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Charles Darwin’s bicentenary has overshadowed that of William Gladstone, which also falls this year. Yet, especially in these turbulent times, the four-times Liberal prime minister stands out as one of the great evolutionary pioneers of modern progressive politics—less celebrated than Abraham Lincoln and FDR because he was not a wartime leader, yet equally as important.

From his budgets as chancellor in the early 1850s until his retirement from the premiership in 1894, Gladstone was Victorian Britain’s leading progressive politician. As the dominant change-maker in eight governments, he radically extended political rights and pioneered constant, iterative reform. His legacy was a…

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