Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury

English politician and founder of the Whig party (1621-1683)

Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury (22 July 162121 January 1683), known as Sir Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 2nd Baronet, from 1631 to 1661 and as The Lord Ashley from 1661 to 1672, was a prominent English politician during the Interregnum and during the reign of King Charles II. A founder of the Whig party, he is also remembered as the patron of John Locke.

(Not to be confused with his grandson, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury.)

Quotes about Shaftesbury

  • I will dwell a little longer on his character; for it was of a very extraordinary composition. He began to make a considerable figure very early. … He had a wonderful faculty in speaking to a popular assembly, and could mix both the facetious and the serious way of arguing very agreeably. He had a particular talent to make others trust to his judgment, and depend on it: and he brought over so many to a submission to his opinion, that I never knew any man equal to him in the art of governing parties, and of making himself the head of them. He was, as to religion, a deist at best.
    • Gilbert Burnet, in Bishop Burnet's History of His Own Time (1823), Vol. I, p. 164
Men of sense are really but of one religion. … men of sense never tell it.
  • For close designs and crooked counsels fit,
    Sagacious, bold, and turbulent of wit,
    Restless, unfixed in principles and place,
    In power unpleased, impatient of disgrace;
    A fiery soul, which, working out its way,
    Fretted the pigmy-body to decay
    And o'er informed the tenement of clay.
    A daring pilot in extremity,
    Pleased with the danger, when the waves went high,
    He sought the storms; but, for a calm unfit,
    Would steer too nigh the sands to boast his wit.
    Great wits are sure to madness near allied
    And thin partitions do their bounds divide;
    Else, why should he, with wealth and honour blest,
    Refuse his age the needful hours of rest?
    Punish a body which he could not please,
    Bankrupt of life, yet prodigal of ease?
    And all to leave what with his toil he won
    To that unfeathered two-legged thing, a son,
    Got, while his soul did huddled notions try,
    And born a shapeless lump, like anarchy.
    In friendship false, implacable in hate,
    Resolved to ruin or to rule the state.
  • Shaftesbury had, in reality, no intention of permanently subverting the independence of the individual members or of establishing a dictatorship based on popular support. He was forced to use the people in order to maintain pressure on the King, he had to establish close relations with the radicals, but he did not intend to share power with them. He used the most unscrupulous methods—subsidising perjurers and an inflammatory press, appealing to the masses with a daring and an ability unmatched in the next century and a half, because of the long odds which he faced. The party which he developed might appear to be revolutionary and unprecedented (with the ominous exception of Pym's), Shaftesbury might seem to be a real demagogue, a veritable Tribune of the people, but his ultimate objectives were essentially conservative. His theoretical proposals for the reform of the representative system, involving a drastic reduction in the size of the electorate, would have strengthened the independence of the individual member and established an oligarchy even more secure than that which was to rule in the eighteenth century.
    • J. R. Jones, The First Whigs: The Politics of the Exclusion Crisis, 1678–1683 (1961), p. 213
  • Not merely were the Whigs forced into total submission and inactivity in the years after 1683, but after 1688 those who called themselves Whigs explicitly repudiated Shaftesbury's example. To them, in retrospect, he appeared to have been a dangerous incendiary, another Pym. They revered Russell and Sidney as martyrs put to death by a tyrant, but they would not acknowledge Shaftesbury as their political ancestor. The frequent changes in his long career pointed to insincerity and opportunism, and his final conversion seemed to have been a tactical change of front rather than a genuine change of heart. It was not an accident that Shaftesbury had to wait so long for a biographer and apologist; he retained too much of the character of the age and circumstances which had produced Pym and Cromwell.
    • J. R. Jones, The First Whigs: The Politics of the Exclusion Crisis, 1678–1683 (1961), p. 216
  • I wish I could...give you a full notion of the idea which Mr. Locke had of that nobleman's merit. He lost no opportunity of speaking to it, and that in a manner which sufficiently showed he spoke from his heart... In short, Mr. Locke, so long as he lived, remembered with much delight the time he had spent in my Lord Shaftesbury's conversation; and never spoke of his known abilities with esteem only, but even with admiration.
    • Damaris Masham to Le Clerc (12 January 1705), quoted in K. H. D. Haley, The First Earl of Shaftesbury (1968), pp. 217-218
  • A person came to make him a visit whilst he was sitting one day with a lady of his family, who retired upon that to another part of the room with her work, and seemed not to attend to the conversation between the Earl and the other person, which turned soon into some dispute upon subjects of religion; after a good deal of that sort of talk, the Earl said at last, "People differ in their discourse and profession about these matters, but men of sense are really but of one religion." Upon which says the lady of a sudden, "Pray, my lord, what religion is that which men of sense agree in?" "Madam," says the Earl, "men of sense never tell it."