The Full Wiki

Lord Acton: Wikis

Advertisements

Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Encyclopedia

(Redirected to John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton article)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, KCVO, DL (10 January 1834 – 19 June 1902), known as Sir John Dalberg-Acton, 8th Bt from 1837 to 1869 and usually referred to simply as Lord Acton, was an English historian, the only son of Sir Ferdinand Dalberg-Acton, 7th Baronet[1] and grandson of the Neapolitan admiral, Sir John Acton, 6th Baronet. He was born in Naples.[2]

Sir John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton

Contents

Personal life

Lord Acton's grandfather, who in 1701 succeeded to the baronetcy and family estates in Shropshire, previously held by the English branch of the Acton family, represented a younger branch which had transferred itself first to France and then to Italy. However, by the extinction of the elder branch, the admiral became head of the family. His eldest son, Richard, married Marie Louise Pelline, the only daughter and heiress of Emeric Joseph Wolfgang Heribert, 1st Duc de Dalberg, a naturalised French noble of ancient German lineage who had entered the French service under Napoleon and represented Louis XVIII at the Congress of Vienna in 1814. After Sir Richard Acton's death in 1837, she became the wife of the 2nd Earl Granville (1840).[1] Comtesse de Dalberg was heiress of Hermsheim in Germany. She became Acton's mother.

Advertisements

Education

From an ancient Roman Catholic family, young Acton was educated at Oscott College under Dr (afterwards Cardinal) Wiseman until 1848 and then at Edinburgh where he studied privately. At Munich, Acton resided in the house of Döllinger, the great scholar and subsequent leader of the Old Catholic party, with whom he became lifelong friends. He had endeavoured to procure admission to Cambridge, but for a Roman Catholic this was impossible at that time. Nonetheless, Döllinger had inspired in him a deep love of historical research and a profound conception of its functions as a critical instrument. He was a master of the principal foreign languages and began at an early age to collect a magnificent historical library, with the object—which, however, he never realized—of writing a great "History of Liberty." In politics, he was always an ardent Liberal.

Although not a notable traveller, Acton spent much time in the chief intellectual centres of Europe and in the United States and numbered among his friends such men as Montalembert, Tocqueville, Fustel de Coulanges, Bluntschli, von Sybel and Ranke. In 1855, he was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Salop.[1] A year later, he was attached to Lord Granville's mission to Moscow as British representative at the coronation of Alexander II of Russia.

Family

In 1865 Acton married Countess Marie Anna Ludomilla Euphrosina von Arco auf Valley, daughter of the Bavarian Count Maximilian von Arco auf Valley, by whom he had six children:

  • Hon. Mary Elizabeth Anne Dalberg-Acton (1866–1951), married Lt-Col. Edward Bleiddian Herbert and had issue.
  • Hon. Annie Mary Catherine Dalberg-Acton (1868–1917)
  • Richard Lyon-Dalberg-Acton (1870–1924)
  • Hon. John Dalberg Dalberg-Acton (1872–1873)
  • Hon. Elizabeth Mary Dalberg-Acton (1874–1881)
  • Hon. Jeanne Marie Dalberg-Acton (1876–1919)

In America

Acton took a great interest in America, considering its Federal structure the perfect guarantor of individual liberties. During the American Civil War, his sympathies lay entirely with the Confederacy, for their defense of States' Rights against a centralized government that, by all historical precedent, would inevitably turn tyrannical. His notes to Gladstone on the subject helped sway many in the British government to sympathize with the South. After the South's surrender, he wrote to Robert E. Lee that "I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo."

Death and legacy

Lord Acton took ill in 1901 and died on 19 June 1902 in Tegernsee. He was succeeded in the title by his son, Richard Lyon-Dalberg-Acton, 2nd Baron Acton. His extensive library, formed for use and not for display and composed largely of books full of his own annotations, was bought immediately after his death by Andrew Carnegie and presented to John Morley, who forthwith gave it to the University of Cambridge.

Beliefs and influences

Portrait of John Acton by Franz Seraph von Lenbach, circa 1879

Politics

In 1859, Sir John Acton settled in England, at his country house, Aldenham, in Shropshire. He returned to the House of Commons that same year as a parliamentary member of the Irish Borough of Carlow and became a devoted admirer and adherent of Gladstone. However, he was not an active member, and his parliamentary career came to an end after the general election of 1865, when, having headed the poll for Bridgnorth, a scrutiny of the ballot led to his losing his seat. He contested Bridgnorth again in 1868 but to no avail.

