William Ewart Gladstone

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There should be a sympathy with freedom, a desire to give it scope, founded not upon visionary ideas, but upon the long experience of many generations...

William Ewart Gladstone (29 December 180919 May 1898) was a British Liberal politician and Prime Minister (1868–1874, 1880–1885, 1886 and 1892–1894). He was a notable political reformer, known for his populist speeches, and was for many years the main political rival of Benjamin Disraeli.

Quotes[edit]

I am certain, from experience, of the immense advantage of strict account-keeping in early life.
I venture to say that every man who is not presumably incapacitated by some consideration of personal unfitness or of political danger is morally entitled to come within the pale of the Constitution.
National injustice is the surest road to national downfall.
To be engaged in opposing wrong affords, under the conditions of our mental constitution, but a slender guarantee for being right.
In freedom you lay the firmest foundations both of loyalty and order; the firmest foundations for the development of individual character; and the best provision for the happiness of the nation at large.
We must try to make our pounds of produce into tons — or must bring together a number of producers.
Selfishness is the greatest curse of the human race.
  • Ireland, Ireland! That cloud in the west! That coming storm! That minister of God's retribution upon cruel, inveterate, and but half-atoned injustice! Ireland forces upon us those great social and great religious questions. God grant that we may have courage to look them in the face!
    • Letter to his wife, Catherine Gladstone (12 October 1845)
  • Decision by majorities is as much an expedient as lighting by gas.
    • Speech, House of Commons (1858)
  • Economy is the first and great article (economy such as I understand it) in my financial creed. The controversy between direct and indirect taxation holds a minor, though important place.
    • Letter to his brother Robertson of the Financial Reform Association at Liverpool (1859), as quoted in Gladstone as Financier and Economist (1931) by F. W. Hirst, p. 241
  • I am certain, from experience, of the immense advantage of strict account-keeping in early life. It is just like learning the grammar then, which when once learned need not be referred to afterwards.
    • Letter to Mrs. Gladstone (14 January, 1860), as quoted in Gladstone as Financier and Economist (1931) by F. W. Hirst, p. 242
  • We may be for or against the South. But there is no doubt that Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South have made an Army; they are making, it appears, a Navy; and they have made — what is more than either — they have made a Nation... We may anticipate with certainty the success of the Southern States so far as regards their separation from the North.
    • Speech on the American Civil War, Town Hall, Newcastle upon Tyne (7 October 1862)
  • I mean this, that together with the so-called increase of expenditure there grows up what may be termed a spirit which, insensibly and unconsciously perhaps, but really, affects the spirit of the people, the spirit of parliament, the spirit of the public departments, and perhaps even the spirit of those whose duty it is to submit the estimates to parliament.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (16 April 1863), quoted n The Life of William Ewart Gladstone. Volume II (1903) by John Morley, p. 62
  • But how is the spirit of expenditure to be exorcised? Not by preaching; I doubt if even by yours. I seriously doubt whether it will ever give place to the old spirit of economy, as long as we have the income-tax. There, or hard by, lie questions of deep practical moment.
    • Letter to Richard Cobden (5 January 1864), quoted in The Life of William Ewart Gladstone Volume II (1903) by John Morley, p. 62
  • I venture to say that every man who is not presumably incapacitated by some consideration of personal unfitness or of political danger is morally entitled to come within the pale of the Constitution.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (11 May 1864)
  • At last, my friends, I am come amongst you. And I am come…unmuzzled.
    • Speech to the electors of South Lancashire. (18 July 1865)
  • The only means which have been placed in my power of "raising the wages of colliers" has been by endeavouring to beat down all those restrictions upon trade which tend to reduce the price to be obtained for the product of their labour, & to lower as much as may be the taxes on the commodities which they may require for use or for consumption. Beyond this I look to the forethought not yet so widely diffused in this country as in Scotland, & in some foreign lands; & I need not remind you that in order to facilitate its exercise the Government have been empowered by Legislation to become through the Dept. of the P.O. the receivers & guardians of savings.
    • Letter to Daniel Jones, an unemployed collier who complained of unemployment and of low wages (20 October 1869) as quoted in The Gladstone Diaries: With Cabinet Minutes and Prime-ministerial Correspondence: 1869-June 1871 Vol. 7 (1982) by H. C. G. Matthew, p. lxxiv
  • I am inclined to say that the personal attendance and intervention of women in election proceedings, even apart from any suspicion of the wider objects of many of the promoters of the present movement, would be a practical evil not only of the gravest, but even of an intolerable character.
    • Debate on the Women's Disabilities Bill, House of Commons, (3 May 1871), published in Parliamentary Debates Vol. 206, Col. 91
  • The idea of abolishing Income Tax is to me highly attractive, both on other grounds & because it tends to public economy.
    • Letter to H. C. E. Childers (3 April 1873)
