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The Age of George III

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Canning's Ministry (April-August 1827)

On 15 August 1792 George Canning met Pitt for the first time and became Canning's hero. Canning changed his allegiance from the Whigs to the Tory party. He thought that some of the Whigs had become too radical, showing sympathy with revolutionary changes in France and supporting the idea of parliamentary reform at home, both of which Canning opposed. Canning's ambition and his need for money, which can only be earned by holding office, drew him towards the Tories He wrote to the Prime Minister asking for an interview. Pitt promised to find a seat for Canning, a promise which he fulfilled on 28 June 1793 when Canning was .elected to Parliament for the first time as Member for Newtown, Isle of Wight. On 31.January 1794 he made his maiden speech and on 6 January 1796 took up his first appointment as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

On 25 May 1796 Canning was elected as one of two MPs for Wendover, Buckinghamshire, in the General Election; in September 1797 he was appointed Receiver General of the Alienation Office, a sinecure which carried an annual salary of up to £700. Between 20 November 1797 and 9 July 1798, he edited and wrote for the Anti-Jacobin or Weekly Examiner This was a pro-Government satirical magazine that was very reactionary in tone. Canning's involvement in this publication belies his subsequent reputation as being 'enlightened'.

On 30 March 1799, Canning left the Foreign Office and became one of the Commissioners of the Board of Control for India; he was made a Privy Counsellor on 28 May 1800. On 5 July he was appointed as Joint Paymaster-General of the forces and three days later he married Joan Scott The happy marriage had the additional advantage of making him financially independent as she possessed £100,000.

On 15 March 1801 following Pitt's resignation over the Act of Union, Canning resigned all his offices (except the Receiver Generalship of the Alienation Office) out of loyalty to the former Prime Minister. He refused to serve under Addington whom he thought to be inadequate and an unworthy successor to Pitt. However, on 27 May 1802, Canning introduced a motion to control the slave trade in Trinidad.

In the General Election of July 1802, Canning was elected for Tralee Borough, Co. Kerry, Ireland; on 29 May 1804 Pitt appointed him Treasurer of the Navy. On 6 January 1805 Canning tendered his resignation after Pitt appointed Addington (now Viscount Sidmouth) as Lord President of the Council because Canning felt unable to serve in the same Cabinet as a man whose administration he had attacked so publicly between 1801 and 1804. Pitt refused Canning's resignation but offered him the Irish First Secretaryship instead. Canning considered the offer for a week and then decided to remain in the Cabinet as Treasurer of the Navy out of loyalty to Pitt.

On 6 February 1806, Canning made a speech in Parliament praising Pitt, who had died on 23 January. On 1 July 1806 Lord Grenville offered Canning a post in the Cabinet in the Ministry of All Talents. Canning refused this and all Grenville's subsequent offers. However, on 5 March 1807 he accepted the post of Foreign Secretary from the Duke of Portland, his brother-in-law, and on 28 July, at Canning's initiative, a British fleet was sent to Denmark to capture the Danish fleet, which Canning suspected was to be used by Napoleon for an attack on Eng land. The expedition was successful. Then, on 22 October, a Convention of friendship and amity with Portugal was signed in London in the face of French aggression, by Canning and Souza, the Portuguese ambassador. Subsequently on 14 January 1809 a treaty of peace, friendship and alliance with Ferdinand VII of Spain was signed in London. It had been negotiated by Frere (Britain's diplomatic representative to Spain) on Canning's instructions.

On 4 April 1809 Canning wrote to the Prime Minister, the Duke of Portland, expressing unhappiness at the composition and performance of the Cabinet. He purported to feel so strongly about what he saw as Castlereagh's mishandling of the War Office that he said he could no longer work with him. Canning threatened to resign from the Foreign Office unless Castlereagh was moved. Portland agreed but postponed the decision: Castlereagh was not informed but found out about Canning's machinations in attempting to move him from the War Office. Castlereagh challenged him to a duel that was fought on 21 September 1809. . Canning was wounded in the thigh. On 9 October 1809 Canning gave up the seals of office as Foreign Secretary, the King having refused his offer to become Prime Minister following Portland's death.

