A disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve, taken together, would he my standard of a statesman. Everything else is vulgar in the conception, perilous in the execution .—Reflections (IV. 174).
Statesmen are placed on an eminence that they may have a larger horizon than we can possibly command. They have a whole before them, which we can contemplate only in the parts, and often without the necessary relations. Ministers are not only our natural rulers but our natural guides. Reason, clearly and manfully delivered, has in itself a mighty force: but reason in the mouth of legal authority, is, I may fairly say, irresistible.— Regicide Peace (VI. 171).
Perhaps their politics, as usual, took a tincture from their character, and they cultivated what they loved. The liberty they pursued was a liberty inseparable from order, from virtue, from morals, and from religion; and was neither hypocritically nor fanatically followed. They did not wish that liberty, in itself one of the first of blessings, should in its perversion become the greatest curse which could fall upon mankind. To preserve the constitution entire, and practically equal to all the great ends of its reformation, not in one single part, but in all its parts, was to them the first object. Popularity and power they regarded alike. These were with them only different means of obtaining that object; and had no preference over each other in their minds, but as one or the other might afford a surer or a less certain prospect of arriving at that end—Noble Lord (VI. 43).
I have known merchants with the sentiments and the abilities of great statesmen; and I have seen persons in the rank of statesmen, with the conceptions and characters of pedlars.— Fox's India Bill (III. 62).
Before men are put forward into the great trusts of the state, they ought by their conduct to have obtained such a degree of estimation in their country, as may be some sort of pledge and security to the public, that they will not abuse those trusts. It is no mean security for a proper use of power, that a man has shown by the general tenor of his actions, that the affection, the good opinion, the confidence of his fellow-citizens have been among the principal objects of his life ; and that he has owed none of the degradations of his power or fortune to a settled contempt, or occasional forfeiture of their esteem—Present Discontents (II. 34).
I do not hesitate to say that the road to eminence and power, from obscure condition, ought not to be made too easy, not a thing too much of course. If rare merit be the rarest of all rare things, it ought to pass through some sort of probation. The temple of honour ought to be seated on an eminence. If it be opened through virtue, let it be remembered too that virtue is never tried but by some difficulty and some struggle.— Reflections (IV. 55).
In our politics, as in our common conduct, we shall be worse than infants, if we do not put our senses under the tuition of our judgment, and effectually cure ourselves of that optical illusion which makes a brier at our nose of greater magnitude than an oak at five hundred yards distance.— Arcot (III. 188).
Men are wise with but little reflection, and good with little self-denial, in the business of all times except their own. We are very uncorrupt and tolerably enlightened judges of the transactions of past ages.— Present Discontents (II. 9).
It is of the utmost moment not to make mistakes in the use of strong measures: and firmness is then only a virtue when it accompanies the most perfect wisdom. In truth, inconstancy is a sort of natural corrective of folly and ignorance.— Present Discontents (II. 7).
It is, I own, not uncommon to be wrong in theory, and right in practice; and we are happy that it is so. Men often act right from their feelings, who afterwards reason but ill on them from principle.—Sublime and Beautiful (I. 105).