Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Jenkinson, Robert Banks
JENKINSON, ROBERT BANKS, second Earl of Liverpool (1770–1828), eldest son of Charles Jenkinson, afterwards first earl of Liverpool [q. v.], was born on 7 June 1770. He was educated at Charterhouse, under Dr. Beardmore, and in 1786 proceeded to Christ Church, where he lived much in the society of Lord Granville Leveson, afterwards first earl Granville, and of George Canning. In 1789 he left Oxford, went to Paris, witnessed the capture of the Bastile, and continued to travel on the continent during the greater part of the next three years. By the influence of Sir James Lowther he was returned to parliament for Appleby in 1790; from 1796 until December 1803 he represented Rye. He had not spoken when Pitt selected him in 1791 as the first speaker against Whitbread's motion censuring the government for its increase of the navy in view of the Russian war with Turkey. His speech made a strong impression. In 1792 he visited Coblenz, and there associated with the principal émigrés and the Prussian and Austrian leaders (see Lord Buckland, Journal, ii. 439, 440). In a speech on 15 Dec. 1792 he strongly opposed an amendment to the address moved by Fox in favour of negotiation with France. In February 1793, after the execution of Louis XVI, he again advocated immediate war, and in May he vigorously opposed Grey's motion for parliamentary reform. These speeches established his reputation. Pitt appointed him to a seat at the India board. Except during the short whig administration of 1806, he was never out of office again till his last illness.
For some years he made slow progress in parliament. He served on garrison duty as colonel of the Kentish militia at Dumfries and elsewhere. In 1796, when his father was raised to an earldom, he became (by courtesy) Lord Hawkesbury, and was appointed in 1799 master of the mint. In the main he was in accord with Pitt on all the points of his policy; but, being unfavourable to any Roman catholic concessions, he retained office under Addington, and, on 20 Feb. 1801, was promoted to the foreign office and a seat in the cabinet. Four days after taking this office he began negotiations for peace, which lasted until October, when plenipotentiaries were sent to Amiens. He defended his policy in the House of Commons in a speech in November 1801, which Lord Muncaster called ‘the most chaste speech of a man of business I almost ever heard,’ and again, in a debate on Windham's motion for an address of censure upon the peace, after the treaty had been signed in March 1802. He became so doubtful, however, of the permanence of peace that in the beginning of 1803 he induced his colleagues to postpone the evacuation of Malta, for which the treaty of Amiens stipulated. Fruitless attempts were made to bribe Joseph Buonaparte to dissuade his brother from insisting on the cession, and Lord Whitworth, the English ambassador, was consequently withdrawn from Paris in May. In the subsequent debates in parliament Lord Hawkesbury was accused of causing this rupture by his own mismanagement, but he made a good defence and obtained large majorities in his favour. In November 1803 Addington raised him to the peerage as Baron Hawkesbury, somewhat against his will. He already felt the likelihood of succeeding Addington as prime minister, and the government had scarcely any one but himself to rely upon in debate in the House of Commons. When Addington gave way to Pitt in 1804, Hawkesbury was transferred to the home office (12 May), which, when held by a peer, customarily carried with it the leadership of the House of Lords. (The negotiations which preceded this change are detailed in C. D. Yonge's Life of Lord Liverpool, i. 147 sqq.; in the course of it a short-lived estrangement arose between Canning and Hawkesbury.) Towards the end of the year it was through his intervention and good offices that Pitt and Addington were reconciled and became colleagues (see Pellew, Life of Lord Sidmouth, ii. 225–65). He continued to lead the House of Lords after Addington's elevation to the peerage. On Melville's fall, Pitt preferred to keep him at the home office instead of transferring him to the admiralty, in order that he might retain the leadership in the lords, from which he would have had to retire had his successor at the home office been a peer. On the death of Pitt, George III insisted on naming Hawkesbury his successor in the wardenship of the Cinque ports, which was worth 3,000l. a year. Lord Sheffield expressed the disgust excited in some quarters in the words, ‘the Jenkinson craving disposition will revolt the whole country’ (Lord Auckland, Correspondence, iv. 269). When the new government of ‘All the Talents’ was formed under Grenville in January 1806, Hawkesbury became undisputed leader of the opposition. In 1807 Grenville prepared to reopen the catholic question. Hawkesbury thereupon addressed a letter to the king urging him to refuse his consent to the dissolution, by which Grenville might obtain a house more favourable to emancipation. On the fall of the whig