On 18 March 1812 Canning refused an offer from Spencer Perceval to join his Cabinet; on 22 June, Canning carried a motion in favour of Catholic emancipation through the House of Commons by 235 votes to 106. Five days later, he refused the Foreign Secretaryship offered to him by the Earl of Liverpool and Viscount Castlereagh on the grounds that he considered it humiliating to serve under Castlereagh as Leader of the House.

The Earl of Liverpool agreed to make Canning the Ambassador to Portugal on 10 July 1814 and in November, Canning sailed for Lisbon as Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary. He resigned on 10 April 1815 but his resignation was deferred until June when he was appointed President of the Board of Control . He returned to London in the autumn but on 12 December resign as President of the Board of Control, having refused to take part in the proceedings against Queen Caroline, a personal friend.

In April 1822 he accepted the appointment as Governor-General of India but was prevented from taking up the post by Castlereagh's suicide. and on 18 September he became Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons.

On 30 April 1823 Canning spoke in a debate on a censure motion in the Commons when he defended his policy of British neutrality over the French invasion of Spain following diplomatic failure to prevent war. The motion was defeated by 372 votes to 20; on 15 May Canning successfully introduced amendments to a motion on the abolition of slavery, emphasising the primary importance of improving the condition of slaves and looking forward to their emancipation as soon as possible. Consequently, on 16 March 1824 Canning introduced an Order in Council protecting slaves in Trinidad, St. Lucia and Demerara from ill treatment, enlarging their rights and improving their status. It is passed without division.

Following discussions between Canning and Polignac, the French Ambassador, the Polignac Memorandum was agreed, setting down each country's attitude to Spanish American independence. The French committed themselves to non-interference in South America and on 23 July 1824 Canning persuaded the Cabinet to recommend to the King that Britain negotiate a commercial treaty with Buenos Aires which would effectively amount to diplomatic recognition. On 31 December Canning wrote to British ministers in Mexico and Colombia, authorising them to negotiate commercial treaties; he also informed the Spanish government of his resolve to recognise immediately Colombia, Mexico and Buenos Aires as independent states.

On 4 April 1826 a protocol with Russia concerning British mediation between Ottoman Porte (Turkey) and the Greeks was signed at St. Petersburg by Wellington, acting under Canning's instructions and on 9 December 1826, at Canning's insistence, the Cabinet agreed to send troops to the aid of Portugal, which was being invaded from Spain by supporters of Dom Miguel, who claimed the Portuguese throne. In 1827 Canning introduced the Corn Bill in the Commons, incorporating Huskisson's sliding scale of duties levied on foreign corn.

On 10 April 1827 the King sent for Canning and asked him to try to assemble a new administration formed on the same principles as that of the Earl of Liverpool, who had been incapacitated by a stroke. Two days later, Canning became Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury. Seven members of the Cabinet (Wellington, Peel, Westmorland, Bexley, Melville, Eldon and Bathurst) resigned rather than serve under Canning.. Canning was obliged to open negotiations with Lord Lansdowne, leader of the Whigs, in order to form a coalition with them. Canning kept for himself the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer.

On 7 May, Canning announced the formation of a committee of finance to consider the state of the revenue and on 28 May he opposed Lord John Russell's motion to disenfranchise the borough of Penhryn and redistribute its seats to Birmingham and Manchester; however, but the motion passed in the Commons. On 1 June 1827 Canning introduced the Budget, which was passed without division but on 12 June the government was defeated in the Lords after an amendment to the Corn Bill introduced by Wellington at the Committee stage was retained at the Report stage. The Bill was dropped. On 18 June, Canning introduced the Corn Amendment Bill as a temporary measure, intending to introduce a new Bill in the following session; the new Bill p assed and on 21 June, Canning made his last speech in the House of Commons on the Corn Amendment Bill.

On 6 July 1827 a Treaty was signed with France and Russia, based on the Protocol signed with Russia in April 1826, for the pacification of Greece (in which the three powers agree to mediate between the Turks and the Greeks); on 6 August, a convention of commerce with the USA was signed in London, together with a convention concerning the north-west coast of America continuing the temporary 1818 agreement over rival British and American claims to Oregon. On 8 August 1827 Canning died at Chiswick House where he had been staying in an attempt to regain his deteriorating health.


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Last modified 26 October, 2013

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