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The Age of George III

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The reconstruction of Liverpool's ministry, 1822

Lord Liverpool formed his minstry in 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. 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.

The ministry survived the French Wars and the problems that arose in Britain after 1815. The ministry has been seen as reactionary (i.e. opposed to reform) ministry until 1822, after which it was reconstructed and became an 'enlightened' ministry. This assessment probably is far from the truth: the methods of the ministry changed after 1822 but its policies did not. Liverpool was still PM and the Cabinet still was composed of Tories.

By 1822 the fear of a revolution in Britain was beginning to abate somewhat: the discontent of the immediate post-war years was declining and there was an upturn in the economy. This enabled the new ministers to undertake some badly-needed social and economic reforms. The Tories continued to oppose political reform. Most of the men whom Liverpool appointed were new to government office and after 1822, half of the Cabinet were MPs, with seats in the House of Commons. Many of them had their roots in commerce and industry and were 'middle class' rather than from the aristocracy. Even so, the ministry could make changes only with the consent of George IV, as the king reminded Lord Liverpool on 27 January 1825:

Can the present Government suppose that the King will permit any individuals now to force upon him, measures of which he entirely disapproves; more especially when many members of the King's present Cabinet hold the same opinions with the King himself respecting the new political liberalism. No such thing - if the present line of policy is to be further pursued, the King will feel himself justified in taking such measures as the Government will be the least prepared to expect. (A. Aspinall [ed.], The Letters of George IV, vol. 3 [C.U.P., 1938] p.99)

The main reason for the changes in personnel in 1822 was the suicide of Lord Castlereagh. The post of Foreign Secretary was taken by George Canning. He was brought into the Cabinet for, perhaps, all the wrong reasons, as the Duke of Wellngton pointed out in July 1821:

Mr. Canning's conduct was not very advantageous to us. But viewing the state of the Government, we were convinced that he was the person most likely from his parliamentary talents to assist the Government if in office, and on the other hand to be elevated to a station in which he would have the power of being most mischievous if left out. . . . If we had not [George IV's] permission to gain the strength which is within our reach, we must sooner or later be broken down... No other party could continue a Government for six months without dissolving the Parliament, and if Parliament should be dissolved by the Whigs, a Radical House of Commons would be the inevitable consequence. (A. Aspinall and E.A. Smith [eds.], English Historical Documents, vol. 2, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1959 pp.150-151).

The new Home Secretary was Robert Peel , who replaced Lord Sidmouth. Peel actually wanted to take over the Exchequer. The new Chancellor of the Exchequer was Frederick Robinson and the President of the Board of Trade was William Huskisson.

Peel gave his reasons for the reconstruction of the ministry in a letter to John Wilson Croker on 23 February 1820:

Do you not think that the tone of England - of that great compound of folly, weakness, prejudice, wrong feeling, right feeling, obstinacy, and newspaper paragraphs, which is called public opinion - is more liberal - to use an odious but intelligible phrase - than the policy of the government? Do you not think there is a feeling, becoming daily more general and more confirmed - that is, independent of the pressure of taxation, or any immediate cause - in favour of some undefined change in the mode of governing the country? It seems to me a curious crisis - when public opinion never had such influence on public measures, and yet never was so dissatisfied with the share which it possessed. (L.J. Jennings Murray (ed), Correspondence and Diaries of JW Croker, vol. 1 1884 p.170)


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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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