ATTWOOD, Matthias (1779-1851), of 27 Gracechurch Street, London and Dulwich Hill House, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



24 Mar. 1819 - 11 May 1819
12 June 1820 - 1830
1830 - 1832
1832 - 1847

Family and Education

b. 24 Nov. 1779, 2nd s. of Matthias Attwood (d. 1836), ironmaster, of Hawne House, Halesowen, Worcs. and Ann, da. and event. h. of Thomas Adams of Cakemore House, nr. Halesowen. m. 11 Oct. 1806, Susanna, da. of William Twells of Birmingham, Warws. 1s. d. 11 Nov. 1851.

Offices Held


Attwood was a partner in the London branch of the family bank, Spooner, Attwood and Company, and ‘took an active part in the formation ... of many public companies’, including the Provincial Bank of Ireland and the General Steam Navigation Company, ‘of which he was for some years chairman’. He was also a director of the Pelican and Phoenix Assurance Companies and the Imperial and Continental Gas Association.1 He had briefly sat for Fowey in 1819 before being unseated on petition, and played a prominent part that year, with his brother Thomas, in the unavailing opposition to the resumption of cash payments. At the general election of 1820 he and the London merchant William Thompson stood unsuccessfully for Callington as the champions of the independent interest, but they were seated on petition in June.2

He was a regular attender who initially gave general support to Lord Liverpool’s ministry but later took an increasingly independent line. He frequently enunciated his views on currency reform and criticized the doctrines of the political economist David Ricardo*. He voted against economies in tax collection, 4 July 1820. He divided against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821. He voted against Maberly’s resolution on the state of the revenue, 9 Mar., and reduction of the grant for the adjutant-general’s office, 11 Apr. In a long speech which was subsequently published, he supported Alexander Baring’s amendment for inquiry into the currency, 9 Apr. Pointing to the buoyant state of the economy in 1818, he blamed the new monetary system for the recent fall in prices, profits and agricultural rents, which had in turn led to unemployment. The ‘great experiment’ of resuming cash payments had inflicted ‘more extensive ruin than [had] ever before been brought on any civilized community by the measures of any government’, and he feared that matters might end in a ‘catastrophe, too sudden and too violent for resistance or remedy’. He urged ministers to ‘restore at once the prosperity of the country along with a permanent metallic standard’.3 He divided for the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May 1821. He voted against more extensive tax reductions, 11, 21 Feb. 1822. He suspected that the inquiries into agricultural distress had been a means of enabling the government to ‘avoid ... the responsibility of their measures and ... evade the demands of the people for relief’, 7 May, and warned that Parliament would forfeit public confidence if it showed itself powerless to act. He maintained that it was ‘low prices and high taxes joined, that agriculture was unable to support’. Whereas during the French wars a paper currency had been adopted and debts and taxes had increased, in 1819 the government had ‘withdrawn from that enormous accumulation of taxation and debt, the means by which they had enabled the country to support it’. He advised the House not to approve the ‘partial and inefficacious measures about to be proposed’ and voted with the minority against the new corn duties, 9 May. He accused the agriculture select committee of misleading the country as to the causes of distress, 13 May, and insisted that the present corn law was sufficient to protect farmers from foreign competition. He also advocated reduction of salaries and pensions, and on 24 May he voted for Hume’s amendment to use the sinking fund to pay for naval and military pensions. He delivered another long speech in support of Western’s motion for inquiry into the currency, 12 June, expressing astonishment at the ‘misplaced and presumptuous confidence’ of ministers who proposed ‘a blind and imbecile perseverance’ in measures that were ‘monstrous in their injustice [and] extensive in their ruin’. He estimated the reduction in the amount of money in circulation since 1819 at ‘towards one half’ and connected this to the fall in prices, which had ‘revolutionized property and deranged and disorganized all the different relations and interests of society’. He warned that the people would seek relief from distress through ‘measures hostile to the existence of the government and dangerous to the safety of the state’. As a first step, he recommended the abandonment of the present monetary standard and a return to that of wartime, on which an adjusted metal standard might then be based. One Member described this speech as ‘eloquent and argumentative’.4 In supporting Western’s second currency motion, 10 July, Attwood applied his analysis to Ireland, where a ‘scarcity of money’ caused by the government’s policy had destroyed the market for agricultural produce and created an ‘unnatural, monstrous’ famine when there was ‘no deficiency of food’. He voted against inquiry into the lord advocate’s conduct towards the Scottish press, 25 June, and for the public house licensing bill, 27 June 1822.

