Gladstone, William Ewart

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Gladstone, William Ewart,

1809–98, British statesman, the dominant personality of the Liberal partyLiberal party,
former British political party, the dominant political party in Great Britain for much of the period from the mid-1800s to World War I. Origins
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 from 1868 until 1894. A great orator and a master of finance, he was deeply religious and brought a highly moralistic tone to politics. To many he represented the best qualities of Victorian England, but he was also passionately disliked, most notably by his sovereign, Queen VictoriaVictoria
(Alexandrina Victoria) , 1819–1901, queen of Great Britain and Ireland (1837–1901) and empress of India (1876–1901). She was the daughter of Edward, duke of Kent (fourth son of George III), and Princess Mary Louise Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.
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, and by his chief political rival, Benjamin DisraeliDisraeli, Benjamin, 1st earl of Beaconsfield
, 1804–81, British statesman and author. He is regarded as the founder of the modern Conservative party.
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Early Career

Entering Parliament (1833) as a Tory, he became a protégé 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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, who made him undersecretary for war and the colonies (1835). In Peel's second ministry, he became vice president (1841) and president (1843) of the Board of Trade, introducing the first government regulation of the railroads, and then (1845) colonial secretary. A supporter of free trade, he resigned (1846) with Peel in the party split that followed repeal of the corn laws and gradually aligned himself more and more with the Liberals. As chancellor of the exchequer (1852–55, 1859–66), he eloquently proposed and secured measures for economic retrenchment and free trade. He also espoused the cause of parliamentary reform (see 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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Prime Minister

Gladstone served as prime minister four times (1868–74, 1880–85, 1886, and 1892–94). In his first ministry the Church of Ireland was disestablished (1869) to free Roman Catholics from the necessity of paying tithes to support the Anglican church, and an Irish land act was passed (see Irish Land QuestionIrish Land Question,
name given in the 19th cent. to the problem of land ownership and agrarian distress in Ireland under British rule. The long-term result of conquest, confiscation, and colonization was the creation of a class of English and Scottish landlords and of an
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) to protect the peasantry. He achieved important reforms—competitive admission to the civil service, the vote by secret ballot, abolition of the sale of commissions in the army, educational expansion, and court reorganization. Conservative reaction to reforms and a weak foreign policy defeated him in 1874.

In 1876, Gladstone published a pamphlet, Bulgarian Horrors and the Questions of the East, attacking the Disraeli government for its indifference to the brutal repression by the Turks of the Bulgarian rebellion. His renewed attack on Disraeli's pro-Turkish and generally aggressively imperialist policies in the Midlothian campaign of 1879–80 brought the Liberals back to power in 1880. During Gladstone's second ministry, a more effective Irish land act was passed (1881), and two parliamentary reform bills (1884, 1885) further extended the franchise and redistributed the seats in the House of Commons. The army's failure to relieve Charles George GordonGordon, Charles George,
1833–85, British soldier and administrator. He served in the Crimean War, went to China in the expedition of 1860, taking part in the capture of Beijing, and in 1863 took over the command of F. T.
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 at Khartoum helped to bring this ministry to an end (1885).

Gladstone's advocacy of Home RuleHome Rule,
in Irish and English history, political slogan adopted by Irish nationalists in the 19th cent. to describe their objective of self-government for Ireland. Origins of the Home Rule Movement
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 for Ireland was a notable recognition of Irish demands, but wrecked his third ministry (1886) after a few months. Many anti–Home Rule Liberals allied themselves with the Conservatives, and the slow decline of the Liberal party may be traced from this date. Gladstone also split with the Irish leader Charles Stewart ParnellParnell, Charles Stewart
, 1846–91, Irish nationalist leader. Haughty and sensitive, Parnell was only a mediocre orator, but he possessed a marked personal fascination and was a shrewd political and parliamentary tactician.
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 because of the divorce case in which Parnell was involved. Gladstone's last ministry followed the election of 1892 and continued the fight for Irish Home Rule. He retired in 1894 after the House of Lords defeated (1893) his bill.


Many of Gladstone's speeches and letters have been collected. See biographies by J. Morley (3 vol., 1903, repr. 1968), P. Stansky (1981), R. Shannon (1984), H. C. Matthew (1989), and R. Jenkins (1997).

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Gladstone, William Ewart


Born Dec. 29, 1809, in Liverpool; died May 19, 1898, in Hawarden. English statesman.

Gladstone was born into the family of a rich merchant. He was educated in the exclusive aristocratic school at Eton and graduated from Oxford University, where he studied theology and classical literature. In 1832 he was elected to Parliament as a member of the Tory Party. He gradually understood, however, that the development of capitalism and the strengthening of the bourgeoisie had rendered the old Tory position hopeless, and he began to orient himself toward the Liberals.

From 1843 to 1845, Gladstone was minister of trade in the Peel government and from 1845 to 1847, minister of the colonies. From 1852 to 1855 he was chancellor of the exchequer in Aberdeen’s coalition government, and from 1859 to 1866 he was chancellor of the exchequer in the Liberal government of Palmerston. During the Civil War in the USA (1861-65), Gladstone supported the southern slaveowners. In 1868 he was elected leader of the Liberal Party. From 1868 to 1874, Gladstone was prime minister. His government brought about reform in primary education, legalized the trade unions (simultaneously introducing punishment for picketing of establishments by strikers in their struggle against strikebreakers), and introduced the secret ballot. After the defeat of the Liberals in the parliamentary elections of 1874, Gladstone led the opposition to Disraeli’s Conservative government.

As head of the government from 1880 to 1885, Gladstone continued the expansionist foreign policy of the Conservatives. In 1882, his government sent English troops to seize Egypt. Cruelly suppressing the national liberation movement in Ireland, the Gladstone government simultaneously made insignificant concessions. The defeat of English troops in the Sudan and complications in Ireland led to the fall of the Gladstone government. Gladstone headed the government for a short time in 1886, introducing in Parliament a bill on home rule for Ireland, the defeat of which caused him to retire. The fight over this question continued for a long time. When he headed the government again from 1892 to 1894, Gladstone got a bill on home rule for Ireland through the House of Commons, but the House of Lords defeated it. He again went into retirement, and his political career, which had lasted more than 60 years, was over.

Without due foundation English historiography has created for Gladstone the fame of a great statesman. Marx applied the expression “great” in quotation marks to Gladstone, calling him “an arch-hypocrite and casuist” (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 35, p. 149).


Gleanings of Past Years, 1843-1878, vols. 1-7. London, 1879.
Bassett, A. T. Gladstone’s Speeches. London, 1916. (Descriptive index and bibliography.)


Erofeev, N. A. Ocherki po istorii Anglii, 1815-1917. Moscow, 1959.
Knaplund, P. Gladstone’s Foreign Policy. New York-London, 1935.
Batticombe, G. Gladstone. London, 1956.


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