(1819–85). The leading Conservative lawyer of the Disraeli era. Of Ulster protestant stock and educated at Belfast Academy and Trinity College, Dublin, Cairns became a successful barrister in London and was Conservative MP for Belfast 1852–66. Solicitor-general and attorney-general to Derby, he became lord chancellor under Disraeli, who valued his judgement, in 1868 and 1874–80. A vigorous defender of Conservative and protestant interests, he was party leader in the Lords 1868–70 (some would have preferred him to Salisbury even in 1881) and led the peers' opposition to Irish church disestablishment until forced to compromise. An active legal reformer, he worked closely with Selborne, his Liberal equivalent. Cairns's evangelical protestantism and firmness over Ireland gave him a wider party appeal than his legal distinction alone would have done. Austere and dour in personality, determined and logical in argument, Cairns, though often troubled by ill-health, was active in evangelical and philanthropic causes and a long-serving Sunday school teacher.
From The Oxford Companion to British History in Oxford Reference.
Subjects: British History.