  • I am delighted to see how many young boys and girls have come forward to obtain honourable marks of recognition on this occasion, — if any effectual good is to be done to them, it must be done by teaching and encouraging them and helping them to help themselves. All the people who pretend to take your own concerns out of your own hands and to do everything for you, I won't say they are imposters; I won't even say they are quacks; but I do say they are mistaken people. The only sound, healthy description of countenancing and assisting these institutions is that which teaches independence and self-exertion... When I say you should help yourselves — and I would encourage every man in every rank of life to rely upon self-help more than on assistance to be got from his neigbours — there is One who helps us all, and without whose help every effort of ours is in vain; and there is nothing that should tend more, and there is nothing that should tend more to make us see the beneficence of God Almighty than to see the beauty as well as the usefulness of these flowers, these plants, and these fruits which He causes the earth to bring forth for our comfort and advantage.
    • Speech to the Hawarden Amateur Horticultural Society (17 August 1876), as quoted in "Mr. Gladstone On Cottage Gardening", The Times (18 August 1876), p. 9
  • As the British Constitution is the most subtile organism which has proceeded from the womb and the long gestation of progressive history, so the American Constitution is, so far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever struck off by the brain and purpose of man.
    • Article in The North American Review (September 1878)
  • National injustice is the surest road to national downfall.
    • Speech, Plumstead (30 November 1878)
  • The disease of an evil conscience is beyond the practice of all the physicians of all the countries in the world.
    • Speech, Plumstead (30 November 1878)
  • A rational reaction against the irrational excesses and vagaries of scepticism may, I admit, readily degenerate into the rival folly of credulity. To be engaged in opposing wrong affords, under the conditions of our mental constitution, but a slender guarantee for being right.
    • Homeric Synchronism : An Enquiry Into the Time and Place of Homer (1876), Introduction
  • Remember the rights of the savage, as we call him. Remember that the happiness of his humble home, remember that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan among the winter snows, are as sacred in the eye of Almighty God as are your own. Remember that He who has united you together as human beings in the same flesh and blood, has bound you by the law of mutual love, that that mutual love is not limited by the shores of this island, is not limited by the boundaries of Christian civilisation, that it passes over the whole surface of the earth, and embraces the meanest along with the greatest in its wide scope.
    • Speech, Foresters' Hall, Dalkeith, Scotland (26 November 1879) as part of the Midlothian campaign; published in "Mr Gladstone's visit to Mid-Lothian: Meeting at the Foresters' Hall" (27 November 1879), The Scotsman, p. 6; also quoted in Life of Gladstone (1903) by John Morley, II, (p. 595)
  • Here is my first principle of foreign policy: good government at home.
    • Speech, West Calder, Scotland (27 November 1879)
  • You should avoid needless and entangling engagements. You may boast about them, you may brag about them, you may say you are procuring consideration of the country. You may say that an Englishman may now hold up his head among the nations. But what does all this come to, gentlemen? It comes to this, that you are increasing your engagements without increasing your strength; and if you increase your engagements without increasing strength, you diminish strength, you abolish strength; you really reduce the empire and do not increase it. You render it less capable of performing its duties; you render it an inheritance less precious to hand on to future generations.
    • Speech, West Calder, Scotland (27 November 1879)
  • There should be a sympathy with freedom, a desire to give it scope, founded not upon visionary ideas, but upon the long experience of many generations within the shores of this happy isle, that in freedom you lay the firmest foundations both of loyalty and order; the firmest foundations for the development of individual character; and the best provision for the happiness of the nation at large.
    • Speech, West Calder, Scotland (27 November 1879)
  • The Chancellor of the Exchequer should boldly uphold economy in detail; and it is the mark of a chicken-hearted Chancellor when he shrinks from upholding economy in detail, when because it is a question of only two or three thousand pounds, he says it is no matter. He is ridiculed, no doubt, for what is called candle-ends and cheese-parings, but he is not worth his salt if he is not ready to save what are meant by candle-ends and cheese-parings in the cause of the country. No Chancellor of the Exchequer is worth his salt who makes his own popularity either his consideration, or any consideration at all, in administering the public purse. In my opinion, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the trusted and confidential steward of the public. He is under a sacred obligation with regard to all that he consents to spend.
    • Speech at Edinburgh (29 November, 1879), as quoted in Gladstone as Financier and Economist (1931) by F. W. Hirst, p. 243
  • As he lived, so he died — all display, without reality or genuineness.
    • Of Benjamin Disraeli, in May 1881 to his secretary, Edward Hamilton, regarding Disraeli's instructions to be given a modest funeral. Disraeli was buried in his wife's rural churchyard grave. Gladstone, Prime Minister at the time, had offered a state funeral and a burial in Westminster Abbey. Quoted in chapter 11 of Gladstone: A Biography (1954) by Philip Magnus
