Lord Hartington elected leader of Liberal MPs to succeed William Gladstone.

When Gladstone announced his resignation three MPs, Hartington, W.E. Forster and George Goschen emerged as possible successors. Goschen soon dropped out and although Forster started out as favourite it became clear that Hartington would be better able to unite the party and Forster was persuaded to withdraw. At a meeting of Liberal MPs at the Reform Club Hartington was unanimously elected. Although a reluctant candidate, Hartington proved an able and sure-footed leader who was able to appeal to the majority of the parliamentary party. The Radical MP , Sir Charles Dilke, commented favourably two years into his leadership that Hartington was ‘quite fearless, always goes with us when he thinks it safe for the party and general judges rightly.’