George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen

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Hamilton-Gordon in 1847

George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen KG KT PC FRS FRSE FSA Scot (28 January 1784 – 14 December 1860), styled Lord Haddo from 1791 to 1801, was a British statesman, diplomat and landowner, successively a Tory, Conservative and Peelite politician and specialist in foreign affairs. He served as Prime Minister from 1852 until 1855 in a coalition between the Whigs and Peelites, with Radical and Irish support. The Aberdeen ministry was filled with powerful and talented politicians, whom Aberdeen was largely unable to control and direct. Despite his trying to avoid this happening, it took Britain into the Crimean War, and fell when its conduct became unpopular, after which Aberdeen retired from politics.


  • For three or four miles the ground is covered with bodies of men and horses, many not dead. Wretches wounded unable to crawl, crying for water amidst heaps of putrefying bodies. Their screams are heard at an immense distance, and still ring in my ears. The living as well as the dead are stripped by the barbarous peasantry, who have not sufficient charity to put the miserable wretches out of their pain. Our victory is most complete. It must be owned that a victory is a fine thing, but one should be at a distance.
    • Letter to Lady Maria after the Battle of Leipzig (22 October 1813), quoted in Lady Frances Balfour, The Life of George, Fourth Earl of Aberdeen, K.G., K.T., Vol. I ([1922]), p. 125
  • The whole subject of the Eucharist is too mysterious and difficult for me to arrive at any positive conviction; but in a case of this kind, to inflict penalties upon a man for believing more than his neighbour, in a matter neither of them can comprehend, would amount to a tyranny, and I therefore deprecate the threatened eviction of the Archdeacon.
    • Letter to William Ewart Gladstone regarding George Denison, who had resigned his position as examining chaplain to the Bishop of Bath and Wells owing to his views on the Eucharist (1857), quoted in Lady Frances Balfour, The Life of George, Fourth Earl of Aberdeen, K.G., K.T., Vol. II ([1922]), p. 314


  • And David said to Solomon, My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build an house unto the name of the Lord my God: but the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Thou hast shed blood abundantly, and hast made great wars: thou shalt not build an house unto my name, because thou hast shed much blood upon the earth in my sight (I Chronicles xxii. 7, 8).
    • Statement written by him more than once and at different times on various scraps of paper, quoted in Lady Frances Balfour, The Life of George, Fourth Earl of Aberdeen, K.G., K.T., Vol. II ([1922]), p. 299

Quotes about Lord Aberdeen[edit]

  • I recommend that my grandson be partly educated in Scotland that he do not despise his own country.
  • We abolished the Aberdeen cabinet, the ablest we have had, perhaps, since the Reform Act—a cabinet not only adapted, but eminently adapted for every sort of difficulty save the one it had to meet—which abounded in pacific discretion, and was wanting only in the "dæmonic element;" we chose a statesman [Lord Palmerston] who had the sort of merit then wanted, who, when he feels the steady power of England behind him, will advance without reluctance, and will strike without restraint. As was said at the time, "We turned out the Quaker, and put in the pugilist."
  • Aberdeen was a spare man, of grave and formal but singularly refined manners, with studious habits and fastidious tastes. Though he was an ungraceful speaker, and his voice dull and monotonous, his speeches were weighty and impressive. Without genius or ambition he showed a remarkable love of justice, honesty, and simplicity, and singular courage in expressing unpopular opinions. Despite his cold exterior he was a delightful companion. With the exception of the Greek intervention in 1829, Aberdeen, while foreign secretary, resolutely followed a policy of nonintervention. His cautious and conciliatory foreign policy contrasted strangely with Palmerston's methods, and the friendly relations which he had established with the foreign courts often led to unjust suspicions of his sympathy with continental despotism.
    • George Fisher Russell Barker, 'Gordon, George Hamilton', Dictionary of National Biography, Volume XXII. Glover—Gravet, eds. Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee (1890), pp. 202-203
  • Behold a chosen band shall aid thy plan,
    And own thee chieftain of the critic clan.
    First in the ranks illustrious shall be seen
    The travelled Thane! Athenian Aberdeen.
    • Lord Byron, English Bards and Scotch Reviews: A Satire (1809), p. 39
  • It is surprising that all these Jacobites shd frequent the Kirk. There is every variety here, for an odd log church on the road is of the free variety. I pointed it out to Ld Aberdeen who wd like to set it on fire.
    • Charlotte Canning, diary entry (14 September 1843), quoted in Virginia Surtees, Charlotte Canning: Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria and Wife of the first Viceroy of India, 1817–1861 (1975), p. 136
  • I will name then the following characteristics, one and all of which were more prominent in him than in any public man I ever knew: mental calmness; the absence (if for want of better words I may describe it by a negative) of all egoism; the love of exact justice; a thorough tolerance of spirit; and last and most of all an entire absence of suspicion.
    • William Ewart Gladstone to Sir Arthur Gordon (21 January 1861), quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Vol. III (1903), p. 640
  • Now and then Sir Robert Peel would show some degree of unconscious regard to the mere flesh and blood, if I may so speak, of Englishmen; Lord Aberdeen was invariably for putting the most liberal construction upon both the conduct and the claims of the other negotiating state.
    • William Ewart Gladstone to Sir Arthur Gordon (21 January 1861), quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Vol. III (1903), p. 641
  • Walked twice with Lord Aberdeen, he talked a good deal, reckoned that he had planted about 14 millions of trees in his time. Nothing when he came to it at Haddo but the limes and a few Scotch firs.
    • Samuel Wilberforce, diary entry (16 October 1858), quoted in Reginald G. Wilberforce, Life of the Right Reverend Samuel Wilberforce, Vol. II (1881), p. 411

External links[edit]