H. H. Asquith
former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
- [A] party requires party spirit, and party spirit is the product of a very complex sentiment, which is slow to grow and hard to sustain, and which thrives best where it can be nourished by historic memories.
- ‘The English Extreme Left’, The Spectator (12 August 1876), p. 8
- The severance of Ulster from the rest of Ireland is a geographical, and, therefore, a political impossibility. ... The Union is safe so long as Ulster is loyal.
- ‘The invasion of Ulster’, The Spectator (29 September 1883), p. 6
- I...say to my working-men friends here, before you forsake your support and allegiance to the Liberal party, and before you go trying to found some separate organization of your own, let me venture to put before you two considerations. In the first place I would beg of you to remember that in English public life and in English history we have hitherto always had parties which did not represent, or which, at any rate, did not profess to represent, particular classes, but which looked at the interests of the community from the point of view of the community as a whole.
- Speech in Hull (22 January 1895), quoted in The Times (23 January 1895), p. 6
- ...we claim to start from and to maintain in all our political action this fundamental principle—that the interests of the community as a whole ought to be paramount over the interests of any class, any interest, or any section which that community contains. That is the root and spring of Liberalism.
- Speech in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (30 January 1895), quoted in The Times (31 January 1895), p. 6
- Let them take the debate which had recently been carried on with so much vivacity on the subject of Imperial expansion. There was a process of expansion which was as normal, as necessary, as inseparable, and unmistakable a sign of vitality in a nation as the corresponding processes in the growing human body. We might control and direct it by oversight and by means adapted to the end, but we could not arrest it. ... it was not part of the most illustrious apostles and disciples of Liberalism to condemn expansion in the sense which he had described it.
- Speech in Darwen, Lancashire (27 January 1899), quoted in The Times (28 January 1899), p. 8
- In 1851 Harriet Martineau had just published a...“History of England during the Thirty Years' Peace”. The Great Exhibition of 1851...was about to open its doors and inaugurate what many people regarded as a new era of international concord. Industry was to be the recruiting sergeant of the future, and war, with its unproductive expenditure, with its futile hatreds and animosities, was to be superseded by the bloodless revolution of free competitors in the open markets of the world. For success in that new and pacific international struggle no nation was so well equipped as our own. We started with enormous advantages. Fifty years had passed. How did we stand to-day? The civilized world, which in 1851 seemed to be in the mood to send in its swords to be beaten into ploughshares, was now transformed into an armed camp; the 30 years' peace which Miss Martineau described had been succeeded by 50 years of almost continuous war.
- Speech in Leeds (23 November 1900), quoted in The Times (24 November 1900), p. 8
- So far from enjoying the undisputed hegemony which was so confidently predicted for British trade 50 years ago, there was not now an inch of ground in any one of the international markets for which we were not fighting with all our available strength. We had long ceased to enjoy that relative superiority in natural advantages with which we started upon the race.
- Speech in Leeds (23 November 1900), quoted in The Times (24 November 1900), p. 8
- ...the rise of Germany into the front rank of the commercial Powers of the world was the most remarkable illustration that was to be found of the practical value of education, organization, and concentration. ... Any man who read the accounts of what was done and provided in France, Germany, Belgium, Austria, and, above all, the United States of America, and contrasted the magnificent educational apparatus in which the humblest boy in those countries might aspire to be a participant with our own scanty, slovenly, unscientific, and ill-organized system, or want of system, would no longer be at a loss to understand why England was handicapped in the race for commercial supremacy.
- Speech in Leeds (23 November 1900), quoted in The Times (24 November 1900), p. 8
- ...where we were obliged to part company with our friends was here—that we held and still hold that war was neither intended nor desired by the Government and the people of Great Britain, but that it was forced upon us without adequate reason, entirely against our will.
- Speech in the Liverpool Street Station Hotel, London (20 June 1901) on the Boer War, quoted in Speeches by The Earl of Oxford and Asquith, K.G. (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1927), p. 40
- Wonderful news to-day, and it is only a question of time when we shall sweep this country.
- Remark to Margot Asquith (16 May 1903) after reading in the The Times Joseph Chamberlain's speech advocating protectionism, quoted in The Autobiography of Margot Asquith, Volume Two (London: Penguin, 1936), p. 46
Chancellor of the ExchequerEdit
- ...a return to more thrifty and economical administration [is] the first and paramount duty of the Government.
