Disraeli, Benjamin, 1st earl of Beaconsfield


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Disraeli, Benjamin, 1st earl of Beaconsfield

(dĭzrā`lē), 1804–81, British statesman and author. He is regarded as the founder of the modern Conservative party.

Early Career

Disraeli was of Jewish ancestry, but his father, the literary critic Isaac D'IsraeliD'Israeli, Isaac,
1766–1848, English critic and historian, b. London; father of Benjamin Disraeli. Born into a wealthy Jewish family, he produced his first poem at the age of 14. His best-known work is Curiosities of Literature (6 vol.
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, 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 PeelPeel, Sir Robert,
1788–1850, British statesman. The son of a rich cotton manufacturer, whose baronetcy he inherited in 1830, Peel entered Parliament as a Tory in 1809.
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 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 DerbyDerby, Edward George Geoffrey Smith Stanley, 14th earl of
, 1799–1869, British statesman. Although a Whig, he entered (1827) government as George Canning's undersecretary for the colonies.
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 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 ActsReform Acts
or Reform Bills,
in British history, name given to three major measures that liberalized representation in Parliament in the 19th cent. Representation of the counties and boroughs in the House of Commons had not, except for the effects of parliamentary
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), which enfranchised some two million men, largely of the working classes, and greatly benefited his party.

Prime Minister

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 ofBerlin, Congress of,
1878, called by the signers of the Treaty of Paris of 1856 (see Paris, Congress of) to reconsider the terms of the Treaty of San Stefano, which Russia had forced on the Ottoman Empire earlier in 1878.
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) and helped preserve peace in Europe. Disraeli was created earl of Beaconsfield in 1876. He was defeated by Gladstone in 1880.

Bibliography

See biographies by W. F. Monypenny and G. E. Buckle (6 vol, 1910–20, rev. ed. 1968), R. W. Davis (1976), R. Blake (1966, repr. 1987), S. Bradford (1982), J. Ridley (1995), W. Kuhn (2005), C. Hibbert (2006), A. Kirsch (2009), and D. Cesarani (2016); study by M. Swartz (1985).

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