F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead

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We have the highest authority for believing that the meek shall inherit the earth; though I have never found any particular corroboration of this aphorism in the records of Somerset House.

Frederick Edwin Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead, GCSI, PC (12 July 187230 September 1930) was a British Conservative statesman and lawyer of the early 20th century. He was a skilled orator, noted for his staunch opposition to Irish nationalism, his wit, pugnacious views, and hard living and drinking. He is perhaps best remembered today as Winston Churchill's greatest personal and political friend until Smith's untimely death at age 58.

Quotes[edit]

If peaceful persuasion is the real object, why are a hundred men required to do it?
The world continues to offer glittering prizes to those who have stout hearts and sharp swords.
It would be possible to say without exaggeration that the miners' leaders were the stupidest men in England if we had not frequent occasion to meet the owners.
Churchill has spent the best years of his life preparing impromptu remarks.
  • We are asked to permit a hundred men to go round to the house of a man who wishes to exercise the common law right in this country to sell his labour where and when he chooses, and to 'advise' him or 'peacefully persuade' him not to work. If peaceful persuasion is the real object, why are a hundred men required to do it? ... Every honest man knows why trade unions insist on the right to a strong numerical picket. It is because they rely for their objects neither on peacefulness nor persuasion. Those whom they picket cannot be peacefully persuaded. They understand with great precision their own objects, and their own interests, and they are not in the least likely to be persuaded by the representatives of trade unions, with different objects and different interests. But, though arguments may never persuade them, numbers may easily intimidate them. And it is just because argument has failed, and intimidation has succeeded, that the Labour Party insists upon its right to picket unlimited in respect of numbers.
    • Speech in the House of Commons against the Trade Disputes Bill (30 March 1906), as published in The Speeches of Lord Birkenhead (1929), pp. 15-22.
  • The Conservative Party is the parent of trade unionism, just as it is the author of the Factory Acts. At every stage in the history of the nineteenth century it is to Toryism that trade unionism has looked for help and support against the oppressions of the Manchester School of liberalism, which cared nothing for the interests of the state, and regarded men as brute beasts whose labour could be bought and sold at the cheapest price, irrespective of all other considerations.
    • "Industrial Unrest" in Unionist Policy and Other Essays (1913).
  • We stand for the State and for the unity which, whether in the form of kingdom or empire or class solidarity, the State alone can bring. Above all stands the State and in that phrase lies the essence of Toryism. Our ancestors left it to us, and not the least potent method of preserving it is to link the conception of State Toryism with the practice of Social Reform.
    • "State Toryism and Social Reform" in Unionist Policy and Other Essays (1913). Pg 46.
  • An MP had been elected as a Unionist candidate, but when Parliament re-assembled, he had immediately "crossed the floor" without seeking re-election.
    Smith said:"He entered the House not on the crest of a wave, but rather by means of an opportune dive. Everyone in the House must appreciate his presence, for there could be no greater compliment paid to it than that he should be in our midst, when his heart is far away. And it should be obvious to all who know the honourable gentleman's scrupulous sense of honour, that his one desire at present is to be amongst his constituents, who are understood to be at least as anxious to meet him."
    • Legal Life and Humour (1916), edited by Joseph Heighton, p. 49.
  • May I be perfectly candid? I also am still a Unionist in this sense. If I were certified of twenty years of unbroken power in this country, I am still most clearly of opinion that the solution of the Irish question which would be best for England and best for Ireland would be the prosecution during that period of the policy which, in our opinion at least, had attained so large a measure of success in the year 1906. In saying this I make it quite plain that I am conscious that there are many of my colleagues—there must be many of my colleagues—who would not take that view. You must make the reservation that you are given that power and that you are given that power for the requisite period. The late Lord Salisbury spoke of "twenty years of resolute government." The Unionist Party, in the period to the close of which I refer, had been given some ten years, and it was only given those ten years by what many members of this House would describe as the accident of the issue, with its repercussion on the Election, of the war in South Africa. That accident and that Election gave the Unionist Party some ten years of office. Is it not evident, in trying to descry what lies in front of us through the mists of the future, that no man living can claim that twenty years, or anything like twenty years, lie in front of any Party that believes in the maintenance of the relations between Ireland and this country on the lines that have existed since the passing of the Act of Union?
