Walter Bagehot (3 February 1826 - 24 March 1877) was a nineteenth century British businessman, essayist and journalist, who wrote extensively about literature, government, economic affairs and other topics.
Bagehot (pronounced BAD-jit, IPA: /ˈbædʒət/) was born in Langport, Somerset, England. His father, Thomas Walter Bagehot, was Managing Director and Vice-Chairman of Stuckey's Banking Company. He attended University College London, where he studied Mathematics and earned a Master's degree in Intellectual and Moral Philosophy in 1848. .
He was called to the bar, but preferred to join his father in their shipping and banking business in 1852. He wrote for various periodicals, then for seventeen years edited The Economist newspaper, which had been founded by his father-in-law (James Wilson). Taking over in 1860, he expanded the Economist's reporting on the United States and on politics, and is considered to have increased its influence among policymakers. In honor of his achievements, the last column of the section Britain in the paper still bears his surname as a title.
In 1867, he wrote a book called The English Constitution which explored the constitution of the United Kingdom, specifically the functioning of Parliament and the British monarchy and the contrasts between British and American government. The book is a standard work which was translated into several languages.
He also wrote Physics and Politics (1872), in which he coined the still-current expression "the cake of custom," to convey the tension between social institutions and innovation. Lombard Street (1873), explains the world of finance and banking, and especially issues in the management of financial crises. In his contributions to sociological theory through historical studies, Bagehot may be compared to his contemporary Henry James Sumner Maine.
Collections of Bagehot's literary, political and economic essays were published after his death. The subjects ranged from Shakespeare and Disraeli to the price of silver.
Every year the British Political Studies Association awards the Walter Bagehot Prize for the best dissertation in the field of government and public administration.