He divided against parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., and reform in Scotland, 2 June 1823. He argued that Whitmore’s motion against the corn laws was based on the ‘erroneous opinion’ that they were responsible for fluctuations in grain prices, 26 Feb., and criticized the ‘blind activity’ of those who used such arguments to justify free trade. He presented a Stockport weavers’ petition for relief from distress, 30 May, although he disagreed with their demands for a statutory wage and restrictions on new machinery, and regretted their tendency to blame the employers, which was ‘injurious to their own interests’. He again supported Western’s motion for inquiry into the currency, 12 June, to which ‘no adequate reply’ had been made. His central point was that the government in 1819 had ‘effected great and extensive changes in the value of their monied standard ... accompanied with no corrective or remedial measures’ to counterbalance the ‘changes necessarily carried into all the pecuniary contracts of individuals and into all the debts and engagements of the state’. The old monetary standard had been restored simply in order to ‘support public faith and the national character’. He voted with the minorities to abolish flogging in prisons and introduce trial by jury in New South Wales, 7 July 1823. He divided for repeal of the usury laws, 27 Feb., 8 Apr. 1824, when he declared that he did so on ‘principles of justice’ and for ‘the general interests of the community’. He dismissed the ‘extraordinary ... argument’ that the laws were good because they benefited landowners and the state, but his chief objection was that they were ‘destructive of the principles of commercial credit’. He railed against ‘slavish and ... imbecile adherence’ to outdated laws and emphasized the importance of ‘adapting our institutions and our laws to the altered circumstances of the times’. He again voted for repeal, 17 Feb. 1825. He divided against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., presented a hostile petition from Callington, 6 May,5 and voted against the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. He was ‘understood to support’ the Irish banking bill to regulate co-partnerships, 15 Mar.6 He said he would ‘willingly vote’ for the Peruvian Mining Company bill, 16 Mar. 1825, as it was a simple matter of allowing a joint-stock company the right to sue and be sued. He divided against going into committee on the Bank Charter Acts, 13 Feb. 1826, as the government had failed to make a case for its proposed course of action and it was necessary to ‘take a wider view’ of the crisis in the banking system. He denied that the situation had been caused by the country banks, most of which were ‘conducted with prudence’ by ‘men of solid property’, and pointed instead to the operation of the 1819 Act, which had increased the demand for gold and driven bank notes ‘back upon the issuers’. He favoured another expansion in the issue of Bank of England notes, as had been done in 1822, but warned that the stimulation would again be temporary because of the effect of the 1819 Act: ‘high prices and an abundant circulation were necessary, but neither could exist permanently in conjunction with the low price of gold which this [Act] attempted to fix. This was the source of their difficulties’. In the Tory John Evelyn Denison’s* opinion Attwood ‘spoke very well’, but the Whig George Agar Ellis*, while acknowledging that it was an ‘ingenious’ and ‘in parts eloquent’ speech, thought it ‘diverged too much from the subject’ and that Attwood’s ‘cruel way of misusing the aspirate spoils his effect’.7 Next day he recommended that the Bank should dispose of all its exchequer bills and other government securities, regardless of any ‘embarrassment [to] the treasury’, and use the money to ‘assist the merchants liberally and boldly, by lending to them on the security of goods and merchandize’; this would be ‘opposed to no principle of political economy’. He testified from personal knowledge that the London money market could not survive ‘one week longer’ without another crisis. He found the promissory notes bill ‘quite unintelligible’, 24 Feb., and recommended its replacement by another to consolidate ‘all measures relating to the currency’.8 He complained that the government had acted throughout ‘in the greatest degree of ignorance of the actual state of the country and the nature and operation of its currency’, 27 Feb. Next day he ‘condemned the hesitation of government to afford relief’ by issuing exchequer bills for public works, which would rescue the economy from ‘stagnation’. He was one of the few Members who shared the view of Malthus and Chalmers that public spending could be used to offset falling demand.9 He voted with the minorities for inquiry into the silk trade, 24 Feb., and to condemn the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. He divided against Russell’s resolutions to curb electoral bribery, 26 May 1826. At the general election that summer he was returned for Callington in conjunction with Baring, the new patron, with whom he had evidently struck a deal.10

