Robert Banks Jenkinson 2d earl of Liverpool

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Liverpool, Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd earl of (1770–1828). Liverpool was a capable and intelligent statesman, whose skill in building up his party, leading the country to victory in the war against Napoleon, and laying the foundations for prosperity outweighed his unpopularity in the immediate post-Waterloo years. Son of a distinguished MP, Liverpool was educated at Charterhouse and Oxford. He was present at the fall of the Bastille in 1789 and never lost a dread of public tumult and mob violence. He entered the Commons while under age in 1790 and supported the war with France after 1793. After gaining experience at the India Board, he served Addington as foreign secretary, had two spells as home secretary, and between 1809 and 1812 proved himself as an efficient war secretary. When he became prime minister in 1812 the prospects for his ministry were uncertain but Liverpool soon showed that he was in command. The war against Napoleon was turning in favour of the allies. Napoleon suffered serious reverses in Russia and Spain in 1812. Liverpool had the ability to get the best out of his colleagues, to support them diligently, to restrain them when they became restless, and to work patiently towards broadening the ministry's support in Parliament and in the country. He was adroit in handling the prince regent: by 1820 he had the advantage of knowing that his colleagues would follow him out of office if he had to resign. He was a good chairman but much more than a good listener. It was Liverpool who insisted that the prince regent could not accede to the Holy Alliance in a personal capacity. Within the Commons Liverpool cultivated the support of the country gentlemen. When their support was lost, as over the income tax in 1816, the consequences were embarrassing. Liverpool was protective towards the landed interest, but though he favoured a corn law he was compelled to accept a fixed duty in 1815 because his supporters were not prepared to accept a sliding scale. Liverpool was responsive to the commercial and manufacturing interests, grafting new economic ideas onto an essentially traditional outlook. He opposed parliamentary reform, but was eager to find some compromise on the catholic question short of full emancipation. He knew that the catholic issue had to remain an ‘open question’, for any attempt to impose uniformity upon his colleagues would precipitate the collapse of his ministry. Liverpool was determined to maintain public order but had no desire to strengthen the powers of central government. Lacking a police force he had to rely on the local magistrates for law and order. He reacted to events rather than anticipating them. At the time of the Peterloo affair in 1819 Liverpool criticized the Manchester magistrates in private but defended them in public. The Six Acts of 1819 were a response to the demands of nervous backbenchers for action. After 1820 the situation improved. The Cato Street conspiracy was the last gasp of expiring Jacobinism. The economy revived and Liverpool allowed his ministers greater freedom in reducing duties and stimulating trade. He appointed Canning as foreign secretary and gave more scope to Peel, Huskisson, and Robinson (Goderich). In his last five years as premier Liverpool accomplished much by way of cautious reform. The extent to which the government depended upon him was revealed when a stroke compelled his retirement in 1827. By the time of Liverpool's death in December 1828 the disintegration of the Tory Party was all too evident. In retrospect Liverpool had a remarkable ability to win widespread confidence and to impose cohesion on his ministry. He rose to the challenge of events with unfussy self-control. In war and peace he served the country well.

John W. Derry


Gash, N. , Lord Liverpool (1984).

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Liverpool, Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of (1770–1828) British statesman, prime minister (1812–27). He entered Parliament in 1790. Liverpool served as home secretary (1804–06, 1807–09) and secretary for war and the colonies (1809–12) before becoming Tory prime minister. His government oversaw the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812 with the USA. Liverpool resisted political reform and the Catholic Emancipation. He suspended habeas corpus after the Peterloo Massacre (1819).

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