Plaque commemorating William Gladstone
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Plaque commemorating William Gladstone

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On this spot awaiting sepulture in Westminster Abbey, rested from May 26th to 28th 1898, the body of the Right Honourable William Ewart Gladstone, four times Prime Minister.

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Plaque commemorating William Gladstone

William Gladstone was the fourth son of Sir John Gladstone, a prosperous merchant. Having been brought up in fervently evangelical home, religion was to play a major part in his life. Gladstone's father convinced him that he should turn to politics as he could excel there equally as well as in the church. Due to his rather conservative views, when he entered Parliament in 1832, he was elected as a Tory member.

The 1830's saw the young Gladstone as a staunch opposer of all reform, particularly that allowing dissention from the Church of England. In 1833, he made his first speech on the abolition of slavery. He opposed emancipation of the slaves believing it would not be in the interest of either the slaves or the colonies, to free them. During this period he became noted for his able oratory and this attracted the attention of Peel. In 1834 Peel appointed Gladstone as his Junior Lord of the Treasury. In 1841 Gladstone became Vice-President of the Board of Trade in Peel's second administration. In 1843 he was made president. In 1845 he became Colonial Secretary, although one year later the Tory Party fell as a result of the repealing of the Corn Laws.

Between 1846 and 1859, Gladstone turned his views towards that of the Peelites or Liberal Conservatives - as they came to be known. He held various cabinet posts up until 1852, when he replied to Disraeli's budget speech. This established his presence as one of the greatest orators. It also precipitated the begining of the verbal duels between these two men that were to characterise parliamentary debate for the next twenty five years.

In 1853 Gladstone succeeded Disraeli as Chancellor of the Exchequer, in Aberdeen's coalition ministry. Gladstone's first budget was a triumph. He reformed income tax - abolishing many tariffs and lowering others. His success as Chancellor led to his appointment as Chancellor again in Palmerston's ministry from 1859-1865 and then under Russell from 1865-1866. Gladstone's acceptance of the 'democratic principle' made him very popular with the lower classes. His amendments to the Reform Act of 1867 extended the ability to vote to one million urban workers.

By the late 1860's Gladstone had lost most of his Tory principles and had converted to the Liberal Party. In 1867 he became their leader. When in 1868 the Liberals won the election, Queen Victoria reluctantly asked Gladstone to form a ministry. [Victoria detested Gladstone throughout his career, finding his manner cold and formal in comparison to Disraeli who she adored. She criticised him all the time, constantly meddling in his ministry]. Gladstone's first mission on assuming the premiership was to pacify the Irish and grant them Home Rule. His first steps towards this came in 1869 with the disestablishment of the Irish Church and the Lands Act of 1870 - protecting Irish peasants form wealthy landlords. In 1870 his government passed the Education Act, and in 1871 the Universities test Act, the Ballot Act of 1872 made voting secret, and the Trade Union act of 1871 gave the unions legal status.

In 1874 Gladstone was defeated at the general election, and his rival Disraeli replaced him. Gladstone condemned Disraeli's foreign policy, and when in 1875 he failed to help the Bulgarian Christians who were being persecuted by the Turks, Gladstone was so incensed that he published an article entitled 'The Bulgarian Horrors'. This sold 200,000 copies in less than a month, and served in turn to re-establish Gladstone in power (1880).

Gladstone's second ministry was not as productive as the first. Problems in Ireland were unresolved, and in 1882 the new Viceroy was assassinated in Dublin. Gladstone's main acheivements were the passing of the 1884 Reform Act - extending the vote to many workers in rural areas, and the securing of greater control for married women over their property. When the government was defeated in 1885, Gladstone resigned and was succeeded by Lord Salisbury. He declined Queen Victoria's invitation of an Earldom.

In 1886 Salisbury's administration fell and Gladstone became Prime Minister for the third time. His third and fourth ministries were dominated by the debate over Home Rule. The first bill was defeated in April 1886, and split the Liberal Party in opinion. In 1893 a second attempt at the Home Rule Bill was passed in the Commons, but rejected by the Lords. When Gladstone's cabinet refused to help the matter further, he resigned as Prime Minister and retired. Gladstone died in 1898. His body lay in state for three days in Westminster Hall, before being buried in Westminster Abbey.

Though a very happily married man, it has been said that Gladstone was 'tortured' by his fascination with women. At one stage during his political career he alarmed his collegues and risked his reputation by visiting the back streets of Soho and Piccadilly (London) in search of prostitutes whom he hoped to reform by taking them home to his wife for counselling, food and shelter.


Who equals him in earnestness? Who equals him in eloquence? Who equals him in courage and fidelity to his convictions? If these gentlemen who say they will not follow him have anyone who is equal, let them show him. If they can point out any statesman who can add dignity and grandeur to the stature of Mr Gladstone, let them produce him!
- John Bright, speech at Birmingham, 1867.

He has not a single redeeming defect.
- Benjamin Disraeli.

'Well', said Dizzy [being asked to define the distinction between 'misfortune' and 'calamity'], 'if Mr. Gladstone fell into the Thames, it would be a misfortune; but, if someone pulled him out, it would be a calamity'.
- Hesketh Pearson, Lives of the Wits.

I don't object to Gladstone always having the ace of trumps up his sleeve, but merely to his belief that the Almighty put it up there.
- Henry Labouchere, in Hesketh Pearson, Lives of the Wits.

He speaks to me as if I was a public meeting.
- Queen Victoria. Advanced Category Search

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