  • The reason why the foreign producer gets his produce to market cheaper, relatively, is this — that foreign produce is collected and brought in such large quantities and is sent in great masses to the market. That is the secret of cheap carriage... We must try to make our pounds of produce into tons — or must bring together a number of producers. If you small agriculturists can collectively offer a great bulk of merchandise to the railway companies, they will give you good terms.
    • Speech at Hawarden (5 January, 1884), , as quoted in Gladstone as Financier and Economist (1931) by F. W. Hirst, p. 258
  • There is a process of slow modification and development mainly in directions which I view with misgiving. "Tory democracy," the favourite idea on that side, is no more like the Conservative party in which I was bred, than it is like Liberalism. In fact less. It is demagogism … applied in the worst way, to put down the pacific, law-respecting, economic elements which ennobled the old Conservatism, living upon the fomentation of angry passions, and still in secret as obstinately attached as ever to the evil principle of class interests. The Liberalism of to-day is better … yet far from being good. Its pet idea is what they called construction, — that is to say, taking into the hands of the State the business of the individual man. Both the one and the other have much to estrange me, and have had for many, many years.
    • Letter to Lord Acton (11 February 1885), as quoted in The Life of William Ewart Gladstone Volume III (1903) by John Morley, p. 172
  • The rule of our policy is that nothing should be done by the state which can be better or as well done by voluntary effort; and I am not aware that, either in its moral or even its literary aspects, the work of the state for education has as yet proved its superiority to the work of the religious bodies or of philanthropic individuals. Even the economical considerations of materially augmented cost do not appear to be wholly trivial.
  • Socialism. Here I am at at one with you. I have always been opposed to it. It is now taking hold of both parties, in a way I much dislike: & unhappily Lord Salisbury is one of its leaders, with no Lord Hartington (see his speech at Darwen) to oppose him.
    • Letter to Lord Southesk (27 October 1885)
  • All the world over, I will back the masses against the classes.
    • Speech, Liverpool (28 June 1886)
  • But let the working man be on his guard against another danger. We live at a time when there is a disposition to think that the Government ought to do this and that and that the Government ought to do everything. There are things which the Government ought to do, I have no doubt. In former periods the Government have neglected much, and possibly even now they neglect something; but there is a danger on the other side. If the Government takes into its hands that which the man ought to do for himself it will inflict upon him greater mischiefs than all the benefits he will have received or all the advantages that would accrue from them. The essence of the whole thing is that the spirit of self-reliance, the spirit of true and genuine manly independence, should be preserved in the minds of the people, in the minds of the masses of the people, in the mind of every member of the class. If he loses his self-denial, if he learns to live in a craven dependence upon wealthier people rather than upon himself, you may depend upon it he incurs mischief for which no compensation can be made.
    • Speech at the opening of the Reading and Recreation Rooms erected by the Saltney Literary Institute at Saltney in Chesire (26 October, 1889), as quoted in "Mr. Gladstone On The Working Classes" in The Times (28 October 1889), p. 8
  • Selfishness is the greatest curse of the human race.
    • Speech, Hawarden (28 May 1890)
  • I am thankful to have borne a part in the emancipating labours of the last sixty years; but entirely uncertain how, had I now to begin my life, I could face the very different problems of the next sixty years. Of one thing I am, and always have been, convinced—it is not by the State that man can be regenerated, and the terrible woes of this darkened world effectually dealt with. In some, and some very important, respects, I yearn for the impossible revival of the men and the ideas of my first twenty years, which immediately followed the first Reform Act.
    • Letter to George William Erskine Russell (6 March 1894), quoted in G. W. E. Russell, One Look Back (Wells Gardner, Darton and Co., 1911), p. 265.
  • I venture on assuring you that I regard the design formed by you and your friends with sincere interest, and in particular wish well to all the efforts you may make on behalf of individual freedom and independence as opposed to what is termed Collectivism.
    • Letter to F. W. Hirst on being unable to write a preface to Essays in Liberalism by "Six Oxford Men" (2 January 1897), as quoted In the Golden Days (1947) by F. W. Hirst, p. 158
  • The hopelessness of the Turkish Government should make me witness with delight its being swept out of the countries which it tortures. Next to the Ottoman Government nothing can be more deplorable and blameworthy than jealousies between Greek and Slav and plans by the States already existing for appropriating other territory. Why not Macedonia for the Macedonians as well as Bulgaria for the Bulgarians and Serbia for the Serbians?
    • Letter quoted in Mr. Gladstone and The Balkan Confederation in The Times (6 February 1897)
  • So long as there is this book, there will be no peace in the world.
    • Holding up a Qur'an in the House of Commons; quoted in Rafiq Zakaria, Muhammad and the Quran (Penguin Books, 1991), p. 59
      • Variant: "As long as a copy of this accursed book survives there can be no justice in the world."
      • Quoted in Paul G. Lauren, ed., The China Hands' Legacy: Ethics and Diplomacy (Westview Press, 1987), p. 136


