January 10, 1834 - June 19, 1902
English Historianby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
A man few can match in caliber, John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton’s accomplishments merit admiration and reflection. The son of a Rhenish Countess and prosperous Englishman, John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton (commonly known as Lord Acton) was born in Naples, Italy, the descendent of a prestigious line of Shropshire Baronets. Acton married the Countess Marie and had one son and three daughters. Educated in the Roman Catholic school of Scotts, he developed his religious inclinations that, for the most part, would greatly influence the rest of his life, especially that of his life’s pursuit: an inquiry into freedom and morality.
Acton's schooling took place in four countries: Saint Nicolas in France, Oscott in England, the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and the University of Munich in Bavaria. Acton entered St. Nicolas to study under Fr. Dupanloup, a French cleric who opposed ultramontanism (a movement in Roman Catholicism that favors increasing the power and authority of the pope) and who later became the Bishop of Orléans.  Seeking more of an English Catholic education, Acton enrolled in Oscott, England where he studied for two years under the private tutelage of Dr. Logan, a man who had formerly been the vice-president of Oscott until he quarreled with the Bishop Ullathorne.  Afterwards, Acton moved to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland with high hopes of entering Cambridge in the future, yet this was not to be because Cambridge’s student body only accommodated Protestants. Instead, Acton left for Munich to study under Döllinger, a historian who educated Acton, sowing ideas such as historical criticism and ideals of freedom and morality into Acton, his young and most capable student. Acton learned a great deal from Döllinger who was a priest well acquainted with the Roman Catholic Church that, being partial to liberal ideas and antipathetic to many of the century old dogmas of the Catholic Church, challenged the Catholic Church in private and in public with his writings and words. Acton became lifelong friends with Döllinger who became professor of Theology in Munich. Through his studies at Saint Nicolas, Oscott, Edinburgh, and Munich, Acton, after traveling a great deal, had developed a mind fit to pursue his career that would make him Victorian England's most renowned historian and political thinker of the nineteenth century. In 1858, Acton moved to England with the purpose of spreading his ideas on Liberalism to the English Catholics.
During his life, Lord Acton maintained a politically, intellectually, and religiously vibrant life. To name a few of the accomplishments of Lord Acton: in 1859, Lord Acton became a member of parliament but only presided in the house of commons till 1865; in 1859, Lord Acton became editor of The Rambler, a Roman Catholic monthly paper that changed into the quarterly The Home and Foreign Review; in 1869, Queen Victoria gave Acton the nobility title of Baron; Lord Acton founded the English Historical Review in 1886; and in 1895, Cambridge University gave Acton the title of Regius Professor of Modern History. Lord Acton’s numerous undertakings and vast knowledge of history became known throughout Europe. In some way or another, Acton continued to shape the world.
After the advent of the Enlightenment that greatly affected Germany, France, and England, philosophers and theologians redefined and questioned traditional institutions and customs, while some, such as Acton, defined ideals such as liberty and morality. In a series of essays and annotations, Lord Acton’s writings came about as a response to the conditions of Europe, which resulted from the Enlightenment milieu. Preoccupying himself with human freedom, Lord Acton undertook the arduous task of writing a “History of Liberty”, which unfortunately never found its completion. Using his historical criticism, Acton made insights into the heart of man as seen in his perceptive statement, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In "Acton and History", Owen Chadwick observes, “He [Acton] was convinced that since the conscience is the heart of the quest for liberty, the religious conscience is the ultimate source of that quest... ‘Religious liberty is the generating principle of civil liberty, and civil liberty is the necessary condition of religious liberty’.” Through this statement, we can see how Acton’s Catholic background influenced his thoughts. Acton wrote extensively on Liberty, defining human values, obligations, ethical behavior, freedom, and other themes that would affect the 21st century.
Acton greatly advocated liberal Catholicism, a movement that aimed at reforming the authoritarian tradition within the Roman Catholic Church. According to Acton, “Liberalism wishes for what ought to be, irrespective of what is.”   Germany was the only country where theological schools and Universities grappled with the intellectual problems up until the beginning of the twentieth century, addressing what ought to be instead of what is. Lord Acton used his ecclesiastical and political education to strengthen the weakened Catholic community by transplanting liberal views and thoughts from Germany into the minds of English Catholics. Because of his education at Munich, Acton was well acquainted with the controversies within the Church and external threats that impeded its reconciliation with the emerging modern world. Liberalism promised a venue to reconcile the Roman Catholic Church before it became weaker. Yet, because of Acton’s ardent liberalism and opposition to ultramontanism, Acton came into direct conflict with the Catholic Church because of the First Vatican Council’s decision to accept papal infallibility as dogma. Acton went to Rome with other Catholics in protest. A split occurred within the church, and the protesters, in outrage, formed the separate and more traditional church. Even with his dislike of ultramontanism, Acton did not join those who seceded, and Pope Pius IX wisely decided against excommunicating Acton because of his international influence. From that point on, Acton dedicated his attention to studying freedom and morality among other notable projects to compile his “History of Liberty”.
Throughout his life, Lord Acton left an impression on the world. His great mind and historical wisdom and insights are only part of the reason for his fame. Acton wrote in response to the problems of his time to help the Catholic Community and society. Acton’s religious inclinations formed the foundations for his political and ecclesiastical thought, which made him stand above many other intellectuals in the nineteenth century. On June 19, 1902, Lord Acton, a great Victorian historical thinker, died, leaving a legacy that continues to influence intellectuals.
Lord Acton saw the conscience as the heart of the quest for liberty. Because of his religious inclinations, he may have gotten this perspective through 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” God gifted believers with his Holy Spirit, "...the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.(Acts 5:32), that interacts with the conscience. "“I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit." (Romans 9:1). For a Christian to disregard the conscience, is to disregard the Holy Spirit. Even non-believers have a conscience that is founded on a higher law apart from man’s law, and that is the law of God written on the heart of everyman (Romans 1). James 1:25 says, “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” Thus, there is As believers, we must follow the Holy Spirit through our conscience to obey God’s law that brings true freedom, liberty, and blessings.
 Schuettinger, Robert L. “The Education of Lord Acton.” The Online Library of Liberty. http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1663&chapter=37644&layout=html&Itemid=27 (January, 2009)
 Althoz, Josef L. “The Young Acton: History and Liberal Catholicism.” The University of Minnesota: The Victorian Web. http://www.thecore.nus.edu/victorian/religion/altholz/3.html (January, 2009)
 Chadwick, Owen. “Acton and History.” http://books.google.com.mx/books?id=6rVvgeiSHC8C&printsec=frontcover&dq=power+tends+to+corrupt&client=firefox-a&hl=en&source=gbs_similarbooks_r&cad=2_1#PPA236,M1 (January, 2009)
 Gertrude Himmelfarb. “Lord Acton.” Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962 – p. 204. (January, 2009)
 Anonymous. “Lord Acton.”
http://books.google.com.mx/books?id=2V49AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA204&dq=Lord+Acton+Liberalism+wishes+for+what+ought+to+be,+irrespective+of+what+is&client=firefox-a&hl=en#PPA204,M1 (January, 2009)