Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Addington, Henry (1757-1844)

ADDINGTON, HENRY, first Viscount Sidmouth (1757–1844), was the son of Dr. Anthony Addington [see Addington, Anthony]. When five years old he was sent to school at Cheam, where he remained about six years. He then entered Winchester as a commoner, and in 1771 was admitted to Lincoln's Inn. A lifelong friendship formed at Winchester with George Huntingford, then an assistant master, and afterwards warden of the college, and successively bishop of Gloucester and Hereford, is a proof of the high character which Addington bore at school. After a year's residence as a private pupil with Dr. Goodenough, afterwards bishop of Carlisle, Addington in 1774 went up to Oxford as a commoner of Brasenose. His life there appears to have been studious. He took the degree of B.A. in 1778, and the next year obtained the chancellor's medal for an English essay. While at Oxford he showed a taste for writing English verses, in which he occasionally indulged in after life, though with no great success. On leaving the university he turned to the study of law. In 1781 he married Ursula Mary, daughter of Leonard Hammond of Cheam. He was intimate with William Pitt from childhood, and this intimacy led him to leave the law for a political career. He was elected M.P. for Devizes in 1783. At the end of that year Pitt formed his first administration, and Addington was one of his warmest supporters. The minister endeavoured in vain to excite the ambition of his friend, and though in 1786 Addington was persuaded to second the address, he hardly ever spoke in parliament. He devoted himself to committees and to learning the practice and procedure of the house. Addington's temper and character, however, won him universal esteem, and his friendship with Pitt enhanced his importance. In 1789 the influence of Pitt procured his election as speaker. He was well fitted for this office, which he held with great credit for eleven years and in three parliaments. In the session after his election the salary of the speaker, which up to that time had been derived from fluctuating sources, was fixed at 6,000l. a year. A proposal appears to have been made to him in 1793 that he should enter the cabinet as secretary of state, but he preferred to keep the speakership. Until 1795 much of his time was taken up by the proceedings against Warren Hastings. In connection with this case the speaker concurred in the constitutional maxim, established in 1790, that an impeachment is not abated by a dissolution. During this period of his life Addington spent his vacations in domestic enjoyment at Woodley, an estate which he bought in the neighbourhood of Reading. In after years Addington said that, as early as 1797, Pitt told him ‘that he must make up his mind to take the government.’ The words were possibly spoken under the pressure of the difficulties of the time. They could scarcely have been said with serious intention; yet they perhaps show that Pitt was led by his friendship to think highly of Addington's political abilities. This friendship caused the speaker on one occasion to forget his usual impartiality. In the dispute which took place in the house between Pitt and Tierney in 1798, he certainly allowed his friend to set at nought the authority of the chair. He took no means to prevent the quarrel being carried further, and, though he was informed that a duel was arranged, he did not interfere to stop it, and even went to Putney to be present at the meeting (May's Parliamentary Practice, p. 338). Addington took an active part in the patriotic efforts which were excited by the war. He suggested the voluntary subscription raised (1797–8) to augment the amount brought in by the assessed taxes, and gave 2,000l. to the fund. He also devoted much time and attention to the Woodley cavalry, a troop of volunteers which was under his command.

