Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Tierney, George

TIERNEY, George (1761–1830), an English Whig politician, was born at Gibraltar on 20th March 1761, being the son of a wealthy merchant resident in Spain. He was sent to Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he took the degree of LL.D. in 1784, and was called to the bar; but, having inherited an ample fortune, he abandoned law and plunged into politics. He contested Colchester in 1788, when both candidates received the same number of votes, but Tierney was declared elected. He was, however, defeated in 1790. He sat for Southwark from 1796 to 1806, and then represented in turn Athlone (1806–7), Bandon (1807–12), Appleby (1812–18), and Knaresborough (1818–30). When Fox seceded from the House of Commons, Tierney became a prominent, if not the leading, opponent of Pitt's policy. It was perhaps for this reason that he was disliked by Fox. In 1797—such was the height of political passion at this epoch—Wilberforce noted in his diary that Tierney's conduct was "truly Jacobinical"; and in May 1798 Pitt accused him of want of patriotism. As the words were not withdrawn, a duel ensued at Putney Heath on Sunday, 27th May 1798; but neither combatant was injured. In 1803 Tierney, partly through gratitude for the peace which had been ratified with France and partly because Pitt was out of office, joined the ministry of Addington as treasurer of the navy, and was created a privy councillor; but this ill-advised step alienated many of his supporters among the middle classes, and offended most of the influential Whigs. On the death of Fox he joined (1806) the Grenville ministry as president of the board of control, with a seat in the cabinet, and thus brought himself once more into line with the Whigs. After the death of Ponsonby in 1817 Tierney became the recognized leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons. In the neutral ministry of Canning, the place of master of the mint was held by him, and when Lord Goderich succeeded to the lead Tierney was admitted to the cabinet; but he was already suffering from ill-health and took little part in its deliberations. He died suddenly at Savile Row, London, on 25th January 1830.

Tierney was a shrewd man of the world, with a natural aptitude for business. His powers of sarcasm were a cause of terror to his adversaries, and his presence in debate was much dreaded. His arguments were felicitous, and, though he never aimed at the highest flights of eloquence, his choice of language was the theme of constant admiration. Lord Lytton, in his poem of St Stephen's, alludes to "Tierney's airy tread," and praises his "light and yet vigorous" attack, in which he inflicted, "with a placid smile," a fatal wound on his opponent.