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.


I am certain, from experience, of the immense advantage of strict account-keeping in early life.


  • I have already expressed my opinion that the interference of the noble Lord should have been for the suppression of the trade in opium, and that the war was not justified by any excesses committed on the part of the Chinese. I have already stated, that although the Chinese were undoubtedly guilty of much absurd phraseology, of no little ostentatious pride, and of some excess, justice, in my opinion, is with them, and, that whilst they, the Pagans, and semi-civilized barbarians, have it, we, the enlightened and civilized Christians, are pursuing objects at variance both with justice, and with religion.
  • The right hon. Gentleman has argued, that the adoption of the plan proposed by the Government would confer advantage on the consumer, would increase the revenue, and would give increased scope to the industry of the manufacturer. We, Sir, argue, that with an amount of benefit to the revenue altogether inconsiderable, with a slight, nay an imperceptible relief to the consumer, and with detriment to the sure interests of the British manufacturer, you are asked to abandon what is nothing less than a great principle of humanity, that has received the most solemn sanction of the Legislature, the principle of hostility to the slave-trade and to slavery.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (10 May 1841). Gladstone was opposed to the equalisation of the duty on foreign and colonial sugar because he believed that it would promote the slave trade
  • I have clung to the notion of a conscience, and a Catholic conscience, in the State, until that idea has become in the general mind so feeble, as to be absolutely inappreciable in the movement of public affairs. I do not know whether there is one man opposing the Maynooth Bill upon that principle. When I have found myself the last man in the ship, I think that I am free to leave it.
    • Letter to John Henry Newman (19 April 1845), quoted in The Correspondence of Henry Edward Manning and William Ewart Gladstone: Volume Two, 1844–1853, ed. Peter C. Erb (2013), p. 141
  • 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, and to work through them.
    • Letter to his wife, Catherine Gladstone (12 October 1845), quoted in John Morley, The Life of Wiliam Ewart Gladstone, Volume I (1903), p. 383


  • I believe the slave trade to be by far the foulest crime that taints the history of mankind in any Christian or pagan country.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (19 March 1850)
  • This is the negation of God erected into a system of Government.
    • A letter to the Earl of Aberdeen, on the state prosecutions of the Neapolitan government (7 April 1851), p. 9
  • From the ancient strife of territorial acquisition we are labouring, I trust and believe, to substitute another, a peaceful and a fraternal strife among nations, the honest and the noble race of industry and art.
    • An Examination of the official reply of the Neapolitan Government (1852), p. 50
  • [I]f it be true that, at periods now long past, England has had her full share of influence in stimulating by her example the martial struggles of the world, may she likewise be forward, now and hereafter, to show that she has profited by the heavy lessons of experience, and to be—if, indeed, in the designs of Providence, she is elected to that office—the standard-bearer of the nations upon the fruitful paths of peace, industry, and commerce.
    • An Examination of the official reply of the Neapolitan Government (1852), p. 50
  • [W]hile we have sought to do justice to the great labouring community of England by further extending their relief from indirect taxation, we have not been guided by any desire to put one class against another; we have felt we should best maintain our own honour, that we should best meet the views of Parliament, and best promote the interests of the country, by declining to draw any invidious distinction between class and class, by adopting it to ourselves as a sacred aim, to diffuse and distribute—burden if we must; benefit if we may—with equal and impartial hand; and we have the consolation of believing that by proposals such as these we contribute, as far as in us lies, not only to develop the material resources of the country, but to knit the hearts of the various classes of this great nation yet more closely than heretofore to that Throne and to those institutions under which it is their happiness to live.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (18 April 1853)
  • When we speak of general war, we don't mean real progress on the road of freedom, the real, moral, and social advancement of man, achieved by force. This may be the intention, but how rarely is it the result of general war! We mean this:—That the face of nature is stained with human gore—we mean that taxation is increased and industry diminished—we know that it means that burdens unreasonable and untold are entailed on late posterity—we know that it means that demoralization is let loose, that families are broken up, that lusts become unbridled in every country to which that war is extended.
    • Speech at Manchester (12 October 1853), quoted in The Times (13 October 1853), p. 7
  • All the terms that we demanded have, since the war began, been substantially conceded...My hon. Friend...[said] that we must obtain a success in order that we may secure better terms; but that is not the public and popular sentiment; the popular feeling is, that as to terms there is no great matter at issue, but that what you want is more military success...It is not only indefensible—it is hideous, it is anti-Christian, it is immoral, it is inhuman; and you have no right to make war simply for what you call success. If, when you have obtained the objects of the war, you continue it in order to obtain military glory...I say you tempt the justice of Him in whose hands the fates of armies are as absolutely lodged as the fate of the infant slumbering in its cradle; you tempt Him to launch upon you His wrath; and if this be courage, I, for one, have no courage to enter upon such a course. I believe it to be alike guilty and unwise.
  • There is but one way of maintaining permanently what I may presume to call the great international policy and law of Europe—but one way of keeping within bounds any one of the Powers possessed of such strength as France, England, or Russia, if it be bent on an aggressive policy, and that is, by maintaining not so much great fleets, or other demonstrations of physical force, which I believe to be really an insignificant part of the case, but the moral union—the effective concord of Europe.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (3 August 1855)
  • There is a policy going a begging; the general policy that Sir Robert Peel in 1841 took office to support—the policy of peace abroad, of economy, of financial equilibrium, of steady resistance to abuses, and promotion of practical improvements at home, with a disinclination to questions of reform, gratuitously raised.
    • Letter to Whitwell Elwin (2 December 1856), quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume I (1903), p. 553
  • To maintain a steady surplus of income over expenditure—to lower indirect taxes when excessive in amount for the relief of the people and bearing in mind the reproductive power inherent in such operations—to simplify our fiscal system by concentrating its pressure on a few well chosen articles of extended consumption—and to conciliate support to the income tax by marking its temporary character and by associating it with beneficial changes in the laws: these aims have been for fifteen years the labour of our life.
    • Memorandum (14 February 1857), quoted in John Brooke and Mary Sorensen (eds.), The Prime Minister's Papers: W. E. Gladstone. III: Autobiographical Memoranda 1845–1866 (1978), p. 215
  • War taken at the best is a frightful scourge to the human race; but because it is so the wisdom of ages has surrounded it with strict laws and usages, and has required formalities to be observed which shall act as a curb upon the wild passions of man, to prevent that scourge from being let loose unless under circumstances of full deliberation and from absolute necessity. You have dispensed with all these precautions.
  • At a time when sentiments are so much divided, every man I trust, will give his vote with the recollection and the consciousness that it may depend upon his single vote whether the miseries, the crimes, the atrocities that I fear are now proceeding in China are to be discountenanced or not. We have now come to the crisis of the case. England is not yet committed. But if an adverse vote be given...England will have been committed. With you then, with us, with every one of us, it rests to show that this House, which is the first, the most ancient, and the noblest temple of freedom in the world, is also the temple of that everlasting justice without which freedom itself would be only a name or only a curse to mankind. And I cherish the trust and belief that when you, Sir, rise in your place to-night to declare the numbers of the division from the chair which you adorn, the words which you speak will go forth from the walls of the House of Commons, not only as a message of mercy and peace, but also as a message of British justice and British wisdom, to the farthest corners of the world.
  • Decision by majorities is as much an expedient, as lighting by gas.
    • Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age (Oxford University Press, 1858), p. 116.
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.
  • 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
  • What has been the state of things since 1853? It is useless to blink the fact that not merely within the circle of the public departments and of Cabinets, but throughout the country at large, and within the precincts of this House—the guardians of the purse of the people—the spirit of public economy has been relaxed; charges upon the public funds of every kind have been admitted from time to time upon slight examination; every man's petition and prayer for this or that expenditure has been conceded with a facility which I do not hesitate to say you have only to continue for some five or ten years longer in order to bring the finances of the country into a state of absolute confusion.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (21 July 1859) against Benjamin Disraeli's Budget


  • 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
  • [T]he great aim—the moral and political significance of the act, and its probable and desired fruit in binding the two countries together by interest and affection. Neither you nor I attach for the moment any superlative value to this Treaty for the sake of the extension of British trade. ... What I look to is the social good, the benefit to the relations of the two countries, and the effect on the peace of Europe.
    • Letter to Richard Cobden (c. 1860), quoted in H. C. G. Matthew, Gladstone, 1809–1874 (1986), p. 113
  • Sir, there was once a time when close relations of amity were established between the Governments of England and France. It was in the reign of the later Stuarts; and it marks a dark spot in our annals, because it was an union formed in a spirit of domineering ambition on the one side, and of base and vile subserviency on the other. But that, Sir, was not an union of the nations; it was an union of the Governments. This is not be an union of the Governments; it is to be an union of the nations.
  • Our proposals involve a great reform in our tariff, they involve a large remission of taxation, and last of all, though not least, they include that Commercial Treaty with France... By pursuing such a course as this it will be in your power to scatter blessings among the people, and blessings which are among the soundest and most wholesome of all the blessings at your disposal, because in legislation of this kind you are not forging mechanical helps for men, nor endeavouring to do that for them which they ought to do for themselves; but you are enlarging their means without narrowing their freedom, you are giving value to their labour, you are appealing to their sense of responsibility, and you are not impairing their sense of honourable self-dependence.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (10 February 1860)
  • For my own part I am deeply convinced that all excess in the public expenditure beyond the legitimate wants of the country is not only a pecuniary waste—for that is a comparatively trifling matter—but a great political and a great moral evil. It is a characteristic of the mischief which arise from financial prodigality, that they creep onwards with a noiseless and surreptitious step; that they are unseen and unfelt until they have reached a magnitude absolutely overwhelming, and then at length, we see them, as perhaps they now exist in the case of one at least among the great European nations, so fearful and menacing in their aspect that they seem to threaten the very foundations of national existence.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (15 April 1861)
  • [T]he right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud says of this Budget...[that] it is a mortal stab at the Constitution. I want to know to what Constitution does it give a mortal stab? In my opinion it gives no mortal stab, and no stab at all. But, on the contrary, so far as it alters anything in the most recent practice, it alters in the direction of restoring that good old Constitution which took its root in Saxon times, which grew under the Plantagenets, which endured the hard rule of the Tudors, and resisted the aggressions of the Stuarts, and which has now come to such perfect maturity under the rule of the House of Brunswick.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (16 May 1861)
  • We may have our own opinions about slavery; 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. I cannot but believe that that event is as certain as any event yet future and countingent can be.
    • Speech on the American Civil War, Town Hall, Newcastle upon Tyne (7 October 1862), quoted in The Times (9 October 1862), pp. 7-8
  • 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 in The Life of William Ewart Gladstone. Volume II (1903) by John Morley, p. 62
To be engaged in opposing wrong affords, under the conditions of our mental constitution, but a slender guarantee for being right.
  • 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. ...fitness for the franchise, when it is shown to exist—as I say it is shown to exist in the case of a select portion of the working class—is not repelled on sufficient grounds from the portals of the Constitution by the allegation that things are well as they are. I contend, moreover, that persons who have prompted the expression of such sentiments as those to which I have referred, and whom I know to have been Members of the working class, are to be presumed worthy and fit to discharge the duties of citizenship, and that to admission to the discharge of those duties they are well and justly entitled.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (11 May 1864)
  • What are the qualities which fit a man for the exercise of a privilege such as the franchise? Self-command, self-control, respect for order, patience under suffering, confidence in the law, regard for superiors.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (11 May 1864)
  • As to his Goddess Reason, I understand by it simply an adoption of what are called on the continent the principles of the French Revolution. These we neither want nor warmly relish in England.
    • Letter to Henry Edward Manning after Giuseppe Garibaldi's visit to Britain (c. July 1864), quoted in The Correspondence of Henry Edward Manning and William Ewart Gladstone: Volume Three, 1861–1875, ed. Peter C. Erb (2013), p. 28
  • At last, my friends, I am come amongst you. And I am come…unmuzzled.
    • Speech to the electors of South Lancashire. (18 July 1865)
  • I am a member of a Liberal Government. I am in association with the Liberal party. I have never swerved from what I conceived to be those truly Conservative objects and desires with which I entered life. I am, if possible, more fondly attached to the institutions of my country than I was when as a boy I wandered among the sand-hills of Seaforth or the streets of Liverpool. But experience has brought with it its lessons. I have learnt that there is wisdom in a policy of trust, and folly in a policy of mistrust. I have not refused to receive the signs of the times. I have observed the effect that has been produced by Liberal legislation, and if we are told...that all the feelings of the country are in the best and broadest sense Conservative,—that is to say, that the people value the country and the laws and institutions of the country; if we are told that, I say honesty compels us to admit that result has been brought about by Liberal legislation.
    • Speech at Liverpool (18 July 1865), quoted in The Times (19 July 1865), p. 11.
  • The position of England, gentlemen, is a peculiar position in the world. England has inherited from bygone ages more, perhaps, of what was most august and venerable in those ages than any other European country, and at the same time that her traditions of the past are so rich and fruitful that all our minds and all our characters have both within our knowledge and beyond our knowledge been largely moulded by them. ... [G]eographically she stands with Europe on one side of her and America on the other, so she stands between those feudal institutions in which European society was formed, and which have given her hierarchy of class, and on the other side those principles of equality forming the basis of society in America.
    • Speech to the Liverpool Liberal Association (6 April 1866), quoted in The Times (7 April 1866), p. 9
  • It is sometimes said that the measure we propose is a democratic measure. The word “democracy” has very different senses, if by democracy be meant liberty—if by democracy be meant the extension to each man in his own sphere of every privilege and of every franchise that he can exercise with advantage to himself and with safety to the State,—then I must confess I don't see much to alarm us in the word democracy. (Cheers.) But if by democracy be meant the enthroning of ignorance against knowledge, the setting up of vice in opposition to virtue, the disregard of rank, the forgetfulness of what our fathers have done for us, indifference or coldness with regard to the inheritance we enjoy, then, Gentlemen, I for one—and I believe for all I have the honour to address—am in that sense the enemy of democracy.
    • Speech to the Liverpool Liberal Association (6 April 1866), quoted in The Times (7 April 1866), p. 9
  • My position then, Sir, in regard to the Liberal party is in all points the opposite of Earl Russell's. ... I have none of the claims he possesses. I came among you an outcast from those with whom I associated, driven from them, I admit, by no arbitrary act, but by the slow and resistless forces of conviction. I came among you, to make use of the legal phraseology, in pauperis forma. I had nothing to offer you but faithful and honourable service. ... You received me with kindness, indulgence, generosity, and I may even say with some measure of confidence. And the relation between us has assumed such a form that you never can be my debtors, but that I must for ever be in your debt.
    • Speech in the House of Commons on the Second Reading of the Representation of the People Bill (27 April 1866)
  • [T]here appeared to me to have grown up under the present Government a system of what I called, in regard to the public expenditure, making things pleasant all round. That means going from town to town, granting what this community wants, granting what that community wants, granting what the other community wants, and leaving out of sight that huge public which unfortunately has not got the voices and the advocates ready always to defend it against these local and particular claims, but of which it is our highest boast that we seek to be the advocates and the champions.
    • Speech in Leigh, Lancashire (20 October 1868), quoted in The Times (21 October 1868), p. 11
  • If you want to be served you must draw the distinction between those who want to serve you and those who don't, and if the electors of South Lancashire and of the country generally are contented to allow this method of expenditure to go on, this Continental system of feeding the desires of classes and portions of the community at the expense of the whole—it is idle for you to satisfy yourselves with vague and general promises. ... If that is to be the system on which public finance is to be administered you must be prepared to resign all hopes of remission of taxation, even in good years, and in bad years you must look for a steady augmentation of the income-tax.
