Benjamin Disraeli

Benjamin Disraeli


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Benjamin Disraeli, the eldest son and second of five children of Isaac D'Israeli and his wife, Maria Basevi Disraeli, was born at 6 King's Road, Bedford Row, London, on 21st December 1804. His father was a historian and literary critic. In 1816 he inherited a large fortune of the death of his father, Benjamin D'Israeli, a successful businessman.

Disraeli was brought up in the Jewish faith but was baptized into the Christian faith on 31st July 1817. He attended Higham Hall in Epping Forest, a school run by the Unitarian minister Eli Cogan, until 1819, after which he was taught at home. (1)

In November 1821 Disraeli was articled at his father's arrangement to a solicitor's firm in the Old Jewry. His name was entered at Lincoln's Inn, but rejected the idea of a career at the bar because he had a strong dislike of the mundane lifestyle of the English middle classes, who he claimed the "only adventure of life" was marriage. (2)

An ardent admirer of Lord Byron, he dreamed instead of literary fame. "From the early 1820s he had adopted an appropriately eye-catching and narcissistic style of dress, with ruffled shirts, velvet trousers, coloured waistcoats, and jewellery, and he wore his hair in cascades of ringlets... He reflected self-consciously, in Romantic fashion, on the sublime natural creations that he observed on his travels." (3)

Disraeli's first novel, Vivian Grey was published anonymously in two volumes in April 1826. It was a portrayal of the unscrupulous ambition of a clever young man. It was also highly critical of London society. It received some very bad reviews and when the identity of the author was revealed, it did his reputation a great deal of harm. However, the book sold very well and it made it possible for him to become a full-time author. (4)

The literary abuse he received "contributed to the onset of a major nervous crisis that affected him for much of the next four years... he had always been moody, sensitive, and solitary by nature, but now became seriously depressed and lethargic." (5) Disraeli continued to write and his first success was followed by The Young Duke (1831), Contarini Fleming (1832), Alroy (1833), Henrietta Temple (1837) and Venetia (1837).

Benjamin Disraeli took a strong interest in politics and was advocate of parliamentary reform. He refused to support the Tories or the Whigs. "Toryism is worn out & I cannot condescend to be a Whig." In the 1832 General Election he stood as a Radical at High Wycombe. Despite having the support of the two leading progressives, Francis Burdett and Daniel O'Connell, he was defeated, by the Whig candidate. (6)

In 1833, Disraeli published a pamphlet where he argued for a Tory–Radical coalition against the Whigs. When he stood in the High Wycombe seat in the 1835 General Election he stood as an Independent Radical, he was supplied with £500 from Tory funds. This was the first time that the Tories had used money is this way and the historian, Robert Blake, has suggested that this marks the start of the modern Conservative Party. Again he was heavily defeated and later that year he fought the Taunton by-election as a Tory. Once again he was defeated but over the next few months he concentrated on producing Tory propaganda. (7)

Disraeli's change in political affiliations upset the Radicals and his old friend, Daniel O'Connell, launched a bitter attack: "After being twice discarded by the people, to become a Conservative. He possesses all the necessary requisites of perfidy, selfishness, depravity, want of principle, etc., which would qualify him for the change. His name shows that he is of Jewish origin. I do not use it as a term of reproach; there are many most respectable Jews. But there are, as in every other people, some of the lowest and most disgusting grade of moral turpitude; and of those I look upon Mr. Disraeli as the worst." (8)

Benjamin Disraeli responded by attacking O'Connell in The Times newspaper. This included a demand for a duel with O'Connell's son. As a result of this Disraeli was arrested. This dispute helped to promote Disraeli's political career and he was offered the safe Tory seat of Maidstone. Disraeli easily beat his Whig opponent in the 1837 General Election. (9)

Disraeli's maiden speech in the House of Commons was poorly received and after enduring a great deal of barracking ended with the words: "though I sit down now, the time will come when you will hear me." Disraeli advocated triennial parliaments and the secret ballot. In one speech argued that the "rights of labour were as sacred as the rights of property". In another he spoke against the Poor Law Amendment Act, something that he described as the "more odious than any other new Bill since the Conquest".

Disraeli advocated parliamentary reform and joined those such as Thomas Attwood, Thomas Wakely, Thomas Duncombe, John Fielden and Joseph Hume, who supported Moral Force Chartism. Disraeli believed that peaceful methods of persuasion such as the holding of public meetings, the publication of newspapers and pamphlets and the presentation of petitions to Parliament would finally convince the government to reform the parliamentary system. (10)

Disraeli argued that moderate reform would undermine people like Feargus O'Connor, James Rayner Stephens and George Julian Harney, who were the leaders of the Physical Force Chartists. O'Connor began making speeches where he spoke of being willing "to die for the cause" and promising to "lead people to death or glory". O'Connor argued that the concessions the chartists demanded would not be conceded without a fight, so there had to be a fight. In July 1839, Disraeli spoke up persuasively for the arguments in the Chartist petition - and then joined the 235 MPs who voted to reject it. (11)

On 28th August 1839, Benjamin Disraeli married Mary Anne Lewis, the widow of Wyndham Lewis, the Tory MP who had died the previous year. Aged 47 she was extremely wealthy. On one occasion Disraeli remarked that he had married for money, and his wife replied, "Ah! but if you had to do it again, you would do it for love."

According to Jonathan Parry: "She was coquettish, impulsive, not well educated, and extremely talkative, but also warm, loyal, and sensible. She shared something of Disraeli's love of striking clothes and social glitter while feeling, like him, an outsider in very high social circles. Her money, house, and solid position were undoubtedly attractive to him... But so also were her vivacity and her childless motherliness. All his life older women appealed to Disraeli, apparently in search of a mother-substitute more appreciative of his genius than his own stolid parent had been... She provided the domestic stability and constant admiration that he sorely needed. She also paid off many of his debts: she had spent £13,000 on these and his elections." (12)

After the Conservative victory in the 1841 General Election, Disraeli suggested to Sir Robert Peel, the new Prime Minister, that he would make a good government minister. Peel disagreed and Disraeli had to remain on the backbenches. Disraeli was hurt by Peel's rejection and over the next few years he became a harsh critic of the Conservative government. As Duncan Watts pointed out: "Peel was to pay a heavy price for Disraeli's wounded pride." (13)

In 1842 Disraeli helped to form the Young England group. Disraeli and members of his group argued that the middle class now had too much political power and advocated an alliance between the aristocracy and the working class. Disraeli suggested that the aristocracy should use their power to help protect the poor. This political philosophy was expressed in Disraeli's novels Coningsby (1844), Sybil (1845) and Tancred (1847). In these books the leading characters show concern about poverty and the injustice of the parliamentary system. (14)

Robert Blake argues that Disraeli had no chance of making this the policy of the Conservative Party, as its vast majority of members were committed to preserving the status quo. "To give the vote to the starving, illiterate, semi-revolutionary masses, victims of every sort of delusion from Chartism downwards, would have seemed lunacy to the possessing classes. Rightly or wrongly they had no intention of risking it, and that fact alone ruled Tory-Radicalism out of the realm of practical politics". (15)

Peel attempted to overcome the religious conflict in Ireland by setting up the Devon Commission to inquire into the "state of the law and practice in respect to the occupation of land in Ireland." However, Peel's attempts to improve the situation in Ireland was severely damaged by the 1845 potato blight. The Irish crop failed, therefore depriving the people of their staple food. Peel was informed that three million poor people in Ireland who had previously lived on potatoes would require cheap imported corn. Peel realised that they only way to avert starvation was to remove the duties on imported corn. (16)

The first months of 1846 were dominated by a battle in Parliament between the free traders and the protectionists over the repeal of the Corn Laws. Disraeli became the leader of the group that opposed Peel. He was accused of using this difficult situation to undermine the Prime Minister. However, he later told a fellow MP that he did this "because, from my earliest years, my sympathies had been with the landed interest of England". (17) Disraeli made a stinging attack on Peel when he accusing him of betraying "the independence of party" and thus "the integrity of public men, and the power and influence of Parliament itself". (18)

An alliance of free-trade Conservatives (Peelites), Radicals, and Whigs assured the repeal of the Corn Laws. However, it caused a slit in the Conservative Party. "It was not a straight division of landed gentry against the rest. It was a division between those who considered that the retention of the corn laws was an essential bulwark of the order of society in which they believed and those who considered that the Irish famine and the Anti-Corn Law League had made retention even more dangerous to that order than abandonment." (19)

Sir Robert Peel resigned as Prime Minister in June 1846. The Tories were so divided that they were unable to form a government. Queen Victoria sent for Lord John Russell, the Whig leader. In the 1847 General Election, Disraeli stood, successfully, for the Buckinghamshire constituency. The new House of Commons had more Conservatives (325) than Whigs (292), but the depth of the Tory schism enabled Russell to continue to govern. (20)

The Conservatives were now officially led by George Bentinck in the Commons but Disraeli was seen as the rising star. He began to change his image in Parliament: "The colourful attire had by now given way to the black frock coat (sometimes blue in summer), grey trousers, plush waistcoat, and sober neckerchief which was to be his Commons uniform for the next thirty years. He worked hard on his oratory, mugging up blue books and spending all day memorizing figures... He capitalized on his clear voice, great command of language, and extraordinarily retentive memory, and now began to learn the art of managing parliamentary debates tactically". (21) One observer stated that because of the damage caused by the split in the Tory Party, Disraeli "was like a subaltern in a great battle where every superior officer was killed or wounded". (22)

In 1847, Lionel de Rothschild had been returned as the MP for the City of London. As a practising Jew he could not take the oath of allegiance in the prescribed Christian form, and therefore could not take his seat. Lord John Russell proposed in the Commons that the oath should be amended to permit Jews to enter Parliament. Disraeli spoke in favour of the measure, arguing that Christianity was "completed Judaism". (23)

The speech was badly received by his own party. The Anglican establishment disagreed with the proposal and Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, suggested that Lord Russell was paying off the Jews for helping elect him. The bill did get through the House of Commons but was defeated in the House of Lords. Rothschild was several times elected but had to wait another eleven years to be allowed into Parliament. (24)

