William Harcourt

British politician (1827–1904)

Sir William George Granville Venables Vernon Harcourt (14 October 18271 October 1904) was a British lawyer, journalist and Liberal statesman.

William Harcourt

Quotes edit

  • Socialism is the legitimate and inevitable corollary of Mr. Bright's doctrine. If want is the crime of the Government, then the duty of the Government must be to provide against want. This is Socialism pure and simple. It begins with national workshops, and ends with what Mr. Carlyle calls a "whiff of grapeshot." Mr. Bright may pretend to direct his attacks against the aristocracy alone, but it is the possessors of capital, the employers of labour, the great middle class of this country who have real cause to dread his revolutionary language.
    • ‘Pot and Kettle’, Saturday Review (21 March 1857), quoted in A. G. Gardiner, The Life of Sir William Harcourt. Volume I (1827-1886) (1923), p. 90
  • If there be any party which is more pledged than another to resist a policy of restrictive legislation, having for its object social coercion, that party is the Liberal party. (Cheers.) But liberty does not consist in making others do what you think right, (Hear, hear.) The difference between a free Government and a Government which is not free is principally this—that a Government which is not free interferes with everything it can, and a free Government interferes with nothing except what it must. A despotic Government tries to make everybody do what it wishes; a Liberal Government tries, as far as the safety of society will permit, to allow everybody to do as he wishes. It has been the tradition of the Liberal party consistently to maintain the doctrine of individual liberty. It is because they have done so that England is the place where people can do more what they please than in any other country in the world.
    • Speech in Oxford town hall (30 December 1872), quoted in The Times (31 December 1872), p. 5
  • It is this practice of allowing one set of people to dictate to another set of people what they shall do, what they shall think, what they shall drink, when they shall go to bed, what they shall buy, and where they shall buy it, what wages they shall get and how they shall spend them, against which the Liberal party have always protested.
    • Speech in Oxford town hall (30 December 1872), quoted in The Times (31 December 1872), p. 5
  • As regards the principle of the Bill, I, for one, am entirely in accord with it... Why, it is the great principle of the "three acres and a cow" which we fought out at the Election of 1885. ... The principle of the Bill, as I take it, is to be this—that the Local Authority is to have power by compulsion to acquire land for the advantage of the community in letting it out, or otherwise disposing of it to individuals. ... This was the great charge of Socialism which was brought against my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham; but, happily, we are all Socialists now.
    • Speech in the House of Commons on the Labourers' Allotments Bill (11 August 1887)
  • We are supreme and irresistible in our force. We can do what we like. We can crush these Dutchmen in the Transvaal, and you will have to crush the Dutchmen all over South Africa. You may send out a corps d'armée and you can do that; of that there is no doubt. But that, I hope, is not the question. For us it is not what we can do, but what is right we should do and what we ought to do. That is the only supremacy which I claim for the English nation.
    • Speech in the Workmen's Hall in New Tredegar shortly before the Boer War (20 September 1899), quoted in The Times (21 September 1899), p. 8

Quotes about Harcourt edit

  • As militant pamphleteer Harcourt was of the first order—as good as Junius or Swift or Bolingbroke, in weight, scorn, directness, trenchant stroke. When any ecclesiastical pretensions irritated the Erastianism that was the deepest and most undying of his political tenets, his pen made prelates and their crosiers shake.
  • Harcourt was the last of that long train of reasoners, debaters, orators, law-makers, great from Somers and Sir Robert Walpole onwards. New elements of feeling were edging their way into the public mind. The old plain, hard, secular, commonsense, after the Reform Bill of 1832 had revolutionised the foundations of parliamentary aristocracy, has become deepened and enriched, but changed. Harcourt was the last stout-hearted representative of the parliamentary polity of a long and not inglorious era.

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