    • Speech in Leigh, Lancashire (20 October 1868), quoted in The Times (21 October 1868), p. 11
  • [W]e find and we know that this attempt in Ireland to make the power and influence of the State the means of supporting one creed against another has been the plague and the scourge of the country—has divided man from man, class from class, kingdom from kingdom, and in this great, and ancient, and noble empire has had the effect of now exhibiting us to the world as a divided country—three kingdoms, two of which we are indeed heartily united and associated, but the third of which offers to mankind a spectacle painful and full of schism and destruction within itself, and alienation and estrangement as regards the Throne and Constitution of this realm.
    • Speech in the assembly-rooms at Wavertree (14 November 1868), quoted in The Times (16 November 1868), p. 5
  • 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


  • Hephaistos bears in Homer the double stamp of a Nature-Power, representing the element of fire, and of an anthropomorphic deity who is the god of art at a period when the only fine art known was in works of metal produced by the aid of fire.
    • Jeventus Mundi: The Gods and Men of the Heroic Age (1870) p. 289.
  • The transfer of the allegiance and citizenship, of no small part of the heart and life, of human beings from one sovereignty to another, without any reference to their own consent, has been a great reproach to some former transactions in Europe; has led to many wars and disturbances; is hard to reconcile with considerations of equity; and is repulsive to the sense of modern civilization.
    • Letter to Lord Granville (24 September 1870), quoted in Harold Temperley and Lillian M. Penson, Foundations of British Foreign Policy from Pitt (1792) to Salisbury (1902) or Documents, Old and New (1938), pp. 325–326
  • I am much oppressed with the idea that this transfer of human beings like chattels should go forward without any voice from collective Europe if it be disposed to speak.
    • Letter to Lord Granville on Germany's annexation of Alsace-Lorraine (30 September 1870), quoted in Agatha Ramm (ed.), The Gladstone–Granville Correspondence [1952] (1998), p. 135
  • In moral forces, and in their growing effect upon European politics, I have a great faith: possibly on that very account, I am free to confess, sometimes a misleading one.
    • Letter to Lord Granville (8 October 1870), quoted in Harold Temperley and Lillian M. Penson, Foundations of British Foreign Policy from Pitt (1792) to Salisbury (1902) or Documents, Old and New (1938), p. 323
  • On the whole, it seems reasonable to hope that the practical character of our Teutonic cousins [Germany], together with their huge actual mass of domestic sorrows, will assist them to settle down into a mood of peace and goodwill. But whether they do or not, it is idle to apprehend that they have before them a career of universal conquest or absolute predominance, and that the European family is not strong enough to correct the eccentricities of its pecant and obstreperous members.
    • ‘Germany, France, and England’, Edinburgh Review (October 1870), quoted in W. E. Gladstone, Gleanings of Past Years, 1843–78. Vol. IV. Foreign (1879), p. 249
  • Certain it is that a new law of nations is gradually taking hold of the mind, and coming to sway the practice, of the world; a law which recognises independence, which frowns upon aggression, which favours the pacific, not the bloody settlement of disputes, which aims at permanent and not temporary adjustments; above all, which recognises, as a tribunal of paramount authority, the general judgment of civilised mankind. It has censured the aggression of France; it will censure, if need arise, the greed of Germany. “Securus judicat orbis terrarum.” It is hard for all nations to go astray. Their ecumenical council sits above the partial passions of those, who are misled by interest, and disturbed by quarrel. The greatest triumph of our time, a triumph in a region loftier than that of electricity and steam, will be the enthronement of this idea of Public Right, as the governing idea of European policy; as the common and precious inheritance of all lands, but superior to the passing opinion of any.
    • ‘Germany, France, and England’, Edinburgh Review (October 1870), quoted in W. E. Gladstone, Gleanings of Past Years, 1843–78. Vol. IV. Foreign (1879), pp. 256–257
  • 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.
    • Speech in the House of Commons on the Women's Disabilities Bill (3 May 1871)
  • In London it was not the interests of class which were specially concentrated. It was there that wealth was all-powerful; and wealth has taken desperate offence at their actions during the present year because the Government recommended to Parliament that power in the English army shall no longer be the prize of wealth, but the reward of merit.
    • Speech in Whitby on the Cardwell Reforms (2 September 1871), quoted in The Times (4 September 1871), p. 12
  • [T]he establishment of freedom of trade and of a general disposition to remove from trade every possible restriction and every possible burden...has been the main agent in raising the commerce of the United Kingdom to that extraordinary position it has now attained. I apprehend that I am stating the matter very moderately if I put it thus, that in the course of the last 30 years our population has increased somewhere about 25 or 30 per cent., while our trade in the same period has increased in the ratio of certainly something not much under 400 per cent.
    • Speech in Wakefield (5 September 1871), quoted in The Times (6 September 1871), p. 3
  • Not a drop of blood runs in my veins except Scotch blood, and a large share of my heart ever has belonged, and ever will belong, to Scotland.
    • Speech in Aberdeen upon receiving the freedom of the city (26 September 1871), quoted in The Times (27 September 1871), p. 6
  • They are not your friends, but they are your enemies in fact, though not in intention, who teach you to look to the Legislature for the radical removal of the evils that afflict human life... It is the individual mind and conscience, it is the individual character, on which mainly human happiness or misery depends. (Cheers.) The social problems that confront us are many and formidable. Let the Government labour to its utmost, let the Legislature labour days and nights in your service; but, after the very best has been attained and achieved, the question whether the English father is to be the father of a happy family and the centre of a united home is a question which must depend mainly upon himself. (Cheers.) And those who...promise to the dwellers in towns that every one of them shall have a house and garden in free air, with ample space; those who tell you that there shall be markets for selling at wholesale prices retail quantities—I won't say are imposters, because I have no doubt they are sincere; but I will say they are quacks (cheers); they are deluded and beguiled by a spurious philanthropy, and when they ought to give you substantial, even if they are humble and modest boons, they are endeavouring, perhaps without their own consciousness, to delude you with fanaticism, and offering to you a fruit which, when you attempt to taste it, will prove to be but ashes in your mouths. (Cheers.)
    • Speech in Blackheath (28 October 1871), quoted in The Times (30 October 1871), p. 3
  • 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]f these islands were to be annexed they would present to us, in the most aggravated form, the difficulty arising from marked differences of race, which occurred already in some of our colonial possessions. Where the superior race was very large in numbers, and the less developed and less civilized race were small, the difficulty was little felt. In Porto Rico, for example, although there was a very large number of negroes—now, happily, no longer slaves—yet the number of Whites was extremely large in comparison, and the slave emancipation had been effected without difficulty. Jamaica was not like Porto Rico. The Whites were very small in number in Jamaica compared with the less developed race.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (13 June 1873)
  • [Y]ours is an ancient language, and the language is connected with an ancient history, and it is connected with an ancient music and with an ancient literature. I say that...it is a venerable relic of the past, and there is no greater folly circulating upon the earth, either at this moment or at any other time, than the disposition to under value the past and to break those links which unite the human beings of the present day with the generations that have passed away and have been called to their account. If we wish really to promote the progress of civilization never let us neglect, never let us undervalue, never let us cease to reverence the past. Rely upon it the man who does not worthily estimate his own dead forefathers will himself do very little to add credit or honour to his country... [Y]our laudable and patriotic efforts will come to be more and more understood and regarded by the English people at large, and that prosperity and honour will attend the meetings by which you endeavour to preserve and to commemorate the ancient history, the ancient deeds, and the ancient literature of your country, the Principality of Wales.
    • Inaugural address to the opening of the Eisteddfod in Mold, of which Gladstone was President (19 August 1873), quoted in The Times (20 August 1873), p. 5
  • For myself, I said, not in education only but in all things, including education, I prefer voluntary to legal machinery, when the thing can be well done either way.
    • Letter to John Bright (21 August 1873), quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume II (1903), p. 646
  • Individual servitude, however abject, will not satisfy the Latin Church. The State must also be a slave.
    • The Vatican Decrees in their Bearing on Civil Allegiance: A Political Exposition (November 1874), quoted in All Roads lead to Rome? The Ecumenical Movement (2004) by Michael de Semlyen
  • The history of nations is a melancholy chapter, that is, the history of their Governments. I am sorrowfully of opinion that, though virtue of splendid quality dwells in high regions with individuals, it is chiefly to be found on a large scale with the masses; and the history of nations is one of the most immoral parts of human history.
    • Letter to Olga Novikoff (1876), quoted in Olga Novikoff, Russian Memories (1916), p. 219
  • 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
  • The operations of commerce are not confined to the material ends; that there is no more powerful agent in consolidating and in knitting together the amity of nations; and that the great moral purpose of the repression of human passions, and those lusts and appetites which are the great cause of war, is in direct relation with the understanding and application of the science which you desire to propagate.
  • [T]he effect of that [Crimean] war was ... to substitute a European conscience, expressed by collective guarantee and the concerted and general action of the European Powers for the sole and individual action of one of them. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of that principle.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (31 July 1876)
  • 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
Selfishness is the greatest curse of the human race.
  • Let the Turks now carry away their abuses, in the only possible manner, namely, by carrying off themselves. Their Zaptiehs and their Mudirs, their Bimbashis and Yuzbashis, their Kaimakams and their Pashas, one and all, bag and baggage, shall, I hope, clear out from the province that they have desolated and profaned. This thorough riddance, this most blessed deliverance, is the only reparation we can make to those heaps and heaps of dead, the violated purity alike of matron and of maiden and of child; to the civilization which has been affronted and shamed; to the laws of God, or, if you like, of Allah; to the moral sense of mankind at large. There is not a criminal in a European jail, there is not a criminal in the South Sea Islands, whose indignation would not rise and over-boil at the recital of that which has been done, which has too late been examined, but which remains unavenged, which has left behind all the foul and all the fierce passions which produced it and which may again spring up in another murderous harvest from the soil soaked and reeking with blood and in the air tainted with every imaginable deed of crime and shame. That such things should be done once is a damning disgrace to the portion of our race which did them; that the door should be left open to their ever so barely possible repetition would spread that shame over the world!
  • Let me endeavour, very briefly to sketch, in the rudest outline what the Turkish race was and what it is. It is not a question of Mohammedanism simply, but of Mohammedanism compounded with the peculiar character of a race. They are not the mild Mohammedans of India, nor the chivalrous Saladins of Syria, nor the cultured Moors of Spain. They were, upon the whole, from the black day when they first entered Europe, the one great anti-human specimen of humanity. Wherever they went a broad line of blood marked the track behind them, and, as far as their dominion reached, civilization vanished from view. They represented everywhere government by force as opposed to government by law. – Yet a government by force can not be maintained without the aid of an intellectual element. – Hence there grew up, what has been rare in the history of the world, a kind of tolerance in the midst of cruelty, tyranny and rapine. Much of Christian life was contemptuously left alone and a race of Greeks was attracted to Constantinople which has all along made up, in some degree, the deficiencies of Turkish Islam in the element of mind!
  • There is an undoubted and smart rally on behalf of Turkey in the metropolitan press. It is in the main representative of the ideas and opinions of what are called the upper ten thousand. From this body there has never on any occasion within my memory proceeded the impulse that has prompted, and finally achieved, any of the great measures which in the last half century have contributed so much to the fame and happiness of England. They did not emancipate the dissenters, Roman catholics, and Jews. They did not reform the parliament. They did not liberate the negro slave. They did not abolish the corn law. They did not take the taxes off the press. They did not abolish the Irish established church. They did not cheer on the work of Italian freedom and reconstitution. Yet all these things have been done; and done by other agencies than theirs, and despite their opposition.
    • Letter to Olga Novikoff (17 October 1876), quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume II (1903), p. 557
  • There is, in fact, a great deal of resemblance between the system which prevails in Turkey and the old system of negro slavery. In some respects it is less bad than negro slavery, and in other respects a great deal worse. It is worse in this respect, that in the case of negro slavery, at any rate, it was a race of higher capacities ruling over a race of lower capacities; but in the case of this system, it is unfortunately a race of lower capacities which rules over a race of higher capacities.
  • Sir, there were other days, when England was the hope of freedom. Wherever in the world a high aspiration was entertained, or a noble blow was struck, it was to England that the eyes of the oppressed were always turned—to this favourite, this darling home of so much privilege and so much happiness, where the people that had built up a noble edifice for themselves would, it was well known, be ready to do what in them lay to secure the benefit of the same inestimable boon for others. You talk to me of the established tradition and policy in regard to Turkey. I appeal to an established tradition, older, wider, nobler far—a tradition not which disregards British interests, but which teaches you to seek the promotion of those interests in obeying the dictates of honour and of justice.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (7 May 1877)
  • My opinion is and has long been that the vital principle of the Liberal party, like that of Greek art, is action, and that nothing but action will ever make it worthy of the name of a party.
    • Letter to Lord Granville (19 May 1877), quoted in Agatha Ramm (ed.), The Gladstone–Granville Correspondence, 1876–1886 (1962), p. 40
  • You will find, I think, that the predominating idea of Conservatism is the Egyptian principle of repose; but in our Liberal Party we have got the Greek idea of life and motion.
    • Speech in Birmingham (31 May 1877), quoted in The Times (1 June 1877), p. 10
  • Nonconformity...still supplies, to so great an extent, the backbone of British Liberalism.
    • ‘The County Franchise, and Mr. Lowe Thereon’, The Nineteenth Century (November 1877), quoted in W. E. Gladstone, Gleanings of Past Years, 1843-1878, Vol. I (1879), p. 158
  • I feel with a peculiar sympathy all that relates to Scotland. The natives of Scotland, and all those who have Scotch blood in their veins—particularly if, like me, they only have Scotch blood in their veins—are not apt to forget the country from which they sprang. They know its great qualities. They know the solidity of its character.
    • Speech in Westminster Palace Hotel (23 May 1878), quoted in The Times (24 May 1878), p. 12
  • Liberty is never safe.
    • Said to the Countess Russell and recorded in her diary, Lady John Russell: A Memoir (1910), edited by Desmond McCarthy and Agatha Russell. p. 252
  • [T]he argument of unequal capacity does not tell so uniformly against the more numerous classes of the community as might be supposed. Whether from moral causes, or for whatever other reason, the popular judgment, on a certain number of important questions, is more just than that of the higher order.
    • ‘Postscriptum on the County Franchise’, The Nineteenth Century (July 1878), quoted in W. E. Gladstone, Gleanings of Past Years, 1843-1878, Vol. I (1879), p. 198
  • 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.
  • It is [America] alone who, at a coming time, can, and probably will, wrest from us that commercial primacy. We have no title, I have no inclination, to murmur at the prospect... We have no more title against her than Venice, or Genoa, or Holland, has had against us.
    • 'Kin beyond Sea', The North American Review Vol. 127, No. 264 (Sep.-Oct., 1878), p. 180
  • The English people are not believers in equality; they do not, with the famous Declaration of July 4, 1776, think it to be a self-evident truth that all men are born equal. They hold rather the reverse of that proposition. At any rate, in practice they are what I may call determined inequalitarians; nay, in some cases, even without knowing it. Their natural tendency, from the very base of British society, and through all its strongly-built gradations, is to look upward... The sovereign is the highest height of the system; is, in that system, like Jupiter among the Roman gods, first without a second... It is the wisdom of the British Constitution to lodge the personality of its chief so high that none shall under any circumstances be tempted to vie, or to dream of vying, with it.
    • 'Kin beyond Sea', The North American Review Vol. 127, No. 264 (Sep.-Oct., 1878), p. 202
  • National injustice is the surest road to national downfall.