On 4th February, 1852, Lord John Russell, the leader of the Whig government, resigned. Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, the new Prime Minister, appointed Disraeli as his Chancellor of the Exchequer. It has been claimed that Disraeli was attracted to the office by the £5,000 per year salary, which helped pay his debts. (25)

Disraeli recognized that a return to the Corn Laws was politically impossible as he feared it would result in social unrest. He therefore attempted to help the landed interests in other ways. Disraeli proposed various fiscal remedies, principally rate relief for agriculture, but also malt tax reduction and income tax differentiation in favour of tenant farmers. This period of power only lasted a few months and Derby was soon replaced as Prime Minister by George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen. (26)

Lord Derby became Prime Minister again in 1858 and once again Disraeli was appointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He also became leader of the House of Commons and was responsible for the introduction of measures to reform parliament. In February, 1858, Disraeli proposed the equalization of the town and county franchise. This would have resulted in some men in towns losing the vote and was opposed by the Liberals. An amendment proposed by Lord John Russell "condemning this disfranchisement" was passed by 330 to 291. (27)

Derby dissolved Parliament, and the ensuing 1859 General Election resulted in modest Tory gains, but not enough to control the House of Commons. Derby resigned, and Lord Palmerston, became Prime Minister, and Disraeli once more lost his position in the government. In March 1860 Lord John Russell attempted to introduce a new Parliamentary Reform Act that would reduce the qualification for the franchise to £10 in the counties and £6 in towns, and effecting a redistribution of seats. Palmerson was opposed to parliamentary reform, and with his lack of support, the measure did not become law. (28)

William Gladstone, the new leader of the Liberal Party, made it clear that like Lord Russell, he was also in favour of increasing the number of people who could vote. Although the Conservative Party had opposed previous attempts to introduce parliamentary reform, Lord Derby's new government were now sympathetic to the idea. The Conservatives knew that if the Liberals returned to power, Gladstone was certain to try again. Disraeli "feared that merely negative and confrontational responses to the new forces in the political nation would drive them into the arms of the Liberals and promote further radicalism" and decided that the Conservative Party had to change its policy on parliamentary reform. (29)

Benjamin Disraeli argued that the Conservatives were in danger of being seen as an anti-reform party. In 1867 Disraeli proposed a new Reform Act. Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, (later 3rd Marquess of Salisbury) resigned in protest against this extension of democracy. However, as he explained this had nothing to do with democracy: "We do not live - and I trust it will never be the fate of this country to live - under a democracy." (30)

On 21st March, 1867, William Gladstone made a two hour speech in the House of Commons, exposing in detail the inconsistencies of the bill. On 11th April Gladstone proposed an amendment which would allow a tenant to vote whether or not he paid his own rates. Forty-three members of his own party voted with the Conservatives and the amendment was defeated. Gladstone was so angry that apparently he contemplated retirement to the backbenches. (31)

However, Disraeli did accept an amendment from Grosvenor Hodgkinson, which added nearly half a million voters to the electoral rolls, therefore doubling the effect of the bill. Gladstone commented: "Never have I undergone a stronger emotion of surprise than when, as I was entering the House, our Whip met me and stated that Disraeli was about to support Hodgkinson's motion." (32)

On 20th May 1867, John Stuart Mill, the Radical MP for Westminster, and the leading male supporter in favour of women's suffrage, proposed that women should be granted the same rights as men. "We talk of political revolutions, but we do not sufficiently attend to the fact that there has taken place around us a silent domestic revolution: women and men are, for the first time in history, really each other's companions... when men and women are really companions, if women are frivolous men will be frivolous... the two sexes must rise or sink together." (33)

During the debate on the issue, Edward Kent Karslake, the Conservative MP for Colchester, said in the debate that the main reason he opposed the measure was that he had not met one woman in Essex who agreed with women's suffrage. Lydia Becker, Helen Taylor and Frances Power Cobbe, decided to take up this challenge and devised the idea of collecting signatures in Colchester for a petition that Karslake could then present to parliament. They found 129 women resident in the town willing to sign the petition and on 25th July, 1867, Karslake presented the list to parliament. Despite this petition the Mill amendment was defeated by 196 votes to 73. Gladstone voted against the amendment. (34)

Other amendments were accepted: Out went the "dual vote" which allowed people with property to vote in town and country. The clause that would give extra votes for people with savings or education. So did the requirement that ratepayers would need to show two years' residence - the condition was reduced to one year. Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquis of Salisbury, complained that "all the precautions, guarantees, and securities in the Bill" had disappeared. He told Disraeli: "You are afraid of the pot boiling over. At the first threat of battle you throw your standard in the mud". (35)

Benjamin Disraeli dismissed these points by right-wing members of his party, by claiming that this reform will guarantee peace in the years to come: "England is safe in the race of men who inhabit her, safe in something much more precious than her accumulated capital - her accumulated experience. She is safe in her national character, in her fame and in that glorious future which I believe awaits her." (36)

William Gladstone decided not to take part in the debate on the third reading of the bill as he feared it would have a negative reaction: "A remarkable night. Determined at the last moment not to take part in the debate: for fear of doing mischief on our own side." (37) Without provocation from Gladstone the bill was passed without division. The House of Lords also agreed to pass the 1867 Reform Act. (38)

The 1867 Reform Act gave the vote to every male adult householder living in a borough constituency. Male lodgers paying £10 for unfurnished rooms were also granted the vote. This gave the vote to about 1,500,000 men. The Reform Act also dealt with constituencies and boroughs with less than 10,000 inhabitants lost one of their MPs. The forty-five seats left available were distributed by: (i) giving fifteen to towns which had never had an MP; (ii) giving one extra seat to some larger towns - Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds; (iii) creating a seat for the University of London; (iv) giving twenty-five seats to counties whose population had increased since 1832. (39)

On 27th February, Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, retired as prime minister on medical advice, and was replaced by Benjamin Disraeli. A few days later William Gladstone, the leader of the Liberal Party, moved and carried a bill to abolish compulsory church rates, an issue which united radicals, libertarians, nonconformists and those Anglicans unwilling to defend the status-quo. Gladstone followed this by carrying with a majority of sixty-five votes the first of three resolutions to abolish the Anglican establishment in Ireland. By taking this action Gladstone was able to heal the divisions in the Liberal Party, that had been divided over the issue of parliamentary reform. (40)

Gladstone later argued that the decision publicly to advocate Irish disestablishment was an example of "a striking gift" endowed on him by Providence, which enabled him to identify a question whose moment for public discussion and action had come. Henry Labouchere , a fellow Liberal MP, responded by saying that he "did not object to the old man always having a card up his sleeve, but he did object to his insinuating that the Almighty had placed it there." (41)

More than a million votes were cast in the 1868 General Election. This was nearly three times the number of people who voted in the previous election. The Liberals won 387 seats against the 271 of the Conservatives. Robert Blake believes the Irish issue was an important factor in Gladstone's victory. "Gladstone could not have selected a better issue on which to unify his own party and divide his opponents". The Liberals did especially well in the cities because of the "existence of a large Irish immigrant population". (42)

Out of office Disraeli resumed his career as a novelist. As Duncan Watts has pointed out: "Generally he was content to sit back and allow his arch enemy to make mistakes, and there was some dissatisfaction within the Party at his lack of positive leadership. Attempts were made to replace him with the Earl of Derby, son of the old Prime Minister, but he withstood the challenge." (43)

When the Conservatives were in power they had established a Royal Commission on Trade Unions. Three members of the commission, Frederic Harrison, Thomas Hughes and Thomas Anson, 2nd Earl of Lichfield, refused to sign the Majority Report as they considered it hostile to trade unions. They therefore published a Minority Report where he argued that trade unions should be given privileged legal status.

The Trade Union Congress campaigned to have the Minority Report accepted by the new Liberal government. Gladstone eventually agreed and the 1871 Trade Union Act was based largely on the Minority Report. This act secured the legal status of trade unions. As a result of this legislation no trade union could be regarded as criminal because "in restraint of trade"; trade union funds were protected. Although trade unions were pleased with this act, they were less happy with the Criminal Law Amendment Act passed the same day that made picketing illegal. (44)

Working class males now formed the majority in most borough constituencies. However, employers were still able to use their influence in some constituencies because of the open system of voting. In parliamentary elections people still had to mount a platform and announce their choice of candidate to the officer who then recorded it in the poll book. Employers and local landlords therefore knew how people voted and could punish them if they did not support their preferred candidate.

In 1872 William Gladstone removed this intimidation when his government brought in the Ballot Act which introduced a secret system of voting. Paul Foot points out: "At once, the hooliganism, drunkenness and blatant bribery which had marred all previous elections vanished. employers' and landlords' influence was still brought to bear on elections, but politely, lawfully, beneath the surface." (45)

Gladstone became very unpopular with the working-classes when his government passed the 1872 Licensing Act. This restricted the closing times in public houses to midnight in towns and 11 o'clock in country areas. Local authorities now had the power to control opening times or to become completely "dry" (banning all alcohol in the area). This led to near riots in some towns as people complained that the legislation interfered with their personal liberty.

