Analyze the pressures on Great Britain’s Liberal government during the Sudan crisis (1884-1885), and explain why the government acted as it did. During the Sudan crisis in 1884-1885, Great Britain’s Liberal government was under much pressure. Much of government action was led by Prime Minister William Gladstone. The Sudan crisis was when a Sudanese Muslim religious leader, Mahdi, rebelled against the Egyptian rule and foreign (British) control. This threatened the British citizens inhabiting Egypt at the time and also the Suez Canal, referred to as the lifeline of the empire. Gladstone, in attempt to protect the economic and political interests of Great Britain, released a command force under the leadership of General Gordon (document 1). Instead, Mahdi and his forces defeated Gordon’s troops, who were supposedly more technologically advanced, in the garrison at Khartoum.
Not only this, but Mahdi also defeated the Egyptian military (document 2). Gordon was now desperate for help, but by early 1884, his communication sources had been cut off and liberal Parliament trying to decide whether to support or abandon him (documents 6 and 7). Conservative members of Parliament felt that military action should be taken against the Sudanese by grounds that Mahdi’s revolt would damage the reputation of Britain and threaten political and economic aspects. On the other hand, liberal members of Parliament (including Gladstone) felt that military force should be used to rescue Gordon and his troops, but did not want to provoke the declaration of war against the Sudanese. The theme of government pressures was divided among the conservative side of Parliament versus the liberal side of Parliament.
The conservators of Parliament argued the a war with the Mahdi was the only presentable solution to the Sudan crisis. The Sudanese revolt threatened the British economy and if Britain did not act upon that threat, foreign relations would be put in danger. The conservative party leader, the Marquis of Salisbury, delivered a speech to the House of Lords where he questioned if Britain could manage the dishonorable action of the army being defeated by Mahdi and also expressed concern on how British withdrawal would affect the influence it had in the Middle East, their political dominance over India, and ties with Asia (document 3). On the other hand, Si Michael Hicks Beach, a conservative member of the House of Lords, tried to appeal to his audience on a different level of patriotism and nationalistic perspectives by urging Parliament to send another expeditionary force to take over Gordon’s original goals and also redeem the pride Britain could maintain and save them from embarrassing foreign affairs (document 9).
In contrast to the pro-war conservative views of Parliament, the more dominant liberal section, including Gladstone, felt that the best turn of events would be to evacuate General Gordon and troops even with military force if that was necessary. They also were against the declaration of war on Sudan. They felt that a war would go against morals and obviously decrease their popularity the nationalistic sense in Sudan. A liberal party member from the House of Commons, Sir Wilfred Lawson argued that the British government’s obsessions with economic gain had created the crisis by inciting opposition from the Egyptian public by forcing Egypt’s government to relinquish control of its finances so British stockholders would not be threatened with the possibility of Egypt repudiating its enormous debt to foreign investors.
He claimed “The Egyptians do not want our diplomats, our bondholders, and our European residents governing them. They want us to go away.” (Document 5). George Campbell, another liberal member of the House of Commons, also agreed with this quote, that Egyptians and Sudanese public wanted to rid of the foreign influences on their government (document 4). Prime Minister William Gladstone, also a liberal, argued even more explicitly that military action against Sudan “would be a war of conquest against a people struggling to be free.” (Document 10). Even though Gladstone advocated against war, feeling that the “climate, distance…enormous expenses… and frightful loss of life” (document 10) the a military attack on Mahdi would cause, he, as well as the other liberal Parliament members, were against the war because it would limit the freedom of the Egyptians and Sudanese.
While conservative members of Parliament felt that war was the only action that could be taken to redeem Britain’s reputation, liberal members of Parliament were against the war because it was not morally correct and would destroy their foreign reputation even further. This was continuously debated and analyzed, even though society felt that the government needed to make a decision quickly if the troops were to be rescued and the crisis avoided (document 6). In the end, Parliament voted in favor of the liberal section and sent a military force to save and evacuate General Gordon from Sudan. Instead, the troops were too late to stop Mahdi forces from attacking Khartoum and killing General Gordon and his troops, which caused a spread of public criticism and the British Parliament was blamed for their indecisiveness (documents 12 and 13).