    • Speech, Plumstead (30 November 1878) as quoted in Congressional Record, vol. 57, p. 4503
  • 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) as quoted in The Annual Register of World Events: A Review of the Year, Volume 120, p. 208
  • [T]he great duty of a Government, especially in foreign affairs, is to soothe and tranquillize the minds of the people, not to set up false phantoms of glory which are to delude them into calamity, not to flatter their infirmities by leading them to believe that they are better than the rest of the world, and so to encourage the baleful spirit of domination; but to proceed upon a principle that recognises the sisterhood and equality of nations, the absolute equality of public right among them; above all, to endeavour to produce and to maintain a temper so calm and so deliberate in the public opinion of the country, that none shall be able to disturb it.
    • Speech in Edinburgh (25 November 1879), quoted in W. E. Gladstone, Midlothian Speeches 1879 (Leicester University Press, 1971), p. 37.
  • I wish to dissipate, if I can, the idle dreams of those who are always telling you that the strength of England depends, sometimes they say upon its prestige, sometimes they say upon its extending its Empire, or upon what it possesses beyond the seas. Rely upon it the strength of Great Britain and Ireland is within the United Kingdom.
    • Speech in Edinburgh (25 November 1879), quoted in W. E. Gladstone, Midlothian Speeches 1879 (Leicester University Press, 1971), p. 46.
National injustice is the surest road to national downfall.
  • 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. My second principle of foreign policy is this—that its aim ought to be to preserve to the nations of the world—and especially, were it but for shame, when we recollect the sacred name we bear as Christians, especially to the Christian nations of the world—the blessings of peace. That is my second principle.
    • Speech in West Calder, Scotland (27 November 1879), quoted in W. E. Gladstone, Midlothian Speeches 1879 (Leicester University Press, 1971), p. 115.
  • In my opinion the third sound principle is this—to strive to cultivate and maintain, ay, to the very uttermost, what is called the concert of Europe; to keep the Powers of Europe in union together. And why? Because by keeping all in union together you neutralize and fetter and bind up the selfish aims of each. I am not here to flatter either England or any of them. They have selfish aims, as, unfortunately, we in late years have too sadly shown that we too have had selfish aims; but then common action is fatal to selfish aims. Common action means common objects; and the only objects for which you can unite together the Powers of Europe are objects connected with the common good of them all. That, gentlemen, is my third principle of foreign policy.
    • Speech in West Calder, Scotland (27 November 1879), quoted in W. E. Gladstone, Midlothian Speeches 1879 (Leicester University Press, 1971), pp. 115-116.
  • My fourth principle is—that 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 in West Calder, Scotland (27 November 1879), quoted in W. E. Gladstone, Midlothian Speeches 1879 (Leicester University Press, 1971), p. 116.
  • My fifth principle is...to acknowledge the equal rights of all nations. You may sympathize with one nation more than another. Nay, you must sympathize in certain circumstances with one nation more than another. You sympathize most with those nations, as a rule, with which you have the closest connection in language, in blood, and in religion, or whose circumstances at the time seem to give the strongest claim to sympathy. But in point of right all are equal, and you have no right to set up a system under which one of them is to be placed under moral suspicion or espionage, or to be made the constant subject of invective. If you do that, but especially if you claim for yourself a superiority, a pharisaical superiority over the whole of them, then I say you may talk about your patriotism if you please, but you are a misjudging friend of your country, and in undermining the basis of the esteem and respect of other people for your country you are in reality inflicting the severest injury upon it.
    • Speech in West Calder, Scotland (27 November 1879), quoted in W. E. Gladstone, Midlothian Speeches 1879 (Leicester University Press, 1971), pp. 116-117.
  • [My sixth principle is that] the foreign policy of England should always be inspired by the love of freedom. 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 in West Calder, Scotland (27 November 1879), quoted in W. E. Gladstone, Midlothian Speeches 1879 (Leicester University Press, 1971), p. 117.
  • Of all the principles, gentlemen, of foreign policy which I attach the greatest value is the principle of the equality of nations; because, without recognising that principle, there is no such thing as public right, and without public international right there is no instrument available for settling the transactions of mankind except material force. Consequently, the principle of equality among nations lies, in my opinion, at the very basis and root of a Christian civilisation, and when that principle is compromised or abandoned, with it must depart our hopes of tranquillity and of progress for mankind.
    • Speech in West Calder, Scotland (27 November 1879), quoted in W. E. Gladstone, Midlothian Speeches 1879 (Leicester University Press, 1971), p. 123.
  • What did the two words "Liberty and Empire" mean in the Roman mouth? They meant simply this: liberty for ourselves, empire over the rest of mankind.
    • Speech in West Calder, Scotland (27 November 1879), quoted in The Times (28 November 1878), p. 10. The Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli had proclaimed his policy as "Imperium et Libertas".
  • 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 in Edinburgh (29 November 1879), quoted in Gladstone as Financier and Economist (1931) by F. W. Hirst, p. 243
  • [T]hat Chancellor of the Exchequer is the very man who comes down to corrupt whatever there is of financial virtue in us, and to instil into our minds those seductive and poisonous ideas that it does not, after all, matter very much if there is a deficit, and that it is extremely disagreeable when commerce is not in the most flourishing state to call upon the people to pay. Was that the practice of Sir Robert Peel? ... he came to Parliament and stood at his place in the House of Commons, pointed out the figures as they stood, and said to them—I ask you, will you resort to the "miserable expedient" of tolerating deficit, and of making provision by loans from year to year? That which he denounced as the "miserable expedient" has become the standing law, has become almost the financial gospel of the Government that is now in power.
    • Speech in Edinburgh (29 November 1879), quoted in W. E. Gladstone, Midlothian Speeches 1879 (Leicester University Press, 1971), p. 152
  • The Government of India is the most arduous and perhaps the noblest trust ever undertaken by a nation.
    • Speech in Glasgow (5 December 1879), quoted in Michael Balfour, Britain and Joseph Chamberlain (1985), p. 212


  • There was no instalment of Free Trade, which need be taken into our account, before 1842. ... I therefore take 1843 as the first operative year of the first instalment of Liberal legislation under what was called the new Tariff. The second instalment was the new Tariff of 1845. The third instalment was the repeal of the Corn Laws at the opening of 1849, together with the repeal of the Navigation Laws during the Parliamentary Session of that year. The fourth was the new Tariff of 1853, accompanied with the repeal of the Soap Duties and other changes. The fifth and last great instalment was granted by the Customs Act of 1860, which at length gave nearly universal effect to the following principles:
    1. That neither on raw produce, nor on food, nor on manufactured goods, should any duty of a protective character be charged.
    2. That the sums necessary to be levied for the purposes of revenue in the shape of Customs duty should be raised upon the smallest possible number of articles.
    • 'Free Trade, Railways, and the growth of Commerce', The Nineteenth Century, No. XXXVI (February 1880), quoted in The Nineteenth Century, Vol. VII (January–June 1880), p. 374
  • Whether Protection is a universal poison, or whether it may be conceived to operate as food in cases where it is granted for a few years in order to shelter the first investments in a new industry, I do not now inquire. We at least have never seen or known it in that mitigated form. With us it has sheltered nothing but the most selfish instincts of class against the just demands of the public welfare. These it has supplied with strongholds, from whose portals our producers have too generally marched forth in the day of need, armed from head to foot with power and influence largely gotten at the expense of the community, to do battle with a perverted prowess, against nature, liberty, and justice.
    • 'Free Trade, Railways, and the growth of Commerce', The Nineteenth Century, No. XXXVI (February 1880), quoted in The Nineteenth Century, Vol. VII (January–June 1880), p. 377
  • We must fall back upon the broad, the incorruptible power of national liberty; that we decline to recognise any class whatever, be they peers or be they gentry, be they what you like, as entitled to direct the destinies of this nation against the will of the nation.
    • Speech at Pathhead, Scotland (23 March 1880), quoted in Political Speeches in Scotland, March and April 1880 (1880), p. 268
  • [T]he dispositions which led us to become parties to the arbitration on the Alabama case are still with us the same as ever; that we are not discouraged; that we are not damped in the exercise of these feelings by the fact that we were amerced, and severely amerced, by the sentence of the International Tribunal; and that, although we may think the sentence was harsh in its extent, and unjust in its basis, we regard the fine imposed on this country as dust in the balance compared with the moral value of the example set when these two great nations of England and America—which are among the most fiery and the most jealous in the world with regard to anything that touches national honour—went in peace and concord before a judicial tribunal to dispose of these painful differences, rather than to resort to the arbitrament of the sword.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (15 June 1880)
  • 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
  • I am not by any means much pained, but I am much surprised at this rapid development of a national sentiment and party in Egypt. ... ‘Egypt for the Egyptians’ is the sentiment to which I should wish to give scope: and could it prevail it would I think be the best, the only good solution of the ‘Egyptian question’.
    • Letter to Lord Granville (4 January 1882), quoted in The Gladstone Diaries, with Cabinet Minutes and Prime-Ministerial Correspondence: Volume X: January 1881–June 1883, ed. H. C. G. Matthew (1990), p. lxviii
  • Sir, there are three principles, greater than all others, on which, in my opinion, all good finance should be based. The first of them is that there should always be a certainty that whatever the charge may be it can be paid. That, I believe, is of vital importance. The second is that, in times of peace and prosperity, the people of the country should reduce their Debt; and the third point is that they should reduce their Expenditure.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (24 April 1882)
  • What is meant by "Boycotting?" In the first place, it is combined intimidation. In the second place, it is combined intimidation made use of for the purpose of destroying the private liberty of choice by fear of ruin and starvation.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (24 May 1882)
  • I have had the honour to receive the resolutions passed at the meeting recently held in Willis's Rooms, which your lordship has been good enough to forward to me. I can assure your lordship that the subject of those resolutions is engaging the earnest attention of Her Majesty's Government, who will avail themselves of every opportunity for securing the suppression of slavery and the slave trade.
  • What I hope for and desire, what I labour for and have at heart, is to decentralise authority in Ireland. We have disestablished the Church, we have relieved the tenant class of many grievances, and we are now going to produce a state of things which will make the humblest Irishman realise that he is a governing agency and that the government is to be carried on by him and for him.
    • Letter to Georges Clemenceau (winter 1882), quoted in Bernard Henry Holland, The Life of Spencer Compton, Eighth Duke of Devonshire, Volume I (1911), p. 383
  • Do you suppose that we are ignorant that, in every contested election that has happened since the case of Mr. Bradlaugh came up, you have gained votes and we have lost them? You are perfectly aware of it. We are no less aware of it. But, if you are perfectly aware of it, is not some credit to be given to us who are giving you the same under circumstances rather more difficult — is not some credit to be given to us for presumptive integrity and purity of motive? Sir, the Liberal Party has suffered, and is suffering, on this account. It is not the first time in its history. It is the old story over again. In every controversy that has arisen about the extension of religious toleration, and about the abatement and removal of disqualifications, in every controversy relating to religious toleration and religious disabilities, the Liberal Party has suffered before, and it is now, perhaps, suffering again; and yet it has not been a Party which, upon the whole, has had, during the last half century, the smallest or the feeblest hold upon the affections and approval of the people. Who suffered from the Protestantism of the country? It was that Party — with valuable aid from individuals, but only individuals, who forfeited their popularity on that account — it was that Party who fought the battle of freedom in the case of the great Roman Catholic controversy, when the name of Protestantism was invoked with quite as great effect as the name of Theism is now, and the Petitions poured in quite as freely then as at present. Protestantism stood the shock of the Act of 1829. Then came on the battle of Christianity, and the Christianity of the country was said to be sacrificed by the Liberal Party. There are Gentlemen on the other side of the House who seem to have forgotten all that has occurred, and who are pluming themselves on the admission of Jews into Parliament, as if they had not resisted it with perfect honesty — I make no charge against their honour, and impute no unworthy motive — as if they had not resisted it with quite as much resolution as they are exhibiting on the present occasion. Sir, what I hope is this — that the Liberal Party will not be deterred, by fear or favour, from working steadily onward in the path which it believes to be the path of equity and justice. There is no greater honour to a man than to suffer for what he thinks to be righteous; and there is no greater honour to a Party than to suffer in the endeavour to give effect to the principles which they believe to be just.
    • Except from a speech in the House of Commons (26 April 1883) in support of the atheist Charles Bradlaugh being permitted to take his seat in Parliament.
  • I am convinced that upon every religious, as well as upon every political ground, the true and the wise course is not to deal out religious liberty by halves, by quarters, and by fractions; but to deal it out entire, and to leave no distinction between man and man on the ground of religious differences from one end of the land to the other.
    • Except from a speech in the House of Commons (26 April 1883) in support of the atheist Charles Bradlaugh being permitted to take his seat in Parliament.
  • I must painfully record my opinion that grave injury has been done to religion in many minds — not in instructed minds, but in those which are ill-instructed or partially instructed, which have a large claim on our consideration — in consequence of steps which have, unhappily, been taken. Great mischief has been done in many minds through the resistance offered to the man elected by the constituency of Northampton, which a portion of the community believe to be unjust. When they see the profession of religion and the interests of religion ostensibly associated with what they are deeply convinced is injustice, they are led to questions about religion itself, which they see to be associated with injustice. Unbelief attracts a sympathy which it would not otherwise enjoy; and the upshot is to impair those convictions and that religious faith, the loss of which I believe to be the most inexpressible calamity which can fall either upon a man or upon a nation.
    • Except from a speech in the House of Commons (26 April 1883) in support of the atheist Charles Bradlaugh being permitted to take his seat in Parliament.
  • 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), quoted in Gladstone as Financier and Economist (1931) by F. W. Hirst, p. 258
  • Ideal perfection is not the true basis of English legislation. We look at the attainable; we look at the practicable; and we have too much of English sense to be drawn away by those sanguine delineations of what might possibly be attained in Utopia, from a path which promises to enable us to effect great good for the people of England.
  • The right hon. Gentleman quoted repeatedly this declaration...to keep [rebellion] out of Egypt it is necessary to put it down in the Soudan; and that is the task the right hon. Gentleman desires to saddle upon England. Now, I tell hon. Gentlemen this—that that task means the reconquest of the Soudan. I put aside for the moment all questions of climate, of distance, of difficulties, of the enormous charges, and all the frightful loss of life. There is something worse than that involved in the plan of the right hon. Gentleman. It would be a war of conquest against a people struggling to be free. ["No, no!"] Yes; these are people struggling to be free, and they are struggling rightly to be free.
We must try to make our pounds of produce into tons — or must bring together a number of producers.
  • 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), quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume III (1903), p. 172
  • I have even the hope that...the sense of justice which abides tenaciously in the masses will never knowingly join hands with the Fiend of Jingoism.
    • Letter to Lord Acton (11 February 1885), quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume III (1903), p. 173
  • [An] Established Clergy will always be a tory Corps d'Armée.
    • Letter to Sir William Harcourt (3 July 1885), quoted in H. C. G. Matthew (ed.), The Gladstone Diaries, Volume 10: January 1881-June 1883 (1990), p. clxix
  • 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.
  • I deeply deplore the oblivion into which public economy has fallen; the prevailing disposition to make a luxury of panics, which multitudes seem to enjoy as they would a sensational novel or a highly seasoned cookery; and the leaning of both parties to socialism, which I radically disapprove.
