PAGET, Thomas (1778-1862), of Humberstone Hall, nr. Leicester, Leics.

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

Constituency

Dates

1831 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 30 Dec. 1778, o. s. of Thomas Paget, banker, of Ibstock, Leics. and Mary, da. of William Clare of Ibstock. m. 18 Feb. 1807, Anne, da. of John Pares of The Newarke, Leicester and Hopwell Hall, Derbys., 2s. suc. fa. 1814. d. 25 Nov. 1862.

Offices Held

Mayor, Leicester 1836-7.

Biography

Paget’s Unitarian father was a noted cattle breeder who turned to banking in Leicester in partnership with the Pares family. Paget joined the firm on coming of age, married the sister of Thomas Pares, the future Member for the borough, in 1807 and succeeded to his father’s partnership in 1824. He quickly sold out and established the bank of Paget and Kirby in 1825.1 He became active in Leicester politics as a supporter of ‘peace, reform and religious liberty’, and at the 1812 general election joined in the unsuccessful radical bid to overturn the corporation’s interest by putting up the reformer William Roscoe†.2 He chaired the Leicester dinner held to celebrate the Liverpool ministry’s abandonment of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline, 29 Nov. 1820, when Sir Francis Burdett* was the guest speaker.3 A persistent critic and opponent of the corporation and its jobbery, he opposed in 1822 a proposed improvement bill because it was to be financed from the rates rather than corporation funds, and in a series of letters to the local press vilified the corporation as ‘a polypus, who lies dead and silent in its native water’. That year he published a Letter to David Ricardo ‘on the true principles of estimating the extent of the late depreciation in the currency’, for which he was denounced by William Cobbett† as ‘an empty headed coxcomb’.4 On 29 Apr. 1824 he was nominated to the committee of St. Martin’s vestry, who were pressing for inquiry into the borough’s rates.5 He chaired the Leicester meeting called to petition in support of Catholic emancipation in February 1829, and censured ‘boroughmongers’ for inciting popular prejudice against it.6

At the general election of 1830 Paget, prompted and backed by his fellow dissidents in the borough, came forward for the county in opposition to the interest of the Tory 5th duke of Rutland, whose brother Lord Robert Manners had occupied one seat for almost 24 years. He was not quite accurately described to Lord Holland as ‘a Whig ... of the old school’,7 but he received support from the independent Whig county landowners Charles March Phillipps* and Robert Otway Cave* (another critic of corporation corruption and profligacy). In his two-hour speech at the nomination, he was said by a sympathetic reporter to have ‘electrified the freeholders in one of the finest bursts of eloquence ever heard in Castle Yard’. He called for abolition of the ‘injurious’ monopolies of the corn laws and the East India Company’s charter, dismissed the ‘nostrums’ of currency reformers, advocated the immediate abolition of slavery and revision of the criminal code, applauded the ‘glorious’ revolution in France and declared his support for such a measure of parliamentary reform, including the secret ballot, as would ‘give the ... Commons ... the efficient control of the public purse’. He trailed his opponents throughout the contest, but finished a respectable third, having received a vote from 40 per cent of those who polled. In his final speech from the hustings he observed that ‘the aristocracy had now found that the people had knowledge, and the power to exercise it’, and urged ‘perseverance’.8 At a radical reform dinner in Nottingham, 9 Nov., he portrayed himself as ‘the champion of the democracy of Leicester’, refuted clerical calumnies that he was ‘an infidel and a revolutionist’ and argued that reformers such as himself were the only persons who could avert a calamitous upheaval.9 Chairing a meeting to promote the independence of Leicestershire, 26 Nov., he ‘rejoiced in the fall’ of the Wellington ministry as ‘the death blow to a Tory domination, here, and to the Holy Alliance abroad’, and expressed ‘confidence in the disposition of the new [Grey] ministry to do good’.10 He presided and spoke at a Leicester reform meeting, 26 Dec. 1830. At the 1831 general election he offered for the county as a supporter of the ministerial reform scheme, denouncing the ‘borough mongers’ who had prospered from the corrupt old system, in contrast to the plight of the working classes of, for example, Hinckley, where he had seen ‘children walking without stockings, with scarcely a rag to cover them their mothers equally ill fed, ill clothed, with every mark of care, their fathers struggling with patient resignation’. He again denied that he was ‘a man of no religion, who regards not the obligations of Christianity’: ‘I am of the religion of my fathers, for hundreds of years’. Burdett, a Leicestershire landowner, who wanted to see his friend Otway Cave in the county seat, privately denounced Paget as ‘a blackguard’ and ‘a pendant to [Henry] Hunt*’. There were public accusations that Paget had tricked Otway Cave into supporting him in 1830 and calls from Burdett and his associate George De Lacy Evans* for him to step aside now, but he stood firm and, with Rutland’s brother having pulled out, he came in unopposed with March Phillipps. He proclaimed that ‘the path I have chosen to pursue will not be very smooth’ and hoped that his constituents would ‘not expect too much from one individual’. He applauded the end of ‘ducal influence’ in the county and promised to support the ministerial reform scheme and seek improvements to it, but not to ‘weaken’ it, and to oppose ‘all unnecessary expenditure of the public money’.11

