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William Ewart Gladstone

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William Ewart Gladstone

William Ewart Gladstone

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Inoffice
3 December 1868–17 February 1874
23 April 1880 – 9 June 1885
1 February 1886 – 20 July 1886
15 August 1892 – 2 March 1894
Precededby Benjamin Disraeli
The Earl of Beaconsfield
The Marquess of Salisbury
The Marquess of Salisbury
Succeededby Benjamin Disraeli
The Marquess of Salisbury
The Marquess of Salisbury
The Earl of Rosebery

Chancellor of the Exchequer
Inoffice
December 28, 1852–February 28, 1855
June 18, 1859 – June 26, 1866
August 11, 1873 – February 17, 1874
April 28, 1880 – December 16, 1882
Precededby Benjamin Disraeli
Benjamin Disraeli
Robert Lowe
Stafford Northcote
Succeededby George Cornewall Lewis
Benjamin Disraeli
Stafford Northcote
Hugh Childers

Born 29 December 1809
Liverpool
Died 19 May 1898
Hawarden Castle, Flintshire
Politicalparty Conservative and Liberal

William Ewart Gladstone born Liverpool (29 December 1809 – 19 May 1898) was a British Liberal Party statesman and Prime Minister (1868–1874, 1880–1885, 1886 and 1892–1894). He was a notable political reformer, known for his populist speeches, and was for many years the main political rival of Benjamin Disraeli.

Gladstone was 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 "Grand Old Man" (Disraeli is said to have remarked that GOM should have stood for God's Only Mistake) or "The People's William." He is still regarded as one of the greatest British prime ministers, with Winston Churchill and others citing Gladstone as their inspiration.

Contents

Early life

Born in Liverpool at 62 Rodney Street in 1809, William Ewart Gladstone was the fourth son of the merchant Sir John Gladstones and his second wife, Anne MacKenzie Robertson. The final "s" was later dropped from the family surname. Although Gladstone was born and brought up in Liverpool and always retained a slight Lancashire accent, he was of Scottish descent on both his mother's and father's side of the family. Gladstone was educated at Eton College, and in 1828 matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford where he took Classics and Mathematics in order to obtain a double first class degree despite the fact that he had no great interest in mathematics. In December 1831 after sitting for his final examinations, he learned that he had indeed achieved the double first he had long desired. Gladstone served as President of the Oxford Union debating society, where he developed a reputation as a fine orator, a reputation that later followed him into the House of Commons. At university Gladstone was a Tory and denounced Whig proposals for parliamentary reform.

Gladstone in the 1830s.
Enlarge
Gladstone in the 1830s.

He was first elected to Parliament in 1832 as Conservative MP for Newark. Initially he was a disciple of High Toryism, opposing the abolition of slavery and factory legislation. In 1838 he published a book, The State in its Relations with the Church, which argued that the goal of the state should be to promote and defend the interests of the Church of England. In 1839, he married Catherine Glynne, to whom he remained married until his death 59 years later.

In 1840, Gladstone began to rescue and rehabilitate London prostitutes, actually walking the streets of London himself and encouraging the women he encountered to change their ways. He continued this practice even after he'd been elected Prime Minister decades later.

Minister under Peel

Gladstone was re-elected in 1841. In September 1842 he lost the forefinger of his left hand in an accident while reloading a gun; thereafter he wore a glove or finger sheath (stall). In the second ministry of Robert Peel, he served as President of the Board of Trade (1843–44). He resigned in 1845 over the Maynooth Seminary issue, a matter of conscience for him. In order to improve relations with Irish Catholics, Peel's government had proposed increasing the annual grant paid to the Seminary for training Catholic priests. Gladstone, who had previously argued in a book that a Protestant country should not pay money to other churches, supported the increase in the Maynooth grant and voted for it in Commons, but resigned rather than face charges that he'd compromised his principles to remain in office. After accepting Gladstone's resignation, Peel confessed to a friend, "I really have great difficulty sometimes in exactly comprehending what he means."

Gladstone returned to Peel's government as Colonial Secretary in December. The following year, Peel's government fell over the PM's repeal of the Corn Laws and Gladstone followed his leader into a course of separation from mainstream Conservatives. After Peel's death in 1850, Gladstone emerged as the leader of the Peelites in the House of Commons.

As Chancellor he pushed to extend the free trade liberalisations in the 1840s and worked to reduce public expenditures, policies that, when combined with his moral and religious ideals, became known as "Gladstonian Liberalism". He was re-elected for the University of Oxford in 1847 and became a constant critic of Lord Palmerston.