    • Letter to the Duke of Argyll (30 September 1885), quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume III (1903), p. 221
  • Socialism. Here I am 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)
  • I would tell them of my own intention to keep my counsel...and I will venture to recommend them, as an old Parliamentary hand, to do the same.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (21 January 1886)
  • The principle that I am laying down I am not laying down exceptionally for Ireland. It is the very principle upon which, within my recollection, to the immense advantage of the country, we have not only altered, but revolutionized our method of governing the Colonies. ... England tried to pass good laws for the Colonies at that period; but the Colonies said—"We do not want your good laws; we want our own." We admitted the reasonableness of that principle, and it is now coming home to us from across the seas. We have to consider whether it is applicable to the case of Ireland. ... I ask that in our own case we should practise, with firm and fearless hand, what we have so often preached—the doctrine which we have so often inculcated upon others—namely, that the concession of local self-government is not the way to sap or impair, but the way to strengthen and consolidate unity.
  • On the side adverse to the Government are found...in profuse abundance, station, title, wealth, social influence, the professions, or the large majority of them—in a word, the spirit and power of class. These are the main body of the opposing host. Nor is that all. As knights of old had squires, so in the great army of class each enrolled soldier has, as a rule, dependents. The adverse host, then, consists of class and the dependents of class. But this formidable army is in the bulk of its constituent parts the same...that has fought in every one of the great political battles of the last 60 years, and has been defeated. We have had great controversies before this great controversy—on free trade, free navigation, public education, religious equality in civil matters, extension of the suffrage to its present basis. On these and many other great issues the classes have fought uniformly on the wrong side, and have uniformly been beaten by a power more difficult to marshal, but resistless when marshalled—by the upright sense of the nation.
    • Address to the electors of Midlothian, Daily Review (3 May 1886), quoted in The Times (4 May 1886), p. 5.
  • The difference between giving with freedom and dignity on the one side, with acknowledgment and gratitude on the other, and giving under compulsion—giving with disgrace, giving with resentment dogging you at every step of your path—this difference is, in our eyes, fundamental, and this is the main reason not only why we have acted, but why we have acted now. This, if I understand it, is one of the golden moments of our history—one of those opportunities which may come and may go, but which rarely return, or, if they return, return at long intervals, and under circumstances which no man can forecast.
  • Ireland stands at your bar expectant, hopeful, almost suppliant. Her words are the words of truth and soberness. She asks a blessed oblivion of the past, and in that oblivion our interest is deeper than even hers. ...She asks also a boon for the future; and that boon for the future, unless we are much mistaken, will be a boon to us in respect of honour, no less than a boon to her in respect of happiness, prosperity, and peace. Such, Sir, is her prayer. Think, I beseech you, think well, think wisely, think, not for the moment, but for the years that are to come, before you reject this Bill.
  • This I must tell you, if we are compelled to go into it—your position against us, the resolute banding of the great, and the rich, and the noble, and I know not who against the true genuine sense of the people compels us to unveil the truth; and I tell you this—that, so far as I can judge, and so far as my knowledge goes, I grieve to say in the presence of distinguished Irishmen that I know of no blacker or fouler transaction in the history of man than the making of the Union.
    • Speech in Liverpool (28 June 1886), quoted in The Times (29 June 1886), p. 11
  • I will venture to say that upon the one great class of subjects, the largest and the most weighty of them all, where the leading and determining considerations that ought to lead to a conclusion are truth, justice and humanity—upon these, gentlemen, all the world over, I will back the masses against the classes.
    • Speech in Liverpool (28 June 1886), quoted in The Times (29 June 1886), p. 11
  • For real dangers the people of England and Scotland form perhaps the bravest people in the world. At any rate, there is no people in the world to whom they are prepared to surrender or to whom one would ask them to surrender the palm of bravery. But I am sorry to say there is another aspect of the case, and for imaginary dangers there is no people in the world who in a degree is anything like the English in regard to being the victim of absurd and idle fancies. It is notorious all over the world. The French, we think, are an excitable people; but the French stand by in amazement at the passion of fear and fury into which an Englishman will get him when he is dealing with an imaginary danger.
    • Speech in Liverpool (28 June 1886), quoted in The Times (29 June 1886), p. 11
  • They [opponents of Home Rule] say what a dreadful case it will be that after all they predict has come to pass—it never will come to pass—but still, after all that has come to pass, there will be no remedy against Ireland except that of armed force. These gentlemen are extremely shocked at the idea of holding Ireland by armed force. (Laughter.) I want to know how you hold it now? (Prolonged cheering.) I want to know how you held it for these six and eighty years? (A voice. — "Coercison.") You have held it by armed force. Do not conceal from yourselves the fact, do not blind yourselves to the essential features of the cause upon which you have to judge. By force you have held it; by force you are holding it; by love we ask you to hold it. (Loud and prolonged cheering, during which the audience rose and waved their handkerchiefs, and three cheers were asked for and given "for the Grand Old Man.")
    • Speech in Liverpool (28 June 1886), as quoted in The Times (29 June 1886), p. 11
  • I affirm that Welsh nationality is as great a reality as English nationality. It may not be as big a reality in that it does not extend over so large a country, but with the traditions and history of Wales, with the language of Wales (hear, hear), with the religion of Wales (cheers), with the feelings of Wales, I maintain that the Welsh nationality is as true as the nationality of Scotland, to which by blood I exclusively belong.
    • Speech in Swansea (4 June 1887), quoted in The Times (6 June 1887), p. 10
  • What is a public meeting? It is not an anarchical combination—it is not a mob—it is an assemblage of rational beings to which, if the invitation be general, every man has a right to go, and the Government reporter has a right to go, but only like others and subject to the ordinary law. But if instead of appealing to the promoters of the meeting...to afford the Government reporter facilities, if instead of that the method of violence is resorted to, then I say the law was broken by the agents of the law. It is idle to speak to the Irish people of the duty of obeying the law, or to bring in Coercion Bills to make them obey the law, if the very Government that so speaks and that brings in these Bills has agents who violate the law by violently breaking up orderly public meetings, and who are sustained by the Ministers of the Crown in this illegal action.
    • Speech in Nottingham (18 October 1887) referring to the Mitchelstown Massacre, quoted in The Times (19 October 1887), p. 6
  • I have said, and I say again, "Remember Mitchelstown".
    • Speech in Nottingham (18 October 1887), quoted in The Times (19 October 1887), p. 6
  • Public economy is part of public virtue.
    • Letter to Welby (26 October 1887), quoted in Anthony Howe, Free Trade and Liberal England 1846–1946 (1997), p. 19
  • The coercion which has been introduced has not been a coercion against crime...It has been a coercion against combination. And combination—it stands and glares upon us from every page in the history of Ireland—is the only arm by which a poor and destitute and feeble population are able to make good their ground, even in the slightest degree, against the domineering power of the State and of the wealthy with England at their back.
    • Speech in London (9 May 1888), quoted in The Times (10 May 1888), p. 8.
  • This Coercion Act professes to be in the main an Act directed against conspiracy, and conspiracy is a bad thing. But under the name of conspiracy we say that it is directed against combination. Combination is not always a very good thing, but combination is very often the sole means by which the weak can protect themselves against the strong, the poor against the wealthy.
    • Speech in London (30 June 1888), quoted in The Times (2 July 1888), p. 7.
  • Think, ladies and gentlemen, of your "Men of Harlech". In my judgment, for the purpose of a national air...and without disparagement of old "God save the Queen" or anything else, it is perhaps the finest national air in the world.
    • Speech to the Eisteddfod in Wrexham (8 September 1888), quoted in A. W. Hutton and H. J. Cohen (eds.), The Speeches of The Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone on Home Rule, Criminal Law, Welsh and Irish Nationality, National Debt and the Queen's Reign. 1888–1891 (1902), p. 56
  • ...the principle of nationality and the principle of reverence for antiquity—the principle of what I may call local patriotism—is not only an ennobling thing in itself, but has a great economic value. ... The attachment to your country, the attachment among British subjects to Britain, but also the attachment among Welsh-born people to Wales, has in it, in some degrees, the nature both of an appeal to energy and an incentive to its development, and likewise, no few elements of a moral standard; for the Welshman, go where he may, will be unwilling to disgrace the name. It is a matter of familiar observation that even in the extremest east of Europe, wherever free institutions have supplanted a state of despotic government, the invariable effect has been to administer an enormous stimulus to the industrious activity of the country.
    • Speech to the Eisteddfod in Wrexham (8 September 1888), quoted in A. W. Hutton and H. J. Cohen (eds.), The Speeches of The Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone on Home Rule, Criminal Law, Welsh and Irish Nationality, National Debt and the Queen's Reign. 1888–1891 (1902), p. 58
  • The Welsh made a very good and a very hard fight against the English in self-defence, and what was the consequence? That the English were obliged to surround your territory with great castles; and the effect of this has been that, as far as I can reckon, more by far than one-half of the great remains of the castles in the whole island south of the Tweed are castles that surround Wales. That shows that Wales was inhabited by men, and by men who valued and were disposed to struggle for their liberties.
    • Speech to the Eisteddfod in Wrexham (8 September 1888), quoted in A. W. Hutton and H. J. Cohen (eds.), The Speeches of The Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone on Home Rule, Criminal Law, Welsh and Irish Nationality, National Debt and the Queen's Reign. 1888–1891 (1902), p. 61
  • As regards to the sincerity of the Liberal party...I...refer with some confidence to the labours of that party for the last 50 years in setting free both capital and handicraft of all kinds, both from much undue taxation and from restraints devised for the benefit of special interests at the cost of the people at large—labours which have resulted not in a uniform, but in a very general and a very large improvement of the condition of the working community.
    • Reply to the memorial submitted to him by unemployed workmen (18 December 1888), quoted in The Times (20 December 1888), p. 7
  • We are servants of the Crown as well as servants of the people... I am not ashamed to say that in my old age I rejoice in any opportunity which enables me to testify that, whatever may be thought of my opinions, whatever may be thought of my proposals in general politics, I do not forget the service which I have borne for so many years to the illustrious representative of the British Monarchy.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (25 July 1889)
  • The peculiarity of this strike...has been that a great number of separate trades, which have nothing to do with one another...have shown that they intend to make common cause. You may depend upon it that this is a social fact of the highest importance and of very general importance of the future. I believe that the lesson has been learnt from Ireland, and that it is due to the present Government and to its coercive laws in Ireland, and to the necessity which they have laid upon the people of Ireland in different parts of the country which have no connexion with one another to associate together for an object which they believe to be vital to all. I am much inclined to think that the working men of London have learnt this lesson from Ireland.
    • Speech in Cheshire (23 September 1889) on the London dock strike, quoted in The Times (24 September 1889), p. 10
  • An enlightened impartial observer...will be disposed to think that in the common interests of humanity this remarkable strike and the results of this strike, which have tended somewhat to strengthen the condition of labour in the face of capital, is the record of what we ought to regard as satisfactory, as a real social advance; that it tends to a greater, a more uniform, and a more firm establishment of just relations; that it tends to a fair principle of division of the fruits of industry.
    • Speech in Cheshire (23 September 1889) on the London dock strike, quoted in The Times (24 September 1889), p. 10
  • 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
  • The serious disintegration of the Liberal party did not begin in 1886. For a long time the wealthy and the powerful had been detaching themselves from the body of the Liberal party, and finding their most natural associations in Toryism, in stagnation, and in resistance. For many of them it was a perfect godsend when Home Rule turned up and supplied them with a plausible excuse for doing ostensibly or even ostentatiously that which in their hearts they had been longing for an excuse to do.
    • Speech to the National Liberal Federation in Manchester (3 December 1889), quoted in The Times (4 December 1889), p. 6
  • We are not to judge individuals hastily on account of social mischiefs, that may be due to them as a body, through their holding of a position inherited from their forefathers, the whole nature of which they have not had strength and depth of wisdom to detect.
    • ‘Memorials of a Southern Planter’, The Nineteenth Century, Vol. 26, Issue 154 (December 1889), pp. 984-986


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.
  • I think we certainly must recognise...how much ground has been lost by the doctrines of free trade within the last 25 years. It is a great and heavy disappointment. I have no doubt that the dreadful militarism which lies like an incubus, like a vampire upon Europe, is responsible for much of the mischief.
    • Speech in Prince's Hall, Piccadilly (12 May 1890), quoted in The Times (13 May 1890), p. 11
  • Do not let us conceal from ourselves that this country is almost at the present time the solitary citadel of free trade. ... I confidently anticipate...that these doctrines of free trade will in the long run be found to mean nothing in the world except that each man and each country shall turn to the best account, without artificial interference or interruption, the powers and the gifts which God has given them. This is the sum and substance, the Alpha and the Omega, of our creed.
    • Speech in Prince's Hall, Piccadilly (12 May 1890), quoted in The Times (13 May 1890), p. 11
  • I have been a learner all my life, and I am a learner still. ... I have some ideas that may not be thought to furnish good materials for a liberal politician. I do not like changes for their own sake, I only like a change when it is needful to alter something bad into something good, or something which is good into something better. ... [T]he basis of my liberalism is this. It is the lesson which I have been learning ever since I was young. I am a lover of liberty; and that liberty which I value for myself, I value for every human being in proportion to his means and opportunities. That is a basis on which I find it perfectly practicable to work in conjunction with a dislike to unreasoned change and a profound reverence for everything ancient, provided that reverence is deserved.
    • Speech in Norwich (16 May 1890), quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume II (1903), pp. 178–179
  • All selfishness is the great curse of the human race, and when we have a real sympathy with other people less happy than ourselves that is a good sign of something like a beginning of deliverance from selfishness.
    • Speech at Hawarden (28 May 1890), quoted in The Times (29 May 1890), p. 12
  • [T]he practice of thrift is not one of the most distinguishing characteristics of the people of this country. It exists more beyond the border, in Scotland, undoubtedly, than it does in England, but it is increasing, and increasing very much, happily, in England itself. I rejoice to say that it has been in the power of the State to effect this by judicious legislation—not by what is called "grandmotherly legislation", of which I for one have a great deal of suspicion—but by legislation thoroughly sound in principle—namely, that legislation which like your savings bank, helps the people by enabling the people to help themselves.
    • Speech to the annual meeting of the depositors in the provident savings banks connected with the South-Eastern and Metropolitan Railway Companies in the City Terminus Hotel (18 June 1890), quoted in The Times (19 June 1890), p. 6
  • I am not slow to claim the name of Scotchman, and undoubtedly, even if I were slow to claim it, there is the fact staring me in the face that not a drop of blood runs in my veins except what is derived from a Scottish ancestry.
    • Speech in Dundee (29 October 1890), quoted in The Times (30 october 1890), p. 4
  • [T]he finances of the country is intimately associated with the liberties of the country. It is a powerful leverage by which English liberty has been gradually acquired. Running back into the depths of antiquities for many centuries, it lies at the root of English liberty, and if the House of Commons can by any possibility lose the power of the control of the grants of public money, depend upon it your very liberty will be worth very little in comparison.
    • Speech in Hastings (17 March 1891), quoted in A. W. Hutton and H. J. Cohen (eds.), The Speeches of The Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone on Home Rule, Criminal Law, Welsh and Irish Nationality, National Debt and the Queen's Reign. 1888–1891 (1902), p. 343
  • I name next a word that it requires some courage to utter these days—the word of economy. It is like a echo from the distant period of my early life. The wealth of the country, and the vast comparative diffusion of comfort, has, I am afraid, put public economy, at least in its more rigid and severe forms, sadly out of countenance.