ministry in March the king sent in the first instance for Hawkesbury and Eldon, and through Hawkesbury arrangements were completed for the formation of a new ministry under the nominal leadership of the Duke of Portland (ib. iv. 308). Hawkesbury returned to the home office and the leadership of the House of Lords on 25 March 1807. A dissolution followed, and a tory majority was returned. He continued strongly to oppose the whole catholic emancipation movement, and in the same year he said that ‘a protestant government alone was consistent with the laws and constitution of the British empire,’ and declared the Test Act to be an indispensable guarantee of a protestant government. By the death of his father in December 1808 he succeeded to the earldom of Liverpool, and, upon the resignation of the Duke of Portland in September 1809, he and Spencer Perceval were entrusted by the king with the formation of a new ministry, which was to include Lords Grey and Grenville. All attempts at combination failing, Spencer Perceval became on 6 Dec. 1809 prime minister, and Lord Liverpool for a short time secretary of state for foreign affairs, but from 1809 to 1812 was secretary of state for war and the colonies.
At the home office Liverpool had displayed both tact and industry. These qualities were severely tried by the quarrels between the Prince and Princess of Wales and between Louis XVIII and his brother, the reorganisation of the London police, and the maintenance of order in Ireland. On taking charge of his new office he at once urged the evacuation of the island of Walcheren, which, in spite of its value, he felt to be untenable. This was done, and he devoted all his efforts to supporting the operations of Wellington in Portugal. At first, however, neither the public nor at times was Wellington himself satisfied with the support given by the ministry. When the king went out of his mind at the end of 1810 Lord Liverpool took a leading part in the constitution of a regency, and on 27 Dec. introduced resolutions for that purpose in the House of Lords. In 1811 he proposed and carried measures for strengthening the army by systematic drafts from the militia, and for legalising the transfer of Irish militia regiments to England and the reverse, measures which proved highly valuable in maintaining the effective strength of the army. After the assassination of Perceval, Stuart Wortley straightway carried his motion for an address praying the prince regent to form a strong administration. Liverpool consequently resigned, and Lord Wellesley and Lord Moira made abortive attempts to form an alternative government. On their failure, Liverpool, unable to obtain whig support, became prime minister and the chief of a purely tory ministry on 7 June 1812. His succession to Perceval was hardly interrupted by a brief resignation. Though still resolutely opposed to catholic emancipation himself, he was obliged to treat the question as open in order to include pro-catholic tories in his administration. His ministry, though it did not include Canning and was considered a weak one at the time of its formation, lasted for nearly fifteen years, a period which has only been exceeded by the ministries of Walpole and Pitt. He was at once confronted with many difficulties. The Peninsular and American wars had to be carried on, a Toleration Act to be passed acceptable at once to bishops and dissenters, the East India Company's charter to be revised and renewed, and the constantly recurring scandals arising from the relations of the Prince and Princess of Wales to be smoothed over. The prosperity of the ministry was secured by Wellington's victorious career, which was facilitated by their vigorous support. At the visit of the allied sovereigns to London in 1814 Lord Liverpool was rewarded by being made a knight of the Garter (9 June). The re-arrangement of the map and affairs of Europe next engaged his attention, and he was in the main successful in enforcing his views upon the allies, supported as he was by the moral influence which resulted from his policy of attempting no aggrandisement for Great Britain. At the same time he caused an international prohibition of the slave-trade to be so strongly insisted on at Vienna that in a few years from that time it was forbidden by every power in Europe. After Waterloo the question of the place of Napoleon's exile was decided by the government of Lord Liverpool in favour of St. Helena, though he wrote privately to Castlereagh, ‘we wish that the King of France would hang or shoot Buonaparte as the best termination of the business.’ Even this imprisonment could only be justified by ingenious legal arguments, which placed Napoleon in the category of ‘hostes humani generis;’ and accordingly in the following year Lord Liverpool passed an act to authorise his permanent detention. The rearrangement of French affairs by the treaty of 1815, and again at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818, was again in the main effected in accordance with the principles laid down by him for the guidance of the British representatives.
