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William Ewart Gladstone.

1809-1897
Prime Minister


Gladstone was born on at Rodney Street, Liverpool.  He was educated at a preparatory school at Seaforth Vicarage near Liverpool before attending Eton. From there he went to Christ Church, Oxford between 1828 and 1831 and 1831 he spoke at the Oxford Union against the Reform Act, saying that any electoral reform would lead to revolution.  His Degree was in Classics but he also studied Mathematics.    In the 1832 election following the passing of the Reform Act he was elected as the Tory MP for Newark-on-Trent, on the influence of the Duke of Newcastle.    He then went on a Grand Tour of Europe, visiting Belgium, France and various centres in Italy. On his return in 1833 he entered Lincoln's Inn but by 1839 he had requested that his name should be removed from the list because he no longer intended to be called to the Bar.

Gladstone's maiden speech was made on 3 June 1833 during the Committee stage of the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery in the British Empire. His father was a West Indian slave-owner and Gladstone defended him against allegations of maltreating his slaves. The following year Gladstone was appointed as a junior Lord of the Treasury by Sir Robert Peel, who had just formed his first ministry.

Following the defeat of Lord Melbourne's government in 1841, Sir Robert Peel formed his second ministry and Gladstone was appointed to the post of Vice-President of the Board of Trade; he accepted reluctantly on the grounds that his lack of knowledge of trade made him unfit for the appointment. It was in his official capacity that he first dined with Queen Victoria at Buckingham palace and was appalled to find that there was no chaplain present and that grace was not said prior to the meal.   In May 1843 Gladstone was made President of the Board of Trade and was responsible for the passing of the 'parliamentary train Act' in 1844 that provided for one train each way, each day, carrying third class passengers at no more than 1d. per mile at not less than 12 miles per hour.

In 1848 the third Chartist petition was presented and public disorder occur.   Gladstone served as a Special Constable.   Gladstone returned to office in 1852 and was appointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer and based his first Budget on public expenditure economies.

During the American Civil War (1861-5) Gladstone provided relief work on his Hawarden estates (near Chester) for workers in the Lancashire cotton industry who had been put out of work because of the blockade of the Confederate ports by the North, preventing the export of raw cotton. Nevertheless, in 1863 he attempted to tax the incomes of charities on the grounds that all money was a trust from God and should be taxed like everything else.  He supported the second Reform Bill that was intended to lower the franchise qualification in towns  Following the death of Palmerston, Gladstone served in Lord John Russell's ministry as Leader of the House of Commons and Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was responsible for the first attempt to extend the franchise, in 1866; he also continued to reduce duties on imported goods.

In December 1868 Gladstone was appointed as PM for the first time following the Liberal victory in the General Election that followed the passing of the second Reform Act and Gladstone announced that his 'mission was to pacify Ireland'.

Although Gladstone was a committed Anglican, in 1881 he introduced a Bill that would enable non-believers to affirm their allegiance to the Crown. Jews and Quakers were already able to do that, but not atheists.  The following year, Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Burke were murdered in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Cavendish, Gladstone's nephew-by-marriage, was the Chief Secretary for Ireland; Burke was his Undersecretary.   Gladstone introduced an even more severe Coercion Act as a result of the murders.

In January 1886 Gladstone formed his third ministry and then called another election which he lost.    He formed his fourth ministry in 1892 but resigned in 1894 after a bill for Irish Home Rule was defeated in the Houser of Lords.

RA