Biography of DISRAELI, Benjamin - Archontology
DISRAELI, Benjamin

Benjamin Disraeli

b. 21 Dec 1804, London
d. 19 Apr 1881, London

Ministerial offices: Chancellor of the Exchequer (27 Feb 1852 - 17 Dec 1852)
Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons (26 Feb 1858 - 11 Jun 1859, 6 Jul 1866 - 27 Feb 1868)
First Lord Commissioner of the Treasury (27 Feb 1868 - 1 Dec 1868, 20 Feb 1874 - 21 Apr 1880)
Lord Privy Seal (12 Aug 1876 - 4 Feb 1878)
Leader of the House of Lords (Aug 1876 - 21 Apr 1880)
Names/titles: Viscount Hughenden of Hughenden and 1st Earl of Beaconsfield [from 12 Aug 1876]

Benjamin Disraeli was born in the Jewish family, but was baptized into the Church of England on 31 Jul 1817. His ancestor emigrated from Italy in 1748, and his father was a scholar and author of many books. Disraeli attended Highham School in Walthamstow and was admitted as a student to Lincoln's Inn, but withdrew in 1831. He was employed by a London firm of solicitors, but abandoned his career in law and concentrated on his writing career. In January 1835 he committed himself to the Tory party and was elected to Parliament in 1837 (MP, 1837-1876). He sought office under Sir Robert Peel unsuccessfully and then turned against him. Following Peel's resignation in 1846 the way became clearer for Disraeli's advancement. From 1848 he was effectively, if not formally, leader of the Tory opposition and then in 1852 he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer (1852) under the Earl of Derby. An unsuccessful Budget contributed to the fall of the Tory government but Disraeli was an effective Opposition Leader in the House of Commons during Viscount Palmerston's prime ministership. In 1858 and in 1866, Disraeli was twice appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer (1858-1859, 1866-1868) in the Derby administrations. When Derby resigned in 1868 because of ill health, Disraeli was invited to form his first administration and was appointed First Lord of the Treasury on 27 Feb 1868. However, it was only a caretaker Government. During its nine months a number of reforming acts were passed, including the Capital Punishment Within Prisons Act, which abolished public executions, and various Parliamentary reform acts. Disraeli offered his resignation (1 May 1868) after Parliament passed the resolution for the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, but it was refused by Queen Victoria. The 1868 General Election brought victory to the Liberal Party (Liberal 387, Conservative 271) and Disraeli set a precedent by resigning (1 Dec 1868) before Parliament met.

He became Leader of the Conservative Party (1868-1881) and headed the Opposition to the Government of William Gladstone. On 13 Mar 1873 the Government resigned and the Queen invited Disraeli to form an administration, but he refused to lead a minority government. The Conservative victory in the 1874 General Election (Conservative 350, Liberal 242) led to Disraeli's second administration. On 20 Feb 1874 he was appointed First Lord of the Treasury and prime minister. Social reform was marked by acts covering trade unions, public health, factories, the sale of food and drugs, etc. The Artisans' Dwellings Act (1875) made effective slum clearance possible, and the Public Health Act (1875) codified the complicated law on that subject. Early in 1876 Disraeli brought in a bill conferring on Queen Victoria the title Empress of India. In August 1876 after persistent ill health, he moved to the House of Lords as Earl of Beaconsfield to lead the Government from there. Foreign policy became ever more central to his concerns, in particular the Eastern Question following Turkish atrocities against the Bulgarians. He was regarded as a success at the Congress of Berlin (June 1878), which closed the Russo-Turkish war. Despite this the Liberals won the 1880 General Election (Liberal 352, Conservative 237). Disraeli resigned (21 Apr 1880) and then led the opposition from the House of Lords for his last year. His health failed rapidly and he died on 19 Apr 1880. [1, pp. 187-194]

[1] Englefield, Dermot; Seaton, Janet; White, Isobel (eds.) Facts About the British Prime Ministers: A Compilation of Biographical and Historical Information. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1995. online
Image: photograph of Benjamin Disraeli, 1872.