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George Savile, First Marquess of Halifax

George Savile, 1st Marquess of Halifax, (November 11, 1633 – April 5, 1695) was an English statesman, writer, and politician who sat in the House of Commons in 1660, and in the House of Lords after he was raised to the peerage in 1668.

Halifax’s influence, both as orator and as writer, on the public opinion of his day was probably unrivalled.

  • His intellectual powers, his high character, his urbanity, vivacity and satirical humour made a great impression on his contemporaries, and many of his witty sayings have been recorded.
  • Maintaining throughout his career a detachment from party, he never acted permanently or continuously with either of the two great factions, and exasperated both in turn by deserting their cause at the moment when their hopes seemed on the point of realization.
  • To them he appeared weak, inconstant, untrustworthy.

But the principle that chiefly influenced his political action, that of compromise, differed essentially from those of both parties, and his attitude with regard to the Whigs or Tories was thus by necessity continually changing.

  • Thus the regency scheme, which Halifax had supported while Charles still reigned, was opposed by him with perfect consistency at the revolution.
  • He readily accepted for himself the character of a “trimmer,” desiring, he said, to keep the boat steady, while others attempted to weigh it down perilously on one side or the other.
  • He concluded his tract with these assertions: “that our climate is a Trimmer between that part of the world where men are roasted and the other where they are frozen; that our Church is a Trimmer between the frenzy of fanatic visions and the lethargic ignorance of Popish dreams; that our laws are Trimmers between the excesses of unbounded power and the extravagance of liberty not enough restrained; that true virtue hath ever been thought a Trimmer, and to have its dwelling in the middle between two extremes; that even God Almighty Himself is divided between His two great attributes, His Mercy and His Justice. In such company, our Trimmer is not ashamed of his name. . . .”

Halifax believed that reading, writing and arithmetic should be taught to all and at the expense of the state.

  • His opinions again on the constitutional relations of the colonies to the mother country, already cited, were completely opposed to those of his own period.
  • For that view of his character which while allowing him the merit of a brilliant political theorist denies him the qualities of a man of action and of a practical politician, there is no solid basis.
  • The truth is that while his political ideas are founded upon great moral or philosophical generalizations, often vividly recalling and sometimes anticipating the broad conceptions of Edmund Burke, they are at the same time imbued with precisely those practical qualities which have ever been characteristic of English statesmenship, and were always capable of application to actual conditions. He had no taste for abstract political dogma, but seemed to venture no further than to think that “men should live in some competent state of freedom,”and that the limited monarchical and aristocratic government was the best adapted for his country.

Source: Click here to learn more about George Savile.

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