Benjamin Disraeli made constant attacks on Gladstone and his government. In one speech in Manchester that lasted three and quarter hours he said that the government was losing its energy. He was suggesting that Gladstone, now aged 62, was too old for the job. "As I sat opposite the ministers reminded me of one of those marine landscapes not very uncommon on the coasts of South America. You behold a row of exhausted volcanoes. Not a flame flickers from a single pallid crest". (46)

On 9th August 1873, Gladstone replaced Robert Lowe and became his own chancellor of the exchequer. Gladstone sought to regain the political initiative by a daring and dramatic financial plan: "abolition of Income Tax and Sugar Duties with partial compensation from Spirits and Death Duties". To balance the books he also needed some defence savings. However, the army and navy cabinet ministers refused. (47)

Gladstone became very disillusioned with politics and considered resigning. Gladstone wrote in his diary on 18th January, 1874: "On this day I thought of dissolution". He told some of his senior ministers, John Bright, George Leveson-Gower and George Carr Glyn of his decision. "They all seemed to approve. My first thought of it was an escape from a difficulty. I soon saw on reflection that it was the best thing in itself." (48)

As the prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli now had the opportunity to the develop the ideas that he had expressed when he was leader of the Young England group in the 1840s. Social reforms passed by the Disraeli government included: the Factory Act (1874) and the Climbing Boys Act (1875), Artisans Dwellings Act (1875), the Public Health Act (1875), the Pure Food and Drugs Act (1875). Disraeli also kept his promise to improve the legal position of trade unions. The Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act (1875) allowed peaceful picketing and the Employers and Workmen Act (1878) enabled workers to sue employers in the civil courts if they broke legally agreed contracts. (49)

Early in his career Disraeli was not a strong enthusiast for building up the British Empire and had described colonies as "millstones around our neck" and had argued that the Canadians should "defend themselves" and that British troops should be withdrawn from Africa. However, once he became prime-minister he changed his view on the subject. He was especially interested in India, with its population of over 170 million. It was also an outlet for British goods and a source of valuable imports such as raw cotton, tea and wheat. It is possible that he saw the Empire as an "issue on which to damage his opponents by impugning their patriotism". (50)

In one speech Disraeli attacked Liberals as being people who were not committed to the British Empire: "Gentlemen, there is another and second great object of the Tory party. If the first is to maintain the institutions of the country, the second is, in my opinion, to uphold the empire of England. If you look to the history of this country since the advent of Liberalism - forty years ago - you will find that there has been no effort so continuous, so subtle, supported by so much energy, and carried on with so much ability and acumen, as the attempts of Liberalism to effect the disintegration of the empire of England." (51)

Disraeli got on very well with Queen Victoria. She approved of Disraeli's imperialist views and his desire to make Britain the most powerful nation in the world. In May, 1876 Victoria agreed to his suggestion that she should accept the title of Empress of India. The title was said to be un-English and the proposal of the measure also seemed to suggest an unhealthily close political relationship between Disraeli and the Queen. The idea was rejected by Gladstone and other leading figures in the Liberal Party. (52)

In May 1876 it was reported that Turkish troops had murdered up to 7,000, Orthodox Christians in the Balkans. Gladstone was appalled by these events and on 6th September he published Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East (1876). He sent a copy to Benjamin Disraeli who described the pamphlet as "vindictive and ill-written... indeed in that respect of all the Bulgarian horrors perhaps the greatest." (53)

The initial print run of 2,000 sold out in two days. Several reprints took place and eventually over 200,000 copies of the pamphlet were sold. On 9th September, Gladstone addressed an audience of 10,000 at Blackheath on the subject and became the leader of the "popular front of moral outrage". Gladstone stated that "never again shall the hand of violence be raised by you, never again shall the flood-gates of lust be open to you, never again shall the dire refinements of cruelty be devised by you for the sake of making mankind miserable." (54)

William Gladstone's approach was in stark contrast to what has been called "Disraeli's sardonic cynicism". Robert Blake has argued that the conflict between Gladstone and Disraeli "injected a bitterness into British politics which had not been seen since the Corn Law debates". (55) It has been claimed that "Gladstone developed a new form of evangelical mass politics" over this issue. (56)

Benjamin Disraeli believed William Gladstone was using the massacre to further his political career. He told a friend: "Posterity will do justice to that unprincipled maniac Gladstone - extraordinary mixture of envy, vindictiveness, hypocrisy and superstition; and with one commanding characteristic - whether preaching, praying, speechifying, or scribbling - never a gentleman!" (57)

Disraeli suffered from increasingly bad health and endured periods of gout, asthma, and bronchitis. "He perceived that his physical powers were not sufficient to continue to lead the Commons effectively". Disraeli volunteered to resign the premiership. Queen Victoria rejected the idea and in August 1876 she made him earl of Beaconsfield. Disraeli now left the House of Commons but continued as Prime Minister and now used the House of Lords to explain his government's policies. (58)

Gladstone began to attack the foreign policy of the Conservative government. He attacked imperialism and warned of the dangers of a bloated empire with worldwide responsibilities which in the long run would become unsustainable. He pointed out that military spending had turned an inherited surplus of £6 million into a deficit of £8 million. As a result of these views, Prince George, Duke of Cambridge (the commander-in-chief) refused to shake Gladstone's hand when he met him. When his house was attacked by a Jingo mob on a Sunday evening, Gladstone wrote in his diary: "This is not very sabbatical". (59)

In the 1880 General Election the Liberal Party won 352 seats with 54.7% of the vote. Benjamin Disraeli resigned and Queen Victoria invited Spencer Cavendish, Lord Hartington, the official leader of the party, to become her new prime minister. He replied that the Liberal majority appeared to the nation as being a "Gladstone-created one" and that Gladstone had already told other senior figures in the party he was unwilling to serve under anybody else.

Victoria explained to Hartington that "there was one great difficulty, which was that I could not give Mr. Gladstone my confidence." She told her private secretary, Sir Henry Frederick Ponsonby: "She will sooner abdicate than send for or have any communication with that half mad firebrand who would soon ruin everything and be a dictator. Others but herself may submit to his democratic rule but not the Queen." (60)

Victoria now asked to see Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville. He also refused to be prime minister, explaining that Gladstone had a "great amount of popularity at the present moment amongst the people". He also suggested that Gladstone, now aged 70, would probably retire by 1881. Victoria now agreed to appoint Gladstone as her prime minister. That night he recorded in his diary that the Queen received him "with the perfect courtesy from which she never deviates". (61)

Benjamin Disraeli decided to retire from politics. Disraeli hoped to spend his retirement writing novels but soon after the publication of Endymion (1880) he became very ill with severe bronchitis. Queen Victoria wanted to visit Disraeli but he rejected the idea. He is said to have remarked: "No it is better not. She would only ask me to take a message to Prince Albert". (62)

Benjamin Disraeli died aged 76 on 19th April, 1881.

The best speech in support of the Chartists came from the novelist and young Tory MP for Maidstone, Benjamin Disraeli. Disraeli mocked his colleagues' suggestion that the Chartists were motivated solely by a desire for sedition. He referred to Chartism as “this great movement” and to the Poor Law Amendment Act as “a very great blunder”. He ridiculed the traditional Tory argument, much favoured by the Tory leader Sir Robert Peel, that the disturbances were all the fault of the Reform Bill that had let into office a class of people who took the power without the duties. He sympathized with the Chartists, he said, and asked sarcastically whether “the noble Lord (Prime Minister Melbourne) had his colonies in a condition so satisfactory... and his monetary system was in so healthy a state that he could afford to treat with such nonchalance a social insurrection at his very threshold”. He concluded with a warning that “seeds were sown, which would grow up to the trouble and dishonour of the realm”.

A few years later, Benjamin Disraeli wrote a novel about the Chartists. It was called Sybil, or the Two Nations (1845), a deeply sympathetic and beautifully written account of the rise of Chartism and of its appeal to the suffering masses. The central theme of the novel is the distinction between “moral force” Chartism, espoused by the unblemished heroine, Sybil, and “physical force” Chartism, described with obvious distaste. The theme of the novel was that the conflict between the good on the “moral force” side and the evil on the “physical force” side became so bitter that it could not be solved by mere working people. The solution had to come from outside, from on high, from a brilliant, sensitive and eloquent Tory MP, Charles Egremont. Sybil's disillusionment with her rougher supporters, who include her beloved father, begins when she reads an account of an emotional speech in Parliament by Egremont, who then conveniently arrives in the midst of “physical force” chaos to carry off his beloved and make a lady of her. The inspiration for this banal ending to what starts as a furious polemic is only too obvious. In the end, however intractable the social problems, they can best be solved by the Good Tory arriving in the nick of time on his charger. As we shall see, Disraeli returned to this theme later - as Chancellor of the Exchequer and later as Prime Minister. In July 1839, he spoke up persuasively for the arguments in the Chartist petition - and then voted to reject it.

The debate was ended, inevitably and as usual at insufferable length, by Lord John Russell. Cut out the repetitive bombast which passed for parliamentary eloquence, and Russell was saying that to concede a demand made by the threat of force would imperil the whole future of authority. The real argument against the Chartists was that the established order, military authority, colonial authority, fiscal authority, the very essence of law and order itself was threatened by their revolt. Worst of all, these new, revolutionaries threatened to strike at the root of all those authorities: the inalienable right of the rich minority periodically to plunge the majority into penury.

Even Lord John Russell might have been embarrassed in ordinary peacetime conditions to commit himself to such a crude version of the old rulers' motto: “The poor are always with us, so let us thank God we are rich.” What forced this out of him was the concentration, even by wealthy MPs like Attwood and Fielden, on the economic arguments for the vote. The Six Points of the Chartist petition seemed mild enough. On their own, they might well have gone on to a Commons committee for further deliberation. But coming as they did from enraged and poverty-stricken masses whose representatives were calling for an armed uprising, the proposals could not even be contemplated. Russell did not need any more support. When the vote was taken, only 46 MPs voted to consider the petition further; 235, including Disraeli, voted against.

On 6 May 1867 a large-scale meeting was held in Hyde Park to demand reform. Despite back-up support from at least 10,000 police and military, the government was forced to abandon its efforts to ban the meeting on the grounds that it would be impossible to disperse a crowd of 100,000. It was a serious humiliation for the government in that they were seen to have permitted a blatant defiance of the law and to have encouraged working-class solidarity. The fact that significant concessions were made to the proposed reform bill shortly thereafter certainly suggests that external pressures were instrumental in affecting government opinion.

The other factor frequently analysed is the precise role of Disraeli during the debates. Why did he resist amendments proposed by Gladstone, which would have limited the franchise, but accept, often with little debate, other, more extreme amendments? It appeared that he was determined to thwart Gladstone and to retain the initiative within the Commons at all costs. Was this the action of a pure opportunist, manipulating the Commons for his own political gain, or was he swayed by the external agitation? Maurice Cowling claimed that Disracli permitted such a large expansion of the electorate because he was engaged in a cynical game of political manoeuvring, designed to retain office and `dish Gladstone'.

