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British political party that emerged in the mid-19th century as the successor to the Whigs. It was the major party in opposition to the Conservative Party until 1918, after which it was supplanted by the Labour Party. It was initially supported by the middle class that was enfranchised by the Reform Bill of 1832. Earl Russell's administration in 1846 is sometimes regarded as the first Liberal government, but the first unequivocally Liberal government was formed in 1868 by William E. Gladstone. Under Gladstone, until 1894, the party's hallmark was reform; after 1884 it espoused Irish Home Rule. It championed individualism, private enterprise, human rights, and promotion of social justice; wary of imperial expansion, it was pacific and internationalist. During World War I it split into two camps, centred on H.H. Asquith and David Lloyd George. It continued as a minor party until 1988, when it merged with the Social Democratic Party to form the Liberal Democratic Party.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Liberal Party, visit Britannica.com.
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