    • Speech to the National Liberal Federation in Newcastle (2 October 1891), quoted in A. W. Hutton and H. J. Cohen (eds.), The Speeches of The Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone on Home Rule, Criminal Law, Welsh and Irish Nationality, National Debt and the Queen's Reign. 1888–1891 (1902), p. 377
  • There ought to be a great effort of the Liberal party to extend the labour representation in Parliament. ... And we affirm that it is among the high and indispensable duties of the party...to proceed to provide for the establishment of district councils and parish councils, and thereby to bring self-government to the very doors of the labouring men throughout the country. Further, I will add boldly that it will be their duty to enact compulsory powers for the purpose of enabling suitable bodies to acquire land upon fair and suitable terms, in order to place the rural population in nearer relations to the land, to the use and profit of the land which they have so long tilled for the benefit of others, but for themselves almost in vain.
    • Speech to the National Liberal Federation in Newcastle outlining the Newcastle Programme (2 October 1891), quoted in A. W. Hutton and H. J. Cohen (eds.), The Speeches of The Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone on Home Rule, Criminal Law, Welsh and Irish Nationality, National Debt and the Queen's Reign. 1888–1891 (1902), pp. 383-384, 386
  • That reform of the land laws, that abolition of the present system of entail, together with just facilities for the transfer of land, is absolutely necessary in order to do anything like common justice to those who inhabit the rural parts of this country, and whom, instead of seeing them, as we now see them, dwindle from one census to another, I, for my part, and I believe you, along with me, would heartily desire to see maintained, not in their present number only, but in increasing numbers over the whole surface of the land.
    • Speech to the National Liberal Federation in Newcastle outlining the Newcastle Programme (2 October 1891), quoted in A. W. Hutton and H. J. Cohen (eds.), The Speeches of The Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone on Home Rule, Criminal Law, Welsh and Irish Nationality, National Debt and the Queen's Reign. 1888–1891 (1902), p. 386
  • It is a lamentable fact if, in the midst of our civilization, and at the close of the nineteenth century, the workhouse is all that can be offered to the industrious labourer at the end of a long and honourable life. I do not enter into the question now in detail. I do not say it is an easy one; I do not say that it will be solved in a moment; but I do say this, that until society is able to offer to the industrious labourer at the end of a long and blameless life something better than the workhouse, society will not have discharged its duties to its poorer members.
    • Speech in London (11 December 1891), quoted in The Times (12 December 1891), p. 7
  • I think I can truly put up all the change that has come into my politics into a sentence; I was brought up to distrust and dislike liberty, I learned to believe in it. That is the key to all my changes.
    • Remarks to John Morley (27 December 1891), quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone. Vol. III (1880-1898) (1903), pp. 474–475
  • There is a saying of Burke's from which I must utterly dissent. "Property is sluggish and inert." Quite the contrary. Property is vigilant, active, sleepless; if ever it seems to slumber, be sure that one eye is open.
    • Remarks to John Morley (31 December 1891), quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone. Vol. III (1880-1898) (1903), p. 469
  • Protectionism and militarism are united in an unholy but yet a valid marriage: and the one and the other are in my firm conviction alike the foes of freedom.
    • Letter to the Marchese di Rudinì (30 April 1892), quoted in Vilfedo Pareto, Liberté économique et les événements d'Italie (1970), p. 49
  • You are told that education, that enlightenment, that leisure, that high station, that political experience are arrayed in the opposing camp, and I am sorry to say that to a large extent I cannot deny it. But though I cannot deny it, I painfully reflect that in almost every one, if not in every one, of the great political controversies of the last 50 years, whether they affected the franchise, whether they affected commerce, whether they affected religion, whether they affected the bad and abominable institution of slavery, or whatever subject they touched, these leisured classes, these educated classes, these wealthy classes, these titled classes, have been in the wrong.
    • Speech in Edinburgh (30 June 1892), quoted in The Times (1 July 1892), p. 12
  • Let us go forward in the good work we have in hand and let us put our trust, not in squires and peers, and not in titles or in acres; I will go further and say, not in man, as such, but in Almighty God, who is the God of justice, and who has ordained the principle of right, of equity, and of freedom to be the guides and the masters of our lives.
    • Speech in Edinburgh (30 June 1892), quoted in The Times (1 July 1892), p. 12
  • You are opposed...in your division of Nottingham, on the ground of your having declined to support the Compulsory Eight Hours Bill for all miners, by many miners in your county who desire it. ... The question...is whether the Nottinghamshire miners or a part of them will, for the sake of their eight hours question, elect in preference to you an enemy of the Liberals and of the Irish cause, with which throughout the country the people sympathize. I have long known it as characteristic of the English working class that it knew how to sacrifice its views and apparent interests to some wider and weightier cause. So it was during the American civil war the population of Lancashire cheerfully encountered the cotton famine because they hated slavery and because America was the home of labour.
    • Letter to Henry Broadhurst (1 July 1892), quoted in The Times (4 July 1892), p. 6
  • The county election was raging. ... I was circulating in the mob as a volunteer (like all the other undergraduates) on the side of Norreys. I held forth to a working man, possibly a forty shilling freeholder, on the established text, reform was revolution. To corroborate my doctrine I said, “Why, look at the revolutions in foreign countries”, meaning of course France and Belgium. The man looked hard at me and said these very words: “Damn all foreign countries: what has old England to do with foreign countries?” This is not the only time when I have received an important lesson from a humble source.
    • 'My Earlier Political Opinions. (I) The Descent' (12 July 1892), quoted in John Brooke and Mary Sorensen (eds.), The Prime Minister's Papers: W. E. Gladstone. I: Autobiographica (1971), p. 37
  • [I was] a youth in his twenty third year, young of his age, who had seen little or nothing of the world, who resigned himself to politics, but whose desire had been for the ministry of God. The remains of this desire operated unfortunately. They made me tend to glorify in an extravagant manner and degree not only the religious character of the State, which in reality stood low, but also the religious mission of the Conservative party. There was, to my eyes, a certain element of AntiChrist in the Reform Act and that Act was cordially hated. ... It was only under the (second) Government of Sir Robert Peel that I learned how impotent [and] barren was the conservative office for the Church.
    • 'My Earlier Political Opinions. (II) The Extrication' (16 July 1892), quoted in John Brooke and Mary Sorensen (eds.), The Prime Minister's Papers: W. E. Gladstone. I: Autobiographica (1971), p. 40
  • I am vexed to see portions of the labouring class beginning to be corrupted by the semblance of power as the other classes have been tainted & warped by its reality; and I am disgusted by finding a portion of them ready to thrust Ireland, which is so far ahead in claim, entirely into the background. Poor, poor, poor human nature.
    • Letter to John Morley on the eight-hour day question (22 August 1892), quoted in D. A. Hamer, Liberal Politics in the Age of Gladstone and Rosebery: A Study in Leadership and Policy (1972), pp. 226–227
  • I cannot help regretting that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has felt it his duty to put the question. It is put under circumstances that naturally belong to one of those fluctuations in the condition of trade which, however unfortunate and lamentable they may be, recur from time to time. Undoubtedly I think that questions of this kind, whatever be the intention of the questioner, have a tendency to produce in the minds of people, or to suggest to the people, that these fluctuations can be corrected by the action of the Executive Government. Anything that contributes to such an impression inflicts an injury upon the labouring population.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (1 September 1893) in answer to a question from Howard Vincent MP who asked Gladstone "if the Government propose to take any steps to mitigate the consequences to the masses of the people" of unemployment.
  • George III in his private character shows to advantage when compared with Charles II or George II. But, if George III had succeeded in repressing freedom and parliamentary government, we should have had a Revolution, not probably so bad as the French, but resembling it in kind. From such a catastrophe we were preserved by that unworthy representative of good principles, Wilkes.
    • Remarks to Lionel Tollemache (29 January 1894), quoted in Lionel Tollemache, Talks with Mr. Gladstone (1898), p. 121
  • I agree with you that a grave calamity overhangs the Liberal party in connection with the plan which I described to you in two peculiar monosyllabic epithets [mad and drunk]... Liberalism cannot put on the garb of Jingoism without suffering for it... [For sixty years my life has been] a constant effort to do all I could for economy & for peace; not the peace of this country only but of the world... it is not now economy but peace which supplies the key note of the situation... If the thing is to be done at all let it be done by those who think it right.
    • Letter to A. J. Mundella, explaining his opposition to increased naval estimates (5 February 1894), quoted in Peter Stansky, Ambitions and Strategies: The Struggle for the Leadership of the Liberal Party in the 1890s (1964), p. 35 and Anthony Howe, Free Trade and Liberal England 1846–1946 (1997), p. 176
  • 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 (1911), p. 265
  • Now is the time for the true friend of his country to remind the masses that their present political elevation is owing to no principles less broad and noble than these—the love of liberty, of liberty for all without distinction of class, creed, or country, and the resolute preference of the interests of the whole to any interest, be it what it may, of a narrower scope.
    • Letter to Sir John Cowan (17 March 1894), quoted in The Times (22 March 1894), p. 8
  • [W]hat I call the ‘mad and drunk’ scheme of my colleagues on the naval estimates. ... [T]hat scheme (the most wanton contribution in my view to accursed militarism that has yet been made in any quarter, unless possibly by the Crispian Italy).
    • 'Way Opened for Retirement' (19 March 1894), quoted in John Brooke and Mary Sorensen (eds.), The Prime Minister's Papers: W. E. Gladstone. I: Autobiographica (1971), p. 121
  • In 1880, Midlothian leading the way, the nation nobly answered to the call of justice and [br]oadly recognised the brotherhood of man. It was the nation, not the classes.
    • ‘1879–94’ (11 July 1894), quoted in John Brooke and Mary Sorensen (eds.), The Prime Minister's Papers: W. E. Gladstone. I: Autobiographica (1971), p. 113
  • I am a Free Trader on moral no less than on economic grounds: for I think human greed and selfishness are interwoven with every thread of the Protective system.
    • ‘Protectionism, 1840–1860’ (12 July 1894), quoted in John Brooke and Mary Sorensen (eds.), The Prime Minister's Papers: W. E. Gladstone. I: Autobiographica (1971), p. 74
  • This means war!
    • Remark upon seeing the German fleet at the opening of the Kiel Canal (c. 20 June 1895), quoted in H. C. G. Matthew, Gladstone, 1875–1898 (1995), p. 352, n.
  • I dislike the idea of its [vaccination] being compulsory. I don't like the notion of the State stepping in between parent and child when it is not absolutely necessary. The State is generally a very bad nurse.
    • Remarks to Lionel Tollemache (8 January 1896), quoted in Lionel Tollemache, Talks with Mr. Gladstone (1898), p. 160
  • I am not so much afraid either of Democracy or of Science as of the love of money. This seems to me to be a growing evil. Also, there is a danger from the growth of that dreadful military spirit.
    • Remarks to Lionel Tollemache (8 January 1896), quoted in Lionel Tollemache, Talks with Mr. Gladstone (1898), pp. 166–167
  • [T]he idea that the colonies add to the strength of the mother country appears to me to be as dark a superstition as any that existed in the Middle Ages.
    • Remarks to Lionel Tollemache (13 January 1896), quoted in Lionel Tollemache, Talks with Mr. Gladstone (1898), p. 136
  • [The publication of The Jubilee of Free Trade is] an act of great gallantry for the Cobdenian faith is in all points at a heavy discount—Peace, Retrenchment, Free Trade and all the rest of it, to my great grief I must confess.
    • Letter to Thomas Fisher Unwin (2 June 1896), quoted in Anthony Howe, Free Trade and Liberal England 1846–1946 (1997), p. 192
  • [W]e do not prosecute the cause we have in hand upon the ground that they are our fellow Christians. This is no crusade against Mahomedanism. ... Nay, I will say it is no declaration of universal condemnation of the Mahomedans of the Turkish Empire. On the contrary...there have been good and generous Mahomedans, who have resisted these misdeeds to the uttermost of their power. ... Although it is true that those persons are Christians on whose behalf we move, I confidently affirm...that if, instead of being Christians, they were themselves Mahomedans, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians—call them what you like—they would have precisely the same claims upon our support, and the motives which brought us here today would be incumbent upon us with the same force and with the same sacredness that we recognize at the present moment. ... The ground on which we stand here is not British nor European, but it is human. Nothing narrower than humanity could pretend for a moment justly to represent it. (Cheers.)
    • Speech in Hengler's Circus, Liverpool, on the Armenian atrocities (24 September 1896), quoted in The Times (25 September 1896), p. 5
  • I am fundamentally a dead man: one fundamentally a PeelCobden man.
    • Letter to James Bryce (5 December 1896), quoted in Andrew Marrison (ed.), Free Trade and its Reception 1815-1960: Freedom and Trade: Volume One (2002), p. 209
  • 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 (2 January 1897), quoted F. W. Hirst, In the Golden Days (1947), 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)
  • [T]he House of Lords...had inflicted a deadly mutilation on the Parish Councils Bill, they (having also refused our measure on employers' liability) had placed themselves in sharp conflict with public opinion on great subjects. ... I was at Biarritz when this happened in January or February 1894. I suggested dissolution to my colleagues in London. ... But...I was compelled to let the matter drop. ... Thus there was let slip an opportunity in my opinion nothing less than splendid for raising decisively an issue of vital importance to popular government: an opportunity which if rightly used would have given the Liberal party a decisive preponderance for the full term of one or probably two Parliaments, quite apart from the vast public advantages within reach. The great controversy between Lords and Commons, terrible in 1831–32, formidable in 1860–1, happily averted with the Queen's wise aid in 1884...would have reached a practical settlement: and the yet graver controversy...of seven hundred years with Ireland would have come nearer to a complete settlement by a measure of Home Rule.
    • 'Crisis of 1894 as to the Lords and Dissolution' (13 February 1897), quoted in John Brooke and Mary Sorensen (eds.), The Prime Minister's Papers: W. E. Gladstone. I: Autobiographica (1971), pp. 116–117
  • In 1834 the Government...did themselves high honour by the new Poor Law Act, which rescued the English peasantry from the total loss of their independence.
    • 'Early Parliamentary Life 1832–52. 1833–4 in the old House of Commons' (3 June 1897), quoted in John Brooke and Mary Sorensen (eds.), The Prime Minister's Papers: W. E. Gladstone. I: Autobiographica (1971), p. 55


  • 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.
      • «Gladstone...threw the Quran into a closet and said, 'There will be no quiet in the world as long as this remains.'» Reported in Army Officers in Arab Politics and Society (1970) by Eliezer Bee̓ri, p. 367.

This quote was fabricated in a German document of 1915 "Kriegsurkunden. 17. Fatwa des Scheich es-Saijid Hibet ed-Din esch-Schahrastani en-Nedschefi über die Freundschaft der Muslime mit den Deutschen", at a time when the Germans were attempting to persuade the Arabic nations to side with them rather than the British. The 'quote' was 'discovered' in the 1950s and widely repeated by the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian press as part of a campaign to remove British influence from Egypt. There are no credible contemporary records and Hansard contains no record of the statement.

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 National elementary principal (1948) - Volume 28 - Page 34; a similar statement has also become attributed to Jimi Hendrix: "When the power of love overcomes love of power the world will know peace." A similar quotation is found in My Heart Shall Give A Oneness-Feast (1993) by Sri Chinmoy: "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."


  • Nothing, that is morally wrong, can be politically right.
    • No citation to Gladstone found. Hannah More in 1837 in Hints Towards Forming the Character of a Young Princess, The Works of Hannah More, Vol. 4, said the following on p. 179: "On the Whole, we need not hesitate to assert, that in the long course of events, nothing, that is morally wrong, can be politically right. Nothing, that is inequitable, can be finally successful."
  • 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

Alphabetised by surname.
