ABERCROMBY, Hon. James (1776-1858), of 6 New Street, Spring Gardens, Mdx.; 13 Old Square, Lincoln's Inn, Mdx., and Stubbing Court, nr. Chesterfield, Derbys.
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Family and Education
b. 7 Nov. 1776, 3rd s. of Lt.-Col. Ralph Abercromby† (d. 1801) of Tullibody, Clackmannan and Mary Anne, da. and coh. of John Menzies of Ferntower in Crieff, Perth. educ. Edinburgh h.s. 1788; Christ Church, Oxf. 1794; L. Inn 1794, called 1800. m. 14 June 1802, Mary Anne, da. of Egerton Leigh of West Hall, High Leigh, Cheshire, 4s. (3 d.v.p.) 1da. d.v.p.1 cr. Bar. Dunfermline 7 June 1839. d. 17 Apr. 1858.
Commr. of bankrupts 1801-27; PC 23 May 1827; judge adv.-gen. May 1827-Jan. 1828; c. bar. exch. [S] 1830-2; master of mint (with seat in cabinet) July-Dec. 1834; bencher, L. Inn 1835.
Vol. London and Westminster light horse 1798-1800.
Speaker of House of Commons 19 Feb. 1835-15 May 1839.
In the late eighteenth century the members of Abercromby’s family, which had originated in Fifeshire in the fourteenth, were successful soldiers and eminent Scottish lawyers, and dominated the representation of their native Clackmannanshire. His army officer father Ralph, who was awarded a KB in 1795, died as a result of the injuries he sustained at the battle of Alexandria in 1801, after which his mother was made Baroness Abercromby of Aboukir and Tullibody.2 Educated in the law, Abercromby practised as a chancery draftsman, held the office of commissioner of bankrupts at a salary of £350 and, from the mid-1810s, acted as auditor or agent for the whole of the 6th duke of Devonshire’s estates. First returned to Parliament for Midhurst by a relation, he took his course with ‘the high Whigs’, and from 1812 was provided with a seat at Calne by the 3rd marquess of Lansdowne, a leading magnate on the moderate wing of the party.3
By 1820 Abercromby, an intelligent and agreeable companion in society, was well established as a Whig counsellor and parliamentary manager. A ‘plain, argumentative speaker’, he was noted for the clarity and directness of his thought, and the earnest and workmanlike nature of his speeches.4 Sir George Philips* later wrote that he was
the most successful speaker of all the Members of Parliament of his time, who had no pretensions to be called men of genius. He had good sense, a clear judgement and great diligence and perseverance, and applied all the powers of his mind to the object of raising himself to eminence in the House of Commons. Of the pains that he took some notion may be formed from the fact, which was communicated to me, that he was frequently seen speaking before a glass in his private room in an animated gesture by some persons who lived opposite to him. Wilberforce, I know, thought highly of him and, I recollect, expressed his admiration to me of his speeches in particular. They must have had considerable merit to have raised the envy of Brougham, who spoke of him with much bitterness.5
Yet, as this last comment suggests, behind the public facade, Abercromby knew the frustrations of an able man irked by life’s private quarrels and disappointments. He clearly disliked having only limited resources and being partly financially dependent on Devonshire, whose position of trust, as Philips put it, ‘he managed judiciously, but always seemed ashamed of’.6 He also resented his political dependence on Lansdowne, and the lack of the recognition that he thought he deserved as a member of the inner circle of opposition. Active in the House, he was invaluable in the dispatch of business and on matters of procedure, but could not assail those heights of acknowledged pre-eminence that brilliant talents, high social status or marked political success would have brought him. Undoubtedly there was a personal element which may explain his sometimes uneasy relationship with his superiors, such as Brougham, Lord Holland and Lansdowne, whom he belaboured on the prevailing issues of the day, while probably raising their hackles in the process. This is apparent from his copious letters, written in a small and difficult hand, which were often exhortative in nature but despondent and self-abasing in tone. Perhaps he was just a pedant and a bore. He once lectured Devonshire on the need to make a certain decision:
I implore you to examine well your own mind ... As deeds are always better than words, I shall testify the implicit confidence I have in you by enclosing the first, and only, sketch of my own views and feelings on this subject. When I have anything to decide that is material, I am in the habit of putting my thoughts on paper, which helps to bring me to a sound and honest opinion. I employed a leisure hour on Saturday evening in writing what I send. The perusal of it will put you in possession of my inmost thoughts. If it had been written for you, there are expressions in it and one sentence which might have been excluded, but I send it entire. I have no other copy, and therefore I must request you will either return it or keep it till we meet. The whole is perhaps illegible, but there is one sentence so underlined that you could not read it, and that I have copied on a separate slip of paper. My greatest anxiety now is, that you should be thoroughly convinced that, while I appear to do what is most consistent and honourable on my own account, yet that I am neither regardless of your interests, unmindful of what is due to you nor ungrateful for your kindness.7
Occasionally rising above the surface were political factors which exacerbated this situation. For Abercromby yearned for office and had at times favoured a closer relationship with George Canning*, who was soon to be seen as representative of the more liberal side of the Tory administration of Lord Liverpool. Following the Peterloo massacre in late 1819, James Macdonald* angrily condemned Abercromby’s inclination to support ministers’ coercive legislation. He was, he wrote
astonished at the temper and spirit of your present political feelings and how little I can reconcile them to the political characters of the two men whom you most respected on earth, your friend Horner and Romilly. ‘Severe laws or blows!’ Can you really doubt that any attempt at severe laws would end in blows the most terrible?
Macdonald explained that his hopes of seeing calm but determined Whig leaders adding their voices to those of the people had been destroyed by his colleague’s letters: ‘I see nothing in them but union [with government] inevitable. You think, I know, that the sooner the party in opposition is broken up the better. I think that the greatest evil that could now befall the country’.8 Yet Abercromby evidently still felt the same at the time of the general election of 1820, when, despite being tempted to retire, he was again returned unopposed, with Macdonald, for Calne.9 Fearing that the poor health of the Whig leader, George Tierney*, would soon lead to his resignation, he expressed to Sir James Mackintosh* his despair, that ‘what can then await us, but a general dissolution of the whole party?’ He lamented that
everything that I hear of the state of the country confirms strongly my belief that all preference for the English constitution as a system of government is rapidly declining. I cannot discover any thing determinate or precise in their objects, except a desire to force at least an increase of influence, if not the establishment of a practical republic, through the [?] reform of the House of Commons. In that House they wish all power to be centred, and I suspect that they will not easily be turned aside from the pursuit. I cannot quite bring myself to consider the case as lost, if a real and sensible effort was made to give a direction to public opinion by discussing and proposing subjects that would interest the feelings and understandings of the better and more sober portion of the community. But of this I see no prospect. As to reform, there can be little doubt that it has made great progress. I never wished for it, and I wish for it much less than ever, for even a moderate reform would, in our present condition, sensibly affect the balance of the constitution. But although I should most gladly co-operate with any body of men, in whom I could place confidence and who thought that the constitution could be saved without concession on this vital point, yet I must confess candidly that I incline to think that public opinion, which controls all, is so strong, that our small remaining chance of safety consists in making the best concession we can. I agree with much of what Canning said at Liverpool, but he wholly omits all mention of the growing and invincible influence of public opinion.10
Abercromby, an indefatigable presence on any number of select committees, was a frequent speaker and, of course, usually sided with opposition in divisions on all major issues, often acting as a teller. He condemned the appointment of an additional baron of exchequer in Scotland, 4 May, and advocated extending the franchise in Scottish counties, 25 May 1820.11 He argued for making the office of Irish master in chancery incompatible with a seat in the House, 30 June (and again, 5 Mar. 1821),12 and against shortening the sentence of the convicted boroughmonger Sir Manasseh Masseh Lopes*, 11 July. He made several interventions on disputed elections and on 12 July described as unnecessary Joseph Phillimore’s motion that paying out-voters at the Grantham election was illegal.13 He voted against adjourning debate on the appointment of a secret committee on the allegations against Queen Caroline, 26 June 1820. In January 1821 he advised Devonshire, whose service and the Commons itself he had at that time almost brought himself to leave, to attend the Derbyshire county meeting on this in order to exert himself in the queen’s defence. He urged him to ‘above all be consistent in not doing more at one time than you feel sure that you should always do: in politics there is nothing so much to be avoided as any thing that looks like inconsistency’.14 One of Brougham’s ‘fellow counsellors’, he attended at the beginning of the session, and according to George Howard’s* letter to his mother, 28 Jan., he seemed ‘decided, albeit desponding in his politics’.15 He asserted that public opinion was more on Caroline’s side than county meetings suggested, 31 Jan., and thereafter divided steadily in her favour. He was granted a week’s leave, 14 Feb., after the death of his mother on the 11th, when her peerage passed to his eldest brother George (whose son was George Ralph Abercromby*). He paired in the minority for condemning the conduct of the Allies towards Naples, 21 Feb. He voted for Catholic claims, 28 Feb., and, having objected to the House being called over for the second reading of the relief bill, 2 Mar., insisted that it met with the approval of Irish Catholics, 29 Mar.16 Disliking the ‘violent course’ taken by Thomas Creevey against Tierney’s wishes, he recorded that the former’s attempt, shortly after the latter’s resignation as leader, to take into consideration the number of placemen in the House on the motion for going into the committee of supply, 9 Mar. 1821, was ‘personal, violent and unnecessary’; like 36 other opposition Members, he sided with ministers against it.17
He admitted that he had become convinced that Grampound’s seats should be transferred not to Yorkshire but to Leeds, 2 Mar., and voiced support for Scottish burgh reform, 2, 17 Apr. 1821.18 He approved alterations ‘of such a nature as would repair and improve, without demolishing the fabric of the constitution’, but called Lambton’s motion for parliamentary reform, 17 Apr., too extensive, ‘as tending to a complete revolution’. He wanted to see a reduction of the influence of the crown, but stated his opposition to triennial parliaments and the exclusion of all placeholders. He made clear that in voting for the motion he would be giving no sanction to the specific plan, but he was not in the favourable minority when the division took place prematurely the following day. He divided for Russell’s parliamentary reform motion, 9 May, and was a teller for the minority for reform of the Scottish county representation, 10 May. Having advocated repeal of the Blasphemous and Seditious Libel Act, which he thought was no longer required, 8 May, he voted for inquiry into Peterloo, 16 May. He was given a fortnight’s leave on urgent private business, 21 May. He objected to a proposed clause in the bankruptcy bill, 4 June, when he divided in the majority for the forgery punishment mitigation bill. He urged inquiry into the Irish court of exchequer, 7, 22 June, and objected to the appointment of Thomas Frankland Lewis* as a commissioner of the Irish revenue inquiry, 15 June.19 He supported the grant of £6,000 to the duke of Clarence, but voted for omitting the arrears from it, 18 June, admitting that ‘he had abstained from voting on many proposals for retrenchment made in the course of the session because they turned on mere matters of fact, on which he was not competent to decide, and on which, if he decided erroneously, he might do great injustice’. However, he spoke and voted for Hume’s motion for economy and retrenchment, 27 June 1821, later criticizing Lord Londonderry, the foreign secretary and leader of the Commons, for allowing
a silent but virtual change in the constitution of the country ... He meant that sort of change by which ministers ceased to introduce great public measures on their own responsibility, but left them to be effected by committees of that House under the shelter of which they screened themselves.