In 1869 he was raised to the peerage by Queen Victoria and became the first Baron Acton; he was an intimate friend and constant correspondent of Gladstone, and the two men had the very highest regard for one another. Matthew Arnold used to say that "Gladstone influences all round him but Acton; it is Acton who influences Gladstone."

Catholicism and Lord Acton

Meanwhile, Acton became the editor of the Roman Catholic monthly paper, The Rambler, in 1859, on John Henry (later Cardinal) Newman's retirement from the editorship. In 1862, he merged this periodical into the Home and Foreign Review. His contributions at once gave evidence of his remarkable wealth of historical knowledge. But though a sincere Roman Catholic, his whole spirit as a historian was hostile to ultramontane pretensions, and his independence of thought and liberalism of view speedily brought him into conflict with the Roman Catholic hierarchy. As early as August 1862, Cardinal Wiseman publicly censured the Review; and when in 1864, after Döllinger's appeal at the Munich Congress for a less hostile attitude towards historical criticism, the pope issued a declaration that the opinions of Catholic writers were subject to the authority of the Roman congregations, Acton felt that there was only one way of reconciling his literary conscience with his ecclesiastical loyalty, and he stopped the publication of his monthly periodical. He continued, however, to contribute articles to the North British Review, which, previously a Scottish Free Church organ, had been acquired by friends in sympathy with him, and which for some years (until 1872, when it ceased to appear) actively promoted the interests of a high-class Liberalism in both temporal and ecclesiastical matters; he also did a good deal of lecturing on historical subjects.

In 1874, when Gladstone published his pamphlet on The Vatican Decrees, Lord Acton wrote during November and December a series of remarkable letters to The Times, illustrating Gladstone's main theme by numerous historical examples of papal inconsistency, in a way which must have been bitter enough to the ultramontane party, but demurring nevertheless to Gladstone's conclusion and insisting that the Church itself was better than its premises implied. Acton's letters led to another storm in the English Roman Catholic world, but once more it was considered prudent by the Holy See to leave him alone. In spite of his reservations, he regarded "communion with Rome as dearer than life".

"Lord Acton's dictum"

In 1870 came the great crisis in Roman Catholicism over Pope Pius IX's promulgation of the doctrine of papal infallibility. Lord Acton, who was in complete sympathy on this subject with Döllinger, went to Rome in order to throw all his influence against it, but the step he so much dreaded was not to be averted. The Old Catholic separation followed, but Acton did not personally join the seceders, and the authorities prudently refrained from forcing the hands of so competent and influential an English layman. It was in this context that, in a letter he wrote to scholar and ecclesiastic Mandell Creighton, dated April 1887, Acton made his most famous pronouncement:

"I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by full authority. There is no worse heresy than the fact that the office sanctifies the holder of it. "[3]

Thenceforth he steered clear of theological polemics. He devoted himself to reading, study and congenial society. With all his capacity for study, he was a man of the world and a man of affairs, not a bookworm. Little indeed came from his pen, his only notable publications being a masterly essay in the Quarterly Review of January 1878 on "Democracy in Europe;" two lectures delivered at Bridgnorth in 1877 on "The History of Freedom in Antiquity" and "The History of Freedom in Christianity" — these last the only tangible portions put together by him of his long-projected "History of Liberty;" and an essay on modern German historians in the first number of the English Historical Review, which he helped to found (1886). After 1879 he divided his time between London, Cannes, and Tegernsee in Bavaria, enjoying and reciprocating the society of his friends. In 1872 he had been given the honorary degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Munich University; in 1888 Cambridge gave him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, and in 1889 Oxford the Doctor of Civil Law; and in 1890 he was made a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford.

Influences

His reputation for learning gradually spread abroad, largely through Gladstone's influence. The latter found him a valuable political adviser, and in 1892, when the Liberal government came in, Lord Acton was made a lord-in-waiting. Finally, in 1895, on the death of Sir John Seeley, Lord Rosebery appointed him to the Regius Professorship of Modern History at Cambridge. His inaugural lecture on The Study of History, afterwards published with notes displaying a vast erudition, made a great impression in the university, and the new professor's influence on historical study was felt in many important directions. He delivered two valuable courses of lectures on the French Revolution and on Modern History, but it was in private that the effects of his teaching were felt most. The Cambridge Modern History, though he did not live to see it, was planned under his editorship.