Domestic questions became pressing after the peace. Distress and discontent universally prevailed, and the burden of the public debt was beyond all example. The ministry was fiercely attacked, and its own unpopularity was increased by that of the regent. The House of Commons threw out the property-tax by 238 to 201, and Lord Liverpool was obliged to face the possibility of being forced to resign. The government conceded the loan malt-tax without conciliating the opposition. A direct vote of censure was defeated by no more than 29. Liverpool then pressed the regent to come up to town from Brighton, as it might at any moment become necessary to have him at hand. This implied a not distant resignation, and the alarmed prince thereupon pressed his minister to retain his post, promising him his strongest support. In deference to the prince's wishes the cabinet consented to remain in office. Matters did not improve. In 1817 stagnation of trade, bad harvests, and high prices had produced industrial distress, rioting, and outrage. Liverpool dealt with the disorder in an uncompromising spirit. The Habeas Corpus Act was suspended. For the relief of distress less energy was displayed. Lord Liverpool moved for the appointment of a committee to investigate comprehensively the administration of poor-law relief. In the following year he carried a proposal fixing 1819 as the time for the resumption of cash payments, which, indeed, might have taken place forthwith but for his desire to assist the French government in bringing out a loan, a part of the arrangement made by the powers at Aix. He cordially supported Peel's bill for the regulation of the employment of children in factories, and the condition of the people began to show signs of improvement. Accordingly, in 1819, reduction of taxation and better harvests had considerably diminished the previous distress, but the growth of radicalism and the increasing demand for parliamentary reform produced a formidable popular agitation. After the discreditable suppression of the meeting in St. Peter's Fields at Manchester in August 1819, discontent and opposition became again very active in the north. Again Lord Liverpool dealt with it summarily. Parliament was assembled in November, and the ‘Six Acts,’ prohibiting drilling, seditious meetings and seditious newspapers, and providing for the trial of offences against the public peace, for the seizure of arms, and for greater measures of precaution on the part of justices than had hitherto been legal, were quickly passed. Even in the House of Commons the opposition minorities never exceeded 150, and the Liverpool administration was everywhere triumphant. But in a few months its existence was imperilled by the question of the new king's divorce. Liverpool had to bear perhaps a greater share of unpopularity than he deserved. He had been a party to the despatch of the Milan commission in 1818, but it was with reluctance that he undertook the introduction of a divorce bill, which was only forced upon him by the queen's persistent determination to come to England. Upon him throughout fell the difficult task of defending and explaining at every stage the course pursued by the ministry. Ultimately the steady diminution of the majorities in favour of the bill compelled him to withdraw it.
Liverpool met the distress and disaffection in Ireland in 1822 by renewing the Insurrection Bill and by rapidly passing a bill through both houses for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland for six months. At the same time a government grant of money was made in aid of the prevailing distress; and, upon Lord Lansdowne's motion, that the state of Ireland required the immediate attention of parliament, he protested that Ireland had few causes of complaint which legislation could remove, and that all her troubles were due to the state of society then prevailing. To Canning's Catholic Relief Bill he offered a strenuous and successful resistance, rather upon the ground that it was too limited and partial in its application to be satisfactory to Ireland than upon grounds of general policy. It was mainly through his firmness in resisting the pressure put upon him by numbers of his own supporters, and in overcoming the king's personal prejudices, that Londonderry was succeeded by Canning at the foreign office in the autumn of 1822; and Canning's foreign policy, especially in regard to the Spanish question and the recognition of the Spanish American republics, was, like his predecessor's, not only in accord with, but even to some extent inspired by, the opinions of the prime minister. Strengthened by the adhesion of Canning and the promotion of Huskisson to the board of trade (5 April 1822), the government continued to be secure in parliament and tolerably prosperous in the country, until the progress of the Catholic Association in Ireland prepared a fresh crisis. Liverpool's own opposition to the Roman catholic claims was far from being so extreme as that of many of his followers. While maintaining the necessity