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John Charles Herries (1778-1855)

This article was written by George Fisher Russell Barker and was published in 1891

John Charles Herries, statesman, was the eldest son of Charles Herries, a London merchant, and colonel of the light horse volunteers, by his wife Mary Ann Johnson. Herries was born (probably in the month of November) in 1778. He was educated at Cheam and Leipzig University, and on 5 July 1798 was appointed a junior clerk in the treasury. He was shortly afterwards promoted to a post in the revenue department, where he showed such capacity that in 1800 he was employed to draw up for Pitt his counter-resolutions against Tierney's financial proposals. Upon the formation of the Addington ministry in 1801 Herries became private secretary to Vansittart, the secretary to the treasury, and in 1802 his translation from Gentz's treatise, ‘On the State of Europe before and after the French Revolution, being an Answer to L'Etat de la France à la fin de l'An VIII’ (London, 8vo), appeared; the sixth edition of which was published in 1804 (London, 8vo).

In June 1803, in answer to the attacks of Cobbett and Lord Grenville upon the government, he published a pamphlet entitled ‘A Reply to some Financial Mistatements in and out of Parliament,’ for which he received the thanks of the prime minister. Perceval, on becoming chancellor of the exchequer in the Portland administration, appointed Herries his private secretary. In January 1809 he received the appointment of secretary and registrar to the order of the Bath, and in October of the same year was entrusted with the negotiations (which, however, proved unsuccessful) with Vansittart for his junction with Perceval's government. In 1811 he went over to Ireland to assist Wellesley-Pole (afterwards the third earl of Mornington), who had been appointed chancellor of the Irish exchequer. While in Ireland Herries was nominated comptroller of the army accounts, but he never actually took his seat on the board, as on 1 October 1811 he was appointed commissary-in-chief.

The duties of the office were extremely onerous. The barefaced jobbery was universal. Herries appears to have worked hard and to have done his best, although the commissariat had still many shortcomings. At the end of 1813, in conjunction with Nathan Meyer Rothschild, Herries successfully formed and carried out a plan for the collection of French specie for the use of Wellington's army, and in 1814 he went to Paris, in order to negotiate financial treaties with the allies. In consequence of the continued dearth of specie a large number of twenty-franc pieces were at his suggestion coined at the mint in the following year for the use of the army.

The office of commissary-in-chief was abolished on 24 October 1816 by a treasury minute, dated 16 August, which paid a high compliment to Herries. A retiring pension of £1,350 (reduced while holding office to £1,200) was granted him, and on 29 October in the same year he was appointed auditor of the civil list, an office created by an act of parliament in the previous session (56 Geo. III, c. 46). This appointment gave rise to a debate in the House of Commons on 8 May 1817, but the motion condemning it was negatived by ninety-three to forty-two. In July 1821 Herries was appointed by 1 and 2 Geo. IV, c. 90, one of the commissioners for inquiring into the collection and management of the revenue in Ireland. By an act of the following year (3 Geo. IV, c. 37) the powers of the commission were still further extended. The second report, dated 28 June 1822, on ‘the incorporation of the British and Irish establishments for the collection of the public income in such a manner as to place each description of the revenue throughout the United Kingdom under one practical management,’ was entirely drawn up by Herries.

In 1822 Herries resigned the office of registrar and secretary to the order of the Bath. He was appointed financial secretary to the treasury by Lord Liverpool on 7 February 1823, and at a by-election in the same month was returned for Harwich as a colleague of Canning. His first reported speech in the House of Commons was delivered on 18 March 1823, when he opposed the repeal of the window tax. As secretary to the treasury his wide knowledge of financial details was frequently of much service to the government, and under his auspices the consolidation of the customs laws was effected. He continued to hold office during Canning's administration, and in the summer of 1827 was made one of the commissioners for supervising the restoration of Windsor Castle. Upon Canning's death Herries, after some protracted negotiations, was at the king's desire appointed chancellor of the exchequer in Goderich's ministry. He was sworn a member of the privy council on 17 August, and received the seals at Windsor on 3 September 1827.

A quarrel soon afterwards broke out about the appointment of a chairman of the finance committee, which was to be nominated at the opening of the session. Without any previous consultation with Herries, Goderich and Huskisson agreed, at Tierney's instigation, to the nomination of Lord Althorp as chairman. Herries resented this slight, and insisted upon resigning if Lord Althorp was placed in the chair, while Huskisson refused to remain in office if Lord Althorp was not appointed; the ultimate result of these dissensions, coupled with the proposed introduction of Lord Holland into the cabinet, being the resignation of Goderich and the appointment of the Duke of Wellington as prime minister.

