The last fourteen years of John Stuart Mill's life (1859-1873), which followed the death of Harriet Taylor, possessed a hefty political content. They saw the publication of his essays on parliamentary reform and Considerations on Representative Government, his impassioned identification with the North in the American Civil War, the eventful parliamentary career sandwiched between the Westminster elections of 1865 and 1868, and a final phase of activity associated with causes such as women's suffrage and land tenure reform. When Mill acted politically he usually did so with strong feeling, but in his search to give deeply held principles practical effect he understood the need for dispassionate adaptation of means to ends. Both the feeling and the adaptation are evident in his treatment of the elementary education question in 1870, a treatment that vividly illustrates how Mill operated during the decade and a half before his death.
Of the host of legislation Gladstone's first administration proposed, only one item, the 1870 Education Bill, elicited a congregation of public responses from Mill. Of course, Mill's political activity in the several years following his defeat at Westminster in autumn 1868 was not confined to the adoption of a stance on ministerial measures. With respect to women's suffrage and land reform Mill was not about to wait on any government, and his conspicuous connections with the National Society for Women's Suffrage and the Land Tenure Reform Association attracted notice at the time and have been the subject of comment since. Moreover, during his last years Mill continued to cultivate his contacts in the world of London working-class radicalism, particularly with George Odger, William Randal Cremer, and George Howell. Whereas Mill's parliamentary career has been explored in some detail, the political character of his post-Westminster years has received less attention.