According to Henry Grey Bennet*, Londonderry ‘laughed at Abercromby (who spoke from near the Speaker’s chair), saying he was unable to utter without support’.20
Abercromby condemned the ministerial reshuffle to accommodate the Grenvillites in late 1821, especially as there was ‘not a trace of any single stipulation in favour of the Catholics’. In January 1822 he told Phillimore, one of the new ministers, that ‘we should have warm work in Parliament, and that the board of control would be attacked, as [Charles Williams] Wynn’s appointment had given so much umbrage to several who thought he ought not to have been preferred to them’.21 That month Abercromby completed the delicate legal arrangements at Youghal which delivered one seat to Devonshire at the following general election.22 He voted for Hume’s amendment to the address, 5 Feb., and more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 11 Feb. According to Williams Wynn, he ‘stayed away from Althorp’s motion [on distress, 21 Feb.], though he dined that day at Spencer House’,23 and, despite the appearance of his name in some of the minority lists, he was again by no means a regular voter with opposition for reduced expenditure and taxation that session. He condemned the suspension of habeas corpus in Ireland as unnecessary and counterproductive, 7 Feb., and argued against the appointment of a conservator of the privileges of the Scottish burghs, 18 Feb.24 He lodged a petition from the commissioners of police in Edinburgh for a bill to regulate their activities, 7 Feb., and introduced one, 11 Feb., as well as presenting and endorsing Edinburgh petitions against the rival corporation measure, 28 Feb., 8, 13 Mar. His efforts failed, but this established his reputation in Edinburgh, where, according to Henry Cockburn, at a public dinner ‘due honour was done to Abercromby for the spirit and prudence with which he had conducted the first Scotch matter he had undertaken’.25 Having heard rumours of ministerial divisions on the Catholic issue, he commented to Devonshire, 18 Mar., that
it will be strange if it does not end in some rupture. The bond of office is a strong one, and they will hang together if these great questions are not forced upon them. We shall see how it goes, but if the king wishes to effect a considerable though only a partial change things are shaping a course very favourable to that result.
In private he continued to press the case against delaying the promotion of the Catholic cause.26 In the House he told Henry Goulburn, the Irish secretary, 29 Mar., that he would move for papers on Standish O’Grady, the Irish chief baron of exchequer, if no report was forthcoming from the inquiry. He gave what Mackintosh called ‘his important notice, which has a guarded boldness’, to Sir William Rae*, the lord advocate, that he would raise his conduct relative to the press in Scotland, 2 Apr.27 He voted for parliamentary reform, 25 Apr., to receive the Greenhoe, Norfolk, reform petition, 3 June, and against the current influence of the crown, 24 June. He presented Edinburgh petitions against the leather tax, 30 Apr., and for a bill to allow Scottish juries to be empanelled in criminal cases, 30 May.28 He paired with the majority for abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 2 May, and that evening told Creevey that ‘it was all over with the present men’.29 He objected to the extension of tithes on potatoes in Ireland, 15 May, and emphasized the problems of a ‘defective magistracy’ there and his opposition to the Irish constables bill, 7 June 1822, when he found fault with chancery administration.30
Abercromby brought on his delayed motion against the lord advocate, 25 June 1822, alleging not only that that the office carried with it excessive and overly centralized political powers, but that Rae and his colleagues had used their position covertly to fund and support a number of virulently anti-Whig Scottish newspapers and to subvert the course of justice. He explained how the case had become one of public notoriety when James Stuart of Dunearn, having been denied redress for the libels printed against him in the Glasgow Sentinel, was brought to trial for the death of Sir Alexander Boswell* as a result of the duel in which the affair culminated. He also showed how, in a related matter, one of the former partners of the Sentinel, William Murray Borthwick, was rearrested (after the Glasgow magistrates had acquitted him) for having taken possession of his share in the value of the partnership on its dissolution, was treated as a dangerous malefactor in a needlessly humiliating manner and was kept in prison while his trial was deliberately delayed. William Wilberforce* noted that Abercromby ‘made for near three hours one of the very ablest speeches I ever heard’, and Henry Bankes* agreed that it ‘produced a great sensation throughout the House’; but although Rae, clearly unprepared, made a pitiful reply, he was defended by ministers and the motion for a select committee (on which Abercromby acted as a teller) was lost by 95-120.31 He presented and endorsed Borthwick’s petition for redress, 28 June, and moved for papers on that and several other occasions.32 From Edinburgh, where the franchise was in the moribund corporation, Cockburn asked Thomas Kennedy* by letter, 1 July:
Is Rae out yet? It is impossible to convey to you an idea of the gratefulness of the relieved people here to Abercromby. For his exertions on the police bill and lately we owe him more than we can ever repay. If we had such a thing as a representative here, he would be returned for the city by acclamation.33
On 9 July William Courtenay drew the House’s attention to two breaches of privilege: John Hope’s Letter to Abercromby and William Menzies’s letter in the Courier, 8 July, which both complained of Abercromby’s allegations in the House. The authors were ordered to attend and, after Tierney had raised his forebodings that Abercromby, who had been in angry correspondence with his detractors, might be tempted to take matters into his own hands, he too was summoned. He had, indeed, set off for Scotland, recruiting a highly annoyed but ultimately forbearing Lord Althorp along the way, to act as his second, and they had got as far as Leicester before being overtaken by news of the Commons order. A duel was therefore avoided, but he lost credit for having stooped to offering violence.34 In his place in the Commons, 12 July, the Speaker informed him of the House’s command ‘not to prosecute any quarrel ... by sending or accepting any challenge’, to which he made no reply. On the examination of Hope and Menzies, 17 July, he rose only to correct a few facts and to disclaim any personalities. The feeling of the House, which decided not to proceed further against the authors, was rather against him and, as Mrs. Arbuthnot observed, ‘the opposition were excessively angry as they felt that no apology had been made and that, in fact, it was a defeat they had sustained’.35 On 22 July 1822 Abercromby postponed his promised motion on Borthwick’s case to the following session, and the next day he took exception to Rae’s making a rather belated speech in his own defence.36
In the autumn of 1822 Abercromby visited Ireland, from where he reported to Lord Morpeth†, 1 Sept., that Lord Wellesley’s government, although unpopular, was ‘not soon likely to be replaced by a better’.37 Concerned by the extent of poverty and the depth of hostility to the church, he opined to Lansdowne, 7 Oct., that
the only thing to be done is to avert as far as is practicable all violence by keeping a firm and steady hand over the people, and to use the interval of peace so obtained for the purpose of attempting some great measures. The Catholic question, a provision for the Catholic clergy, the commutation of tithes, and a new arrangement respecting the way magisterial duties are performed, would be great objects. The reduction of the rate of interest is also essential.38
Not having seen ‘so much excitement and agitation’ for the previous eight years, he therefore thought that ‘Ireland ought to be made a leading topic in the early part of the session’.39 He found plenty to criticize in Canning’s appointment as foreign secretary and the subsequent reshuffle.40 Of this period he wrote in May 1825 that
considering that I held my seat in the House of Commons from Lord Lansdowne, it became me to consider, what part I should be prepared to take in case any opening should occur for negotiation between Mr. Canning and Lord Lansdowne. I thought, after some consideration, that the main and, indeed, the only, real bond by which the opposition was united was the Catholic question, and the implied pledge that those who had already sacrificed office for that question were resolved not to accept office, without a full and satisfactory adjustment of that question. To me, therefore, it appeared that it could not be right for any portion of those who were embarked in that great principle to separate themselves from their associates, and therefore I determined, even at the hazard of dissolving my oldest and closest political connections, to adhere to the excluded party.41
He attended the Edinburgh Fox Club dinner in January 1823.42 He complained about the acts of the Irish yeomanry, 11 Feb., and the conduct of the Irish chief baron, 12 Feb., disparaging Hume’s threat that day to block supplies over the appointment of a lieutenant-general of the ordnance.43 On Russell’s motion for parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., when he was the minority teller, he took the early opportunity ‘of speaking in reply to Mr. Canning in a tone which showed that I had personally no desire to cultivate him’.44 He opposed Brownlow’s motion for papers on the disturbances in Ireland, 24 Feb., though he subsequently spoke for their production, 24 Mar., 21 Apr. Despite the distant quibbles of Lord Grey, and having refused to delay it in the House, 28 Feb., 3 Mar., he moved for an address calling on the king to enforce the laws against Orange societies as illegal associations, 5 Mar.45 Taking care not to prejudice later discussions on Ireland, he detailed their violent and inflammatory activities, arguing that the
abolition of this system would prove an inestimable benefit: to the Catholic, by the removal of a galling principle of irritation; to the Protestant, by separating him from motives and imputations which could not fail to disunite him from the great body of his fellow countrymen.