Traditionalist Conservatives like Disraeli and Salisbury feared that merely negative and confrontational responses to the new forces in the political nation would drive them into the arms of the Liberals and promote further radicalism. Prudent Tories should provide their own version of "democratic" policies to prevent worse.

Gentlemen, there is another and second great object of the Tory party. If you look to the history of this country since the advent of Liberalism - forty years ago - you will find that there has been no effort so continuous, so subtle, supported by so much energy, and carried on with so much ability and acumen, as the attempts of Liberalism to effect the disintegration of the empire of England.

And, gentlemen, of all its efforts, this is the one which has been the nearest to success. Statesmen of the highest character, writers of the most distinguished ability, the most organized and efficient means, have been employed in this endeavor. It has been proved to all of us that we have lost money by our colonies. It has been shown with precise, mathematical demonstration that there never was a jewel in the crown of England that was so truly costly as the possession of India. How often has it been suggested that we should at once emancipate ourselves from this incubus. Well, that result was nearly accomplished. When those subtle views were adopted by the country under the plausible plea of granting self-government to the colonies, I confess that I myself thought that the tie was broken. Not that I for one object to self-government. I cannot conceive how our distant colonies can have their affairs administered except by self-government. But self-government, in my opinion, when it was conceded, ought to have been conceded as a part of a great policy of imperial consolidation. It ought to have been accompanied by an imperial tariff, by securities for the people of England for the enjoyment of unappropriated lands which belonged to the sovereign as their trustee, and by a military code which should have precisely defined the means and the responsibilities by which the colonies should be defended, and by which, if necessary, this country should call for aid from the colonies themselves. It ought, further, to have been accompanied by the institution of some representative council in the metropolis, which would have brought the colonies into constant and continuous relations with the home government. All this, however, was omitted because those who advised that policy - and I believe their convictions were sincere - looked upon the colonies of England, looked upon our connection with India, as a burden upon this country, viewing everything in a financial aspect, and totally passing by those moral and political considerations which make nations great, and by the influence of which alone men are distinguished from animals.

Well, what has been the result of this attempt during the reign of Liberalism for the disintegration of empire? It has entirely failed. But how has it failed? Through the sympathy of the colonies with the mother country. They have decided that the empire shall not be destroyed, and in my opinion no minister in this country will do his duty who neglects any opportunity of reconstructing as much as possible our colonial empire, and of responding to those distant sympathies which may become the source of incalculable strength and happiness to this land. Therefore, gentlemen, with respect to the second great object of the Tory party also - the maintenance of the Empire - public opinion appears to be in favour of our principles - that public opinion which, I am bound to say, thirty years ago, was not favourable to our principles, and which, during a long interval of controversy, in the interval had been doubtful...

When you return to your homes, when you return to your counties and your cities, you must tell to all those whom you can influence that the time is at hand, that, at least, it cannot be far distant, when England will have to decide between national and cosmopolitan principles. The issue is not a mean one. It is whether you will be content to be a comfortable England, modelled and moulded upon continental principles and meeting in due course an inevitable fate, or whether you will be a great country, - an imperial country - a country where your sons, when they rise, rise to paramount positions, and obtain not merely the esteem of their countrymen, but command the respect of the world...

Child Labour Simulation (Teacher Notes)

1832 Reform Act and the House of Lords (Answer Commentary)

The Chartists (Answer Commentary)

Women and the Chartist Movement (Answer Commentary)

Benjamin Disraeli and the 1867 Reform Act (Answer Commentary)

William Gladstone and the 1884 Reform Act (Answer Commentary)

Richard Arkwright and the Factory System (Answer Commentary)

Robert Owen and New Lanark (Answer Commentary)

James Watt and Steam Power (Answer Commentary)

Road Transport and the Industrial Revolution (Answer Commentary)

Canal Mania (Answer Commentary)

Early Development of the Railways (Answer Commentary)

The Domestic System (Answer Commentary)

The Luddites: 1775-1825 (Answer Commentary)

The Plight of the Handloom Weavers (Answer Commentary)

Health Problems in Industrial Towns (Answer Commentary)

Public Health Reform in the 19th century (Answer Commentary)

(1) Jonathan Parry, Benjamin Disraeli : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(2) Paul Smith, Disraelian Conservatism and Social Reform (1967) page 69

(3) Jonathan Parry, Benjamin Disraeli : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(4) Sarah Bradford, Disraeli (1983) page 25

(5) Jonathan Parry, Benjamin Disraeli : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(6) Robert Blake, Disraeli (1967) page 87

(7) Robert Blake, The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill (1970) page 2

(8) William Flavelle Monypenny and George Earle Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield: Volume I (1929) page 288

(9) Robert Blake, Disraeli (1967) page 85

(10) Edward Royle and James Walvin, English Radicals and Reformers 1760-1848 (1982) page 122

(11) Paul Foot, The Vote (2005) pages 102-103

(12) Jonathan Parry, Benjamin Disraeli : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(13) Duncan Watts, Tories, Conservatives and Unionists (1994) page 57

(14) Jonathan Parry, Benjamin Disraeli : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(15) Robert Blake, The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill (1970) page 25

(16) A. L. Morton, A People's History of England (1938) pages 344-346

(17) Benjamin Disraeli, letter to Sir William Miles (11th June 1860)

(18) Benjamin Disraeli, speech in the House of Commons (22nd January, 1846)

(19) Robert Blake, The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill (1970) page 58

(20) Robert Blake, Disraeli (1967) page 97

(21) Jonathan Parry, Benjamin Disraeli : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(22) Robert Blake, Disraeli (1967) page 247

(23) Benjamin Disraeli, speech in the House of Commons (16th December 1847)

(24) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 91

(25) Christopher Hibbert, Disraeli: A Personal History (2004) page 203

(26) Jonathan Parry, Benjamin Disraeli : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(27) John Prest, Lord John Russell : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(28) Jonathan Parry, Benjamin Disraeli : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(29) Bruce Coleman, Modern History Review (April 1990)

(30) Benjamin Disraeli, speech in the House of Commons (18th March, 1867)

(31) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 272

(32) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry (May, 1867)

(33) John Stuart Mill, speech in the House of Commons (20th May, 1867)

(34) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry (15th July, 1867)

(35) Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquis of Salisbury, speech in the House of Lords (15th July, 1867)

(36) Benjamin Disraeli, speech in the House of Commons (15th July, 1867)

(37) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 273

(38) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 273

(39) Annette Mayer, The Growth of Democracy in Britain (1999) page 48

(40) Colin Matthew, William Ewart Gladstone : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(41) George Curzon, speech at the University of Cambridge (6th November, 1913)

(42) Robert Blake, The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill (1970) page 111

(43) Duncan Watts, Tories, Conservatives and Unionists (1994) page 92

(44) Henry Pelling, Origins of the Labour Party (1965) page 4

(45) Paul Foot, The Vote (2005) page 161

(46) Benjamin Disraeli, speech in Manchester (3rd April, 1872)

(47) Colin Matthew, Gladstone, 1809–1874 (1993) page 220

(48) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry (18th January, 1874)

(49) Jonathan Parry, Benjamin Disraeli : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(50) Duncan Watts, Tories, Conservatives and Unionists (1994) page 101

(51) Benjamin Disraeli, speech at Crystal Palace (24th June, 1872)

(52) Christopher Hibbert, Queen Victoria: A Personal History (2000) page 361

(53) William Flavelle Monypenny and George Earle Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield: Volume I (1929) page 60

(54) William Ewart Gladstone, speech (9th September, 1876)

(55) Robert Blake, Disraeli (1967) page 603

(56) Colin Matthew, William Ewart Gladstone : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(57) Philip Magnus, Gladstone: A Biography (1963) pages 245

(58) Jonathan Parry, Benjamin Disraeli : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(59) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry (24th Febuary, 1878)

(60) Queen Victoria, letter to Sir Henry Frederick Ponsonby (4th April, 1880)

(61) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry ( 23rd April, 1880)

(62) Robert Blake, Disraeli (1967) page 747


A story from a dinner party Winston Churchill's mother attended over a century ago illustrates what it means to be a charismatic leader

Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone were competing for the position of the prime minister of the United Kingdom. These two leaders went down in history, but with very contrasting personalities.

Not surprisingly to the people of that time, Benjamin Disraeli won the election.

Now, William Gladstone was a very clever and witty person. He was brilliant, obviously so, and he knew pretty much everything. Based on his wit and experience, he had what it took to win the election. What made the difference, however, was summed up by a woman who had dinner with both Disraeli and Gladstone a week before the election.

The lady both men dined with was Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill's mother. When a journalist asked Jerome what her impression of the two men was, she responded :

"When I left the dining room after sitting next to Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But when I sat next to Disraeli, I left feeling that I was the cleverest woman."

Disraeli had spent the whole evening asking her questions and listening intently to her responses. He wanted to know everything about her, and he tried to steer the conversation toward her. Naturally, she talked — and we always feel good talking about ourselves.

Not surprisingly, Disraeli, the person who mastered the art of making other people feel important, won the election.

It wasn't that Disraeli wasn't as brilliant as Gladstone. He was. However, Disraeli had mastered the art of making other people feel brilliant, respected, and important — a key secret of charismatic leaders. This trait served Disraeli well, as Queen Victoria liked and supported him despite contrary advice from the people closest to her.

The hidden secret of charismatic leaders is presence.

When communicating with people, be truly present. Give them your undistracted and undivided attention, and instead of trying to showcase your brilliance and skills, carefully and intently listen to what they have to say. Get them to talk and truly listen. Even though your companion will have done more talking, they will end up liking you more because they feel respected.

Unfortunately, technology can contribute to a lack of presence among leaders, further dividing them from the people they lead. In a recent study by the Pew Research Center, it was found that as many as 89% of people use their mobile devices during social activity with others. Not surprisingly, another Pew study found that 82% of adults believe that usage of mobile devices during social gatherings hurts the gathering.