In the debate on the Arigna Mining Company, 5 Dec. 1826, Attwood condemned the ‘general, vague and sweeping imputations’ made against joint-stock companies, observing that ‘many of the most beneficial works never could be carried on without them’. He was ‘not aware of ... having been ever engaged in a single company, which could be deemed derogatory to his station as a Member of Parliament’. He divided against Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and for the spring guns bill, 23 Mar. 1827. He was granted three weeks’ leave owing to ill health, 3 Apr. He supported an inquiry into industrial and commercial distress, 14 June 1827, and asserted that all the economic fluctuations of recent years were ‘essentially connected’ with ‘alterations in [our] monied system’. He expressed ‘contempt’ for the colonial secretary Huskisson’s arguments against inquiry. He objected to the Imperial Gas Company bill, 25 Feb. 1828, as it contained contradictory clauses regarding the company’s right to buy its own shares on the stock market. The Times reported that he had been incorrectly listed as having divided against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., when he had not voted.11 He divided against Catholic relief, 12 May. In presenting a Flintshire lead miners’ petition against the small notes bill, 22 May, he offered his own ‘disinterested opinion, for personal interest I have none’. He predicted that it would ‘occasion temporary distress’, as the diversion of gold to cover the withdrawn notes would deprive ‘the productive classes’ of capital and thus inflict unemployment and distress on the labourers. He feared that the gaols would be ‘crowded with criminals’ as a result. Further consideration was needed before any measure was enacted, although he insisted that he was ‘not and never have been a friend to an unlimited paper circulation’. He claimed that the 1819 Act had reduced the value of money by 25-33 per cent, 5 June, and protested against the separate small notes bill for Scotland, which should have ‘the same currency, founded on the same laws’ as in England; he was a minority teller for a select committee. He was reportedly ‘determined to pepper Huskisson’ on this issue.12 He advised the government to ‘leave the currency of Scotland alone’, 27 June, as it was doubtful whether the Scottish banks had sufficient gold to cover the withdrawn notes, and he foresaw ‘a recurrence of 1825’ if the bill was pressed; he was a minority teller against the third reading. He opposed the duke of Wellington’s ministry by voting not to recommit the East Retford disfranchisement bill, 27 June, and against the corporate funds bill, 10 July, but was with them against abolishing the office of lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July, and for inquiry into the silk trade, 14 July. He condemned the import duty imposed by the United States on rolled iron, which ‘amounted to an actual prohibition’ and was ‘obviously directed against England’, 18 July, and concluded that ‘we could not safely or honourably enter into a treaty of commerce’ with the Americans. On 25 July 1828 he criticized ministers for failing to ensure that the reciprocity treaty with France was complied with in respect to the tonnage duties levied on British ships in French ports, and hinted at ‘retaliatory measures’; the situation was ‘little calculated to convey any favourable opinion of those treaties’.

