William Gladstone

William Gladstone

William Ewart Gladstone, one of the dominant prime ministers in British history, was born in Liverpool, England, on December 29, 1809. Although his legacy is as a great Liberal reformer, he began his career as a Tory member of Parliament for Newark in December 1832.

The year 1832 was important because it witnessed the passage of the Great Reform Bill of 1832, a first and historic step to enfranchise a larger segment of the British population. Before this, members of Parliament were often chosen by corrupt lords or magnates, which guaranteed the election of members handpicked by the influential local political power.

The passage of successive Reform Bills in the 19th century is considered to have been the main reason that Britain missed the tides of revolution that swept through Europe during the same period.

For a man who would be a Liberal standard-bearer, Gladstone’s first speeches, which marked him as a great orator, were in favor of slavery, at a time when William Wilberforce was attempting to have the institution banned.

While author Philip Magnus says Gladstone was opposed to the actual institution of slavery, he was against the sudden abolishment of slavery without due planning. Otherwise, in Gladstone’s words, emancipation from slavery would be “more fleeting than a shadow and more empty than a name.” In spite of Gladstone’s perorations, Wilberforce’s dream was realized.

Gladstone’s evident parliamentary skills brought him to the attention of the Tory Party’s prime minister Robert Peel. Two years after his maiden appearance in Parliament, Gladstone joined Peel’s government as a junior lord of the treasury and then as an undersecretary at the Colonial Office in 1835, at a time when British relations were becoming tangled over the importation of opium from British India (then governed by the quasi-governmental British East India Company) to the Chinese Qing (Ching) dynasty.

Peel’s overall reputation as a reformer may have played a role in the gradual evolution of Gladstone’s political view. When Peel resigned as prime minister in 1835, Gladstone loyally followed him.

In 1841, when Melbourne fell from power, Queen Victoria asked Peel to form another Tory government. In 1843 Peel rewarded Gladstone’s loyalty by appointing him to the prestigious position of president of the board of trade.

Gladstone’s evolving liberal agenda ultimately cost him the support of his long-time patron, the duke of Newcastle. Still, Gladstone retained his position in Peel’s cabinet until Lord John Russell formed a Whig government in July 1847.

Gladstone at the age of eighty-two introducing the Home Rule Bill of 1893
Gladstone at the age of eighty-two introducing the Home Rule Bill of 1893

Serving under Peel, Gladstone became aware of the problems in Ireland and embarked on the political cause of home rule for Ireland that would dominate the later years of his political life. By the fall of Peel’s administration, Gladstone had already become a rising force in the Tory Party.

In 1847 he became the member of Parliament for Oxford University, a unique indication of the value of Oxford to the nation. When the Tory George Gordon, Lord Aberdeen, formed a coalition government in 1852, Gladstone became chancellor of the exchequer.

Once the Crimean War began in 1854, the Aberdeen government was blamed for all the mismanagement that dogged the British army in the long and bloody struggle with Russia, which Britain fought as an ally of the Ottoman Empire.

Aberdeen’s government fell in 1857, perhaps the last casualty of the Crimean War. Aberdeen himself would die in 1860. By this time, Gladstone had earned such a name as a competent public servant that Henry Temple, Lord Palmerston, the Whig who had formed the coalition ministry with Aberdeen, offered Gladstone his old position as chancellor of the exchequer in June 1859.

Taking office necessitated Gladstone giving up the conservative Tory Party and joining Palmerston’s Liberals, as the Whigs were now being called. Oxford University, as Tory as it had been when it supported King Charles I in the English Civil War, abandoned Gladstone, and he was forced to take a seat as the Liberal member of Parliament for South Lancashire.

When Palmerston died in 1865, Lord John Russell became prime minister and requested that Gladstone stay on at the exchequer. Moreover, Gladstone became leader of the Liberals in the House of Commons.