  • Politically, economically and philosophically the motive of self-interest not only is but must...and ought to be the mainspring of human conduct...For as long a time as the records of history have been preserved human societies passed through a ceaseless process of evolution and adjustment. This process has sometimes been pacific, but more often it has resulted from warlike disturbance. The strength of different nations, measured in terms of arms, varies from century to century. The world continues to offer glittering prizes to those who have stout hearts and sharp swords; it is therefore extremely improbable that the experience of future ages will differ in any material respect from that which has happened since the twilight of the human race ... it is for us who, in our history have proved ourselves a martial ... people ... to maintain in our own hands the adequate means for our own protection and ... to march with heads erect and bright eyes along the road of our imperial destiny.
    • "Idealism in International Politics", Rectoral Address at Glasgow University (7 November, 1923).[1]
    • Quoted in The Times, 8 November 1923, according to "Guarantee of Peace: The League of Nations in British Policy 1914-1925" by Peter J. Yearwood, pg 280
  • To me it is frankly inconceivable that India will ever be fit for Dominion self-government.
    • Letter (24 November 1924), quoted in Lord Reading (1967) by H. Montgomery Hyde, p. 382.
  • We have the highest authority for believing that the meek shall inherit the earth; though I have never found any particular corroboration of this aphorism in the records of Somerset House.
    • Quoted in Contemporary Personalities (1924) by Marquess Curzon.
  • The greater the political progress made by the Hindus, the greater, in my judgement, will be the Moslem discontent and antagonism. All the conferences in the world cannot bridge over the unbridgeable, and between those two countries lies a chasm which cannot be crossed by the resources of modern political engineering.
    • Statement of 1925, as quoted in Lord Reading (1967) by H. Montgomery Hyde, p. 387.
  • I have always placed my highest and most permanent hopes upon the eternity of the Communal situation.
    • Letter to Lord Reading (March 1925), as quoted in Lord Reading (1967) by H. Montgomery Hyde, p. 387.
  • It would be possible to say without exaggeration that the miners' leaders were the stupidest men in England if we had not frequent occasion to meet the owners.
    • Statement of 1925, as quoted in Britain between the Wars (1955) by C. L. Mowat, p. 300.
  • Nature has no cure for this sort of madness, though I have known a legacy from a rich relative work wonders.
    • On Bolshevism, in Law, Life, and Letters (1927), Vol. 2, Ch. 19.
  • What was intended is plain. It was intended to appease them. Why was this particular moment selected for their appeasement? I will tell your Lordships why. It was because a grave threat had been made subversive of civil government in India. It was because, supported by the names of men of great political position in India, we were menaced at the end of the year with a campaign of civil disobedience. It was thought that an announcement of this kind...would have averted a threat to law and order. I have had occasion in the last six years to make such study of Indian history as my abilities have qualified me to undertake, and I have drawn one deep lesson. The way to discharge our fiduciary obligations to India is never to yield to threats—never, never! The moment in which to make gestures of appeasement is not when you are threatened by men of influence and authority with a general campaign of civil disturbance. And what a method to select! You address the politically-minded classes of India. They are the only ones with which you are dealing, for you do not suppose that the 290,000,000 of peasants who cannot read are being appeased; they do not need appeasement and we were long since told of their pathetic contentment. What was the object of making this statement at this moment?
  • Judge: You are extremely offensive, young man!
    Smith: As a matter of fact we both are; and the only difference between us is that I am trying to be, and you can't help it.
    • Quoted in F.E. : The Life of F. E. Smith First Earl of Birkenhead (1933) by Frederick Second Earl of Birkenhead, 1959 edition, Ch 9.
  • Judge: What do you suppose I am on the bench for?
    Smith: It is not for me, Your Honour, to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence.
    • Quoted in F.E. : The Life of F. E. Smith First Earl of Birkenhead (1933) by Frederick Second Earl of Birkenhead, 1959 edition, Ch 9.
  • Churchill has spent the best years of his life preparing impromptu remarks.
    • Quoted in A Politician Must Watch His Wit by Clayton Fritchley inThe New York Times Magazine (3 July 1960), p. 31.
  • Judge: I've listened to you for an hour and I'm none wiser.
    Smith: None the wiser, perhaps, my lord but certainly better informed.
    • Quoted in "London Letter" by Francis Cowper in New York Law Journal (28 August 1961), p. 4; also quoted as "Possibly not, My Lord, but far better informed."

About[edit]

  • The country was as much amused as affronted when Sir F. E. Smith became Attorney-General. But it is carrying a joke beyond the limits of pleasantry to make him Lord Chancellor. There are gradations in these matters.
    • The Morning Post on his appointment as Lord Chancellor, quoted in John Campbell: "F. E. Smith: First Earl of Birkenhead", 1983, Jonathan Cape, Pg 460.
    • Often misquoted as "carrying a joke too far".

References[edit]

  1. http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_191058_en.pdf

External links[edit]

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