BARING, Alexander (1774-1848), of the Grange, Hants.
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Family and Education
b. 27 Oct. 1774, 2nd s. of Sir Francis Baring*, 1st Bt., and bro. of Henry Baring* and Thomas Baring*. educ. Hanau. m. 23 Aug. 1798, Anne Louisa, da. of William Bingham of Philadelphia, senator, USA, 5s. 4da. cr. Baron Ashburton 10 Apr. 1835.
Dir. Bank of England 1805-17; pres. Board of Trade Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835; PC 16 Dec. 1834; master of Mint Jan.-May 1835; ambassador (spec. mission) to USA Jan. 1842.
Baring received his commercial education in his ancestral Germany, with Hope & Co. in Holland and in the family business. In 1795 he was sent to America, where he speculated advantageously in land and married the eldest daughter of the richest senator. The firm’s American business consequently multiplied—it held the account of the Bank of the United States from 1803 to 1835 and was the general agent in London for the United States government. Before his father’s death Baring was a director of the Bank of England, as well as a partner in the family business. Under his direction after 1810 it became the leading firm for marketing English and continental securities.1 He was in possession ‘of immense commercial concerns in England and on this continent and America, even beyond the house of Hope ever attained’, according to Lord Glenbervie, who regarded him as ‘the best model of a natural, unaffected, sensible, well-informed liberal merchant’. Disraeli later reputedly styled him ‘the greatest merchant England perhaps ever had’.2 There was some ill-natured comparison of him with Nathan Meyer Rothschild, to the latter’s disadvantage. Edward John Littleton for instance claimed (14 Mar. 1819):3
I know no individual who gives me more the idea of a perfect mercantile character than Mr Baring—liberal and consistent in his politics—leaning to the side of the oppressed in all countries, having intimate communication with the great merchants of all parts of the world; generous and manly in pursuit of public interests—candid but discreet in pursuit of his own.
By 1820 he was ‘buying up everything near him’—his landed investments were supposed to have amounted to nearly a million pounds. By 1827, after success ‘almost without a parallel’ and ‘with a clear income of between £50,000 and £60,000 a year’ and an unblemished reputation, he admitted ‘the only thing that remains to me to wish for is the finishing my career by a seat in the House of Peers.’4
Baring had made his mark in the House of Commons too. Like his brothers he was first elected in 1806. Urged by his family friend Lord Henry Petty he contested Taunton, where a long purse was advisable. He survived a petition against his return and, although he showed no interest in acquiring a property interest there in 1808, regarded himself by 1812 as ‘quite secure’.5 He braved further contests in 1818 and 1820. Having bought the Grange estate in 1817, he was mentioned as a candidate for Hampshire in 1820, but when he at length switched seats it was, until 1832, to come in for boroughs of which he had become the proprietor.6
Baring’s political connexion was with the Lansdowne Whigs. He was criticized in his constituency for his votes of 9 and 15 Apr. 1807, as expressing ‘open hostility to the King’. Had he been opposed at the ensuing election, his prospects would have been in doubt.7 He rallied to opposition after the election and continued to support Catholic relief, when present, in the next two Parliaments. Described in 1808 as ‘rather a heavy looking young man with a hesitating manner; but seems very clear in his ideas and unassuming in his manners’, he soon overcame the effect on the House of ‘a stuttering, hesitating delivery’.8 His maiden speech was in favour of a more liberal reward for the discoverer of vaccination, 19 July 1807. Thereafter he spoke chiefly on commercial subjects. He made his debut as a critic of the orders in council in February and March 1808. He was concerned at the damage they would do to trade with America and repeated this view, being Henry Brougham’s chief coadjutor in the parliamentary campaign against them, until they were repealed. His pamphlet Inquiry into the causes and consequences of the orders in council resumed his speeches on the subject.
