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British Historical Figures from the 19th Century Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 6th, 2020

Viscount Palmerston

Henry John Temple was a very significant figure in the history of Great Britain. He was the longest-serving Viscount Palmerston and pushed for various policy formulations geared towards improving the position of Great Britain as a superpower in the world. Although the world had already accepted Britain as a powerful country, Henry thought it was necessary to have more influence by extending their colonial territories (Darwin, 24).

Besides, he believed that the solution to Britain achieving more power was ensuring that they controlled as many geographical gateways as possible. There was an urgent need for Great Britain to have more territories under its control. His style of leadership was similar to that of George Canning, with regard to foreign policy strategies (Parry, 146-147).

Britain’s foreign policy was motivated by the need to gain meaningful control that would prevent the emergence of any power within the continent. At the time, two members of the European Union that intended to challenge the superiority of Great Britain were France and Russia (Parry, 151). Henry’s plan for dealing with the threat of the two nations was to play them against each other to create enmity and change their focus. To prevent his intentions from being known, John became a strong advocate for social progress through reforms (Parry, 146-147).

Henry was a strong believer in liberalism because he was confident that the other countries could compete on the same level as Great Britain, thus its global power would not be compromised (Parry, 196). He knew that disagreements between eastern powers would be beneficial to the British interests in terms of maintaining the sovereignty of Belgium and interrupting the planned Russian expansion into Asia (Darwin, 32).

John was a strong believer in good commercial relations between Great Britain and the rest of the nations. His policy on commerce was characterized by a strong desire to acquire more markets for British commodities. He said, “The great objective of the Government in every quarter of the world was to extend the commerce of the country” (Darwin, 36).

Reports indicate that John’s era was characterized by constant pressure from the opposition, who claimed that Great Britain had been transformed into an autocracy (Parry, 240). The opposition argued that his prolonged period of leadership allowed him to have unlimited control over the country’s resources. Palmerston had the support of his fellow liberals, especially those that were seeking to earn a faster ticket to political stardom.

Most of his support came from leaders who felt he had done enough to contain the pressure coming from France and Russia. In addition, his ability to convince France into forming an alliance during the Italian-Austrian conflict also worked to his advantage because many people applauded his intention of preventing a war from breaking out. He said, ” trade ought not to be enforced by cannonballs, but on the other hand cannot flourish without security, and that security may often be unattainable without the exhibition of physical force” (Porter,21).

Benjamin Disraeli

Another important figure in the history of Great Britain was Benjamin Disraeli. The British political leader served as the Prime Minister during the 19 Century in an impressive era that was characterized by the acquisition of controlling rights over the Suez Canal, as well as his decision to make Queen Victoria the Empress of India. He was a very progressive leader who showed great enthusiasm in seeing Great Britain ascend to the top of the world and achieve great things that would ascertain its superpower status (Metcalf, 59).

He gave them the option of a comfortable Britain confined in continental principles or a super Great Britain that commanded global respect and control over vast resources. This influenced the idea about Great Britain building an empire that would be the central unit for all the institutions in the county. “Disraeli’s bid, during 1870, permanently to identify Empire with the fortunes of the Conservative Party had been essentially a sham, although a seductive one. The imperial aggrandizement of the Gladstone administration of 1880 to1885 had conclusively demonstrated that imperial interests were at least as safe in Liberal hands” (Judd, 140).

Disraeli’s idea of an empire was an institution that had a monarchy, a church, and the House of Lords. In addition, he believed that the success of the empire was highly dependent on the support of the country’s working-class, thus the decision to improve their working conditions (Ferguson, 231). This way, the political class would have an easier time selling their ideologies to the people and win their support in the bid to build an empire.