The people you lead need to feel valued and respected to be totally committed to you, and this won't happen if you're constantly distracted when they try to communicate with you.


Early Life of Benjamin Disraeli

Benjamin Disraeli was born on December 21, 1804 to a Jewish family with roots in Italy and the Middle East. When he was 12, Disraeli was baptized into the Church of England.

Disraeli's family lived in a fashionable section of London and he attended good schools. On his father's advice, he took steps to begin a career in the law but became fascinated by the idea of being a writer.

After trying and failing to launch a newspaper, Disraeli gained a literary reputation with his first novel, Vivian Grey, in 1826. The book was the tale of a young man who aspires to succeed in society but encounters misery.

As a young man, Disraeli attracted notice for his flamboyant dress and manners, and he was something of a character on the London social scene.


Prime minister

He had little room to maneuver during his first premiership. Unsurprisingly, he failed to realize his idea of an Anglican-Catholic alliance on the Irish question. Then, as expected, his party lost office after the election of November 1868. Once more he faced a long period in opposition, and the death of his wife in 1872 left him desolate as well as tired. Despite a couple of well-publicized speeches, Disraeli contributed little to the powerful middle-class, Anglican, and propertied reaction of the early 1870s against Gladstone's Liberal government. Still, it swept him back into power in February 1874, this time with a majority, the first one enjoyed by the Conservatives since 1841.

As prime minister, Disraeli enjoyed his warm relations with the queen (though privately he sometimes found her "very mad") and liked dispensing patronage. In the relative calm of the 1870s—so different from the atmosphere of the 1840s—there was little urgency in domestic affairs. However he encouraged the emphasis on relatively uncontentious social reform measures proposed by ministers Richard Assheton, first Viscount Cross (1823–1914) and Lord Derby (Edward Henry Smith Stanley, 1826–1893), because it added to the government's reputation for constructive competence and kept Parliament occupied. Nonetheless, the efficiency of his conduct of Commons business was increasingly criticized, and, beset by ill health, he took a peerage in August 1876 as Earl of Beaconsfield, allowing him to lead the ministry from the Lords.

Disraeli's main interest was in foreign policy, where he soon found a mission in asserting British power as his eighteenth-century heroes had done. He saw this as necessary both strategically, in order to check German and Russian domination of Europe, and in terms of raising the tone of domestic politics by counteracting the baleful influence of low-spending commercial isolationist sentiment in the Liberal Party. These goals drove his overseas policy, not the pursuit of imperial territory as such, which he regarded as a secondary concern, to be avoided if it threatened financial or diplomatic difficulties.

His policy proceeded partly by grand gestures of national assertiveness, such as the purchase of a large stake in the Suez Canal Company in 1875, and the bestowal of the title of Empress of India on the queen in 1876. During the Eastern crisis of 1876–1878 he sought to ensure that Britain's views and interests were not ignored by the other powers, though this required a degree of support for Turkey that offended many humanitarians at home. He then urged the cabinet to take a firm anti-Russian line in 1877–1878, even at the risk of war. This approach won the approval of the queen and some popular sentiment, but was extremely controversial, because of anti-Turkish opinion and fear that war in the east would overstretch the navy. On the other hand, many argued that his firm stance made possible a successful international settlement at Berlin in 1878, which was certainly popular at home. However the other powers had also wanted a settlement moreover, new British commitments to the defense of Turkey sparked fresh domestic criticism, particularly when followed by an expensive and difficult war against Afghanistan, for which the enthusiasm of Disraeli's Indian viceroy Lord Lytton (Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton 1831–1891) was mainly responsible. In Afghanistan, and in a similarly fraught war in South Africa, Disraeli seemed unable to control the expansionist pressures encouraged by his own rhetoric. The result was heavy military costs and great Liberal criticism of his "imperialism," by which was meant the perceived similarity of his regime to that of Napoleon III (r. 1852–1871) in foreign policy and in its disregard for constitutional liberties and fiscal restraint. Income tax tripled from 1874 to 1880, and the Conservatives lost the 1880 election, which was fought in a bad economic depression.

Disraeli died on 19 April 1881, within a year of leaving office. A Disraeli myth soon emerged, the result of the failure of the Liberals' imperial policy after 1880 and the need of the Conservative Party to appeal to the much-enlarged post-1885 electorate. Disraeli's commitment to vigor abroad was naturally one element of this powerful posthumous reinvention, while his attack on laissez-faire in the 1840s and his minor social reforms of the 1870s were also pressed into service to underline the party's willingness to address working-men's interests and to create "One Nation." Disraeli himself is probably best understood by focusing on his Romantic desire for national recognition, his struggles with his Jewish inheritance, the great social crisis of the 1840s, and his perception of the destiny of his generation to respond to that crisis by rebuilding confidence at home and tackling the legacy of insular commercialism in overseas affairs.


Benjamin Disraeli - History

Portraits of Benjamin Disraeli : Left: Wood engraving fromThe Illustrated London News . Middle left: Caricature from Punch. Middle right: Pen and ink drawing by Philip H. Tree (fl. 1860-1908). Right: Statue in Parliament Square by Mario Razzi. [Click on thumbnails for larger images.]

Benjamin Disraeli served twice as Prime Minister, the first time from 27 February to 1 December 1868 and the second, 20 February 1874 to 21 April 1880. Disraeli was born on 21 December 1804 at Bedford Row, London, the eldest son and second of five children born to Isaac D'Israeli and his wife Maria Basevi. Although the family was Jewish, Benjamin was baptised at St. Andrew's Anglican church in 1817. He was educated at Miss Roper's school in Islington and then went to Higham Hall School in Walthamstow between 1817 and 1821. In 1824 he was admitted to Lincoln's Inn but he withdrew in 1831. After that Disraeli travelled throughout Europe and the Near East whilst on his travels he contracted venereal disease and was subjected to the mercury treatment on his return to England. Since gonorrhoea causes sterility in males, this may explain why he remained childless. On his return he abandoned a career in Law to pursue one in writing.

In 1825 the daily newspaper The Representative appeared: it was founded by Disraeli and John Murray but it lasted only a few months. However, his first novel, Vivien Grey was published in April 1826, earning him £200. His first foray into political life was when he stood as a candidate for Wycombe in June 1832 but was not elected. He stood three times for Wycombe as an Independent Radical so in 1835 he committed himself to the Tory Party after Lyndhurst, the Lord Chancellor, became his political patron. Disraeli lost the Taunton by-election in April 1835 but by then he was an 'official' Tory candidate thanks to the efforts of Sir Francis Bonham and the Carlton Club. Disraeli had been conducting an affair with Lady Henrietta Sykes since 1833 it seems that her husband was aware of the liaison that continued for three years. They parted in the autumn of 1836.

In 1835 Disraeli and Daniel O'Connell quarrelled publicly over press reports that O'Connell had been called a 'traitor and incendiary' by Disraeli. The pair were to fight a duel but the police intervened and Disraeli was bound over to keep the peace. This was the first of their confrontations. In a heated debate in parliament, O'Connell referred to Disraeli's Jewish ancestry in disparaging terms to which Disraeli responded:

Yes, I am a Jew and when the ancestors of the right honourable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.

By 1835 he had a number of publications to his name: The Voyage of Captain Popanilla (1828) The Young Duke (1831) Contarini Fleming (1832) The Wondrous Tale of Alroy and the Rise of the Iskander (1833) A Year at Hartlebury (1834) and the political pamphlet A Vindication of the English Constitution in a Letter to a Noble and Learned Lord by Disraeli the Younger (1835). He also attacked the Municipal Corporations Bill in fourteen anonymous articles in the Morning Post . In 1836 he produced a series of nineteen letters in The Times under the pseudonym 'Runnymede' that poked fun at identifiable members Melbourne's government. This did nothing to endear him to his contemporaries, especially after he entered parliament as MP for Maidstone in July 1837 during the general election, along with Wyndham Lewis. His maiden speech on the subject of Irish elections was something of a disaster: he was shouted down but ended it by saying, 'I sit down now but the time will come when you will hear me'. His second speech, delivered two weeks later, was deliberately dull and was received with more attention. In 1844 and prior to the start of the Famine, he summarised the "Irish question" in the following terms

. you have a starving population, an absentee aristocracy, and an alien church, and in addition the weakest executive in the world. That is the Irish Question.

In August 1839 Mary Anne Wyndham Lewis (the widow of Wyndham Lewis) and Disraeli were married. She was twelve years older than her new husband and at the time there was a great deal of gossip that he had married her for her money-which lasted only for her lifetime. There was no doubt that they were devoted to each other and in later years he teased her by saying that he had only married her for her money: her reply invariably was 'but if you had to do it again, you'd do it for love'. That year saw the first manifestation of Chartism in a parliamentary debate on the Poor Law he expressed support for the Chartists and in June 1840 was one of only five MPs who protested at the harsh punishment meted out to the Chartist leaders.

On the resignation of Lord Melbourne in 1841, Peel was appointed as PM following the general election Disraeli became the MP for Shrewsbury. He wrote to Peel asking for government office but was not made a member of the government. Consequently he attached himself to 'Young England', a group of young aristocrats who first entered parliament that year and were led by George Smythe. Other members were Lord John Manners and Alexander Baillie-Cochrane. They expressed a desire to return to the 'golden age' of agricultural society where paternalism and deference ensured that society worked for the benefit of all and the aristocracy ruled the land in justice and peace. By the end of 1844 the group had disintegrated.

In a speech in the House of Commons on 28 February 1845 Disraeli attacked Peel for disregarding the views of the Conservatives in parliament who opposed the alteration of the Corn Laws:

The Right Honourable Gentleman caught the Whigs bathing and walked away with their clothes. He has left them in the full enjoyment of their liberal position, and he is himself a strict conservative of their garments.

