William Ewart Gladstone
|The Right Honourable
William Ewart Gladstone
|Prime Minister of the United Kingdom|
15 August 1892 – 2 March 1894
|Preceded by||The Marquess of Salisbury|
|Succeeded by||The Earl of Rosebery|
1 February 1886 – 20 July 1886
|Preceded by||The Marquess of Salisbury|
|Succeeded by||The Marquess of Salisbury|
23 April 1880 – 9 June 1885
|Preceded by||The Earl of Beaconsfield|
|Succeeded by||The Marquess of Salisbury|
3 December 1868 – 17 February 1874
|Preceded by||Benjamin Disraeli|
|Succeeded by||Benjamin Disraeli|
|Lord Privy Seal|
15 August 1892 – 2 March 1894
|Preceded by||The Earl Cadogan|
|Succeeded by||The Lord Tweedmouth|
1 February 1886 – 20 July 1886
|Preceded by||The Earl of Harrowby|
|Succeeded by||The Earl Cadogan|
|Leader of the Opposition|
20 July 1886 – 11 August 1892
|Preceded by||The Marquess of Salisbury|
|Succeeded by||The Marquess of Salisbury|
9 June 1885 – 28 January 1886
|Preceded by||The Earl of Beaconsfield|
|Succeeded by||The Marquess of Salisbury|
17 February 1874 – 17 January 1875
|Preceded by||Benjamin Disraeli|
|Succeeded by||Marquess of Hartington|
|Chancellor of the Exchequer|
28 April 1880 – 16 December 1882
|Preceded by||Stafford Northcote|
|Succeeded by||Hugh Childers|
11 August 1873 – 17 February 1874
|Preceded by||Robert Lowe|
|Succeeded by||Stafford Northcote|
18 June 1859 – 26 June 1866
|Preceded by||Benjamin Disraeli|
|Succeeded by||Benjamin Disraeli|
28 December 1852 – 28 February 1855
|Preceded by||Benjamin Disraeli|
|Succeeded by||George Cornewall Lewis|
|Secretary of State for War and the Colonies|
23 December 1845 – 27 June 1846
|Preceded by||Lord Stanley|
|Succeeded by||The Earl Grey|
|President of the Board of Trade|
15 May 1843 – 5 February 1845
|Preceded by||The Earl of Ripon|
|Succeeded by||The Marquess of Dalhousie|
29 December 1809|
|Died||19 May 1898
Hawarden Castle, Wales
|Political party||Tory (1828–1834)
|Alma mater||Christ Church, Oxford|
|Religion||Church of England (High Church)|
William Ewart Gladstone (//; 29 December 1809 – 19 May 1898), was a British Liberal politician. In a career lasting over sixty years, he served as Prime Minister four separate times (1868–74, 1880–85, February–July 1886 and 1892–94), more than any other person, and served as Chancellor of the Exchequer four times. Gladstone was also Britain's oldest Prime Minister; he resigned for the final time when he was 84 years old.
Gladstone first entered Parliament in 1832. Beginning as a High Tory, Gladstone served in the Cabinet of Sir Robert Peel. After the split of the Conservatives Gladstone was a Peelite – in 1859 the Peelites merged with the Whigs and the Radicals to form the Liberal Party. As Chancellor Gladstone became committed to low public spending and to electoral reform, earning him the sobriquet "The People's William".
Gladstone's first ministry saw many reforms including Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland and the introduction of secret voting. After his electoral defeat in 1874, Gladstone resigned as leader of the Liberal Party, but from 1876 began a comeback based on opposition to Turkey's Bulgarian atrocities. Gladstone's Midlothian Campaign of 1879–80 was an early example of many modern political campaigning techniques. After the 1880 election, he formed his second ministry, which saw crises in Egypt (culminating in the death of General Gordon in 1885), and in Ireland, where the government passed repressive measures but also improved the legal rights of Irish tenant farmers. The government also passed the Third Reform Act.
Back in office in early 1886, Gladstone proposed Irish home rule but this was defeated in the House of Commons in July. The resulting split in the Liberal Party helped keep them out of office, with one short break, for twenty years. In 1892 Gladstone formed his last government at the age of 82. The Second Irish Home Rule Bill passed the Commons but was defeated in the Lords in 1893. Gladstone resigned in March 1894, in opposition to increased naval expenditure. He left Parliament in 1895 and died three years later aged 88.
Gladstone is famous for his oratory, his religiosity, his liberalism, his rivalry with the Conservative Leader Benjamin Disraeli, and for his poor relations with Queen Victoria, who once complained, "He always addresses me as if I were a public meeting."
Gladstone was known affectionately by his supporters as "The People's William" or the "G.O.M." ("Grand Old Man", or, according to Disraeli, "God's Only Mistake"). Gladstone is consistently ranked as one of Britain's greatest Prime Ministers.
- 1 Early life (1809–1841)
- 2 Minister under Peel (1841–1846)
- 3 Opposition MP (1846–1851)
- 4 Chancellor of the Exchequer (1852–1855)
- 5 Opposition (1855–1859)
- 6 Chancellor of the Exchequer (1859–1866)
- 7 First premiership (1868–1874)
- 8 Opposition (1874–1880)
- 9 Second premiership (1880–1885)
- 10 Third premiership (1886)
- 11 Opposition (1886–1892)
- 12 Fourth premiership (1892–1894)
- 13 Final years (1894–1898)
- 14 Religion
- 15 Legacy
- 16 Monuments
- 17 Gallery
- 18 In popular culture
- 19 Portrayal in film and television
- 20 Works
- 21 See also
- 22 Notes
- 23 References
- 24 Further reading
- 25 External links
Early life (1809–1841)
Born in 1809 in Liverpool, at 62 Rodney Street, William Ewart Gladstone was the fourth son of the merchant Sir John Gladstone, and his second wife, Anne MacKenzie Robertson. Although born and brought up in Liverpool, William Gladstone was of purely Scottish ancestry. One of his earliest childhood memories was being made to stand on a table and say "Ladies and gentlemen" to the assembled audience, probably at a gathering to promote the election of George Canning as MP for Liverpool in 1812. In 1814 young "Willy" visited Scotland for the first time, as he and his brother John travelled with their father to Edinburgh, Biggar and Dingwall to visit their relatives. William and his brother were both made freemen of the burgh of Dingwall. In 1815 Gladstone also travelled to London and Cambridge for the first time with his parents. In London he attended a service of thanksgiving with his family at St Paul's Cathedral following the Battle of Waterloo, where he saw the Prince Regent.
William Gladstone was educated from 1816 to 1821 at a preparatory school at the vicarage of St Thomas's Church at Seaforth, close to his family's residence, Seaforth House. In 1821 William followed in the footsteps of his older brothers and attended Eton College before matriculating in 1828 at Christ Church, Oxford, where he read Classics and Mathematics, although he had no great interest in mathematics. In December 1831 he achieved the double first-class degree he had long desired. Gladstone served as President of the Oxford Union debating society, where he developed a reputation as an orator, which followed him into the House of Commons. At university Gladstone was a Tory and denounced Whig proposals for parliamentary reform.
Following the success of his double first, William travelled with his brother John on a Grand Tour of Europe, visiting Belgium, France, Germany and Italy. On his return to England, William was elected to Parliament in 1832 as Tory Member of Parliament (MP) for Newark, partly through the influence of the local patron, the Duke of Newcastle. Although Gladstone entered Lincoln's Inn in 1833, with a view to becoming a barrister, by 1839 he had requested that his name should be removed from the list because he no longer intended to be called to the Bar.
In the House of Commons, Gladstone was initially a disciple of High Toryism, opposing the abolition of slavery and factory legislation. In 1834, when slavery was abolished, he helped his father obtain £106,769 (modern equivalent £83m) in official reimbursement by the government for the 2,508 slaves he owned across nine plantations in the Caribbean.
In December 1834 he was appointed as a Junior Lord of the Treasury in Sir Robert Peel's first ministry. The following month he was appointed Under-Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, an office he held until the government's resignation in April 1835.
William Gladstone's early attempts to find a wife proved unsuccessful, with his being rejected by Caroline Eliza Farquhar (daughter of Sir Thomas Harvie Farquhar, 2nd Baronet) in 1835, and by Lady Frances Harriet Douglas (daughter of George Douglas, 17th Earl of Morton) in 1837. Gladstone published his first book, The State in its Relations with the Church, in 1838, in which he argued that the goal of the state should be to promote and defend the interests of the Church of England. The following year, having met her in 1834 at the London home of Old Etonian friend and then fellow-Conservative MP James Milnes Gaskell, he married Catherine Glynne, to whom he remained married until his death 59 years later. They had eight children together:
- William Henry Gladstone (1840–1891), MP.
- Agnes Gladstone (1842–1931), later Mrs. Edward Wickham.
