1859 United Kingdom general election

In the 1859 United Kingdom general election returned no party a majority of seats in the House of Commons. The Earl of Derby's Conservatives formed a minority government, but despite making overall gains, Derby's government was defeated in a confidence vote by an alliance of Palmerston's Whigs together with Peelites, Radicals and the Irish Brigade. Palmerston subsequently formed a new government from this alliance which is now considered to be the first Liberal Party administration.

1859 United Kingdom general election

 1857 28 April – 18 May 1859 (1859-04-28 1859-05-18) 1865 

All 654 seats in the House of Commons
328 seats needed for a majority
  First party Second party
Leader Viscount Palmerston Earl of Derby
Party Liberal Conservative
Leader since 6 February 1855 July 1846
Leader's seat Tiverton House of Lords
Last election 377 seats, 64.8% 264 seats, 33.5%
Seats won 356 298
Seat change 21 34
Popular vote 372,117 193,232
Percentage 65.8% 34.2%
Swing 1.0% 0.7%

Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results

Prime Minister before election

Earl of Derby

Prime Minister after election

Viscount Palmerston

There is no separate tally of votes or seats for the Peelites. They did not contest elections as an organised party but more as independent Free trade Conservatives with varying degrees of distance from the two main parties.

It was also the last general election entered by the Chartists, before their organisation was dissolved. As of 2021, this is the last election in which the Conservatives won the most seats in Wales,[1] as well as being the last election to date in which the Conservative Party took less than a third of the vote in England.

The election was the quietest and least competitive between 1832 and 1885, with most county elections being uncontested. The election also saw the lowest number of candidates between 1832 and 1885, with Tory gains potentially being the result of a lack of opposition as much as a change in public opinion.[2] According to A.J.P. Taylor:

the government which Palmerston organized in June 1859 was a coalition of a different kind : not a coalition of groups which looked back to the past, but a coalition which anticipated the future. Had it not been for Palmerston himself^too individual, too full of personality to be fitted into a party-pattem—it would have been the first Liberal government in our history. Everything that was important in it was Liberal—finance, administrative reform, its very composition : the first government with unmistakable middle-class Free Traders as members.[3]