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The "God's Only Mistake" debate

The acronym G. O. M ., standing for "Grand Old Man", was used to describe Gladstone in his later years. It has been said that Disraeli reconstructed the initials and said that Gladstone was "God's Only Mistake". In reality, this may be apocryphal.

.The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says that the first recorded use of the epithet "Grand Old Man" was by Henry Labouchere in April 1881:

"Gladstone did not handle the dénouement of the fall of Khartoum and Gordon's probable death in 1885 sensitively, and he survived a censure motion on 27 February 1885 by only fourteen votes. Gladstone's failure to
rescue the maverick and flagrantly disobedient Gordon entered British folk memory and M. O. G. (Murderer of Gordon) became the tory response to the Liberals' G. O. M. (Grand Old Man), the acronym coined by Henry Labouchere in April 1881."

The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase, Saying and Quotation says,

The "Grand Old Man" [was] recorded from 1882 and popularly abbreviated to GOM...

and the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations notes that Sir Stafford Northcote used the expression "Grand Old Man" in a speech at Liverpool on 12 April 1882.

Andrew Roberts, in his book Salisbury: Victorian Titan notes that Lord Salisbury advanced politically, partly by attacking Gladstone: the Grand Old Man (GOM) was known at Hatfield as "God's Only Mistake".

Disraeli died on 19 April 1881, before any recorded use of the quip that Gladstone was "God's Only Mistake". Therefore it seems very likely that the common belief, that this comment was made by Disraeli, is incorrect.

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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