Benjamin DisraeliBenjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield (December 21, 1804 - April 19, 1881), the son of Isaac D'Israeli, was a British politician and author who entered Parliament in 1837 as Tory MP for Maidstone, after four unsuccessful campaigns for a seat in the House of Commons, the first time as a Radical. In 1842 Disraeli was amongst the founders of the Young England group.
He was Britain's first, and thus far only, Jewish Prime Minister. He was born to a Jewish family and baptized a Christian, but nevertheless continued to think of himself a Jew. A political opponent once attacked him for being Jewish (anti-Semitism was rife in Britain at the time) and Disraeli replied:
- "Yes, I am a Jew and when the ancestors of the right honourable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon."
Having been lionized as a writer of romantic fiction long before he entered politics, Disraeli continued for a time to dress as extravagantly in the House of Commons as he had before. In Parliament, Disraeli became known for his defense of the Corn Laws, in opposition to fellow Tory Sir Robert Peel's advocacy to repeal the laws, which Disraeli denounced as "laissez-faire capitalism".
Disraeli would lose the fight -- the repeal of the Corn Laws, came at great political cost to the split Tory party. But Peel's betrayal of conservative ideology would cost him the ministry, and Disraeli would rise to fill the leadership void Peel's fall left in the Tory party.
In 1852 Edward Geoffrey Smith Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby appointed Disraeli Chancellor of the Exchequer in the (in)famous Who? Who? Ministry. Disraeli's duel with William Gladstone over the Budget marked the beginning of thirty years of parliamentary hostility. Disraeli served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1858 and 1867-68 Tory governments. He supported the Reform Act of 1867, which enfranchised every adult male householder; before this legislation, a tiny proportion of the population was entitled to vote. In 1868 he became Prime Minister, but only briefly; he became Prime Minister again in 1874. In 1876 he was made Earl of Beaconsfield by Queen Victoria.
Although he had had several notorious affairs, in his youth, he was ostentatiously faithful and attentive to his wife: Disraeli married, in 1839, the widow of his political colleague. Mary Anne Lewis was some twelve years older than he and a self-proclaimed flibbertigibbet.
Known to his friends as Dizzy, Disraeli himself had a fine, if wry, sense of humor and enjoyed the ambiguities of the English language. When an aspiring writer would send Disraeli an uninteresting manuscript to review, he liked to reply, "Dear Sir: I thank you for sending me a copy of your book, which I shall waste no time in reading."
Mark Twain claimed that Disraeli came up with the phrase, "Lies, damned lies, and statistics", but it is unclear if this is actually one of that author's inventions (it was first popularized in Twain's autobiography, though attributed to Disraeli there); most who try to pin it down do award it to the prime minister.
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2 Benjamin Disraeli's (Earl of Beaconsfield's) Second Government, February 1874 - April 1880
4 Biographies of Disraeli
5 Films about Disraeli
Benjamin Disraeli's First Government, February - December 1868
Benjamin Disraeli's (Earl of Beaconsfield's) Second Government, February 1874 - April 1880
Biographies of Disraeli
Films about Disraeli