Baring met with the Whigs who endorsed George Ponsonby’s leadership, 18 Jan. 1809. That year he was admitted into the King of Clubs ‘upon the express promise that he lends £50 to any member of the Club when applied to’.9 (On 29 Mar. 1811 he also joined Brooks’s Club.) He was not then averse to joining the Whig frondeurs on occasion: he supported Folkestone’s motion for an inquiry into abuses, 17 Apr., and Madocks’s motion against ministerial corruption, 11 May 1809. He was ‘thick and thin’ in the session of 1810, when he supported the discharge of the radical Gale Jones, 16 Apr., sinecure reform, 17 May, and parliamentary reform, 21 May. He also supported a petition for the release of Sir Francis Burdett, 13 June. On 19 Feb. 1810 he and William Manning were the two Bank directors named for the bullion committee, which he had justified on 1 Feb. When its report was debated in May 1811, he explained his view, not shared by Horner the Whig chairman of the committee, that the original cause of the currency crisis was an adverse balance of trade, which was exacerbated by excess issue of paper money. In these circumstances a resumption of cash payments by the Bank was out of the question. The prime minister Spencer Perceval was impressed by his argument and adopted it. Baring, in turn, supported the bank-note bill in July 1811. He was a member of the committee of inquiry into commercial credit, appointed 1 Mar. 1811. On the budget that session, 20 May, he gave vent to his dislike of import duties on raw materials. As a free trader, he frequently criticized protective measures, with the exception of the Newfoundland fisheries, a nursery for the navy, 3 July 1817. In the spring of 1812 he was preoccupied by his role in the opposition campaign against the orders in council, examining witnesses before the House and endorsing Whitbread’s view that they would lead to hostilities with the United States. It was his hope that their repeal would avert war and he encouraged Brougham’s efforts to ensure this. Brougham thought that Baring would be the best emissary to America, but he would not hear of it. When war ensued, he favoured ‘a close blockade for two months’ and complained of the mismanagement of it, 18 Feb., 6 May 1813.10 On 18 Mar. 1812 he had called for a clear statement of the relative contributions of taxation and loans to the European war effort. He was a stickler for public economy, 13 Apr. 1812.
Baring was a critic of government policy as regards the sinking fund, 25, 26 Mar. 1813. He had his own ideas on the subject11 and later claimed, 9 July 1817, that government had reduced it to a shadow. He was not in favour of an immediate end of the East India Company’s trade monopoly (which had long been his father’s province) and opposed its being required to issue trade licences to private merchants in June 1813. He acquiesced in the peace treaty with France, 29 June 1814, but not without denouncing Pitt’s ‘false policy’, which had conjured up the French ‘military monster’. On 6 July he retracted his former hostility to the Duke of York as commander-in-chief of the army. On 8 Nov. 1814, on the address, he called for peace with the United States, as a prelude to retrenchment. His leader (Ponsonby) had ‘no great hope of success’ in urging him to develop this theme that session.12 He devoted his speeches rather to the reduction of public expenditure and to staunch opposition to the protectionist corn bill in select committee and debate: the swallowing of it he regarded as proof of a defect in the representation of the people. His ‘inflammatory speeches’ were supposed to have encouraged the London mob to riot.13 Although he wished to see international abolition of the slave trade (he had been a staunch abolitionist from the start), he objected to the bill of 5 May 1815, because it would destroy Anglo-Spanish commerce. Of the renewal of the property tax he complained, 7 Mar. 1816, that ‘the relieving of one part of the people for the purpose of burthening another was a project unworthy of the minister of a great nation’. Once again he collaborated with Brougham, in the parliamentary campaign against the tax, notably in encouraging the presentation of petitions against it. By then he had ceased to be an active director of the Bank,14 but, as on previous occasions, he came to its aid in May 1816 to defend the postponement of the resumption of cash payments and the resort to silver coinage. He opposed the suspension of habeas corpus both times in the session of 1817.
