Gladstone, William Ewart

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Gladstone, William Ewart (1809–98). Statesman and author. Gladstone was one of the longest serving of British politicians and one of the most controversial. He was in office every decade from the 1830s to the 1890s, starting as a Tory, ending as a Liberal-radical prime minister. He was born in Liverpool on 29 December 1809, the son of Anne and John Gladstone, a merchant from Scotland who made his family's fortune in the Baltic and American corn trade. Gladstone was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, and from the start was marked out for success in public life. Intensely religious, initially in the evangelical tradition taught him by his mother, he at first felt drawn to ordination in the Church of England, but not sufficiently to go against his father's objections. While president of the Oxford Union, he strongly opposed the Whigs' proposals for parliamentary reform and was elected to the Commons as a Tory in December 1832. Influenced by both Coleridge and the Oxford movement, he published The State in its Relations with the Church (1838) and Church Principles (1840) arguing that the Church of England should be the moral conscience of the state; Macaulay, in a savage refutation of Gladstone's arguments, called him ‘the rising hope of those stern and unbending tories’. In Peel's government 1841–5 he was vice-president and then president of the Board of Trade. This experience made him a firm free trader. He resigned in 1845 over the Maynooth grant, returning in 1846 to be briefly colonial secretary and to support repeal of the Corn Laws (though he was not during that year in the Commons) and to become a leader of the Peelite group. In the 1840s Gladstone thus left the Tory Party and reorientated his political and religious position.

In 1839 he married Catherine Glynne, of an old north Wales family; between 1840 and 1854 they had eight children.

In 1852, as a member of the Aberdeen coalition, he began the first of his four terms as chancellor of the Exchequer (the others were 1859–66, 1873–4, and 1880–2); his greatest budgets were those of 1853 and 1860. Gladstonian finance emphasized a balanced budget (i.e. with no deficit), minimum central government spending, the abolition of all protective tariffs, and a fair balance between direct and indirect taxes (Gladstone hoped to abolish income tax, which he disliked, and to replace it with other direct taxes). In his 1853 budget he repealed about 140 duties; in 1860 he repealed duties on 371 articles, many of them as a consequence of the treaty with France which he planned and Richard Cobden negotiated. His plan for phased abolition of income tax was ruined by the costs of the Crimean War.

Gladstone saw the budget as the chief moment of the parliamentary year—a national commitment to sound finance. Finance was, he said, ‘the stomach of the country, from which all other organs take their tone’. He deliberately made the presentation of the budget a dramatic and controversial political event. His budgetary strategy was accompanied by the imposition of Treasury control on a more professional civil service (deriving from the Northcote–Trevelyan Report which Gladstone commissioned) and financial accountability through the Public Accounts Committee which he set up. Gladstone had an explosive political character, which occasionally spilled over into outburst; but his reputation for sound finance gave him a firm political bedrock.

In the 1850s and 1860s Gladstone emerged as a politician of clear national standing with a reputation for oratory. Though MP for Oxford University from 1847 to 1866, and though initially supporting the South in the American Civil War, he began to take increasingly radical positions, especially on questions like parliamentary reform, and his statement in 1864, that ‘any man who is not presumably incapacitated … is morally entitled to come within the pale of the constitution’, seemed to mark him out as the future leader of the party of progress. However, the modest Reform Bill proposed by Gladstone and Russell in 1866 led to the temporary disintegration of the Liberal Party and the resignation of the government. Gladstone responded with increasingly radical demands on other questions, such as the abolition of compulsory church rates and disestablishment of the Irish church. Campaigning on these questions, he led the Liberals to win the 1868 election and became prime minister in December 1868: on receiving the queen's telegram of summons he remarked, ‘My mission is to pacify Ireland’. In his first government, one of the greatest of British reforming administrations, he disestablished the Irish church (1869), passed an important Irish Land Bill (1870), but failed with his Irish University Bill (1873, when the government resigned, only for Disraeli to refuse to take office). This government also abolished purchase of commissions in the army and religious tests in the universities; it established the secret ballot and, for the first time, a national education system in England, Wales, and Scotland (1870–2). However, a series of scandals in 1873–4 damaged the government's standing. Gladstone called and lost a snap general election in January 1874 with a quixotic plan to abolish income tax; he then announced his retirement (often previously contemplated) from the party leadership.