George Agar Ellis* thought that he ‘spoke well, and made out a clear case, though not so strong a one as I expected’. However, he eventually withdrew his motion, on ministers assuring him that the law against secret oaths would be extended to Ireland, and an exasperated duke of Bedford asked Lady Holland the next day why they could not ‘tell Abercromby that they meant to give up the lodges, and not let him throw away an excellent speech for nothing?’46 He had been included in discussions about party organization by Brougham,47 to whom he expressed, in letters of 19 and 26 Mar., his aversion to his assuming the vexatious position of leader and the establishment of a dining club. He had been inclined to despair, but now confided that the
interest exerted by foreign politics and the magnitude of the domestic questions which public opinion is likely to press upon the consideration of Parliament, together with my entire agreement in opinion with you on these points, gave me a fresh and strong motive for concurring in whatever is likely to produce a better order of things among the opposition. The pleasure and advantage of these discussions depend entirely on concert among our own body, but I see no reason why opposition, composed as it is, acting with more concert and conciliating the best portion of public opinion, may not discharge their duty with benefit to the public and with credit to themselves.48
According to Williams Wynn, Abercromby was undecided on Brownlow’s motion about ex-officio informations in Ireland, 15 Apr. 1823.49 He pressed Goulburn on government’s promise to deal with the Orange lodges, 21 Apr., and voted for inquiry into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr.50 He was involved in the examination of witnesses in early May, and on the 8th he advised Barry not to proceed in a complaint of breach of privilege against an Irish newspaper. He divided for inquiry into the state of Ireland before the introduction of the insurrection bill, 12 May, and again raised the conduct of O’Grady, 16 May, 2 July. He expressed his support for the Irish tithes composition bill despite its faults, 16, 30 May, 6 June, but spoke and voted against its committal without the compulsory clause, 16 June. He suggested emigration as a possible means of alleviating the condition of the Irish poor, 23 June, supported the idea of a committee on the state of Ireland, 25 June, and the following day raised allegations about abuses in the administration of justice there.51 He divided for parliamentary reform, 24 Apr., and reform of the Scottish representative system, 2 June. On 24 Apr. he delayed the presentation of the Edinburgh petition for alteration of its franchise, on which he had been consulted by Cockburn, until 5 May, when (as on 10 July) he promised to introduce a bill on this during the following session.52 Encouraged by Cockburn, Francis Jeffrey* and Edinburgh opinion in general, he finally reintroduced the Borthwick case for consideration, 3 June, when his motion condemning the lord advocate was narrowly defeated by 102-96. He was deemed to have done well, in a contentious matter, but the Scottish law officers were not induced to resign.53 He paired for the second reading of the Scottish juries bill, 20 June, and again emphasized his support for it, 30 June, when he was a teller for the majority on its third reading; he called for a review of the functioning of the Scottish courts, 10 July 1823.
Holland reported to Lansdowne, 26 Jan. 1824, that Abercromby, who proved to be as active as ever, ‘dines here today and comes in some measure to consult on the line to be taken on the first day of the session’.54 Having again been in touch with the reformers of Edinburgh, he set out the case for removing the franchise from its 33 corporators and extending it to the numerous and respectable inhabitants, 26 Feb.55 His proposal was criticized for breaching the Act of Union and creating a precedent for further reform measures, but he rebutted these charges in his reply, and denied that he was a republican:
For the leading principle of the reform I contend for, is to produce such a gradual and wholesome change in the representation of the people, as to arrest all danger of the establishment of a republic. Those, indeed, may be truly called republicans, who, adhering to antiquated defects and modern corruptions, refuse to listen to the voice of a well informed people calling for a rational change and an easy remedy.
He was a teller for the minority of 75-99. On 1 Mar. he brought to the attention of the House, with ‘infinite judgement and effect’, a complaint of breach of privilege against the lord chancellor, Lord Eldon, who, happening to read an erroneous report of Abercromby’s speech of 24 Feb. just before he went into court on the 28th, was seized with a spasm of rage and denounced ‘gentlemen with gowns on their backs’, who ‘should at least take care to be accurate, for it is their duty to be so’. Abercromby admitted that ‘I certainly cannot repeat the exact expressions which I used, for perhaps there are few individuals whose speeches are less premeditated than my own’, but he called Eldon’s claim an ‘utter falsehood’. Canning intervened none too successfully to explain the misunderstanding of the chancellor, who apparently waited anxiously in the vicinity until told that the motion (to call the chancery shorthand writer George Farquharson) had been defeated by 151-102. Therefore Abercromby had to be content with a private letter of apology and the hope that his standing as a barrister had not been damaged.56 He congratulated ministers on coming round to his point of view on the need to suppress Orange lodges in Ireland, 30 Mar., but complained of their obstruction to the Scottish juries bill, 4 May, and the judicature bill, 17 June. Feeling ‘no inconsiderable pain’ in doing so, he opposed the grant of capital to Ireland as ineffective, 4 May, but he divided for inquiry into the state of that country, 11 May, and condemned government’s attempt to renew the Irish Insurrection Act, 31 May, 14 June 1824.57 Having obtained from Canning a diplomatic appointment for his son Ralph, he travelled with him in the autumn to the continent. From there he advised Devonshire about the borough of Derby, and expressed his doubts about there being a dissolution or that any good would come from Canning’s visit to Ireland.58 He suffered a severe bout of illness and, as his physician, who diagnosed ‘a torpid liver and a disposition to disorder of the whole mucous membrane’, prescribed ‘quiet and exercise’ in some ‘cold and dry district’, he spent some weeks recuperating in Derbyshire.59
Lady Holland reported to her son Henry Fox* in January 1825 that
we are mightily pleased with the appearance of Mr. Abercromby. He has certainly turned the corner. However it will be expedient that he should be careful. The House of Commons business, added to his professional labours, must be taken in a very mitigated dose.60
He agreed with ministers’ regret at the existence of the Catholic Association in Ireland, ‘because that very existence afforded an undeniable proof of misgovernment and maladministration’. However, he thought it could best be suppressed not by coercion, but by emancipation of the Catholic population, especially as growing prosperity and improved education made that increasingly appropriate. He spoke ‘indifferently’, according to Agar Ellis, though Sir Robert Wilson* thought otherwise, at the beginning of a debate lasting several days, which was unusual for the first stage of a bill.61 In his private memorandum book he explained that the opposition’s reasons for forcing this were ‘first to give it an air of extraordinary importance, and next because not having seen the bill, we were able to conduct the debate without being hampered by allusions to details, and confined it to a discussion of principles’. He judged that the
effect of this debate upon the country was very powerful: people began to see and feel that this great question could not remain as it was, and the desire among the Protestants of Ireland, and to a considerable degree among the people of England, was stung to have it settled.62
He duly voted against the Irish unlawful societies bill, 15, 18, 21, 25 Feb., and was named to the select committee on the state of Ireland, 17 Feb., in place of Edward Smith Stanley, now absent in America.63 He, of course, voted for Catholic claims, 1 Mar., and believed that the narrow majority
under circumstances apparently unfavourable to the Catholics, contributed to impress the country with the conviction that the House of Commons, while they put down the formidable power of the Catholic Association, were decidedly of opinion that concession was the only effectual way of giving repose to Ireland.64
Having been named to the committee to prepare the relief bill that day, he attended the frequent meetings at Sir Francis Burdett’s* house on the matter. He criticized Dissenters for their opposition to the measure, 18 Apr., and condemned as inflammatory a spate of violently anti-Catholic petitions, 21 Apr. He divided in favour of the second and third readings of the relief bill, 21 Apr., 10 May 1825.
He objected to a motion preventing Members from voting on questions in which they had a pecuniary interest as unworkable in practice, 10 Mar. 1825, commenting that
it was not an uncommon thing, but in this he spoke more from the reports of others than his own personal observation, to hear Members, when in committees upstairs, ask each other, ‘Which party do you support? For whom do you come here to vote?’ Now, this was a practice to which he should wish to see the whole weight of public opinion directed; but he thought public opinion alone could put it down.
(On 11 May he complained about Members deciding questions in committees on private bills without having heard the evidence.) He stated his support for emigration from Ireland, 15 Apr., the Scottish juries bill, 18 Apr., and the introduction of a bill against wrongful imprisonment in Scotland, 5 May. He spoke and acted as a minority teller for Brougham’s motion on the independence of the judiciary, 20 May, and voted against the judges’ salaries bill, 17 June. He raised the question of Sir Robert Wilson’s* conduct, suggesting that he be restored to the army, 17 June,65 urged inquiry into the William Kenrick† case, 21 June, advocated revaluation of the currency, 27 June, expressed his increased confidence in the spring guns bill, 29 June, and called for further inquiry into the state of Ireland, 30 June 1825.66 He discounted rumours of a possible dissolution, but planned his travels over the autumn so as to remain within reach of London, especially as he detected signs of weakness within the ministry. He considered that the Catholic cause was making steady and significant progress and was against its being agitated during the following session.67 He advised Lord Carlisle not to think of pushing his son Morpeth’s claims to a seat in Yorkshire to the risk and expense of a contest.68
Of the financial crisis of 1825, Abercromby wrote to Holland early the following year that
my own belief and expectation is that we shall get out of it, but we shall all be damaged: all traders must narrow their business; all incomes will be reduced and we must all conform; but that is not agreeable and so it is upon the cards that we may go on struggling and grumbling until some quiet change is produced, by compounding with our creditors. That will happen sooner or later, but probably it is not quite at hand. In the mean while all the best people in opposition are giving their support to ministers who I think deserve it, against the selfishness and ignorance of the mass. If people voted according to their opinions, the ministers would be in a minority, but there is nobody to lead the crowd ... There are abundance of topics to create an interest but they find no plan, everybody being naturally absorbed by our rags and our distress.69
He opposed the extension of the bankruptcy laws to Ireland, 16 Feb., and commented adversely on the tavern expenses of bankruptcy commissioners, 15 Mar. He accused ministers of inconsistency in their statements about the handling of the banking crisis, 20 Feb., when he voted against their amendment to the promissory notes bill, though he also opposed radical amendments to it, 27 Feb.70 His motion to extend the period of note issuing by the Bank of England was negatived, 7 Mar., when he divided with opposition on other clauses of the bill, but the following day he declared ‘that nothing that had been done by ministers had so met with his approbation, as their determination to refuse an issue of exchequer bills’. He praised the home secretary Robert Peel’s statement in favour of reform of the criminal laws, 9 Mar., and that day presented and endorsed another Edinburgh petition for reform of its franchise. He repeated his attempt to introduce a bill to alter the representation of Edinburgh, 13 Apr., when he warned, in reply to Canning, that if denied ‘slow and gradual’ improvements, reformers would use all their exertions to achieve a general measure; he was a teller for the minority of 97-122. Apparently convinced of the need for popular elections, as he told Creevey, he voted for parliamentary reform, 27 Apr., and Russell’s resolutions to curb electoral bribery, 26 May.71 He was a dissentient to Peel’s report from the Scottish and Irish banking committee, and expressed his hostility to the proposals as ‘vicious, odious and detestable’ in relation to their treatment of Scotland, 26 May 1826.72 Commenting on the events of the session, as well as advising on his sons’ electoral chances at Horsham, Abercromby informed Holland, 7 Mar. 1826, that
these are altogether the strangest times I have ever seen. There is a sort of doubt and uncertainty hanging over all the measures, and everybody is somehow more or less annoyed, from what you would judge, that a storm is to come, but nobody knows what part to take. I conceive the truth to be that the only friends that Canning and Huskisson have are a few of the Whigs. The Tories hate what they vote for, and their embarrassment is greatly increased by Peel being pledged to Huskisson’s measures. From habit I always expect that the Tories will trip up any ministry who attempt to act upon liberal policy, and yet it is very difficult to do it, unless the king should die and the duke of York not reign. Then it would turn upon Peel.