Disputed[edit]

We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace.
  • Show me the manner in which a nation or a community cares for its dead. I will measure exactly the sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.
    • Attributed in "Successful Cemetery Advertising" in The American Cemetery (March 1938), p. 13; reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989)
  • We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace.
    • Attributed in The Forbes Book of Business Quotations (1997) edited by Edward C. Goodman and Ted Goodman, p. 639; a similar statement has also become attributed to Jimi Hendrix: "When the power of love overcomes love of power the world will know peace." This is flatly denied to have ever been said by him, without presenting any evidence as to why, beyond such unsupported, derisive and denigrative statements such as the author rants about others making in "WHAT HENDRIX NEVER SAID : They Don't Want to Know What He Really Said and Demand a Slacker Fantasy Instead" (22 March 2010) by Michael Fairchild, at rockprophecy.com. A similar quotation he provides of Sri Chinmoy predates any currently located source of either the Hendrix or Gladstone attributions, yet he accuses Chinmoy of simple plagiarism of Gladstone (or "Gladwell" at one point). From Chinmoy's book My Heart Shall Give A Oneness-Feast (1993) he quotes: "My books, they all have only one message: the heart's Power Of Love must replace the mind's Love Of Power. If I have the Power Of Love, then I shall claim the whole World as my own … World Peace can be achieved when the Power Of Love replaces the Love Of Power." An even earlier statement of Chinmoy is found in Meditations: Food For The Soul (1970): "When the power of love replaces the love of power, man will have a new name: God."


