VAUGHAN, Benjamin (1751-1835), of Finsbury Square, London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

7 Feb. 1792 - 1796

Family and Education

b. 19 Apr. 1751, in Jamaica, 1st s. of Samuel Vaughan, W.I. merchant and planter, by Sarah, da. of Benjamin Hallowell of Boston, Mass. educ. Newcome’s, Hackney; Warrington acad.; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1768; L. Inn 1765. m. 30 June 1781, Sarah, da. of William Coventry Manning of St. Kitt’s, and of Totteridge, Herts., 3s. 4da. suc. fa. 1802.

Offices Held

Biography

Vaughan’s father settled in London and educated him at dissenting academies. Being a Unitarian, he did not graduate at Cambridge. In anticipation of his marriage he studied law and medicine (at Edinburgh), but did not qualify. His brother-in-law William Manning* made him a partner in his West Indian house. Unlike his younger brother William, he did not take to the mercantile line, though he published a treatise on international trade in 1789. He had already shown that his preference was for politics. A friend of Benjamin Franklin, he published his works in London in 1779 and was a keen supporter of the American revolt. In 1780 he was a member of the Society for Constitutional Information. Through Benjamin Horne, Lord Shelburne’s secretary and brother of John Horne Tooke*, he was introduced to Shelburne and employed by him in 1782 as an unofficial emissary in peace negotiations at Paris. Richard Oswald warned Shelburne that Vaughan was one of those who ‘if he is not invited into the boat, will step in at once, without waiting for an invitation’, but the association continued. Vaughan was also a friend of the French politician Mirabeau. In 1790 he accompanied his patron’s son Lord Wycombe to Paris and witnessed the fête of 14 July. A year later he was a steward at the Crown and Anchor celebration of the French revolution in London.1

Vaughan was returned for Calne on his patron’s interest on a vacancy which Sir Samuel Romilly* declined to fill. In his maiden speech, 2 Apr. 1792, he described himself as

connected with the West Indies by birth, profession and private fortune. He had not resorted to merchandise from motives of necessity, but from those of independence, a noble personage having offered to provide for him in a very ample manner. At an early period of life he had resisted this temptation and resolved to improve his own fortune, free from the operations of political parties. With regard to his sentiments of freedom, he believed every person would be convinced, that he had certainly imbibed principles of the most laudable nature, when he mentioned that he had been the pupil of Dr Priestley and had also studied with Mrs Barbauld’s father.

He went on to oppose the emancipation of negro slaves: as they were not ready for it and the planters would be ruined by it, he believed from personal observation that there would be an end of civilization in Jamaica. That the condition of the slaves might be improved he did not deny. Next day Lord Wycombe assured his father that Vaughan was ‘collected’ and provided the House with ‘abundant information’. On 4 Apr. the Speaker ruled him out of order when he revived the subject. In June he returned to France for a few weeks.2 The partition of Poland prompted him to write a series of letters to the Morning Chronicle (beginning 20 July 1792 and afterwards published together) condemning the aggression of Russia, Austria and Prussia, which he feared would prejudice the cause of liberty in France: at home he was a critic of radical extremism. Nevertheless from 13 Dec. 1792 he voted steadily against war with France, which he deplored in debate, 18 Feb. 1793. He tried to amend the traitorous correspondence bill, 9 Apr., and voted for parliamentary reform, 7 May 1793. On 31 Jan. and 18 Feb. 1794 he complained of the inadequacy of convoys for the protection of the West Indian trade. He noted on 21 Feb. that the ‘dangerous’ French gesture of emancipating negro slaves made necessary ‘measures to protect the tranquillity of the British dominions in the West Indies’. His motion to that effect was withdrawn after an assurance from the ministry. On 25 Feb. he came out in favour of the abolition of the slave trade: it could help the enemy only if pursued unilaterally. Since slaves could no longer be repressed by ignorance and fear they should be given inducements not to rebel.

On 8 May 1794 Vaughan was one of four Members who with Lord Lauderdale were examined at the Home Office after the arrest of the suspect William Stone. (The others were Sheridan, William Smith and Thomas Maitland.) Next day he, Sheridan and Lauderdale were examined by the Privy Council. Vaughan was implicated by a letter to Stone’s brother in Paris, John Hurford Stone. It did not damage him, as it dismissed any French invasion of England as impracticable, but aware that his acquaintance with William Jackson the Irish conspirator might do so he fled to France, pausing only to give a last vote in the House against the suspension of habeas corpus, 16 May.3 In Paris he was protected by Robespierre, but then suspected of being a spy of Pitt’s and imprisoned; next he moved on to Geneva. He courted the Directoire, ignoring an offer of indemnity obtained for him by his brother-in-law from Pitt. On 9 Oct. 1795 the Oracle announced his departure to America with ‘a fortune of at least £100,000’ and, next day, claimed that he had tried in vain to induce his colleague Joseph Jekyll to accompany him. His seat was not vacated until the dissolution. Despairing of Old World politics, he remained in the United States for the rest of his life. In 1806 he supervised the publication of Franklin’s Complete Works. He died 8 Dec. 1835 at Hallowell, Maine.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne