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.


  • 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
  • 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

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