Ten days later he emphasized that any prospect of a Whig government was a delusion. As for the ministry, its measures ‘may appear to be contemptible, but the difficulty of carrying them even with the aid of opposition is very great’, and ‘its sparks of liberality would have been ousted but for the Whigs’. By 16 May he was contemplating
such a sight as never was seen before in England. A ministry and an opposition alike broken and divided. Party distinctions in the ordinary senses are destroyed, but party distinctions in the form of new and old principles (which I use as the first description that occurs) exist in full force.73
On the dissolution, he and Macdonald unexpectedly faced defeat at Calne, where the Lansdowne interest was unpopular with a party on the corporation, but he admitted to Brougham, 6 June 1826, that ‘as for myself I am most perfectly content that accident should decide that for me which I have so often wished to decide for myself, but had not the courage to do so’. In fact, the opposition evaporated and he was elected unopposed with his colleague, having canvassed, attended the election and given his patron the benefit of his advice on electoral management.74 He was in Ireland for the elections, and had difficulty controlling Devonshire’s tenants there.75 He judged the results to be
a sort of little bloodless revolution. The political power of the state has passed from the landed aristocracy, the natural supporters, into the hands of the Catholic priests, the natural enemies of the government. This would be strange in any country, but in this, where there is no middling class to steady the vessel, the purport is not a little awful.
He therefore urged the adoption of a solution, before the situation, not only in Ireland but also in England, deteriorated ‘to an extent that will render any national settlement quite helpless and impracticable’. He had no clear parliamentary tactics to recommend, though he wished ‘heartily I could possess for one night Lord Grey’s power of statement and I should be sure of making a great impression by dint of my facts’.76
Abercromby attended the debate on the address, 21 Nov. 1826, and informed the Carlisles the following day that ‘in the little that I saw I thought the House very flat, which I ascribe to the feeling that appears to be general, that the prospects of the country are very doubtful and people are in a state of nervous apprehension for the future’. On 9 Dec. he wrote that in the new Parliament ‘there is a considerable infusion of young ones of industry and knowledge of details and familiarity with principles such as I feel confident have never been found in any preceding Parliament’, and he admitted that ‘I am very much struck with the industry and good sense of Peel’. He judged that
the government feel oppressed by difficulties and that they assume a tone of unusual conciliation, betraying a conviction that the measures to be taken are such as will require all the support they can get. It is true that the utter destruction of the ordinary laws of party on both sides makes this policy both obvious and indeed necessary.
In another letter, 13 Dec., he praised Canning, who had recently offered Ralph a diplomatic post, particularly in his handling of the previous day’s debate on Portugal.77 Speaking against the printing of a petition about the practice of Catholic priests excommunicating their political opponents, 6 Dec., he remarked that he had voted for Catholic claims for 20 years and had never before been so impressed with the urgency of the question. He called for the relief of starving artisans, 7 Dec., when he also moved for papers on bankruptcy. He commenced ‘clearly and well’ a successful attempt against the entry of a double return for Tregony, 24 Nov. 1826, and involved himself in other cases of disputed elections.78
For Abercromby, who in January 1827 wrote to Carlisle that ‘really everything is in so odd a state that speculation is out of the question’, the effect of Liverpool’s stroke, as he put it in a further letter, 24 Jan., made it seem ‘as if the present would be a year of change, but to me at least there is nothing very cheering in the prospect’.79 He spoke and voted against Clarence’s grant, 16 Feb., much to Holland’s annoyance.80 On 11 Feb. he told John Evelyn Denison* that this was ‘the last chance’ to prevent rebellion in Ireland.81 He helped Peel and Burdett to arrange a postponement of the latter’s relief motion to 5 Mar., and of course voted in the favourable minority on the 6th.82 He recorded that the
impression made upon the Tories by their success was that of apprehension and uneasiness. They found that an administration so divided on a vital domestic question could no longer be kept together, that without the aid of Mr. Canning they could not go on, having only a majority of four in the largest attendance of Members [276-272]. They foresaw that things could not remain in Ireland as they were, and they were unprepared with any measures on which they could appeal to the public for support.
However, he feared that Canning’s hint that nothing would be immediately forthcoming had ‘seemed to quiet the apprehensions of the Tories’.83 In the House, he condemned its decision, 19 Mar., saying that it would further demoralize Ireland, where education should be improved to raise the country ‘from her low and helpless condition’. He supported inquiry into chancery administration, 27 Feb., and asked for the chancery court bill to be postponed until after the circuits, 23 Mar. He voted for a lower price of corn imports, 9 Mar., the production of information on the Orange procession and Lisburn magistrates, 29 Mar., and to postpone the committee of supply, 30 Mar. He informed Brougham, 4 Apr., that if a division took place on Sir Thomas Lethbridge’s motion for an address to the king on the treatment of the Commons on the formation of the new ministry, ‘I do not see how I would vote against a principle to which I attach so much importance’; but, as he predicted, it came to nothing.84 He was granted a fortnight’s leave on urgent private business, 5 Apr. 1827.
In February 1827 Abercromby attended a meeting of party leaders which decided not to obstruct Canning’s probable path to the premiership, despite the lack of assurances about the Catholic cause. Yet in March he privately deprecated Canning’s equivocal stance on relief, and condemned the ministry for being ‘in fact formed on a systematic exclusion of all honest principle’.85 In his personal account of the negotiations that spring which led to the moderate Whigs entering office with Canning, he revealed his hostility to the decision of Lansdowne, their acknowledged leader, to give up their former insistence on relief as the condition for joining an administration:
Lansdowne’s opinion seems to be that the means exist of creating so formidable a resistance to the Catholic question, that it has ceased to be a matter of stipulation, and is reduced to a question of power. On this ground he thinks it justifiable first to postpone the question and next to sanction the existence of a divided cabinet. Postponement might be essential too if the cabinet was united, because then there would be a sufficient assurance that the influence of government would be effectively and honestly used for a good end. But postponement with a divided cabinet is in reality a compromise of principle, it gives a sanction to a most mischievous and unconstitutional doctrine. It implies that the parties are to do less than they ought in support of their own system, and whatever they gain for their principles is at the expense of their colleagues. Can this be constitutional; is it even honest? Such men are not fit to lead in difficult times for they cannot command the respect and obedience of others. Such a pusillanimous system tends to confirm the principles of their opponents, for it is an acknowledgement of weakness on the part of those who advise it. They in fact avow their fears that the public voice is against them. This as a matter of fact I doubt, but whether true or false it does not justify the having recourse to a vicious system of conduct.86
He made his reservations known to Lansdowne in an undated letter, arguing that a ‘plan of action ought to be agreed upon and firmly fixed before embarking’, rather than any reliance placed on a ‘general friendly disposition’; though he concluded by writing that ‘as I am always on the doubting side I throw out my doubts’.87 Brougham, who urged Lansdowne, 1 Apr., that ‘our business is to reorganize or to form a steady opposition on liberal but steady and intelligible grounds, and rather to limit our numbers than sacrifice union and vigour to numerical force’, commented that
I shall expect to find our excellent friend Abercromby prepared with better reasons than heretofore against it. He says ‘the country has decided against party’. It is easy to say so as an excuse for dropping the labour, and the very thankless labour of public life.88
Still, by late April, when the duke of Wellington and other opponents of Canning resigned from the cabinet, Abercromby was apparently reconciled to the policy favoured by most of his friends of an attempted coalition ministry. Indeed, he played a conspicuous role in girding Lansdowne to greater exertions in forwarding the negotiations and bringing them to a decisive conclusion.89 Like his colleagues, he was presumably reassured by the promise of the home office, which covered the management of Ireland, to Lansdowne, and the appointment of a pro-Catholic chief secretary.90 Though fearful of the consequences if the plan failed, he explained to Althorp that
the Tories are broken far more effectually than if they had been routed in open battle. The young ones will attach themselves to Canning; they will be liberalized, and so we shall have a portion of the rank and property in the state taught to adapt themselves in a greater degree to the spirit of the age.