- The Rev. Stephen Edward Gladstone (1844–1920).
- Catherine Jessy Gladstone (1845–1850).
- Mary Gladstone (1847–1927), later Mrs. Harry Drew.
- Helen Gladstone (1849–1925), Vice-President of Newnham College, Cambridge
- Henry Neville Gladstone (1852–1935), Lord Gladstone of Hawarden.
- Herbert John Gladstone (1854–1930), MP and Viscount Gladstone.
In 1840 Gladstone began to rescue and rehabilitate London prostitutes, walking the streets of London himself and encouraging the women he encountered to change their ways. Much to the criticism of his peers, he continued this practice decades later, even after he was elected Prime Minister.
Opposition to the Opium Wars
The opium trade faced intense opposition from Gladstone. Gladstone called it "most infamous and atrocious" referring to the opium trade between China and British India in particular. Gladstone was fiercely against both of the Opium Wars Britain waged in China, in the First Opium War initiated in 1840 and the Second Opium War initiated in 1857, denouncing British violence against Chinese, and was ardently opposed to the British trade in opium in China. Gladstone lambasted it as "Palmerston's Opium War" and said that he felt "in dread of the judgments of God upon England for our national iniquity towards China" in May 1840. A famous speech was made by Gladstone in Parliament against the First Opium War. Gladstone criticized it as "a war more unjust in its origin, a war more calculated in its progress to cover this country with permanent disgrace,". His hostility to opium stemmed from the effects of opium brought upon his sister Helen. Due to the First Opium war brought on by Palmerston, there was initial reluctance to join the government of Peel on the part of Gladstone before 1841.
William Gladstone's private secretary was his nephew Spencer Lyttelton.
Minister under Peel (1841–1846)
Gladstone was re-elected in 1841. In September 1842 he lost the forefinger of his left hand in an accident while reloading a gun; thereafter he wore a glove or finger sheath (stall). In the second ministry of Robert Peel he served as President of the Board of Trade (1843–45).
Gladstone became concerned with the situation of "coal whippers". These were the men who worked on London docks, "whipping" in baskets from ships to barges or wharves all incoming coal from the sea. They were called up and relieved through public-houses and therefore a man could not get this job unless he possessed the favourable opinion of the publican, who looked upon most favourably those who drank. The man's name was written down and the "score" followed. Publicans issued employment solely on the capacity of the man to pay, and men often left the pub to work drunk. They spent their savings on drink to secure the favourable opinion of publicans and therefore further employment. Gladstone passed the Coal Vendors Act 1843 to set up a central office for employment. When this Act expired in 1856 a Select Committee was appointed by the Lords in 1857 to look into the question. Gladstone gave evidence to the Committee: "I approached the subject in the first instance as I think everyone in Parliament of necessity did, with the strongest possible prejudice against the proposal [to interfere]; but the facts stated were of so extraordinary and deplorable a character, that it was impossible to withhold attention from them. Then the question being whether legislative interference was required I was at length induced to look at a remedy of an extraordinary character as the only one I thought applicable to the case...it was a great innovation". Looking back in 1883, Gladstone wrote that "In principle, perhaps my Coalwhippers Act of 1843 was the most Socialistic measure of the last half century".
He resigned in 1845 over the Maynooth Seminary issue, a matter of conscience for him. To improve relations with Irish Catholics, Peel's government proposed increasing the annual grant paid to the Seminary for training Catholic priests. Gladstone, who previously argued in a book that a Protestant country should not pay money to other churches, supported the increase in the Maynooth grant and voted for it in Commons, but resigned rather than face charges that he had compromised his principles to remain in office. After accepting Gladstone's resignation, Peel confessed to a friend, "I really have great difficulty sometimes in exactly comprehending what he means."  Gladstone returned to Peel's government as Colonial Secretary in December 1845. "As such, he had to stand for re-election, but the strong protectionism of the Duke of Newcastle, his patron in Newark, meant that he could not stand there and no other seat was available. Throughout the corn law crisis of 1846, therefore, Gladstone was in the highly anomalous and possibly unique position of being a secretary of state without a seat in either house and thus unanswerable to parliament."
Opposition MP (1846–1851)
The following year Peel's government fell over the MPs' repeal of the Corn Laws and Gladstone followed his leader into a course of separation from mainstream Conservatives. After Peel's death in 1850 Gladstone emerged as the leader of the Peelites in the House of Commons. He was re-elected for the University of Oxford (i.e. representing the MA graduates of the University) at the General Election in 1847 – Peel had once held this seat but had lost it because of his espousal of Catholic Emancipation in 1829. Gladstone became a constant critic of Lord Palmerston.[clarification needed]
In 1847 Gladstone helped to establish Glenalmond College, then The Holy and Undivided Trinity College at Glenalmond. The school was set up as an episcopal foundation to spread the ideas of the Anglican Church in Scotland, and to educate the sons of the gentry.
As a young man Gladstone had treated his father's estate, Fasque, in Forfarshire, southwest of Aberdeen, as home, but as a younger son he would not inherit it. Instead, from the time of his marriage, he lived at his wife's family's estate at Hawarden in Flintshire, Wales. He never actually owned Hawarden, which belonged first to his brother-in-law Sir Stephen Glynne, and was then inherited by Gladstone's eldest son in 1874. During the late 1840s, when he was out of office, he worked extensively to turn Hawarden into a viable business.
In 1848 he also founded the Church Penitentiary Association for the Reclamation of Fallen Women. In May 1849 he began his most active "rescue work" with "fallen women" and met prostitutes late at night on the street, in his house or in their houses, writing their names in a private notebook. He aided the House of Mercy at Clewer near Windsor (which exercised extreme in-house discipline) and spent much time arranging employment for ex-prostitutes. In a "Declaration" signed on 7 December 1896 and only to be opened after his death by his son Stephen, Gladstone wrote:
With reference to rumours which I believe were at one time afloat, though I know not with what degree of currency: and also with reference to the times when I shall not be here to answer for myself, I desire to record my solemn declaration and assurance, as in the sight of God and before His Judgment Seat, that at no period of my life have I been guilty of the act which is known as that of infidelity to the marriage bed.
In 1927, during a court case over published claims that he had had improper relationships with some of these women, the jury unanimously found that the evidence "completely vindicated the high moral character of the late Mr. W. E. Gladstone".
In 1850/51 Gladstone visited Naples for the benefit of his daughter Mary's eyesight. Giacomo Lacaita, legal adviser to the British embassy, was imprisoned by the Neapolitan government, as were other political dissidents. Gladstone became concerned at the political situation in Naples and the arrest and imprisonment of Neapolitan liberals. In February 1851 the government allowed Gladstone to visit the prisons where they were held and he deplored their condition. In April and July he published two Letters to the Earl of Aberdeen against the Neapolitan government and responded to his critics in An Examination of the Official Reply of the Neapolitan Government in 1852. Gladstone's first letter described what he saw in Naples as "the negation of God erected into a system of government". Giustino Fortunato, prime minister of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, knew of the letters from Paolo Ruffo, Neapolitan ambassador in London, but he didn't inform the king Ferdinand II. After his unfulfilment, Fortunato was dismissed by the sovereign.
Chancellor of the Exchequer (1852–1855)
In 1852, following the appointment of Lord Aberdeen as Prime Minister, head of a coalition of Whigs and Peelites, Gladstone became Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Whig Sir Charles Wood and the Tory Disraeli had both been perceived to have failed in the office and so this provided Gladstone with a great political opportunity.
His first budget in 1853 almost completed the work begun by Peel eleven years before in simplifying Britain's tariff of duties and customs. 123 duties were abolished and 133 duties were reduced. The income tax had legally expired but Gladstone proposed to extend it for seven years to fund tariff reductions:
We propose, then, to re-enact it for two years, from April, 1853, to April, 1855, at the rate of 7d. in the £; from April, 1855, to enact it for two more years at 6d. in the £; and then for three years more ... from April, 1857, at 5d. Under this proposal, on 5 April 1860, the income-tax will by law expire.
Gladstone wanted to maintain a balance between direct and indirect taxation. He also wished to abolish the income tax. He knew that its abolition depended on a considerable retrenchment in government expenditure. He therefore increased the number of people eligible to pay it by lowering the threshold from £150 to £100. The more people who paid income tax, Gladstone believed, the more the public would pressure the government into abolishing it. Gladstone argued that the £100 line was "the dividing line ... between the educated and the labouring part of the community" and that therefore the income tax payers and the electorate were to be the same people, who would then vote to cut government expenditure.