Gladstone, 64 in 1874, expected a retirement of writing and scholarship. He was already an established if idiosyncratic authority on Homer with his Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age (1858) and a frequent book reviewer. In his lifetime he published over 30 books and pamphlets and about 200 articles, chiefly on classical, theological, literary, and contemporary political topics. His articles provided a useful source of income when out of office and enabled him to retain the centre of the political stage even when in opposition. Gladstone had that rare gift of being thought to be controversial even when at his most anodyne; no public figure has more easily kept a place in the limelight.

In his pamphlets of 1851–2 and a stream of subsequent works, Gladstone opposed the ‘temporal power’ of the papacy. He opposed the declaration of papal infallibility in 1870 and denounced ‘Vaticanism’ in 1874–5. He nurtured links between Orthodoxy and Anglicanism as an antidote to Roman catholicism's hegemonic claims. Not surprisingly, therefore, he was swiftly drawn into the Bulgarian atrocities campaign in 1876. A series of speeches and pamphlets broadened into a general attack on ‘Beaconsfieldism’ and having fought the Midlothian campaign 1879–80 he was elected MP for Midlothian. He thus had a Scottish constituency, a Welsh home (his wife Catherine's house, Hawarden castle), and widespread English connections. He had become that very rare phenomenon, a fully ‘British’ politician. He again became prime minister in 1880. His second government passed an important Irish Land Act (1881) and, after initial rejection by the Lords, the Reform Act of 1884; but it failed to establish elected local government for Ireland or for Great Britain.

Since the 1860s, Gladstone had tried to pacify Ireland by accommodating Irish demands. He accompanied the concessionary Land Act (1881) with coercion, imprisoning C. S. Parnell, and breaking the power of the Irish Land League. From 1882, disregarding the set-back of the Phoenix Park murders, he sought to encourage the constitutional character of the Home Rule movement. His government resigned in 1885, unable to agree on local government for Ireland. Gladstone encouraged Parnell to bring forward a Home Rule proposal and fought the general election of November 1885 on a manifesto which carefully did not exclude it. In January 1886, his son Herbert having flown the ‘Hawarden Kite’ and Lord Salisbury having turned down Gladstone's proposal that the Tory government introduce a Home Rule measure with bipartisan support, Gladstone formed his third cabinet with ministers pledged to inquire into Home Rule. He had come to see devolution as the best means of maintaining Ireland within the United Kingdom, as well as having substantial advantages for the United Kingdom as a whole. He drew up a Home Rule Bill, providing for a legislature with two Houses in Dublin and with a generous financial settlement for the Irish, and he proposed to accompany it with a substantial Land Purchase Bill (to buy out the Anglo-Irish landowners). This bold settlement was too bold for his party and the Government of Ireland Bill was defeated in the Commons in June 1886, many Liberal Unionists defecting and eventually forming their own party. The government did, however, pass the Crofters' Act for Scotland, one of the few significant land-tenure reforms ever passed for the mainland. Gladstone called a general election and resigned on losing it. The 1886 proposal was probably the best chance the British had for a constitutional settlement which retained Ireland within the Union.

In foreign policy, Gladstone stood for an international order governed by morality and based on an updated Concert of Europe. To achieve this he was, unlike many free traders, ready to intervene diplomatically or if necessary militarily. His first government submitted the Alabama dispute to international arbitration and paid the consequent hefty fine, thus clearing the way for good relations with the USA. In the Midlothian campaign, Gladstone laid out ‘six principles’ of foreign policy, which recognized the equal rights of nations and the blessings of peace—these principles were extremely influential in world-wide liberal thought, and especially on President Woodrow Wilson and the liberals planning the League of Nations. In office in the 1880s, however, Gladstone found himself intervening in unpalatable ways; to maintain order, as he came to see it, in Egypt, he bombarded Alexandria in 1882 and then invaded Egypt in what was intended as a brief occupation to remove ‘extreme’ nationalists. Egypt proved, however, to be the ‘nest egg’ of Britain's north and central African empire. In 1881, war against the Boers in South Africa included the public-relations disaster of Majuba Hill. Order had also to be established in the Sudan and Gladstone, despite misgivings, failed to prevent Lord Hartington and others sending Charles Gordon to a Sudanese imbroglio partly of Gordon's own making; Gordon's death in 1885 was a further embarrassment to a beleaguered government. Gladstone always opposed imperial expansion and annexation, arguing—in a vein now common among economic historians—that expansion into tropical areas was a dangerous deflection from Britain's true economic and strategic interests (he was, however, a keen proponent of development of the ‘white’ empire). But he always lost the decision (if not the argument) and was an unwilling party to major imperial expansion in Africa and the Pacific.