He rationalized his change of heart by arguing that ‘if you make a clear and intelligible agreement with those with whom you are to co-operate as to the general outline of your plan, and think that you can depend on the sincerity of your allies, you do all that circumstances admit, and more is not in your power’. He also condemned the outspoken and irrevocable declaration against Canning made by Grey, leader of the other Whig faction, commenting that ‘I should scorn to depreciate him [Canning] or any other man by vilifying his parentage and reproaching him for the frailties of his mother’.91
Although Abercromby insisted that Mackintosh’s claims were paramount and that ‘it is a situation in which I could be of no use to you’, Lansdowne wanted him to be judge advocate-general, not least because he was the preferred choice of the king, who held ‘much personal intercourse’ with the holder of this office.92 According to his private account, Abercromby was only reluctantly induced to agree:
If Lord Lansdowne rejected Mr. Canning’s offer, he incurred the responsibility of throwing away the great advantages which were expected to follow from breaking the union of the Tory party. If he accepted the offer, he embarked in a cabinet in which he and his friends were in a small minority, and it was certain that Lord Grey would exert all his influence to incline the liberal party to put the most unfavourable construction on all the acts of the coalition administration. This was a hard fate for Lord Lansdowne and I felt, under all the circumstances, that I should not be justified in separating myself from him at such a time. I did my best to assist him throughout. I wished to decline office, and stated to Lord Lansdowne that there was only one office (Irish secretary) for the sake of which I would give up my profession and that office was already filled up. So it remained until the arrangement was nearly completed. I was in my own room, sitting with the duke of Devonshire and Lord Duncannon* when Macdonald ... came in and said that he brought a message from Lord Lansdowne to the effect, that he pressed as strongly as it was possible for him to do so, that I would overcome my objections, and accept the appointment of judge advocate. The fact being that Mr. Brougham had taken offence at some rumoured arrangement in favour of Sir John Beckett*, the [present judge advocate and] near relation of the Lonsdale family, to which Mr. Brougham was then warmly opposed. I yielded, unwisely I admit, to the purpose and the honourable desire to assist Lord Lansdowne, to whom I owed much, and also was in a difficult and, indeed, a cruel position.93
Before finally accepting office in mid-May he met Canning and extracted two assurances from him. First, ‘that no individual should hold the nominal office of minister for Scotland’, a role one opponent imagined that Abercromby coveted for himself, so assuaging Scottish Whig fears that Lord Binning* would be so appointed.94 Second, that Abercromby was at liberty to fulfil his promise to support alterations in the franchise of Edinburgh, which made him the only Whig who was not pledged to remain neutral if the issue of parliamentary reform was raised in the House.95 He nevertheless felt that his decision was accompanied by ‘a real sacrifice of character’, as well as the pecuniary loss he suffered by resigning from Devonshire’s service and his commissionership of bankruptcy, on being made a privy councillor. His doubts were aroused by Canning’s delaying the writs, and knowing that his early entrance into office was a pledge to those who would follow, he acknowledged that he did not possess that ‘sincere and honest belief’ in the future which ‘those who act now are bound to have’.96 He was returned unopposed for Calne, 25 May.97 Mackintosh noticed that he was ‘silent and seemed to be depressed’ during a debate on foreign affairs, 6 June 1827.98
In July 1827 Abercromby was said to be ‘distressing himself’ over the necessity of the Whigs consolidating their position within the cabinet, especially as Canning’s life began to look increasingly precarious. With his death in early August and his replacement by the ineffectual Lord Goderich, together with the continued exclusion of Holland and the appointment of John Herries* as chancellor of the exchequer, Abercromby (described by Devonshire to his sister, 22 Aug., as ‘very calm thus far and sad’) was convinced that they should withdraw from government.99 He confided to Huskisson, 26 Aug., that
those who are disposed to support Lord Lansdowne would be entirely alive to the differences between Lord Goderich and Mr. Canning. They would feel that the security for the maintenance of their opinions had been materially diminished, for much has been lost and nothing gained ... The only ground on which Lord Lansdowne could possibly defend his continuance in office would be to assert that the present administration was better than that by which it would be replaced. There may be some truth in this view of the case, but it is not surprising that others should be reluctant to concur in their friends remaining in office on such a negative principle. This has all along been and is my private opinion. It is perhaps indiscreet to avow it so frankly, and I shall add to the indiscretion by frankly stating that except in yourself I have no confidence in any other member of Lord Liverpool’s government.100
In late August he wrote to Lansdowne, of the latter’s intended resignation, that ‘putting it on the ground that the principle laid down by the king and adopted by Goderich being too narrow is perhaps the most popular and intelligible that the case affords’. Yet, at the urgent intervention of Brougham, he rapidly became convinced that the Whigs were right to remain in place, if only to consolidate their numbers for the time when they chose to resign as a party.101 He assured Lansdowne that ‘all these concessions on your part are so many facilities for retreat ... You ought to be strong in office as things now are. If you are not, you are well entitled to retire’. He also related to him an encouraging conversation with Huskisson, in which they
agreed most cordially in this opinion, that there would in truth be very little if anything of party on the old plan, and that all turned on measures. This is a very settled opinion and of long standing in my mind. I have been for some time aware that this change was preparing not by any change in the actors in Parliament but by the improved state of intelligence in the public. The people care nothing for men and a great deal about measures. This has been a very essential ingredient in my view both of our transactions in the spring and on the present occasion. But I have never met with any person who adopts the same view so fully and cordially as Huskisson.102
Abercromby, who was described that autumn as ‘very gloomy on public matters’ and ‘low about politics’, continued to busy himself with attempting to bolster the position of Lansdowne with both the ministry and the Whig opposition.103 However, he was upbraided for his irritating conduct by Lady Carlisle, who wrote to him that she wished
to ask you a few questions as I trust you know my friendship and high opinion of you too well to think me impertinent - well then, do you not think it is possible that you see things too much en noir, and if so will you not pause before you represent them so to others whom you may influence? I know that you must say what you feel and think to them, but I mean is it not possible that you may feel and think too despondingly? ... Do you not allow that you have seen the conduct of some individuals with too much distrust?104
Among his many grievances about patronage and policy, one issue came to predominate, namely the arrangement of the Scottish law offices. Explaining that ‘I know by the experience of the last eight or nine years that I have been toiling in Scotch parliamentary politics, how much hinges on the opinions and tendencies of the law officers’, he ‘felt that my continuance in office must be essentially effected if not absolutely decided’ by the failure to appoint a number of Whig lawyers. Lansdowne, who avoided the issue for as long as possible, eventually wrote to him, 14 Dec. 1827, to point out that ‘it would certainly be painful to me and disadvantageous to the public to see you quit ... [office] upon any than the most important public ground’.105 Abercromby, who shared Lord Sefton’s* opinion of the incompetence of Lord Dudley, the foreign secretary, retreated to Derbyshire that month, when it was feared that he might retire for good. Lady Carlisle reported him to be ‘very croaking indeed’, and he himself acknowledged that ‘to say the real truth I am entirely heart-broken about politics, and about the situation of Lansdowne’.106
By January 1828 it had become clear that Goderich would be replaced, and Abercromby duly left office with Lansdowne. As he wrote in his memorandum book:
During Mr. Canning’s life the business of Parliament engrossed the whole attention of the government. After his death there followed a series of disagreements, difficulties and blunders which threw ridicule on the short civil reign of Lord Goderich. I never did any act of my life with more cordial good will, than when I sent the resignation of my office to the duke of Wellington as the new premier.107
Yet the loss of his salary had important personal consequences, as Creevey noted in early February:
Poor Jim Abercromby and the fair Mary Anne give out that they leave town for ever and ever next Easter, and fall back upon a little farm in Derbyshire; but no longer to superintend the dear, deaf Dick-aky duke’s property, for that appointment was given to another when Jim was dubbed a privy councillor, it being infra dig to be a right honourable bailiff! and about £2,000 a year more derived from law sources were sacrificed for ever in like manner as being inconsistent with his rank.108
When Tom Moore, in conversation with him during the following year, expressed his surprise that he should have calculated upon so long a continuance in office as to justify his giving up so secure an income, he replied:
I did not calculate on any such thing - I foresaw all that was before me, but finding that it was necessary Lansdowne should be backed by some of his friends in the very critical situation into which circumstances forced him, I said (and I remember, he added, I used the very words in Canning’s presence) ‘Well, then, I will sacrifice myself to secure so great an object’.109
Abercromby noted that ‘these facts afterwards became known and excited much feeling in my favour’, and, indeed, it was Althorp’s solicitation that led to his making at this time ‘the first suggestion on the desirableness of placing me in the Chair’.110 Abercromby was by now established at Stubbing Court, a ‘very nice house, spacious and comfortable’ in a glen near Chesterfield, where he began to take a close interest in local affairs, such as the Mechanics’ Institute and the Literary and Philosophical Society.111
He privately expressed his disgust with the proceedings in Parliament, 18 Feb. 1828.112 He voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May. He paired in favour of provision for Canning’s family, 13 May.113 He spoke in favour of public records being securely housed, 6 June, when he voted against the grant for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels in the colonies. He was evidently much less active in the House than he had been in previous sessions, and, for instance, in March Cockburn regretted his semi-retirement and asked him to suggest a possible successor as ‘representative for Scotland’.114 From Stubbing, he expressed his concern that summer at the urgency of the Catholic question and the state of Ireland, stating also his dislike of opposition support for ministers:
I have never seen anything that makes me think so ill of the real principles of politicians and of the aristocracy as their aptitude to succumb before the duke and his generals. Active opposition is one thing, and acquiescence almost amounting to confidence is another.
He inclined to think that Ireland should not be discussed in the last weeks of the session, but that the ground might perhaps be prepared for the following year by the introduction of an address, and that then ‘a firm and decided line of opposition’ should be taken.115 Edward Littleton, Abercromby’s Whig rival for the Speakership, wrote to John Fazakerley*, 7 Sept., that he had ‘a great regard for him; and should not like to see any one stand in his way, if I thought he had any chance, which I should fear he has not’. Fazakerley replied, 20 Sept., stating his hopes for Littleton’s candidacy, and adding that ‘there was indeed poor Abercromby with his broken fortunes for whom I did feel most anxious ... and should again if he had a chance, but I cannot conceal from myself that he has none in the present state of parties’.116 On 19 Nov. 1828 Abercromby admitted in a letter full of speculations, especially on foreign affairs, that
I have very much lost interest in party politics. The events of last year have totally destroyed all that, but for those who still adhere to them, the prospect is not good. The bad conduct of Huskisson, the perverse temper of Lord Grey and the indiscretions of Brougham ... have rendered the case for the present almost hopeless. But with all that I am very eager in the cause of the public which is all moving in a good direction.117
Indeed, in relation to Catholic relief, he had a notion, as he related to Carlisle, 24 Nov. 1828, that
ministers have some plan under consideration, for if the vote of the Commons is favourable, they must be prepared with their measure ... If the Commons vote for it, and the measure is passed by the duke and Peel, who are the only people of any name in the government, then it discovers to the people the secret of their strength. It is in fact the result of Irish agitation backed by the power of the liberal party in England. If carried by friends it might have been supposed that its success was owing to the power of a friendly government. But forced upon enemies it places the power of the people on high ground. The crown has the patronage and the people have the real power ... The only safety is in the education of the people, for as power is fast falling into their hands, it is fit that they should be made as capable as can be to use it well.