Voice of Progressivism

On March 12, 1866, Gladstone emerged as the voice of progressivism in the British parliament when he proposed the Second Reform Bill. Although the lack of Conservative support doomed the bill and Russell’s ministry, it was clear that the time had come to extend the voting franchise once again. The workers in the factories were demanding more of a say in their government. Meanwhile, Gladstone’s premonitions about Ireland were coming true.

When Edward Stanley became prime minister in 1866, Benjamin Disraeli, the Conservative leader in the House of Commons, also realized that another reform bill had become a political necessity. Together, in a rare display of partisan unity, the two future political rivals joined forces and mustered enough votes to pass the Second Reform Bill in 1867.

In the same year the Conservatives were defeated in the general elections and Gladstone became prime minister. While the Reform Bill opened the franchise far wider, it nevertheless still left open the voting system for abuse. In 1872 Gladstone passed the Ballot Act to ensure secret, safe, voting.

In 1874 Disraeli became the new prime minister, inaugurating the fascinating political situation where the two most powerful and astute politicians of their day took turns holding the office of prime minister.

It was also a time of epochal change for Britain, for from this time on the events of its growing empire took perhaps even greater involvement of its government than the affairs at home which had previously commanded all the talents of Gladstone and Disraeli.

In 1875 the Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire rebelled against Turkish rule. Sultan Abdul Aziz began a reign of terror, killing thousands of men, women, and children. The rebellion ultimately led to Russian intervention on the side of the Christian Slavs.

Gladstone, motivated by reports of the slaughter, wrote his Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East in 1876. As Russian troops swept down the Balkans, Disraeli, as prime minister, deployed the British Mediterranean Fleet off Constantinople.

War between the Russians and Great Britain was finally averted when Chancellor Otto von Bismarck chaired the Congress of Berlin in 1878 to effect a diplomatic solution to the Balkan crisis.

In 1880 Parliament was dissolved by Disraeli in March. Disraeli, thinking he could score an impressive political triumph, lost the general election, and Gladstone was returned to office as prime minister.

While reversing Disraeli’s stern policy toward the Turks, Gladstone found himself increasingly embroiled in colonial affairs, especially in southern Africa. A British victory over the Zulus in July 1879 had made England the dominant power in South Africa.

When British troops under General George Colley were slaughtered in the Battle of Majuba Hill, instead of taking revenge, Gladstone granted political self-government to the Boers in their Transvaal Republic.

Either through advancing age or a godlike determination that he alone knew what was best, Gladstone almost always found himself at odds with the British people on imperial matters.

In 1875 Disraeli bought the controlling interests in the Suez Canal from the bankrupt Khedive Ismail of Egypt and Gladstone was later forced to send a British expeditionary force to Egypt. Gladstone now was confronted with a virtual British colony in Egypt.

His imperial involvement did not end there. Years of Egyptian misrule had led to a rebellion in the Sudan led by Muhammad Ahmad Abdullah, who called himself the Mahdi, the Rightly Guided One. One Egyptian expedition under General William Hicks to crush the Mahdi ended in total defeat, and the Mahdi created a separate Sudanese state.

In 1884 Gladstone sent British hero General Charles “Chinese” Gordon to the Sudan to evacuate Egyptians from the capital of Khartoum. When it became clear that Gordon was determined to remain in Khartoum, Gladstone authorized a British relief expedition to be sent up the Nile to Khartoum, all the while hoping Gordon would change his mind at the last moment.

When the first elements of the relief force finally reached Khartoum in January 1885, it was clear that the city had fallen to the Mahdi and Gordon had been killed. As a result of this, Gladstone was blamed for the murder of Gordon, a national hero.

Gladstone continued to pursue the policy of political reform that had been dearest to his heart. In 1886, riding on his new popularity among the working class, Gladstone was elected yet again to serve as prime minister.

The other issue that mattered to him was home rule for Ireland, an attempt to make amends for generations of misguided and sometimes brutal British rule against the Irish people.