Famous sayings of Lord Acton

  • “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”[4]
  • "Great men are almost always bad men."
  • “The strong man with the dagger is followed by the weak man with the sponge.”
  • “There is no worse heresy than the fact that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”
  • “There is not a soul who does not have to beg alms of another, either a smile, a handshake, or a fond eye.”
  • “The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.”
  • “Be not content with the best book; seek sidelights from the others; have no favourites.”
  • "The science of politics is the one science that is deposited by the streams of history, like the grains of gold in the sand of a river; and the knowledge of the past, the record of truths revealed by experience, is eminently practical, as an instrument of action and a power that goes to making the future."
  • “[History is] not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.”
  • “And remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that. All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
  • "The issue which has swept down the centuries and which will have to be fought sooner or later is the people versus the banks."
  • "The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern: every class is unfit to govern."
  • "Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right to do what we ought."
  • "There is no error so monstrous that it fails to find defenders among the ablest men."
  • "Save for the wild force of Nature, nothing moves in this world that is not Greek in its origin."[5]
  • "Socialism means slavery."
  • "At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects differed from their own; and this association, which is always dangerous, has been sometimes disastrous, by giving to opponents just grounds of opposition."

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c Dod, Robert P. (1860). The Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage of Great Britain and Ireland. London: Whitaker and Co.. pp. 83.  
  2. ^ Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0550160108, p.6
  3. ^ Dalberg-Acton, John Emerich Edward (1949), Essays on Freedom and Power, Boston:The Becon Press, p. 364
  4. ^ Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. 2002 at www.bartleby.com
  5. ^ John Acton Quotes

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Alexander
Member of Parliament for Carlow Borough
18591865
Succeeded by
Thomas Osborne Stock
Preceded by
Henry Whitmore
John Pritchard
Member of Parliament for Bridgnorth
1865 – 1866
With: John Pritchard
Succeeded by
Henry Whitmore
John Pritchard
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Acton
1869 – 1902
Succeeded by
Richard Lyon-Dalberg-Acton
Baronetage of England
Preceded by
Ferdinand Dalberg-Acton
Baronet
(of Aldenham)
1837 – 1902
Succeeded by
Richard Lyon-Dalberg-Acton

Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton article)

From Wikiquote

Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end.

John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, 1st Baron Acton (10 January 183419 June 1902) was an English historian, commonly known simply as Lord Acton.

Contents

Sourced

  • There are two things which cannot be attacked in front: ignorance and narrow-mindedness. They can only be shaken by the simple development of the contrary qualities. They will not bear discussion.
    • Letter (23 January 1861), published in Lord Acton and his Circle (1906) by Abbot Francis Aidan Gasquet, Letter 24
  • Every thing secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.
    • Letter (23 January 1861), published in Lord Acton and his Circle (1906) by Abbot Gasquet, Letter 24
  • Without presuming to decide the purely legal question, on which it seems evident to me from Madison's and Hamilton's papers that the Fathers of the Constitution were not agreed, I saw in State Rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy. The institutions of your Republic have not exercised on the old world the salutary and liberating influence which ought to have belonged to them, by reason of those defects and abuses of principle which the Confederate Constitution was expressly and wisely calculated to remedy. I believed that the example of that great Reform would have blessed all the races of mankind by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disorders of Republics. Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.
  • The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern. The law of liberty tends to abolish the reign of race over race, of faith over faith, of class over class.
    • Letter to Mary Gladstone (24 April 1881); later published in Letters of Lord Acton to Mary Gladstone (1913) p. 73
  • I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favorable presumption that they did not wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.
    • Letter to Mandell Creighton (April [3? or 5?], 1887) - some normally reliable sources indicate April 3, and others indicate April 5
  • There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.
    • Letter to Mandell Creighton (April [3? or 5?], 1887) published in Essays on Freedom and Power (1972)
  • Advice to Persons About to Write History — Don't.
    • Postscript of letter to Mandell Creighton (April [3? or 5?], 1887)
  • Liberty is the prevention of control by others. This requires self-control and, therefore, religious and spiritual influences; education, knowledge, well-being.
    • As quoted in Faith in Freedom : Libertarian Principles and Psychiatric Practices (2004) by Thomas Stephen Szasz, p. 10
  • The issue which has swept down the centuries and which will have to be fought sooner or later is the people versus the banks.
    • As quoted in Maxed Out : Hard Times, Easy Credit, and the Era of Predatory Lenders (2007) by James D. Scurlock

The History of Freedom in Antiquity (1877)

