The exuberant energy of the 1868–74 ministry marked the heady flush of Gladstonian Liberalism in power. The extensive legislative achievement of this government indicated the broad sweep of opinion and powerful reforming impetus embraced within the progressive movement of Liberal belief. The Church of Ireland was disestablished, an Irish Land Act passed, elementary education reformed, competitive examinations for entrance to most areas of the civil service introduced, the purchase of military commissions abolished, the judicial system overhauled, religious tests for Oxford and Cambridge Universities abolished, local government reformed, and the secret ballot introduced for parliamentary elections. Between 1869 and 1873 major areas of British society were overhauled. The ties between the state and the Established Church were loosened, the patronage system was reformed, and greater efficiency and professionalism were sought within the framework of economic government. By 1873 the Liberal party was tearing itself apart as Gladstone’s leadership faltered. But for the first three years of its existence Gladstone’s government proved itself, arguably, the greatest reforming ministry of the century.
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