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British Prime Ministers - 1721-1859

1721-1742 Sir Robert WalpoleWhig
1742-1743 Earl of WilmingtonWhig
1743-1754 Henry PelhamWhig
1754-1756 Duke of NewcastleWhig
1756-1757 Duke of DevonshireWhig
1756-1762 William Pitt & Duke of NewcastleWhig
1762-1763 Earl of Bute Conservative
1763-1765 George GrenvilleWhig
1765-1766 Marquess of RockinghamWhig
1766-1768 William Pitt 'The Elder'Whig
1768-1770 Duke of GraftonWhig
1770-1782 Lord NorthConservative
1782 Marquess of RockinghamWhig
1782-1783 Earl of ShelburneWhig
1783 Duke of PortlandWhig
1783 Lord NorthWhig
1783-1801 William Pitt 'The Younger'Conservative
1801-1804 H. AddingtonConservative
1804-1806 William Pitt 'The Younger'Conservative
1806-1807 Lord GrenvilleWhig
1807-1809 Duke of Portland Whig
1809-1812 Spencer PercevalConservative
1812-1827 Earl of LiverpoolConservative
1827 George CanningConservative
1827-1828 Viscount Goderich Conservative
1828-1830 Duke of WellingtonConservative
1830-1834 Earl GreyWhig
1834 Viscount MelbourneWhig
1834-1835Robert PeelConservative
1835-1841Viscount MelbourneWhig
1841-1846Robert PeelConservative
1846-1851 Earl RussellLiberal
1852 Earl of DerbyConservative
1852-1855 Earl of AberdeenConservative
1855-1858 Viscount PalmerstonWhig
1858-1859 Earl of DerbyConservative

The Prime Minister is head of the UK Government and is ultimately responsible for the policy and decisions of government. By tradition, the Prime Minister is also First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service. By modern convention, the Prime Minister always sits in the Commons. The Prime Minister presides over the Cabinet and is responsible for allocating functions among ministers, has regular meetings with The Queen to inform her of the general business of the Government, and recommends a number of appointments to The Queen (including senior clergy). The Prime Minister represents the United Kingdom at major international events, such as the annual meeting of the Group of Eight leading industrialised countries.

Sir Robert Walpole must be regarded as the first prime minister - that is, a minister who imposed harmonious action upon his colleagues in the cabinet. This was brought about partly by the capacity of the man himself, partly by the lack of interest of George I. and II. in English home affairs. This leader of the Whigs is traditionally called the first ever British prime minister, although officially this term was used in the second half of the XIX century. The nomination of the leader of the party that won the election became possible after the Glorious Revolution, which ended the absolute monarchy.

Walpole became famous not only for having sat in the Premier's chair for more than twenty years, that laid the foundations of political struggle without the use of daggers and cannons. This meant the ability to achieve the majority in parliament in a variety of ways (including not entirely honest ones), to stay there, manipulating its members, public opinion, the press. Besides, this implied the ability to concentrate in their hands all the threads of power, legitimate means to oppress political opponents, catching them up on mistakes or misdemeanors, but at the same time to find compromises, to achieve mutual understanding with the king and his entourage, to hold their people to important state posts. Under Walpole, a foreign policy system developed, when England tried not to interfere in European wars and rely on its naval advantage. In his domestic policy, Walpole sought (through low taxation) to create a favorable climate for the economic development of the country. Such a policy ensured the peace of England, the development of trade and industry.

This creation, as it were, of a superior minister was so gradually and silently effected that it is difficult to realize its full importance. In previous ministries there was no prime minister except so far as one member of the administration dominated over his colleagues by the force of character and intelligence. In the reign of George III even North and Addington were universally acknowledged by the title of prime minister, though they had little claim to the independence of action of a Walpole or a Pitt.

William Pitt the Younger, the most striking figure and the most dazzling statesman of his time, was the second son of the Earl of Chatham, William Pitt, the Elder. Pitt the Younger entered Parliament in 1780 at the age of twenty-one, and with all the vehemence of his father had opened his career by denouncing the war with the American Colonies, as "most accursed, wicked, barbarous, cruel, unnatural, unjust, and diabolical." On 18 December 1783 George III turned to William Pitt to form a new Ministry, save for himself, drawn exclusively from the Upper House. Pitt the Elder died five years before his son's appointment, and their respective premierships were separated by fifteen years.

For an unbroken period of seventeen years William Pitt was Chief Minister. After an interval of three years he came to power again, and died in office in his forty-seventh year. His only vice was one all too common in those days intemperate drinking of port which contributed to his early death [Pitt once came to the House so drunk that he saw two Speakers instead of one]. His private life was pure; he was absolutely indifferent to financial gain [Pitt was usually financially embarrassed, a prey of dishonest tradesmen and servants]. He did away with the abuse of distributing contracts for loans and lotteries to favored supporters of the Government and awarded them to the lowest bidder.

On 17 February 1827, Lord Liverpool was smitten with a paralytic stroke, which irreparably destroyed his mental faculties. When this became known there ensued a scene of intrigue and dissension in the Ministry to which there is no parallel in nineteenth-century history. The truth is that the ultra-Tory and the Canningite sections of the Cabinet were and had long been utterly at variance with one another. The masterful and imperious Canning had recently forced the Ministry into measures, both in domestic and foreign policy, with which many of his colleagues did not agree. As Palmerston wittily declared, the real Opposition sat on the Treasury Bench. When Canning was at length chosen as Premier by the King, six of his colleagues resigned, as they all declared, from personal not party differences. This defence may fairly be made for Wellington, Eldon, and Peel, but not for the rest. If Canning was to retain office, a coalition with the Whigs was essential. On 08 August 1827 Canning died.

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Page last modified: 28-12-2017 18:36:05 ZULU