In 1848 he also founded the Church Penitentiary Association for the Reclamation of Fallen Women. In May 1849 he began his most active "rescue work" with "fallen women" and met prostitutes late at night on the street, in his house, or in their houses, writing their names in a private notebook. He aided the House of Mercy at Clewer near Windsor (which exercised extreme in-house discipline) and spent much time arranging employment for ex-prostitutes. There is no evidence he ever actually used their services, and it is known that his wife supported these unconventional activities. In 1927, during a court case over published claims that he had had improper relationships with some of these women, the jury unanimously found that the evidence "completely vindicated the high moral character of the late Mr W.E. Gladstone."

From 1849 until 1859, Gladstone is known to have drawn a picture of a whip in his diary, suggesting that he may have suffered temptation, either in the presence of the prostitutes or from "marginally salacious (published) material" he read (as Roy Jenkins has described it), and may have used self-flagellation as a means of self-regulation or repentance, a practice also adopted by Cardinal Newman and Edward Pusey.

Chancellor of the Exchequer

A contemplative Gladstone
Enlarge
A contemplative Gladstone

After visiting Naples in 1850, Gladstone began to support Neapolitan opponents of the Bourbon rulers. In 1852, following the ascendance of Lord Aberdeen, as premier, head of a coalition of Whigs and Peelites, Gladstone became Chancellor of the Exchequer and unsuccessfully tried to abolish the income tax. Instead he ended up raising it because of the Crimean War. He served until 1855. Lord Stanley became Prime Minister in 1858, but Gladstone declined a position in his government, opting not to work with Benjamin Disraeli, then Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. In 1859, Lord Palmerston formed a new mixed government with Radicals included, and Gladstone again joined the government as Chancellor of the Exchequer, leaving the Conservatives to become part of the new Liberal Party.

During consideration of his Budget for 1860, it was generally assumed that Gladstone would use the budget's surplus of 5 million to abolish the income tax, as in 1853 he had promised to do this before the decade was out. Instead, Gladstone proposed to increase it and use the additional revenue to abolish duties on paper, a controversial policy because the duties had traditionally inflated the costs of publishing and disseminating radical working-class ideas. Although Palmerston supported continuation of the duties, using them and income tax revenues to make armament purchases, a majority of his Cabinet supported Gladstone. The Bill to abolish duties on paper narrowly passed Commons but was rejected by the House of Lords. As no money bill had been rejected by Lords for over two hundred years, a furore arose over this vote. The next year, Gladstone included the abolition of paper duties in a Finance Bill in order to force the Lords to accept it, and accept it they did.

Significantly, Gladstone succeeded in steadily reducing the income tax over the course of his tenure as Chancellor. In 1861 the tax was reduced to ninepence; in 1863 to sevenpence; in 1864 to fivepence; and in 1865 to fourpence.[1] Gladstone believed that government was extravagant and wasteful with taxpayers' money and so sought to let money "fructify in the pockets of the people" by keeping taxation levels down through "peace and retrenchment".

When Gladstone first joined Palmerston's government in 1859, he opposed further electoral reform, but he moved toward the Left during Palmerston's last premiership, and by 1865 he was firmly in favour of enfranchising the working classes in towns. This latter policy created friction with Palmerston, who strongly opposed enfranchisement. At the beginning of each session, Gladstone would passionately urge the Cabinet to adopt new policies, while Palmerston would fixedly stare at a paper before him. At a lull in Gladstone's speech, Palmerston would smile, rap the table with his knuckles, and interject pointedly, "Now, my Lords and gentlemen, let us go to business".[2]

As Chancellor, Gladstone made a controversial speech at Newcastle on 7 October 1862 in which he supported the independence of the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War, claiming that Jefferson Davis had a "made a nation". Great Britain was officially neutral at the time, and Gladstone later regretted the Newcastle speech. In May 1864 Gladstone said that he saw no reason in principle why all mentally able men could not be enfranchised, but admitted that this would only come about once the working-classes themselves showed more interest in the subject. Queen Victoria was not pleased with this statement, and an outraged Palmerston considered it seditious incitement to agitation.

Gladstone's support for electoral reform and disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Ireland had alienated him from his constituents in his Oxford University seat, and he lost it in the 1865 general election. A month later, however, he stood as a candidate in South Lancashire, where he was elected third MP (South Lancashire at this time elected three MPs). Palmerston campaigned for Gladstone in Oxford because he believed that his constituents would keep him "partially muzzled". A victorious Gladstone told his new constituency, "At last, my friends, I am come among you; and I am come--to use an expression which has become very famous and is not likely to be forgotten--I am come 'unmuzzled'."

