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Alexander Baring , first Baron Ashburton 1774-1848

This article was written by William Prideaux Courtney and was published in 1885.

Alexander Baring, a financier and statesman, the second son of Sir Francis Baring who died in 1810, was born on 27 October 1774. As his elder brother received an appointment in the service of the East India Company, Alexander was trained from early life in his father's financial house. The firm had numerous connections with the United States, and he was sent thither to strengthen and extend its business operations. While resident in America he married on 23 August 1798, Anne Louisa, eldest daughter of William Bingham, of Philadelphia, a member of the Senate of the United States. To this alliance, and to his acquaintance with the chief mercantile firms of America, he was much indebted in later life.

Although he continued to assist in the management of the house, and became the head of the firm on the death of his father in 1810, he took an active part in the debates in the House of Commons on commercial affairs. He represented in turn Taunton (1806-26), Callington (1826-31), Thetford (1831-32), and North Essex (1833-35); of two of these constituencies, Callington and Thetford, he had acquired full possession.

Firmly opposed to the existence of any restrictions on commerce between nations, he was especially antagonistic to the ‘system of hostility recommended and practised towards the commerce of America’ by the English orders in council, and warmly supported Brougham in his struggles for their repeal. His Inquiry into the Causes and Consequences of the Orders in Council went through two editions. With the nation's desire for parliamentary reform the owner of two boroughs could have little sympathy; he opposed the reform bill of Lord Grey's ministry in all its stages; and when the ministry was defeated in the House of Lords on an adverse proposal from Lord Lyndhurst, Mr. Baring consented, after much hesitation, to take the office of chancellor of the exchequer in the cabinet which the Duke of Wellington was attempting to form.

An angry scene in the Commons and the indignation of the people convinced him of the hopelessness of the enterprise, and it was his proposition that the ex-ministers should resume their seats and be allowed to carry their bill. In Sir Robert Peel's first administration (1834) he was president of the board of trade, as well as master of the mint, and on the dissolution of the ministry he was raised to the peerage (10 April 1835) as Baron Ashburton, a title which he selected because Dunning, the celebrated lawyer, who had married his aunt, had previously assumed it.

When differences arose as to the boundary between the United States and the territories of Great Britain, Lord Ashburton was sent to America as the English commissioner, and a treaty, known as the Ashburton treaty, was concluded at Washington in 1842. Daniel Webster praised him highly as ‘a good man to deal with, who could see that there were two sides to a question;’ and Lord Ashburton and his suite are said to have ‘spread a social charm over Washington, and filled everybody with friendly feelings towards England.’ The free-trade policy of Peel he regarded with alarm — a circumstance which his detractors contrasted with his opinions in early life, and attributed to his large land purchases — and he resisted the Bank Charter Act of 1844, discussing the question in his pamphlet, Financial and Commercial Crisis considered.

Like several other members of his family, he patronised art, and formed a fine collection of pictures. He was one of the trustees of the British Museum and of the National Gallery. He died at Longleat, the seat of his grandson the Marquis of Bath, on 13 May 1848, having had issue five sons and four daughters. On his death a warm tribute to his memory was paid in the House of Lords by Lords Lansdowne, Brougham, and Derby. Lord Houghton, in his ‘Monographs’ (1873), praises Lord Ashburton's extensive knowledge and business experience.

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