John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, 1st Baron Acton was an English historian, politician and writer commonly known as Lord Acton.
He was born in Naples, Italy, on 10 January 1834.
The birth certificate, written in Italian, described his father as Don Ferdinando Riccardo Acton, “Lord-in-Waiting to His Majesty Whom God preserve” and English Baronet, and his mother as Baroness Donna Maria Luisa Pellina de Dalberg, domiciled with her husband in Naples at the Riviera di Chiaja.
He is famous for some remarks he made in a letter to an Archbishop of the Church of England, which was part of a larger conversation about how historians should judge the past.
The Archbishop was inclined towards a moral relativism that was uncritical of past leaders and too lenient with their crimes. On the contrary, Lord Acton argued that all people, past or present, leaders or not , should be held to universal moral standards.
In one of his three letters he made this famous statement:
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority.”
“Il potere tende a corrompere e il potere assoluto corrompe in modo assoluto. Gli uomini di potere sono quasi sempre malvagi, anche quando esercitano influenza e non autorità”.
Image: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1806) Napoleon on his Imperial throne