The New International Encyclopædia/Forster, William Edward

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FORSTER, William Edward (1818-86). An English statesman, the only son of William Forster, the Quaker missionary. He was born at Bradpole, Dorsetshire, was educated in Friends' schools at Bristol and Tottenham, and entered the woolen business at Bradford in 1841, where in the following year he formed a partnership with William Fison in that business, which continued to the end of his life. In 1861 he was elected from Bradford to the House of Commons, and continued to hold his seat by successive reëlections until his death. Forster at once took a prominent part in Parliamentary debates, and came to be looked upon as one of the principal leaders of the advanced Liberals. Ho took every opportunity of speaking on the question of the reform of the suffrage, and on the outbreak of the Civil War in America, with Cobden and Bright, earnestly opposed every attempt to recognize the Confederacy, and denounced the Government's action in permitting vessels of the Alabama type to be built and fitted out in English ports. In 1865 he became Under-Secretary for the Colonies in Lord Russell's Ministry, and in 1868 was appointed by Gladstone vice-president of the Council on Education and a Privy Councilor. In 1869, in spite of opposition from Radicals both in the Church of England and among Dissenters, he secured the passage of the Endowed Schools Bill, and in 1870 introduced the most famous legislative measure connected with his name, the Elementary Education Bill, which is the foundation of the existing national system of education in England. In 1872 he introduced and piloted through the House of Commons the Ballot Bill. In the Gladstone Ministry of 1880, against his own inclination, he accepted the position of Chief Secretary for Ireland. During the winter of 1881-82 several attempts were made on Forster's life by the ‘Invincibles,’ but he remained resolutely at his post. When, however, in May, 1882, a majority of the Cabinet determined upon the release of Parnell and the other imprisoned leaders, Forster and Lord Cowper, the Lord Lieutenant, who protested against such action, resigned. Although Forster continued to take part in the debates in Parliament, and was reëlected as a Liberal by his constituents in November, 1885, he acted on many questions independently of his party, and was opposed to the Gladstone Home Rule programme. Consult Reid, Life of the Right Hon. W. E. Forster (5th ed., London, 1889).