In February 1829 Planta, the patronage secretary, predicted that Attwood would side ‘with government’ on Catholic emancipation, but in fact he divided against their bill, 18, 27 Mar. He voted against the silk trade bill, 1 May, as it offered no protection to that industry, whose difficulties he attributed to an ‘injudicious’ commercial policy which had encouraged French competition. He concluded that ministers had ‘arrived at no consistent view of the system of free trade on which they think they are proceeding, or at any accurate knowledge of the details of that branch of commerce to which it is applied’. Whereas measures had been taken to promote cheap imports, no corresponding removal of restrictions or reduction of duties had occurred ‘in any port of Europe, on British commerce, or on any article of British production’. By encouraging imports without providing the means for an expansion of exports to pay for them, the ‘natural consequence’ of the government’s policy would be the destruction of British industries. In his opinion ‘the most advantageous of all markets is the home market of consumption’, and if the silk industry was protected, prosperous weavers would have the means to purchase the products of other British industries, thereby helping to preserve the nation’s ‘sources of riches and power’. Unfortunately, ministers were guided not by ‘the common understanding of mankind ... but by abstract and speculative maxims’. However, he emphasized that the true origin of the ‘universal disorder which overspreads the country’ lay in the government’s ‘erroneous and calamitous’ monetary policy. On 8 May he attacked the chancellor of the exchequer Goulburn’s ‘preposterous assumption’ drawn from official statistics that the economy was flourishing. He believed that relief from distress would contribute more towards Ireland’s ‘permanent tranquillity’ than the ‘doubtful boon of Catholic privileges’, which had ‘rendered unstable and insecure much of what was most stable and valuable in England’. In another attack on the ’impotent’ policy of trade reciprocity, 11 May, he noted how in spite of Britain reducing its import duty on wool, to the detriment of its own farmers, the Americans had imposed a duty on woollen cloth which meant that any benefit to British manufacturers was lost. He expressed ‘satisfaction’ at the size of the Birmingham petition for currency reform or tax reductions, 4 June, claimed that ‘by our alterations in the value of money we have surreptitiously increased the amount of taxation’ and demanded an inquiry. In response to the Blackburn petition on manufacturing distress, 12 June, he feared that many industries would be ‘utterly annihilated’, bringing ‘destitution, famine and despair’ to ‘millions of our labourers’. It was an ‘indelible reproach’ to the Commons that it had failed to act, and its preoccupation with ‘business deriving its chief importance from the exaggerated violence of party conflict’ had further convinced the people that it was ‘a body utterly inefficient and incompetent’. He voted with the minority to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May. That summer he used his bank to collect subscriptions to help the proprietors of the Morning Journal maintain its staunchly Protestant stance. In October 1829 he wrote to Sir Richard Vyvyan*, the Ultra Tory leader:

It is a common expression at present amongst those connected immediately with the administration that there is no opposition. They cannot find that there is any party of Tories connected together in opposition. I shall regret if this proves so, for I believe that there is no administration, no ministry possessing the confidence, either of the king, or of Parliament, or of the country, or which does not feel that it is destitute of either. This great country has been by feeble and abominable measures converted into one wide den of misery and ruin and is so left. It is a conjuncture which calls loudly for the exertions of every public man of right principles. There is a report that the duke of Wellington has decided on abandoning the present system of currency, and that he has arranged with Mr. Huskisson some new system which the latter is to bring forward, of course joining the duke’s administration. I do not know what credit is due to this, but I hear it from an authority which I should be disposed to pay some attention to ... Nothing I am satisfied but a bank restriction, the issues regulated, but the restriction permanent, or to be succeeded by gold money of unaltered standard, will enable this country or Ireland to sustain the pressure of their public burthens and private engagements. Bank restriction or a great convulsion, are I am persuaded the alternatives before us. I look on it as an indispensable duty to urge this in Parliament whenever it meets.13