- Budget speech in the House of Commons (30 April 1906)
- I...am not what is called a Socialist. I believe in the right of every man face to face with the State to make the best of himself, and, subject to the limitation that he does not become a nuisance or a danger to the community, to make less than the best of himself. ...[B]ut...there is nothing that calls so loudly or so imperiously as the possibilities of social reform.
- Budget speech in the House of Commons (18 April 1907)
- ...for us here, 43,000,000 of people in these two small islands, dependent as we are upon extraneous sources of supply for the food of the people and the materials of the industry, the one free, open, untrammelled market in the whole world—for us, I say, free trade is the breath of life, and there is no social reform that would not be dearly purchased by its sacrifice.
- Budget speech in the House of Commons (18 April 1907)
- I have realised from the first that if it could not be proved that social reform (not Socialism) can be financed on a Free Trade line, a return to Protection is a moral certainty.
- Letter to John Strachey (9 May 1908), quoted in H. C. G. Matthew, The Liberal Imperialists: The Ideas and Politics of a Post-Gladstonian Élite (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), p. 257
- [T]he bond which united them, if their critics were to be believed, might be a tranquil consciousness of effortless superiority.
- Remarks to a dinner given to Asquith in the House of Commons by MPs who had graduated from Balliol College (22 July 1908), quoted in The Times (23 July 1908), p. 12
- ...one thing is certain, that the Budget of next year will stand at the very centre of our work, by which, I was going to say, we shall stand or fall, by which certainly we shall be judged in the estimation both of the present and of posterity.
- Speech to the National Liberal Club (11 December 1908), quoted in The Times (12 December 1908), p. 10
- We are met here this afternoon under circumstances which are unexampled in the history of the British Parliament. ... For the first time in English history, the grant of the whole of the Ways and Means for the Supply and Service of the year—a grant made at the request of the Crown to the Crown by the Commons—has been intercepted and nullified by a body which admittedly has not the power to increase or to diminish one single tax, or to propose any substitute or alternative for anyone of the taxes. The House of Commons would, in the judgment of His Majesty's Government, be unworthy of its past and of the traditions of which it is the custodian and the trustee if it allowed another day to pass without making it clear that it does not mean to brook the greatest indignity, and I will add the most arrogant usurpation, to which, for more than two centuries, it has been asked to submit.
- No, I will not. We shall wait and see.
- Answer to an elector who asked him if he would say what he would do if the House of Lords rejected a Bill limiting their veto, in East Fife (20 January 1910), quoted in The Times (21 January 1910), p. 10
- Phrase used repeatedly in speeches in 1910; see Jenkins, Roy (1964). "A Trial of Statesmanship I". Asquith.
- Perhaps the House will allow me to add this: that I am afraid we must brace ourselves to confront one of those terrible events in the order of Providence which baffle foresight, which appall the imagination and make us realise the inadequacy of words to do justice to what we feel. We cannot say more at this moment than to give a necessarily imperfect impression of our sense of admiration that the best traditions of the sea seem to have been observed and that willing sacrifices were offered to give the first chance for safety to those who were least able to help themselves, and of the heartfelt sympathy of the whole nation to those who find themselves suddenly bereaved of their nearest and dearest.
- In view of this grave and unprecedented outrage, the House may be assured that his Majesty's Government will take without delay appropriate steps to vindicate the authority of the law and to protect officers and servants of the King and his Majesty's subjects in the exercise of their duties and in the enjoyment of their legal rights.
- Speech in the House of Commons on the gun-running at Larne, Ireland (27 April 1914), quoted in The Times (28 April 1914), p. 8
- If I am asked what we are fighting for I reply in two sentences. In the first place, to fulfil a solemn international obligation, an obligation which, if it had been entered into between private persons in the ordinary concerns of life, would have been regarded as an obligation not only of law but of honour, which no self-respecting man could possibly have repudiated. I say, secondly, we are fighting to vindicate the principle which, in these days when force, material force, sometimes seems to be the dominant influence and factor in the development of mankind, we are fighting to vindicate the principle that small nationalities are not to be crushed, in defiance of international good faith, by the arbitrary will of a strong and overmastering Power. I do not believe any nation ever entered into a great controversy—and this is one of the greatest history will ever know—with a clearer conscience and a stronger conviction that it is fighting, not for aggression, not for the maintenance even of its own selfish interest, but that it is fighting in defence of principles the maintenance of which is vital to the civilisation of the world.