In 1858 Gladstone took up the hobby of tree felling, mostly of oak trees, an exercise he continued with enthusiasm until he was 81 in 1891. Eventually, he became notorious for this activity, prompting Lord Randolph Churchill to snicker, "The forest laments in order that Mr. Gladstone may perspire." Less noticed at the time was his practice of replacing the trees he'd felled with newly-planted saplings. Possibly related to this hobby is the fact that Gladstone was a lifelong bibliophile.

First ministry, 1868–1874

Lord Russell retired in 1867 and Gladstone became a leader of the Liberal party. In the next general election in 1868 he was defeated in Lancashire but was elected MP for Greenwich, it being quite common then for candidates to stand in two constituencies simultaneously. He became Prime Minister for the first time and remained in the office until 1874.

In the 1860s and 1870s, Gladstonian Liberalism was characterised by a number of policies intended to improve individual liberty and loosen political and economic restraints. First was the minimization of public expenditure on the premise that the economy and society were best helped by allowing people to spend as they saw fit. Secondly, his foreign policy aimed at promoting peace to help reduce expenditures and taxation and enhance trade. Thirdly, laws that prevented people from acting freely to improve themselves were reformed.

Gladstone's first premiership instituted reforms in the British Army, Civil Service, and local government to cut restrictions on individual advancement. He instituted abolition of the sale of commissions in the army as well as court reorganization. In foreign affairs his overriding aim was to promote peace and understanding, characterized by his settlement of the Alabama Claims in 1872 in favour of the Americans.

Gladstone transformed the Liberal party during his first premiership (following expansion of the electorate in the wake of Disraeli's Reform Act of 1867). The 1867 Act gave the vote to every male adult householder living in a borough constituency. Male lodgers paying 10 for unfurnished rooms also received the vote. This Act expanded the electorate by approximately 1.5 million men. It also changed the electoral map; constituencies and boroughs with less than 10,000 inhabitants lost one of their MPs. The forty-five seats left available through the reorganization were distributed by the following procedures:

  1. giving fifteen to towns which had never had an MP;
  2. giving one extra seat to some larger towns — Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds;
  3. creating a seat for the University of London;
  4. giving twenty-five seats to counties whose population had increased since 1832.

The issue of disestablishment of the Church of Ireland was used by Gladstone to unite the Liberal Party for government in 1868. The Act was passed in 1869 and meant that Irish Roman Catholics did not need to pay their tithes to the Anglican Church of Ireland. He also instituted Cardwell's Army reform that in 1869 made peacetime flogging illegal; the Irish Land Act; and the Forster's Education Act in 1870. In 1871 he instituted the University Test Act. In 1872, he secured passage of the Ballot Act for secret voting ballots. In 1873, his leadership led to the passage of laws restructuring the High Courts.

Out of Office and the Midlothian Campaign

In 1874, the Liberals lost the election. In the wake of Benjamin Disraeli's victory, Gladstone retired temporarily from the leadership of the Liberal party, although he retained his seat in the House. A pamphlet he published in 1876, Bulgarian Horrors and the Questions of the East, attacked the Disraeli government for its indifference to the violent repression of the Bulgarian rebellion in Ottoman Empire (Known as the Bulgarian April uprising). An often-quoted excerpt illustrates his formidable rhetorical powers:

"Let the Turks now carry away their abuses, in the only possible manner, namely, by carrying off themselves. Their Zaptiehs and their Mudirs, their Bimbashis and Yuzbachis, their Kaimakans and their Pashas, one and all, bag and baggage, shall, I hope, clear out from the province that they have desolated and profaned. This thorough riddance, this most blessed deliverance, is the only reparation we can make to those heaps and heaps of dead, the violated purity alike of matron and of maiden and of child; to the civilization which has been affronted and shamed; to the laws of God, or, if you like, of Allah; to the moral sense of mankind at large. There is not a criminal in a European jail, there is not a criminal in the South Sea Islands, whose indignation would not rise and over-boil at the recital of that which has been done, which has too late been examined, but which remains unavenged, which has left behind all the foul and all the fierce passions which produced it and which may again spring up in another murderous harvest from the soil soaked and reeking with blood and in the air tainted with every imaginable deed of crime and shame. That such things should be done once is a damning disgrace to the portion of our race which did them; that the door should be left open to their ever so barely possible repetition would spread that shame over the world."