On this issue, both the Tory Party and the conservatives of the Liberal Party joined forces against him, determined to preserve primacy for the British—and avoid any political autonomy for the Irish at all costs.

In the general election of 1886, Gladstone’s government was defeated, with his advocacy of home rule for Ireland the deciding factor. Robert Cecil, the marquess of Salisbury, was given permission by Queen Victoria to form a government, drawn entirely from the Tory Party.

In 1892 Gladstone was elected yet a third time to serve as prime minister. In 1893, his Irish home rule bill was finally passed in the House of Commons, by a vote of 307 to 267. Victory seemed near.

Yet the bill still had to pass the House of Lords, where the alliance between the Tory Party and the industrial and land-owning magnates of Ireland opposed to home rule was firm. Opposition was led by Lord Salisbury, who referred to Irish home rule as “this treacherous revolution.” The House of Lords defeated the bill by a vote of 419 to 41.

On March 1, 1894, Gladstone addressed the House of Commons for the last time and resigned as prime minister. He died on May 19, 1898.

G. K. Gokhale

Gopal Krishna Gokhale
Gopal Krishna Gokhale

Gopal Krishna Gokhale, the founder of the Servants of India Society, was one of the outstanding leaders of the Indian freedom movement in its earlier phase. He was born in Kotluk in the Ratnagiri district of the Bombay Presidency on May 9, 1866, to Chitpavan Brahmin, Krishnarao and Satyabhama. His father, who had risen from a clerk to police personnel, sent him to an English school in Kolhapur.

He had a prodigious memory and received a bachelor of arts degree from Elphinston College in Bombay (now Mumbai) at the young age of 18. He taught first at the New English School at Pune and then at Ferguson College of the Deccan Educational Society from 1866 to 1904.

At the same time, Gokhale came under the influence of a social reformer and judge, Mahadev Govind Ranade, who encouraged him to write articles in the English weekly, the Mahratta, and later to publish a daily newspaper titled Jnanaprakash, where he put forth his moderate views on politics. He was the Secretary of Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, founded by Ranade from 1890 to 1895, and edited its journal.

There was a disagreement with Bal Gangadhar (B. G.) Tilak, another notable leader, over the question of lifetime membership in the Deccan Educational Society. After Tilak’s resignation, Gokhale and Ranade established the Deccan Sabha in 1896, which aimed at promoting liberalism and moderation in Indian politics.

Gokhale joined the Indian National Congress (INC) and was its joint secretary in 1895. He met Mohandas Gandhi in 1896 and the two developed a lifelong friendship. Gandhi later wrote a book titled Gokhale, My Political Guru.

Gokhale went to London in 1898 to give evidence before the Welby Commission, which had been convened by the British parliament to look into the complicated question of Indian expenditure. He protested the draining of wealth from India and the exploitation of the country and severely criticized the use of Indian revenue to finance military operations outside India.

In 1899 he was elected to the Bombay Legislative Council and worked on famine relief, land alienation, and municipal government. He was elected to the Imperial Legislative Council in 1902, where he argued for granting responsible government to India and fundamental rights to its citizens.

In June 1905 Gokhale founded the Servants of India Society to promote Indian national interests by peaceful means. Gokhale, as a moderate politician, had professed loyalty to the British Empire, but at the same time advocated for India the type of self-government enjoyed in Canada and Australia.

In 1905 there was a tremendous upsurge against British rule as a result of the partition of Bengal by Viceroy Lord Curzon. It was a time of frenetic activities for Gokhale, who was elected president of the INC.

He traveled to England in October to meet British parliamentarians and liberals and championed the cause of India with eloquence and clarity. His presidential address to the congress in December 1905 was a scathing attack on the British government and its repressive policy toward antipartition Indians.

Gokhale next worked to avert a split in the INC between congress old guards and extremists led by Tilak. Moderates like Gokhale favored constitutional reforms, which were helped when the British government announced the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909, which introduced the system of limited elections that pleased the Indian moderates.

