About the Statesman


Benjamin Disraeli

(statesman and prime minister of England, born December 21, 1804, London, UK; died April 19, 1881, London, UK)

Benjamin Disraeli, one of the greatest political leaders of England, was born into a family having no regard for politics. His father was a kindly man whose only interest seemed to be books. His mother, a descendent of a distinguished Jewish family, thought politics were a waste of time. From this background, Disraeli advanced into British Politics and was to establish England’s dominance in the world for many years.

Benjamin Disraeli in 1855

Disraeli was born in London in 1804. His father, Isaac D’Israeli was a well-known author and encouraged ‘Ben’ to pursue writing. D’Israeli had Benjamin baptized into the Church of England when he turned 13 — in spite of his mother’s desire for him to continue in Jewry.

Disraeli spent most of his late teens and twenties traveling on his fathers money and writing love novels. His books always involved politics combined with high society. They included, Coningsby, Sybil, and Tancred. All three received terrible reviews, but their income allowed him to subsist until 1837. They also got him enchanted with the politics.

After several failed attempts, Disraeli finally was elected to the House of Commons as a Conservative in 1837. The public was shocked. No Jew had ever held office, especially one that dressed like him and wrote trashy love novels.

In Parliament, Disraeli became a leading spokesman of the most conservative interests. He opposed the repeal of the Corn Laws, which taxed British imports of grain. And in 1846, when he also became chancellor of the exchequer in Conservative governments that the Earl of Derby headed from the House of Lords, he played an important role in the passage of the Reform Bill of 1867.

The Reform Bill of 1867, brought greater democracy to Britain by giving the right to vote to many city workers and small farmers. This brought him great praise from the middle and lower class people, but made him many enemies among the rich land owners.

In 1868, Disraeli became prime minister, but he soon lost the position to William Gladstone, the leader of the Liberal Party due to a vote called by the queen in September of 1868. He regained the Prime Ministership in 1874 from Gladstone and this time was able to hold it until 1878.

As Prime Minister for the second time, Disraeli followed a strong foreign policy. He was considered one of the “Big Englanders” who desired to created an Empire as large as it had been in the previous century. This was very unpopular due to the recent losses of the several of their large colonies — including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.

Disraeli would often pretend he was asleep whenever the opposition was speaking to try to get them mad. According to Lord Montagu Corry, it often worked.

In spite of the opposition, Disraeli pursued his goal of bring back the British Empire. First in 1875, he purchased for Britain a large interest in the Suez Canal, which was a key link in the shipping route that connected Britain and its vast empire in India and the Far East. At the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Disraeli helped prevent Russian expansion in Turkey and won Cypress for Berlin.

When public opinion would no longer support such strong foreign intervention and demanded domestic attention, Disraeli quickly switched to looking inward and tackled many of the problems plaguing Englanders. He began working in 1877 to improve living conditions in Britain. He passed important measures affecting health, housing, the environment, trade unions, and working conditions. As he finally stepped out of public life forever in 1879, Disraeli had assured himself as one of England’s greatest leaders.

Disraeli’s tomb

Disraeli was Queen Victoria’s favorite Prime Minister. Whenever he went to see her he would spend a few hours before leaving making up compliments that he could say to her. Often he would just stop to see her for minute, but would stay for hours while he told her that she “was like a flower of the field” or that she reminded him of a “warm spring day.”

Benjamin Disraeli died in April of 1881 in his Mayfair, England home at the age of 77. He was given a hero’s burial in which even the queen attended, which was unheard of by Queen Victoria. On his death bed, on learning that the queen wished to see him, he said, “What’s the use? She would only want me to take a message....”

When Queen Victoria went to see Disraeli’s grave in Hughenden, she remarked, “He always hated display.” [Photo to the right is Benjamin Disraeli’s tomb.]