W. E. Gladstone PM the Grand Old Man of late 19th Century British Politics (The GOM)

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In he brought about the fall of the ministry of Lord Derby by his unpremeditated but brilliant attack on the budgets of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Benjamin Disraeli. Gladstone served as President of the Board of Trade —44 during the second ministry of Robert Peel.


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Peel's government fell in , and Gladstone followed his leader in separation from the Conservative Party. The government resigned in over the Crimean War and Gladstone spent the next four years in the political wilderness, refusing to join Derby's Conservative Ministry on the grounds that he did not want to work with Benjamin Disraeli. Gladstone became Chancellor of the Exchequer again in Lord Palmerston's ministry —66 , when he became one of the leaders of the newly renamed Liberal Party.

Conversion to Liberalism

His modest parliamentary reform bill was defeated in , but his speeches did much to mold Disraeli's Reform Bill of His reputation is outstanding as a highly effective Chancellor who raised the visibility and power of the position. Gladstone took readily to finance and achieved his greatest success in that field. He promoted balancing the budget, limiting public expenditure, and paying off national debt.

His rhetoric of fiscal responsibility helped to unify the Liberal Party and differed significantly from the Conservatives in advocating fiscal simplicity, reduced government size, and direct taxation. When he became Chancellor of the Exchequer in he made that office, for the first time, the second most important in the government. He inaugurated an era of unexampled prosperity by applying the creed of laissez-faire to the nation's economic problems and by setting individuals free from a multitude of crippling and obsolete fiscal restrictions.

His annual budget statements were eagerly awaited, and the crowning moments of the first phase of his career were the great budgets of and He popularized finance and moralized it, arguing that self-discipline in freedom is the essential condition of human strength and happiness. In an historic move, Gladstone joined Palmerston's new Liberal government in as Chancellor of the Exchequer. In this post, Gladstone was steadily able to reduce income tax during his time in office. He had originally opposed further electoral reform, but by , was in favour of extending the franchise to the working classes in the towns.

Palmerston died in and was replaced by John Russell , who in turn retired in Gladstone became leader of the Liberal Party. A number of important reforms were passed, such as the disestablishment of the unpopular Church of Ireland in , the Forster Education Act of , which provided free primary education for all, and the Ballot Act , which ensured a secret ballot in all future elections. However, not all of the new legislation was popular with the voting public. Gladstone was defeated in the general election by his Conservative counterpart Benjamin Disraeli , and soon after resigned as Liberal leader.

As prime minister to he headed a Liberal Party that was a coalition of Peelites like himself, Whigs and radicals; Gladstone was now a spokesman for "peace, economy and reform. Between and religious disputes played a major part in destroying the broad Liberal Party coalition. Disputes over education, Irish disestablishment, and the Irish universities showed the divergence between, on the one hand, Whigs, who wanted state control of education and the propagation of a nondenominational, morally uplifting Christianity, and on the other hand Gladstone and his supporters, who sought to guard religion's independence from a modernizing civil power.

This division struck a lasting blow to prospects of agreement on future policy over education and Ireland. In Gladstone appointed Robert Lowe —92 Chancellor of the Exchequer, despite Lowe's nasty attacks on Gladstone's own chancellorships, because he thought Lowe could hold down public spending. Public spending rose, and Gladstone pronounced Lowe "wretchedly deficient," a view that posterity has not challenged.

Lowe was, however, a better Gladstonian than Gladstone himself. Lowe also stood out for his systematic underestimation of the revenue, enabling him to resist the clamor for tax cuts and to reduce the national debt instead, and for his insistence that the tax system be fair to all classes, which was more intense and protracted than that of any other chancellor of the age. By his own criterion of fairness - that the balance between direct and indirect taxation remain unchanged - he succeeded.

This balance had never been a good measure of class incidence and was by that time thoroughly archaic. Gladstone paid little attention to military affairs but in pushed through Parliament major changes in Army organization. Germany's stunning triumph over France proved that the Prussian system of professional soldiers with up-to-date weapons was far superior to the traditional system of gentlemen-soldiers that Britain used. Edward Cardwell — as Secretary of State for War designed the reforms that Gladstone supported in the name of efficiency and democracy.

In he abolished flogging, raising the private soldier status to more like an honorable career. In Cardwell abolished "bounty money" for recruits, discharged known bad characters from the ranks. He pulled 20, soldiers out of self-governing colonies, like Canada, which learned they had to help defend themselves. The most radical change, and one that required Gladstone's political muscle, was to abolish the system of officers obtaining commissions and promotions by purchase, rather than by merit. The system meant that the rich landholding families controlled all the middle and senior ranks in the army.

Promotion depended on the family's wealth, not the officer's talents, and the middle class was shut out almost completely. British officers were expected to be gentlemen and sportsmen; there was no problem if they were entirely wanting in military knowledge or leadership skills.

From the Tory perspective it was essential to keep the officer corps the domain of gentlemen, and not a trade for professional experts. They warned the latter might menace the oligarchy and threaten a military coup; they preferred an inefficient army to an authoritarian state. The rise of Bismark 's new Germany made this reactionary policy too dangerous for a great empire to risk.

