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Grenville, George

Grenville, George (1712–70). Prime minister. After training as a lawyer, Grenville entered Parliament in 1741 and held a number of junior posts from 1744. Although he soon gained respect for his abilities as a parliamentarian, he was not offered high office until October 1761, when Lord Bute suggested him for a secretaryship of state. Grenville declined, partly out of fear of his brother-in-law Pitt, whose resignation had created the vacancy. He was, however, prepared to defy Pitt by accepting the leadership of the Commons. Soon afterwards he accepted cabinet office, becoming northern secretary in May 1762, but was moved to the Admiralty in October after clashing with Bute over patronage and policy. Grenville, therefore, was not a leading candidate for the premiership after Bute's resignation in April 1763, but when Henry Fox, the front-runner, declined he became 1st lord of the Treasury virtually by default. As prime minister he was responsible for the Stamp Act of 1765, which provoked serious rioting in America, marking a preliminary stage in the American Revolution. It would be wrong to see the Stamp Act as part of an ideologically driven programme of legislation. Grenville, in fact, inherited some key facets of colonial policy, such as the intention to curb western expansion and the decision to maintain a larger peacetime army in America. Moreover, the Currency Act (1764) forbidding paper currency in the southern colonies and the Mutiny Act (1765) permitting limited quartering of troops did not form part of a preconceived strategy: the first was hastily devised to block an independent proposal for even harsher restrictions, whereas the second responded to complaints from the commander-in-chief in America. Grenville was, however, responsible for the American Duties Act (sometimes called the Sugar Act) of 1764, which inter alia halved the prohibitive 100 per cent duty on foreign molasses and created a new Vice-Admiralty Court at Halifax (Nova Scotia). This signalled two clear intentions: to raise revenue via customs duties and to deny smugglers the benefit of lenient local juries. Grenville's colonial policy as evidenced by the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act reflected his adherence to financial and legal rectitude. In Britain there was no significant opposition to this legislation until after the Stamp Act crisis. Grenville understandably favoured enforcement of the Act, but was unable to prevent repeal because he had already been dismissed. American affairs played no part in Grenville's fall in July 1765. The atmosphere of suspicion left by Bute's resignation, exacerbated by Grenville's propensity to lecture the king, jeopardized political stability. Having avoided dismissal in the spring of 1765, Grenville determined to extort public proof of his mastery, insisting upon the removal of Bute's brother from the Scottish privy seal, thereby forcing the king to break his promise of granting the office for life. Unable immediately to retaliate, the king rid himself of Grenville at the first opportunity. Grenville spent the remainder of his political career in opposition, consistently defending both his conduct as prime minister and his policy towards America.

David Wilkinson

Bibliography

Lawson, P. , George Grenville: A Political Life (Oxford, 1984).

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Grenville, George

George Grenville, 1712–70, British statesman, brother of Earl Temple. He entered Parliament in 1741, held several cabinet posts, and in 1763 became chief minister. His prosecution (1763) of John Wilkes provoked political reformers, and his attempt to tax the North American colonies internally through the Stamp Act raised opposition not only in America but also among the British commercial classes. Grenville alienated George III by insisting that he be the sole channel of ministerial communication to the throne, and he fell after a quarrel with the king about the composition of a regency council.

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