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)
  • I can say that, as a working man, I think no man has stronger claims upon my sympathy, support, and affection than Mr. Gladstone. When the election of 1880 came we had him placed at the helm of affairs. Although I was twitted by weak-kneed Liberals and Tories that he would never concede the franchise, my faith in his honesty, in his sense of justice to the people, and in his love for the people, was not in the slightest degree shaken by these jeers. I was perfectly certain that he would enfranchise my class. In taking off this covering to unveil to you the bust of this great statesman I can say, fearless of contradiction, that he lives in the affections of thousands of men, aye, tens of thousands, who dwell in our rural villages in humble cottages, and who, I believe, whenever a wise Providence shall call him aside from this scene of action, will mourn his loss with a great and profound depth of feeling. I do not believe that Mr. Gladstone or any other living being is free from mistakes; but of this I am certain, that whenever he has made a mistake and has found it out, he has been honourable, he has been manly enough to acknowledge it, and has done his best to rectify it.
    • Joseph Arch, speech at the unveiling of the bust of Mr. Gladstone at the Bingley Liberal Club (1893), quoted in Joseph Arch, The Story of his Life, Told by Himself, ed. Countess of Warwick (1898), pp. 379–380
  • Mr. Gladstone once said to me: “If you ever have to form a Government, you must steel your nerves, and act the butcher”: a piece of very sound advice (as I learned from experience).
  • 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.
  • Mr. Gladstone's personal popularity was such as has not been seen since the time of Mr. Pitt, and such as may never be seen again. Certainly it will very rarely be seen. A bad speaker is said to have been asked how he got on as a candidate. “Oh,” he answered, “when I do not know what to say, I say ‘Gladstone,’ and then they are sure to cheer, and I have time to think.” In fact, that popularity acted as a guide both to constituencies and to members. The candidates only said they would vote with Mr. Gladstone, and the constituencies only chose those who said so. Even the minority could only be described as anti-Gladstone, just as the majority could only be described as pro-Gladstone.
    • Walter Bagehot, ‘Introduction to the Second Edition’ (20 June 1872), The English Constitution (1882), p. xviii
  • Mr. Gladstone [w]as the greatest member of the greatest deliberative assembly which, so far, the world has seen.
  • Many of those who figured prominently in the counsels of the Labour party in the twentieth century bore eloquent testimony to the "uplifting power" of Gladstone's "matchless voice and superb vitality", and confessed how "the thrill of his splendid oratory" bound them to the Liberal party in the old man's twilight years. Frederick Rogers, Arthur Henderson, Robert Smillie, and especially George Lansbury, all acknowledged the debt which they owed to Gladstone. "I can hear his voice and see him now," Lansbury wrote in the 1930s after he had retired from the leadership of the Labour party. These enduring emotions suggest that the presence of Gladstone at the head of the Liberal party constituted the principal obstacle to the emergence of a coherent and independent labour movement.
    • Michael Barker, Gladstone and Radicalism: The Reconstruction of Liberal Policy in Britain, 1885–94 (1975), p. 96
  • Gladstone was the political god.
  • He was the first major British statesman to consider seriously the implications of the parliamentary union between Great Britain and Ireland, and to realize that if Ireland were indeed an integral part of the United Kingdom, it must be governed on the same principles as the rest; and it was this realization that prepared him to accept the policy of home rule. His importance in the history of Anglo-Irish relations lies less in the measures that he actually carried, far-reaching though they were, than in the immense influence that his concern for Ireland had on British public opinion. It was he, more than anyone else, who made the state of Ireland an issue in British politics.
    • J. C. Beckett, The Making of Modern Ireland, 1603–1923 (1969; rev. edn., 1981), p. 412
  • Who's the Liberal leader? he
    Who for us has stood,
    Stood through triumph and defeat
    For the people's good;
    We, the people, have a mind,
    Well it shall be known,
    Gladstone, he shall lead us still,
    He, and he alone.
    We have votes and let them heed us;
    Gladstone, he alone shall lead us.
    Why? because our wrongs he feels
    And our rights would win;
    Why? because for us he fights
    Out of power and in. [...]
    Voters tell them, they who'll need us,
    Gladstone, he alone shall lead us.
    • W. C. Bennett, ‘Gladstone, He Alone Shall Lead Us’, The Waterford News and General Advertiser, Vol. XX, No. 27 (15 May 1868), p. 4
  • Among the peoples of that Continent [America] your personality has become identified with the cause of freedom, and you are to them the embodiment of their highest ideal of the statesman.
    • Edward Blake to Gladstone (2 March 1894), quoted in E. F. Biagini, British Democracy and Irish Nationalism, 1876–1906 (2007), p. 160
  • Who is there in the House of Commons who equals him in knowledge of all political questions? 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 any one 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.
    • John Bright, speech in Birmingham (22 April 1867), quoted in George Barnett Smith, The Life and Speeches of The Right Honourable John Bright, M.P. Vol. IV (1886), pp. 529–530
  • The soul of the country was stirred to its very depths by the marvellous eloquence, the touching pathos, and the burning passion of the great Liberal leader's speeches. I shall not be guilty of exaggeration if I say that the Nonconformists of Great Britain to a man, ay, and a woman, had ranged themselves on his side. They looked upon him as the deliverer of nations, the inspired leader of peoples, as a giant of unsurpassed strength wrestling with and conquering the powers of injustice and oppression. His country was the world; mankind of every colour and creed were his brothers. Not once in many centuries does a nation possess a son who commands such universal and almost inexhaustible admiration as was lavished upon William Ewart Gladstone in those days. I have often felt that at this period many a man would have esteemed it an honour and counted it a happy martyrdom to die for the great Chieftain.
    • Henry Broadhurst, The Story of His Life from a Stonemason's Bench to the Treasury Bench (1901), p. 88
  • [H]is [voice] was rich, sonorous and exquisitely modulated in its tones... with the grace and variety of his gesture and the flashing glance of his eye... it was only in watching him as he spoke that one received a due impression of the easy power he showed in dealing with any interruption that came from the audience, or in following up on the spur of the moment some line or argument suggested by expressions of assent or dissent. His readiness was amazing. Those of us who listened to him in Parliament used to think that the short speeches he made on the spur of the moment when some question arose suddenly in debate, revealed the swiftness of his mind and the combative force of his whole nature better than did the more elaborate discourses on which he had reflected beforehand. There was a fire, a passion, a concentrated energy of diction, in these extempore outbursts which roused his followers and cowed his opponents... Indignation there often is—burning indignation at injustice, falsehood or cruelty—but no personal acrimony, no note of malignity or vindictiveness.
    • James Bryce, 'Preface' (October 1916), Arthur Tilney Bassett, Gladstone's Speeches: Descriptive Index and Bibliography (1916), pp. vi-vii
  • His arguments may be sometimes finedrawn or oversubtle. They are never petty or niggling. He is like an eagle soaring high in the air and seeing the far-off things as well as the near things, and seeing them all in truer relation to one another than the man standing on the ground can see them. In following his thoughts one feels in particular the power he possesses of testing views and proposals by permanent moral standards. To him the ethical values were always the real and final values, and moral principles the true searchlight to be turned on every question.
    • James Bryce, 'Preface' (October 1916), Arthur Tilney Bassett, Gladstone's Speeches: Descriptive Index and Bibliography (1916), p. viii
  • He was the first leading Englishman to win for the sufferers in the cause of Italian freedom the sympathy of the Western nations. He was the statesman who brought to a close the differences with America which had arisen out of the Civil War, and made possible a better feeling between the nations than had ever existed before. Little credit was given to him at the time for either of these services, any more than for his action in the Eastern Question. But History will not forget them.
    • James Bryce, 'Preface' (October 1916), Arthur Tilney Bassett, Gladstone's Speeches: Descriptive Index and Bibliography (1916), p. x
  • Your life has been grand – the noblest and best I have ever known. It has been an inspiration and a triumph; fruitful in untold benefits to millions of men and women. And indeed I feel that the fitting word is neither condolence nor congratulations, but gratitude; – devout thankfulness that such a man has been given to us, and that he knew so well how to direct and use his gifts to the highest service of humanity.
    • Thomas Burt to Gladstone (6 March 1894), quoted in E. F. Biagini, Liberty, Retrenchment and Reform: Popular Liberalism in the Age of Gladstone, 1860–1880 (1992), p. 425
  • His wonderful genius enabled him to make Finance popular; to be understanded of the People. He taught the Country to appreciate its importance. His work was based on the solid rock of a substantial annual Surplus, and on the less easily secured foundation of strict Economy. The Customs Tariff was completely and finally purged. The remaining duties on food were repealed. Commercial relations with other countries were extended. The last remaining Excise duties, other than those on Intoxicants, were abolished. ... Taxation was placed on a Revenue basis; and was concentrated on a few articles consumed by all classes. In a word, by simplifying taxation and by narrowing its basis, its foundation was strengthened; it was lightened to the Consumer and made less a of a burden on the Taxpayer; less restrictive to Trade and to Industry; cheaper and less vexatious of Collection; more recuperative, and more profitable to the Exchequer.
    • Sydney Buxton, Mr. Gladstone as Chancellor of the Exchequer: A Study (1901), pp. 167-168
  • An almost spectral kind of phantasm of a man — nothing in him but forms and ceremonies and outside wrappings.
  • I too am reading the 2nd volume [of Garvin's Joseph Chamberlain]. ... I particularly admire the way Gladstone is treated. The wickedness of the old man, his cunning and treachery, and his determination to get his own way while he has time, are plain to see. I feel my old resentments burn up again as I read.
    • Neville Chamberlain, diary (28 April 1933), quoted in Keith Feiling, The Life of Neville Chamberlain (1946), p. 234
  • [T]hey told me how Mr. Gladstone read Homer for fun, which I thought served him right
  • I even managed to squeeze into the Distinguished Strangers’ Gallery when Mr. Gladstone wound up the second reading of the Home Rule Bill. Well do I remember the scene and some of its incidents. The Grand Old Man looked like a great white eagle at once fierce and splendid. His sentences rolled forth majestically and everyone hung upon his lips and gestures, eager to cheer or deride. He was at the climax of a tremendous passage about how the Liberal Party had always carried every cause it had espoused to victory. He made a slip. “And there is no cause,” he exclaimed (Home Rule), “for which the Liberal Party has suffered so much or descended so low.” How the Tories leapt and roared with delight! But Mr. Gladstone, shaking his right hand with fingers spread claw-like, quelled the tumult and resumed, “But we have risen again. ...”
  • He became the prophet as statesman: the Ayatollah of Victorian Christianity.
    • Peter Clarke, A Question of Leadership: Gladstone to Thatcher (1991), p. 32
  • Speech from Gladstone of singular lucidity and power on the Irish question. His manner most earnest. The trend of his mind majestic, penetrating, victorious and irresistible. He is a commander of men. Plain of speech and simple, clear and aggressive. The moral momentum immense. It was a contest. The hearer felt he was witnessing a fight for righteousness, for humanity, for God.
    • John Clifford, diary entry (11 May 1887), quoted in James Marchant, Dr. John Clifford, C. H. Life, Letters and Reminiscences (1924), p. 80
  • I have told you before that Gladstone has shown much heart in this business. He has a strong aversion to the waste of money on our armaments. He has much more of our sympathies. He has more in common with you and me than any other man of his power in Britain.
    • Richard Cobden to John Bright on the negotiations for his free trade treaty with France (1860), quoted in W. E. Williams, The Rise of Gladstone to the Leadership of the Liberal Party, 1859 to 1868 (1934), p. 20
  • [A]s an Irishman I feel that I have a special right to join in paying a tribute to the great Englishman who died yesterday, because the last and, as all men will agree, the most glorious years of his strenuous and splendid life were dominated by the love which he bore to our nation, and by the eager and even passionate desire to serve Ireland and give her liberty and peace. By virtue of the splendid quality of his nature, which seemed to give him perpetual youth, Mr. Gladstone's faith in a cause to which he had once devoted himself never wavered, nor did his enthusiasm grow cold. Difficulties and the weight of advancing years were alike ineffectual to blunt the edge of his purpose, or to daunt his splendid courage, and even when racked with pain, and when the shadow of death was darkening over him, his heart still yearned towards the people of Ireland, and his last public utterance was a message of sympathy for Ireland, and of hope for her future. His was a great and deep nature. He loved the people with a wise and persevering love. His love of the people and his abiding faith in the efficacy of liberty and of government based on the consent of the people, as an instrument of human progress, was not the outcome of youthful enthusiasm, but the deep-rooted growth of long years, and drew its vigour from an almost unparalleled experience of men and of affairs. Above all men I have ever known or read of, in his case the lapse of years seemed to have no influence to narrow his sympathies or to contract his heart. Young men felt old beside him. And to the last no generous cause, no suffering people, appealed to him in vain, and that glorious voice which had so often inspirited the friends of freedom and guided them to victory was to the last at the service of the weak and the oppressed of whatever race or nation. Mr. Gladstone was the greatest Englishman of his time. He loved his own people as much as any Englishman that ever lived. But through communion with the hearts of his own people he acquired that wider and greater gift, the power of understanding and sympathising with other peoples. He entered into their sorrows and felt for their oppressions. And with splendid courage he did not hesitate, even in the case of his much-loved England, to condemn her when he thought she was wronging others, and in so doing he fearlessly faced odium and unpopularity amongst his own people, which it must have been bitter for him to bear; and so he became something far greater than a British statesman, and took a place amidst the greatest leaders of the human race. Amidst the obstructions and the cynicism of a materialistic age he never lost his hold on the "ideal." And so it came to pass that wherever throughout the civilised world a race or nation of men were suffering from oppression, their thoughts turned towards Gladstone, and when that mighty voice was raised in their behalf, Europe and the civilised world listened, and the breathing of new hopes entered into the hearts of men made desperate by long despair.
    • John Dillon, speech in the House of Commons (20 May 1898)
  • Posterity will do justice to that unprincipled maniac Gladstone—extraordinary mixture of envy, vindictiveness, hypocrisy, and superstition; and with one commanding characteristic—whether Prime Minister, or Leader of Opposition, whether preaching, praying, speechifying, or scribbling—never a gentleman!
    • Benjamin Disraeli, letter to Lord Derby (October 1876), quoted in William Flavelle Monypenny and George Earle Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield. Vol. II. 1860–1881 (1929), p. 939
  • Which do you believe most likely to enter an insane convention, a body of English gentlemen honoured by the favour of their Sovereign and the confidence of their fellow-subjects, managing your affairs for five years, I hope with prudence, and not altogether without success, or a sophistical rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination that can at all times command an interminable and inconsistent series of arguments to malign an opponent and to glorify himself?
    • Speech by Benjamin Disraeli to a banquet given to him in Knightsbridge, attacking Gladstone for calling the Cyprus Convention an "insane covenant" (27 July 1878), quoted in William Flavelle Monypenny and George Earle Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, Volume II. 1860–1881 (1929), pp. 1228-9
  • Lord Palmerston's "dangerous man" has at length verified that statesman's prophecy of his ultimate insanity.
    • Benjamin Disraeli, letter to Queen Victoria (19 September 1878), quoted in Robert Blake, Disraeli (1866), p. 606
  • 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.
    • Benjamin Disraeli, letter to Lady Bradford (3 October 1879), quoted in William Flavelle Monypenny and George Earle Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield. Vol. II. 1860–1881 (1929), pp. 1052-1053
  • 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 number 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."
  • To myself, and to many thousands, the assumption by Mr. Gladstone of the leadership of the Liberal party in the House of Commons seemed to promise the inauguration of a new era. It was known that he was as favourable to the revision and enlargement of the representation of the people in Parliament as Palmerston had been opposed to such changes, and the working classes hailed his accession to the Premiership with gladness and hope.
