British statesman and novelist, Disraeli provided the Conservative Party with its policies of popular democracy and imperialism.
Born to Italian-Jewish parents, in 1817 Disraeli's father baptised his children as Christians. With Jews excluded from parliament until 1858, this enabled Disraeli to pursue a career that would otherwise have been denied him.
Early business ventures failed, leaving him heavily in debt. He had a breakdown and for four years did little until he decided to pursue a political career. After four attempts, in 1837 he was elected as Tory candidate for Maidstone.
He soon established himself as a compelling speaker and his career took off. But the failure of the Conservative leader, Sir Robert Peel, to give him a cabinet position in 1841 prompted his bitter opposition to Peel's decision to repeal the Corn Laws, the protective duties on foreign grain. Although the laws passed, Peel resigned the following year.
In 1852, Disraeli became chancellor of the exchequer in Lord Derby's minority government. He served as chancellor under Derby in three such governments, reforming parliament in 1865 with a bill that doubled the existing electorate.
When Derby retired in 1868, Disraeli 'climbed to the top of a greasy pole' as the new prime minister. He oversaw a shift towards the emergence of two parties, each with their own, coherent, policies. The polarisation was accentuated by the mutual loathing of Disraeli and Liberal leader William Ewart Gladstone.
In 1874, the Conservatives won a huge election victory and Disraeli once more became prime minister, aged 70. Domestically, he concentrated on social reform. He codified the law on public health and passed laws to prevent labour exploitation and recognise trades unions. Abroad, his acquisition of shares in the Suez Canal was a major success.
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