Benjamin Disraeli, First Earl of Beaconsfield (1804-81) was a great British statesman and novelist. He was born in London and came from a Jewish family that had converted to Anglicanism.
He was a most ambitious and a larger than life individual. He dressed in colorful clothes. He always chose his words carefully and spoke only when he had something memorable and witty to say.
He began life working for three years in a lawyer’s office. He then – unsuccessfully – tried to start a newspaper.
His first big breakthrough was when he achieved fame and success as a popular novelist. His first novel was Vivian Grey (1826). The most famous of his many novels were perhaps his two political novels, Coningsby (1844) and Sibyl (1845).
Disraeli joined the Conservative Party and in 1837 he entered the British Parliament as the member for Maidstone.
His first speech to Parliament was heckled by other Members of Parliament who disliked his flowery manner of speaking and his colorful clothing. In concluding his speech, he made the famous reply: “Though I sit down now, the time will come when you will hear me.”
He became the leader of the Young England movement, which was home to that section of the Conservatives known as the Romantic Tories. The Romantic Tories were political conservatives who were critical of the effects of the Industrial Revolution that were occurring in Great Britain at that time. They believed that the monarchy and the church were the natural protectors of the agricultural and industrial working classes and were suspicious of the Industrial Revolution’s tendency to destroy the traditional protections and obligations which had been in place in Britain since time immemorial.
He also opposed the free trade policies of his fellow Conservative, Sir Robert Peel. Peel engineered the repeal of the Corn Laws (1845-46), which controlled the price of wheat and of other types of grain via the imposition of protective tariffs on the import of foreign grain. Instead, Disraeli favored protectionism to protect British agriculture and industry. In later days, Disraeli stopped supporting protectionism to a large extent, having come to the view that the Corn Laws had mostly favored the interests of landowners and hurt the poor.
While in Parliament, Disraeli became Chancellor of the Exchequer three times and then became the leader of the Commons (the lower house of the British Parliament). In the latter role, he introduced the Reform Bill of 1867.
Disraeli served as prime minister of the United Kingdom for two terms – first, in 1868, and then, later and more extensively, in the period 1874-80. During his second prime ministership, he promoted British imperialism (that is, the extension of the British Empire) and a forward foreign policy. In 1876 he passed legislation conferring on Queen Victoria a new title: Empress of India.
Disraeli led Britain into the Second Afghan War (1878-79) and into the Zulu War (1879), and he sought to lessen the power and influence of Russia.
He showed much skillful diplomacy …