Gladstone was aged 75 when his first Government of Ireland Bill was defeated. Now committed to campaigning for another attempt, he led the Liberal Party in opposition 1886–92 (his first period as formal opposition leader), winning the general election of 1892 despite the set-back of the split of the Home Rule party in 1890. In 1892 he formed his fourth and last government. In 1893 he successfully piloted his second Government of Ireland Bill through the Commons after 82 sittings; the Lords then brusquely rejected it, as they did many of the government's other proposals. Throughout his life Gladstone had battled to keep down defence expenditure. Already defeated in his attempt in 1892 to withdraw from Uganda, his final political struggle was an unsuccessful dispute with his own cabinet over naval expansion in 1893–4. His eyesight deteriorating, he finally resigned the premiership in March 1894, aged 84. He completed his edition of the works of Joseph Butler, the 18th-cent. theologian, and died on Ascension Day, 19 May 1898.

Gladstone stood 5 feet 10½ inches, with a large head and a powerful voice. He was always spry, his fitness maintained by long walks and his legendary tree-felling. Intense sexuality competed in his character with equally intense religious belief, and he had difficulty maintaining the two in balance when he undertook his ‘rescue’ work with prostitutes. These inner struggles combined with outward confidence to make him a very characteristic Victorian. His enduring governmental monument was the establishment of a tight code of financial principles, which remained influential long after the type of economy they were intended to serve had passed away. In British politics Gladstone was the most successful of non-Tory political leaders. Among executive politicians he has had few rivals in range and staying power, or in the capacity to meet new challenges with fresh policies. His use of speech-making and political meetings to bring great political questions before the people helped to integrate the mass electorate after 1867 and set a style which has influenced democratic countries ever since.

H. C. G. Matthew


Hammond, J. L. Gladstone and the Irish Nation (1938);
Matthew, H. C. G. , Gladstone 1809–1874 (Oxford, 1986);
Gladstone 1875–1898 (Oxford, 1995);
Morley, J. , Life of Gladstone (3 vols., 1903);
Ramm, A. , William Ewart Gladstone (Cardiff, 1989);
Vincent, J. , The Formation of the Liberal Party 1857–68 (1966).

William Ewart Gladstone

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William Ewart Gladstone

The English statesman William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898) led the Liberal party and served as prime minister four times. His strong religious sense was an integral part of his political and social policies.

William Gladstone was born in Liverpool on Dec. 29, 1809. His parents were of Scottish descent. His father, Sir John Gladstone, was descended from the Gledstanes of Lanarkshire; he had moved to Liverpool and become a wealthy merchant. William's mother, Anne Robertson of Stornaway, was John Gladstone's second wife, and William was the fifth child and fourth son of this marriage. He was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford; he took from his school days a sustained love for the classics and experience in debating. He was president of the Oxford Union and denounced the Parliamentary Reform Bill in a speech in 1831.

Gladstone graduated in December 1831, and a parliamentary career followed a brief sojourn in Italy in 1832. He, who was to become the great Liberal leader, was originally elected as a Tory from the pocket borough of Newark, and his major interest at the beginning was the Church of England, which he had seriously considered as a career. His maiden speech in June 1833 was a defense of West Indian slave owners with examples drawn from his father's plantations. His first book, The State in Its Relations with the Church (1838), was a defense of the established Church. In 1839 he married Catherine Glynne; the marriage was a happy one and gave to Gladstone important connections with the old Whig aristocracy.

Conversion to Liberalism

The 1840s saw Gladstone begin his move from right to left in politics. This meant a shift from High Tory (Conservative) to Liberal and a change in primary interest from defending High Church Anglicans to a concentration on financial reform. This change in Gladstone's outlook came in Sir Robert Peel's ministry of 1841-1846, in which Gladstone served as vice president and finally (1843) as president of the Board of Trade. The budget of 1842 was a move toward free trade with duties on hundreds of articles repealed or reduced, and Gladstone contributed much to this new tariff schedule. He resigned in 1845 on a religious issue—the increased grant to the Roman Catholic Maynooth College in Ireland—but returned to office in the same year as secretary of state for the colonies. The Corn Law repeal brought the Peel ministry down in 1846 and temporarily ended Gladstone's political career.

