The Age of George III

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Assessments of Henry Addington, Viscount Sidmouth: contemporary and subsequent

Henry Addington was Home Secretary in Lord Liverpool's government between 1812 and 1821. Addington remained as a member of the Cabinet until 1824 at the request of George IV; he was elevated to the House of Lords as Viscount Sidmouth in 1805. He had served under Pitt the Younger during the French Wars and politically was a reactionary. It was he who was responsible for the Six Acts that followed the Peterloo Massacre in 1819.

In 1817, the Privy Council examined Samuel Bamford, a radical weaver from Middleton in Lancashire. Bamford later said of Addington:

The person who addressed me was a tall, square and bony figure, upwards of fifty years of age, I should suppose; and with thin and rather grey hair; his forehead was broad and prominent, and from their cavernous orbits looked mild and intelligent eyes. His manner was affable, and much more encouraging to freedom of speech than I had expected. [Samuel Bamford, Passages in the life of a radical (Cass, 1967), p.106]

Another assessment is less than complimentary:

Addington was almost as convinced a reactionary as he has been depicted. His talents were in no way extraordinary. On almost every controversial issue of the day he was to be found securely entrenched on the wrong side. Yet I am left in no doubt that he has been monstrously misused by history. As a Minister he was responsible, conscientious and far from ineffectual. As a man he was kindly, courteous and sincere. His honour and his integrity would be remarkable in any age and any profession...

As Home Secretary he was violently controversial; the champion of reaction against progress, or, seen from another angle, of authority against anarchy... I would have felt no serious qualms in depicting Addington as an ogre, a man as outrageous as many of the laws he enforced. That I do not is because the evidence is simply not there. On the contrary, Addington emerges as a good man, doing his best to administer an ill-judged policy with charity, humanity and, above all, absolute fairness. His limitations were obvious in all that he did: it is unjust that only these should be remembered and his considerable virtues forgotten. [Philip Ziegler, Addington (Collins, 1965), pp. 11-12]

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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