Benjamin Disraeli

(Earl of Beaconsfield)


Benjamin Disraeli is one of the British statesmen most strongly associated with Victorian England. He entered Parliament in 1837 as a Tory, and served until shortly before his death in 1881, a career of over forty years. During this time, he was a key architect of the transformation of the Tory party, which had been torn apart by the defection of the 'Peelites' in the 1846, into the Conservative Party. Due to the reform laws passed in the 1830's and the split in the Tory faction, the Conservative party spent much of its time out of power, and Disraeli gained most of his reputation as an opposition leader. Disraeli's arch-nemesis was Gladstone, who also started his career in Parliament as a Tory at about the same time as Disraeli, but like Peel, defected over the 'corn-law' issue, and eventually became leader of the Liberal Party.

It is nearly impossible to sum up a forty year career of political activity in a meaningful way, particularly since the political philosophies and allegiances of Victorian England were quite convoluted, but a few differences between the two parties might be given as follows:

First, the ideas of low tariffs and free-trade was promoted more ardently by the Liberal than the Conservative Party, because merchants, businessmen and the technocratic elite made up the backbone of the Liberal party, where-as the landed aristocracy and the Anglican church made up the backbone of the Conservative Party. Disraeli favored protective tariffs in some cases, most particularly in the case of the corn laws.

Second, the Anglican Church was an important "branch" of the government with a good sized revenue and bureaucracy, and a vested interest in the status quo. The Conservative reluctance to embrace dramatic social reforms proposed by the Liberals was rooted in both philosophical and practical considerations. Disraeli's was often successful in using his oratorical talent to emphasize noble, rather than craven reasons for resisting changes to the social welfare policies.

Third, in foreign policy, the Conservative Party tended towards pragmatism, where-as the Liberal party was more likely to consider humanitarian or idealist foreign policy objectives. For example, Disraeli was a strong supporter of Britain's alliance with the Moslem Ottomans against Christian Russia, because he considered the expansion of Russia's empire a greater threat than the decrepit Turks. When the Ottomans committed atrocities against the Bulgarians however, it generated enough outrage to bring down his government.

Key events during the life of Benjamin Disraeli (Earl of Beaconsfield):

Birth of Benjamin Disraeli.
Baptized into the church of England by his Jewish father.
Practices law for four years, but disliked it.
Published Vivian Grey, an literary novel.
Won a seat in parliament as a Tory.
Took a protectionist position in the 'corn-law' debates. Opposed Peel.
Protectionist Tories briefly controlled Parliament.
Conservatives gain control of government. Disraeli leads the House of Commons.
Promotes reform act of 1867. Disraeli briefly serves as Prime Minister.
Disraeli second tenure as Prime Minister lasts six years.
  Purchased shares in the Suez Canal.
Create Earl of Beaconsfield.
Conservative government defeated.
Death of Disraeli.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Recent Times  in  The Hanoverians  by  C. J. B. Gaskoin
Gladstone and Disraeli  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding
Free Trade  in  The Reign of Queen Victoria  by  M. B. Synge
Work of Lord Beaconsfield  in  The Reign of Queen Victoria  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Benjamin Disraeli
 in The Hanoverians
Benjamin Disraeli
Benjamin Disraeli
 in Back Matter
The Berlin Conference
The Berlin Conference
 in Back Matter

Mr. Disraeli
 in Life of Gladstone

Benjamin Disraeli
 in The Reign of Queen Victoria

Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield
 in The Reign of Queen Victoria

Short Biography
Victoria I Longest reigning English Monarch. Presided over the British Empire at its height.
Robert Peel Important Victorian Era British prime minister who oversaw several free market and political reforms.
William Gladstone Prime minister and member of the Liberal Party. Opponent of Disraeli.