Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/367

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


till he succeeded to the earldom twenty-eight years later. In compliment to his father, who joined Lord Grenville as home secretary, he was appointed a lord of the treasury in 1806, but he only held the office thirteen months, rarely performed any of its duties, and resided at Althorp as much as possible. When obliged to attend the House of Commons, he hired relays of horses for the return journey to Northamptonshire, and would gallop all night after a sitting of the House of Commons to hunt with the Pytchley next day.

On the fall of the whig government in 1807 he retired for two years without regret to his country amusements. He attended prize fights and race meetings, and devoted himself to the management of the Pytchley hunt. He boxed well, but shot and rode, though incessantly, not so well. He had a loose seat in the saddle, met with constant falls in the hunting field, and repeatedly put his shoulder out. So devoted was he to the Pytchley, with which he was connected from 1805, that he spent on it over 4,000l. a year, to his great embarrassment in after life. He introduced with success a lighter and quicker build of hounds, and kept minute hunting journals, which are still preserved at Althorp.

His maiden speech was not made till 1809. Though he had been brought up a tory, Cambridge friendships, especially with Lord Henry Petty and Lord Ebrington, had inclined him early to the whigs. From the personal acquaintance he had formed with Fox about 1806, he contracted a strong admiration for him, and after Fox's death he began to incline to the more forward party represented by Romilly and Whitbread. Breaking away from most of his political connections, he joined in the condemnation of the Duke of York's complicity in the scandalous sales of commissions in the army. The duke was brought to resign, and the more prudent radicals then thought that enough had been done. Althorp was accordingly selected by Whitbread to move a resolution recording the resignation and shelving further inquiry; this was carried. Thereupon, in spite of his father's disappointment, he decided formally to join the advanced party. He regularly voted with Whitbread, but did not speak again in the session of 1809, and only rarely in 1810. In 1812 he supported Lord Milton's vote of censure on the government for the re-appointment of the Duke of York to the commandership-in-chief, and replied to Perceval, but ineffectively. The shoemakers of Northampton placed their interests in his hands with regard to the proposed leather tax in 1812, and he seconded Brougham's motion for its rejection on 26 June, dwelling characteristically on its hardships to the artisan and labouring classes. The tax was none the less imposed. During 1812 and 1813, except in supporting Grattan's Roman catholic emancipation bill, the part he took in business and debate was very small. His time was mainly spent in country pursuits. On his marriage in 1814 he began farming, planting, and breeding, at Wiseton, and was little seen for a year or two outside his county.

When the war was concluded in 1815, Althorp formed a very strong opinion of the grievances of the working classes and of the necessity for reducing taxation and reforming the parliamentary representation. He opposed the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act and the increase of magistrates' summary powers, voting with Sir James Mackintosh, Romilly, and Brougham, and speaking in opposition to the ministerial policy. So deeply did he feel on these matters that he constantly attended the debates. On practical topics, especially on taxation, he spoke often and with knowledge and good sense; but Lady Althorp's death in childbirth, on 11 June 1818, withdrew him from public affairs and from society for a considerable time. At the general election his seat was left uncontested, but for years he was a broken man, and lived in retirement.

It was with difficulty that he brought himself to resume his place in parliament. He raised a privilege question in March 1819 (Hansard, Parl. Deb. 1st ser. xxxix. 1167), served on and eventually presided over a committee on the working of the Insolvent Debtors' Act. A bill, founded on the report of the committee, he conducted through the House of Commons, but it was rejected in the House of Lords. As a ministerial bill it passed in the year following (1 George IV, c. 119). He devoted much time to reading the ‘Parliamentary Debates’ and works on political economy, trade and law, of which last he had gained a knowledge as chairman of quarter sessions. Accordingly in 1821, 1823, and 1824, he introduced bills for establishing local courts for the recovery of small debts, and brought one to a second and another to a third reading, but was compelled to withdraw them all; they were, however, the germ out of which the county-court system subsequently developed (Hansard, Parl. Deb. 2nd ser. iv. 1263, ix. 543, xi. 852). When the committee on the corn laws was appointed in 1821, he served upon it, and followed the lead of Huskisson in resisting further protective duties; and in February 1822 he introduced a plan of his own for the relief of the country from taxation (ib. 2nd ser. vi. 558). He moved for a committee