While Addington agreed with Pitt as to the necessity of the union with Ireland, he did not approve of the policy of concession by which the minister hoped to make the union a healing measure. In a debate in committee on 12 Feb. 1799, he made a speech of considerable weight in support of the project, but declared that ‘if he had to choose between the re-enactment of the popery laws and catholic emancipation, coupled with parliamentary reform, as the means of restoring tranquillity to Ireland, he should give the preference to the former.’ In January 1801, the king openly expressed his abhorrence of the plan of catholic relief, and wrote to the speaker, to whom he had already shown much favour, expressing his wish that Addington ‘would from himself open Pitt's eyes on the danger’ of agitating the question. Addington did what he could, and believed that he had succeeded in his mission. But Pitt would not give way. The king sent for Addington and desired him to take the government. ‘Where,’ he said, ‘am I to turn for support if you do not stand by me?’ Addington at once consulted Pitt, who entreated him to accept the charge, declaring that he ‘saw nothing but ruin’ if he hesitated. He accordingly set about forming an administration. As, however, the members of the cabinet who agreed with Pitt on the catholic question, and several others, among whom were Lords Cornwallis and Castlereagh and Canning, refused to take office under Addington, ‘he was forced to call up the rear ranks of the old ministry to form the front ranks of a new ministry’ (Macaulay, Biographies, p. 212). The illness of the king delayed the actual change in the administration. Addington had resigned the speakership, but Pitt still remained de facto minister. Pitt's friends took advantage of the delay. They affected to believe that Addington looked on himself as a mere locum tenens for Pitt, whose position as regards the catholic question was changed by an assurance which he gave the king that he would not again enter on it during his majesty's life. Pitt did not conceal his readiness to return to office if the opportunity were offered him. Without his authority his friends urged Addington to retire in his favour. Addington naturally refused a request which implied his own inferiority. On 14 March the king was so far convalescent as to be able to transact business, and Addington entered office as first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer. The king was delighted with his new minister. Addington's very mediocrity suited his master, and this congeniality, and the fact that his assumption of office extricated the king from a difficulty and promised the success of his policy, were expressed in the phrase ‘my own chancellor of the exchequer.’ Official duty made it necessary for Addington to reside near London, and the king assigned him the White Lodge in Richmond Park. Pitt gave him his warm support in parliament, and declared his readiness to help him whenever he needed his advice. On his accession to office the question of the eligibility of clergymen to sit in the House of Commons came before parliament in the case of Horne Tooke. Addington brought in and carried a bill (41 Geo. III, c. 63) which at once declares and enacts their disqualification for membership.

Negotiations for a peace with France at once engaged the attention of the minister, and he received much help from Pitt in the settlement of the preliminary articles. These negotiations arrayed against the government a party of tories led by Lord Grenville and Windham. This party was called the New Opposition to distinguish it from the old whig opposition, which approved the peace. The definitive treaty, the peace of Amiens, was signed in March 1802. Although the country did not gain all that it expected, the peace was highly popular. The Foxites rejoiced, and on a motion of censure the government policy was approved in the House of Commons by 276 to 20. Pitt upheld the peace, though he saw more clearly than Addington the necessity of preparing for war at the same time. Addington seems to have believed in the sincerity of Bonaparte. Some rest was needful for the country, and in after years even Windham acknowledged that, without the peace of Amiens, England could not have maintained the struggle. Addington was over-hasty in giving the country the relief it needed, and at once put the forces on a peace footing. On one occasion Addington seemed careless of Pitt's political reputation, and a slight estrangement arose between them. This passed away. But as the course pursued by the First Consul and the tone of the ‘Moniteur’ threatened war, and no adequate measures for defence were taken by the government, Pitt grew dissatisfied with the conduct of affairs, and absented himself from parliament. The encroachments of France caused the public to feel less satisfied with the peace. In November, Canning formed a plan for inducing Addington to resign by presenting him with an address calling on him to give way to Pitt. The project came to Pitt's knowledge, and was dropped by his wish. His friends were, however, successful in prevailing on him to give no further advice to the government. The tone of Addington's financial statement, which was considered boastful and invidious, exasperated the Pittites. In the country the ministry still continued popular and was upheld by the ‘Times.’ This popularity depended on the peace, and, in March 1803, it became evident that war was at hand. Addington proposed a large augmentation of the navy and the embodiment of the militia. He found his position shaken, and hoped to strengthen it by the help of Pitt. He first proposed that they should both hold office under a first minister, whose position in the cabinet should be merely nominal. When this proposal was refused, he offered with great generosity that Pitt should be the first minister, and that he should hold office under him. Pitt insisted on bringing Lord Grenville, Windham, and others with him into the administration. Addington wished to strengthen the existing government by the addition of Pitt. Pitt insisted on the virtual dissolution of the cabinet and the introduction of men who had violently opposed the measures of the existing administration. The negotiations failed. Addington did not tell the king of his proposals until after their failure, although they implied a total change in the character of the administration. The friendship between Addington and Pitt was for a time wholly broken. The war was renewed in May 1803. The ministry gained considerable popularity by a bill for the armament of the nation. Before long the unsatisfactory character of Addington's arrangements became apparent. His regulations with respect to the volunteers were such as to discourage the movement and to curtail its efficiency. The naval administration of Lord St. Vincent was extremely faulty. Canning in his bitter verse poured scorn on Addington and his colleagues, on their commonplace abilities and measures. The ‘Doctor’—the nickname given to Addington—was made the object of coarse and violent satire by the wits. His friends retaliated by beginning a war of pamphlets. ‘A Few Cursory Remarks,’ by a Mr. Bentley, published without Addington's consent, contained an attack on Pitt. The contempt felt for Addington was changed into hatred. Early in 1804 the old and new oppositions combined against him. ‘You will get Pitt in again,’ was Sheridan's warning to Fox. ‘I can't bear fools, anything but fools,’ was his reply. Pitt at last openly opposed the government. The majority sank to 37, and Addington on 30 April declared his intention to resign. With a respectable majority in the house, with a body of firm personal adherents, and with considerable influence in the country, he left office because he could not stand with Pitt against him, and dared not face the combination of talented men of all parties who joined in exposing his incapacity. His industry and good intentions could not make up for his own dulness and the incapacity of his colleagues. The pompous manner and sententious gravity which became the speaker's chair were ill suited for debate. With the country gentry he was popular. Self-satisfied and honourable, a strong churchman, narrow in mind and sympathies, he was trusted by them. They understood him, for he was one of themselves. He was frank and jovial, and used in old age to call himself the last of ‘the port-wine faction.’ His very mediocrity suited them better than the loftiness of Pitt. In his use of patronage he did not rise even to the highest standard of his time, for he conferred on his son at the age of sixteen the rich sinecure of the clerkship of the pells. On leaving office, however, he refused a peerage and a pension.