Baring was absent in France during the ensuing session. In 1815 he had unsuccessfully offered to raise a loan for the French government and in 1817 had a share in doing so. The Whig pundit Tierney thought it made him ‘extremely unpopular’, but he persevered, befriending the Duke of Wellington in the process. In 1819, however, he gave up the loan as a liability.15 In 1818 he signed the requisition to Tierney to lead the Whig opposition, but played little part in the first session of that Parliament. He spoke on 17 Mar. and his only surviving vote was against the royal household bill, 19 Mar. 1819. He had just given evidence to the Bank restriction committee, on which Edward John Littleton commented:16
Mr Baring has contracted for the two last French loans—and is supposed to be the wealthiest Englishman engaged in commerce—it being reported that he was worth a million some years ago—since which he has had most advantageous transactions both at home and on the Continent—but it is reported that he has made but little by the last French loan.
On 7 Apr. 1819 he obtained two months’ leave. On 24 May the chancellor of the Exchequer Vansittart commended his evidence to the committee to discourage the immediate resumption of cash payments by the Bank.
Baring was lukewarm about public meetings to condemn the magistrates’ proceedings at Peterloo later that year, but favoured parliamentary inquiry into them and into the state of the country.17 On 9 Dec. 1819, in one of his longest speeches, he claimed that the unparalleled distress in the manufacturing districts would not be remedied by parliamentary reform, though a moderate amount of it was needed, but called for inquiry into the effectiveness of the Poor Laws and for a minimum wage. He was something of an alarmist18 and did not vote with opposition after 13 Dec., when he joined them against the third reading of the seditious meetings bill. As he put it on 26 Nov., ‘despotism itself was to be preferred to mob persecution’: the latter was incompatible with capitalism. Privately, he disparaged the views of the economic theorists: the currency question stood in the way of ready solutions and the multitude must either be forced ‘to starve in peace’ or emigrate.19 By 1820 his views were more likely to appeal to Tories like Robert Peel than to the Whigs and his conservative drift was becoming evident.20 He died 12 May 1848.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: P. A. Symonds / R. G. Thorne
- 1. R. W. Hidy, House of Baring in American Trade.
- 2. V. Nolte, Fifty Years in Both Hemispheres, 279; Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 287; B. Mallet, Lord Northbrook, 10.
- 3. Staffs. RO, Hatherton diary.
- 4. Jnl. of Hon. H. E. Fox, 44; Hidy, 46; Lansdowne mss, Baring to Lansdowne, 2 May 1827.
- 5. Dorset RO, Anglesey mss, D20/Z3, James to Sanderson, 11 Nov. 1806; Fortescue mss, Lansdowne to Grenville, 6 Oct. 1812.
- 6. H. Bolitho and D. Peel, Drummonds of Charing Cross, 133; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 22 Feb. 1820.
- 7. Som. RO, SAS/TN 160/1, ‘A Consistent Man’, 2 May 1807; Kemeys Tynte mss S/WH box 53, Coles to Kemeys Tynte, 28 Apr. 1807.
- 8. Corresp. of Miss Berry, ii. 344; Nolte, 279.
- 9. Sydney Smith Letters ed. N. C. Smith, i. 153.
- 10. Brougham mss 43573; Brougham, Life and Times, ii. 22; Lansdowne mss, Baring to Lansdowne, 15 Sept. 1812.
- 11. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 22 Jan. 1816; Creevey’s Life and Times, 99.
- 12. Grey mss, Ponsonby to Grey, 25 Nov. 1814.
- 13. Heron, Notes (1851), 50.
- 14. Sir J. Clapham, Bank of England, ii. 31; Parl. Deb. xxix. 1197.
- 15. HMC Fortescue, x. 405, 409, 420; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 20 Jan. 1817; Broughton, Recollections, iii. 190; HMC Bathurst, 466.
- 16. Hatherton diary.
- 17. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 25 Sept. 1819.
- 18. Pope of Holland House ed. Lady Seymour, 208, 210.
- 19. Lansdowne mss, Baring to Lansdowne, 28 Dec. 1819.
- 20. Hidy, 46.