Gokhale was also concerned with the problems of Indians living in South Africa. On Gandhi’s invitation, he went there in October 1912. He also served as a member of the Royal Commission on the Public Services in 1912, where he advocated greater Indian representation in the upper ranks of government services, but his proposals were not carried out because of opposition by British members.

The years of hard work weakened Gokhale’s health, and he died on February 19, 1915. Gokhale had started his life in a humble way and became one of the greatest leaders in the country’s history, thanks to his spirit of dedication, capability, public spirit, and selfless service. Leading an austere life, he was popular with his countrymen. It was not without reason that Gandhi regarded him as his preceptor.

Prince Gong (Kung)

Prince Gong (Kung)
Prince Gong (Kung)

Prince Gong was the title given to Ixin (I-hsin), sixth son of Emperor Daoguang (Tao-kuang) of the Qing (Ch’ing) dynasty and half brother of his successor, Emperor Xianfeng (Hsien-feng), a depraved and inept ruler.

In 1853 Prince Gong was appointed Grand Councilor and took responsibility for the defense of the capital area as the Taiping rebels threatened. His mettle was put to the test in 1860 when British and French forces marched on Beijing (Peking) in retaliation for China’s reneging on the Treaty of Tianjin (Tientsin) of 1858.

Xianfeng and his court fled the capital to Rehe (Jehol), where the Qing emperors had a resort palace, leaving Prince Gong to deal with the invaders without soldiers under his command and few officials to assist him. The British and French forces looted and then burned the emperor’s Summer Palace and forced Prince Gong to sign the Treaty of Beijing.

This treaty confirmed the Treaty of Tianjin and in addition granted Britain and France the right to station permanent envoys in Beijing, the lease of Kowloon (adjacent to Hong Kong) to Great Britain, the opening of Tianjin as a treaty port, and increased the indemnity to both victor nations.

Xianfeng abandoned himself to dissipation and died in Rehe in 1861, leaving the throne to his five-year-old son under a council of five regents that did not include Prince Gong.

In the ensuing power struggle, Gong allied with the two dowager empresses (widows of Xianfeng) and executed a coup that toppled the regents. Thereupon the dowager empresses Ci’an (Tz’u-an), wife of Xianfeng, and Cixi (Tz’u-hsi), mother of the boy emperor, assumed the powers of state with Gong as prince regent.

Events of 1860 changed Prince Gong’s attitude toward Westerners from one of hostility to respect. He found allies in two prominent Manchu noblemen, including his father-in-law Gueiliang (Kuei-liang) and Wenxiang (Wen-hsiang), and Han Chinese officials Zeng Guofan (Tseng Kuo-fan), Li Hongzhang (Li Hung-Chang), and Zho Zongtang (Tso Tsung-t’ang) because all favored reforms.

Prince Gong modernized the conduct of foreign affairs, establishing a new office called the Zongli Yamen (Tsungli Yamen) that took charge of foreign relations with Western powers for the next 40 years.

He also set up two offices to supervise foreign trade in treaty ports in northern and southern China and the Imperial Maritime Customs Service to collect duties and fees mandated by treaties made with Western nations and appointed two Englishmen, Robert Lay and Robert Hart, to head this office.

In order to train young men as interpreters, he established a language school called the Tongwen Guan (T’ung-wen kuan), which soon expanded to include modern subjects such as geography, mathematics, and astronomy; later this school became National Beijing University.

It remains China’s most prestigious university. He also had works of international law translated into Chinese, which he used to China’s advantage in dealings with Western nations.

In time, the ambitious dowager empress Cixi began to resent Prince Gong’s powers. When Tongzhi died in 1874, Cixi seized the occasion to appoint her threeyear-old nephew the new emperor in a power play that enabled her to become regent.

