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Nineteenth-Century British Premiers: Pitt to Rosebery by D. Leonard

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By D. Leonard

Following A Century of Premiers: Salisbury to Blair, Leonard turns his realization to their nineteenth Century predecessors. In a chain of 20 biographical essays, he recounts the crucial occasions in their political careers, assesses their functionality as best Ministers, and asks what lasting effect they've got had.

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His long period in office ended in 1824, when he resigned in protest against the diplomatic recognition of the revolting Spanish colonies in South America. He continued to oppose reform in the House of Lords, voting both against Catholic emancipation in 1828 and the Great Reform Bill in 1832. He thus became something of a bogy figure to ‘progressive opinion’, which refused to accept that he could have been anything but a disaster as Prime Minister. This unjust verdict has been largely qualified by modern scholarship, which has also concluded that, despite his unfortunate political record, he had many admirable human qualities.

Lonely, in failing health, depressed by the continued lack of success in the war, as the eighteenth century drew to its end, Pitt began to show occasional signs of losing his grip. In May 1798, he provoked a duel with an opposition MP, George Tierney, after carelessly impugning his patriotism in a parliamentary exchange. It took place on Putney Heath, both men fired twice, but neither was injured, Pitt firing his second shot into the air. More seriously for his survival as Prime Minister, he failed to keep George III regularly informed of 24 Nineteenth-Century British Premiers the government’s intentions.

There was nothing unusual in politicians of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries seeking sinecures or honours for themselves, or patronage for their relatives and friends, nor was the practice generally regarded as reprehensible. The two William Pitts, father and son, were, in fact, seen as being rather eccentric in failing to enrich themselves or their families in this way. The Grenvilles, by contrast, were regarded as being altogether too greedy, and as pushing the system beyond its acceptable limits.

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