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Harcourt, Sir William Vernon

Harcourt, Sir William Vernon (1827–1904). Liberal politician. Harcourt probably regarded himself as a failure. He was a brilliant lawyer, politician, and polemicist, who rose to be home secretary (1880–5) and chancellor of the Exchequer (1886, 1892–5), and expected to succeed Gladstone as premier, but was passed over when the latter retired (1894) in favour of Rosebery. He blamed the queen; but Harcourt also had enemies within his own party, among both the Whigs, who disliked the radicalism of his pronouncements, and the radicals, who distrusted their sincerity. His personal rift with Rosebery, not all his fault, did great damage to the Liberal Party in its wilderness years of 1895–1905. Harcourt's main contribution to British history was his introduction of death duties in the budget of 1894, and the claim ‘We are all socialists now’ that went with it.

Bernard Porter

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