H. H. Asquith

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916

Herbert Henry Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith, KG, PC (12 September 185215 February 1928) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916. As Prime Minister, his Liberal Party government passed social legislation beginning the modern British welfare state and reducing the power of the House of Lords. He was the leader of the country during World War I and formed a wartime coalition with the Conservative Party. He was was forced to resign in favor of David Lloyd George due to disagreements over military strategy and conscription, leading to a split between the two that began the decline of the Liberal Party.

H.H. Asquith by Spy


  • [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

Home Secretary

  • 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
  • [W]e 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

Opposition MP

  • 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
  • [T]he 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
  • [W]here 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. (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 after reading in the The Times Joseph Chamberlain's speech advocating protectionism (16 May 1903), quoted in The Autobiography of Margot Asquith, Volume Two (1936 ed.), p. 46

Chancellor of the Exchequer

  • [A] return to more thrifty and economical administration [is] the first and paramount duty of the Government.
  • It is, I think, a mistake to treat the annual Budget as if it were a thing by itself, and not, as it is, or as it certainly ought to be, an integral part and a necessary link in a connected and coherent chain of policy. In my opinion...the country has reached a stage in which, whether we look merely at its fiscal or at its social exigencies, we cannot afford to drift along the stream and treat each year's finance as if it were self-contained. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in other words, ought to Budget, not for one year, but for several years.
  • 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.
  • [F]or 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.

Prime Minister

  • 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 (1973), p. 257
  • [T]he bond which united them, if their critics were to be believed, might be a tranquil consciousness of effortless superiority.
  • [O]ne 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.
  • 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 on the declaration of war with Germany (6 August 1914)
  • Let us realize...that we are fighting as a united Empire in a cause worthy of the highest traditions of our race. ... [L]et 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. (1927), p. 212
  • [T]he 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.
  • 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)
  • [T]hree 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)
  • [T]his 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)

Later life

  • 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. (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. (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. (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 during the Irish War of Independence (19 February 1921), quoted in Speeches by The Earl of Oxford and Asquith, K.G. (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. (1927), p. 289
  • The Income Tax at 6s., 5s., 4s. 6d.—I go further, and say, even at 4s.—is, in my opinion, a bad and pernicious form of capital levy... The effect of such an Income Tax...is not merely to curtail the enjoyments and comforts of a large number of our middle classes. Its effect is to dry up the stream which fertilises the whole field of employment and of industry. I should have thought that no class of the community is more directly interested in a reduction of the Income Tax to—I will not say the pre-War standard, for that is out of sight now, and an utter impossibility—but to a reasonable and moderate standard, than those people who gain their living by the work of their hands. It is not a class question at all. It affects the interests of the whole business world and the whole future of British trade.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (17 April 1923)
  • [I]f 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 after the general election resulted in a hung Parliament (18 December 1923), quoted in The Times (19 December 1923), p. 16
  • It is said, however, that this is not an ordinary case of the transfer of power from one party to another. It means, for the first time, the installation of a Socialist Government in the seats of the mighty. Few people who have not had the melancholy privilege of reading my postbag for the last month will realise what this prospect means to a large and by no means negligible mass of our fellow subjects. I have had a very large experience of the vagaries of postal correspondence. I have never come across more virulent manifestations of an epidemic of political hysteria... I have been in turn, during these weeks, cajoled, wheedled, almost caressed, taunted, threatened, brow-beaten, and all but blackmailed to step in as the "saviour of society."
    • Speech in the House of Commons shortly before the Labour Party formed its first government (17 January 1924)
  • 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. (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 Asquith

