“The crisis of England rather is at hand.” “A number of persons who have no interest in common except hostility to our Constitution in Church & State have banded together for the avowed purpose of destroying that sacred Union which has been the chief means of our civilization, & is the only security for our religious liberty.” Benjamin Disraeli is the towering figure in British politics in his era. In the mid-1860s he was Chancellor of the Exchequer for the Earl of Derby’s Conservative government, and his party’s leader in the House of Commons. In that role, in 1867, he pushed through the Second Reform Act that greatly expanded the electoral enfranchise. This impressed many Conservatives, and when Derby resigned soon after for reasons of health, he advised the Queen to appoint Disraeli as his successor. This she did on February 27, 1868, and Disraeli embarked on his first ministry.The principal issue of the 1868 parliamentary session was the Irish Question, manifested this time in the debate over the Anglican Church of Ireland. In 1800 Great Britain and Ireland were merged into one nation, and throughout the 19th century Irish opposition to the Union was strong. In the 1860s a movement arose for Irish Home Rule, which meant an Irish legislature with responsibility for domestic affairs. In overwhelmingly Catholic Ireland, a flash point was the fact that the official church of England, the Anglican Church, had also been made the official church of Ireland. By law tithes had to be paid to the official church, so Catholics were being directly taxed to benefit the Protestant Church. Pressure on the government arose to disestablish the church in Ireland by taking away its official status, which meant no tithes need be paid. Additionally, if that happened, Anglican ministers would lose some sources of revenue on which they had depended. Conservatives opposed all home rule measures, believing that they undermined British control over Ireland, and would open a door to other parts of Great Britain and its colonies to follow suit. This was the Age of Imperialism, and Disraeli stood as its foremost advocate; he would never agree to reduce the size or power of Britain, or open a door to those that would.The National Union of Conservative and Constitutional Associations was an organization initiated by Disraeli in late 1867, and is considered to be a precursor to the modern Conservative Party conference. It began functioning in early 1868 when the Earl of Dartmouth, a Conservative member of Parliament, took office as its first president.Autograph letter signed, as Prime Minister, 10 Downing Street, London, March 23, 1868, ostensibly as a letter to Dartmouth, but actually as a major announcement on this major issue. “I have received with pride and gratitude the memorial of the Council of the National Union & of the Constitutional Associations connected with that body, in which they express their confidence in me, & their ‘thorough determination’ to support, by all means in their power, the government which I have formed by the command, & with the approval, of Her Majesty. Such expressions of feeling on the part of influential bodies of my countrymen are encouraging & opportune. We have heard something lately of the crisis of Ireland. In my opinion, the crisis of England rather is at hand. A number of persons who have no interest in common except hostility to our Constitution in Church & State have banded together for the avowed purpose of destroying that sacred Union which has been the chief means of our civilization, & is the only security for our religious liberty.” His assessment was thus that the British Constitution (which is unwritten) was comprised of both church and state, and that forcing a break between the two was antithetical to the interests of both.This letter was submitted to, and published by, the newspaper The Globe of London the next day, March 24, 1868, under the heading, “The Premier on the Crisis”. This letter was thus really not meant as a private communication, but as an important policy statement by the new Prime Minister. It was reprinted by The Times on the 27th, and is also published in the “The Benjamin Disraeli Letters”, Volume 10. Because of cross-outs and interlineations, we conjecture that this is likely to be Disraeli’s retained draft, but based on a note in “The Benjamin Disraeli Letters”, it is possible this was the sent copy.Foreign policy and military setbacks led to Disraeli’s defeat in the December 1868 election, so he was only Prime Minister for ten months in his first administration. Letters from that time are very uncommon, this being our first. Even more telling, this is the first time we have seen a press release of Disraeli on the market.Disraeli’s second ministry lasted from 1874-1880. In 1876, at the high water mark of British imperialism, he had Queen Victoria add “Empress of India” to her title as Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. (Inventory #: 11139)
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