Disraeli also commented that 'a conservative government is an organised hypocrisy'. As it became increasingly obvious that Peel was likely to move for a repeal of the Corn Laws, a 'protectionist' group was established early in 1846 to oppose the PM from within his own party: the leaders of this group were Disraeli, Bentinck and Stafford O'Brien who spear-headed the parliamentary attacks on Peel. In May, Disraeli made a vicious attack on Peel in the Corn Law debates. Peel accused him of touting for office in 1841: Disraeli denied that he had done so, relying on the hope that Peel could not produce the letter. Although Peel managed to push the repeal of the Corn Laws through parliament he resigned over the Irish Coercion Act in June and was succeeded as PM by a Whig ministry led by Lord John Russell. Disraeli supported the Whig attempt to remove the civil disabilities still imposed on Jews and continued to do so for the next ten years until the legislation was successful.

Hughenden Manor, Buckinghamshire. Disraeli bought the house in 1847

When Russell resigned in 1852, the Earl of Derby formed his first ministry and Disraeli became Chancellor of the Exchequer in the so-called "Who? Who?" ministry. He spoke for five hours when presenting his first Budget but was answered by Gladstone, thus marking the opening of the parliamentary conflict between the two men. The Bill was defeated and the government resigned, giving way to Aberdeen's ministry that plunged the country into the Crimean War. Gladstone took over as Chancellor of the Exchequer in this ministry and an argument broke out between Gladstone and Disraeli over the furniture in No. 11 Downing Street and the Chancellor's robe that Disraeli refused to surrender. Aberdeen's ministry fell over the mis-handling of the war and was succeeded by that of Palmerston. In February 1858 Derby formed his second ministry and Disraeli again took the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer but the ministry lasted only for eighteen months during that time, the government introduced a Reform Bill that was defeated by the Liberals. On his third appointment to the Treasury in 1866, Disraeli was responsible for putting the second Reform Bill to parliament: it was an attempt to broaden support for the Tory party. The Bill received royal assent in 1867 and Disraeli formed his first ministry in 1868 on the resignation of Derby on the grounds of ill health. His comment was 'I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole'. Once the new electoral register was ready a general election was held: the Liberals won a resounding victory and Gladstone formed his first administration. Queen Victoria created Mary Anne Disraeli the Countess of Beaconsfield. Mary Anne died in December 1872 leaving Disraeli devastated and reliant upon his private secretary, Monty Corry. In the 1874 general election the Tories were victorious and Disraeli formed his second ministry which saw the passing of a number of pieces of legislation including, in 1875

In 1878 Disraeli was elevated to the House of Lords as the Earl of Beaconsfield his administration was attacked by Gladstone for its policy towards the Ottoman Empire. In 1876 the Bulgarian atrocities had taken place but Disraeli said that the press reports were exaggerated - this was something of a faux pas for him and Gladstone made the most of his opportunity, publishing a pamphlet The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East later in the year. Another outbreak of Russo-Turkish hostilities erupted in the war of 1877 which ended with the Treaty of Adrianople in 1878 and was followed by the Congress of Berlin that was attended by Disraeli and Salisbury on behalf of Britain. The meeting culminated in the signing of the Treaty of Berlin and Disraeli claimed to have won 'peace with honour'. In 1880 he resigned as PM following a Liberal victory at the general election and became leader of the Opposition from the Lords. Always something of a dandy, he arrived at a dinner party wearing 'green velvet trousers, a canary coloured waistcoat, low shoes, sliver buckles, lace at his wrists and his hair in ringlets. ' [Henry Bulmer]. He died a year later and was buried at Hughenden parish church in Buckinghamshire. He was 76 years old.


Disraeli or Churchill?

Boris Johnson is facing a national crisis like few other prime ministers. Which of his predecessors will he draw comparisons with?

In March 1846, at the height of the destructive debate over the repeal of the Corn Laws, the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, rounded on his chief tormentor, Benjamin Disraeli, and asked how it was that if, as Disraeli claimed, he so disapproved of the Government, he had solicited a place in it? Taken by surprise, Disraeli resorted to default mode: he lied. Disclaiming that thwarted ambition had played any part in his rebellion against Peel, Disraeli denied seeking office. Historians have speculated on Peel’s motives in not acknowledging the lie, but for our purposes here, what matters is the ease with which Disraeli told a lie which suited him.

Few believed him. Disraeli was widely distrusted. While some of the distrust came from the strain of antisemitism which continues to disfigure public life, most of it came from his character and his record. He was a journalist and a bestselling novelist whose approach to politics was marked by a cavalier way with the truth. He was known to be in debt and his personal life was said to be dubious he had, after all, married the widow of a fellow MP in order to be able to benefit from her income. The man was, in short, a colourful rogue. It did not stop him from being a winner. Just as Gladstone accused Disraeli of debauching public life and deplored his habit of playing fast and loose with the truth, so do Boris Johnson’s critics level similar allegations at him but in both instances the voters seemed less concerned.

Living by the pen

Disraeli was one of only three British prime ministers who have earned a living from their pen and although the third of them, Boris Johnson, likes to compare himself with the second of them, Winston Churchill, the comparison with Disraeli is the more illuminating.

In retrospect, Disraeli’s immediate Conservative heirs assigned to him the place he had sought – that of the founder of ‘One Nation’ Conservatism – or, as his self-proclaimed heir, Lord Randolph Churchill called it, ‘Tory Democracy’. Historians, being studious and serious people, have expended a great deal of time and energy trying to define this phenomenon, but they should have taken Randolph’s own definition seriously – it was a way of getting the democracy to vote Tory, which meant that it was ‘mostly opportunism’.

Unlikely alliance

In this sense, Johnson is a worthy successor to both Randolph and Disraeli. Disraeli had no previous connection with those ‘stern unbending Tories’ who had been murmuring against Peel since he betrayed them (as they saw it) over Catholic Emancipation in 1829, but it suited his ambitions to act as their spokesman in the 1840s lacking in oratorical talent themselves, they reluctantly embraced Disraeli. A similar marriage of convenience occurred in 2016, when the Brexiteers and Boris Johnson joined forces.

Johnson’s critics, like Disraeli’s, could plunder the written record to find examples of their changing their minds, but in both cases, this was priced into the offer. In 2016, as in 1845, there was a trade-off between inconsistency and expediency. Charisma is a rare quality in politics. Those who have it are forgiven much, to the fury of the more sober-sided who feel it is ‘unfair’. Just as Disraeli drove Gladstone to righteous anger, so Johnson’s critics bridle at the way in which his private life appears not to be the major problem they think it should be.

Napoleon used to ask of his generals not whether they were any good, but whether they were lucky Disraeli and Johnson rode their luck. Becoming prime minister in time to encounter a major pandemic may mean Johnson’s luck has run out, but surviving the disease, and thereby avoiding George Canning’s fate, suggests fortune may still be with him.

It would be wrong to say that Johnson, like Disraeli before him, is without principles, but he understands that political realism will dictate what is possible – and determining the latter is the art of the leader. Like Disraeli, Johnson does not command detail, something which historians who do command it, and politicians who imagine it to be important, find deplorable. But as the singular case of Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, shows, a command of detail by itself can be fatal – without vision the political party perishes.

Rhetoric matters

Both Disraeli and Johnson are criticised for ‘empty rhetoric’ and it is always easy (which is why it is done so often) to write off rhetoric as ‘mere words’. Yet, as Barack Obama, Churchill and others show, it matters. You can produce a fine manifesto promising free stuff for all, but if the salesman lacks credibility, it simply becomes the ‘longest suicide note’ in history. The best political rhetoricians keep it simple, a truth exemplified by three of the finest modern orators, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Obama. But what matters in a crisis is the ability to radiate optimism.

And it is here, finally, that Johnson’s comparison with Churchill is apt. Churchill’s decision to fight on in 1940 was illogical, but optimistic. Though he claimed the United States was about to enter the war, it wasn’t, and although he claimed British air power could deliver victory, it couldn’t. Most sensible people knew that, but Churchill was not a sensible person, he was a romantic and, in rallying the nation to its ‘finest hour’, he helped create the victory which his instinct knew was there.

Johnson operates on the same wavelength. Like Disraeli, who in 1874 delivered a Conservative victory which all the wiseacres had declared to be impossible, Johnson confounded his critics in December 2019. Was he evasive about detail, did he duck and dive to avoid scrutiny? Yes, because like Disraeli and Churchill, Johnson did what was necessary to achieve victory everything was subordinate to that task. Winning an argument is all very well, but unless that brings you to power it is a pyrrhic victory.

To govern is to choose, de Gaulle said. Johnson’s rhetoric shows he realises the nature of the choices he has to make, but only time will show whether he can make them. There is evidence that he is able to do this, both personally and politically. Johnson, Disraeli and Churchill all earned a good living away from politics and Johnson is the first prime minister since Baldwin to sacrifice a larger income for the sake of office. Unlike his two peers, Johnson also has experience of local government. He was that rarest of Tories in the noughties, one who could win over voters in London he has shown the same skill in exploiting Brexit in areas of the country which have not voted Conservative in living memory. Furthermore, Johnson has shown that he can compensate for his weaknesses by choosing some subordinates wisely. Disraeli compensated for his lack of command of detail by employing ministers, such as Richard Cross and the Earl of Derby, who were in complete command of their brief. Johnson did the same as Mayor of London and is trying to repeat it as prime minister – Rishi Sunak, his Chancellor of the Exchequer, is the best example so far.

One nation or two?

And then there is the issue of ideology. The persistence of the legend that Johnson’s stance on Brexit marks him out as an extreme right-winger is evidence more of his opponents’ outrage than it is an accurate assessment. Johnson was one of the first Conservatives to come out in favour of gay marriage and he is very plainly a social liberal, and not only in his personal life. He is the first Conservative leader since Ted Heath in the 1970s to favour state intervention and higher public spending were it not for Europe, Michael Heseltine would be declaring Johnson as his worthy successor.

