Disraeli, Benjamin, earl of Beaconsfield

Disraeli, Benjamin, earl of Beaconsfield

biographical name

(born Dec. 21, 1804, London, Eng.—died April 19, 1881, London) British politician and author who was twice prime minister (1868, 1874–80). Of Italian-Jewish descent, he was baptized a Christian as a child, which enabled his future career, because until 1858, practitioners of Judaism were excluded from Parliament. He first made his mark as a writer with Vivian Grey (1826–27); later novels included Coningsby (1844) and Sybil (1845). He was elected to Parliament as a Conservative in 1837. In 1845 he made a series of brilliant speeches against Sir Robert Peel's decision to repeal the Corn Laws, which helped him to become leader of the Conservatives. He served three stints as chancellor of the Exchequer (1852, 1858–59, 1865–68) and played a prominent role in passing the Reform Bill of 1867. He was prime minister briefly in 1868, then returned in his second ministry (1874–80) to promote social reform. An advocate of a strong foreign policy, he secured a triumph for imperial prestige with his acquisition of Suez Canal shares and won concessions for England at the Congress of Berlin. A trusted friend of Queen Victoria, he introduced a bill conferring on her the title Empress of India. After the Conservatives were defeated in 1880, he kept the party leadership and finished his political novel Endymion (1880).

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