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The Age of George III

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Liverpool's ministry and the end of the French Wars

Lord Liverpool was appointed as PM on 8 June 1812 following the assassination of Spencer Perceval. Liverpool was the fifth man to be offered the post and accepted it from a sense of duty, although he was an experienced politician and administrator. After his appointment, Liverpool wrote to the Duke of Wellington, saying

I can assure you I never sought the situation in which I find myself now placed; but having accepted it from a sense of public duty, I am determined to do my utmost for the service of the Prince Regent as long as I have reason to believe that I possess his confidence. [Supplementary Despatches and Memoranda of the Duke of Wellington, vol.7 (2nd Duke of Wellington, ed., Kraus Reprint Co., N, Y., 1973) p.402]

He was given possession of patronage so he could form a strong ministry. The administration was formed in a political crisis and it was not expected that Liverpool's premiership would last long. During the period 1812-22, it could be said that England suffered more, economically, socially and politically, than during the French Wars. Consequently there were a number of manifestations of discontent and distress. There was opposition to the government's policies from both inside and outside parliament.

On 21 May 1812,Stuart Wortley's motion was passed in the House of Commons : it said

Liverpool's cabinet comprised:

Chancellor of the Exchequer
Lord Chancellor
Home Secretary
Foreign Secretary
President of the Board of Trade

Castlereagh was responsible for the setting up of the fourth coalition which ultimately saw the end of the French Wars with the defeat of Napoleon. The government was determined to crush the French Revolution, as personified by Napoleon - and gave 100% commitment to the war regardless of the cost. This commitment helped to bring about the end of the wars because Wellington was given all he asked for. However, Napoleon was also instrumental in his own downfall with the 1812 Moscow Campaign which probably was unnecessary.

Despite its apparent weakness, the ministry commanded huge majorities in parliament, which by this time had divided along party lines. The following table shows the differences between support for the Tories and support for the Whigs:

Government
Government
fringe
Waverers
Opposition
fringe
Opposition Total
1812-1818
253
78
102
83
149
665
1818-1820
261
80
48
16
171
576
1820-1826
250
99
114
66
154
683
Taken from A Mitchell, The Whigs in Opposition, 1815-30 (OUP, 1967)

One early comment on Liverpool's ministry was made by Benjamin Disraeli in his novel Coningsby (1844):

Having arrogated to itself the name of an illustrious historical party, it pursued a policy which was either founded on no principle whatever, or on principles exactly contrary to those which had always guided the conduct of the great Tory leaders. The chief members of this official confederacy were men distinguished by none of the conspicuous qualities of statesmen. They had none of the divine gifts that govern senates and guide councils. They were not orators; they were not men of deep thought or happy resource, or of penetrative and sagacious minds. Their political ken was essentially dull and contracted. They expended some energy in obtaining a defective, blundering acquaintance with foreign affairs; they knew as little of the real state of their own country as savages of an approaching eclipse.

However, an assessment written twenty years after Disraeli's scathing account gives a different picture:

From this unpromising beginning, it became a powerful, successful Ministry, and permanent, with but two exceptions, beyond all former example. It terminated with unprecedented success and glory the greatest war in which the country had ever been engaged... The return of peace and the inevitable reaction brought with it domestic dangers almost as violent, almost as enduring, as the war itself. These also it surmounted, and, amid circumstances of great and universal financial distress, laid the foundation of that great and wonderful commercial prosperity which for the last forty years has been the most distinguishing feature of our national history. Such achievements and results supersede the necessity of panagyric. (C.D. Yonge, The Life of Lord Liverpool, vol. 1 [Macmillan, 1868], p.427)


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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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