In 1870, Disraeli made a major declaration about his policy on racism, by saying that there was an urgent need for all people in Great Britain to have a sense of patriotism and accept that there is greater strength in embracing their diversities (Davis, 102). However, this did not appeal to the people that were supporting him because he was openly known to have grown in a racial background. His controversies further heightened when he claimed that the decision by Great Britain to excuse its self from the various interventions carried out by members of the European Union was not a sign of weakness but rather that of growing power.

Despite all the controversies linked with Disraeli, his passion for the country’s success and superiority were uncontested (Porter, 97). He believed that the ability of Britain to reign supreme over the others was heavily dependent on the nature of the relationships they forged with their closest challengers such as France. His policies on international relations advocated for friendly relations with other countries, regardless of existing ideological differences.

He reaffirmed these sentiments through his cordial relationship with Napoleon III. This was regardless of the fact that the French had keen interests in Egypt and the Suez Canal Company, both of which were under the control of Great Britain. “Disraeli’s new imperialism was more successful in Egypt, where the full human impact of the poor northeast African rains of autumn 1876 and the low Nile of 1877 was not felt until the beginning of 1878, when famine was receding in south Asia and north China” ( Davis, 103).

Disraeli believed that it was more advantageous to be close to your competitors than far from them because learning their plans would be easier. This explains why France managed fewer shares in the Suez Canal Company, as Disraeli knew it was the most realistic way of limiting their activities (Davis, 102). His push for good international relations was also the main reason behind the decision to make Queen Victoria the Empress of India. Britain considered India very conservative, and the elevation of Queen Victoria was a strategy that Disraeli used to joke with Indians into believing that a change in the governance system was a good idea.

Disraeli was also very vocal with regard to the issues surrounding the activities of the Ottoman Empire. His position to offer support to the Ottomans when Russia started a war was not appealing to his fellow liberals. However, the fact that he was a statesman who had the responsibility of protecting the interests of Britain, the right thing to do at the time was to give up the position of Great Britain as a neutral (Parry, 333).

Disraeli did not want to suffer the humiliation that other leaders such as Aberdeen had experienced by letting Russia have a say in the affair of their territory. This pushed him to be part of the 1878 Anglo-Turkish Convention that surrendered Cyprus to Britain, which meant that they would protect their Indian territory from the Russian invasion. “Disraeli was driven on by a fear that he would be more badly humiliated than Aberdeen had been in 1853 if the Russians took Constantinople or came close to doing so” (Parry,333).

The success of India was very important to Disraeli, as he believed it would be a sign to the world that the British Empire was very much on course to greatness. He intended to use Queen Virginia as a symbol to display India as a land of diverse people and cultures, thus making it an appropriate element of the empire (Metcalf, 59). His marketing strategy for the empire was lauded by many leaders, who felt that he was determined to fix the negative perception that people had developed about imperialism. Disraeli believed that he applied the concept in a manner that considered the common good of all people and further reaffirmed the superiority of Great Britain (Metcalf, 59).

William Ewart Gladstone

William Ewart Gladstone also influenced the history of Great Britain when he served as a Prime Minister in the 19 Century. He was a very popular figure within the political and global leadership circles, as his policies focused on promoting an ethical and cohesive society (Parry, 250-251). Gladstone belonged to the liberal party and a strong believer in the fact that one’s national culture and interests are superior to any other.

Under his leadership, Great Britain adopted a more liberal-oriented foreign policy formulation strategy that was aimed at helping the country deal with arrogant and dictatorial leadership. In addition, he emphasized the need for all European countries to adopt an international relations policy that encouraged cooperation between nations regardless of the divergent views and shared interests among any members (Parry, 283-284).

Gladstone identified religion and patriotism as the two most important stimulants that every nation needed in order to realize their potential. This included the need to do good at all times and effective utilization of public resources. He reaffirmed these sentiments during the 1853 budget when he decided to reduce importation duties and abolish direct taxation for some time (Parry, 276). The main reason for doing this was to boost the earnings of people across all classes.