For a while Addington opposed the new ministry of Pitt. Before the close of 1804, however, the two old friends were reconciled. In January 1805, Addington was created Viscount Sidmouth, and entered the cabinet as president of the council. The reconciliation was short-lived. Lord Sidmouth pressed for places for his friends. At the same time they voted against Pitt's wishes in the matter of the impeachment of his friend Lord Melville. Pitt declared that ‘their conduct must be marked,’ and in July Lord Sidmouth left the ministry. The distressing illness of his eldest son, who died in 1823, and his own weak health, kept him for some months away from public life. In February 1806, he was invited to join the coalition government of Lord Grenville and Fox, for his compact party of some fifty adherents in the Commons and the confidence which the king had in him made him a useful ally. He differed from his colleagues in their negotiations with the king on the catholic question, but acted honourably in not separating himself from them. Some of the old Pittite party continued hostile to him, and to please them Perceval passed him over in 1809, while he tried to gain his friends. The attempt failed. Perceval afterwards offered him a place in the cabinet, but Lord Sidmouth would not act with Canning and refused the offer. Ecclesiastical matters always had a charm for Lord Sidmouth, and his zealous churchmanship led him, in 1811, to bring in a bill requiring all dissenting ministers to be licensed, and restraining unlicensed preachers. The bill would have pressed hardly on the various nonconformist bodies, and especially on the Wesleyans. A considerable outcry was made against it throughout the country, and on the second reading it was thrown out by the lords without a division. In the summer of this year Lady Sidmouth died. On the return of Lord Sidmouth to public affairs in 1812, he accepted the presidency of the council in the cabinet of Perceval. When, on Perceval's assassination about a month afterwards, Lord Liverpool reconstructed the administration, Lord Sidmouth accepted the office of secretary of the home department, which he held for ten years.

