"Power Tends To Corrupt And Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely"
Context: In 1887 Bishop Creighton brought out the third and fourth volumes of his five-volume History of the Papacy during the Reformation. Because Lord Acton, one of England's most noted historians, had written a frank and earnest review of the first two volumes, Creighton asked him to review the second pair. This time Acton's review was extremely harsh, criticizing in particular Creighton's apparently lenient attitude toward the Inquisition which was instituted and conducted with great cruelty and power by the Popes in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. A correspondence between the two men ensued; and in the end Acton's final draft, while maintaining essentially his previously-made point, was much more friendly in tone. Lord Acton's remark about power and corruption echoes an earlier observation by William Pitt (1708-1778) in a speech concerning John Wilkes in 1770: "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it." In discussing the tremendous and unquestioned authority of the Popes, Acton writes:
. . . I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.