- Speech in the House of Commons (6 August 1914) on the declaration of war with Germany
- Let us realize...that we are fighting as a united Empire in a cause worthy of the highest traditions of our race. ... let us recall the memories of the great men and the great deeds of the past, commemorated, some of them, as you have reminded us, in the monuments which we see around us on these walls, not forgetting the dying message of the younger Pitt, his last public utterance made at the table of your predecessor, my Lord Mayor, in this very hall: “England has saved herself by her exertions and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example.” (Cheers.) England in those days gave a noble answer to his appeal, and did not sheathe the sword until, after nearly twenty years of fighting, the freedom of Europe was secured. Let us go and do likewise. (Cries of “Bravo” and cheers.)
- Speech at the Guildhall, London (4 September 1914), quoted in Speeches by The Earl of Oxford and Asquith, K.G. (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1927), p. 212
- ...the idea of public right. What does it mean when translated into concrete terms? It means first and foremost, the clearing of the ground by the definite repudiation of militarism as the governing factor in the relations of States and of the future moulding of the European world. It means next that room must be found and kept for the independent existence and the free development of the smaller nationalities each with a corporate consciousness of its own. ... And it means finally, or it ought to mean, perhaps, by a slow and gradual process, the substitution for force, for the class of competing ambition, for groupings and alliances and a precarious equipoise, of a real European partnership based on the recognition of equal right and established and enforced by a common will.
- Speech in Dublin (25 September 1914), quoted in The Times (26 September 1914), p. 10
- We shall never sheathe the sword, which we have not lightly drawn, until Belgium recovers in full measure all, and more than all, that she has sacrificed; until France is adequately secured against the menace of aggression; until the rights of the smaller nationalities of Europe are placed upon an unassailable foundation; and until the military domination of Prussia is wholly and finally destroyed.
- Speech at the Guildhall, London (9 November 1914), see Swatridge, Colin (2014). Oxford Guide to Effective Argument and Critical Thinking. Oxford University Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-19-165180-9.
- In dealing with an opponent who has openly repudiated all the restraints, both of law and of humanity, we are not going to allow our efforts to be strangled in a network of juridical niceties. We do not intend to put into operation any measures which we do not think to be effective, and I need not say we shall carefully avoid any measures which violate the rules either of humanity or of honesty. Subject to those two conditions I say to our enemy—I say it on behalf of the Government, and I hope on behalf of the House of Commons—that under existing conditions there is no form of economic pressure to which we do not consider ourselves entitled to resort.
- Speech in the House of Commons (1 March 1915)
- ...three of the most important resolutions, namely, those relating to the Most-Favoured-Nation treatment, protection against dumping or unfair competition, and the adoption of measures to render the Allies independent of enemy countries as regards essential industries, were proposed by the British delegates and passed at the Conference in the form in which they were put forward.
- Speech in the House of Commons (2 August 1916)
- ...this long and sombre procession of cruelty and suffering, lighted up as it is by deathless examples of heroism and chivalry, cannot be allowed to end in some patched-up, precarious, dishonouring compromise, masquerading under the name of Peace. No one desires to prolong for a single unnecessary day the tragic spectacle of bloodshed and destruction, but we owe it to those who have given their lives for us, the flower of our youth, the hope and promise of our future, that their supreme sacrifice shall not have been in vain. The ends of the Allies are well known; they have been frequently and precisely stated. They are not selfish ends, they are not vindictive ends, but they require that there shall be adequate reparation for the past and adequate security for the future. On their achievement we in this country honestly believe depends the best hopes of humanity.
- Speech in the House of Commons (11 October 1916)
- Peace we all desire. Peace can only come—peace, I mean, that is worth the name and that satisfies the definition of the word—peace will only come on terms that atonement is made for past wrongs, that the weak and downtrodden are restored, that the faith of treaties is observed, and that the sovereignty of public law is securely enthroned over the nations of the world.
- Speech in the House of Commons (19 December 1916)
- Is Germany prepared not only to evacuate Belgium, not only to make full reparation for the colossal mischief and damage which have accompanied her devastating occupation of the country, and her practical enslavement, so far as she can carry it out, of large portions of the population...but to restore to Belgium not the pretence of liberty, but complete and unfettered and absolute independence?
- Speech in the House of Commons (26 July 1917), quoted in The Times (27 July 1917), p. 10
- Some of the great results of the war, if they are adequately realized, are in complete harmony with what for ages past have been Liberal aims and ideals. I mean, for instance, the abolition of militarism; I mean the progressive disarmament of the civilized peoples of the world; I mean the recognition for small states as well as for great States of the principle of self-determination. ... And it means, above all, or ought to mean...a conversion of the old State system with its precarious equipoise of power, with its shifting alliances and combinations, with its infinite opportunities for the achievements of selfish ambition and territorial aggrandizement, it means the conversion of that into a true international democratic polity, a system of Government under which there will be equal rights and equal power to all States whatever their size.