In Thatcherite parlance Johnson is a ‘wet’. In so far as a One Nation Conservative looks toward healing the rift between the ‘Two Nations’, that is the rich and the poor, Johnson’s rhetoric places him firmly in that tradition. To those who, rightly, argue that tells us nothing about what he will do, one might suggest that the reality of opportunism points toward him wanting to put the rhetoric into action, because it is the way to hold onto the Labour seats he won in December 2019. Just as the Tory diehards who had supported Disraeli because of his stance over the Corn Laws turned against him because he was liberal on parliamentary reform, so might the party’s Thatcherite establishment find Johnson a hard pill to swallow. What matters to him is power, not ideology or consistency.

We can see in his reaction to the coronavirus pandemic that Johnson will adapt himself to whatever is required. Not only has he put his own libertarian instincts aside, albeit reluctantly, he has announced the largest government intervention in the economy since the Second World War.

Ruthless pragmatism

Thatcherite individualism is set aside as Johnson shows himself the heir to Rab Butler’s epigram that politics is the art of the possible. Just as he caught the Brexit Party’s Nigel Farage bathing and stole his clothes, now he has stolen those of the former leader of the Labour Party. The pragmatism is ruthless. The question of whether it will be effective takes us back, though to the prime minister’s favourite comparison – Churchill. If he fails to rise to the occasion it will be Neville Chamberlain with whom he ends up being compared. Who then will be his Churchill?

John Charmley is Pro-Vice Chancellor of St Mary’s University, Twickenham.


Benjamin Disraeli - History

“Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the right honourable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.”

Miss Sands told me that Queen Victoria, who was latterly éprise with Disraeli, one day asked him what was his real religion. “Madam,” he replied, “I am the blank page between the Old Testament and the New.”

“I don’t wish to go down to posterity talking bad grammar.”

Disraeli , Benjamin, Earl of Beaconsfield, born in London, December 21, 1804, died there April 19, 1881. Of this preeminently distinguished man in the nineteenth century there are many biographies and lasting monuments. We need only record very briefly here that he was one of England’s greatest sons and statesmen, and the greatest ornament of the Jewish people in modern times. An ardent lover of his nation, a genuine English patriot, a friend of his great Queen, a thorough Protestant Churchman, yet with liberal tendencies, and a true believer in Christianity, which he regarded as completed Judaism. His works are these: “Vivian Grey,” 1817 “The Infernal Marriage” “Ixion in Heaven,” and “Popanilla,” 1828 “Contarini Fleming,” and “The Wondrous Tale of Alroy,” 1832 “The Young Duke,” about that time “What is he?” 1833 “Revolutionary Epic,” 1834 “Coningsby,” 1844 “Tancred,” 1847 “Sybil,” 1845 [190] “The rise of Iskander,” “Vindication of the British Constitution,” “Venetia,” “Henrietta Temple,” “The Tragedy of Count Alarcos,” and “Lothair,” were all productions of his great intellect at different seasons. Benjamin’s mother, his sister Sarah, born 1802, his brother Ralph, 1809, and his brother James, 1813, were all Hebrew Christians.

Bernstein also notes of Isaac Disraeli, Benjamin’s father:

Disraeli , Isaac, left the synagogue in 1817. Though we have no definite information about his baptism, we may reasonably assume that he was a member of the Church of England. This appears from his having his children baptized, from his pamphlet, “The Spirit of Judaism,” in which he vindicated himself for the step he had taken, from his articles on “The Talmud,” “Psalm Singing,” the Pearl Bibles and six thousand errata in his “Curiosities of literature,” &c., all shewing that he was an earnest student of religious subjects and of the Scriptures, and that he endeavoured to spread the light of truth.

Isaac D’Israeli had never taken religion very seriously, but had remained a conforming member of the Bevis Marks Synagogue. His father, the elder Benjamin, was a prominent and devout member it was probably from respect for him that Isaac did not leave when he fell out with the synagogue authorities in 1813. After Benjamin senior died in 1816 Isaac felt free to leave the congregation following a second dispute. His friend Sharon Turner, a solicitor, convinced him that although he could comfortably remain unattached to any formal religion it would be disadvantageous to the children if they did so. Turner stood as godfather when Benjamin was baptised, aged twelve, on 31 July 1817.

A short post cannot do justice to this political giant, a complex personality and imposing presence, who continues to leave his mark on British political life and is claimed as a member of the Jewish community despite, perhaps even because, of what he was able to achieve because of his ‘conversion’. He was an ambitious socialite, a prolific writer and novelist, a political maverick and turncoat, a companion and favourite of Queen Victoria, a shrewd but flawed politician. Whatever his real faith, he is claimed as both Jewish and Christian, one of the best-known examples of Homi Bhaba’s model of hybridity and heteroglossic identity in his “location of culture”. But my favourite assessment of his is that of Randolph Churchill, who described his career progressing through as a series of stages:

“Failure, failure, failure, partial success, renewed failure, ultimate and complete victory.”

Prayer: Lord, you order the nations and assign their leaders, both potentates and politicians. In this multifaceted character whose ambition, integrity and purpose we still ponder with fascination we see one of the greatest achieving members of Israel in modern times. Help us to learn from his example, but also to be wise as to the inner workings of his heart and faith.


Disraeli's flowery history

As Benjamin Disraeli’s coffin was lowered into the ground on 26 April, 1881, the attention of the crowded mourners and reporters fixed on a simple primrose wreath amidst the mass of floral tributes left in the churchyard at Hughenden, Buckinghamshire. It had been sent by Queen Victoria, with a simple message attached: ‘His favourite flowers’. In its quiet intimacy, this offering fittingly symbolised the unusual bond forged between sovereign and Prime Minister during Disraeli’s two terms in that office (Feb-Dec 1868, and 1874-80).

On the surface, Disraeli and Victoria made for an odd couple. Disraeli was totally unlike his predecessors – a novelist of Jewish descent, without the aristocratic lineage or elite education typical of the British statesman. Deprived of these valuable assets, and encumbered for much of his career by embarrassing debts and a dubious reputation, Disraeli memorably likened his tortuous ascent to the premiership to climbing a ‘greasy pole’. Victoria, for her part, had retreated from the world into stern and unbending widowhood after the death of her husband Prince Albert in 1861.

Look closer, however, and the success of their partnership seems almost inevitable. Monarchy possessed special appeal for Disraeli, who had a magpie’s fascination with glitter and glamour and a life-long interest in celebrity, making intimacy with the Queen the summit of his social ambition. Power acted as a spur to his imagination: travelling through the Ottoman Empire in 1830, he stayed at the court of a grand vizier and was thrilled to be ‘made much of by a man who was daily decapitating half the province’. To be closeted with majesty satisfied like nothing else his heady ambition to ‘sway the race that sways the world’. For all this to be truly enjoyable, however, he needed an audience. He found one in the company of women, who he found more sympathetic and interesting than men ‘I live for Power and the Affections’, he declared.

Disraeli and Queen Victoria

These personality traits were reflected in all Disraeli’s relations with his ‘Sovereign Mistress’. He wrote gossipy letters (just like his novels, Victoria noted), and flattered both their vanity by suggesting that the true seat of power was not parliament, but her tartan armchair in Balmoral. He would take care of ‘smaller matters’, he informed her, and seek the benefit of her ‘rare and choice experience’ in all ‘the great affairs of state’. Nowhere was this genius for projection more apparent than in Disraeli’s habit of addressing Victoria – so small and stout that in her official photographs she was made to stand on a box and had her double chin discreetly trimmed in the dark-room – as a ‘Faerie Queen’. This was a reference to Edmund Spenser’s romantic tribute to Elizabeth I in his sixteenth-century poem of the same name, and allowed the septuagenarian Disraeli to pose as a chivalrous knight in Victoria’s service.

Victoria was receptive to this avalanche of affection. Since Albert’s death she had felt harassed by politicians intent on forcing her out of her widowed seclusion (especially Gladstone, whose earnest appeals as Prime Minister over 1868-74 repelled her). More than that, she was simply lonely. Cloistered at court and with her brood of nine children marrying off, she confessed her need for a devoted friend. In Disraeli, Victoria found a Prime Minister ‘full of poetry, romance and chivalry’ (as she wrote in 1868), and who claimed to treat her wishes as commands ‘delightful to obey’. In his combination of exoticism and frank friendliness Disraeli played a similar role to John Brown, her rough Scottish servant, in breaking the suffocating decorum of the court and drawing out the woman behind the veil.

Disraeli and Victoria had much in common, not least a shared admiration for Albert. Disraeli’s sentiment was genuine, but he knew how to play on Victoria’s sympathies in the elevated key she appreciated, telling her that he could not think of ‘that gifted being’ without emotion. By his second premiership Disraeli too was a widower, and sympathy was cemented by shared suffering. Both relished a temporary retreat into romantic nature, Disraeli strutting with his peacocks in Buckinghamshire and Victoria brushing with peasants in the Scottish Highlands. Disraeli greeted the Queen’s annual gift of spring flowers in this spirit, writing that he liked ‘primroses so much better for their being wild: they seem an offering from the fauns and dryads of the woods’. Most importantly, both shared a strong sense of destiny and the conviction that they were best-placed to understand the real interests of the country, Disraeli by virtue of his heroic qualities as man of genius, Victoria by virtue of her constitutional position. The success of their relationship derived from the fact that it served deep-rooted emotional needs in both.

After his death on 19 April 1881, Disraeli bequeathed two immediate and accidental legacies to his successor and Liberal rival, William Gladstone. One was a sovereign whose self-confidence and self-importance, much depressed by Albert’s overweening influence in life and death, had now been re-inflated. Gladstone, who enjoyed little personal chemistry with Victoria and of whose sanity she was unconvinced, suffered a barrage of querulous royal criticism, reporting that, ‘the Queen is enough to kill anyone’.