    • Thomas Frost, Forty Years' Recollections: Literary and Political (1880), p. 291
  • What fools we were not to have accepted Gladstone's Home Rule Bill. The Empire now would not have had the Irish Free State giving us so much trouble and pulling us to pieces.
    • George V, remarks to Ramsay MacDonald as recorded in MacDonald's diary (6 July 1930), quoted in Kenneth Rose, King George V (1983), p. 240
  • Gladstone could do in four hours what it took any other man sixteen to do, and he worked sixteen hours a day.
    • Sir James Graham (c. 1841), quoted in D. C. Lathbury, Correspondence on Church and Religion of William Ewart Gladstone, Vol. I (1910), p. 259
  • 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), quoted in Leslie Stephen, Letters of John Richard Green (1901), p. 446
  • I begin to see that there may be a truer wisdom in the "humanitarianism" of Gladstone than in the purely political views of Disraeli. The sympathies of peoples with peoples, the sense of a common humanity between nations, the aspirations of nationalities after freedom and independence, are real political forces; and it is just because Gladstone owns them as forces, and Disraeli disowns them that the one has been on the right side, and the other on the wrong in parallel questions such as the upbuilding of Germany or Italy. I think it will be so in this upbuilding of the Sclave.
    • John Richard Green to Miss Stopford (23 February 1877), quoted in Leslie Stephen, Letters of John Richard Green (1901), p. 447
  • The greatest statesman in whose presence I have ever been.
    • Edward Grey, quoted in Thomas Jones, A Diary with Letters, 1931–1950 (1954), p. xxiii
  • The talent for which Mr. Gladstone will always be most renowned is that of the orator and debater. ... He spoke straight from the heart. He was sure that, if his audience knew what he knew, they would feel as he felt, and believe as he believed. Equally if not still more telling was the ardour which he threw into his subject, and the earnestness with which he pleaded his cause. The effect was to kindle extraordinary enthusiasm among those to whom he was addressing himself, to thrill them with emotion, and to hold them spellbound.
  • Great though his political courage was, he possessed a courage of a still higher quality—the courage of his convictions. With him right was might. If he had once convinced himself of the rectitude and justice of a particular course, his intrepidity knew no bounds. ... This strength of conviction, amounting almost to a sense of infallibility, carried with it conviction in others, and constituted one of the principal reasons why he had so great a hold over his fellow-creatures.
  • He deplored what he considered to be undue expenditure of public money on armaments. ... Analogously he had a deep-rooted aversion to annexations of territory. It was...because...he felt that there was a limit to the responsibilities which a government could prudently undertake—that there was a point at which the strength of administration would be overtaxed.
  • It was religion that inspired the deepest motives which actuated his conduct. Indeed, it animated his whole life, public as well as private. It was with him a great controlling force and the leading principle of his actions. ... The truth of Christianity was to him the most assured reality. ... He had a robust belief in the life and mission of the English Church, regarding her as the most faithful representative of the Church of Christ. He was devoid of bigotry and sectarianism. Wherever the fundamental doctrines of Christianity were conscientiously held, he was ready to express his sympathy with members of all denominations. ... Few laymen ever studied their Bible with more assiduous and reverent care. ... The moral teachings of Christianity were not only professed by Mr. Gladstone, but they were practised by him. It was due to this profession, followed by practice, that he displayed such intolerance of wrong and cruelty, such sympathy with the suffering and oppressed, such love for peace and freedom.
  • [H]e was unquestionably imbued with high principles; and to high principles he appealed. The furtherance of liberty, toleration, and progress, the amendment of the lot of his fellow-creatures, the relief of suffering, the wise husbanding of the nation's resources—in short, the promotion of better government—were his aims. What he desired most to find in men was character; in measures, equity.
  • God bless him! May he be spared to accomplish the great work to which he has put his hand.
    • Keir Hardie, Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald (27 May 1887), quoted in Kenneth O. Morgan, ‘Gladstone, Wales and the New Radicalism’, in Peter J. Jagger (ed.), Gladstone (1998), p. 123
  • Gladstone's work has made Socialism possible—nay, has been the necessary, the indispensable pioneer of the Socialist movement.
    • Keir Hardie, Labour Leader (28 May 1898), quoted in Kenneth O. Morgan, ‘Gladstone, Wales and the New Radicalism’, in Peter J. Jagger (ed.), Gladstone (1998), p. 123 and David Howell, British Workers and the Independent Labour Party, 1888–1906 (1984), p. 366
  • [I]n the last twenty years England has travelled on the German path. ... Perhaps nothing shows this change more clearly than that, while there is no lack of sympathetic treatment of Bismarck in contemporary English literature, the name of Gladstone is rarely mentioned by the younger generation without a sneer over his Victorian morality and naive utopianism.
  • It seems to me that the best name for this kind of naïve rationalism is rationalist constructivism. ... If it be thought that by labelling this view 'constructivism' I am once again presenting my opponents with a good word, I should plead that this term was used in precisely this sense already by one of the greatest of the nineteenth-century liberals, W. E. Gladstone. He used it as a name for the attitude for which in the past I had no better term than the 'engineering type of mind'.
  • At that time there emerged also in Britain, as the leading figure of the liberal movement, W. E. Gladstone who, first as Chancellor of the Exchequer and then as liberal Prime Minister, came to be widely regarded as the living embodiment of liberal principles, especially, after Palmerston's death in 1865, with regard to foreign policy, with John Bright as his chief associate. With him also the old association of British liberalism with strong moral and religious views revived.
  • [Gladstone] appeared to unite in his person a timeless integrity with modern enlightenment.
    • Tim Healy, quoted in E. F. Biagini, British Democracy and Irish Nationalism, 1876–1906 (2007), p. 148
  • After Mr. Gladstone's death there was found in his own hand the following note: "Rules of Finance: (1) to pay your way; (2) to reduce your debt; (3) to practise economy."
  • The Gladstonian principle may be defined by antithesis to that of Machiavelli, and to that of Bismarck, and to the practice of every Foreign Office. As that practice proceeds on the principle that reasons of State justify everything, so Gladstone proceeded on the principle that reasons of State justify nothing that is not justified already by the human conscience. The statesman is for him a man charged with maintaining not only the material interests but the honour of his country. He is a citizen of the world in that he represents his nation, which is a member of the community of the world. He has to recognize rights and duties, as every representative of every other human organization has to recognize rights and duties. There is no line drawn beyond which human obligations cease. There is no gulf across which the voice of human suffering cannot be heard, beyond which massacre and torture cease to be execrable. Simply as a patriot, again, a man should recognize that a nation may become great not merely by painting the map red, or extending her commerce beyond all precedent, but also as the champion of justice, the succourer of the oppressed, the established home of freedom. From the denunciation of the Opium War, from the exposure of the Neapolitan prisons, to his last appearance on the morrow of the Constantinople massacre this was the message which Gladstone sought to convey. He was before his time. He was not always able to maintain his principle in his own Cabinet, and on his retirement the world appeared to relapse definitely into the older ways.
  • When Mr Gladstone visited the North, you well remember when word passed from the newspaper to the workman that it circulated through mines and mills, factories and workshops, and they came out to greet the only British minister who ever gave the English people a right because it was just they should have it...and when he went down the Tyne, all the country heard how twenty miles of banks were lined with people who came to greet him. Men stood in the blaze of chimneys; the roofs of factories were crowded; colliers came up from the mines; women held up their children on the banks that it might be said in after life that they had seen the Chancellor of the People go by. The river was covered like the land. Every man who could ply an oar pulled up to give Mr Gladstone a cheer. When Lord Palmerston went to Bradford the streets were still, and working men imposed silence upon themselves. When Mr Gladstone appeared on the Tyne he heard cheer that no other English minister ever heard...the people were grateful to him, and rough pitmen who never approached a public man before, pressed round his carriage by thousands...and thousands of arms were stretched out at once, to shake hands with Mr Gladstone as one of themselves.
    • George Holyoake, 'The Liberal situation, or the parliamentary treatment of the people. II.', Newcastle Weekly Chronicle (18 March 1865), p. 4, quoted in Eugenio F. Biagini, ‘Popular Liberals, Gladstonian finance and the debate on taxation, 1860-1874’, in Eugenio F. Biagini and Alastair J. Reid (eds.), Currents of Radicalism: Popular Radicalism, Organised Labour and Party Politics in Britain, 1850–1914 (1991), p. 142
  • My profound faith in our great liberal leader, Mr Gladstone, makes me feel all the more secure as to our future. He evidently regards hustings pledges as promises to be faithfully kept and redeemed.
    • George Howell to Edmond Beales (10 March 1869), quoted in F. M. Leventhal, Respectable Radical: George Howell and Victorian Working Class Politics (1971), p. 115
  • If you were to put that man on a moor with nothing on but his shirt, he would become whatever he pleased.
  • Gladstone is very fascinating—his urbanity extreme—his eye that of a man of genius—& his apparent self-surrender to what he is talking of, without a flaw. He made a great impression on me—greater than anyone I have seen here: tho' 'tis perhaps owing to my naïveté, & unfamiliarity with statesmen.
    • Henry James to William James (29 March 1877), quoted in The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1876–1878, Volume I, eds. Pierre A. Walker and Greg W. Zacharias (2012), p. 83
  • 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.
  • Mr. Gladstone was entirely different from any politician I have known. He was much older in years than most of those he acted with, but was the youngest in body, soul and spirit. ... I can hear his voice and see him now; though nothing that I can write will convey to a reader the tremendous emotional effect of his words...that word alone [‘inspired’] gives the impression that was left on the mind of the eighteen year old boy who was listening to him.
  • [F]or years I worshipped at the political shrine of Mr. Gladstone.
  • The greatest Chancellor of all time.
    • Nigel Lawson, The View From No. 11: Memoirs of a Tory Radical (1992), p. 279
  • Gladstone had not realised the difficulties of the poor, but Disraeli had. Gladstone could not come down to the level of the common people; that had been his trouble.
    • David Lloyd George's remarks to A. J. Sylvester, as recorded in Sylvester's diary (18 April 1933), quoted in A. J. Sylvester, Life with Lloyd George: The Diary of A. J. Sylvester 1931-45, ed. Colin Cross (1975), p. 95
  • [David Lloyd George] talked of Gladstone, and how he [Lloyd George] had attacked him in his very early days in the House of Commons on the Clergy Discipline Bill. ... When [Lloyd George] went down to Wales afterwards, & the more proper folk reproached him for his attack on Gladstone, he said: 'I give you the same reply that Cromwell gave, "If I meet the King in battle, I will fire my pistol at him".' [Lloyd George] says that he thinks Gladstone as a Churchman had a fundamental dislike for Dissenters. ... 'I admire him, but I never liked him', is [Lloyd George]'s qualifying comment always.
    • David Lloyd George's remarks to Frances Stevenson, as recorded in Stevenson's diary (16 November 1934), quoted in Frances Stevenson, Lloyd George: A Diary, ed. A. J. P. Taylor (1971), p. 291
  • It is my boast that for the first four years of my membership of the House of Commons Gladstone was my leader. ... Gladstone was the greatest and most vital figure which ever appeared in British politics, and there will be a glorious resurrection for the memory, character, and the achievement and inspiration of that old man. We are suffering today largely from the complete neglect of the doctrines to which he devoted his life – the doctrines of peace.
    • David Lloyd George's remarks to A. J. Sylvester, as recorded in Sylvester's diary (24 April 1940), quoted in A. J. Sylvester, Life with Lloyd George: The Diary of A. J. Sylvester 1931-45, ed. Colin Cross (1975), p. 257
  • 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.
  • The man who had led Liberalism for nearly thirty years retired from active life into the strenuous ease which is his idleness. ... Politics knew him no more. This loss to Liberalism it is impossible adequately to measure. Nor can we at this moment attempt any final judgment on what he has done for Liberalism. Only we can say, that of all the great statesmen of England there is not one who has accomplished as much as he in destroying unjust privileges, in establishing for the people their just rights. Can we say more? Is it possible for a ruler of men to leave behind him a nobler or greater record than this? Perhaps it is only now that the leader is gone that we can see how commanding a place he held in the life of the nation, and how great a loss the cause of progress has suffered from his retirement.
    • Philip James Macdonell, ‘The Historic Basis of Liberalism’, in Essays in Liberalism by Six Oxford Men (1897), pp. 266–267
  • Mr. Gladstone ... was an absolutely unique personality. His gestures, his astonishing dexterity in debate, his power of stirring the deepest emotions, the impression he conveyed of single-mindedness, of desire to do the right thing and to preserve a good conscience before God, to whose direction he essayed to submit himself, all worked together to render him a great moral and intellectual influence in the House of Commons—a fact of which every member, irrespective of creed or party, was justly proud. I was then—and I am now—no worshipper of men, but the expression “great man,” so often applied to persons of very modest rank in conduct and in abilities, is, in my judgment, pre-eminently applicable to Mr. Gladstone, whose claim to that title, while he was still with us, was acknowledged as unreservedly by his political opponents as by his supporters.
  • No body of men have ever been so "un-English" as the great Englishmen, Nelson, Shelley, Gladstone: supreme in war, in literature, in practical affairs; yet with no single evidence in the characteristics of their energy that they possess any of the qualities of the English blood. But in submitting to the leadership of such perplexing variations from the common stock, the Englishman is merely exhibiting his general capacity for accepting the universe, rather than for rebelling against it.
  • In March 1880 he returned for the actual election contest and in crowded halls, uncomfortable, dimly lighted, he held spell-bound the miners and workers who came to hear him with the loyalty of disciples. The image of Gladstone which was then established in the popular mind, as the old man eloquent, the righteous prophet, the friend of liberty and justice, lasted long after his death and was often more potent than the whole array of his gifted colleagues and all the party's nostrums and policies. ... [I]n 1955 an old lady left her house in Shetland to vote Conservative but returning to her house for her purse saw her father's photograph of Mr. Gladstone and went to the poll to vote for Mr. Grimond.
    • R. B. McCallum, The Liberal Party from Earl Grey to Asquith (1963), p. 90 + n. 1
  • I think I may take it for granted that Mr. Gladstone is the greatest English statesman who has appeared during the reign of Queen Victoria. This, indeed, seems to me a statement of fact and not a subject for criticism.
  • Respecting Mr. Gladstone (Cheers). What was the use to speak of him on a question of sincerity? (Cheers). Every year of his official life had been marked by a succession of measures – no year being without them – some great, some small, but all aiming at the public good – to the good of the people of this country, and especially of the poorer classes. These measures were not even suggested to him: they were the offspring of his own mind, will and purpose – the free gift from him to his countrymen, unprompted, unsuggested. (Loud cheers). ... Mr. Gladstone seemed to be the first statesman who has come up to the idea of a great modern statesman: ... If we do not stand by him...we shall not easily find another to serve us in the same way. (Loud cheers).
    • John Stuart Mill, speech to the Westminster Reform meeting, reported in The Daily Telegraph (13 April 1866), quoted in John Vincent, The Formation of the British Liberal Party, 1857–1868 [1966] (1972), p. 194
  • Talk of the Liberal party? Why it consists of Mr. G. After him it will disappear & all will be chaos.
