Robert Walpole

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Sir Robert Walpole

Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (26 August 1676 – 18 March 1745), known as Sir Robert Walpole, was a British statesman and Whig politician who is generally regarded as the de facto first prime minister of Great Britain.


  • Anything but history, for history must be false.
    • To his son, who offered to read history to him. quoted in Walpoliana, 1799, Vol. 1, p. 60, No. 79, quoted in Carlyle's French Revolution, Pt. 1, book. 7, chapter 5, also quoted in Famous Sayings And their Authors, p. 7
  • The doctrine of unlimited passive obedience was first invented to support arbitrary power, but [was] of no use in her Majesty’s reign, where the law was the only measure of the regal power and people's obedience; and since it could be of no use or security to her Majesty there could be no other aim in it than to unhinge the government, and clear the way to the impostor's title. In fine, if the sin of resistance was damnable, there must a sincere repentance ensue to wash away the guilt, and this could not be done without restitution.
  • I am at a loss to discover where they will find this divine right in our government, or at least where they do find it in the reign of the late King [William III], whose title to be rightful and lawful king they have all sworn, or where they will find it in the next Protestant successor, for whom they profess an equal zeal, is not very obvious to me.
  • It is obvious, that the people of England are at this moment animated against each other, with a spirit of hatred and rancour. It behoves you, in the first place, to find a remedy for these distempers which at present are predominant in the civil constitution.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (10 January 1711)
  • The most unrighteous judgment was passed upon me in the House that was ever heard of...against the most positive evidence that it was possible in any case to give. ... I am made a sacrifice to the violence of a party and entirely innocent.
    • Letter (c. January 1712). On 17 January 1712 the case against Walpole for bribery was heard in the House of Commons and he was voted by a majority of more than 50 to have been guilty of "a high breach of trust and notorious corruption". By further votes he was committed to the Tower of London and expelled from the Commons.
  • I dare be bold to affirm that, had the King of France beaten us, as we have done him, he would have been so modest as to have given us better terms than we have gained after all our glorious victories.

Prime Minister[edit]

All those men have their price.
  • All those men have their price.
    • Reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919), stating "'All men have their price' is commonly ascribed to Walpole", and citing Coxe, Memoirs of Walpole, Vol. iv, p. 369: "Flowery oratory he despised. He ascribed to the interested views of themselves or their relatives the declarations of pretended patriots, of whom he said, 'All those men have their price'".
  • Anything but history, for history must be false.
    • Walpoliana, No. 141.
  • The gratitude of place-expectants is a lively sense of future favours.
    • Reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919), stating "Hazlitt, in his Wit and Humour, says, 'This is Walpole’s phrase'". Compare: "La reconnaissance de la plupart des hommes n'est qu'une secrète envie de recevoir de plus grands bienfaits" (translated: "The gratitude of most men is but a secret desire of receiving greater benefits"), François de La Rochefoucauld, Maxim 298.

Quotes about Walpole[edit]