The budget speech (delivered on 18 April), at nearly five hours length, raised Gladstone "at once to the front rank of financiers as of orators". H. C. G. Matthew has written that Gladstone "made finance and figures exciting, and succeeded in constructing budget speeches epic in form and performance, often with lyrical interludes to vary the tension in the Commons as the careful exposition of figures and argument was brought to a climax". The contemporary diarist Charles Greville wrote of Gladstone's speech:
... by universal consent it was one of the grandest displays and most able financial statement that ever was heard in the House of Commons; a great scheme, boldly, skilfully, and honestly devised, disdaining popular clamour and pressure from without, and the execution of it absolute perfection. Even those who do not admire the Budget, or who are injured by it, admit the merit of the performance. It has raised Gladstone to a great political elevation, and, what is of far greater consequence than the measure itself, has given the country assurance of a man equal to great political necessities, and fit to lead parties and direct governments.
However, with Britain entering the Crimean War in February 1854, Gladstone introduced his second budget on 6 March. Gladstone had to increase expenditure on the Services and a vote of credit of £1,250,000 was taken to send a 25,000 strong force to the East. The deficit for the year would be £2,840,000 (estimated revenue £56,680,000; estimated expenditure £59,420,000). Gladstone refused to borrow the money needed to rectify this deficit and instead increased the income tax by one half from sevenpence to tenpence-halfpenny in the pound (From ≈2.92% to ≈4.38%). Gladstone proclaimed that "the expenses of a war are the moral check which it has pleased the Almighty to impose on the ambition and the lust of conquest that are inherent in so many nations". By May £6,870,000 was needed to finance the war and so Gladstone introduced another budget on 8 May. Gladstone raised the income tax from 10 and a half pence to 14d. to raise £3,250,000; spirits, malt, and sugar were taxed to raise the rest of the money needed.
He served until 1855, a few weeks into Lord Palmerston's first premiership, whereupon he resigned along with the rest of the Peelites after a motion was passed to appoint a committee of inquiry into the conduct of the war.
The Conservative Leader Lord Derby became Prime Minister in 1858, but Gladstone – who like the other Peelites was still nominally a Conservative – declined a position in his government, opting not to sacrifice his free trade principles.
Between November 1858 and February 1859, Gladstone, on behalf of Lord Derby's government, was made Extraordinary Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands embarking via Vienna and Trieste on a twelve-week mission to the southern Adriatic entrusted with complex challenges that had arisen in connection with the future of the British Protectorate of the Ionian islands.
In 1858, Gladstone took up the hobby of tree felling, mostly of oak trees, an exercise he continued with enthusiasm until he was 81 in 1891. Eventually, he became notorious for this activity, prompting Lord Randolph Churchill to observe: "For the purposes of recreation he has selected the felling of trees; and we may usefully remark that his amusements, like his politics, are essentially destructive. Every afternoon the whole world is invited to assist at the crashing fall of some beech or elm or oak. The forest laments in order that Mr Gladstone may perspire." Less noticed at the time was his practice of replacing the trees felled with newly planted saplings. Gladstone was a lifelong bibliophile to the extent that it has been suggested that in his lifetime, he read around 20,000 books, and eventually came to own a Library of over 32,000.
Chancellor of the Exchequer (1859–1866)
In 1859, Lord Palmerston formed a new mixed government with Radicals included, and Gladstone again joined the government as Chancellor of the Exchequer (with most of the other remaining Peelites) to become part of the new Liberal Party.
Gladstone inherited an unpleasant financial situation, with a deficit of nearly five millions and the income tax at 5d. Like Peel, Gladstone dismissed the idea of borrowing to cover the deficit. Gladstone argued that "In time of peace nothing but dire necessity should induce us to borrow". Most of the money needed was acquired through raising the income tax to 9d. Usually not more than two-thirds of a tax imposed could be collected in a financial year so Gladstone therefore imposed the extra four pence at a rate of 8d. during the first half of the year so that he could obtain the additional revenue in one year. Gladstone's dividing line set up in 1853 had been abolished in 1858 but Gladstone revived it, with lower incomes to pay 6½d. instead of 9d. For the first half of the year the lower incomes paid 8d. and the higher incomes paid 13d. in income tax.
On 12 September 1859 the Radical MP Richard Cobden visited Gladstone, with Gladstone recording in his diary: "... further conv. with Mr. Cobden on Tariffs & relations with France. We are closely & warmly agreed". Cobden was sent as Britain's representative to the negotiations with France's Michel Chevalier for a free trade treaty between the two countries. Gladstone wrote to Cobden: "... the great aim—the moral and political significance of the act, and its probable and desired fruit in binding the two countries together by interest and affection. Neither you nor I attach for the moment any superlative value to this Treaty for the sake of the extension of British trade. ... What I look to is the social good, the benefit to the relations of the two countries, and the effect on the peace of Europe".
Gladstone's budget of 1860 was introduced on 10 February along with the Cobden–Chevalier Treaty between Britain and France that would reduce tariffs between the two countries. This budget "marked the final adoption of the Free Trade principle, that taxation should be levied for Revenue purposes alone, and that every protective, differential, or discriminating duty ... should be dislodged". At the beginning of 1859, there were 419 duties in existence. The 1860 budget reduced the number of duties to 48, with 15 duties constituting the majority of the revenue. To finance these reductions in indirect taxation, the income tax, instead of being abolished, was raised to 10d. for incomes above £150 and at 7d. for incomes above £100.
Some of the duties Gladstone intended to abolish in 1860 were the duties on paper, a controversial policy because the duties had traditionally inflated the costs of publishing and thus hindered the dissemination of radical working-class ideas. Although Palmerston supported continuation of the duties, using them and income tax revenues to make armament purchases, a majority of his Cabinet supported Gladstone. The Bill to abolish duties on paper narrowly passed Commons but was rejected by the House of Lords. As no money bill had been rejected by Lords for over two hundred years, a furore arose over this vote. The next year, Gladstone included the abolition of paper duties in a consolidated Finance Bill (the first ever) to force the Lords to accept it, and accept it they did. The proposal in the Commons of one bill only per session for the national finances was a precedent uniformly followed from that date until 1910, and it has been ever since the rule.
Significantly, Gladstone succeeded in steadily reducing the income tax over the course of his tenure as Chancellor. In 1861 the tax was reduced to ninepence (£0–0s–9d); in 1863 to sevenpence; in 1864 to fivepence; and in 1865 to fourpence. Gladstone believed that government was extravagant and wasteful with taxpayers' money and so sought to let money "fructify in the pockets of the people" by keeping taxation levels down through "peace and retrenchment". Gladstone wrote in 1859 to his brother who was a member of the Financial Reform Association at Liverpool: "Economy is the first and great article (economy such as I understand it) in my financial creed. The controversy between direct and indirect taxation holds a minor, though important place". He wrote to his wife on 14 January 1860: "I am certain, from experience, of the immense advantage of strict account-keeping in early life. It is just like learning the grammar then, which when once learned need not be referred to afterwards".
The Austrian economist, Joseph Schumpeter, described Gladstonian finance in his History of Economic Analysis:
... there was one man who not only united high ability with unparalleled opportunity but also knew how to turn budgets into political triumphs and who stands in history as the greatest English financier of economic liberalism, Gladstone. ... The greatest feature of Gladstonian finance ... was that it expressed with ideal adequacy both the whole civilisation and the needs of the time, ex visu of the conditions of the country to which it was to apply; or, to put it slightly differently, that it translated a social, political, and economic vision, which was comprehensive as well as historically correct, into the clauses of a set of co-ordinated fiscal measures. ... Gladstonian finance was the finance of the system of 'natural liberty,' laissez-faire, and free trade ... the most important thing was to remove fiscal obstructions to private activity. And for this, in turn, it was necessary to keep public expenditure low. Retrenchment was the victorious slogan of the day ... it means the reduction of the functions of the state to a minimum ... retrenchment means rationalisation of the remaining functions of the state, which among other things implies as small a military establishment as possible. The resulting economic development would in addition, so it was believed, make social expenditures largely superfluous. ... Equally important was it ... to raise the revenue that would still have to be raised in such a way as to deflect economic behaviour as little as possible from what it would have been in the absence of all taxation ('taxation for revenue only'). And since the profit motive and the propensity to save were considered of paramount importance for the economic progress of all classes, this meant in particular that taxation should as little as possible interfere with the net earnings of business. ... As regards indirect taxes, the principle of least interference was interpreted by Gladstone to mean that taxation should be concentrated on a few important articles, leaving the rest free. ... Last, but not least, we have the principle of the balanced budget.