As Huskisson had agreed to join the Wellington ministry on condition that Herries should not continue to hold the office of chancellor of the exchequer, Goulburn was appointed to that post, and Herries, who had not met the House of Commons in his capacity of chancellor of the exchequer, became on 12 February 1828 master of the mint. On 18 February he made an elaborate statement in the house, and explicitly denied that his conduct had been the cause of the dissolution of the ministry, or that he had conspired, either with the king or the leaders of the tory party, to upset the government. He also wrote out for the information of his friends a statement of ‘the events which led to the dissolution of the administration of Lord Goderich’. He took an active part in the proceedings of the finance committee, which was appointed early in the session of 1828, and presided over by Sir Henry Parnell. He drew up the fourth report, and his statement before the committee, according to Sir James Graham, ‘made the public accounts intelligible, which they never were before’. On 2 February, 1830 Herries succeeded Vesey Fitzgerald as president of the board of trade, retaining the post of master of the mint, but resigned both offices upon the accession of Lord Grey to power in November of that year.

On 26 January 1832 Herries moved a series of resolutions condemning the Russian-Dutch loan, and though the government secured a majority on the occasion its position was severely damaged by the debate. On the formation of Sir Robert Peel's first administration Herries was appointed secretary at war (16 December 1834), a post which he held until the overthrow of the ministry in April 1835. He was appointed one of the select committee on metropolitan improvements, and wrote the greater part of the second report for 1838. On 13 February 1840 Herries's motion for returns of the public finances was carried against the government by a majority of ten. In the following session he took an active part in the debates on the financial and commercial policy of the government. At the dissolution in June 1841 he retired from the representation of Harwich, and at the general election in the following month unsuccessfully contested the borough of Ipswich with Fitzroy Kelly (afterwards lord chief baron).

For the next six years Herries remained both out of parliament and of office, but at the general election in July 1847 he was elected to parliament for the borough of Stamford as a protectionist. On his return to parliament Herries strenuously resisted the repeal of the navigation laws. His decision not to accept office is stated to have been one of the causes of Lord Stanley's failure to form a government in February 1851. On 28 February 1852, however, he was appointed president of the board of control in Lord Derby's first administration, and retained that post until the overthrow of the administration in December 1852. He was again returned for Stamford at the general election in July 1852, but retired from parliamentary life at the end of the session in the following year. Herries spoke for the last time in the House of Commons on 11 July 1853 on the government of India bill, and was succeeded in the representation of Stamford by Lord Robert Cecil (later Marquis of Salisbury), who then entered the house for the first time.

Herries died suddenly at St. Julians, near Sevenoaks, on 24 April 1855, aged 77, and was buried in the family vault at Sevenoaks. Herries married, on 8 February 1814, Sarah, daughter of John Dorington, clerk of the fees of the House of Commons. She died on 27 February 1821, leaving three sons — viz. (1) Sir Charles John Herries, K.C.B.; (2) William Robert Herries, brevet major, 43rd light infantry, who was killed at the battle of Moodkee in December 1845; (3) Edward Herries, C.B., formerly secretary of legation at Berne — a nd three daughters.

Herries throughout his career was a consistent tory, and a worthy and upright politician. He was neither a frequent nor a brilliant speaker, and he owed his position in the House of Commons mainly to his extensive knowledge of finance and his great capacity for work. The account given by Mr. Walpole in his ‘History of England’ of the appointment of Herries to the office of chancellor of the exchequer has been the subject of considerable controversy. Founded as it is on statements in the ‘Life of Lord Palmerston’ and in Greville's ‘Memoirs,’ it cannot be said to be entirely free from political bias, and it certainly gives an erroneous impression of Herries's position. The imputations on his character are not borne out by the evidence when impartially considered, nor was he a mere ‘tory clerk;’ for ‘his position in general repute was such that his appointment to be chancellor of the exchequer excited, and indeed could excite, no surprise whatever on the ground of calibre. His qualifications were eminent’.

Herries was a man of singularly retired habits, and never ‘attended a public meeting except at his elections, or spoke at a public dinner — invitations to which he almost invariably declined’. He is said, however, to have been one of the originators of the Carlton Club, the precursor of which was ‘a place of meeting for party purposes, established to a great extent under his auspices in Charles Street, St. James's Square’.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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