He added cynically that George IV ‘seems at last to have become sensible that his office is not an absolute sinecure. The necessity of the case and the desire to get into his new palace have probably conspired to produce this result’.118 Russell informed Holland, 2 Jan. 1829, that a letter from the latter, if forwarded to Abercromby, ‘would only put him in a rage: he already foams at the mouth’.119 However, Abercromby’s anxiety was soon relieved by the increasingly credible rumours that ministers had decided to alter their policy towards Ireland. He was consulted about what line the opposition should take at the start of the session, which he promised to attend, if only briefly.120 He was present at the Devon anti-Catholic county meeting on the liberal side, 16 Jan. 1829.121 He presented pro-Catholic petitions from Edinburgh, 10 Feb., and elsewhere, 10, 17, 30 Mar., and complained of the unjustified weight placed on anti-Catholic ones, 12, 24, 30 Mar. Although he was against the bill to disfranchise Irish 40s. freeholders, he privately urged Grey to let it pass in order to ensure the passage of the main measure, and he expressed his approval of it in the Commons, 19 Mar., because ‘I wish it to go forth to the country, that it is supported by all the friends of the Catholics, as the price paid for the bill for their relief’. He, of course, voted for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. 1829, the last known evidence of his parliamentary activity during this period. He told Brougham that ‘we have got to the end of our labours’, and ‘the one certain thing is, that the duke will be weak when the bill is passed’.122
During the session Cockburn had confided to Kennedy his annoyance that the main Edinburgh petition had been entrusted to Mackintosh:
I am fully aware of the misconstruction which the proceeding is exposed to; and God knows all we, and all liberal men in Edinburgh, prize every opportunity of attesting our gratitude to Abercromby and our confidence in him; and we are perfectly alive to the expediency and duty of un-Derbyshiring him, and keeping up our invaluable connection. But he will be the first to own that there is a higher duty - to the cause; and I am satisfied that in this instance, we have strengthened the influence, by strengthening the right cause here, though the management has required momentary abatement of the system of making him our leader.
That summer Cockburn was delighted at the prospect of Abercromby being rewarded with the Speakership.123 In fact, his name was mentioned, either for this or some other position, during the speculation that then took place about the possible accession of individual Whigs to government. Mrs. Arbuthnot described him as ‘a Lansdownite and a man of most ordinary capacity’, but Sir Henry Hardinge* thought him ‘a very good kind of man’, and Wellington observed that he was ‘already taking steps to show his good disposition towards Abercromby by employing him in some commission relative to the state of the ecclesiastical law’.124 No direct approach was apparently made to him, and he expatiated on his still substantial doubts to Holland, 14 June 1829, that
it would be difficult for me to have any confidence in the great duke. Yet it must be admitted that he has carried two great measures, that he is sagacious and firm. My opinion of his talents is raised, but I think perhaps even less well than I did of the man. After what we have seen I have no desire to have a government, even though composed of men with good intentions, but without a leader who has authority and the power to control. The duke’s is the excess on the other side, but perhaps of the two the best suited to the times, for whether it is his observation or not, it is in my mind very clear ‘that a beginning must be made’ and perhaps the day is not distant.125
Lansdowne reported to Holland, 23 Aug. 1829, that he had found Abercromby ‘thriving as a country gentleman, at least as far as his health goes, but I suspect the days are long with him’.126
Carlisle wrote to Lady Holland in mid-January 1830 that it was ‘not likely I am afraid that he will see the state of things en couleur de rose, indeed he is singular if he does’, but was surprised to find Abercromby, who had not been ‘so well for many years’, ‘in good spirits’.127 However, he continued to express his reservations about the strength of the ministry and the appropriateness of consenting to bolster its strength in return for more liberal measures.128 He was, therefore, astonished to be summoned to see Wellington, 3 Feb., and offered, apparently at Peel’s suggestion, the chief barony of the Scottish court of exchequer, which carried a salary of £4,000. He agonized over whether to accept, but, having first discarded the idea of returning an immediate refusal, he eventually succumbed.129 His friends’ feelings were ambiguous, since, as Holland put it to his son Charles Fox*, 7 Feb.:
My joy at it is unfeigned but not unmixed with regret at the loss of his co-operation in politics and his advice and society in private life, for his duties will compel him to reside chiefly in Scotland. The place is so thoroughly professional, so foreign from and so incompatible with politics and at the same time so lucrative and so honourable and the offer was so unsolicited that he could not in justice to himself and his family, refuse it either on public or private grounds.130
The decision was welcomed in Edinburgh, especially as an earnest of legal reforms, though Rickman, a Commons clerk, later called it ‘an insult to all Scotland’.131 Ministers’ motives were apparently guileless, and although Lord Ellenborough noted in his diary that it was ‘another Whig gone’, it gave ‘great dissatisfaction’ to their Members, particularly the Ultras.132 Lumping Abercromby’s case with that of the knight of Kerry*, the duke of Newcastle recorded sarcastically that ‘both are old opposition hacks of the party calling themselves Whigs, but which they resemble less nearly than a wig does a natural head of hair’.133 Yet Lady Holland, though pleased, suspected that the appointment was motivated by a wish to clear the way for Goulburn to succeed Manners Sutton as Speaker, since Abercromby was obliged to leave the House, the Calne writ being issued on 8 Feb. 1830.134
Now resident in Edinburgh, Abercromby was largely removed from the main scene of political life, but he maintained a close connection with his former colleagues, with whom he continued a lengthy correspondence. For example, he gave the benefit of his advice on Brougham’s chances of succeeding for Yorkshire at the general election of 1830.135 He was delighted by his success, regarding it as an unlucky portent for Wellington, whom he feared could become a ‘second Polignac’, having failed to construct a non-partisan administration:
I think that the Yorkshire election may carry with it consequences as great as the Irish elections of 1826. In truth it is folly to talk of the influence of numbers when you see that the character and spirit of the elections are so decidedly popular. Everywhere the people show that they feel their power and have in general the sense to use it with discretion ... I fully expect that this will be the most uncontrollable Parliament that has ever sat in England. Any administration that could be formed would find it so, and for this, if scrape it be, we are indebted to the duke of Wellington. I say so because I have the deepest conviction that he has lost an opportunity of at least attempting to carry us on for a time, which never can be regained, because the people have shown that they know their power. If the duke had been a wise man, or rather if he had not been the most selfish of men, he would have availed himself of the new reign as a fit occasion for making the best government that the means of the country afforded. Such a measure would have been as wise for himself as it might have been advantageous to the country. As it is, the electors and the elected have been both thrown over; there has been no principle to guide them, they have indulged in their own conceits, many good and some bad, and in the result the Commons will, as I expect, be found to be the strangest medley that was ever got together in St. Stephen’s.136
He of course welcomed the return of the Whigs to office in November 1830, being particularly forthright in his opinion that Brougham ought to be rewarded by being made lord chancellor, and condemning the manner of his appointment, which made it look like a grudging gesture by Grey, the new prime minister.137 ‘The best of all’, as he wrote to John Allen that month
is, that it looks as if the king would really allow you to attempt reform. If that succeeds and a good feeling can be established between the Parliament and the country, peace may be maintained and we may advance gradually but steadily towards the new order of things which is inevitable. But all this is a vision.138
Lack of progress in the pre-Christmas session led him to argue that a dissolution was necessary to remove the Tory dominance in the Commons.139 Somewhat critical of government’s management of Scotland, he every now and again pressed his idea of having a Scottish Member at the treasury board in order to act as a conduit between ministers and the Scottish gentry, and to relieve the pressure of business on the lord advocate.140
He gave his support to the ministry’s reform proposals, writing to Lansdowne from Edinburgh, 6 Mar. 1831, that
I wish I had as much confidence in the passing of the reform bill with all its substantial provisions, as I have, that if passed, it would be a great benefit to the country. I really think it is a measure that does the greatest honour to the cabinet. It is bold, well considered, impartial with respect to all interests, and honest. It is no doubt a great change, but a great change is inevitable, and I am well convinced that such a measure as this is the only chance of escape from revolution.141
However, he was not without fears that the bill might be destroyed in the committee, and Brougham wrote to Holland about this time, complaining that
Abercromby writes in despair at the declaration he finds to have been made that the government stakes its existence on the success of the bill, and justly observes that he and other friends had hoped we were no longer like Whigs of other days, a kind of spoiled children, who thought of nothing but a silly pique and personal vanity.142
Though out of the House, he did not escape from controversy within it, as Sir George Clerk, Member for Edinburghshire, commented there on 7 Mar. that the measure was much the same as the version proposed by Lambton (now Lord Durham) in 1821, which Abercromby had condemned. No doubt he would have defended his change of mind on the ground of pragmatism, for he wrote to his son at this time that ‘if ministers are beat and go out, revolution is certain. If they carry their bill the change will be great and will only be a modified revolution. But it is indispensable’.143 Having urged a dissolution, he again gave his assistance in relation to a number of Scottish constituencies during the general election of 1831, and refused to vote for Charles Elphinstone Fleeming† in the contest for Stirlingshire.144 In the cabinet, 17 July, Durham objected to every name on the proposed list of boundary commissioners, ‘maintaining that all, aye, even Abercromby himself! were anti-reformers’.145 He was over-ruled, and Abercromby was included among the commissioners announced in the House by Althorp, 1 Sept., when (as again by Croker on 20 Sept.) criticisms were voiced of his appointment because of his judicial office and known partiality for reform. On 16 Nov. Holland recorded the alarm felt at the disturbances subsequent to the bill’s defeat in the Lords by the home secretary, Lord Melbourne, who had told him
with some pleasantry, that neither Bristol nor White Conduit Street nor the innumerable information he has received make him half so gloomy as an hour’s conversation with Abercromby, who has just left him and is going to Scotland, fully convinced that a week’s delay in passing the bill or the change of an iota will subvert the whole frame of our constitution and throw the whole island into confusion.146
Abercromby declared to Devonshire, 12 Dec. 1831, that ‘peers there must be if the bill is in danger when it gets to your obdurate and incurable confreres’, and he maintained this opinion throughout the following spring.147 On hearing the news that the government had been ousted in May 1832, he wrote to Holland that he had ‘not felt pleasure as connected with politics, for a long while till today’,148 and explained (in another undated letter) to James Brougham*, that
I was very little moved by the news. I have felt so much pain from seeing Lord Grey hold office without honour, that I sincerely rejoice that he is relieved from so discreditable a position. I have never had any expectation that peers would be made, as they had not been made before the second reading. What is to become of the country becomes a very serious question ... A long struggle is upon us, and that is no pleasant prospect. Peel would be the best minister, but will he consent to replay the Catholic game over again - recant all his opinions for office? ... Nothing can be more truly mortifying than the circumstances under which I go back to Scotland, for life probably, to vegetate and to die.