Misattributed[edit]

  • The best way to see London is from the top of a bus.
    • No known direct citation to Gladstone; first attributed in early 1900s (e.g. Highways and byways in London, 1903, Emily Constance Baird Cook, Macmillan and Co.) but appears in late 1800s London guides by other authors, such as:
The best way to see London is by the omnibus lines.
A Tour Around the World in 1884: or Sketches of Travel in the Eastern and Western Hemispheres (1886) by John B. Gorman
  • [Money should] fructify in the pockets of the people.
    • Often attributed to Gladstone. During the debate on the budget of 1867, Laing quoted Lord Sydenham's use of the phrase in 1832 to Gladstone, with Gladstone replying: "...when you talk of the "fructification" of money — I accept the term, which is originally due to very high authority — for the public advantage, there is none much more direct and more complete than that which the public derives from money applied to the reduction of debt." The phrase itself occurs earlier, among others:
...ought we to appropriate in the present circumstances of the country 3 millions of money out of the resources and productive capital of the nation, to create an addition to the treasury of the state? Ought we to reduce our public debt by a sacrifice of the funds that maintained national industry? Ought we to deprive the people of 3 millions of capital, which would fructify in their hands much more than in those of government, to pay a portion of our debt?
The Marquis of Lansdowne (21 June, 1819)
He put it to his hon. friend the member for Taunton, whether for the sake of increasing the fictitious value of stock, the grinding taxation which encroached on the capital that formed the foundation of credit, ought to be endured? He put it to his powerful mind, whether it would not be better to leave in the pockets of the people what increased and fructified with them, than, by taking all away, to ruin them and annihilate the revenue?
Lord Milton (14 June, 1821)
The right hon. gentleman had urged, as one 331 objection to the application of the surplus of five millions as a sinking fund, that it was taking that sum from the people, which would fructify to the national advantage, in their pockets, much more than in the reduction of the debt.
William Huskisson (28 February, 1823)
It was one of the great errors of Mr. Pitt's system, that the people should be taxed to buy up a debt standing at four or five per cent interest, when it was clear that that money, if left to fructify in the pockets of the people, would be productive of infinitely more benefit to the country.
Lord Milton (1 June, 1827)

Quotes about Gladstone[edit]

