Facts and Events
William Ewart Gladstone, FRS, FSS (29 December 1809 – 19 May 1898), was a British Liberal statesman. In a career lasting over sixty years, he served as Prime Minister four separate times (1868–1874, 1880–1885, February–July 1886 and 1892–1894), more than any other person. Gladstone was also Britain's oldest Prime Minister, 84 years old when he resigned for the last time. He had also served as Chancellor of the Exchequer four times (1853–1855, 1859–1866, 1873–1874, and 1880–1882).
Gladstone first entered Parliament in 1832. Beginning as a High Tory, Gladstone served in the Cabinet of Sir Robert Peel. After the split of the Conservatives Gladstone was a Peelite – in 1859 the Peelites merged with the Whigs and the Radicals to form the Liberal Party. As Chancellor Gladstone became committed to low public spending and to electoral reform, earning him the sobriquet "The People's William".
Gladstone's first ministry saw many reforms including Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland and the introduction of secret voting. After his electoral defeat in 1874, Gladstone resigned as leader of the Liberal Party, but from 1876 began a comeback based on opposition to Turkey's Bulgarian atrocities. Gladstone's Midlothian Campaign of 1879–1880 was an early example of many modern political campaigning techniques. After the 1880 election, he formed his second ministry, which saw crises in Egypt (culminating in the death of General Gordon in 1885), and in Ireland, where the government passed repressive measures but also improved the legal rights of Irish tenant farmers. The government also passed the Third Reform Act.
Back in office in early 1886, Gladstone proposed Irish Home rule but this was defeated in the House of Commons in July. The resulting split in the Liberal Party helped keep them out of office, with one short break, for twenty years. In 1892 Gladstone formed his last government at the age of 82. The Second Irish Home Rule Bill passed the Commons but was defeated in the Lords in 1893. Gladstone resigned in March 1894, in opposition to increased naval expenditure. He left Parliament in 1895 and died three years later aged 88.
Gladstone is famous for his oratory, for his rivalry with the Conservative Leader Benjamin Disraeli and his poor relations with Queen Victoria, who once complained, "He always addresses me as if I were a public meeting."
Gladstone was known affectionately by his supporters as "The People's William" or the "G.O.M." ("Grand Old Man", or, according to Disraeli, "God's Only Mistake").