  • He was an honorable man and a sound Whig. He was not, as the Jacobites and discontented Whigs of his time have represented him, and as ill-informed people still represent him, a prodigal and corrupt minister. They charged him in their libels and seditious conversations as having first reduced corruption to a system. Such was their cant. But he was far from governing by corruption. He governed by party attachments. The charge of systematic corruption is less applicable to him, perhaps, than to any minister who ever served the crown for so great a length of time. He gained over very few from the Opposition. Without being a genius of the first class, he was an intelligent, prudent, and safe minister. He loved peace; and he helped to communicate the same disposition to nations at least as warlike and restless as that in which he had the chief direction of affairs... With many virtues, public and private, he had his faults; but his faults were superficial. A careless, coarse, and over familiar style of discourse, without sufficient regard to persons or occasions, and an almost total want of political decorum, were the errours by which he was most hurt in the public opinion: and those through which his enemies obtained the greatest advantage over him. But justice must be done. The prudence, steadiness, and vigilance of that man, joined to the greatest possible lenity in his character and his politics, preserved the crown to this royal family; and with it, their laws and liberties to this country.
    • Edmund Burke, An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs [1791] (1962), pp. 62–63
  • In private life he was good natured, Chearfull, social. Inelegant in his manners, loose in his morals. He had a coarse wit, which he was too free of for a Man in his Station, as it is always inconsistent with dignity. He was very able as a Minister, but without a certain Elevation of mind...He was both the ablest Parliament man, and the ablest manager of a Parliament, that I believe ever lived...Money, not Prerogative, was the chief Engine of his administration, and he employed it with a success that in a manner disgraced humanity...When he found any body proof, against pecuniary temptations, which alass! was but seldom, he had recourse to still a worse art. For he laughed at and ridiculed all notions of Publick virtue, and the love of one's Country, calling them the Chimerical school boy flights of Classical learning; declaring himself at the same time, No Saint, no Spartan, no reformer. He would frequently ask young fellows at their first appearance in the world, while their honest hearts were yet untainted, well are you to be an old Roman? a Patriot? you will soon come off of that, and grow wiser. And thus he was more dangerous to the morals, than to the libertys of his country, to which I am persuaded that he meaned no ill in his heart... His Name will not be recorded in History among the best men, or the best Ministers, but much much less ought it to be ranked among the worst.
    • Lord Chesterfield, quoted in Colin Franklin (ed.), Lord Chesterfield. His Character and 'Characters' (1993), p. 114
  • I am sensible that Sr Robert, who is at once both a Wagg and a boaster, would be apt to ridicule these hopes of mine as fond and sanguine.
    • Lord Chesterfield to Robert Nugent (1 August 1741), quoted in Claud Nugent, Memoir of Robert, Earl Nugent, With Letters, Poems, and Appendices (1898), p. 246
  • [H]is prevailing weakness was, to be thought to have a polite and happy turn to gallantry,—of which he had undoubtedly less than any man living.
    • Lord Chesterfield to his son (16 October [O.S.] 1747), quoted in The Letters of Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, With the Characters, Vol. I, ed. John Bradshaw (1892), p. 66
  • The eloquence of Sir Robert Walpole was plain, perspicuous, forcible, and manly, not courting, yet not always avoiding metaphorical, ornamental, and classical allusions; though addressed to the reason more than to the feelings, yet on some occasions it was highly animated and impassioned. No debater was ever more happy in quickness of apprehension, sharpness of reply, and in turning the arguments of his assailants against themselves.
    • William Coxe, Memoirs of the Life and Administration of Sir Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford, Volume the First (1798), p. 749
  • The tone of his voice was pleasing and melodious; his pronunciation distinct and audible, though he never entirely lost the provincial accent. His style, though by no means elegant, often deficient in taste, and sometimes bordering on vulgarity, was highly nervous and animated, persuasive and plausible.
    • William Coxe, Memoirs of the Life and Administration of Sir Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford, Volume the First (1798), p. 749
  • The political axiom generally attributed to him, that all men have their price, and which has been so often repeated in verse and prose, was perverted by leaving out the word those. Flowery oratory he despised; he ascribed to the interested views of themselves or their relatives, the declarations of pretended patriots, of whom he said, "All those men have their price," and in the event, many of them justified his observation.
    • William Coxe, Memoirs of the Life and Administration of Sir Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford, Volume the First (1798), p. 757
  • Sir Robert loved to take company home with him to dinner after a debate: when the letters came in, he threw such and such aside, and said they might stay till to-morrow; when he saw the direction of his Huntsman, he said he would read it immediately.
  • [H]e had great method and a prodigious memory, with a mind and spirit that were indefatigable: and without every one of these natural as well as acquired advantages, it would indeed have been impossible for him to go through half what he undertook.
    • Lord Hervey, Memoirs of the Reign of George the Second from His Accession to the Death of Queen Caroline, Vol. I, ed. John Wilson Croker (1848), pp. 22-23
  • No man ever was blessed with a clearer head, a truer or quicker judgment, or a deeper insight into mankind; he knew the strength and weakness of everybody he had to deal with, and how to make his advantage of both; he had more warmth of affection and friendship for some particular people than one could have believed it possible for any one who had been so long raking in the dirt of mankind to be capable of feeling for so worthless a species of animals.
    • Lord Hervey, Memoirs of the Reign of George the Second from His Accession to the Death of Queen Caroline, Vol. I, ed. John Wilson Croker (1848), p. 23
  • Colonel Cecil, who was agent for the Chevalier St. George...suffered himself to be cajoled and duped by Sir Robert Walpole to such a degree, as to be fully persuaded that Sir Robert had formed a design to restore the House of Stuart. For this reason he communicated to Sir Robert all his dispatches, and there was not a scheme which the Chevalier's court or the Jacobites in England had projected during Sir Robert's long administration, of which that minister was not early informed, and was therefore able to defeat it without any noise or expence.
