Disraeli, Benjamin, 1st earl of Beaconsfield , 1804–81, British statesman and author. He is regarded as the founder of the modern Conservative party.
Disraeli was of Jewish ancestry, but his father, the literary critic Isaac D'Israeli, had him baptized (1817). In 1826 Disraeli published his first novel, Vivian Grey. It was the beginning of a prolific literary career, and his political essays and numerous novels earned him a permanent place in English literature. After a period of foreign travel (1830–31), Disraeli returned to London, where he soon became prominent in society. Standing four times for Parliament without success, he was finally elected in 1837 and rapidly developed into an outstanding, realistic, and caustically witty politician.
He was a follower of Sir Robert Peel until 1843, but he then became spokesman for the Young England group of Tories, espousing a sort of romantic and aristocratic Toryism. He expressed these themes in the political novels Coningsby (1844) and Sybil (1846). He criticized Peel's free-trade legislation, particularly repeal of the corn laws (1846). After repeal went through (1846), he helped bring down Peel's ministry.
At the death of Lord George Bentinck (1848), Disraeli became leader of the Tory protectionists. He was chancellor of the exchequer in the brief governments of the earl of Derby in 1852 and 1858–59, and after continuing opposition during the Liberal governments of Palmerston and Russell, he became chancellor under Derby again in 1866. With consummate political skill, he piloted through Parliament the Reform Bill of 1867 (see under Reform Acts), which enfranchised some two million men, largely of the working classes, and greatly benefited his party.
Disraeli succeeded the earl of Derby as prime minister in 1868 but lost the office to Gladstone in the same year. Disraeli's second ministry (1874–80) enacted many domestic reforms in housing, public health, and factory legislation, but it was more notable for its aggressive foreign policy. The annexation of the Fiji islands (1874) and of the Transvaal (1877), the war against the Afghans (1878–79), and the Zulu War of 1879 proclaimed England a world imperial power more clearly than before. So did Queen Victoria's assumption (1876) of the title of empress of India; Disraeli was a great favorite of the queen.
The government's purchase (1875) of the controlling share of Suez Canal stock from the bankrupt khedive of Egypt strengthened British Mediterranean interests, which were jealously guarded in the diplomacy during and after the Russo-Turkish War (1877–78). During the war Disraeli supported Turkey diplomatically and by threat of intervention in order to combat Russian influence in the eastern Mediterranean, and he induced Turkey to cede Cyprus to Great Britain. He forced Russia to submit the Treaty of San Stefano to the Congress of Berlin (1878) and there secured the treaty revisions that greatly reduced Russian power in the Balkans (see Berlin, Congress of) and helped preserve peace in Europe. Disraeli was created earl of Beaconsfield in 1876. He was defeated by Gladstone in 1880.
William Ewart Gladstone, the fourth son of Sir John Gladstone, was born in Liverpool on 29th December, 1809. Gladstone was a MP and a successful Liverpool merchant. William was educated at Eton and Christ College, Oxford. At the Oxford Union Debating Society Gladstone developed a reputation as a fine orator. At university Gladstone was a Tory and denounced Whig proposals for parliamentary reform.
In 1832, the Duke of Newcastle was looking for a Conservative candidate for his Newark constituency. Although a nomination borough, Newark had been spared in the 1832 Reform Act. Sir John Gladstone was a friend of the Duke of Newcastle and suggested his son would make a good MP.
Two years after entering the House of Commons as MP for Newark, Sir Robert Peel, the Prime Minister, appointed William Gladstone as his junior lord of the Treasury. The following year he was promoted to under-secretary for the colonies. Gladstone lost office when Peel resigned in 1835 but returned to the government when the Whigs were forced out of power in August, 1841. Gladstone now became vice-president of the board of trade and in 1843 was promoted to the post of president. In 1844 Gladstone was responsible for the Railway Bill that introduced what became known as parliamentary trains. As a result of this legislation railway companies had to transport third-class travellers for fares that did not exceed a penny a mile. These parliamentary trains had to stop at every station and had to travel at not less than 12 miles an hour.
Midlothian's most famous MP was W.E. Gladstone, Prime Minister and the Grand Old Man of Liberalism, who represented Edinburghshire from 1880-1895. It may have been the Gladstone legacy, or the fact that the Scottish Miners were among the last organised workers to break their ties with the Liberals, but it was not until the breakthrough general elections of 1922 and 1923 that Labour MPs were first returned from what is now Midlothian.
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