During his rousing election campaign (the so-called Midlothian campaign) of 1879, he spoke against Disraeli's foreign policies during the ongoing

Second ministry, 1880–1885

William Gladstone by Phil May.
Enlarge
William Gladstone by Phil May.

In 1880 the Liberals won again, and the new Liberal leader Lord Hartington, retired in Gladstone's favour. Gladstone won his constituency election in Midlothian and also in Leeds, where he had also been adopted as a candidate. As he could lawfully only serve as MP for one constituency, Leeds was passed to his son Herbert. One of his other sons, Henry, was also elected as an MP.

Queen Victoria asked Lord Hartington, to form a ministry, but he persuaded her to send for Gladstone. Gladstone's second administration — both as PM and again as Chancellor of the Exchequer till 1882 — lasted from June 1880 to June 1885. Gladstone had opposed himself to the "colonial lobby" pushing for the scramble for Africa. He thus saw the end of the Second Anglo-Afghan War, First Boer War and the war against the Mahdi in Sudan.

However, he couldn't respect his electoral promise to disengage from Egypt. June 1882 saw a riot in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, with about 300 people being killed as part of the Urabi Revolt. In Parliament an angry and retributive mood developed against Egypt, and the Cabinet approved the bombardment of Urabi's gun emplacements by Admiral Sir Beauchamp Seymour and the subsequent landing of British troops to restore order to the city. Gladstone defended this in the Commons by exclaiming that Egypt was "in a state of military violence, without any law whatsoever".[3]

In 1881 he established the Irish Coercion Act, which permitted the Viceroy to detain people for as "long as was thought necessary". He also extended the franchise to agricultural labourers and others in the 1884 Reform Act, which gave the counties the same franchise as the boroughs— adult male householders and 10 lodgers—and added about six million to the total number who could vote in parliamentary elections. Parliamentary reform continued with the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885.

Gladstone was becoming increasingly uneasy about the direction in which British politics was moving. In a letter to Lord Acton on 11 February 1885, Gladstone criticised Tory Democracy as "demagogism" that "put down pacific, law-respecting, economic elements that ennobled the old Conservatism" but "still, in secret, as obstinately attached as ever to the evil principle of class interests". He found contemporary Liberalism better, "but far from being good". Gladstone claimed that this Liberalism's "pet idea is what they call construction, that is to say, taking into the hands of the State the business of the individual man". Both Tory Democracy and this new Liberalism, Gladstone wrote, had done "much to estrange me, and had for many, many years".[4]

The fall of General Gordon in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1885 was a major blow to Gladstone's popularity. Many believed Gladstone had neglected military affairs and had not acted promptly enough to save the besieged Gordon. Critics inverted his acronym, "G.O.M." (for "Grand Old Man"), to "M.O.G." (for "Murderer of Gordon"). He resigned as Prime Minister in 1885 and declined Victoria's offer of an Earldom.

Third ministry, 1886

Gladstone speaking during a Commons debate on Irish Home Rule on 8 April 1886.
Enlarge
Gladstone speaking during a Commons debate on Irish Home Rule on 8 April 1886.

In 1886 Gladstone's party was allied with Irish Nationalists to defeat Lord Salisbury's government; Gladstone regained his position as PM and combined the office with that of Lord Privy Seal. During this administration he first introduced his Home Rule Bill for Ireland. The issue split the Liberal Party and the bill was thrown out on the second reading, ending his government after only a few months and inaugurating another headed by Lord Salisbury.

Fourth ministry, 1892–1894

In 1892 Gladstone was re-elected Prime Minister for the fourth and final time. In February 1893 he re-introduced a Home Rule Bill. It provided for the formation of a parliament for Ireland, or in modern terminology, a regional assembly of the type Northern Ireland gained from the Good Friday Agreement. The Home Rule Bill did not offer Ireland independence, but the Irish Parliamentary Party had not demanded independence in the first place. The Bill was passed by the Commons but rejected by the House of Lords on the grounds that it had gone too far. On March 1, 1894, in his last speech to the House of Commons, Gladstone asked his allies to override this most recent veto. He resigned two days later, although he retained his seat in the Commons until 1895. Years later, as Irish independence loomed, King George V exclaimed to a friend, "What fools we were not to pass Mr. Gladstone's bill when we had the chance!"

Final years

Gladstone's grave in Westminster Abbey
Enlarge
Gladstone's grave in Westminster Abbey

In 1895 at the age of 85, Gladstone bequeathed 40,000 and much of his library to found St Deiniol's Library, the only residential library in Britain. Despite his advanced age, he himself lugged most of his 23,000 books a quarter mile to their new home, using his wheelbarrow.

