British politician, b. Liverpool 1809-12-29, d. Hawarden (Wales) 1898-05-19. Full name William Ewart Gladstone. Prime minister of Great Britain, 1868-1874, 1880-1885, 1886 and 1892-1894. One of few Scots to rise to such prominence and nicknamed the Grand Old Man. His personal rivalry with Benjamin Disraeli was one of the most intriguing episodes of 19th century British politics.
Educated at Eton and Oxford where he obtained degrees in Mathematics and Classics, he was first elected to parliament at the tender age of 23 as an MP for Newark-on-Trent. Despite his Scottish roots, he would not represent a Scottish constituency until 1880. He began his political career as a Tory but eventually joined the Liberals.
His first speech as a parliamentarian was during the debate for the Emancipation Bill, in defence of his father's treatment of slaves at the plantations he owned in the West Indies, a matter of personal guilt for the Christian abolitionist Gladstone. In 1834, Sir Robert Peel appointed him to junior cabinet posts but resigned within five months, thus ending Gladstone's first experience of government. Between 1841 and 1852, he was appointed to a number of goverment posts until, in 1852, he became Chancellor of the Exchequer, a position which he held until 1855 and held again from 1859 until 1868 when he became prime minister for the first time. During this time, he supported the 1867 Reform Bill in a rare show of
agreement with his nemesis, Disraeli. A reasonably skilled and cautious financial administrator, he tried to lower the cost of living and encouraged private savings with the establishment of the Post Office Savings Bank in 1860.
One of the issues that would figure prominently in all his ministries was the question of Home Rule for Ireland. He tried hard to find a balance between genuine reform and keeping the peace against the backdrop of an increasing Irish drive for independence. In 1869 he disestablished the Church of Ireland and in 1870 passed his first Irish Land Act which entitled tenants to compensation for improvements if evicted. His most memorable piece of legislation was the Irish Land Act of 1881, in which the militant Land League was outlawed but many of its demands were met, including legislation mandating fair rent, fixed tenures and the tenants' freedom to sell their leases. Eventually, he became a proponent of Home Rule and advocated it during his brief ministry in 1886. Ultimately it led to his resignation in 1894 when his 1892 Home Rule bill didn't make it to the Lords.
The greatest fiasco of his administrations was the one that led to his electoral defeat in 1885--the death of General Charles Gordon in Khartoum. Disraeli's acquisition of the Suez Canal in 1875 had not only ensured the shipping route to India but also entangled Britain in the politics of an unstable part of the world. The government's failure to send timely reinforcements to Gordon, whose unsolicited heroics had got him into a tight spot, made Gordon a martyr and Gladstone an outcast.
More successful reforming legislation came in the form of mandatory free elementary education, the introduction of secret ballots for municipal and general elections and the restructuring of the country's high courts. His progressive legislation and that of his bitter rival, Disraeli, showed remarkable continuity during their alternating spells as prime ministers despite their many personal differences. Together, they shaped the mid and late Victorian age.
The State in its Relations with the Church (1838)
The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East (1876)
Gazetteer for Scotland, Edinburgh University
Victorian Web at Brown University
Dr. Edgar J. Feuchtwanger, University of Southampton
Winston Churchill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Vol. 4: The Great Democracies