Due to his actions as Chancellor, Gladstone earned the reputation as the liberator of British trade and the working man's breakfast table, the man responsible for the emancipation of the popular press from "taxes upon knowledge" and for placing a duty on the succession of the estates of the rich. Gladstone's popularity rested on his taxation policies which meant to his supporters balance, social equity and political justice. The most significant expression of working-class opinion was at Northumberland in 1862 when Gladstone visited. George Holyoake recalled in 1865:
When Mr Gladstone visited the North, you well remember when word passed from the newspaper to the workman that it circulated through mines and mills, factories and workshops, and they came out to greet the only British minister who ever gave the English people a right because it was just they should have it ... and when he went down the Tyne, all the country heard how twenty miles of banks were lined with people who came to greet him. Men stood in the blaze of chimneys; the roofs of factories were crowded; colliers came up from the mines; women held up their children on the banks that it might be said in after life that they had seen the Chancellor of the People go by. The river was covered like the land. Every man who could ply an oar pulled up to give Mr Gladstone a cheer. When Lord Palmerston went to Bradford the streets were still, and working men imposed silence upon themselves. When Mr Gladstone appeared on the Tyne he heard cheer no other English minister ever heard ... the people were grateful to him, and rough pitmen who never approached a public man before, pressed round his carriage by thousands ... and thousands of arms were stretched out at once, to shake hands with Mr Gladstone as one of themselves.
When Gladstone first joined Palmerston's government in 1859, he opposed further electoral reform, but he changed his position during Palmerston's last premiership, and by 1865 he was firmly in favour of enfranchising the working classes in towns. This latter policy created friction with Palmerston, who strongly opposed enfranchisement. At the beginning of each session, Gladstone would passionately urge the Cabinet to adopt new policies, while Palmerston would fixedly stare at a paper before him. At a lull in Gladstone's speech, Palmerston would smile, rap the table with his knuckles, and interject pointedly, "Now, my Lords and gentlemen, let us go to business".
American Civil War
As Chancellor, Gladstone made a speech at Newcastle on 7 October 1862 in which he supported the independence of the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War, claiming that Jefferson Davis had "made a nation". He did not consider slavery a problem; his father owned over two and a half thousand slaves when Gladstone was first elected to Parliament, and the young man helped his father obtain full payment for them. Great Britain was officially neutral at the time, and Gladstone later regretted the Newcastle speech.
In May 1864 Gladstone said that he saw no reason in principle why all mentally able men could not be enfranchised, but admitted that this would only come about once the working-classes themselves showed more interest in the subject. Queen Victoria was not pleased with this statement, and an outraged Palmerston considered it seditious incitement to agitation. .
Gladstone's support for electoral reform and disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Ireland had alienated him from his constituents in his Oxford University seat, and he lost it in the 1865 general election. A month later, however, he stood as a candidate in South Lancashire, where he was elected third MP (South Lancashire at this time elected three MPs). Palmerston campaigned for Gladstone in Oxford because he believed that his constituents would keep him "partially muzzled", because many Oxford graduates were Anglican clergymen at that time. A victorious Gladstone told his new constituency, "At last, my friends, I am come among you; and I am come—to use an expression which has become very famous and is not likely to be forgotten—I am come 'unmuzzled'."
On Palmerston's death in October, Earl Russell formed his second ministry. Russell & Gladstone (now the senior Liberal in the House of Commons) attempted to pass a reform bill, which was defeated in the House of Commons because of the refusal of the "Adullamite" Whigs, led by Robert Lowe, to support it. The Conservatives then formed a ministry, in which after long Parliamentary debate Disraeli passed the Second Reform Act of 1867, more far-reaching than Gladstone's proposed bill had been.
Leader of the Liberal Party, from 1867
Lord Russell retired in 1867 and Gladstone became leader of the Liberal Party. in 1868 Gladstone proposed the Irish Church Resolutions to reunite the Liberal Party for government (on the issue of disestablishment of the Church of Ireland – this would be done during Gladstone's First Government in 1869 and meant that Irish Roman Catholics did not need to pay their tithes to the Anglican Church of Ireland). When these passed the House of Commons Disraeli called a General Election.
First premiership (1868–1874)
In the next general election in 1868, the South Lancashire constituency had been broken-up by the Second Reform Act into two: South East Lancashire and South West Lancashire. Gladstone stood for South West Lancashire and for Greenwich, it being quite common then for candidates to stand in two constituencies simultaneously. He was defeated in Lancashire and won in Greenwich. He became Prime Minister for the first time and remained in the office until 1874. Evelyn Ashley famously described the scene in the grounds of Hawarden Castle on 1 December 1868, though getting the date wrong:
One afternoon of November, 1868, in the Park at Hawarden, I was standing by Mr. Gladstone holding his coat on my arm while he, in his shirt sleeves, was wielding an axe to cut down a tree. Up came a telegraph messenger. He took the telegram, opened it and read it, then handed it to me, speaking only two words, namely, 'Very significant', and at once resumed his work. The message merely stated that General Grey would arrive that evening from Windsor. This, of course, implied that a mandate was coming from the Queen charging Mr. Gladstone with the formation of his first Government. I said nothing, but waited while the well-directed blows resounded in regular cadence. After a few minutes the blows ceased and Mr. Gladstone, resting on the handle of his axe, looked up, and with deep earnestness in his voice, and great intensity in his face, exclaimed: 'My mission is to pacify Ireland.' He then resumed his task, and never said another word till the tree was down.
In the 1860s and 1870s, Gladstonian Liberalism was characterised by a number of policies intended to improve individual liberty and loosen political and economic restraints. First was the minimisation of public expenditure on the premise that the economy and society were best helped by allowing people to spend as they saw fit. Secondly, his foreign policy aimed at promoting peace to help reduce expenditures and taxation and enhance trade. Thirdly, laws that prevented people from acting freely to improve themselves were reformed. When an unemployed miner (Daniel Jones) wrote to him to complain of his unemployment and low wages, Gladstone gave what H. C. G. Matthew has called "the classic mid-Victorian reply" on 20 October 1869:
The only means which have been placed in my power of 'raising the wages of colliers' has been by endeavouring to beat down all those restrictions upon trade which tend to reduce the price to be obtained for the product of their labour, & to lower as much as may be the taxes on the commodities which they may require for use or for consumption. Beyond this I look to the forethought not yet so widely diffused in this country as in Scotland, & in some foreign lands; & I need not remind you that in order to facilitate its exercise the Government have been empowered by Legislation to become through the Dept. of the P.O. the receivers & guardians of savings.
Gladstone's first premiership instituted reforms in the British Army, civil service, and local government to cut restrictions on individual advancement. The Local Government Board Act 1871 put the supervision of the Poor Law under the Local Government Board (headed by G. J. Goschen) and Gladstone's "administration could claim spectacular success in enforcing a dramatic reduction in supposedly sentimental and unsystematic outdoor poor relief, and in making, in co-operation with the Charity Organization Society (1869), the most sustained attempt of the century to impose upon the working classes the Victorian values of providence, self-reliance, foresight, and self-discipline". Gladstone was associated with the Charity Organization Society's first annual report in 1870. Some leading Conservatives at this time were contemplating an alliance between the aristocracy and the working class against the capitalist class, an idea called the New Social Alliance. At a speech at Blackheath on 28 October 1871, Gladstone warned his constituents against these social reformers:
... they are not your friends, but they are your enemies in fact, though not in intention, who teach you to look to the Legislature for the radical removal of the evils that afflict human life. ... It is the individual mind and conscience, it is the individual character, on which mainly human happiness or misery depends. (Cheers.) The social problems that confront us are many and formidable. Let the Government labour to its utmost, let the Legislature labour days and nights in your service; but, after the very best has been attained and achieved, the question whether the English father is to be the father of a happy family and the centre of a united home is a question which must depend mainly upon himself. (Cheers.) And those who ... promise to the dwellers in towns that every one of them shall have a house and garden in free air, with ample space; those who tell you that there shall be markets for selling at wholesale prices retail quantities—I won't say are imposters, because I have no doubt they are sincere; but I will say they are quacks (cheers); they are deluded and beguiled by a spurious philanthropy, and when they ought to give you substantial, even if they are humble and modest boons, they are endeavouring, perhaps without their own consciousness, to delude you with fanaticism, and offering to you a fruit which, when you attempt to taste it, will prove to be but ashes in your mouths. (Cheers.)
He instituted abolition of the sale of commissions in the army as well as court reorganisation. In foreign affairs his over-riding aim was to promote peace and understanding, characterised by his settlement of the Alabama Claims in 1872 in favour of the Americans. He also instituted the Cardwell Reforms in 1869 that made peacetime flogging illegal and, in 1870, the Irish Land Act and Forster's Education Act. In 1871, he instituted the Universities Tests Act. In 1872, he secured passage of the Ballot Act for secret voting ballots. In 1873, his leadership led to the passage of laws restructuring the High Courts. He also passed the 1872 licensing act.
