|William Ewart Gladstone (1809-98)
Famous as Disraeli's rival and for their spirited debates, Gladstone had a long and distinguished
career in public service which began in 1832 when he entered Parliament as a Tory. Serving
there until 1895 except for a one year absence in 1846, he served in numerous governments
beginning with Peel's ministry in junior capacities.
Gladstone's first real office was that of president of the board of trade in Peel's second ministry
(1841-46). He was chancellor of the Exchequer in Aberdeen's government, cutting duties and
even attempting to abolish the income tax. His efforts failed due to the need for funds to carry
on the Crimean War. He served in Palmerston's second ministry in the same role (1859-65) again
effecting tax reductions. When Palmerston died, Gladstone stayed on as chancellor of the
Exchequer under Russell through 1866. In 1867, he followed Russell as leader of the Liberal
Gladstone became prime minister in 1868 and was an active legislator and reformer. He was
responsible for the diestablishment of the Church of Ireland (1869), an unsuccessful attempt to
bring peace to Ireland. He also carried the Irish Land Act (1870) which provided for
compensation for improvements to tentant farmers who were evicted by landowners. Gladstone
reforming legislation included the army. Cardwell's Army reform (1868) made peacetime
flogging illegal. In 1870, he was responsible for passage of Forester's Education Act, making
elementary education available to Welsh and English children between the ages of five and 13.
He passed the Ballot Act of 1872 which instituted secret ballots for local and general elections.
In 1873 he passed laws restructing the high courts.
Gladstone was replaced by Disraeli in 1874, ending his first ministry. As Opposition leader,
Gladstone was an active and vocal critic of Disraeli's policies. His re-election in 1879 for his
second ministry was a personal triumph, but his land and agricultural reforms were eclipsed by
wartime events. In 1881, the British suffered a stunning defeat in the first Boer War at the hands
of the Afrikaners under Kruger. Then in 1884, General Gordon was killed by Muhammad Ahmad
at the siege of Khartoum. Gordon had been sent to help evacuate Egyptian forces trapped in
Khartoum by the "Mahdi's revolt" a jihad started in 1881 with the in the Sudan.
Gladstone's third ministry, a short one lasting on six months (February to July, 1886) was one that
was overwhelmed by Irish affairs. Gladstone is converted to support home rule for Ireland. When
the bill is defeated, he resigns.
Gladstone's last term as prime minister saw the passage of an Irish home rule bill (1892) in the
Commons, which he first championed in his 1886 ministry, but the bill never made it through the
Lords. Gladstone resigned as a result, leaving office in 1894. He died four years later from
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