    • John Morley, quoted in Sir Edward Hamilton's diary (13 January 1891), quoted in D. A. Hamer, Liberal Politics in the Age of Gladstone and Rosebery: A Study in Leadership and Policy (1972), p. 141
  • On the afternoon of the first of December [1868], he received at Hawarden the communication from Windsor. “I was standing by him,” says Mr. Evelyn Ashley, “holding his coat on my arm while he in his shirt sleeves was wielding an axe to cut down a tree. Up came a telegraph messenger. He took the telegram, opened it and read it, then handed it to me, speaking only two words, ‘Very significant,’ and at once resumed his work. The message merely stated that General Grey would arrive that evening from Windsor. This of course implied that a mandate was coming from the Queen charging Mr. Gladstone with the formation of his first government. ... After a few minutes the blows ceased, and Mr. Gladstone resting on the handle of his axe, looked up and with deep earnestness in his voice and with great intensity in his face, exclaimed, ‘My mission is to pacify Ireland.’ He then resumed his task, and never said another word till the tree was down.”
    • John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Vol. II. (1859-1880) (1903), p. 252
  • He often seemed to the observer "possessed." If he had not been a very good man, he would have been a very bad one.
  • I said that Mr. Gladstone deserved well of Ireland, adding, “Almost all that has been done for Ireland in my time has been done by Mr. Gladstone—Gladstone plus Fenianism, and plus you.”
  • The men of this generation will be agreed in ranking him as the greatest Member of Parliament that the House of Commons has ever seen.
    • T. P. O'Connor, W. E. Gladstone, Statesman, Orator, Scholar & Theologian (1908), quoted in Alan O'Day, ‘Gladstone and Irish Nationalism’, in David Bebbington and Roger Swift (eds.), Gladstone Centenary Essays (2000), p. 171
  • Such then he was – a marvel and a portent in every one of his qualities; in his vast intellectual powers, in his indomitable courage, in his incessant energy, in his tremendous physical activity and strength, in the vehemence and fervour of his political passion, in the tenacity and tempest of his purpose he was more like an embodied cyclone rushing tempestuous, irresistible, merciless through his times, than a single and solitary human being. And every man who has seen and known him, whether in love or in hate, can say to himself that never in this world will we look upon his like again.
    • T. P. O'Connor, W. E. Gladstone, Statesman, Orator, Scholar & Theologian (1908), quoted in Alan O'Day, ‘Gladstone and Irish Nationalism’, in David Bebbington and Roger Swift (eds.), Gladstone Centenary Essays (2000), p. 171
  • Gladstone will soon have it all his own way; and, whenever he gets my place, we shall have strange doings. ... He is a dangerous man, keep him in Oxford, and he is partially muzzled; but send him elsewhere, and he will run wild.
    • Lord Palmerston's remarks to Lord Shaftesbury at the dissolution of Parliament (July 1865), quoted in E. Hodder, The Life and Work of the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, Volume III (1886), pp. 187–188
  • [A]s these letters show, the man whom above all others Lord Acton esteemed and revered was Mr. Gladstone. Mr. Gladstone, with characteristic humility, always deferred to Lord Acton's judgment in matters historical. On the other hand, Lord Acton, the most hypercritical of men, and the precise opposite of a hero-worshipper, an iconoclast if ever there was one, regarded Mr. Gladstone as the first of English statesmen, living or dead.
    • Herbert Paul, Introductory Memoir, Letters of Lord Acton to Mary, Daughter of the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone (1904) p. lx.
  • You probably have heard that we have concluded the discussions...on the subject of the tariff. I cannot resist the temptation, if it be only for the satisfaction of my own feelings, of congratulating you most warmly and sincerely, on the distinction which your son has acquired, by the manner in which he has conducted himself throughout those discussions and all others since his appointment to office. At no time in the annals of parliament has there been exhibited a more admirable combination of ability, extensive knowledge, temper and discretion. Your paternal feelings must be gratified in the highest degree by the success which has naturally and justly followed the intellectual exertions of your son, and you must be supremely happy as a father in the reflection that the capacity to make such exertions is combined in his case with such purity of heart and integrity of conduct.
    • Robert Peel to John Gladstone (16 June 1842), quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume I (1903), p. 257
  • Once Gladstone at luncheon was indulging in a scathing attack on the rising generation, pouring scorn on their lack of all knowledge of the classics; and in order to illustrate his point and show the lamentable ignorance that now prevailed, he suddenly turned on me. I was thirteen and at Eton, but my knowledge of the classics was nil. He asked me what the quantity was of some syllable in a quotation from Horace. I had never heard of the quotation and had no idea whether it was long or short, but as I was clearly expected to say something I said "long". He thumped the table and cried triumphantly, "That is what everyone says", and I felt like a man who has backed a winner by mistake. Then in his grand manner he continued, "But that is wrong, quite wrong; it is short, not long", and after giving very conclusive reasons for this he proceeded: "Next time you are doing Horace's Odes you will stand up and ask the master whether it is short or long, and when he replies, as he undoubtedly will, that it is long, you will say "No, sir, you are wrong", and you will repeat the reasons I have just given." I could see myself, a pallid youth of thirteen, standing up and laying a trap for the classical master, and then making a muck of the explanation. I could also foresee the quite inevitable result, which would be a sound flogging for impertinence; I never carried out the suggestion.
  • Mr Gladstone's long and energetic labours in the cause of Suffering and Oppressed Nationalities show that his grand gifts have not been used exclusively for his own countrymen, but for common humanity.
    • George Potter, Life of W. E. Gladstone (1885), quoted in E. F. Biagini, British Democracy and Irish Nationalism, 1876–1906 (2007), p. 39
  • Without an effort—so it seemed to me—the great orator held his audience for nearly two hours. I stood so far off that the features were indistinct, but was spellbound by the music and the magnetism of the wonderful voice. ... I had never heard a speaker like this man. I knew little and cared less of the merits of the case he discussed. I was only conscious of the presence of a great human personality under whose spell I was, and from whom I could in no way escape. The magic of sound was in the wonderful voice, and if the things he said were unintelligible to me, the voice brought with it something of inspiration and of uplifting power.
    • Frederick Rogers, recalling Gladstone's October 1871 speech in Blackheath, quoted in Labour, Life and Literature: Some Memories of Sixty Years (1913), p. 25
  • 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.
    • An account of a conversation between John Ruskin and Gladstone, quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume II (1903), p. 582 and John Ruskin, Letters to M. G. & H. G. (1903), pp. 26–27
  • A game was played (if that is the right phrase) at Hawarden at a visitor's suggestion. Each person had to say what day in past or future he would choose to live, it being stipulated that he should have his present knowledge, and that he should afterwards return to the present existence. Mr. Gladstone said a day in ancient Greece when Athens was in its highest glory. The visitor said he would choose the day of Pentecost. On this Mr. Gladstone seemed rather ashamed and withdrew his former choice, and said he would select "a day with the Lord."
  • 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.
  • The most distinguished political name in this century has been withdrawn from the roll of the living. ... What he sought was the achievement of great ideals, and whether they were based upon sound convictions or not, they could have issued from nothing but the greatest and the purest moral aspirations; and he is honoured by his countrymen because through so many years, because through so many vicissitudes and conflicts, they have recognised this one characteristic of his action which has never left it, never ceased to colour it. He will leave behind him, especially to those who have followed with deep interest the history of his later years...the memory of a great Christian statesman, set up necessarily on high, from which the sight of his character, his motives, and his intentions was situated so that it could strike all the world. It will have left a deep and most salutary influence on the political thought and the social thought of the generation in which he lived, and he will be long remembered, not so much for the causes in which he was engaged, or the political projects which he favoured, but as a great example of which history hardly furnishes a parallel, of a great Christian man.
  • [T]here was one man who not only united high ability with unparalleled opportunity but also knew how to turn budgets into political triumphs and who stands in history as the greatest English financier of economic liberalism, Gladstone... Gladstonian finance was the finance of the system of 'natural liberty,' laissez-faire, and free trade... [T]he most important thing was to remove fiscal obstructions to private activity. And for this, in turn, it was necessary to keep public expenditure low. Retrenchment was the victorious slogan of the day... Equally important was...to raise the revenue that would still have to be raised in such a way as to deflect economic behaviour as little as possible from what it would have been in the absence of all taxation ('taxation for revenue only'). And since the profit motive and the propensity to save were considered of paramount importance for the economic progress of all classes, this meant in particular that taxation should as little as possible interfere with the net earnings of business... As regards indirect taxes, the principle of least interference was interpreted by Gladstone to mean that taxation should be concentrated on a few important articles, leaving the rest free... Last, but not least, we have the principle of the balanced budget.
  • I cannot doubt that the right hon. Gentleman, the champion of free-trade, will ere long become the advocate of the most unrestricted liberty of thought.
  • I envy you even that little glimpse of Gladstone which you had when he came to Aberystwyth. I am sure you have no idea what Gladstone meant to me as a Canadian lad back in those historic days. My grandfather...was a stern Presbyterian and an equally stern Liberal, to whom I am sure Gladstone's speeches were almost on a par with the Bible. I was brought up in that atmosphere and have never really got over the early training. In fact, I did not want to get over it for it is a magnificent outlook, rich in its sense of humanity and justice.
  • As I stood on Saturday afternoon at Greenwich listening to the glowing word of the grandest orator and statesman of modern times, I felt lifted into a holy region of politics, where Tories cannot corrupt or Jingoes break through and yell.
    • George Robert Sims in the Referee (1877), recalling Gladstone's 1871 speech in Greenwich, quoted in Frederick Rogers, Labour, Life and Literature: Some Memories of Sixty Years (1913), pp. 25–26
  • [T]he almost universal ‘general impression’ that Gladstonianism is the natural creed of the working man.
    • John Strachey, ‘Infringing a Political Patent’, The Nineteenth Century 37 (February 1895), p. 208
  • He speaks to me as if I was a public meeting.
    • Queen Victoria, quoted in G. W. E. Russell, Collections and Recollections (1898), p. 140
  • Poor man he was very clever & full of ideas for the bettering & advancement of the country, always most loyal to me personally, & ready to do anything for the Royal Family, but alas!, I am sure involuntarily, he did at times a good deal of harm. He had a wonderful power of speaking & carrying the masses with him.
    • Queen Victoria, journal entry on the news of Gladstone's death, 19 May 1898
  • Reading Gladstone's Life. Interesting to note that when, after ten years' political experience, he became convinced that the state had to be an infidel state, and could not be used to promote religious truth—he turned straight away into a laisser-faire democrat holding persistently to the policy of diminishing the function of government and doing nothing but what every individual consented to in advance. Hence, his doctrine of nationalities and, in the end, Irish Home Rule. Add to this genuine alteration of intellectual creed, the heady emotion of feeling himself in accord with crude democracy and, owing to his superlative talent as a revivalist preacher, leading it; and you have the Gladstone of 1869–80. After 1880, he was out of sympathy with the collectivist trend of the newer democracy of town workmen, and became a reactionary, appealing pathetically to the Nonconformist middle-class in terror of the new creed and hating the new apostles. His soul was wrapped up in his own principles—religious and economic—each set in a water-tight compartment; he never realised the new order of ideas. Moreover, he was socially an aristocrat and disliked the parvenu in riches and political power—such as Chamberlain.
    • Beatrice Webb's diary (3 November 1903), quoted in Beatrice Webb, Our Partnership, eds. Barbara Drake and Margaret I. Cole (1948), p. 275
  • 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)
  • If Gladstone failed to solve the Irish Problem – though he did a good deal to cool it – no politician of my time is in a position to criticise him. ... He devoted a great deal of time and effort to much-needed institutions – for example opening up the Civil Service to competition in place of patronage: abolishing the system of purchasing Army commissions. ... The judicial system, at his instance, was dramatically reformed; entrance to our great universities on the basis of university religious tests was ended; he master-minded the great advance in national education with Forster's Education Act – for the first time making elementary education compulsory. ... He was outraged by Disraeli's Eastern policy – and the Midlothian Campaign, perhaps the greatest series of political speeches in our history, not only transfixed audience after audience, but created a new approach to the problem of the rights of emergent nationalities – it is arguable that no previous or subsequent Prime Minister ever achieved so much in international terms.
    • Harold Wilson, lecture at Hawarden (1986), quoted in Peter J. Jagger, ‘Introduction’, in Peter J. Jagger (ed.), Gladstone (1998), p. xii
  • That is the greatest statesman who ever lived and when I grow to be a man, I mean to be a great statesman too.
    • Woodrow Wilson's remarks to a cousin on the portrait of Gladstone above his desk, when Wilson was 16 (1873), quoted in William Barksdale Maynard, Woodrow Wilson: Princeton to the Presidency (2008), p. 7

Reminiscences of Lord Kilbracken (1931)

by Lord Kilbracken
  • The fact is, I believe, that political questions generally presented themselves to his mind as ethical questions of right and wrong, and that he found it at the first blush difficult to realize that an opinion, contrary to his own, could be held without some slight tinge of moral obliquity.
    • pp. 79-80
  • I think that Mr. Gladstone was the strongest anti-socialist that I have ever known among persons who gave any serious thought to social and political questions. It is quite true, as has been often said, that “we are all socialists up to a certain point”; but Mr. Gladstone fixed that point lower, and was more vehement against those who went above it, than any other politician or official of my acquaintance. ... His strong belief in Free Trade was only one of the results of his deep-rooted conviction that the Government's interference with the free action of the individual, whether by taxation or otherwise, should be kept at an irreducible minimum. It is, indeed, not too much to say that his conception of Liberalism was the negation of Socialism.
    • pp. 83-84
  • The essential fact was the extraordinary intensity and vehemence of all his impulses. If we think for a moment of human beings as actuated by an internal force measurable in units of horse-power, and if we take the figure of an ordinary man to be 100, and that of an exceptionally energetic person to be 200, then Mr. Gladstone's horse-power was at least 1,000. And this tremendous force could be turned on in any direction and for any purposes great or small. ... The various and innumerable motives which impel ordinary men sluggishly and feebly towards their respective aims and objects, were in him fiery swords, driving him with almost irresistible force towards the goal on which for the moment his whole mind was concentrated. ... [I]t is hardly necessary to add that this intense natural vehemence, thus effectively curbed and guided, was the secret of his ascendancy, and of the unbounded enthusiasm which he kindled in nearly all who knew him, and in many hundreds of thousands who had never seen his face or heard his voice.
    • pp. 123-124
  • As a man, Mr. Gladstone was in a class by himself. He was an extraordinarily good man, but I think I may have known others as good; his intellectual gifts were wonderful, but for pure intellect I have known others whom I should place as high, if not higher. What differentiated him from the rest of the human race was, first, the combination of these qualities with the stupendous driving power of which I have spoken; second, the stern and effective control which he maintained over this mighty force; and, third, the amazingly serviceable quality of his mind, which was always at his command, always rose to the occasion, and unfailingly supplied him with an endless flow of thoughts, arguments, and words upon any topic under heaven with which he had to deal. There were, perhaps, some spheres of thought in which he did not move easily or freely, but they were such that he very rarely had to concern himself with them; and in quickness of apprehension, and insight into the heart of a difficult matter, provided that it was one that came within his normal field of vision, he was unrivalled.
    • p. 127
  • I think it might be said that the only two [Departments of State] in whose business he was naturally and genuinely interested were the Treasury and the Board of Trade. As Prime Minister he was...obliged to think about foreign affairs...but this to him was generally task-work, and, except in cases when his generous and laudable interest in the "oppressed nationalities," in Turkey or elsewhere, took effect, his criticism and suggestions were few, and nearly always in the direction of peace, non-intervention, and laissez-faire. ... I never heard him say a word which showed the slightest interest in the Navy or the Army, except in so far as their cost, which he was always anxious to cut down, affected the Estimates; nor can I remember his ever referring with pride or satisfaction to any British feat of arms, ancient or modern, though he was often eloquent about the "Montene-greens," as he always called them, in their wars with the Turks. If ever there was a statesman who deserved to be called "a man of peace," Mr. Gladstone was that man.
    • p. 135
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