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Acton

Acton

[ak-tuhn]
Acton, John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, 1st Baron, 1834-1902, English historian, b. Naples; grandson of Sir John Francis Edward Acton and of Emmerich Joseph, duc de Dalberg. Denied entrance into Cambridge because of his Roman Catholicism, he traveled to Munich, where he studied with Fr. Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger. Acton became (1859) a Liberal member of Parliament and editor of the Rambler, a Roman Catholic monthly. William E. Gladstone, his close friend, nominated him to the peerage (1869), and in 1892, Acton was made lord-in-waiting. Acton's genuine and ardent liberalism gave frequent offense to Roman Catholic authorities. His hatred of arbitrary power and all forms of absolutism led him to oppose the syllabus of errors issued by Pius IX and the promulgation of the dogma of papal infallibility, but he accepted them after their pronouncement rather than risk excommunication.

In 1895 Acton was appointed professor of modern history at Cambridge and in the following years planned the Cambridge Modern History, of which only the first volume appeared before his death. Acton never completed a book. Rather, his influence was felt through his lectures, his writings for periodicals, and his personal contacts with the leading historians of his time. Many articles, essays, and lectures were brought together after his death in Lectures on Modern History (1906), History of Freedom (1907), and Historical Essays and Studies (1907). Some of these were reprinted in Essays on Freedom and Power (1948) and Essays on Church and State (1952). His impressive personal library, consisting of more than 59,000 volumes, was bought by Andrew Carnegie after his death and donated to Cambridge.

See his correspondence with Richard Simpson, ed. by J. L. Altholz (2 vol., 1970-73); biographies by H. Tulloch (1989) and R. Hill (2000).

Acton, Sir John Francis Edward, 1736?-1811, Neapolitan statesman of British origin, b. Besançon, France. Called upon by Queen Marie Caroline and King Ferdinand IV of Naples (later Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies) to reform the Neapolitan army and navy in 1779, Acton also served as minister of finance and as prime minister (1785-1806 with brief interruptions). With the assistance of Emma Lady Hamilton, the queen's confidante, he rid Naples of Spanish influence and strengthened ties with Great Britain and with Austria. He shared the political vicissitudes of the royal family, going with them into exile in 1798 after Naples had been taken by the French. After the fall of the Parthenopean Republic (1799), he played a major role in the bloody reprisals and consolidated absolutism. In 1806, the French reconquest of Naples under Napoleon I forced Acton into exile again.
Acton, town (1990 pop. 17,872), Middlesex co., E Mass., NW of Boston; settled c.1680, inc. 1735. Among its manufactures are electrical machinery, chemicals, prefabricated houses, and precision equipment. Points of interest include the Isaac Davis Home, residence of the first person to die at the battle of Concord during the American Revolution.
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