Front Page Titles (by Subject) (P): WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE - Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, Vol. I (Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone)
Return to Title Page for Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, Vol. I (Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
(P): WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE - John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, Vol. I (Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone) 
Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, edited with and Introduction by John Neville Figgis and Renald Vere Laurence. Vol. I Correspondence with Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone and Others (London: Longmans, Gree and Co., 1917).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Dear Mr. Gladstone,—
I was, somehow, never compelled to make my mind up about Women’s Suffrage, unless it is involved in the question of medical degrees, in which I took the side preferred by Cato.
But, for many years, I inclined to favour the change, and Miss Becker, I believe, counted me among her friends. It seemed most probable that the advent of the democracy would, in certain ways, introduce a reign of force, and that the stronger sex would submit to less restraint, in respect to marriage, property, and the like. There was an apparent reason for strengthening the hands of the weak, for making them a power which it was necessary to conciliate, and to consult. This has not proved to be a true calculation. Democracy, in some places, has raised the position of women; in others, it has given them privileges, in criminal law, which would not be scientifically defensible.
In England in the last twenty years, the preponderance of predominant man has not been abused. Women have obtained all sorts of occupations unknown to them formerly, and clearly to the detriment of the male competitor. There has been a vast increase in the sacrifices made, in a general way, for the weaker classes of society; and nothing has become more popular—apart from religious influence—than various kinds of good work, not always approved by Chancellors of the Exchequer, and bearing sometimes the character of a ransom, but decidedly favourable to the self-command, the self-denial, the generous and helpful spirit of the ruling democracy.
Chief surprise of all, the democracy has consented to set bounds to its power, to give up part of the area of authority possessed by the government of the classes. But this has been your personal work, and has not at all the same spontaneous character.
Therefore it now seems to me that there is no higher law deciding the question and that it falls within the computations of expediency. As I believe that the votes of women will be mainly Tory, I do not feel bound, by any superior consideration, to sacrifice the great interest of party.
If it can be shown that the majority of women will probably be Liberal, or that they will divide equally, I should say that the balance is, very slightly, in favour of giving them votes.
You will think my motives sordid; but the sordid element has only been brought to the front by a series of surprises. A few years ago it would not have weighed with me against the necessity I thought I saw of redressing the balance of power in favour of the perpetual victim of man.
Then since 1886 we have to think very seriously of the future of Liberal politics. We lost our majority by proposing to get rid of the Irish members. How should we have recovered it—in Great Britain—if we had succeeded in getting rid of them? And how is Liberalism to govern the Empire when its halo is gone, when no supreme hand represses the fouler elements, and there is nobody to play Hamlet? That is a perplexity for many of us: but I know you can hardly feel how it strikes men aware how much of the Liberal force is concentrated in you. Bertram Currie, by the by, would agree with what I have just said.
I cannot guess whether you will see grounds for attacking the financial basis of Goschen’s proposal; but the proposal itself, free education, will be very difficult to resist, now that it takes a practical shape. But there is so much more to say!—Ever truly yours,
Cannes,April 26, 1891.