The Primrose Tomb - the tomb of Benjamin Disraeli, and his wife Mary-Anne (Vicountess Beaconsfield in her own right). Photo: Rob Farrow

Disraeli’s second legacy was more ambiguous: a Conservative party Gladstone believed to have abandoned its role as a guarantor against ‘dangerous and excessive innovation’ and which now depended ‘on influencing public passion.’ One symptom of this, as Gladstone perceived it, was the cult that had rapidly grown up around Disraeli’s memory and, taking its cue from the Queen, found its expression in two innovations: the Primrose League and ‘Primrose Day’. The former, founded in 1883, claimed to represent the ‘transformation into political energy’ of the emotions aroused by Disraeli’s career and death. By 1891 it had over one million members, and became the largest popular political organisation of the nineteenth century. There is considerable irony in this development, for Disraeli had always sneered at populism and, according to his intimate Lord Derby, had an ‘odd dislike’ for the middle classes – precisely those who were so prominent in organising the League’s tea-parties, bazaars, and entertainments. Nor would he have been particularly enamoured of ‘Primrose Day’, which fell on the anniversary of his death, and for decades was marked by an orgy of primrose tributes around the country: dramatic arrangements were laid at the base of his public memorials, and primroses were worn as buttonholes and in hats, as garlands, necklaces and even girdles. Gladstone’s private secretary derided this ‘sentimental hobby’ as ‘inappropriate and un-English’, and Disraeli would have agreed. He felt keenly his dignity as a statesman, and would have shuddered at the vulgarity of it all. Nonetheless, having spent his life believing he was a national leader of unique insight, he would have been delighted with his posthumous recognition as such.

And what of the primrose? Anticipating the first ‘Primrose Day’ in 1882, the Daily News thought it a strangely commonplace symbol of Disraeli’s genius, suggesting that a ‘strange and gorgeous tropical plant, which only blossoms once in a hundred years, some blossom of piercing and pungent colour’ would be more appropriate. It is hard to disagree.

Visit the 10 Downing Street Garden

This June the Downing Street garden joins more than 200 private, hidden and little-known gardens which are opening to the public as part of Open Garden Squares Weekend.

The tours will take place at 11 am and 2 pm on Saturday 8 June, and there will be 20 people on each tour. Places on the tour are allocated by a random ballot.

Copyright Tom Crewe. This article was produced as part of the No10 Guest Historian series, coordinated by History & Policy.


Benjamin Disraeli

Disraeli was born in 1804, one year before the battle of Trafalgar. He was a son of Jewish parents converted to Christianity. Certainly not the first or only writer who went gladly into politics, he published his first novel, Vivian Grey, at twenty-two. The book was a success, but Disraeli is better known for two novels written about politics – Coningsby (1844) and Sybil a year later. One can detect a distinct note of Romantic Toryism in all three books, which are severely critical of industrial development or progress.

He joined the ‘Young England’ movement, which claimed to disapprove of social equality or reform, and became its leader. Almost at once he attacked Sir Robert Peel’s free trade policies, and ensured that the people knew who he was and what his ideas were. He attracted attention, partly because of his flamboyantly Jewish, saturnine looks at a time when Britain was as anti-Semitic as any other European country. He was a splendid public speaker, and known for his quick wit. When his wife asked him what he thought about the enormous house where they had both just been entertained during a ‘Friday to Monday’ visit, a house owned by a great magnate, he replied ‘our host and his house are very cold, in fact the warmest thing I found during our visit was the champagne.”

When the followers of Peel left the House of Commons, Disraeli became its Conservative Party leader, and was Chancellor of the Exchequer under Lord Derby’s minority governments in 1852 and 1858/8. It was he who pushed through the 1867 Reform Bill, showing that he had much changed from his callow youth.

The Queen with Disraeli / firstartgallery.com

When Derby resigned in 1868 Disraeli became Prime Minister, shocking many anti-Semites on both sides of the Commons and the Lords. He was quickly defeated in the same year in a general election and certain Englishmen heaved a sigh of relief, but Disraeli was from being squashed. In 1874 he became PM again and stayed PM until 1880. By then he had become a favourite of Queen Victoria, with whom he was always gallant. He also knew the Queen loathed his chief rival William Ewart Gladstone, an Old Etonian. The truth is that Disraeli only consolidated reforms already started by Gladstone, though he preferred not to mention this to the Queen his admirer.

Gladstone, Disraeli’s opponent and the Queen’s bête noir / kingsacademy.com

When shares in the proposed Suez Canal became (secretly) available, Disraeli decided Britain ought to be at least half-owner (with the French) of this enormously important sea link between the Mediterranean and the Orient nut time was short and he knew how long it would take to talk Parliament into making a decision he used his friendship with the (London-based) Rothschild, who advanced the cash needed immediately, at very low interest Britain became half-owner of the Suez Canal. The House of Commons, at first shocked by the presumption, grudgingly accepted the brilliant move as a fait accompli.

Meanwhile Disraeli’s popularity with Queen Victoria had not waned in the least, especially when he proposed that she should become Empress of India (1876). Having made his queen Empress, Disraeli went off to the Congress of Berlin in 1878 where he greatly contributed towards European peace after the war between Russia and Turkey in the Balkans. Then suddenly things changed: to the Queen’s dismay, Gladstone and the Liberals defeated him in 1880, and much to her chagrin he retired to the beautiful house (Hughenden Manor, shown above) he had bought for his family. Within a year he was dead, but not before becoming Lord Beaconsfield.

The Queen’s favourites throughout her long life were Melbourne (her first PM), and Disraeli her bêtes noirs were Peel and (though he affected not to notice), Gladstone.


Timeline of Benjamin Disraeli:

1813: His father quarreled with the Synagogue of Bevis Marks.

1817: His father had his children baptised as Christians, which was fortunate for Disraeli as Jews were excluded from Parliament until 1858.

1837: Interested early on in Politics he had stood for election as a Whig, a Radical and an Independent before finally being successful representing Maidstone in Kent for the Conservatives. His maiden speech in the House of Commons was drowned by howls of laughter.

1839: Disraeli married the widow Mrs. Wyndham Lewis. He later remarked he had married for money but she replied “Ah…you would do it again for love”.

1841: The Conservative’s win the General Election. He suggests to the Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel that he should be made a Minister but is rejected and becomes a fierce critic of the Government from the back benches.

1842: Benjamin Disraeli helps form the “Young England” Group arguing that the Middle Class now had too much power and that an alliance should be formed between the aristocracy and the Working Class with the former helping the poor. This political philosophy is expressed in his novels “Coningsby”, “Sybil” and “Tancred”. He strongly opposed Peel’s decision to repeal the Corn Laws, which was an issue that strongly divided the Conservative’s and eventually brought about the downfall of Peel.

1852: Lord John Russell the Whig Prime Minister resigned and Lord Derby succeeded for the Conservative’s appointing him Chancellor of the Exchequer. This government, however, only lasted a few months and was replaced by that of the Earl of Aberdeen.

1858: Lord Derby again becomes Prime Minister and appoints him Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. He was responsible for measures to reform Parliament, proposing the equalisation of town and county franchise. This would have led to some people in towns losing the vote and was bitterly opposed by the Liberals.

1859: Lord Palmerston becomes Prime Minister for the Liberals and Disraeli is once again in opposition, but now gains a reputation as a tenacious and skilful debater.

1866: The Conservatives regain power under Lord Derby who appoints him once again Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. He is sure that the new leader of the Liberals, William Gladstone, if returned to power would bring in extensive reforms and he is worried that the Conservatives would be seen as the anti-reform party.

1867: He proposes a new Reform Act which gives the vote to every male adult householder living in a borough constituency and those in rented accommodation paying over ten pounds for unfurnished rooms. This act, supported by Gladstone, was to give the vote to about one and a half million men. It was so controversial at the time that a prominent member of his own party, Lord Cranborne (later the Marquis of Salisbury) resigned in protest. Constituencies with less than 12,000 inhabitants also lost one of their M.P.’s and these forty-five seats were distributed amongst the larger cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds and Counties whose populations had increased dramatically.

1868: Lord Derby resigned and Disraeli now became the new Prime Minister However at the General Election which followed shortly afterwards the Liberals won power and Gladstone became Prime Minister

1874: After six years in opposition the Conservatives again won power and this was the first time since 1841 that they had had a clear majority. He now had the authority to bring in social reforms.

1875: The Artisan’s Dwelling Act, the Public Health Act, the Pure Food and Drugs Act the Climbing Boys Act were all passed. The Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act allowed peaceful picketing by Trade Unions. Made Great Britain the shared owner of the Suez Canal in Egypt.

1876: The Education Act was passed. Queen Victoria, who got on very well with Disraeli in sharp contrast to her dislike of Gladstone, agreed to his suggestion that she should accept the title Empress of India although she was not keen on all of his imperialist ideas. The Queen granted Disraeli the title of Lord Beaconsfield and he now continued as Prime Minister from a seat in the House of Lords.

1878: The Employers and Workmen Act enabled workers to sue employers in the civil courts if they broke legal contracts. After a British fleet had been sent to the Dardanelle’s to counter the Russians who were then threatening the Turks, he went to the Congress of Berlin. Disraeli there met with great success, and the praise of the German Chancellor Bismarck in his attempts to limit Russia’s power in the Balkans and achieve “peace with honour”.

1880: At the General Election the Conservative’s were defeated and once again Gladstone became Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli decided to retire from politics at this point in order to spend more time writing his novels however he soon met with ill health which forced him to retire completely.

When and Where did he Die?

19th April 1881, London, England.

Age at Death:

Written Works:

1826: “Vivian Grey”.
1828: “The Voyage of Captain Popanilla”.
1831: “The Young Duke”.
1832: “Contarini Fleming, A Psychological Autobiography”.
1833: “The Wondrous Tale of Alray and the Rise of Iskander”.
1837: “Henrietta Temple”. “Venetia”.
1840: “Isaac: Amenities of Literature”.
1844: “Coningsby or the New Generation”.
1845: “Sybil or the Two Nations”.
1847: “Tancred”.
1862: “The Life of Lord George Bentinck”.
1870: “Lothair”.
1880: “Endymion”.

Marriage:

1839: To extremely wealthy widow Mrs. Wyndham Lewis. He later remarked he had married for money but she replied “Ah…you would do it again for love”.


Watch the video: Μπέντζαμιν το ελέφαντας - Benjamin - The Zoo Festival in ελληνικός - Full episode in Greek