I saw in the face of Mr. Gladstone a blending of opposite qualities. There were the peace and gentleness of the lamb, with the strength and determination of the lion. ~ Frederick Douglass
If you were to put that man on a moor with nothing on but his shirt, he would become whatever he pleased. ~ T. H. Huxley
The defects of his strength grow on him. All black is very black, all white very white. ~ Lord Rosebery
  • If there were no Tories, I am afraid he would invent them.
    • Lord Acton, in a letter to Mrs. Drew (24 April 1881)
  • He has — and it is one of the springs of great power — a real faith in the higher parts of human nature; he believes, with all his heart and soul and strength, that there is such a thing as truth; he has the soul of a martyr with the intellect of an advocate.
  • Who equals him in earnestness? Who equals him in eloquence? Who equals him in courage and fidelity to his convictions? If these gentlemen who say they will not follow him have anyone who is equal, let them show him. If they can point out any statesman who can add dignity and grandeur to the stature of Mr. Gladstone, let them produce him!
  • An almost spectral kind of phantasm of a man — nothing in him but forms and ceremonies and outside wrappings.
  • They told me how Mr. Gladstone read Homer for fun, which I thought served him right.
  • What you say about Gladstone is most just. What restlessness! What vanity! And what unhappiness must be his! Easy to say he is mad. It looks like it. My theory about him is unchanged: A ceaseless Tartuffe from the beginning. That sort of man does not get mad at 70.
  • I saw in the face of Mr. Gladstone a blending of opposite qualities. There were the peace and gentleness of the lamb, with the strength and determination of the lion. Deep earnestness was expressed in all his features. He began his speech in a tone conciliatory and persuasive. His argument against the bill was based upon statistics which he handled with marvelous facility. He showed that the amount of crimes in Ireland for which the Force Bill was claimed as a remedy by the Government was not greater than the great class of crimes in England, and that therefore there was no reason for a Force Bill in one country more than in the other. After marshaling his facts and figures to this point, in a masterly and convincing manner, raising his voice and pointing his finger directly at Mr. Balfour, he exclaimed, in a tone almost menacing and tragic, "What are you fighting for?" The effect was thrilling. His peroration was a splendid appeal to English love of liberty. When he sat down the House was instantly thinned out. There seemed neither in members nor spectators any desire to hear another voice after hearing Mr. Gladstone's.
    • Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1892), Part Three, Ch. 8: "European Tour"
  • At dinner we talked of Newman, whose Dream of Gerontius Gladstone puts very high, so high that he speaks of it in the same breath with the Divina Commedia. At length he asked, "Which of his writings will be read in a hundred years?" "Well," said Henry Smith, "certainly his hymn, 'Lead kindly Light,' and 'The Parting of Friends,' the sermon he preached before leaving Littlemore." "I go further," said Gladstone. "I think all his parochial sermons will be read."
  • Last night I met Gladstone — it will always be a memorable night to me; Stubbs was there, and Goldwin Smith and Humphrey Sandwith and Mackenzie Wallace whose great book on Russia is making such a stir, besides a few other nice people; but one forgets everything in Gladstone himself, in his perfect naturalness and grace of manner, his charming abandon of conversation, his unaffected modesty, his warm ardour for all that is noble and good. I felt so proud of my leader — the chief I have always clung to through good report and ill report — because, wise or unwise as he might seem in this or that, he was always noble of soul. He was very pleasant to me, and talked of the new historic school he hoped we were building as enlisting his warmest sympathy. I wish you could have seen with what a glow he spoke of the Montenegrins and their struggle for freedom; how he called on us who wrote history to write what we could of that long fight for liberty! And all through the evening not a word to recall his greatness amongst us, simple, natural, an equal among his equals, listening to every one, drawing out every one, with a force and a modesty that touched us more than all his power.
    • John Richard Green to Miss Stopford (21 February 1877), as quoted in Letters of John Richard Green (1901) by Leslie Stephen, p. 446
  • If you were to put that man on a moor with nothing on but his shirt, he would become whatever he pleased.
  • I don't object to Gladstone always having the ace of trumps up his sleeve, but merely to his belief that the Almighty put it there.
  • The greatest Chancellor of all time.
    • Nigel Lawson, The View From No. 11: Memoirs of a Tory Radical (1992), p. 279
  • He has one gift most dangerous to a spectator, a vast command of a kind of language, grave and majestic, but of vague and uncertain import.
  • Gladstone will soon have it all his own way and whenever he gets my place we shall have strange doings.
    • Lord Palmerston to Lord Shaftesbury towards the end of Palmerston's life. E. Hodder, The Life and Work of the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury: Volume III (1886), p. 187
  • The defects of his strength grow on him. All black is very black, all white very white.
  • Something like a little amicable duel took place at one time between Ruskin and Mr. G., when Ruskin directly attacked his host as a “leveller.” “You see you think one man is as good as another and all men equally competent to judge aright on political questions; whereas I am a believer in an aristocracy.” And straight came the answer from Mr. Gladstone, “Oh dear, no! I am nothing of the sort. I am a firm believer in the aristocratic principle — the rule of the best. I am an out-and-out inequalitarian,” a confession which Ruskin treated with intense delight, clapping his hands triumphantly.
    • John Ruskin's account of a dinner with Gladstone on 14 December 1978, published in Life of William Ewart Gladstone Volume II (1903) by John Morley, p. 582
  • He was the first Chancellor of the Exchequer who ever made the Budget interesting. "He talked shop," it was said, "like a tenth muse." He could apply all the resources of a glowing rhetoric to the most prosaic questions of cost and profit; could make beer romantic and sugar serious. He could sweep the widest horizon of the financial future, and yet stoop to bestow the minutest attention on the microcosm of penny stamps and the monetary merits of half-farthings.
  • He speaks to Me as if I was a public meeting.
    • Queen Victoria, memorandum to her private secretary Gen. Sir Henry Ponsonby (18 November 1874)
  • Ah, Oxford on the surface, but Liverpool below.
    • An unnamed Whig's comment in the Commons on Gladstone's budget (February 1860), as reported in "Mr. Gladstone" by Walter Bagehot, in National Review (July 1860)

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