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


  • 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) (London: Constable, 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
  • ...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 (11 August 1887)

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