During the 1830 session he moved into outright opposition to the government. He divided for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address on distress, 4 Feb. Next day he complained of the ‘incorrect representation of the state of the country’ in the king’s speech, and maintained that customs figures showing a growth in exports were ‘worth nothing’ as they ignored the fact that falling prices meant producers were unable to obtain an adequate remuneration. He predicted that ministers would resort to a temporary issue of bank notes, as they had done before, but unless the monetary system was ‘wholly changed’ the country faced ‘an eternal succession of depression ... and prosperity’. A Whig Member was surprised that ‘the House ... listened so well on such a subject’.14 He rejected Hume’s ‘impractical’ demand for extensive tax reductions, 9 Feb. He moved for a return of the amount of sovereigns issued and received by the Bank, 11 Feb., in order to show that the Small Notes Act had removed more gold from circulation than ministers would admit. He argued that as the 1819 Act had reduced the value of money by 25 per cent, the salaries of public servants should be adjusted accordingly, 12 Feb. He voted to limit the grant to the army to six months, 19 Feb., omit the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar., deduct the lieutenant-general’s salary from the ordnance estimates, 29 Mar., obtain a return of privy councillors’ emoluments, 14 May, and reduce the grants for Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, 14 June. He favoured an inquiry into the state of the nation, 19 Mar., preferably by a committee of the whole House. He attributed the growing demand in the country for parliamentary reform to the House’s neglect of its ‘first duty’ of ‘preserving the national welfare’, and hoped that by an inquiry it would ‘vindicate its ancient character’. He dismissed the ‘ridiculous’ attempts to blame the distress on over-population, the introduction of machinery or the effect of bad weather on the harvests, and pointed to ‘artificial causes’: the ‘system of free trade’, which had made Britain the ‘laughing stock of the civilized globe’, and the government’s ‘incessant’ tampering with the currency. He undertook to show that ‘remedial measures’ were available which involved ‘no breach of public faith or national honour’. He gave notice of a motion on the state of the currency, 29 Mar., but reluctantly postponed it owing to Members’ ‘abuse’ of their right to discuss petitions, 20 May, and did not bring it on until 8 June. He spoke for two hours and 20 minutes, providing a lengthy historical account of the subject, and moved two resolutions, to ‘re-establish [the] legitimate and ancient metallic standard’ by making silver money legal tender for all transactions, and to permit the circulation of small bank notes in England. He maintained that his proposals would cause prices and wages to rise, whereas taxes would remain unchanged, thus affording relief to taxpayers. He would have gone further and raised ‘the whole question relative to our present standard of value’, but recognized that many Members had ‘pledged ... their political consistency to the main principles of the 1819 Act’ and had therefore decided to adopt a ‘more limited but ... more practicable course’. However, as one Member recorded, ‘the sense of the House was so decidedly against the resolutions that Attwood did not divide’. According to one historian, ‘bimetallism finally stepped beyond the pale’ when Attwood embraced it with his ‘frankly depreciatory’ resolutions.15 He voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., and for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May. He divided against Lord Ellenborough’s divorce bill, 6 Apr. He voted to consider abolishing the office of lord lieutenant of Ireland, 11 May. He paired for the abolition of capital punishment for forgery, 24 May, 7 June. He divided against the administration of justice bill, 18 June, and increased recognizances in the libel law amendment bill, 9 July. He voted against the sale of beer for consumption in beer houses, 21 June, 1 July 1830. At the general election that summer he was returned for Boroughbridge on the interest of the 4th duke of Newcastle, despite opposition from pro-government Tory candidates supported by the inhabitants.16