With her position firmly established and with the death of his allies Wenxiang in 1876 and Ci’an in 1881, Prince Gong became sidelined and increasingly discouraged. To show her power and control, Cixi chastised Prince Gong for concocted misdeeds, ignored his advice, and led China toward collision with France and Japan with catastrophic results.

Prince Gong was a pragmatic statesman who steered China toward stability and a quarter century of peace after the disaster of 1860. He also left numerous compilations on the conduct of state during his decades in power and two collections of verse.

Charles Gordon

Charles George Gordon
Charles George Gordon

Charles George Gordon was a British army officer. His famous early exploits in China between 1862 and 1864 earned him the name “Chinese Gordon,” while his later actions and death in Khartoum, the Sudan, gained him the epithet “Gordon of Khartoum.”

Gordon was trained as an army engineer and saw action in the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. He was sent to China in 1860 and took part in the capture of Beijing (Peking) in the second Anglo-Chinese War. In 1862 he was sent to Shanghai, China’s premier port of international trade. Southern

China was then in the throes of the serious Taiping Rebellion (1850–64), centered in Nanjing (Nanking), the rebel capital. In 1860 the army of the Taiping Loyal King threatened Shanghai. To defend themselves the rich merchants of the city commissioned Frederick Ward, an American adventurer, to organize a mercenary army.

With soldiers recruited from among Western deserters, Ward’s rifle squadron captured Sunjiang (Sunkiang), a town near Shanghai, and turned back the rebels. In 1861 Ward recruited 100 European officers and expanded his force with 4,000–5,000 Chinese and 200 Filipino soldiers, whom he armed and drilled in the Western fashion.

This force won many battles and repulsed another attack on Shanghai in 1862, for which the Chinese government named it the Ever-Victorious Army. After Ward died of wounds in 1862, another American, Henry A. Burgevine, was named commander, but he was soon relieved from command due to the many problems he caused.

Gordon was next appointed to lead this army with British government permission. He served under the overall command of Li Hongzhang (Li Hung-chang), governor of Jiangsu (Kiangsu) Province, in which both Nanjing and Shanghai were located. Between 1862 and 1864 the Ever Victorious Army fought in 33 actions against the Taipings.

Gordon’s most famous victory was taking Suzhou (Soochow), an important city between Nanjing and Shanghai, from the rebels. The Taiping Rebellion ended in 1864 with the capture of Nanjing and the suicide of the rebel leader.

The Qing (Ch’ing) government rewarded Gordon with the rank of general, which entitled him to wear the Yellow Jacket (equivalent of a high military decoration). With the end of the rebellion, the Ever Victorious Army was disbanded, and Gordon returned to England for reassignment by the British army.

The Ever Victorious Army was important, because it was the first Chinese fighting force to use Western firearms and training; its effectiveness showed the superiority of Western military techniques and technology.

Gordon was stationed in Britain until 1871 and then undertook tours of duty overseas, mainly in Egypt and the Sudan. In 1884 the British government sent him to the Sudan to extricate the Egyptian garrison (Egypt claimed overlordship over the Sudan) from the forces of the Mahdi, a Sudanese religious leader in revolt against the Egyptians.

Gordon’s small force was besieged in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, by the forces of the Mahdi and was killed two days before a British relief force arrived on January 22, 1885. In death, this colorful British officer who had earlier earned the name “Chinese Gordon” became known as “Gordon of Khartoum.”

Government of India Act (1858)

Government of India Act (1858)
Government of India Act (1858)

The Government of India Act of 1858 was an act of the British parliament that ended the existence and long tenure of the British East India Company in India and transferred its power and assets directly to the

British Crown. Thus ended the role that the remaining 1,700 shareholders in the company had, directly or indirectly, over the lives of 250 million Indian people. This revocation of the company happened in spite of the fact that the charter of the East India Company had been renewed in 1853.

The impetus for the Government of India Act was the Indian Mutiny (or the War of Independence, as the Indians later called it) that took place in 1857 and shook the power of the British in India. The British East India Company was founded in 1600.