Gladstone unexpectedly dissolved Parliament in January 1874 and called a general election. In his election address to his constituents on 23 January, Gladstone said:
Upon a review of the finance of the last five years, we are enabled to state that, notwithstanding the purchase of the telegraphs for a sum exceeding 9,000,000l., the aggregate amount of the national debt has been reduced by more than 20,000,000l.; that taxes have been lowered or abolished (over and above any amount imposed) to the extent of 12,500,000l.; that during the present year the Alabama Indemnity has been paid, and the charge of the Ashantee War will be met out of revenue; and that in estimating, as we can now venture to do, the income of the coming year (and, for the moment assuming the general scale of charge to continue as it was fixed during the last Session), we do not fear to anticipate as the probable balance a surplus exceeding rather than falling short of 5,000,000l. ... The first item ... which I have to set down in the financial arrangements proper for the first year is relief, but relief coupled with reform, of local taxation. ... It has ... been the happy fortune of Mr. Lowe to bring it [the income tax] down, first from 6d. to 4d., and then from 4d. to 3d., in the pound. The proceeds of the Income Tax for the present year are expected to be between 5,000,000l. and 6,000,000l., and at a sacrifice for the financial year of something less than 5,500,000l. the country may enjoy the advantage and relief of its total repeal. I do not hesitate to affirm that an effort should now be made to attain this advantage, nor to declare that, according to my judgment, it is in present circumstances practicable ... we ought not to aid the rates, and remove the Income Tax, without giving to the general consumer, and giving him simultaneously, some marked relief in the class of articles of popular consumption. ... I for one could not belong to a Government which did not on every occasion seek to enlarge its resources by a wise economy.
Gladstone's proposals went some way to meet working-class demands, such as the realisation of the free breakfast table through repealing the duties on tea and sugar, and reform of local taxation which was increasing for the poorer ratepayers. According to the working-class financial reformer Thomas Briggs, writing in the trade unionist newspaper The Bee-Hive, the manifesto relied on "a much higher authority than Mr. Gladstone...viz., the late Richard Cobden".
The dissolution was reported in The Times on 24 January and on 30 January the names of the first fourteen MPs for uncontested seats were published; by 9 February a Conservative victory was apparent. In contrast to 1868 and 1880 when the Liberal campaign lasted several months, only three weeks separated the news of the dissolution and the election. The working-class newspapers were taken by surprise at the news and had little time to express an opinion on Gladstone's manifesto before the election was over. Unlike the efforts of the Conservatives, the organisation of the Liberal Party had declined since 1868 and they had also failed to retain Liberal voters on the electoral register. George Howell wrote to Gladstone on 12 February: "There is one lesson to be learned from this Election, that is Organization. ... We have lost not by a change of sentiment so much as by want of organised power". The Liberals received a majority of the vote in each of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom and 189,000 more votes nationally than the Conservatives. However they obtained a minority of seats in the House of Commons.
In the wake of Benjamin Disraeli's victory, Gladstone retired from the leadership of the Liberal party, although he retained his seat in the House.
In November 1874, Gladstone published the pamphlet The Vatican Decrees in their Bearing on Civil Allegiance, directed at the First Vatican Council's dogmatising Papal Infallibility in 1870, which had outraged him. Gladstone claimed that this decree had placed British Catholics in a dilemma over their loyalty to the Crown and their loyalty to the Pope. Gladstone urged British Catholics to reject papal infallibility as they had opposed the Spanish Armada of 1588. The pamphlet sold 150,000 copies by the end of 1874. In February 1875 Gladstone published a second pamphlet that was a defence of his earlier pamphlet and a reply to his critics, entitled Vaticanism: an Answer to Reproofs and Replies. He described the Catholic Church as "an Asian monarchy: nothing but one giddy height of despotism, and one dead level of religious subservience". He further claimed that the Pope wanted to destroy the rule of law and replace it with arbitrary tyranny, and then to hide these "crimes against liberty beneath a suffocating cloud of incense".
In a speech to the Hawarden Amateur Horticultural Society on 17 August 1876, Gladstone said that "I am delighted to see how many young boys and girls have come forward to obtain honourable marks of recognition on this occasion,—if any effectual good is to be done to them, it must be done by teaching and encouraging them and helping them to help themselves. All the people who pretend to take your own concerns out of your own hands and to do everything for you, I won't say they are imposters; I won't even say they are quacks; but I do say they are mistaken people. The only sound, healthy description of countenancing and assisting these institutions is that which teaches independence and self-exertion". Lord Kilbracken, one of Gladstone's secretaries, said:
It will be borne in mind that the Liberal doctrines of that time, with their violent anti-socialist spirit and their strong insistence on the gospel of thrift, self-help, settlement of wages by the higgling of the market, and non-interference by the State.... I think that Mr. Gladstone was the strongest anti-socialist that I have ever known among persons who gave any serious thought to social and political questions. It is quite true, as has been often said, that “we are all socialists up to a certain point”; but Mr. Gladstone fixed that point lower, and was more vehement against those who went above it, than any other politician or official of my acquaintance. I remember his speaking indignantly to me of the budget of 1874 as “That socialistic budget of Northcote's,” merely because of the special relief which it gave to the poorer class of income-tax payers. His strong belief in Free Trade was only one of the results of his deep-rooted conviction that the Government's interference with the free action of the individual, whether by taxation or otherwise, should be kept at an irreducible minimum. It is, indeed, not too much to say that his conception of Liberalism was the negation of Socialism.
A pamphlet he published in September 1876, Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East, attacked the Disraeli government for its indifference to the Ottoman Empire's violent repression of the Bulgarian April uprising. Gladstone made clear his hostility focused on the Turkish people, rather than on the Muslim religion. The Turks he said:
- were, upon the whole, from the black day when they first entered Europe, the one great anti-human specimen of humanity. Wherever they went, a broad line of blood marked the track behind them; and as far as their dominion reached, civilization disappeared from view. They represented everywhere government by force, as opposed to government by law. For the guide of this life they had a relentless fatalism: for its reward hereafter, a sensual paradise.
During the 1879 election campaign, called the Midlothian campaign, he rousingly denounced Disraeli's foreign policies during the ongoing Second Anglo-Afghan War in Afghanistan. (See Great Game). He saw the war as "great dishonour" and also criticised British conduct in the Zulu War. Gladstone also (on 29 November) criticised what he saw as the Conservative government's profligate spending:
...the Chancellor of the Exchequer shall boldly uphold economy in detail; and it is the mark ... of ... a chicken-hearted Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he shrinks from upholding economy in detail, when, because it is a question of only £2000 or £3000, he says that is no matter. He is ridiculed, no doubt, for what is called saving candle-ends and cheese-parings. No Chancellor of the Exchequer is worth his salt who is not ready to save what are meant by candle-ends and cheese-parings in the cause of his country. No Chancellor of the Exchequer is worth his salt who makes his own popularity either his first consideration, or any consideration at all, in administrating the public purse. You would not like to have a housekeeper or steward who made her or his popularity with the tradesmen the measure of the payments that were to be delivered to them. In my opinion the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the trusted and confidential steward of the public. He is under a sacred obligation with regard to all that he consents to spend.... I am bound to say hardly ever in the six years that Sir Stafford Northcote has been in office have I heard him speak a resolute word on behalf of economy.
Second premiership (1880–1885)
In 1880, the Liberals won again and the Liberal leaders, Lord Hartington (leader in the House of Commons) and Lord Granville, retired in Gladstone's favour. Gladstone won his constituency election in Midlothian and also in Leeds, where he had also been adopted as a candidate. As he could lawfully only serve as MP for one constituency, Leeds was passed to his son Herbert. One of his other sons, Henry, was also elected as an MP.
Queen Victoria asked Lord Hartington to form a ministry, but he persuaded her to send for Gladstone. Gladstone's second administration – both as Prime Minister and again as Chancellor of the Exchequer till 1882 – lasted from June 1880 to June 1885. He originally intended to retire at the end of 1882, the fiftieth anniversary of his entry into politics, but in the event did not do so.
Historians have been sharply critical of Gladstone's foreign-policy during his second ministry. Hayes says it, "provides one of the most intriguing and perplexing tales of mobile and incompetence in foreign affairs, unsurpassed in modern political history until the days of Grey and, later, Neville Chamberlain." Gladstone had opposed himself to the "colonial lobby" pushing for the scramble for Africa. His term saw the end of the Second Anglo-Afghan War, First Boer War and the war against the Mahdi in Sudan.
On 11 July 1882, Gladstone ordered the bombardment of Alexandria, starting the Anglo-Egyptian War, which resulted in the occupation of Egypt. Gladstone's role in the decision to invade was described as relatively hands-off, and that the decision to invade was made by certain members of his cabinet such as Spencer Cavendish, Secretary of State for India, Thomas Baring, 1st Earl of Northbrook, First Lord of the Admiralty, Hugh Childers, Secretary of State for War, and Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville, the Foreign Secretary. The reasons for this war are the subject of a historiographical debate. Some historians argue that the invasion was to protect the Suez Canal and to prevent anarchy in the wake of the Urabi Revolt and the riots in Alexandria in June 1882. Other historians argue that the invasion occurred to protect the interests of British investors with assets in Egypt and also to boost the political popularity of the Liberal Party.