    • William King, Political and Literary Anecdotes of His Own Times (1818), pp. 36-38
  • He was not a reformer, or a successful war minister, or a profound and original thinker, or even a tactician of great enterprise, and yet he possessed qualities which have justly placed him in the foremost rank of politicians. Finding England with a disputed succession and an unpopular sovereign, with a corrupt and factious Parliament, and an intolerant, ignorant, and warlike people, he succeeded in giving it twenty years of unbroken peace and uniform prosperity, in establishing on an impregnable basis a dynasty which seemed tottering to its fall, in rendering, chiefly by the force of his personal ascendency, the House of Commons the most powerful body in the State, in moderating permanently the ferocity of political factions and the intolerance of ecclesiastical legislation.
  • But however distasteful this was to several serious men among the Whigs, Mr. Walpole enjoyed and encouraged it all, as pursuing of his plan of having everybody be deemed a Jacobite who was not a professed and known Whig.
    • Arthur Onslow, quoted in The Manuscripts of The Earl of Buckinghamshire, The Earl of Lindsey, The Earl of Onslow, Lord Emly, Theodore J. Hare, Esq., and James Round, Esq., M.P. (1895), p. 465
  • For twenty years Walpole had just held in check those aspirations natural to a society which was faced with enormous possibilities of commercial expansion, a society which had, too, the capacity to seize its chances and the wealth and men needed to exploit them. Walpole had avoided wars and kept the peace because he believed England existed for the sake of men of substance, who gained from security and low taxation, and not for the sake of rash commercial adventurers... England has never known a prime minister more adroit in handling men than Walpole, but he was too rooted in reality, too sensitive to the everyday world to be a great statesman.
    • J. H. Plumb, England in the Eighteenth Century (1950; 1964), pp. 72-73
  • Although in 1714 the materials for oligarchy everywhere abounded, it seemed as if no party could use them and that political instability, which had been such a marked feature of English life since the Revolution, would continue. Within a decade all was changed: aided both by events, and by the tidal sweep of history, a politician of genius, Robert Walpole, was able to create what had eluded kings and ministers since the days of Elizabeth I—a government and a policy acceptable to the Court, to the Commons, and to the majority of the political establishment in the nation at large. Indeed, he made the world so safe for Whigs that they stayed in power for a hundred years.
    • J. H. Plumb, The Growth of Political Stability in England 1675–1725 (1967), p. 158
  • It is great pleasure to me that I never saw him better, and that quiet and hunting, together, have repaired his health so well. Your friend Sir Robert has but one of these helps; but I remember when I saw him last, which was the last time he sent to desire me, he told me he owed his strength to it.
    • Alexander Pope to William Fortescue (31 July 1738), quoted in The Works of Alexander Pope, Vol. IX. Correspondence.—Vol. IV (1886), p. 142
  • He possessed no vain desire to distinguish himself by peculiarity of opinion or hardiness of enterprize, and he detested war. This made the late acute Dr. Johnson (who was no friend to his political opinions) say of him, "He was the best minister this country ever had; as, if we would have let him" (he speaks of his own violent faction) "he would have kept the country in perpetual peace."
  • I need not mention the many advantages that will attend this manner of proceeding. It will in a great measure obviate the delusion which Sir Robert makes use of in a certain place, to wit, that the majority of the House of Commons is the majority of the nation.
    • Lord Stair, "Memorial for Instructions to Members of Parliament from Scotland, 7th July, 1739", quoted in A Selection from the Papers of the Earls of Marchmont, in the Possession of the Right Honourable Sir George Henry Rose. Illustrative of Events from 1685 to 1750, Vol. II (1831), p. 123
  • With favour and fortune fastidiously blest,
    He's loud in his laugh, and he's coarse in his jest;
    Of favour and fortune unmerited, vain,
    A sharper in trifles, a dupe in the main;
    Achieving of nothing, still promising wonders,
    By dint of experience, improving in blunders;
    Oppressing true merit, exalting the base,
    And selling his country to purchase his place;
    A jobber of stocks by retailing false news;
    A prater at court in the style of the stews;
    Of virtue and worth by profession a giber;
    Of juries and senates the bully and briber.
    Though I name not the wretch, you all know who I mean—
    'Tis the cur-dog of Britain, and spaniel of Spain.
    • Jonathan Swift, 'Character of Sir Robert Walpole', quoted in Letters to and from Henrietta, Countess of Suffolk, and Her Second Husband, The Hon. George Berkeley; From 1712 to 1767, Vol. II (1824), p. 32
  • The most unpopular Ministers in England, were the Earl of Clarendon, and Sir Robert Walpole, during their respective Administrations; the former a true, a steady, and equal Friend to a limited Monarchy, and the just civil Rights of the People; and the latter the best commercial Minister this Country ever had, and the greatest Promoter of its real Interests.
    • Josiah Tucker, A Treatise Concerning Civil Government, In Three Parts (1781), p. 222
  • One of the great merits of Sir Robert Walpole, and in which perhaps no minister ever approached him, was that of simplifying the taxes, abolishing the numerous petty complicated imposts, which checked commerce and vexed the fair trader, and substituting in their stead more equal and simple.
    But to omit matters of lesser note, the wisest proposal to relieve the nation was the Excise Scheme, by means of which the whole island would have been one general free port, and a magazine and common storehouse for all nations.
    • Josiah Tucker, Elements of Commerce and Theory of Taxes, quoted in William Coxe, Memoirs of the Life and Administration of Sir Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford, Volume the First (1798), p. 373
  • It was perhaps still more remarkable, and an instance unparalleled, that sir Robert governed George the first in Latin, the king not speaking English, and his minister no German, nor even French.
    • Horace Walpole, Reminiscences: Written by Mr Horace Walpole in 1788, For the Amusement of Miss Mary and Miss Agnes B***y (1819), p. 10
  • Sir Robert Walpole used to say, that it was fortunate so few men could be prime ministers, as it was best that few should thoroughly know the shocking wickedness of mankind.
    I never heard him say, that all men have their prices; and I believe no such expression ever came from his mouth.
  • But Orford's self I've seen, whilst I have read,
    Laugh the heart's laugh, and nod th' approving
  • In private amiable, in public great,
    Gentle in power, but daring in disgrace,
    His love was liberty, his wish was peace.
    • Charles Hanbury Williams, quoted in The Works of The Right Honourable Sir Chas. Hanbury Williams, Vol. I (1822), pp. 207-208

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