UK Election - Prime Minister Profile: William E. Gladstone

The bill, which would have compensated current owners for their cash investments, passed Commons in but was blocked by the House of Lords. Gladstone then moved to drop the system without any reimbursements, forcing the Lords to backtrack and approve the original bill.

Cardwell was not powerful enough to install a general staff system; that had to await the 20th century. He did rearrange the war department. He made the office of Secretary of State for War superior to the Army's commander in Chief; the commander was His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge , the Queen's first cousin, and an opponent of the reforms. The surveyor-general of the ordnance, and the financial secretary became key department heads reporting to the Secretary. The militia was reformed as well and integrated into the Army. The term of enlistment was reduced to 6 years, so there was more turnover and a larger pool of trained reservists.

The territorial system of recruiting for regiments was standardized and adjusted to the current population.

Bismarck and Gladstone Beyond Caricature | History Today

Cardwell reduced the Army budget yet increased its strength of the army in the home islands by 25 battalions, field guns, and abundant stores, while the reserves available for foreign service had been raised tenfold from 3, to 36, men. Defeated by the Conservatives at the general election of , Gladstone retired in disgust from public life. He planned to devote the whole of his time, instead of his leisure as theretofore, to the task of defending Christian dogma from scientific onslaught. He coauthored a pamphlet attacking the "Vatican decrees," the newly proclaimed doctrine of papal infallibility; it sold , copies.

Gladstone sprang back into political life in over his moralistic foreign policy. It was his main concern Gladstone's campaign to oppose the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans led the British into a heated debate and drew the party line between Gladstone's Liberals who denounced the immoral Ottomans and Disraeli's Conservatives who supported the Ottoman Empire as an offset to Russian power.

Disraeli had threatened war with Russia on the issue and Gladstone argued he was wrong. Liberal opinion was convulsed by atrocities in the Balkans, in particular the massacre of more than 10, Christian Bulgars by Turkish irregulars. Gladstone published a ferocious pamphlet, focusing on the Turks' "abominable and bestial lusts The pamphlet sold an astonishing , copies. The crowning moment was his "Midlothian campaign" in late Gladstone in four speeches charged the government with financial incompetency, neglecting domestic legislation, and mismanagement of foreign affairs.

By appealing to vast audiences denouncing Disraeli's pro-Turkish foreign policy, Gladstone made himself a moral force in Europe, unified his party, and was carried back to power. The Liberals were not so naive and idealistic as to reject the imperial heritage; many Liberals such as H.


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Asquith became active imperialists. Liberal Party policy around was shaped by Gladstone as he repeatedly attacked Disraelian imperialism.


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On the other hand, national interest was always paramount, and the Liberals were quick to seek common ground with the Conservatives in regard to the Berlin Treaty , in which the party lost the moral high ground as a critic of imperialism. With the Liberals defeat in the elections of , Gladstone relinquished leadership of the Liberal Party.

He returned as prime minister in , and his government lasted until Legislation passed included the Land Act of for Ireland, and the third parliamentary Reform Act of He set about disengaging Britain from a series of colonial wars, but his foreign policy, which was one of avoidance of entanglements, lacked consistency and distinction. The period had mixed results at best. He undermined his reputation among pacifists and anti-imperialists by his military attack on Egypt in He was then denounced by jingoes when he sent General Charles George Gordon to the Sudan then failed to rescue him as he was besieged at Khartoum for 10 months and killed 2 days before rescuers arrived.

The issue split the Liberal Party and the Bill was defeated at the second reading. The government then lost the general election to be replaced by Lord Salisbury's Conservative Ministry. In , Gladstone was re-elected Prime Minister for the fourth and final time.

The influence of Peel

The following year he introduced his second Home Rule Bill. It passed by a small majority in the Commons, but then was defeated in the Lords. The third and final phase of his career was devoted to the Irish question. He sought repeatedly to pass a home rule bill but failed in and In , however, he disestablished the Church of Ireland that is the Protestant Anglican Church of the landowners, not the Catholic Church of the peasants , so that taxes were no longer collected for the Church. In he began to deal with the land tenure question.

The Irish Land Act of gave some security to Irish tenant farmers by preventing arbitrary eviction and giving the tenants financial rights to improvements they made.

Political Heroes: William Gladstone

The agricultural depression of the s soured the mood, and Charles Stewart Parnell set up the Irish Land League that used boycotts and violence against the landlords. Parnell mastered the arts of filibustering and parliamentary obstruction with 86 solid votes from Irish Nationalist MPs in Parliament he controlled. They were elected thanks to Gladstone's Third Reform Bill of , which greatly extended the franchise and for the first time treated Ireland and Great Britain on equal terms, thus tripling the Irish electorate. The Irish land proposals in Gladstone's first Home Rule Bill of was an unexpected shock to his supporters and brought down his third government in a matter of months.

The bill gave all owners of Irish land a chance to sell to the state at a price equal to 20 years' purchase of the rents and allowing tenants to purchase the land.