Nevertheless, within the month he had written again, to express his relief at the reinstatement of ministers, and on 11 June 1832 he conceded that, for the first time, he thought the reform bill would actually pass.149
Since the office of chief baron occasioned him very little employment, Abercromby himself approached ministers with plans for reform of the exchequer, and it was eventually decided to merge it into the court of session.150 Abercromby complained to his son, 8 Jan. 1831, that ‘it is very unfortunate that I ever came here ... yet I cannot blame myself, for this time last year I was in no situation to refuse’. He acknowledged that he was on difficult ground in accepting a retirement pension of £2,000, but stated that ‘I shall protect my investment as far as I properly ought to do so, but ... I shall not be unreasonable. It is rather worrying, but that is the case of human life, at least so I have found ever since 1827’.151 Brougham’s compensatory offer of the position of accountant-general of the court of chancery in London excited Abercromby’s interest, but he declined this ‘step down’, after consulting his friends, because it would have meant foregoing his exchequer pension and, as his wife revealed to their son, ‘the difficulties we are every way involved in arise from the money expended in Edinburgh’.152 A bill to abolish the court of exchequer was introduced in the Lords by Brougham, 19 July 1831, and was criticized on its second reading in the Commons, 6 Oct., as a means of unfairly compensating Abercromby. Brougham was forced to concede, 18 Oct. 1831, that the bill had been abandoned through lack of time and that there would be a Commons inquiry into the Scottish exchequer in the following session. This was duly appointed, and Abercromby presented his evidence on the paucity of business and the convenience of abolishing the court, 14, 21 Feb. 1832. The new bill had to be recommitted, 4 Apr., and Hunt’s motion against granting Abercromby’s pension was negatived only after a long and largely hostile debate, 10 Apr. Abercromby was actively involved in this Scottish exchequer court bill, the passage of which was eventually achieved by Brougham in the Lords, and it was given the royal assent, 23 June.153 The delays in the Upper House meant that Abercromby lost the opportunity of being returned by Devonshire for Knaresborough on the vacancy caused by the death of Mackintosh, but contemplating this possibility, 16 June, he admitted to Holland that ‘I shall be well content, for I don’t much like being so soon in Parliament after quitting the office I have had’.154 Towards the end of 1832 he was considered for the Irish secretaryship, but nothing came of this.155 The reason was apparent, for, as Brougham later complained, his
Scottish judicial sinecure ... I had, with infinite difficulty, and no support from Lansdowne, Althorp or Abercromby’s other friends in the government, contrived to commute for a pension of £2,000 a year for life, after a year’s service by Abercromby of about 20 working days. He has since behaved with infinite ingratitude, being altogether, as Althorp once said, ‘about the most selfish man in the world’. The Speakership was the thing he had set his heart on.156
This had again become a possibility because Abercromby, long respected for his advocacy of the Scottish Whig cause, was by 1832 a favourite to take a seat for Edinburgh under the reformed franchise at the next general election. He answered a requisition to stand with Jeffrey, the lord advocate, issued a Liberal address, 5 July, and was triumphantly received when he attended meetings of the electors in August.157 Although he received a good deal of bad publicity over his sinecure and pension, he was finally elected after a contest at the general election in December 1832.158 He was described that year by Sydney Smith as ‘the wisest-looking man I know: it is said he can look through millstones and granite’.159 Nevertheless, and to the intense annoyance of his friends, his qualifications and pretensions to the Chair were slighted in favour of Littleton, who also found himself sidelined when the compromise decision was belatedly taken to allow Manners Sutton to continue.160 As Abercromby long afterwards recorded:
I never considered the situation of Speaker as being desirable on its own account: it is laborious and irksome; minute and formal observances require no talent, and attention to them brings no credit. I was however at that time desirous of the situation. It was the most graceful position that I could occupy on returning to the House of Commons from the discharge of judicial duties, and I felt also that being chosen the first Speaker of the first reform Parliament under the auspices of that party with which I had always been connected, and who had passed the great measure of reform, from the discussion in which I had been excluded, would have been a gratifying acknowledgement by my friends, of the consistency and steadiness of my attachment to those principles to which they had been so successful in giving effect and by which they have earned for themselves undying honour. I was doomed to be disappointed.161
His constant wearying tone of complaint led to him being nicknamed ‘Crusty’ by his Whig colleagues.162
In 1835 Abercromby was elected to the Speakership by a narrow margin after a violent and partisan contest. The first Scot to hold this office, he proved to be an undistinguished Speaker, and retired in June 1839, when he was created Baron Dunfermline.163 He died at his then residence of Colinton House, near Edinburgh, in April 1858, and was remembered by his friend and physician John Brown as
one of the last of the great race; a man we can never see the like of again, for we never can, thank God, see a man who has come into public life through such perils. He was intensely political; indeed politics as the management of public affairs was to him a sort of religion, a thing he had sworn to, and to which his entire nature was given. I never knew a man who regarded the people with such profound interest and affection. He cared little for speculation or for literature, or even for society, but for managing men, for advancing liberty and widening and deepening the issues of political life, I never saw any man have such a steady passionate regard, and this without one particle of self-seeking or personal pride. He seemed to lose himself in the contemplation of great general results. He was gruff in manner, and careless, but compact and often happy in speech, but he was full of courage, sincerity and practical sagacity ... In his immediate relations as a husband and son and father he was amazingly faithful and tender. Lady Dunfermline showed me a letter he had given to her manservant to give her in the event of his sudden death. You never saw anything more touching.164
He left the bulk of his estates to his only surviving child, Ralph (1803-68), on whose death the barony of Dunfermline became extinct.165
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. NLS mss 12851, ff. 61, 64.
- 2. Lord Dunfermline, Sir Ralph Abercromby, 13-15; C.D. Abercromby, Fam. of Abercromby; Oxford DNB.
- 3. Black Bk. (1820), 425; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1172; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 11-15.
- 4. Berry Jnls. iii. 309; Howard Sisters, 148-9; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 447; [J. Grant], Random Recollections of Commons (1837), 87-88.
- 5. Warws. RO MI 247, Philips’s Mems. i. 311-12.
- 6. Ibid. i. 312; Chatsworth mss, Abercromby to Devonshire, 6, 11 Jan. 1820; F.M.L. Thompson, English Landed Society in 19th Cent. (1971), 167; L.J. Proudfoot, Urban Patronage and Social Authority, 215.
- 7. Chatsworth mss 6DD/GP1/469.
- 8. NLS mss 24770, f. 1.
- 9. Ibid.; Add. 52444, f. 112.
- 10. NLS mss 5319, f. 195.
- 11. The Times, 26 May 1820.
- 12. Ibid. 6 Mar. 1821.
- 13. Ibid. 13 July 1820.
- 14. Castle Howard mss, Devonshire to Lady Morpeth, 9 Jan. 1821; Brougham mss, Abercromby to Brougham, 26 Mar. 1823; Chatsworth mss 477, 494, 495, 573.
- 15. Creevey Pprs. ii. 2; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 13 Jan.; Add. 51574, Abercromby to Holland [26 Jan. 1821]; Castle Howard mss.
- 16. The Times, 31 Mar. 1821.
- 17. NLS acc. 10655, Abercromby’s pol. mem. bk. 1819-46.
- 18. The Times, 3 Mar., 3, 18 Apr. 1821.
- 19. Ibid. 5, 8, 16 June 1821.
- 20. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 108.
- 21. Add. 51574, Abercromby to Holland [Dec. 1821]; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 281.
- 22. Chatsworth mss 598, 599.
- 23. NLW, Coedymaen mss 621.
- 24. The Times, 19 Feb. 1822.
- 25. Ibid. 8 Feb., 1, 9, 14 Mar. 1822; Cockburn Mems. 367.
- 26. Chatsworth mss 623; Lansdowne mss, Donoughmore to Abercromby, 31 Mar. 1822.
- 27. The Times, 30 Mar., 3 Apr. 1822; Add. 52447, f. 75.
- 28. The Times, 1, 31 May 1822.
- 29. Creevey Pprs. ii. 37.
- 30. The Times, 8 June 1822.
- 31. Life of Wilberforce, v. 129-30; Dorset RO D/BKL, Bankes jnl.; Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary.
- 32. The Times, 27, 29 June, 9, 19 July, 1 Aug. 1822.
- 33. Cockburn Letters, 62.
- 34. Ibid. 63-64; The Times, 9, 10, 13 July; CJ, lxxvii. 414; Fox Jnl. 133; Althorp Letters, 118; Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 172; Add. 51679, Russell to Lady Holland [July]; 75940, Althorp to Lady Spencer, 14 July 1822.
- 35. CJ, lxxvii. 423, 432-3, 1220-1; Fox Jnl. 134; NLS mss 3895, f. 28; Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 172-3.
- 36. The Times, 23, 24 July 1822.
- 37. Chatsworth mss 664; Castle Howard mss.
- 38. Lansdowne mss.
- 39. Bessborough mss, Abercromby to Duncannon, 14 Oct. 1822.
- 40. Add. 51574, Abercromby to Holland, 27 Dec. 1822.
- 41. NLS acc. 10655.
- 42. Add. 51574, Abercromby to Holland [21 Jan. 1823].
- 43. The Times, 12 Feb. 1823.
- 44. NLS acc. 10655.
- 45. Bessborough mss, Grey to Duncannon, 2 Mar.; The Times, 1, 4 Mar. 1823.
- 46. Agar Ellis diary; Add. 51667.
- 47. Bessborough mss, Brougham to Duncannon, 2 Mar. 1823.
- 48. Brougham mss.
- 49. Buckingham, i. 446.
- 50. The Times, 22 Apr. 1823.
- 51. Ibid. 24 June 1823.
- 52. Ibid. 25 Apr., 11 July 1823; NLS mss 24749, f. 28.
- 53. Cockburn Letters, 71, 86; NLS mss 24749, f. 30; 24761, f. 3.
- 54. Lansdowne mss.
- 55. NLS mss 24770, f. 4.
- 56. Twiss, Eldon, ii. 490-502; Buckingham, ii. 53, 54; Life of Wilberforce, v. 214; Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 291-2; Agar Ellis diary; Add. 51668, Bedford to Lady Holland, 7 Mar. 1824; Cockburn Letters, 112-13.
- 57. The Times, 1 June 1824.
- 58. Add. 51574, Abercromby to Holland [Nov. 1823, Sept.], 1 Oct. 1824; Chatsworth mss 1008, 1017, 1020.
- 59. Add. 51659, Whishaw to Lady Holland, 9, 10 Nov.; 51579, Morpeth to same, 13 Nov., 16 Dec.; 51654, Mackintosh to same, 16 Nov. 1824; Chatsworth mss 1078.
- 60. Lady Holland to Son, 36.
- 61. Agar Ellis diary; Add. 30124, f. 133.
- 62. NLS acc. 10655.
- 63. Add. 40373, f. 187.
- 64. NLS acc. 10655.