In the autumn of 1830 the Wellington ministry listed Attwood as one of the ‘bad doubtfuls’, with the additional note that he was a ‘violent Ultra’; he voted against them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. He regretted that Lord Grey’s ministry had no plans for inquiry into the currency question and doubted whether they could ‘make any improvement in the state of the country by retrenchment’, 13 Dec. He explained next day that employers had adopted the truck system as an alternative to wage reductions at a time of falling prices brought about by the monetary system. His hopes that the new government would prove itself ‘equal to the dangers of the time’ had been ‘disappointed’, 21 Dec., but he denied that he was an opponent ‘in the common acceptance of that term, for I do not rank myself as a partisan on either side, my party being that of the country’. He agreed it was the government’s duty to inquire into civil list pensions, 23 Dec., but saw this as no remedy for distress and warned that any ‘temporary popularity’ derived from it would be followed by ‘public execration’. He urged ministers to concentrate on restoring the nation’s ‘ancient prosperity and happiness’ and not to ‘attempt any measure which is not calculated ... to uphold the constitution in the eyes of the people’. He complained that the reduction of the barilla duties by means of a resolution rather than by statute was ‘derogatory and insulting to the House’, 7 Feb. 1831. He thought the chancellor of the exchequer, Lord Althorp, should have persisted with his tax on transfers of funded property, which ought to ‘contribute in proportion with other property to the expenditure of the country’, 14 Feb. However, he described Althorp’s other proposals as ‘one eternal round of errors and trifling changes’, and condemned the tax on steamboat passengers, as steam navigation was ‘a source of great national wealth’ and likely in future to be ‘a great weapon of national warfare’. He accused the government of ‘sacrificing the colonial timber trade and the shipping interest’ through its proposed revision of the timber duties, 15 Mar., and feared that it would ‘ruin’ the people of Canada and ‘ultimately lead to the downfall’ of Britain. He described the ‘great doctrine of the political economists’, that capital flowed naturally from less to more profitable industries, as a ‘fallacy’, 18 Mar., and warned that the extension of this principle to other colonial produce might become ‘the means of loosening every link by which our colonial empire is bound together’, while it might also be applied to the protection given to domestic industries such as agriculture. He was astonished that ministers were ‘putting into experiment the crude schemes of a miserable philosophy which may lead to the most grievous national embarrassment’. He presented a Bristol petition for repeal of the assessed taxes, 29 Mar. He dismissed the ‘paltry’ grant of £50,000 to relieve Irish distress as ‘wholly inefficient’, 30 Mar, and urged a more generous provision for ‘the immediate relief of a case so pressing’. He condemned the ministry’s ‘revolutionary and dangerous’ reform bill, which aimed at ‘tearing up the foundations of the constitution’, 8 Mar. The government’s power rested on ‘the discontent of the people’, but the ‘popular clamour’ for reform arose mainly from distress and the burden of taxation, which ‘this measure will not remove’. In time a ‘similar agitation’ would therefore be raised ‘against the remaining bulwarks of the constitution’, perhaps ending in ‘a confiscation of property’. He asserted that the ‘manufacturing and ... trading classes’ were ‘more efficiently and more numerously represented’ under the existing system than they would be under the proposed measure, as the smaller boroughs provided numerous opportunities for them to enter the House, whereas the larger ones seldom returned Members of their kind. Nor would he ‘sacrifice Old Sarum’ and other pocket boroughs, as they afforded representation to ‘that class which possesses the great mass of the landed property of this country’. He warned that ‘we are destroying the present mixed representation ... in which all classes of the people are embodied, and ... are about to make the House of Commons a strictly popular assembly’, when there was no example in history of a ‘purely democratic’ chamber existing ‘in conjunction with an hereditary monarchy and an aristocracy’. He urged Members ‘not to trust the theories of modern times, but to take counsel of the wisdom of our ancestors, and to look at the destruction which has been brought on a neighbouring nation’. His speech was apparently ‘considered the best ... on the opposite side of the House except Baring’s’.17 He voted against the bill’s second reading, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he was returned unopposed for Boroughbridge, which faced disfranchisement.

On the address, 21 June 1831, he drew attention to the ‘grave and important fact’ that the duties on coal and slate had been ‘repealed without an Act of Parliament’, as ministers had obtained a dissolution ‘with breathless haste, in order to serve the purposes of their own party politics’. He warned that this practice was introducing ‘a degree of uncertainty’ into the taxation system, which was ‘highly prejudicial to the public faith and hazardous to the public creditor’. He accused the government of jeopardizing the Cape wine trade in pursuit of its ‘wild theory of free trade’, 11 July, and condemned the ‘absurd project’ of buying in the cheapest market ‘without reference to any other considerations’. He complained that the reduced duties on French and Portuguese wines also lacked proper parliamentary sanction, 4 Aug., and alleged that the Commons’ resolution of 11 July had only been carried because Althorp had summoned a large number of Members to the treasury beforehand, ‘in a kind of inner Parliament’, and sent them ‘to vote upon it without discussion’, while the opposition was ‘taken by surprise’. Taxes were thus being levied on the people under the ‘pretence of not delaying the reform bill’. He divided against the second reading of the reintroduced bill, 6 July. He entered a ‘solemn protest’ against this ‘violent and uncalled-for innovation on the constitution’, which must ‘lead to incalculable evils’, 12 July. He maintained that the ‘present system possesses great advantages even from the very anomalies and apparent inconsistencies in it’, and that the unreformed Parliament had ‘framed laws which have advanced the country in civilization ... promoted the interests and well-being of all classes’ and ‘secured the rights of property’. The smaller boroughs had often returned ‘men of the most distinguished talents’ and facilitated the election of ‘representatives of different interests ... especially those connected with our extensive colonies’. In his personal experience, he had ‘never seen any of the bribery or corruption prevail that we have heard so much of’, and it was only on such grounds that disfranchisement could be justified. He feared the presence in a reformed Parliament of men ‘more attached to republicanism than to tranquillity’, returned ‘by means unconnected with the settled institutions of the country’, who would be ‘prepared to subvert ... these institutions’. He also declared that if ministers rejected the petition to transfer Appleby from schedule A to B, there would be ‘no injustice or tyranny which, under the colour of [their] majority, they could not perpetrate’. He voted three times that day for adjournment motions and was a minority teller for one of them. Thereafter he was prominent among those whom a ministerialist described as the ‘longwinded and tiresome opponents’ of reform.18 He rejected the ‘imputations of interested and factious motives’ made against the opposition, 14 July, and demanded that ‘some distinct line and principle ... be laid down’ before the disfranchising clauses were considered. He thought the ‘charge of partiality’ against ministers was ‘clearly supportable’, 19 July, when he saw Calne and Tavistock retain their representation while Appleby was ‘harshly treated’. Ministers had ‘no settled plan’ for deciding whether or not to extend the boundaries of boroughs and simply adopted ‘the course which to them seems best’. He voted that day to use the 1831 census for the purpose of scheduling boroughs. He ‘distinctly denied’ the House’s right to ‘destroy the privileges’ of Boroughbridge, 20 July, regarded the disfranchisement of Minehead as proof of ministers’ determination to ‘destroy as many boroughs as possible’, 22 July, and lamented the loss of Old Sarum, 26 July. He voted next day to postpone consideration of Chippenham’s inclusion in schedule B. On 29 July he opposed the adjournment of the House until next day, a Saturday, which was an act of ‘precipitancy [by] the most arbitary administration I have ever known’. He attended on the 30th to protest against this ‘unfair’ proceeding, and read a circular note that had been sent to Members on the government side requesting their presence the previous day, when no intimation of an adjournment motion had been given to the opposition. He divided against the bill’s passage, 21 Sept. He expressed satisfaction that the Commons had ‘at length resumed its proper duties’ by debating the condition of the labouring poor, 11 Oct. 1831, observing that this would do more to ‘assuage the troubled waters of discontent’ than the reform bill.

