William Henry Smith (1825-1891)
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William Henry Smith (1825-1891)

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Mr Gladstone is willing to give the greatest support of his name in favour of the expression of our views in the Congress [of Berlin], but he thinks it right to say that he refuses ... to give the six millions. It appears that the Right Hon. Gentleman refuses to give the Government a cheque for six millions, but he will give us a blank cheque, without money expressed, to be filled up by ourselves at the right time.
Speech in the House of Commons, 1878.

Additional Information on
William Henry Smith (1825-1891)

William Henry Smith was the only son of William Henry Smith a leading newsagent, and the founder of what we recognise today as 'W.H. Smith' the high street store. Smith, working in conjunction with his father, was very interested in the railway enterprise, and had soon opened negotiations for the right to erect bookstalls at stations - securing a monopoly for this in 1851. During the Great Exhibition of 1851 Smith realised the marketing possibilities of advertising, and seized the opportunity to acquire the monopoly on all blank wall spacing in principal railway stations. The elder Smith died in 1865, leaving his son head of a very large and lucrative business.

Politically, Smith was said to have been inclined towards Liberalism, and in 1865 accepted the invitation to stand for Westminster as a Liberal Conservative. He failed at the first attempt, but did succeed in 1868. Smith devoted himself to foreign policy, and associated himself in particular with the Education Bill of 1870.

In 1874 Disraeli offered him the post of Secretary to the Treasury. In 1877 he joined the cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty, a position of high rank, for which Disraeli incurred much criticism for appointing a tradesman - this public issue was aired by Gilbert and Sullivan in H.M.S. Pinafore. However, it was a successful appointment, and in Salisbury's first cabinet, Smith was made Secretary of State for War.

When Sir William Hart Dyke resigned as Chief Secretary, Salisbury turned to Smith who at once entered office and took up his duties with enthusiasm. However, only one month later the government fell and Gladstone took over. In Salisbury's second administration Smith returned to the war office. When Lord Randolph Churchill suddenly resigned the leadership of the House in 1861, Salisbury turned to Smith, and made him First Lord of the Treasury, and Leader of the House of Commons. His leadership was an undoubted success. Smith was highly regarded by his contemporaries as a sensible, honourable and conscientious politician. During the session of 1891 ill health impeded his performance, and the strain of the work became too much for him. Smith died later the same year.

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