British politician. He was leader of the Conservative Party 1846–68 and prime minister 1852, 1858–59, and 1866–68, each time as head of a minority government. Originally a Whig, he became secretary for the colonies in 1830, and introduced the bill for the abolition of slavery. He joined the Tories in 1834, serving as secretary for war and the colonies in Peel's government. Derby was a protectionist and the split the Tory party over Peel's free-trade policy gave him the leadership for 20 years. During his third adminstration, the second Reform Act (1867) was passed. He inherited the title of Lord Stanley in 1834, became a peer in 1844, and succeeded to the earldom in 1851.
Born in Knowsley Park, Lancashire, Derby was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, and entered Parliament as a Whig 1820. Sympathetic to the liberal Tories, he was briefly undersecretary for the Colonies 1827–28 under Goderich. As chief secretary for Ireland 1830–33, he was responsible for much legislation, including the innovative Irish Education Act 1831. As colonial secretary 1833–34, he introduced the bill which abolished slavery in the British Empire, but, by the time it became law, he had resigned over a measure relating to the finances of the Church of Ireland. He again drifted away from the Whigs and finally joined the Conservatives in 1841, when he agreed to serve as colonial secretary under Robert Peel.
When Peel demanded the abolition of the Corn Laws in 1846, Derby resigned, protesting that protective tariffs were essential to preserve British agriculture and the power of the landowning classes. When the Conservative Party split over the issue, Stanley emerged as leader of the larger protectionist section – more or less by default, as nearly all the other senior figures in the party remained faithful to Peel despite his rejection by the backbenchers.
The following two decades were a time of loose party discipline and confused party loyalties. The Whigs were dominant, and Derby was prime minister only during the brief intervals when Whig coalitions fell apart. His supporters could never quite form a majority on their own. In practice, Derby did not attempt to revive protection, but made repeated efforts to secure either a reunion with the Peelites or a deal with Palmerston and the more conservative Whigs. He did not succeed in either strategy. His first ministry lasted only ten months in 1852. His second, lasting 16 months 1858–59, passed the act which transferred the administration of India from the East India Company to the Crown. During his final premiership 1866–68, his health was poor. The Second Reform Act 1867 was largely the work of Benjamin Disraeli: Derby thought that giving the vote to working-class householders was ‘taking a leap in the dark’.
Although a celebrated orator, Derby preferred horse racing and classical scholarship to the drudgery of government office. He led the Conservatives in very unfavourable times and ultimately restored the party's image as one fit to govern. His failure to accomplish more may reflect lack of will as much as lack of ability.
Derby, Edward (George Geoffrey Smith) Stanley
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