In 1812 the labouring classes were suffering severely from the depression in agriculture and trade. Work was scarce, prices were high, and were kept up by protective restraints. Riots broke out, and the north was disturbed by the outrages of the Luddites. Kindly as Lord Sidmouth was by nature, his administration was severe, and, during ten years of lawlessness and misery, he ruled with unwavering sternness. He carried a temporary measure for the preservation of peace and for extending the power of the justices. Fourteen Luddites were hanged in one day at York. His severity was highly applauded, and the dean and chapter of Westminster made him lord high steward of that city. It was hoped that the opening of the foreign ports in 1815 would have relieved the distress of the poor. But in order to keep up prices, the government carried a corn law fixing the protecting price of wheat at 80s. a quarter. Lord Sidmouth considered that any reduction ‘would be improvident and hazardous.’ During the debates on this subject there was some rioting in London, and the home secretary showed much promptness in quelling the disorders. In 1816 the discontent of the working classes took a more decidedly political direction. Up to 1817 the government used the ordinary legal means of repression. The more dangerous outbreaks of that year led to coercive measures. After the attack on the prince regent, Lord Sidmouth moved for a committee of secrecy, for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and for the revival of the laws against seditious meetings. Other measures of the like character were also adopted. At the same time the state trials were disgracefully mismanaged, and the Spa Fields rioters escaped without punishment. Lord Sidmouth determined to strike at what he believed to be the root of the disorder of the time by a rigorous enforcement of the laws restraining the liberty of the press. He issued a circular to the lords lieutenant of counties, setting forth the opinion of the law officers of the crown with respect to the power of justices over those charged with the publication of blasphemous or seditious libels, and instructing them as to how they should deal with unlicensed vendors of pamphlets. Opinions were expressed in parliament as to the unconstitutional character of this circular, and it was rightly alleged that the secretary had usurped the functions of the legislature. In spite of the tremendous powers with which he was armed, Lord Sidmouth sustained a mortifying defeat in the triple acquittal of William Hone, who was tried on ex officio informations for the publication of certain parodies, alleged to be blasphemous and seditious libels. The employment of spies in state cases occasioned various accusations to be made in parliament against the ministers, and a charge was brought against the secretary of state of having fomented by these agents the very disturbances which they were suppressing with so much severity. These charges were rejected, and, in 1818, a bill of indemnity was passed which was regarded as the triumphant acquittal of the minister. About the same time the notorious Thistlewood sent a challenge to Lord Sidmouth, for which he was indicted and imprisoned. The terrible event known as the Manchester massacre (16 Aug. 1819) was, to some extent, the result of the inopportune exhortations to a display of energy given by the secretary of state. Lord Sidmouth hastened to express the thanks of the government to the magistrates and to the troops. Strong indignation was felt throughout the country at the conduct of all concerned in the massacre. Upheld by the prince regent, who fully approved the coercive policy of the minister, and by the tory majority in parliament, Lord Sidmouth in a reply from the throne uncourteously repelled a petition from the common council of London praying for an inquiry, and caused the removal of Earl Fitzwilliam from his lord-lieutenancy for taking part in a meeting held on this occasion. In the next session he introduced four of those repressive measures which are known as the ‘Six Acts.’ In common with the other cabinet ministers, Lord Sidmouth escaped the danger of the Cato Street conspiracy; and he had a full share in the shame and unpopularity which the proceedings against Queen Caroline brought upon the government.

Desire for rest caused Lord Sidmouth to retire from office in 1821, though he remained a member of the cabinet. In 1823 he married, as his second wife, Mary Anne, daughter of Lord Stowell and widow of Mr. T. Townsend. On the death of Lord Stowell in 1833, Lord Sidmouth received a considerable increase of fortune and resigned a crown pension which had been granted to him in 1817. He retired from the cabinet in 1824, because he disapproved the recognition of the independence of Buenos Ayres. After that date he seldom attended parliament. Consistent to his old tory politics he opposed catholic emancipation in his last speech (April 1829), and voted against the Reform Bill (May 1832) in the last division in which he took part in person. His old age was happy and honoured, saddened only by the deaths of his friends, and especially by the death of his wife, which took place in 1842. He loved to talk of old times and to remember that many of his former political enemies had been reconciled to him. From a generous affection for the memory of Pitt, he destroyed all the papers which seemed to him to prove that his former friend had treated him badly. He died on 15 Feb. 1844, and was buried at Mortlake. He left one son and four daughters.

[Pellew's Life of Sidmouth; Stanhope's Life of Pitt; Memorials of C. J. Fox, ed. Lord J. Russell; Lord Malmesbury's Diaries, vol. iv.; Lewis's Administrations of Great Britain, 1783–1830; Eden's Letters on the Peace, 1802; A Few Cursory Remarks, &c., by a Near Observer, 1803; A Plain Answer, &c., 1803; A Brief Answer, &c., 1803; Spirit of the Public Journals, vii. viii.; Ann. Reg.; Edin. Rev. xxviii. 516, xxxiii. 187; Walpole's History of England.]

W. H.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.3
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
117 i 8 f.e. Addington, Henry, 1st Viscount Sidmouth: for 1783 read 1784
119 ii 23 f.e. after ally insert He was at first lord privy seal, becoming afterwards lord president of the council
120 ii 7 f.e. for 1833 read 1836
121 i 6 after person insert He was high steward of Westminster from 1813 till his death