In 1896 in his last noteworthy speech, he denounced Armenian massacres by Ottomans in a talk delivered at Liverpool.

Gladstone died at Hawarden Castle in 1898 at the age of 88 from metastatic cancer that had started behind his cheekbone. His coffin was transported on the London Underground before he was buried in Westminster Abbey. His wife, Catherine Glynne Gladstone, was later laid to rest with him (see image at left).

A statue of Gladstone, erected in 1905, is situated at Aldwych, London, nearby to the Royal Courts of Justice [1]. There is also a statue of him in Glasgow's George Square and in other towns around the country.

Liverpool's Crest Hotel was renamed The Gladstone Hotel in his honour in the early 1990s.

Near to Hawarden in the town of Mancot, there is a small hospital named after Catherine Gladstone. A statue of her husband also stands near the High School in Hawarden.

Gladstone's Governments

  • First Gladstone Ministry (December 1868–February 1874)
  • Second Gladstone Ministry (April 1880–June 1885)
  • Third Gladstone Ministry (February–August 1886)
  • Fourth Gladstone Ministry (August 1892–February 1894)

Notes

  1. ^ L. C. B. Seaman, Victorian England: Aspects of English and Imperial History, 1837-1901 (Routledge, 1973), pp. 183-4.
  2. ^ Jasper Ridley, Lord Palmerston (Constable, 1970), p. 563.
  3. ^ Lawrence James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire (Abacus, 2001), p. 272.
  4. ^ John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone: Volume III (1903), pp. 172-3.

Biographies

  • D.W. Bebbington, William Ewart Gladstone
  • Eric Brad, William Gladstone
  • Osbert Burdett, W. E. Gladstone (1928)
  • Philip Magnus, Gladstone: A Biography (1954)
  • H.C. Matthew, Gladstone: 1809-98
  • Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) (ISBN 0-333-66209-1)

Political offices

Political offices
Preceded by:
The Earl of Ripon
President of the Board of Trade
1843–1845
Succeeded by:
The Earl of Dalhousie
Preceded by:
The Lord Stanley
Secretary of State for War and the Colonies
1845–1846
Succeeded by:
The Earl Grey
Preceded by:
Benjamin Disraeli
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1852–1855
Succeeded by:
Sir George Lewis, Bt
Preceded by:
Sir John Young
Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands
1859
Succeeded by:
Sir Henry Knight Storks
Preceded by:
Benjamin Disraeli
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1859–1866
Succeeded by:
Benjamin Disraeli
Preceded by:
The Viscount Palmerston
Leader of the House of Commons
1865–1866
Preceded by:
The Earl Russell
Leader of the British Liberal Party
1866–1875
Succeeded by:
The Earl Granville
and Marquess of Hartington
Preceded by:
Benjamin Disraeli
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
1868–1874
Succeeded by:
Benjamin Disraeli
Leader of the House of Commons
1868–1874
Preceded by:
Robert Lowe
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1873–1874
Succeeded by:
Sir Stafford Northcote, Bt
Preceded by:
The Earl Granville
and Marquess of Hartington
Leader of the British Liberal Party
1880–1894
Succeeded by:
The Earl of Rosebery
Preceded by:
The Earl of Beaconsfield
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
1880–1885
Succeeded by:
The Marquess of Salisbury
Preceded by:
Sir Stafford Northcote, Bt
Leader of the House of Commons
1880–1885
Succeeded by:
Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, Bt
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1880–1882
Succeeded by:
Hugh Childers
Preceded by:
The Marquess of Salisbury
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
1886
Succeeded by:
The Marquess of Salisbury
Preceded by:
The Earl of Harrowby
Lord Privy Seal
1886
Succeeded by:
The Earl Cadogan
Preceded by:
Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, Bt
Leader of the House of Commons
1886
Succeeded by:
Lord Randolph Churchill
Preceded by:
The Marquess of Salisbury
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
1892–1894
Succeeded by:
The Earl of Rosebery
Preceded by:
The Earl Cadogan
Lord Privy Seal
1892–1894
Succeeded by:
The Lord Tweedmouth
Preceded by:
Arthur James Balfour
Leader of the House of Commons
1892–1894
Succeeded by:
Sir William Harcourt
Honorary Titles
Preceded by:
None
Lord Rector of Edinburgh University
1859–1865
Succeeded by:
Thomas Carlyle

See also

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
William Ewart Gladstone
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William Ewart Gladstone
  • List of Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom
  • New Imperialism and scramble for Africa


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