At the same time Gladstone severed his connections with Newark, which was controlled by the protectionist Duke of Newcastle, and in 1847 was elected member of Parliament for the University of Oxford. On the death of Peel in 1850 Gladstone moved to a new position of strength in the ranks of the Peelites (Tory liberals). His brilliant speech in 1852 attacking the budget proposed by Benjamin Disraeli brought about the fall of Lord Derby's government, and Gladstone became chancellor of the Exchequer in a coalition government headed by Lord Aberdeen. He could now apply his considerable financial talents to the economic policies of the nation, but this opportunity was curbed by the Crimean War, which Britain formally entered in 1854. The laissez-faire budget of 1853 was nevertheless a classic budget in the British commitment to economic liberalism.

Gladstone's religious views were also growing more liberal, more tolerant of Nonconformists and Roman Catholics. He voted to remove restrictions on Jews in 1847, and he opposed Lord John Russell's anti-Catholic Ecclesiastical Titles Bill in 1851. Gladstone was clearly shaken by the Oxford movement and the conversion of some of his Oxford friends (among them Henry Manning) to Roman Catholicism. This experience, however, served to broaden his understanding and respect for individual conscience. A trip to Naples (1850-1851), where he witnessed the terrible poverty in the reactionary Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, also helped turn him away from his innate Toryism, and the conversion to liberalism was complete.

Prime Minister

In the 1850s and 1860s Gladstone moved toward a position of leadership in a newly formulated Liberal party. He had served as chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord Palmerston's coalition government (1859-1865), but following the death of Palmerston in 1865, a realignment of the parties took shape which saw the old Tory and Whig labels replaced by Conservative and Liberal. Thus the Peelites and the Whig Liberals came together in a new party under Gladstone's leadership. He introduced a bill in 1866 to expand the parliamentary electorate, but it failed. Disraeli then scooped the Liberals with his famous "Leap in the Dark" Reform Bill of 1867, which passed, enfranchising most of the adult males in the urban working class. But Disraeli's "Tory Democracy" did not return immediate dividends at the polls. In the election of 1868 Gladstone and the Liberals were returned with a comfortable majority.

Gladstone's first Cabinet (1868-1874) was one of the most talented and most successful of the four he headed; he considered it "one of the finest instruments of government that ever were constructed." The legislation passed was extensive, and the reforming theme was to reduce privilege and to open established institutions to all. The universities and the army were two of the targets. The removal of the religious tests for admission to Oxford and Cambridge and the abolition of the purchase of commissions in the army were liberal victories of 1871.

The Education Act of 1870, which provided for the creation of board schools at the elementary level, was the first step in the construction of a national education system. Competitive exams were introduced for most departments of the civil service in the same year. Other commitments to democracy included the realization of old Chartist dreams, such as the secret ballot in 1872. With these reforms Gladstone won some support but also antagonized powerful interests in the Church and the aristocracy. His opponents said that he was a wild demagogue and a republican; the government was defeated in the election of 1874.

Ireland and the Empire

The "Irish question," which was to dominate Gladstone's later years, received considerable attention in the first Cabinet. Responding to the Fenian violence of the 1860s, the government moved to disestablish the Irish Episcopal Church in 1869 and pass a Land Act in 1870. But the Irish problem remained, and the home-rule movement of Isaac Butt and Charles Stewart Parnell demanded a solution in the 1870s.

Gladstone emerged from a temporary retirement in 1879 in the celebrated Midlothian campaign to attack Disraeli's pro-Turkish foreign policy. The theme of his attack was that Disraeli's Near Eastern policy was morally wrong. The Turkish atrocities in the Balkans outraged Gladstone just as the prisoners of Naples had provoked his earlier attack against Bourbon injustice in Italy. Gladstone's direct appeal to the British voter in this campaign was a first in a more democratic approach to electioneering, and his eloquence was triumphant as the Liberals won the general election of 1880.

The major concern of Gladstone's second Cabinet was not foreign policy but Ireland and the empire. A Second Land Act was passed in 1881, which attempted to establish a fair rent for Irish tenants and tenure for those who paid rent. The act was not popular with the landlords or tenants, and a series of agrarian riots and general violence followed. The high point of this was the assassination of Lord Cavendish, the chief secretary for Ireland, and Thomas Burke, the undersecretary, in Phoenix Park, Dublin, in 1882. The Fenians, rather than the Home Rule party, were responsible for this act, but Gladstone was forced to suspend discussion of Irish reform and resort to harsh measures of suppression in a Prevention of Crimes Bill (1882).