Paget voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831, and divided steadily for most but not all of its details. He was in the minority for the disfranchisement of Saltash, 26 July. On 30 June he had given notice that he would move an instruction to the committee against the proposed division of counties. He advocated this ‘crotchet’ at a party meeting at Lord Althorp’s*, 11 July, and duly voted in the minority on the issue, 11 Aug.12 He voted with other radicals for the disfranchisement of Aldborough, 14 Sept. He divided for the third reading, 19, and passage of the bill, 21 Sept. He condemned the misapplication of corporate funds, 27 June, and alluded to Leicester corporation’s record of trying to ‘smother the elective franchise’. He favoured ‘equalizing the operation’ of the poor laws, 28 June. He wanted relaxation of the 1830 Sale of Beer Act, because it confined the trade to the ‘lowest description of dealers’, 30 June. On 1 July he approved the import duty on Russian tallow, called for repeal of that on soap, as ‘injurious to both health and industry’, and complained of the deficiencies in public accounts, recommending their presentation in a ‘simple and intelligible manner’. He was in small minorities against the grants for university professors’ salaries, 8 July, civil list services, 18 July, and the Society for Propagation of the Gospels in the colonies, 25 July, and next day demanded the ‘utmost economy’ in every branch of expenditure. He was in minorities for swearing the Dublin election committee, 29 July, and postponement of the new writ, 8 Aug., but he sided with government in the division on the controversy, 23 Aug. He voted for printing the Waterford petition for disarming the Irish yeomanry, 11 Aug. He advocated reform of the game laws, 8 Aug., and sought amelioration of the penal clauses in the government’s bill, 2 Sept. He said he was prepared to swallow the Lords’ amendments to secure the measure, 30 Sept., but he was listed as one of the three Members who divided against them. On 15 Aug. he deplored the number of clerical magistrates appointed by lord lieutenants and questioned the ‘propriety of extending an imperfect system to Ireland’. He voted for inquiry into the effects of renewing the Sugar Refinery Act, 12 Sept., when he expressed his ‘unqualified opposition’ to Littleton’s bill to abolish truck payments and was a teller for the hostile minority. He was named to the committee on the measure the next day and endorsed a petition calling for compensation for wrecked threshing machines, being convinced that machinery ‘which shortens labour eventually creates employment’. He initially approved the general register bill as likely to be of the ‘greatest advantage’ in facilitating transfers of landed property, 20 Sept.; but on 7 Dec. he complained that it was so arcane that ‘none but a professed lawyer can understand it’. He was in the minority of 12 for postponing consideration of the grant for the refurbishment of Buckingham House, 28 Sept., but on 11 Oct., the day after voting for Lord Ebrington’s motion of confidence in the ministry, he defended their general economic policy and attributed unemployment to a ‘deficiency of capital’ and, above all, to ‘the borough mongering system, the greedy cupidity, the avarice of the rapacious monsters who have preyed on the vitals of the country’. He refuted charges that the trades procession to St. James’s had been the work of a ‘bloody minded mob’, 12 Oct. He welcomed lord chancellor Brougham’s attempt to improve bankruptcy administration, 14, 17 Oct. 1831.