  • To me personally he was always most friendly—very easy of access, with a marvellous memory and a loyalty to his colleagues which it is impossible to over-praise. But as the chief of a War Cabinet he was not quite in his element. He was an excellent chairman, quick to understand any point raised, unfailingly courteous to all his colleagues, but apparently regarding it as no part of his duty to initiate solutions of any difficulty or to make suggestions for a new departure in policy. The result was that Cabinet discussions under him were models of propriety and decorum but a little wanting in that liveliness and resource necessary to cope with the prodigious difficulties with which we faced.
  • As Prime Minister, Asquith had his faults. His training had been that of a barrister, whose business it is to support the case in his brief by all fair means. That is not enough for a Prime Minister, particularly in war-time. He must be prepared to originate policy and insist on its adoption. Nor are the issues so clear as they are in legal proceedings. Decisions have to be made not as to what was right in the past, but rather as to what is likely to happen and what ought to happen in the future. That means the adoption of definite plans and their energetic support, even if at first their success seems doubtful. In the qualities needed for action of that kind, Asquith was deficient. No one could better weigh arguments submitted to him or had more extensive and accurate knowledge of the facts of any problem. As Chairman of the Cabinet, or any other committee, he was excellent. It was in what may be called instinctive leadership—the faculty of being right and of forcing through his views—that he did not succeed so well. I remember Bonar Law saying to me of Lloyd George that he was a difficult man to oppose. I don't think I should ever have said that of Asquith. But I should have said that he was an almost perfect man to serve. His loyalty, his straightforwardness, his power of reasoning and his astonishingly accurate memory, together with his gift for clear and forcible expression, made him a delightful chief, an admirable administrator and a notable Parliamentarian.
  • He has taken his choice, and he has by that choice constituted his own immortality. He will go down to history as the last Prime Minister of a Liberal Administration. He has sung the swan song of the Liberal party. When next the country is called upon for a decision, if it wants a Socialist Government, it will vote for a Socialist; if it does not want a Socialist Government, it will vote for a Unionist. It will not vote again for those who denatured its mandate and betrayed its trust.
  • It was reserved for Mr. Asquith to cast away a second opportunity. After the general election men of all parties turned cordially and even eagerly to a veteran statesman whose sterling qualities, though tried by both extremes of fortune, have always commanded respect. But Mr. Asquith would not help. He proclaimed himself first and last a party man. Assuming airs of superiority for which there was little warrant, Mr. Asquith and his friends declared that all common action with Conservatives was improper, immoral, degrading in the last degree, and not to be thought of in any circumstances. Farther than that, they would place and keep a Socialist minority in office and beg in the most humane manner for any crumb which might fall from their table. Under this guidance the Liberal party deliberately cast away their opportunity of rendering an immense service to the public, and delivered themselves over bound hand and foot to their implacable Socialist foes. How swift are time’s revenges? Only a few months have passed, but now they can appreciate the almost fatal consequences of their failure to place country before party at a fateful juncture.
  • The impression of Mr. Asquith that remains with me is of a man of great dignity, somewhat aloof and Olympian. He belonged to the Victorian age. He would have thought it ill-bred to discuss current politics at the dinner-table, or to criticise other politicians. The guests who were staying in his house, especially those who claimed to know him best, would tell you what he was thinking, but his own conversation never gave a clue. I have an entry in my diary for June 25th 1916, when I was staying at The Wharf: "They say the Prime Minister is worried about having made Lloyd George Secretary of State for War. He thinks it is the mistake of his life." Perhaps it was.
  • In my first year in the House of Commons, Mr. Asquith was leader of the Liberal Party and I give him pride of place among the parliamentary debaters of that time. His speeches were models of lucidity and brevity, with the English language at its best. In an age when prolixity was already becoming a substitute for conviction, he never wasted a word.
    • Anthony Eden, The Eden Memoirs: Facing the Dictators (1962), pp. 5-6
  • I always regretted then, as I regret now, that I never knew Asquith... Although party feelings were strained in those pre-war years and he necessarily stood out as the principal actor to most of what party loyalty impelled us to condemn, I never listened to him making a speech without being greatly impressed by the strength of the qualities that he could command. Complete mastery of his case, and perfect choice of language appropriate to its deployment before an intelligent and critical audience, went with what looked like an equally complete indifference, once his decision had been taken, to the opposition that might be aroused. However unwillingly, such qualities extorted admiration from his most bitter opponents. But whether because of this sort of feeling or in spite of it, he always remained for me a figure aloof, alarming and unapproachable.
  • The Liberals whom Asquith led formed one of the most talented administrations in British history, dominated in 1914 by such figures as Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer; Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty; Richard Haldane, a former reforming war minister, now Lord Chancellor. The prime minister himself was a survivor of an earlier era, old enough to have seen, as a boy of twelve in 1864, the bodies of five murderers dangling from the gallows outside Newgate, their heads concealed by white hoods. A lawyer of modest middle-class origins, 'a Roman reserve was always natural to Asquith,' in the words of his biographer. He fought against any expression of his stronger feelings.' George Dangerfield went further, asserting that Asquith lacked imagination and compassion; that, for all his high intelligence, he failed convincingly to address any of the great crises which overtook Britain during his years of office 'He was ingenious but not subtle, he could improvise quite brilliantly on somebody else's theme, He was moderately imperialist, moderately progressive, moderately humorous, and being the most fastidious of Liberal politicians, only moderately evasive.' If this judgment was cynical, it was plain that by August 1914 Asquith was a tired old man.