- 65. Wellington mss WP1/821/1.
- 66. The Times, 30 June, 1 July 1825.
- 67. Castle Howard mss, Abercromby to Morpeth, 24 June, 5 July, 20 Aug.; Brougham mss, Smith to Brougham, 6 Sept.; Add. 51679, Russell to Lady Holland, 28 Nov. 1825.
- 68. Castle Howard mss, Abercromby to Carlisle [Nov.], 6 Dec.; BL, Althorp mss, to Althorp, 5 Dec. 1825, 14 Jan. 1826.
- 69. Fitzwilliam mss 124/8, Althorp to Milton, 11 Feb.; Castle Howard mss, Abercromby to Carlisle, 15 Feb.; Add. 51574, to Holland, 16 Feb. 1826.
- 70. The Times, 28 Feb., 16 Mar. 1826.
- 71. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 2 May 1826.
- 72. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Ossington mss, Denison diary, 14, 19 May 1826.
- 73. Add. 51574.
- 74. Devizes Gazette, 13, 27 Apr., 15 June; Brougham mss, Abercromby to Brougham [6 June]; Lansdowne mss, to Lansdowne [7, 8 June] 1826.
- 75. Baring Jnls. i. 47.
- 76. Brougham mss, Abercromby to Brougham 12, 23 July; Bessborough mss, to Duncannon, 1 Oct.; Add. 51574, to Holland, 12 Oct.; Agar Ellis diary, 19 Nov. 1826.
- 77. Castle Howard mss.
- 78. Agar Ellis diary, 24 Nov. 1826.
- 79. Castle Howard mss.
- 80. Add. 51784, Holland to Fox, 21 Feb. 1827.
- 81. Denison diary.
- 82. Add. 38749, ff. 108, 110; Canning’s Ministry, 22.
- 83. NLS acc. 10655.
- 84. Brougham mss.
- 85. Canning’s Ministry, 28, 31.
- 86. NLS acc. 10655.
- 87. Lansdowne mss.
- 88. Ibid.
- 89. Canning’s Ministry, 164, 185, 186, 213; Add. 30110, f. 335; 51574, Abercromby to Holland, 21 Apr.; Blair Adam mss (History of Parliament Aspinall transcripts), W.G. to W. Adam, 22 Apr. 1827; Chatsworth mss 1470, 1477, 1478.
- 90. Canning’s Ministry, 241.
- 91. Ibid. 155; Chatsworth mss 1508.
- 92. Canning’s Ministry, 241; Add. 51655, Mackintosh to Lady Holland, 1 June 1827; 52447, f. 107.
- 93. NLS acc. 10655; Canning’s Ministry, 213, 265; Lansdowne mss, Macdonald to Lansdowne, 30 Apr. 1827.
- 94. NLS acc. 10655; NLS mss 14441, f. 20; 25749, f. 35; Cockburn Letters, 156, 163, 166-7.
- 95. NLS acc. 10655; Mem. of Public Life of Herries, i. 127.
- 96. Canning’s Ministry, 268, 305; Add. 52447, f. 106.
- 97. Devizes Gazette, 31 May 1827.
- 98. Add. 52447, f. 70.
- 99. Canning’s Ministry, 338, 366, 369; Chatsworth mss; Add. 51562, Brougham to Holland [?11 Aug.]; 51574, Abercromby to Lady Holland [Aug. 1827].
- 100. Add. 38750, f. 95.
- 101. Lansdowne mss, Brougham to Abercromby [?24 Aug.], Abercromby to Lansdowne [?25, ?27 Aug., Sept., ?4], 5 Sept. 1827; Add. 38750, f. 243.
- 102. Ibid. Abercromby to Lansdowne [Sept., ?4 Sept. 1827]; Chatsworth mss 1577.
- 103. Agar Ellis diary, 31 Aug., 1 Sept.; Castle Howard mss, Abercromby to Carlisle [Sept., Sept.,?8 Sept., Oct.], 14 Oct. 1827.
- 104. NLS mss 24760, f. 47.
- 105. Add. 38751, f. 9; 52447, f. 128; Chatsworth mss 1617; NLS mss 11800, ff. 16, 23, 26, 41, 57, 61; 24758, f. 32.
- 106. NLS mss 24747, f. 1; 24749, f. 39; Grey mss B10/18/15; Castle Howard mss, Lady Carlisle to Morpeth , 29 Dec., Abercromby to Carlisle, 25 Dec. 1827.
- 107. NLS acc. 10655; Agar Ellis diary, 12 Jan. 1828.
- 108. Creevey Pprs. ii. 148; Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC10/83.
- 109. Moore Jnl. iii. 1256.
- 110. NLS acc. 10655.
- 111. Derby Mercury, 5 Nov. 1828; J. M. Bestall, Hist. Chesterfield, iii. 108, 119; Three Diaries, 372.
- 112. Castle Howard mss, Abercromby to Carlisle [19 Feb. 1828].
- 113. Ibid. 17 May 1828.
- 114. NLS mss 24749, f. 42.
- 115. Castle Howard mss, Abercromby to Carlisle, 18 June, 5 July, 5 Sept. [?Oct.]; Brougham mss, to Brougham, 13 July, 6 Oct.; Duke Univ. Lib. Fazakerley mss, to Fazakerley [?May], 7 July, 16 Oct. 1828; Chatsworth mss 1691.
- 116. Fazakerley mss; Hatherton mss.
- 117. Add. 51574; Brougham mss, Abercromby to Brougham, 28 Dec. 1828.
- 118. Castle Howard mss.
- 119. Add. 51677.
- 120. Add. 51574, Abercromby to Holland, 19, 26 Nov., 28 Dec. 1828 [4, 5], 15, 20 Jan. 1829; Brougham mss, to Brougham, 27 Dec. 1828, 1, 12 Jan.; Lansdowne mss, to Lansdowne, 21 Jan. 1829; NLS mss 24748, f. 76; 24770, f. 29.
- 121. Western Times, 17 Jan. 1829.
- 122. Add. 51574, Abercromby to Holland [Mar., Apr.]; Brougham mss, to Brougham [c.16, 31 Mar. 1829].
- 123. Cockburn Letters, 210, 212-13, 221-2.
- 124. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 286, 290, 293; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 60.
- 125. Add. 51574.
- 126. Add. 51687.
- 127. Add. 51580.
- 128. Add. 51574, Abercromby to Holland, 20 Dec. 1829; Brougham mss, to Brougham [Jan. 1830]; NLS mss 24770, f. 39.
- 129. Add. 51575, Abercromby to Holland, 3 Feb.; Chatsworth mss, to Devonshire, 3 Feb.; Bessborough mss, to Duncannon, 16 Feb. 1830; Wellington mss WP1/1097/3; NLS acc. 10655; Cockburn Mems. 434.
- 130. Add. 51785; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 329-30.
- 131. Scotsman, 10 Feb.; Stair mss (History of Parliament Aspinall transcripts), Dalrymple to Murray, 10 Feb. 1830; Life and Letters of Rickman ed. O. Williams, 307.
- 132. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 191; Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 6 Feb. 1830; Brougham, Life and Times, iii. 34-35.
- 133. Unrepentant Tory ed. R.A. Gaunt, 103.
- 134. Lady Holland to Son, 108.
- 135. Castle Howard mss, Abercromby to Lady Carlisle, 10 July; Brougham mss, to J. Brougham [28 July 1830].
- 136. Lansdowne mss, Abercromby to Lansdowne, 17 Aug.; Add. 51575, to Holland, n.d., 9, 13 July, 19 Aug. 1830.
- 137. Chatsworth mss 2090; Add. 51575, Abercromby to Holland, 19 Nov.; Brougham mss, to Brougham [c. 18 Nov.], to J. Brougham [c. 18, c. 20 Nov.] 1830.
- 138. Add. 52182.
- 139. Castle Howard mss, Abercromby to Carlisle, 30 Dec. .
- 140. Brougham mss, Abercromby to J. Brougham, 27 Feb.; Grey mss, to Grey, 6 June 1831.
- 141. Lansdowne mss; Add. 52182, Abercromby to Allen [Mar.] 1831; Chatsworth mss 2091, 2092.
- 142. Add. 51562.
- 143. NLS mss 13172, f. 22.
- 144. Brougham mss, Abercromby to Brougham [?Mar.], 12, 29 May 1831.
- 145. Holland House Diaries, 5-6.
- 146. Ibid. 79.
- 147. Chatsworth mss 2429.
- 148. Add. 51575.
- 149. Brougham mss.
- 150. Add. 40403, f. 7; 51575, Abercromby to Jeffrey, 12 Apr. 1832.
- 151. NLS mss 13172, ff. 9, 32.
- 152. NLS mss 13173, f. 1; Chatsworth mss 2217; Althorp mss, Brougham to Althorp [11 May]; Brougham mss, Abercromby to Brougham, 12 May 1831.
- 153. PP (1831-2), v. 121-34, 149-55; NLS mss 23220, ff. 66, 67, 69; 23221, ff. 196-21, 218, 228, 231, 263; Brougham mss, Abercromby to Brougham [1831-2].
- 154. Holland House Diaries, 190, 192; Add. 51575.
- 155. Add. 51578, Carlisle to Holland, 21 Aug., 28 Oct. 1832.
- 156. Brougham, Life and Times, iii. 230.
- 157. Cockburn, Jeffrey, i. 338-9; Cockburn Letters, 175, 411, 418-19; Add. 51575, Abercromby to Holland, 28 May; Edinburgh Evening Courant, 30 June, 9 July, 2, 4, 11 Aug. 1832; NLS acc. 10655.
- 158. Edinburgh Evening Courant, 10, 13, 20, 22 Dec. 1832.
- 159. CP, iv. 534.
- 160. Hatherton diary, 15 Oct., 17 Nov. 1831; Add. 51724, Althorp to Lady Holland, 25 Nov. 1832; 51578, Carlisle to Holland, 1 Jan. 1833; Chatsworth mss 2697.
- 161. NLS acc. 10655.
- 162. Add. 51680, Russell to Lady Holland [2 Dec.] 1832; Lady Holland to Son, 149, 181.
- 163. J.A. Manning, Lives of Speakers, 489-93; A.I. Dasent, Speakers of House of Commons, 316-19; The Times, 23 Apr. 1858; DNB; Oxford DNB.
- 164. Letters of Dr. John Brown ed. J. Brown and D.W. Forrest, 119-20.
- 165. The Times, 17 Oct. 1868.