He divided against the second reading of the revised bill, 17 Dec. 1831, the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., the third reading, 22 Mar., and the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May 1832. He attributed the decline of glove making to the free trade policies advocated by ‘certain quacks’, 31 Jan. He predicted that Althorp would have to reimpose the taxes he had recently repealed in order to cover the budget deficit, 6 Feb., and called on ministers to admit that they could not relieve distress through retrenchment. He blamed the threefold increase in criminal convictions since 1806 on ‘a state of distress unknown at former times’, 22 May. He was named that day to the committee of secrecy on the renewal of the Bank of England’s charter. He voted for a permanent provision for the Irish poor from a tax on absentees, 19 June. He adverted once more to the ‘utter folly of our present commercial policy’, 3 July, and thought the poor attendance of Members ‘does little credit to this House’. He condemned ministers for taking the country to the ‘verge of a bloody and expensive war’ in order to intimidate the ‘heroic’ king of the Netherlands, 6 Feb. He argued that the Dutch had an ‘undoubted right to a greater extension of territory’ following the separation from Belgium, 26 Mar., as they had given up ‘some of [their] best colonies’ as part of the settlement in 1815. He divided against the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July. He dismissed ministers’ claim that they were powerless to prevent the dispatch of vessels from London to wage war against the Portuguese government, 26 Mar. 1832.

At the general election of 1832 Attwood was returned for the new borough of Whitehaven, and he sat as ‘a Conservative [who] entertains strong opinions of the necessity of enlarging the currency’ until his retirement in 1847.19 He inherited nothing from his father’s estate in 1836.20 He died in November 1851, and administration of his estate was granted to his ‘only child’ Matthias Wolverley Attwood (1808-65), Conservative Member for Greenwich, 1837-41.21

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1852), i. 192-3.
  • 2. R. Cornw. Gazette, 19 Feb., 11, 18 Mar. 1820.
  • 3. B. Hilton, Corn, Cash, Commerce, 92.
  • 4. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 12 June 1822.
  • 5. The Times, 7 May 1825.
  • 6. Ibid. 16 Mar. 1825.
  • 7. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Denison diary, 13 Feb.; Agar Ellis diary, 13 Feb. 1826; Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC8/79.
  • 8. The Times, 25 Feb. 1826.
  • 9. Hilton, 140.