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William Gladstone

also known asCivilization:British: England

William Ewart Gladstone

Era: Victorian
1809–1898Field of Renown:statesman: Prime Minister
 William Gladstone, age 35

William Gladstone was one of the two most famous politicians of Victorian England, and is still considered by some to be the very model of a Great Liberal Statesman. He supported many reforms that were resisted by conservatives of the day, and sometimes irritated his opponents by his sanctimonious dismissal of their concerns. On the other hand, he took a number of courageous and unpopular stands and defended them on principle, even at the expense of his political position. His political philosophy evolved gradually over his career from a conservative Tory to the extreme wing of the liberal party, and this transition appears to have sprung from genuine conviction rather than political posturing. He served as Prime Minster of England on four occasions, and often lost his position by pursuing what he considered noble, but unpopular causes. He was, like every great politician, both admired and loathed, but is credited with courage—a rare trait in his chosen occupation—even by his detractors.

Gladstone entered Parliament as a Tory in 1832 and retired for the last time in 1894, a service that spanned over 62 years. He did not serve continuously however; his career was interrupted by several retirements, resignations, and even a failed election. When Robert Peel split from the Tory party in 1846 over the corn-laws (protective tariffs on food-stuffs), Gladstone became a 'Peelite', and after Peel's death, joined forces with the Whigs and helped form the Liberal party. At the same time, his life-long antagonist, Disraeli transformed the protection Tories into the Conservative party. Both men served long careers in Parliament and were the most renowned orators of the day.

It is difficult to understand precisely how Gladstone's political positions evolved over time without a good knowledge of how the British government was administered during his age. Ideas of "liberal" and "conservative" as applied in Victorian England, have almost no bearing to their current uses. For example, as a liberal, Gladstone supported low-taxes and free-trade, while contemporary conservatives favored protective tariffs. Also, the influence of the Anglican Church in the Victorian era government was enormous so church-state relations of the age were exceedingly intertwined. The church had its own source of revenues and a great number of clients, and "social reforms" in Gladstone's age typically meddled with the Church's existing functions. Although Gladstone was a life-long Anglican he frequently took positions in opposition to that of the state-church, and was joined in his opposition by both sincere Christians and ardent secularists.

The issue that probably most characterized Gladstone during his career, was his continued support for the political rights for Ireland. This was a contentious issue because the Irish had centuries of grievances against England and a wide-spread radical element, and the memories of the French Revolution were still fresh in the minds of most Victorians. In spite of wide-spread resistance, Gladstone spent a great deal of his "political capital" supporting the cause of the Irish, and it more than once led to his downfall.

Gladstone also came to oppose Britain's long-term support for the Ottoman Turks against the Russian Empire on humanitarian grounds, at a time when conservatives believed that the security of Britain's empire in Asia required forming alliances against Russia. Gladstone was more interested in domestic reforms than imperial expansion, and foreign policy remained one of the areas in which Gladstone and Disraeli were nearly always at odds.

Gladstone's first term as Prime Minister, from 1868 to 1874, was by far his most productive and he retired soon after it was over. No leader of the Liberal party emerged afterward however, who had anything nearing his credibility and oratorical skills, so he was called out of retirement on several occasions by a very devoted following within his party. He did not serve his second ministry until he was 71, and he continued to serve various roles in government until a few years before his death at age 90.

Key events during the life of William Ewart Gladstone

Year Event
1809 William Gladstone born to a prosperous merchant
1828 Enrolled at Christ Church, Oxford and graduated with honors.
1832 Elected to Parliament as a Tory.
1838 Wrote a in defense of the Anglican Church.
1842 Resigned his position after changing his views on church-state matters.
1846 Ministry of Peel collapses over the 'corn-law' issue.
1852 First appointment to Chancellor of the Exchequer.
1865 Lost his seat at Oxford over the question of dis-establishing the Irish church.
1866 Returned to parliament from a new district as a liberal.
1868 First Ministry, served 5 years.
1880 Second Ministry, served 5 years.
1886 Third Ministry, served 6 months.
1892 Fourth Ministry, served 2 years.
1898 Death of Gladstone

Book Links
Life of Gladstone  by  M. B. Synge


Story LinksBook Links
Recent Times  in  Hanoverians  by  Gaskoin
William Ewart Gladstone  in  Famous Men of Modern Times  by  Haaren
Gladstone and Disraeli  in  Story of England  by  Harding
Mr. Gladstone  in  Reign of Queen Victoria  by  Synge

Image Links
William Ewart Gladstone  in Hanoverians Gladstone  in Story of the English Gladstone  in Famous Men of Modern Times
Hawarden Castle, home of Gladstone in Statesmen and Sages Gladstone's first home rule bill in Statesmen and Sages William Ewart Gladstone  in Life of Gladstone
She presented him with one of her books.  in Life of Gladstone He openly denounced the boys.  in Life of Gladstone Mrs. Gladstone  in Life of Gladstone
Mr. Gladstone held the house spell-bound.  in Life of Gladstone Thou writest a bonny hand.  in Life of Gladstone A messenger with a telegram.  in Life of Gladstone
Mr. Gladstone stood calm, resolute, patient.  in Life of Gladstone The Temple of Peace, Hawarden  in Life of Gladstone Mr. Gladstone and Lord Tennyson in the Pembroke Castle.  in Life of Gladstone
He began his speech amid breathless silence.  in Life of Gladstone Mr. Gladstone at the age of 35  in Reign of Queen Victoria William Ewart Gladstone  in Reign of Queen Victoria

Contemporary Short Biography
Victoria of Great Britain Longest reigning English Monarch. Presided over the British Empire at its height.
Sir Robert Peel Important Victorian Era British prime minister who oversaw several free market and political reforms.
Benjamin Disraeli Prime Minister, Author, and conservative rival of Gladstone.
Alfred Tennyson Best known poet of he Victorian Age. Write Idylls of the King and many others.