When the Power of Love Replaced the Love of Power

Each week, Mr. Reed will relate the stories of people whose choices and actions make them heroes. See the table of contents for previous installments.

Westminster Abbey, nearly a thousand years old, is my favorite stop in London, which I’ve visited so many times now that I’ve lost count. Each time I walk through the main entrance, my eyes are drawn immediately to the left because of the imposing statue of a man I deeply admire: William Ewart Gladstone, a devoted friend of both British and American liberty and the greatest of all British prime ministers.

Today, the name Gladstone adorns towns, parks, schools, and many buildings all across both Great Britain and the United States — and deservedly so. The principles that he eloquently defended are perhaps best expressed in this excerpt from a speech he delivered in Scotland in 1879:

There should be a sympathy with freedom, a desire to give it scope, founded not upon visionary ideas, but upon the long experience of many generations within the shores of this happy isle — that in freedom you lay the firmest foundations both of loyalty and order; the firmest foundations for the development of individual character; and the best provision for the happiness of the nation at large.

The Grand Old Man of Classical Liberalism

The son of Scottish parents, Gladstone could speak Greek, Latin, Italian, and French as well as English, and he read 20,000 books in his lifetime. Biographer Philip Magnus wrote that “at the time of his death he was … the most venerated and influential statesman in the world.” Another biographer and House of Lords member, Roy Jenkins, declared…


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