In 1881 he established the Irish Coercion Act, which permitted the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to detain people for as "long as was thought necessary", as there was much rural disturbance in Ireland and Cavendish, the Irish Secretary, was assassinated by Irish rebels in Dublin. He also passed the Second Land Act (the First, in 1870, had entitled Irish tenants, if evicted, to compensation for improvements which they had made on their property, but had had little effect) which gave Irish tenants the "3Fs" – fair rent, fixity of tenure and free sale. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1881.
He also extended the franchise to agricultural labourers and others in the 1884 Reform Act, which gave the counties the same franchise as the boroughs— adult male householders and £10 lodgers—and added about six million to the total number who could vote in parliamentary elections. Parliamentary reform continued with the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885.
Gladstone was becoming increasingly uneasy about the direction in which British politics was moving. In a letter to Lord Acton on 11 February 1885, Gladstone criticised Tory Democracy as "demagogism" that "put down pacific, law-respecting, economic elements that ennobled the old Conservatism" but "still, in secret, as obstinately attached as ever to the evil principle of class interests". He found contemporary Liberalism better, "but far from being good". Gladstone claimed that this Liberalism's "pet idea is what they call construction, – that is to say, taking into the hands of the state the business of the individual man". Both Tory Democracy and this new Liberalism, Gladstone wrote, had done "much to estrange me, and had for many, many years".
Sneh Mahajan says, "Gladstone's second ministry remained barren of any achievement in the domestic sphere." However his downfall came in Africa, where his failure to rescue General Gordon's force in Sudan in January 1885 was a major blow to Gladstone's popularity. Queen Victoria sent him a telegram of rebuke which found its way into the press. Critics said Gladstone had neglected military affairs and had not acted promptly enough to save the besieged Gordon. Critics inverted his acronym, "G.O.M." (for "Grand Old Man"), to "M.O.G." (for "Murderer of Gordon"). He resigned as Prime Minister in 1885 and declined Queen Victoria's offer of an earldom.
Third premiership (1886)
Gladstone's conversion to a policy of Home Rule in late 1885 (the "Hawarden Kite") resulted in the fall of Lord Salisbury's Government. The Irish Nationalists, led by Charles Parnell, voted against the Tories on a land Bill. The Irish Nationalists held the balance of power in Parliament at this time, Gladstone's conversion had convinced them to support the Liberal Government by using the 86 seats of Parliament they controlled. The main purpose of this administration was to deliver Ireland a reform which would give them a devolved assembly, similar to that which has been enjoyed by Scotland and Wales since 1998. In 1886 Gladstone's party was allied with Irish Nationalists to defeat Lord Salisbury's government. Gladstone regained his position as Prime Minister and combined the office with that of Lord Privy Seal. During this administration he first introduced his Home Rule Bill for Ireland. The issue split the Liberal Party (a breakaway group went on to create the Liberal Unionist party) and the bill was thrown out on the second reading, ending his government after only a few months and inaugurating another headed by Lord Salisbury.
Gladstone, says his biographer, "totally rejected the widespread English view that the Irish had no taste for justice, common sense, moderation our national prosperity and looked only to perpetual strife and dissension." The problem for Gladstone was his rural supporters in England would not support home rule for Ireland. A large faction of Liberals, led by Joseph Chamberlain, formed a Unionist faction that supported the Conservative party. Whenever the Liberals were out of power, home rule proposals languished.
Gladstone supported the London dockers in their strike of 1889. After their victory he gave a speech at Hawarden on 23 September in which he said: "In the common interests of humanity, this remarkable strike and the results of this strike, which have tended somewhat to strengthen the condition of labour in the face of capital, is the record of what we ought to regard as satisfactory, as a real social advance [that] tends to a fair principle of division of the fruits of industry". This speech has been described by Eugenio Biagini as having "no parallel in the rest of Europe except in the rhetoric of the toughest socialist leaders". Visitors at Hawarden in October were "shocked...by some rather wild language on the Dock labourers question". Gladstone was impressed with workers unconnected with the dockers' dispute who "intended to make common cause" in the interests of justice. On 23 October at Southport, Gladstone delivered a speech where he claimed that the right to combination, which in London was "innocent and lawful, in Ireland would be penal and...punished by imprisonment with hard labour". Gladstone believed that the right to combination used by British workers was in jeopardy when it could be denied to Irish workers. In October 1890 Gladstone at Midlothian claimed that competition between capital and labour, "where it has gone to sharp issues, where there have been strikes on one side and lock-outs on the other, I believe that in the main and as a general rule, the labouring man has been in the right".
On 11 December 1891 Gladstone said that: "It is a lamentable fact if, in the midst of our civilisation, and at the close of the nineteenth century, the workhouse is all that can be offered to the industrious labourer at the end of a long and honourable life. I do not enter into the question now in detail. I do not say it is an easy one; I do not say that it will be solved in a moment; but I do say this, that until society is able to offer to the industrious labourer at the end of a long and blameless life something better than the workhouse, society will not have discharged its duties to its poorer members". On 24 March 1892 Gladstone said that the Liberals had:
...come generally...to the conclusion that there is something painful in the condition of the rural labourer in this great respect, that it is hard even for the industrious and sober man, under ordinary conditions, to secure a provision for his own old age. Very large propositions, involving, some of them, very novel and very wide principles, have been submitted to the public, for the purpose of securing such a provision by means independent of the labourer himself....our duty [is] to develop in the first instance, every means that we may possibly devise whereby, if possible, the labourer may be able to make this provision for himself, or to approximate towards making such provision far more efficaciously and much more closely than he can now do.
Gladstone wrote on 16 July 1892 in his autobiographica that "In 1834 the Government...did themselves high honour by the new Poor Law Act, which rescued the English peasantry from the total loss of their independence".
Gladstone wrote to Herbert Spencer, who contributed the introduction to a collection of anti-socialist essays (A Plea for Liberty, 1891), that "I ask to make reserves, and of one passage, which will be easily guessed, I am unable even to perceive the relevancy. But speaking generally, I have read this masterly argument with warm admiration and with the earnest hope that it may attract all the attention which it so well deserves". The passage Gladstone alluded to was one where Spencer spoke of "the behaviour of the so-called Liberal party".
Fourth premiership (1892–1894)
The general election of 1892 resulted in a minority Liberal government under Gladstone as Prime Minister.
Gladstone's electoral address had promised Home Rule and the disestablishment of the Scottish and Welsh Churches. In February 1893 he introduced the Second Home Rule Bill. The Bill was passed in the Commons at second reading on 21 April by 43 votes and third reading on 1 September by 34 votes. However the House of Lords killed the Bill by voting against by 419 votes to 41 on 8 September.
The Elementary Education (Blind and Deaf Children) Act, passed in 1893, required local authorities to provide separate education for blind and deaf children.
When questioned in the Commons on what his government would do about unemployment by the Conservative MP Colonel Howard Vincent on 1 September 1893, Gladstone replied:
I cannot help regretting that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has felt it his duty to put the question. It is put under circumstances that naturally belong to one of those fluctuations in the condition of trade which, however unfortunate and lamentable they may be, recur from time to time. Undoubtedly I think that questions of this kind, whatever be the intention of the questioner, have a tendency to produce in the minds of people, or to suggest to the people, that these fluctuations can be corrected by the action of the Executive Government. Anything that contributes to such an impression inflicts an injury upon the labouring population.
In December 1893 an Opposition motion proposed by Lord George Hamilton called for an expansion of the Royal Navy. Gladstone opposed increasing public expenditure on the naval estimates, in the tradition of free trade liberalism of his earlier political career as Chancellor. All his Cabinet colleagues, however, believed in some expansion of the Royal Navy. He declared in the Commons on 19 December that naval rearmament would commit the government to expenditure over a number of years and thus would subvert "the principle of annual account, annual proposition, annual approval by the House of Commons, which...is the only way of maintaining regularity, and that regularity is the only talisman which will secure Parliamentary control". In January 1894 Gladstone wrote that he would not "break to pieces the continuous action of my political life, nor trample on the tradition received from every colleague who has ever been my teacher" by supporting naval rearmament. Gladstone also opposed Chancellor Sir William Harcourt's proposal to implement a graduated death duty. In a fragment of autobiography dated 25 July 1894, Gladstone denounced the tax as
...by far the most Radical measure of my lifetime. I do not object to the principle of graduated taxation: for the just principle of ability to pay is not determined simply by the amount of income.... But, so far as I understand the present measure of finance from the partial reports I have received, I find it too violent. It involves a great departure from the methods of political action established in this country, where reforms, and especially financial reforms, have always been considerate and even tender.... I do not yet see the ground on which it can be justly held that any one description of property should be more heavily burdened than others, unless moral and social grounds can be shown first: but in this case the reasons drawn from those sources seem rather to verge in the opposite direction, for real property has more of presumptive connection with the discharge of duty that that which is ranked as personal...the aspect of the measure is not satisfactory to a man of my traditions (and these traditions lie near the roots of my being).... For the sudden introduction of such change there is I think no precedent in the history of this country. And the severity of the blow is greatly aggravated in moral effect by the fact that it is dealt only to a handful of individuals.