Gladstone's commitment to Ireland was coupled with a consistent opposition to imperialism. He considered imperialism a Conservative ruse to distract the masses from the real issues. He believed that the "infamy of Disraeli's policy was equalled only by the villainy with which it had been carried out." For Britain to seize power in Africa to exploit the native population would be as unjust as the Turkish rule in the Balkans. But Gladstone's second ministry coincided with a worsening agricultural depression in which England's free trade policy seemed a liability rather than an asset. New market areas unencumbered with tariffs had an appeal, and imperialism became a popular crusade. Egypt and the Sudan were the main concerns in the 1880s following Britain's purchase of the Suez Canal (1875). A riot in Alexandria brought a British occupation in 1882, and a rebellion in the Sudan brought the death of Gen. Gordon in 1885, when Gladstone's dilatory tactics failed to rescue him in time. The popular reaction to Gordon's death was a clear indication of Gladstone's misreading of this issue.

The Irish question reached its climax in Gladstone's third and brief (February to July) Cabinet of 1886. The Home Rule Bill was the sole program. It was designed to give Ireland a separate legislature with important powers, leaving to the British Parliament control of the army, navy, trade, and navigation. Gladstone's Liberal party had the votes to carry the bill, but the party split on the issue. Joseph Chamberlain led a group known as the Liberal Unionists (loyal to the Union of 1801) to oppose Gladstone's policy; the bill failed and Gladstone resigned. He had been correct in his premise that home rule or some degree of self-government was essential to the solution of the Irish question, but he failed to face up to the problem of the other Ireland, the Ulster north that lived in fear of the Catholic majority.

Gladstone was to remain in Parliament for another decade and to introduce another Home Rule Bill in 1893, but after the defeat of 1886 he was no longer in command of his party or in touch with the public he had led and served so long. His insistence on home rule for Ireland combined with his opposition to imperialism and social reform was evidence of this. The meaningful legislation in behalf of trade unions was sponsored by the Conservatives. His opposition to the arms buildup in the 1890s was consistent with his sincere desire for peace but doomed to failure given the German military expansion of the same period. Gladstone retired in 1894 and died on May 19, 1898; he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Evaluation of His Career

Gladstone is still seen today as the epitome of the Victorian statesman. His industry (he often worked 14 hours a day), powerful sense of moral purpose, appetite for sermons, and lack of wit made him an easy target for the disciples of Lytton Strachey. But Gladstone was at the same time a major force in the shaping of British democracy. No single politician of the 19th century ever matched Gladstone's ability to mobilize the nation behind a program. Only Gladstone could make a budget sound like the announcement of a crusade. His sympathy for the oppressed people of the world—the Irish, the Italians, the Bulgarians, and the Africans—was genuine.

Gladstone lacked the tact to get along with Queen Victoria and with some of his colleagues but, like William Pitt the Elder before him, he could reach out of Parliament and arouse the public. In appearance and bearing this gaunt figure, whose speeches were marked by evangelical fire, might have belonged to the 17th century, but in parliamentary tactics he anticipated the 20th century. His achievements are impressive by any standard. The respect and affection that the British reserved for Gladstone is summed up in the nicknames they gave him; he was the "Grand Old Man" and the "People's William."

Further Reading

The standard biography of Gladstone was written by a fellow Liberal, John Morley, Life of William Ewart Gladstone (1903; new ed., 1 vol., 1932). A more analytical portrait is in Sir Philip Magnus, Gladstone: A Biography (1954; repr., with corrections, 1960). Discussions of special issues in his career are Paul Knaplund, Gladstone and Britain's Imperial Policy (1927); R. W. Seton-Watson, Disraeli, Gladstone and the Eastern Question: A Study in Diplomacy and Party Politics (1935); and J. L. Hammond, Gladstone and the Irish Nation (1938). Recommended for general historical background are R. C. K. Ensor, England, 1870-1914 (1936); Herman Ausubel, The Late Victorians: A Short History (1955); H. J. Hanham, Elections and Party Management: Politics in the Time ofDisraeli and Gladstone (1959); and Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher, Africa and the Victorians (1961).

Additional Sources

Chadwick, Owen, Acton and Gladstone, London: Athlone Press, 1976.

Feuchtwanger, E. J., Gladstone, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1975; London: A. Lane, 1975.

Gladstone, Penelope, Portrait of a family: the Gladstones, 1839-1889, Ormskirk, Lanc.: T. Lyster, 1989.

Matthew, H. C. G. (Henry Colin Gray), Gladstone, 1809-1874, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1986; 1988.

Ramm, Agatha, William Ewart Gladstone, Cardiff: GPC, 1989.

