Lord John Russell is credited with originating the party's name, and his government of 1846 is sometimes described as the first Liberal ministry. Whig peers like Lord Melbourne and Lord Palmerston, upholding the principle of aristocratic government, prevented further franchise reforms for over 30 years after the 1832 act. But Lord John Russell, William Gladstone, and John Bright (one of the Radicals) fought stubbornly for electoral reforms, even though the newly enfranchised masses might then insist on labor legislation opposed by the party. These leaders provided the impetus for the Reform Bill that their Conservative opponents passed in 1867.
The laissez-faire outlook and hegemony of the Liberal party were challenged in the last quarter of the 19th cent. When the party's program of electoral reform reached completion in 1884, Gladstone took up Irish Home Rule as a new cause. However, during the long period of depression from 1873 to 1893, many businessmen began to demand closer imperial ties. Because of the Home Rule issue, a large segment of businessmen, led by Joseph Chamberlain, along with English owners of Irish land, left the Liberal party in 1886 to form the Liberal-Unionists, who allied themselves with the Conservative party.
In losing office, the divided Liberals became stronger advocates of labor legislation. They came to depend more heavily upon the support of special groups like the Irish, labor, and nonconformists. The party was once more victorious in 1892 and again, under Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, in 1906. Herbert Asquith (see Oxford and Asquith, Herbert Henry Asquith, 1st earl of), a Liberal imperialist, became prime minister in 1908, to be followed by the flamboyant David Lloyd George during World War I.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.