Gladstone had his last audience with the Queen on 28 February and chaired his last Cabinet on 1 March, the last of 556 he had chaired. Also on that day he gave his last speech to the House of Commons. Gladstone said that the government would withdraw opposition to the Lords' amendments to the Local Government Bill "under protest" and that it was "a controversy which, when once raised, must go forward to an issue". He resigned the Premiership on 2 March. The Queen did not ask Gladstone who should succeed him but sent for Lord Rosebery (Gladstone would have advised on Lord Spencer). He retained his seat in the Commons until 1895; he was not offered a peerage, having declined an earldom on earlier occasions.
Gladstone is both the oldest ever person to form a government – aged 82 at his appointment – and the oldest person ever to occupy the Premiership – being aged 84 at his resignation.
Final years (1894–1898)
In 1895, at the age of 85, Gladstone bequeathed £40,000 (equivalent to approximately £4.13 million today) and much of his 32,000 volume library to found St Deiniol's Library in Hawarden, Wales.
On 8 January 1896, in conversation with L. A. Tollemache, Gladstone explained that: "I am not so much afraid of Democracy or of Science as of the love of money. This seems to me to be a growing evil. Also, there is a danger from the growth of that dreadful military spirit". On 13 January Gladstone claimed he had strong Conservative instincts and that "In all matters of custom and tradition, even the Tories look upon me as the chief Conservative that is". On 15 January Gladstone wrote to James Bryce, describing himself as "a dead man, one fundamentally a Peel–Cobden man". In 1896, in his last noteworthy speech, he denounced Armenian massacres by Ottomans in a talk delivered at Liverpool. On 2 January 1897 Gladstone wrote to Francis Hirst on being unable to write a preface to a book on liberalism: "I venture on assuring you that I regard the design formed by you and your friends with sincere interest, and in particular wish well to all the efforts you may make on behalf of individual freedom and independence as opposed to what is termed Collectivism".
In the early months of 1897 Gladstone and his wife stayed in Cannes. Gladstone met the Queen, where she shook hands with him for (as Gladstone believed) the first time in the fifty years he had known her. One of the Gladstones's neighbours observed that "He and his devoted wife never missed the morning service on Sunday ... One Sunday, returning from the altar rail, the old, partially blind man stumbled at the chancel step. One of the clergy sprang involuntarily to his assistance, but retreated with haste, so withering was the fire which flashed from those failing eyes". The Gladstones returned to Hawarden Castle at the end of March and he received the Colonial Premiers in their visit for the Queen's Jubilee. At a dinner with in November with Edward Hamilton, his former private secretary, Hamilton noted that "What is now uppermost in his mind is what he calls the spirit of jingoism under the name of Imperialism which is now so prevalent". Gladstone said "It was enough to make Peel and Cobden turn in their graves".
Upon the advice of his doctor Samuel Habershon in the aftermath of an attack of facial neuralgia, Gladstone stayed at Cannes from the end of November 1897 to mid-February 1898. He gave an interview for The Daily Telegraph (published on 5 January 1898 as "Personal Recollections of Arthur H. Hallam"). Gladstone then went to Bournemouth, and a swelling on the palate was diagnosed as cancer by the leading cancer surgeon, Sir Thomas Smith on 18 March. On 22 March he retired to Hawarden Castle. Despite being in pain he received visitors and quoted hymns, especially Cardinal Newman's "Praise to the Holiest in the Height". His last public statement was dictated to his daughter Helen in reply to receiving the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford's "sorrow and affection": "There is no expression of Christian sympathy that I value more than that of the ancient University of Oxford, the God-fearing and God-sustaining University of Oxford. I served her perhaps mistakenly, but to the best of my ability. My most earnest prayers are hers to the uttermost and to the last". He left the house for the last time on 9 April and after 18 April he did not come down to the ground floor but still came out of bed to lie on the sofa. The Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane George Wilkinson recorded when he ministered to him along with Stephen Gladstone:
Shall I ever forget the last Friday in Passion Week, when I gave him the last Holy Communion that I was allowed to administer to him? It was early in the morning. He was obliged to be in bed, and he was ordered to remain there, but the time had come for the confession of sin and the receiving of absolution. Out of his bed he came. Alone he knelt in the presence of his God till the absolution has been spoken, and the sacred elements received.
Gladstone died on 19 May 1898 at Hawarden Castle, Hawarden, aged 88. The cause of death is officially recorded as "Syncope, Senility." "Syncope" means failure of the heart and "senility" in the nineteenth century meant the infirmity of advanced old age rather than a loss in the mental faculties.
The House of Commons adjourned on the afternoon of Gladstone's death, with A. J. Balfour giving notice for an Address to the Queen praying for a public funeral and a public memorial in Westminster Abbey. The day after, both Houses of Parliament approved of the Address and Herbert Gladstone accepted a public funeral on behalf of the Gladstone family. His coffin was transported on the London Underground before his state funeral at Westminster Abbey, at which the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) and the Duke of York (the future George V) acted as pallbearers. Two years after Gladstone's burial in Westminster Abbey, his wife, Catherine Gladstone (née Glynne), was laid to rest with him.
His mother, intensely religious, was an evangelical of Scottish Episcopal origins, and his father joined the Church of England, having been a Presbyterian when he first settled in Liverpool. The boy was baptised into the Church of England. He had previously rejected a call to enter the ministry, and on this his conscience always tormented him. In compensation he aligned his politics with the evangelical faith in which he fervently believed. In 1838 Gladstone nearly ruined his career when he tried to force a religious mission upon the Conservative Party. He wrote The State in its Relations with the Church, a book which argued that England had neglected its great duty to the Church of England. He announced that since that Church possessed a monopoly of religious truth, Nonconformists and Roman Catholics ought to be excluded from all government jobs. The historian Thomas Babington Macaulay and other critics ridiculed his weak arguments to shreds. Sir Robert Peel, Gladstone's chief, was outraged because this would upset the delicate political issue of Catholic Emancipation and anger the Nonconformists. Since Peel greatly admired his protégé, he redirected his focus from theology to finance.
Gladstone altered his approach to religious problems, which always held first place in his mind. Before entering Parliament he had already substituted a High Church Anglican attitude, with its dependence upon authority and tradition, for the evangelical outlook of his boyhood, with its reliance upon the direct inspiration of the Bible. Now in middle life he decided that the individual conscience would have to replace authority as the inner citadel of the Church. That view of the individual conscience affected his political outlook and changed him gradually from a Conservative into a Liberal.
The historian H. C. G. Matthew states that Gladstone's chief legacy lay in three areas: his financial policy; his support for Home Rule (devolution) that modified the view of the unitary state of the United Kingdom; and his idea of a progressive, reforming party broadly based and capable of accommodating and conciliating varying interests, along with his speeches at mass public meetings.
Historian Walter L. Arnstein, concludes:
- Notable as the Gladstonian reforms had been, they had almost all remained within the nineteenth-century Liberal tradition of gradually removing the religious, economic, and political barriers that prevented men of varied creeds and classes from exercising their individual talents in order to improve themselves and their society. As the third quarter of the century drew to a close, the essential bastions of Victorianism still held firm: respectability; a government of aristocrats and gentlemen now influenced not only by middle-class merchants and manufacturers but also by industrious working people; a prosperity that seemed to rest largely on the tenets of laissez-faire economics; and a Britannia that ruled the waves and many a dominion beyond.
Lord Acton wrote in 1880 that he considered Gladstone as one "of the three greatest Liberals" (along with Edmund Burke and Lord Macaulay).
In 1909 the Liberal Chancellor David Lloyd George introduced his "People's Budget", the first budget which aimed to redistribute wealth. The Liberal statesman Lord Rosebery ridiculed it by asserting Gladstone would reject it, "Because in his eyes, and in my eyes, too, as his humble disciple, Liberalism and Liberty were cognate terms; they were twin-sisters."
David Lloyd George had written in 1913 that the Liberals were "carving the last few columns out of the Gladstonian quarry".
David Lloyd George said of Gladstone in 1915: "What a man he was! Head and shoulders above anyone else I have ever seen in the House of Commons. I did not like him much. He hated Nonconformists and Welsh Nonconformists in particular, and he had no real sympathy with the working-classes. But he was far and away the best Parliamentary speaker I have ever heard. He was not so good in exposition". Asquithian Liberals continued to advocate traditional Gladstonian policies of sound finance, peaceful foreign relations and the better treatment of Ireland. They often compared Lloyd George unfavourably with Gladstone.