Shannon, Richard, Gladstone, London: Hamilton, 1982; Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982, 1984.

Stansky, Peter, Gladstone, a progress in politics, Boston: Little, Brown, 1979; New York: W. W. Norton, 1979, 1981. □

Gladstone, William Ewart

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English statesman; b. Liverpool, Dec. 29, 1809; d. Hawarden, Wales, May 19, 1897. The fourth son of a wealthy merchant of Scottish ancestry, he was educated at Eton and at Oxford University, where he took a double first in classics and mathematics (1831). He was drawn to tractarianism and made friends with a number of its leaders. His selection of a political rather than an ecclesiastical career was solely in deference to his father's wishes. In December 1832, he was elected to Parliament as the member from Newark. Within a comparatively short time he became a trusted member of Peel's government. The poverty he witnessed in Naples during a visit there in 1851 is said to have led him to cast off his innate Toryism. He was prime minister four times (186874, 188085, 1886, 189294).

In The State in its Relations with the Church (1838), Gladstone declared that the State, no less than the individual, is bound by moral law; and that the State must have a Christian awareness. Originally, this belief led him to advocate a theocracy. His changed attitude appeared later when he led the successful struggles to disestablish the Church of ireland (1867) and to remove the religious tests in the universities, thereby opening positions in them to all creeds. His education Act of 1870, however, embittered the Church of England and failed to satisfy Nonconformists. It also antagonized Catholics, who were already suspicious of Gladstone for his early opposition to the Maynooth Grant and to the Irish hierarchy's schemes for university education. Gladstone's friendship with Cardinal manning dated from their undergraduate days. They corresponded regularly on Irish affairs, education, and social matters. It was largely Manning's influence that dissuaded Gladstone from attempting to break up vatican council i by force. Gladstone's polemical pamphlets against the Council elicited written replies from Manning and one from Bishop ullathorne. Relations between Gladstone and Manning became especially strained in 1885 when Cardinal McCabe of Dublin died. Gladstone was anxious to have an amenable prelate appointed. Lord Granville, Gladstone's foreign secretary, employed "Mr. George Errington an active, officious, though not an official agent" to work for the British government at Rome. The matter became notorious. It was Manning, acting on information supplied by Sir Charles Dilke, who prevented the appointment of a government candidate.

Bibliography: j. morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, 3 v. (New York 1903). g. t. garratt, The Two Mr. Gladstones (London 1936). j. l. hammond, Gladstone and the Irish Nation (London 1938). c. c. o' brien, Parnell and His Party, 188090 (Oxford 1957). v. a. mcclelland, Cardinal Manning: His Public Life and Influence, 18651892 (New York 1962). d. mcelrath, The Syllabus of Pius IX: Some Reactions in England (Louvain 1964).

[v. a. mcclelland]

Gladstone, William Ewart

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Gladstone, William Ewart (1809–98) British statesman, prime minister (1868–74, 1880–85, 1886, 1892–94). He was elected to Parliament as a Tory in 1832. Gladstone served as chancellor of the exchequer (1852–55, 1857–66). In 1867, he succeeded Palmerston as leader of the Liberal Party. In 1874, he was defeated by Benjamin Disraeli and resigned as Liberal leader. His criticism of Disraeli's imperialist tendencies won him the 1879 elections. Gladstone passed two Irish Land Acts and several Reform Acts (1884, 1885), extending the franchise. The government's failure to help General Gordon in Khartoum forced him to resign. Gladstone's last ministries were dominated by his advocacy of Home Rule for Ireland.

Gladstone, William Ewart (1809-1898)

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Gladstone, William Ewart (1809-1898)

The great Victorian statesman, four times prime minister of Great Britain, who was interested in psychical research, which he considered "the most important work which is being done in the worldby far the most important." Gladstone came to that belief rather late in his life. On October 29, 1884, he had a successful slate-writing sitting with the medium William Eglinton. After the séance he was quoted as saying:

"I have always thought that scientific men run too much in a groove. They do noble work in their own special line of research, but they are too often indisposed to give any attention to matters which seem to conflict with their established modes of thought. Indeed, they not infrequently attempt to deny that into which they have never inquired, not sufficiently realising the fact that there may possibly be forces in nature of which they know nothing."

Shortly after the Eglinton sitting, Gladstone joined the Society for Psychical Research.


Feuchtwanger, E. J. Gladstone. Blasingtoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1989.

Tweedale, Violet. Ghosts I Have Seen and Other Psychic Experiences. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1919.

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