British Prime Ministers: Salisbury

A.P. Ryan introduces the Grand Old Man of the nineteenth century Conservative Party.

Beginning as the enfant terrible of the Conservative Party, Salisbury ended as its Grand Old Man. In his younger days, he was seen by Disraeli, whom he first loathed and then served, as “a great master of jibes and flouts and jeers”. A generation later, Mr. Winston Churchill, looking out “from my regimental cradle”, saw him as “venerable, august Lord Salisbury, Prime Minister since God knew when”. He was Prime Minister for thirteen years and ten months, sixteen months more than Gladstone and longer than any predecessor in the nineteenth century, except Liverpool; none of his successors has come up to this record. He was the last Prime Minister in the House of Lords and, for much of the time that he led the government, he was also Foreign Secretary. Entering Parliament before the Crimean war, he was in office when Edward VII came to the throne. Leader of his party through three victorious General Elections, he left it still strongly entrenched in power. Had he confined himself to diplomacy, his achievements in the Near East and in Africa would rank him high among the most memorable figures who have presided over the Foreign Office. His general record in home affairs, although less notable than what he accomplished abroad, is not one of stagnation. He introduced free education, remarking that, since the state had made education compulsory, it was unfair that the very poor should be asked to find the money. Yet he is little remembered —except for his foibles.

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