He believed in empowering all people in an equal manner, rather than allowing a few people to have a sizeable control over the country’s resources. Many leaders praised him for the budget and thanked him for showing the world that Great Britain did not treat its people according to their classes. He is credited with the ability of the British people to generate wealth on a large scale, owing to the tax break that allowed people to make a lot of money (Parry, 342).

This economic policy became a topic of discussion across Europe as countries that were trying to achieve the status of Great Britain such as France and Russia felt threatened by the possibility of losing their little influence. Gladstone is considered a true nationalist for the manner in which the policy of free trade and low taxation helped to uphold the honor of Great Britain and create a good example that could be applied by others willing to achieve the same level of success.

One of the biggest challenges that Gladstone faced during his tenure was the threat of the Franco-Prussian war on its commercial interests across Europe. The main reason for this was the fact that Britain wanted to maintain a neutral status throughout the conflict, while at the same time avoiding any form of enmity with Prussia that it would change the status quo in favor of Russia (Parry, 283-284).

Gladstone was also concerned with the potential rise of Germany as a colonial power. He believed that the Germans had great potential, thus finding a way in which to make them a close ally would be beneficial to their interests. He added, “if Germany is to become a colonizing power, all I say is ‘ God speed her’ She becomes our ally and partner in the execution of the great purposes of Providence for the advantage of mankind” (Porter, 106-107).

Lord Salisbury

The history of Great Britain also cannot be analyzed without mentioning Lord Salisbury. The main issue that Salisbury had to address at the beginning of his tenure was the entry of Germany in African territories (Porter, 115). Germany was mainly focused on Zanzibar, but Salisbury introduced the concept of partition in Africa that aimed at limiting the ability of its European rivals to gain any degree of influence.

He did not support the formation of allies with European rivals such as France and Russia, because he felt it would work against their objectives (Darwin, 82-83). Just like all the other British leaders of the 19 Century, Salisbury had greater interest in preventing its European rivals from accessing India. He said, “India was an English barrack in the Oriental Seas from which we may draw any number of troops without paying for them” (Ferguson, 171).

George Grey

George Grey has also contributed significantly to the history of Great Britain. He was the first administrator of the Cape colony. Before this role, Grey had served the British government in other colonies such as Australia and New Zealand among others (Price, 268). Grey gained a lot of fame for his economic policies and liberal trends, which endeared him to many of his supporters. “He believed that native African and Australian cultures were antithetical to enlightened progress.

He did not believe they would change naturally or that it was possible to wait for this to happen.” He was one of the few leaders that considered the benefits of having a good relationship with France over the likelihood that they would slowly take over control in some territories (Parry. 156). Grey also gained a reputation for his humanitarian activities across all the areas he had worked. This helped to promote his liberal doctrines, which were mainly inclined to African countries that were being targeted by various European countries.

Lord Canning

Lord Canning is an important leader when it comes to understanding the history of British foreign policy. He was considered as one of the main supporters of liberalism and nationalism as the best way any country would use to achieve its objectives. Canning was also very open about the benefits that Britain would gain from helping maintain the stability of the Ottoman Empire (Bayly, 194). The Mediterranean strip was very attractive and most of the British rivals kept looking for loopholes and opportunities they would exploit to gain a share of the territory.

Canning’s European policies were influenced by the need to promote diplomacy, as it would allow all countries interested in various territories to pursue their interests without creating enemies along the way (Darwin, 28). He advocated for the advancement of British imperialism into its colonies, as a way of ensuring that their investments did not go to waste. The history of Great Britain in the 19 Century had a number of elements that contributed to its superiority. The period provided the country with new opportunities to advance its foreign policies.


The 19 Century was a good opportunity for Great Britain to understand fellow members of the European Union and their interests. British history during this period was also influenced to a great degree by the American Revolution, which played a major role in ascertaining its status as a colonial superpower (Porter, 117). The several leaders that spearheaded Great Britain during the century will remain critical elements in the country’s history as it required focused leadership.

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