now contemplated by Liberals, and too readily acquiesced in by some professing Catholics, ought to be resisted to the utmost. For it is undoubtedly a mortal sin to try experiments with our spiritual mother, with the view of seeing how she will endure adversity; taking away from her certain vast material means of doing good and extending her influence, which God's providence has put into her hands, and, we may add, reducing her to a state which no branch of Christ's Church has voluntarily accepted since the days of Constantine.

It seems to us, and we say it with all solemn earnestness, that "Liberal" Catholics in tne present day are putting themselves in the danger of this sin. They certainly did their all to promote a disestablishment of the Church, by having striven to return Mr. Gladstone. And though we have no hopes of converting them, we would suggest, that belonging to so young, if not questionable, a school of Church politics, they would do well not to be so noisy in their abuse of those who follow the ancient traditions of Church and University.

We observe with pain that Dr. Pusey dons the Prophet's mantle to warn us of impendmg woes following upon Oxford's deliberate choice. From the Times and Telegraph we can understand such language; for they threaten just such vengeance as their partisans are unhappily able to inflict, and which their little-minded spite will prompt them to bring down on the doomed University at their earliest opportunity. But from Dr. Pusey such language is indeed astounding. The most charitable interpretation. and that to which we incline, is that he has hastened too readily to the violent language of the partisans with whom he has associated himself, and in all guilelessness has endured "with the awe of a divine voice", the fierce denunciations of disappointed Radicals. More graceful is the conduct of Mr. Keble, who, willing to make the best of the defeat he has sustained, and anxous to do justice to his antagonist, explodes in the very pages of the Guardian one of the illnatured scandals which "Scrutator" laboured to spread, namely, that Mr. Hardy was an opponent of the Duke of Buccleuch's Scottish Disabilities Removal Bill [footnote: He says "Mr. Hardy was earnest in supporting the measure carried through by the Duke of Buccleugh and Sir W. Heathcote in favour of the Scottish Episcopal clergy. He was prepared to spoak for it on the second reading, but there was no need of his doing so, the opposition being virtually withdrawn in consequence of Sir W. Heathcote's overpowering argument. He was absent indeed at the third reading, hut he had previously ascertained that the Bill was in no danger." (Letter in Guardian of Aug. 2, 1865)]
A Gladstonite "Inspector of the Poll" has laboured to make out that all the intelligence of the University is on his side. Were it true, all one could say would be "so much the worse for the intelligence of the University". But it is far from being the case. It is not to be wondered at that a majority of the teaching body remained faithful to their unfaithful Member. Government influences, directly or indirectly, the appointment of many of them, and habit would keep many constant to their former choice. The striking thing is, how large and important a minority declared for Mr. Hardy. If quality be preferred to quantity, the names of Professors Mansell, Wall and Burrows, and fellows like Messrs. Bright of University, Gilbertson of Jesus, Bramley of Magdalene, &c., &c., would out-weigh a host of unknown Fellows or Tutors. And, moreover, rather a striking list might be made out of those who sternly refrained from voting for Mr. Gladstone, even while they hesitated about committing themselves to Mr. Hardy.

But enough has been said. Suffice it to repeat that we confidently claim this as a great victory for the Catholic party. In the coming contests we are certain of Mr. Hardy's cheerful and ready support of that cause, while we have too long experience of Mr. Gladstone's vacillation. Feeling this deeply, the majority of Oxford Catholics have, despite the sophistries of the opposite party, and the lamentable defection of their natural leaders, held firm to the good old cause, and so doing have overwhelmed the whole strength of the motley Liberal crew who were arrayed against them. In and out of Oxford, in large towns and in small country parishes, wherever we look we shall see the same, that Catholics have nobly rallied. And we hail their success in this instance as a good augury for future triumphs. Nor can we fear that in due time the Church will, with such support, vindicate her liberty of action without separating from the State, and adapt herself to the special needs of the times without deserting her natural allies, the Tories. So when the Corporate Re-union of Christendom takes place, instead of having been degraded to the level of a modern sect, supported by Mr. Herford's radical Free Church system [is this a scathing reference to the Unitarian minister Brooke Herford (1830-1903) then working in Manchester?], the Anglican Communion will not only have something to take from other portions of the Christian Family, but something to give likewise— even a national establishment, Catholic and tolerant—with the traditions and temporal possessions of fourteen centuries.

Back to St Saviour and St Cross  |  Back to History