Writing in 1944, the liberal economist Friedrich Hayek said of the change in political attitudes that had occurred since the Great War: "Perhaps nothing shows this change more clearly than that, while there is no lack of sympathetic treatment of Bismarck in contemporary English literature, the name of Gladstone is rarely mentioned by the younger generation without a sneer over his Victorian morality and naive utopianism".
In the latter half of the twentieth-century Gladstone's economic policies came to be admired by Thatcherite Conservatives. Margaret Thatcher proclaimed in 1983: "We have a duty to make sure that every penny piece we raise in taxation is spent wisely and well. For it is our party which is dedicated to good housekeeping—indeed, I would not mind betting that if Mr. Gladstone were alive today he would apply to join the Conservative Party". In 1996, she said: "The kind of Conservatism which he and I...favoured would be best described as "liberal", in the old-fashioned sense. And I mean the liberalism of Mr Gladstone not of the latter day collectivists". Nigel Lawson, one of Thatcher's Chancellors, believed Gladstone to be the "greatest Chancellor of all time".
The National Library of Wales holds many pamphlets that were sent to Gladstone during his political career. These pamphlets show the concerns of people from all strands of society and together form a historical resource of the social and economical conditions of mid to late nineteenth century Britain. Many of the pamphlets bear the handwriting of Gladstone, which provides direct evidence of Gladstone's interest in various topics.
- A statue of Gladstone by Albert Bruce-Joy and erected in 1882, stands near the front gate of St. Marys Church in Bow, London. Paid for by the industrialist Theodore Bryant, it is viewed as a symbol of the later 1888 match girls strike, which took place at the nearby Bryant & May Match Factory. Led by the socialist Annie Besant, hundreds of working girls from the factory had gone on strike to demand improved working conditions and pay, eventually winning their cause. In recent years, the statue of Gladstone has been repeatedly daubed with red paint, suggesting that it was paid for with the "blood of the match girls".
- A statue of Gladstone, in bronze by Sir Thomas Brock, erected in 1904, stands in St John's Gardens, Liverpool.
- A statue of Gladstone, erected in 1905, stands at Aldwych, London, near the Royal Courts of Justice.
- A Grade II listed statue of Gladstone stands in Albert Square, Manchester.
- A monument to Gladstone, Member of Parliament for Midlothian 1880–1895 was unveiled in Edinburgh in 1917 (and moved to its present location in 1955). It stands in Coates Crescent Gardens. The sculptor was James Pittendrigh McGillvray.
- A statue to Gladstone, who was Rector of the University of Glasgow 1877–1880 was unveiled in Glasgow in 1902. It stands in George Square. The sculptor was Sir William Hamo Thornycroft.
- Gladstone Park in the Municipal Borough of Willesden, London was named after him in 1899. Dollis Hill House, within what later became the park, was occupied by Sir Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks, who subsequently became Lord Tweedmouth. In 1881 Lord Tweedmouth's daughter and her husband, Lord Aberdeen, took up residence. They often had Gladstone to stay as a guest. In 1897 Lord Aberdeen was appointed Governor-General of Canada and the Aberdeens moved out. When Willesden acquired the house and land in 1899, they named the park Gladstone Park after the old Prime Minister.
- Near Hawarden in the town of Mancot, there is a small hospital named after Catherine Gladstone. A statue of Gladstone stands prominently in the front grounds of the eponymous Gladstone's Library (formerly known as St. Deiniol's), near the commencement of Gladstone Way at Hawarden.
- Gladstone Rock, a large boulder about 12 ft high in Cwm Llan on the Watkin Path on the south side of Snowdon where Gladstone made a speech in 1892, was named for him. A plaque on the rock states that he "addressed the people of Eryri upon justice to Wales".
- A statue of Gladstone stands in front of the Kapodistrian University building in the centre of Athens.
- Gladstone, Oregon, Gladstone, New Jersey, Gladstone, Michigan, and Gladstone, New Mexico in the United States are named for him. The town of Gladstone, Queensland, Australia, was named after him and has a 19th-century marble statue on display in its town museum.
- Gladstone, Manitoba, was named after him in 1882.
- Streets in the cities of Sofia, Plovdiv, Limassol, Springs, Newark-on-Trent, Waterford City, Clonmel, Brighton, Bradford, Scarborough, Vancouver (including a school), Windsor, Ottawa and Halifax are named for him. There is also Gladstone Avenue and adjoining Ewart Road in his hometown of Liverpool in a part of the city where he was a landowner.
- There is a Gladstone statue at Glenalmond College, unveiled in 2010, which is located in Front Quad.
- A Gladstone memorial was unveiled on 23 February 2013 in Seaforth, Liverpool by MP Frank Field. It is located in the grounds of Our Lady Star of the Sea Church facing the former site of St Thomas's Church where Gladstone was educated from 1816 to 1821. The Seaglam (Seaforth Gladstone Memorial) Project, whose chairman is local historian Brenda Murray (BEM), was started to raise the profile of Seaforth Village by installing a memorial to Gladstone. Funds for the memorial were raised by voluntary effort and additional funding was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Sculptor Tom Murphy created the bronze bust.
Statue in Albert Square, Manchester
Statue on the Gladstone Monument in Coates Crescent Gardens, Edinburgh
A statue in Athens
In popular culture
In fiction, Gladstone features prominently in the history of the fantasy Bartimaeus trilogy, in which the British government is run by magicians. Gladstone is said to have been the most powerful magician to ever become Prime Minister, and though he is not included as a character, several objects of his are central plot points. The book provides an alternate history of Gladstone, in which he killed Disraeli in a duel and assisted British forces in colonial expansion.
In science fiction, Gladstone is an MP in Stephen Baxter's novel, Anti-Ice. After the intervention of Sir Josiah Traveller and Ned Vickers in halting the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 with apocalyptic Anti-Ice weapons, a cold war settles over Europe in the late 19th Century. The peace is maintained by the ministry of Gladstone, and the incredibly destructive medium-range ballistic missiles for delivery of Anti-Ice weapons are termed 'Gladstone Shells', which set the scene for a First World War in 1914 of such ferocity as to resemble nuclear warfare three generations early. The novel ends on an ambiguous note, with the Gladstone Shell now a component of British diplomacy and deterrence of war between Prussia and France.
There is a scene in the Turkish film Free Man about famous Islamic scholar Said Nursi who is deeply affected by Gladstone. It's also mentioned in the biography of Said Nursi. He reads in a newspaper report of a speech made in the British House of Commons by Gladstone:
He was filled with zeal. It overturned his ideas and changed the direction of his interest. Thus, the explicit threats of Gladstone to the Qur'an and Islamic world caused a revolution in Nursi's ideas, clarifying them and setting him in the direction he would now follow. The threats caused him to declare:"I shall prove and demonstrate to the world that the Qur'an is an undying, inextinguishable Sun!"
Portrayal in film and television
Since 1937, Gladstone has been portrayed on 37 occasions in film and television, beginning with Montagu Love's appearance as him in the 1937 film Parnell. Other portrayals include Malcolm Keen (Sixty Glorious Years, 1938), Stephen Murray (The Prime Minister, 1941), Arthur Young (The Lady with the Lamp, 1951), Ralph Richardson (Khartoum, 1966), Graham Chapman (Monty Python's Flying Circus, 1969), Michael Hordern (Edward the Seventh, 1975) and Martin Wady (Queen Victoria's Empire, 2001).
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- Schreuder, D. M. Gladstone and Italian unification, 1848–70: the making of a Liberal?, The English historical review, vol. 85 (n. 336), pp. 475–501 (July 1970).
- Seton-Watson, R. W. Disraeli, Gladstone and the eastern question: a study in diplomacy and party politics (1935).
- Shannon, Richard. Gladstone: God and Politics (2007).
- Vincent, J. Gladstone and Ireland (1978).
- Vincent, J. The Formation of the Liberal Party, 1857–1868 (1966).
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William Ewart Gladstone
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- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by William Gladstone
- Mr. Gladstone (character sketch by W.T. Stead, in the Review of Reviews, 1892).
- William Ewart Gladstone Article at Encyclopædia Britannica
- William Ewart Gladstone Chronology World History Database.
- Works by William Ewart Gladstone at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about William Ewart Gladstone at Internet Archive
- Works by William Ewart Gladstone at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- More about William Ewart Gladstone on the Downing Street website.
- William Ewart Gladstone 1809–98 biography from the Liberal Democrat History Group.
- BBC Radio – Programme Two contains a recording of Gladstone's voice.
- Archival material relating to William Ewart Gladstone listed at the UK National Archives
- Portraits of William Ewart Gladstone at the National Portrait Gallery, London