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Benjamin Disraeli

Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield (1804 - 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 neverless continued to think of himself a Jew. A political opponent once attacked him for being Jewish (anti-Semitism was rife in England 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, often with his chest covered in gold chains. 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 Lord Derby[?] appointed Disraeli Chancellor of the Exchequer. He supported the Reform Act of 1867[?], which enfranchised every adult male householder; prior to 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.

Table of contents

Benjamin Disraeli's First Government, February - December 1868


  • September, 1868 - Lord Naas resigns as Irish Secretary. His successor is not in the Cabinet.

Benjamin Disraeli's (Lord Beaconsfield's) Second Government, February 1874 - April 1880


  • August, 1876 - Lord Beaconsfield succeeds Malmesbury as Lord Privy Seal, while remaining First Lord of the Treasury
  • August, 1877 - William Henry Smith succeeds Hunt at the Admiralty. Sir Michael Hicks Beach, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, enters the Cabinet.
  • February, 1878 - Sir Michael Hicks Beach succeeds Lord Carnarvon as Colonial Secretary. Hicks Beach's successor as Irish Secretary is not in the Cabinet.
  • April, 1878 - Lord Salisbury succeeds Lord Derby as Foreign Secretary. Lord Cranbrook (previously Gathorne Hardy) succeeds Salisbury as Secretary for India. Sir Frederick Stanley succeeds Cranbrook as Secretary for War. Viscount Sandon, the President of the Board of Trade, enters the Cabinet.


Biographies of Disraeli

  • Robert Blake, Disraeli [1966]
  • Sarah Bradford, Disraeli [1982]
  • Christopher Hibbert, Disraeli and his World [1978]
  • André Maurois, Disraeli [1927]
  • Hesketh Pearson, Dizzy[1951]
  • Stanley Weintraub, Disraeli [1993]

Films about Disraeli


  • "Dear Sir: I thank you for sending me a copy of your book, which I shall waste no time in reading."
  • "Everyone likes flattery, and when you come to Royalty, you should lay it on with a thick trowel."
  • "Is man an ape or an angel? Now, I am on the side of the angels!"
  • "Justice is truth in action."
  • "Never complain and never explain."
  • "A Conservative Government is an organized hypocrisy."
  • "I have always thought that every woman should marry - and no man."
  • "A sound Conservative government, Tory men and Whig measures."

External Links

e-text of Benjamin Disraeli's novel:

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