Initially lucrative, it incurred large losses beginning in the 1700s and had to be bailed out by the British government, in William Pitt’s India Act of 1784. The East India Company’s deep financial trouble continued after the Indian Mutiny, leading to an overhaul in 1858.

The main provision of the bill that was passed by Parliament transferred the territories of the East India Company to the British Crown. This meant that all treaties and contracts made by the company would be honored by the British government, including a debt of £98 million, one-ninth of the entire British government’s national debt.

The rule of India was placed in the hands of the secretary of state for India who was able to deal directly on Indian matters under the prime minister’s administration. The British government would also appoint a governor-general who was under the secretary of state for India.

The bill was introduced by Prime Minister Lord Palmerston and was passed on February 18, 1858. It finally became law on August 2, 1858, and started the period of direct rule of India that lasted until independence for India and Pakistan in August 1947.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant commanded the Union armies during the American Civil War and was the 18th president of the United States. Hiram Ulysses Grant was born on April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio.

When his paperwork for admission to the Military Academy at West Point was submitted, the congressman submitting the paperwork made the mistake of listing his name as Ulysses Simpson Grant, which he never changed. Grant graduated 21st in his class of 39, was commissioned a second lieutenant on July 1, 1843, and was assigned to an infantry regiment.

During the Mexican-American War his regiment was initially attached to Zachary Taylor’s army, then to Winfield Scott’s army to capture Mexico City. Grant fought in all the major battles during the campaign and was breveted to captain. But his official rank was only raised to first lieutenant after the war.

He married Julia Dent in August 1848 and served in several posts after the war, rising to the rank of captain in August 1853. Grant resigned his commission in July 1854 to return to his family. Grant tried several different business ventures and ended in business with his father and brothers in Galena, Illinois.

At the start of the Civil War he volunteered with the Illinois militia and was eventually given command of a regiment in July 1861. He was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in August.

He led a force against the Confederate forts of Henry and Donelson in February 1862. When he demanded the unconditional surrender of Fort Donelson, the northern newspapers dubbed him “Unconditional Surrender” (U.S.) Grant.

Grant spent much of 1863 attempting to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi. It was not until May 1863 that he was able to drive the Confederate army back into Vicksburg and lay siege to it. After almost two months, Vicksburg surrendered to him on July 4, 1863. With the fall of Vicksburg, Grant was promoted to major general.

attempting to capture Vicksburg
attempting to capture Vicksburg

In October he led a Union army that lifted the Confederate siege of Chattanooga, Tennessee. President Abraham Lincoln gave him command of all the Union armies and the job of bringing the war to an end. Grant joined the Army of the Potomac that was facing General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Grant spent most of 1864 trying to destroy Lee’s army and finally settled into a siege at Petersburg, Virginia. Grant was able to trap Lee’s army during a breakout attempt, and he forced Lee to surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.

After the surrender of Lee’s army, the remaining Confederate armies also surrendered and brought the war to an end. Grant was rewarded by Congress with the revived rank of full general in July 1866.

Grant ran for president in 1868 as a Republican and served two terms, from 1868 to 1876. Unfortunately, he was not much of a politician, and corruption was a problem during his administration, although Grant was not personally involved.

However, he also did not take a firm stance against corruption in his administration, favoring colleagues and friends despite mounting evidence of their corruption.

During his administration, Grant proposed the annexation of Santo Domingo both as a way to improve civil rights issues in the South and to attempt to force Cuba to abandon slavery. The measure was voted down in Congress, mainly due to the influence of Senator Charles Sumner. He also signed America’s first national park (Yellowstone) into existence.

Grant’s inability to handle financial matters caused him problems after his terms as president, eventually causing him to go bankrupt. In order to try to pay off his debts and provide for his family, he wrote his memoirs, which turned out to be a great success. Suffering from throat cancer, Grant finished his memoirs days before he died on July 23, 1885.