William Gladstone – The Great British Reformer Who Introduced National Education and Secret Ballots

William Ewart Gladstone (1809-98) was the greatest British reforming statesman of the 19th century. He was Prime Minister of Britain three times.

Gladstone originally intended to become an Anglican clergyman but, following his father’s advice, he took up politics. He entered the British Parliament in 1832 as a Conservative (or Tory). During the prime ministerships of Sir Robert Peel, George Hamilton and Lord Palmerston, Gladstone became President of the Board of Trade (1843-45) and Chancellor of the Exchequer (1852-55; 1859-66). During these latter periods, he set about cutting tariffs and government expenditure.

Careful husbandry of government monies would be an ever-recurring theme in Gladstone’s political philosophy. “Finance is, as it were, the the stomach of the country, from which all the other organs take their tone,” he wrote in 1858.

In 1867 Gladstone left the Conservatives to become leader of the Liberal Party.

He became Prime Minister for the first time in 1868. In 1870 he established a system of national elementary education (a first in British educational history).

He viewed the British rule of Ireland as the cause of many evils and injustices for the Irish people over a period of centuries. He therefore disestablished the Irish Church (that is, the Anglican Church in Ireland), thereby reducing the power of Protestant Anglicanism in the mainly Roman Catholic Ireland. He also passed the Irish Land Act, which made it more difficult for British landlords to evict their Irish tenants.

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