William Ewart Gladstone

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William Ewart Gladstone

Post  msistarted on Sat Jan 08, 2011 12:48 am

William Ewart Gladstone FRS FSS (29 December 1809 – 19 May 1898) was a British Liberal statesman. In a career lasting over sixty years, he served as Prime Minister four times (1868–1874, 1880–1885, February–July 1886 and 1892–1894), more than any other person. Gladstone was 84 years old - still physically vigorous albeit with failing hearing and eyesight - when he resigned for the last time, making him Britain's oldest Prime Minister. He also served as Chancellor of the Exchequer four times (1853–1855, 1859–1866, 1873–1874, and 1880–1882).

Gladstone first entered Parliament in 1832. Beginning his career as a High Tory, Gladstone served in the Cabinet of Sir Robert Peel, during which time he became more liberal. In 1846 he supported Peel's repeal of the Corn Laws, which led to the split of the Conservatives - Gladstone was a Peelite and never again served with the main body of the Conservative Party; in 1859 the Peelites merged with the Whigs and the Radicals to form the Liberals who were in power for much of the years up to 1915.

As a Peelite, Gladstone served in Lord Aberdeen's government as a notably efficient Chancellor. After that government fell in 1855 he refused to serve under Lord Derby or Lord Palmerston, a Whig, and went into opposition. In 1859, however, when Palmerston succeeded Lord Derby's brief second government, Gladstone accepted the office of Chancellor and held a position of great influence. During this time he opposed Palmerston's aggressive foreign policy (begrudging financing his fortifications), and became committed to electoral reform, earning him the sobriquet "The People's William". He was noted for his support of classical liberalism, and his intense opposition to socialism.

Gladstone's first ministry saw the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, the introduction of secret voting, and Britain's refusal to intervene in the Franco-Prussian War. After his electoral defeat in 1874, Gladstone resigned as leader of the Liberal Party, but from 1876 began a comeback based on opposition to Turkey's Bulgarian atrocities. The Midlothian Campaign of 1879-1880 was based around Gladstone and was the birthplace of many modern political campaigning techniques. Despite not being the official Liberal leader when they won the 1880 election, he was nonetheless appointed Prime Minister again. His second ministry saw crises in Egypt (culminating in the death of General Gordon in 1885), in Ireland, where the government passed repressive measures, and in mainland Britain, where socialist and Communist violence took place. The government did however pass the Third Reform Act. Lord Salisbury defeated the Gladstone government and formed a Conservative government in 1885 but the election held a few months later resulted in a Liberal victory. Back in office in early 1886, Gladstone decided that Home Rule was the only way to solve the mounting chaos in Ireland; however, this was defeated in the House of Commons in July and Salisbury re-entered Downing Street and called and won an election. In 1892 Gladstone formed his last government at the age of 82. The Irish Home Rule Bill was defeated in the Lords in 1893 and effectively ended Gladstone's last crusade. The Liberal Party was moving to the left and adopting measures of state welfare provision while also containing an imperialist wing. Due to his opposition to increased naval expenditure, Gladstone resigned in March 1894 and was succeeded by his Foreign Secretary, Lord Rosebery. He left Parliament in 1895 and died three years later aged 88.

Gladstone is famous for his intense rivalry with the Conservative Party Leader Benjamin Disraeli. The rivalry was not only political, but also personal. When Disraeli died, Gladstone proposed a state funeral, but Disraeli's will asked for him to be buried next to his wife, to which Gladstone replied, "As Disraeli lived, so he died — all display, without reality or genuineness." Gladstone was also famously at odds with Queen Victoria for much of his career. She once complained, "He always addresses me as if I were a public meeting."

Gladstone was known affectionately by his supporters as "The People's William" or the "G.O.M." ("Grand Old Man", or, according to Disraeli, "God's Only Mistake"). Winston Churchill and others cited Gladstone as their inspiration.

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