Paget divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and supported the bulk of its detailed provisions, but was in minorities against the enfranchisement of £50 tenants-at-will, 1 Feb., for the enfranchisement of all tax-paying householders, 2 Feb., and for Hunt’s proposal that election expenses should be met out of corporate funds and county rates, 15 Feb. 1832, when he predicted that as it stood the measure would exclude from the House all but ‘the superfluously rich, or the adventurous poor’. He supported the prayer of a Stamford petition against the imposition of the £10 franchise on former scot and lot boroughs, 19 Mar. He divided for the third reading, 22 Mar. He called for summary relief for hapless litigants in chancery, 20 Jan., and spoke and voted for a reform of select vestries, 23 Jan. When the government seemed to be facing defeat on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., some of their supporters persuaded Paget to move the adjournment of the debate on a flimsy pretext, but the ploy failed, and he was in the narrow ministerial majority in the division on the loan.13 Next day he reiterated his now ‘determined’ hostility to the general register bill. He was named to the committee on the bill, 22 Feb., and on 6 Mar. repudiated allegations of partiality in the nominations to it and objected to the addition of more county Members. He voted with ministers on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., but against them for printing the Woollen Grange petition for the abolition of Irish tithes and (with Hunt) for information on military punishments, 16 Feb., and inquiry into the Peterloo massacre, 15 Mar. He divided for the address asking the king to appoint only ministers who would carry undiluted reform, 10 May, and, when endorsing the Loughborough petition for supplies to be withheld until it was secured, 17 May, rejoiced ‘at the prospect of the present ministers continuing in power’. He had said as much in a public letter to the petitioners the previous day, noting that the ‘tyranny’ of ‘oligarchy’ had at last been overthrown’ without damage to the fabric of society.14 He voted against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish reform bill, 1 June. He voted to make inquests public, 20 June, to suspend army flogging, 19 June, for a system of representative government in New South Wales, 28 June, and for a reduction in the barracks grant, 2 July. On the boundaries bill, 22 June, he was in small minorities on the cases of Whitehaven and Stamford. On 9 July he argued against ‘interference with the currency’ and defended the payment of wages out of the poor rates. He again divided with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16, 20 July 1832.

Paget retired from Parliament at the dissolution of the last unreformed Parliament, but he remained a prominent figure in Leicester radicalism. He was elected to the reformed corporation, 26 Dec. 1835, and appointed mayor, 1 Jan. 1836, the first of seven to be chosen from the Unitarian body. He balked at the extremism of the Chartists.15 He was senior partner in the bank until his death in November 1862, when he was succeeded by his eldest son, Thomas Tertius Paget (1807-92), Liberal Member for Leicestershire South, 1867-8, 1880-6.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Simon Harratt

Notes

  • 1. W. Gardner, Music and Friends, i. 243; ii. 722-3; Gent. Mag. (1863), i. 381; R. Sayers, Lloyds Bank, 280, 350.
  • 2. R. Greaves, Leicester Corporation, 101, 114; Morning Chron. 21 Oct. 1812.
  • 3. Leicester Jnl. 1 Dec. 1820.
  • 4. Ibid. 25 Jan., 8, 15, 22 Nov. 1822.
  • 5. Leicester Borough Recs. vii. 292.
  • 6. Leicester Jnl. 20 Feb. 1829.
  • 7. Add. 51835, Goodwin to Holland [Aug. 1830].
  • 8. The Times, 11 Aug.; Leicester Jnl. 13, 20, 27 Aug. 1830
  • 9. Nottingham Rev. 12 Nov. 1830.