of ‘a protestant ascendency, a protestant parliament, a protestant council, and protestant judges,’ he voted and spoke in May 1824 for Lord Lansdowne's bills to confer the elective franchise on English Roman catholics and to open the magistracy and certain offices to Roman catholic gentlemen. He felt strongly the tactical folly of defending these merely irritating and illogical disabilities at the cost of embittering public feeling, and thus imperilling those larger disabilities which he hoped to maintain. This course, however, did not prevent him in 1825 from introducing legislation aimed at the Catholic Association. In 1826 his opinions were moving in the direction of an alteration in the corn laws, and he actually prepared a measure during the recess, afterwards introduced into parliament while he was still prime minister, though not by himself, which embodied that principle of the sliding scale which was ultimately adopted and maintained under various modifications until the final abandonment of the corn laws. In 1820, on a motion of Lord Lansdowne's for a committee on our foreign trade, with a view to the removal of some of the restrictions upon it, he had expressed himself as opposed in principle to legislation which favoured or burdened one industry more than another, and had on its own merits approved a system of unrestricted trade; but he declared that a country which had so long followed an opposite policy could not now abandon it. But in May 1826 he avowed that neither the corn law of 1815 nor that of 1822 was applicable to the present circumstances of prevalent distress and industrial depression. He stated that he was individually responsible for the ministerial proposal to confer on the administration a discretionary power to permit a limited importation of corn, and in September these powers were actually exercised. He clearly intimated that some relaxation of the corn laws would become necessary, but in the new parliament he was never able to propose this change himself. His health, even in December 1826, was impaired, and he felt himself no longer able to bear the heavy burden of office. ‘The government,’ he wrote to Robinson, ‘hangs by a thread. The catholic question in its present state, combined with other circumstances, will, I have little doubt, lead to its dissolution in the course of this session;’ and he felt himself no match for this struggle and those other difficulties attending the corn question which he foresaw. Early in the morning of 17 Feb. 1827 he had a stroke of paralysis, combined with apoplexy, and resigned office. He lingered, rarely conscious, until 4 Dec. 1828, when he died at Fife House, Whitehall; he was buried at Hawkesbury. In 1816 he was elected master of Trinity House, and appointed high steward of Kingston-on-Thames. In 1824 he became a trustee of the National Gallery, and in 1826 LL.D. of Cambridge and an official trustee of the British Museum. There are two portraits of Liverpool by Hoppner; one, in the possession of Mr. C. G. S. Foljambe, M.P., has been engraved. There are also three portraits by Sir T. Lawrence, one of which is at Windsor; all three have been engraved.
History has hardly done justice to Liverpool's solid though not shining talents. That he was for nearly fifteen years head of an administration which concluded successfully the French war, carried the country through the perils which followed upon the peace of 1815, and brought it to the eve of the great reform period, and that during all that time his ministry, even when it consisted of two hostile and irreconcilable parties, was rarely in danger from its opponents, is proof conclusive that, although neither an impressive orator nor a great statesman, he had consummate tact, an infallible instinct for the practical solution of difficulties, unfailing temper, and eminent talents as a man of business and a public official.
He was twice married: first, on 25 March 1795, to Lady Theodosia Louisa, third daughter of Frederick Augustus Hervey, fourth earl of Bristol [q. v.], who was bishop of Derry; and secondly, in 1822, to Miss Chester, daughter of Charles Chester and niece of the first Lord Bagot. He had no issue, and his half-brother, Charles Cecil Cope Jenkinson [q. v.], succeeded him in the earldom. The best testimony to the irreproachable character of his private life is that no details of it are preserved.
[The definitive Life of the second Earl of Liverpool is that by C. D. Yonge, who had all the earl's papers before him. His life from 1812 is inseparable from the general public history of the time. Kebbel's History of Toryism contains an excellent appreciation of his political importance. Napier's Peninsular War criticises adversely his conduct of the war in Spain. See, too, Brougham's Statesmen of the Time of George III; Lord Colchester's Diary; Rose's Diaries; Lord Castlereagh's Correspondence; the Marquis of Buckingham's Memoirs; Spencer Walpole's History of England; Grey's Life of Earl Grey; Twiss's Life of Lord Eldon; Stapleton's Life of Canning.]