- Speech in Paisley (28 January 1920), quoted in Speeches by The Earl of Oxford and Asquith, K.G. (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1927), p. 245
- The military domination of Prussia, with all that it involved to the fortunes of the secular struggle between force upon the one side and right upon the other, that domination has been once and for all and for ever overthrown.
- Speech in Paisley (6 February 1920), quoted in Speeches by The Earl of Oxford and Asquith, K.G. (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1927), p. 265
- More important still, perhaps, the sanctity of treaties and of the public law of Europe has been finally vindicated; and last, and most important of all, we have set up in the League of Nations a new international polity which promises, if it is given free scope and full authority, first to bring about progressive disarmament, and next to provide in future a rational and humane substitute for the ruinous arbitrament of war.
- Speech in Paisley (6 February 1920), quoted in Speeches by The Earl of Oxford and Asquith, K.G. (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1927), p. 266
- Everyone desires outrages to cease, and its perpetrators, from whatever camp they proceed, to be detected and punished. (Hear, hear.) But this cannot be too clearly said—it is possible for the State to pay too high a price for what is called the vindication of the law. The price is too high, far too high, when it involves the enthronement in the seat of justice of revenge, and the borrowing by the Executive of the criminals' own methods of indiscriminate robbery, arson, and murder. (Cheers.)
- Speech in the Euston Theatre, London (19 February 1921) during the Irish War of Independence, quoted in Speeches by The Earl of Oxford and Asquith, K.G. (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1927), p. 287
- They are confronted in Ireland with a situation which is largely due to their own lack of insight and of sympathy, confronted with a situation which needed strong and firm handling, strong and firm, but at the same time and above all, just, even-handed, and dispassionate. They have let loose this orgy of reprisals which confuse the innocent and the guilty in a common tumult of lawless violence. They deny, they prevaricate, they cloak and screen and block the avenues to truth in a childish belief that when order has been restored, a cowed and subjugated people will spread out grateful hands to grasp the boon of pinchbeck Home Rule. I say deliberately that never in the lifetime of the oldest among us has Great Britain sunk so low in the moral scale of nations. That, at any rate, when most of the members of the Coalition are forgotten, will be an achievement which will be remembered in history.
- Speech in the Euston Theatre, London (19 February 1921), quoted in Speeches by The Earl of Oxford and Asquith, K.G. (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1927), p. 289
- ...if a Labour Government is ever to be tried in this country, as it will be, sooner or later, it could hardly be tried under safer conditions.
- Speech to the National Liberal Club (18 December 1923), quoted in The Times (19 December 1923), p. 16
- The socialization or nationalization of production and distribution and the extinction of what is called Capitalism—by whatever name the ideal, and the process for its attainment, is called—would starve the resources, and, in time, drain away the life-blood of the great productive industries which depend for their efficiency on the free play of initiative and enterprise. And Labour is becoming more and more a class organization, an expression and embodiment of what is called “class-consciousness.” That again was significantly illustrated in the general strike, which was directed by organized Labour, and which was countenanced—it is true, in a somewhat shamefaced fashion—by the Parliamentary Labour Party leaders.
- Speech in Greenock (15 October 1926), quoted in Speeches by The Earl of Oxford and Asquith, K.G. (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1927), p. 309
- What is the use of talking of Empire if here, at its very centre, there is always to be found a mass of people stunted in education, prey to intemperance, huddled and congested beyond the possibility of realising in any true sense either social or domestic life
- Jenkins R, Mr. Balfour s Poodle, p.11
Quotes about AsquithEdit
- Asquith drunk can make a better speech than any one of us, sober.
- Andrew Bonar Law (c. December 1911), quoted in John Vincent (ed.), The Crawford Papers: The Journals of David Lindsay, Twenty-seventh Earl of Crawford and Tenth Earl of Balcarres (1871-1940), During the Years 1892 to 1940 (Manchester University Press, 1984), p. 259
- [H]is interventions on critical occasions more than ever confirmed his reputation as the most formidable debater in the House. Campbell-Bannerman called him the “sledge-hammer,” and on critical occasions when Asquith happened not to be in the House, he used to say to the Whips, “send for the sledge-hammer.”
- John Alfred Spender and Cyril Asquith, Life of Herbert Henry Asquith, Lord Oxford and Asquith: Volume I (1932), p. 181