    • Max Hastings, Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War (2013) p. 23
  • If the British Empire was viewed around the world as rich and powerful, the Asquith government was seen as chronically weak. It was conspicuously failing to quell violent industrial action or the Ulster madness. It seemed unable effectively to address even the suffragette movement, whose clamorous campaign for votes for women had become deafening. Militants were smashing windows all over London; using acid to burn slogans on golf club greens; hunger-striking in prison. In June 1913 Emily Davison was killed after being struck by the King's horse in Derby. In the first seven months of 1914, 107 buildings were set on fire by suffragettes. Asquith's critics ignored an obvious point: no man could have contained or suppressed the huge social and political forces shaking Britain. George Dangerfield wrote: 'Very few prime ministers in history have been afflicted by so many plagues and in so short a space of time.' The prominent Irish Home Ruler John Dillon wrote Wilfrid Scawen Blunt: 'the country is menaced with revolution.' Domestic strife made a powerful impression on opinion abroad: a great democracy was seen to be sinking into decadence and decay. Britain's allies, France and Russia, were dismayed. Its prospective enemies, notably in Germany, found it hard to imagine that a country convulsed in such a fashion - with even its little army riven by fraction - could threaten their continental power and ambitions.
    • Max Hastings, Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War (2013) p. 25
  • 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 (1984), p. 259
  • I recollect Lord Morley once saying to me: “Asquith ought to have been a judge. He would have made a great one. I remember,” he said, “a conversation I had recently with Arthur Acland about early days when Acland, Asquith and I used to meet together often to discuss politics, and I said what a pleasant fellow he was. Acland replied, ‘Yes, but did you ever hear him make any suggestion of his own?’ I had to confess that although he discussed every proposition advanced by others with great intelligence and force, he never submitted any ideas of his own for our consideration.” Asquith undoubtedly had not only the mind, but the temperament of a judge.
  • He gave dignified but not rousing and vigorous leadership to the nation. But a War Minister must also have vision, imagination and initiative—he must show untiring assiduity, must exercise constant oversight and supervision of every sphere of war activity, must possess driving force to energise this activity, must be in continuous consultation with experts, official and unofficial, as to the best means of utilising the resources of the country in conjunction with Allies for the achievement of victory. If to this can be added a flair for conducting a great fight, then you have an ideal War Minister. Mr. Asquith at his best did not answer sufficiently to this description to make him a successful Chief Minister in a war which demanded all these qualities strained to the utmost. But apart from these shortcomings the nerve of the Prime Minister at this time was clearly giving out, and he gave the impression of a man who was overwhelmed, distracted and enfeebled not merely by the weight, but by the variety and complexity of his burdens. Whether he was ever fitted for the position of a War Minister in the greatest struggle in the history of the world may be open to doubt, but that he was quite unfitted at this juncture to undertake so supreme a task was not open to any question or challenge on the part of anyone who came constantly in contact with him at the time.
  • Asquith's will became visibly flabbier, tardier and more flaccid under the strain of the War. Then came the personal tragedy which shattered his nerve. The death of his brilliant son, Raymond, came upon him with stunning effect, and he visibly reeled under the blow. It came at a time when he needed all the calm poise and firmness of mind which man can command. For a crisis had arisen where statesmanship had to intervene, decide and direct. It was a misfortune for Britain that the great statesman who had the supreme responsibility was less equal to his task than he had ever been in the whole course of his distinguished career.
  • He had no vision, no power or desire of prevision, no ounce of drive in his composition, not a spark of initiative, no power of leadership of any sort or kind. He gave the Cabinet no lead; he never bound our work together; Cabinets were mere wastes of time; he was the worst chairman I ever sat under at any committee; he kept no sort of order at Cabinet councils nor even attempted to bring us to a decision; he hardly ever expressed any opinion himself. The desire on all occasions to avoid a decision was an absolute disease with him. That the Cabinet was always too late in everything it did, the supply of munitions, the reconstitution of the General Staff, the supply of men, the supply of food, was his fault.
    • Lord Selborne, notes (June 1916), quoted in John D. Fair, British Interparty Conferences: A Study of the Procedure of Conciliation in British Politics, 1867–1921 (1980), p. 322
  • [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.”
  • Asquith had a kind heart and was unfailingly gracious to such as gave him no contrary cause, even to those who did, for he was blessed or laden with kindness or weakness when sterner stuff was required. Lucid and restrained, he found it as difficult to be severe as other Prime Ministers with whom I have worked more intimately. I saw more of him after Gosse's introduction, being often invited to his modest and pleasant home in the country at Sutton Courtney. (I shrink from such conventional epithets, but one must be truthful.) His second marriage had pushed him into Society, though he was free from its snobbery... Asquith enjoyed his position but less gratingly than most of his kind. Hospitable, even matey after dinner, he drew nobody out, but one found oneself getting into good company as the port ran its laps... Asquith inspired no enthusiasm but an honest desire to be useful except on fine Sundays. Not that foreign affairs cropped up often in the country, and when they did he seemed too patient. Like Pitt, he put patience first in statecraft instead of third, after vision and the courage to apply it. How often has that British mistake been made! He seemed especially tolerant of German complaints about encirclement by a putrefying Russia, a petrified France and an armless Britain. Home affairs were his cup of tea, and I cared little for the beverage, beyond wondering where he would find 500 duds to swamp the House of Lords. In the House of Commons the Home Rule Bill caused some of the most violent scenes on record. We are not really self-controlled. Feelings ran higher than I had thought possible in Britain, and there was rant of civil war in Ireland, which Asquith bore affably in a family circle endowed with some of his gifts.
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