The History of Freedom in Antiquity (28 February 1877)
  • Liberty, next to religion has been the motive of good deeds and the common pretext of crime...
    • Opening statement.
  • At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects often differed from their own; and this association, which is always dangerous, has been sometimes disastrous, by giving to opponents just grounds of opposition, and by kindling dispute over the spoils in the hour of success. No obstacle has been so constant, or so difficult to overcome, as uncertainty and confusion touching the nature of true liberty. If hostile interests have wrought much injury, false ideas have wrought still more; and its advance is recorded in the increase of knowledge, as much as in the improvement of laws.
  • By liberty I mean the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes his duty against the influence of authority and majorities, custom and opinion. The State is competent to assign duties and draw the line between good and evil only in its immediate sphere. Beyond the limits of things necessary for its well-being, it can only give indirect help to fight the battle of life by promoting the influences which prevail against temptation, — religion, education, and the distribution of wealth.
  • In ancient times the State absorbed authorities not its own, and intruded on the domain of personal freedom. In the Middle Ages it possessed too little authority, and suffered others to intrude. Modern States fall habitually into both excesses. The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.
  • It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority. For there is a reserve of latent power in the masses which, if it is called into play, the minority can seldom resist.
  • Liberty and good government do not exclude each other; and there are excellent reasons why they should go together. Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end. It is not for the sake of a good public administration that it is required, but for security in the pursuit of the highest objects of civil society, and of private life. Increase of freedom in the State may sometimes promote mediocrity, and give vitality to prejudice; it may even retard useful legislation, diminish the capacity for war, and restrict the boundaries of Empire.
  • The Stoics could only advise the wise man to hold aloof from politics, keeping the unwritten law in his heart. But when Christ said: "Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and unto God the things that are God's," those words, spoken on His last visit to the Temple, three days before His death, gave to the civil power, under the protection of conscience, a sacredness it had never enjoyed, and bounds it had never acknowledged; and they were the repudiation of absolutism and the inauguration of freedom.
  • It was from America that the plain ideas that men ought to mind their business, and that the nation is responsible to Heaven for the acts of the State — ideas long locked in the breast of solitary thinkers, and hidden among Latin folios—burst forth like a conqueror upon the world they were destined to transform, under the title of the Rights of Man...and the principle gained ground, that a nation can never abandon its fate to an authority it cannot control.
  • The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.
  • Truth is the only merit that gives dignity and worth to history.
  • Writers the most learned, the most accurate in details, and the soundest in tendency, frequently fall into a habit which can neither be cured nor pardoned — the habit of making history into the proof of their theories.

The History of Freedom in Christianity (1877)

The History of Freedom in Christianity (28 May 1877)
  • Machiavelli's teaching would hardly have stood the test of parliamentary government, for public discussion demands at least the profession of good faith. But it gave an immense impulse to absolutism by silencing the consciences of very religious kings, and made the good and the bad very much alike.

The Study Of History (1895)

Inaugural lecture on The Study Of History (11 June 1895), included in Lectures on Modern History (1906) - PDF file at Google
  • I am not thinking of those shining precepts which are the registered property of every school; that is to say — learn as much by writing as by reading; be not content with the best book; seek sidelights from the others; have no favourites; keep men and things apart; guard against the prestige of great names; see that your judgments are your own; and do not shrink from disagreement; no trusting without testing; be more severe to ideas than to actions; do not overlook the strength of the bad cause of the weakness of the good; never be surprised by the crumbling of an idol or the disclosure of a skeleton; judge talent at its best and character at its worst; suspect power more than vice, and study problems in preference to periods.
    • Many of these precepts which he quotes here have been quoted as originating with Lord Acton.
  • Most of this, I suppose, is undisputed, and calls for no enlargement. But the weight of opinion is against me when I exhort you never to debase the moral currency or to lower the standard of rectitude, but to try others by the final maxim that governs your own lives, and to suffer no man and no cause to escape the undying penalty which history has the power to inflict on wrong. The plea in extenuation of guilt and mitigation of punishment is perpetual. At every step we are met by arguments which go to excuse, to palliate, to confound right and wrong, and reduce the just man to the level of the reprobate. The men who plot to baffle and resist us are, first of all, those who made history what it has become. They set up the principle that only a foolish Conservative judges the present time with the ideas of the past; that only a foolish Liberal judges the past with the ideas of the present.

Misattributed

  • Opinions alter, manners change, creeds rise and fall, but the moral laws are written on the tablets of eternity.
    • James Anthony Froude, in the lecture "The Science of History" (5 February 1864); published in Representative Essays (1885) by George Haven Putnam, p. 274; Lord Acton quoted Froude in an address "The Study Of History" (11 June 1895), which led to this being widely attributed to him. The phrase has also sometimes been misquoted as: Opinions alter, manners change, creeds rise and fall, but the moral laws are written on the table of eternity.

External links

Wikisource has original works written by or about:

Advertisements






Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address
Message