RICE, Thomas Spring (1790-1866), of Mount Trenchard, nr. Foynes, co. Limerick
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Family and Educationb. 8 Feb. 1790, 1st s. of Stephen Edward Rice of Mount Trenchard and Catherine, da. and h. of Thomas Spring of Ballycrispin, Castlemaine, co. Kerry. educ. Trinity Coll. Camb. 1809; L. Inn 1817. m. (1) 11 July 1811, Lady Theodosia Pery (d. 11 Dec. 1839), da. of Edmond Henry, 1st earl of Limerick [I], 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) 13 Apr. 1841, Mary Anne, da. of John Marshall*, s.p. suc. fa. 1831; cr. Bar. Monteagle 5 Sept. 1839. d. 7 Feb. 1866.
Under-sec. of state for home affairs July 1827-Jan. 1828; sec. to treasury Nov. 1830-June 1834; PC [I] 29 Apr. 1831, [UK] 5 June 1834; sec. of state for war and colonies June-Nov. 1834; chan. of exch. Apr. 1835-Aug. 1839; commr. on civil administration of army 1835-7, ecclesiastical duties and revenues 1835-7; trustee, Nat. Gallery 1835-d.; comptroller gen. exch. 1839-65; pres. Statistical Soc. 1845-7; chairman, commn. on decimal coinage 1855-9.
Chairman, Provincial Bank of Ireland.1
At one point nicknamed ‘Jack [John] the Painter’, after the radical dockyard arsonist James Aitken, whom he perhaps resembled, Rice was thought by Lord Donoughmore to be ‘the least-looking shrimp, and the lowest-looking one too’; and Henry Edward Fox*, who commented that his unbearable manner of speaking was like that of ‘an affected fine lady on the stage’, exclaimed after their first meeting that ‘a more conceited, chattering, provoking elf I never beheld’.2 Yet he was highly esteemed by the Whig leaders, of whom he acknowledged Lord Lansdowne as his chief, and by political friends in all parties, for his conversational ease, his conciliatory kind-heartedness, his indefatigable industry and his unwarranted optimism.3 A spry, quick-witted, voluble, little man, with a gift for hyperbole and the literary sensibilities of a poet, he was also one of the best-informed political economists of the Bowood circle and a member of the generation of devout liberal Anglican Whigs.4 In the Irish context, he was at the forefront of a group of influential liberal Protestants, who provided an alternative to the popular Catholic movement associated with Daniel O’Connell* by furthering the cause of moderate and cross-sectarian reforms, particularly through an emphasis on Christian citizenship.5 Yet it was considered a matter of regret, as expressed by Lady Holland, for instance, that his talents were not in the end quite sufficient to raise him out of the second rank of Westminster politicians, among whom he served a career of useful drudgery.6
Rice, whose family was Welsh in origin, was probably descended from Sir Stephen Rice (d. 1715), the Jacobite chief baron of the Irish exchequer. His grandfather Thomas purchased Mount Trenchard (formerly Cappagh) and married into the notable family of the knights of Kerry, while his father,7 who had a small electoral interest in county Limerick, married an heiress from neighbouring Kerry, where he was appointed sheriff in 1792.8 Avoiding the risk of what he much later described as the licentiousness of ‘base society’, Thomas’s early marriage, to the first cousin of his brother-in-law Sir Aubrey Vere Hunt, brought him a valuable connection in Lord Limerick, who had represented Limerick borough in the Irish Commons and now sat in the Lords as an (at this time still) anti-Catholic supporter of Lord Liverpool’s administration. He toyed with the idea of entering the diplomatic corps and briefly enrolled at Lincoln’s Inn, but by the 1810s he was evidently more interested in imbibing the liberal opinions of his Whig friend, the journalist William Empson.9 He established his reformist credentials with a pamphlet, published in London in 1815, on the iniquities of Irish grand juries: in it, declaring himself ‘unconnected with party [and] unperverted by personal animosities’, he urged Irish Members to end the financial mismanagement and political partisanship of local government in their country.10 This brought him into contact with the advanced Whig Francis Horner†, who was influenced by its arguments in questioning witnesses before the Commons select committee on the subject that year.11
Sidelining the former independent candidate John Tuthill, Rice offered for Limerick at the general election of 1818, when he had the backing of his father-in-law in standing against John Vereker, the son of his local rival Lord Gort, the borough’s patron. He made great play of his hard-working character, his hostility to corporation abuses and his hopes for the commercial improvement of his native city, but was defeated by nearly 300 votes after a protracted contest. He promised a petition and, setting out his opinions on the duties, as well as the freedom of action, of a representative, was hailed as their champion by the friends of independence at a dinner in late July 1818.12 His petition, which complained of the admission of non-resident freemen to the electorate of the county borough, was presented, 22 Jan., but was thrown out by the committee, which declined to take the usual course of accepting the pollbook evidence, 27 Feb. 1819. This decision was attacked in the Commons, 1 Mar., and again on the 5th, when Rice’s own objections were brought forward in another petition.13 A determined magistrate and grand juror, it was he who arrested Scanlan, the killer of the Colleen Bawn, in November 1819.14
Rice, who praised Croker’s speech on Catholic relief on 3 May 1819, attended at Westminster on Irish electoral affairs that year and in 1820, when he again challenged Vereker at the general election. His increased assertiveness on the hustings gave him a stronger claim, especially as he was no longer entirely seen as simply Lord Limerick’s nominee, but he finished in second place, 236 votes adrift.15 He petitioned and, the committee having redefined the right of voting to exclude the non-resident freemen, was seated in place of Vereker, 3 July. He voted against the aliens bill, 7, 12 July 1820, his only recorded activity that session. He was triumphantly chaired through Limerick on the 20th and enthusiastically participated in further efforts to weaken the corporation’s dominance that year.16 He had been admitted to Brooks’s in May and his close connection with the opposition Whig leadership was apparent by November, when O’Connell used him as a conduit to Henry Brougham* in his bid to be appointed one of Queen Caroline’s law officers.17 Rice’s nephew Stephen Edward De Vere, whose association with him began in 1820-1, later recorded that ‘from that time until his death he imparted to me, as I believe, all his political thoughts and actions [and] I saw his wonderful energy, straightforwardness and honesty’.18
‘Spring Rice’ as he now became universally known, presumably to distinguish him from the Welsh Tory George Rice (Trevor)*, became an extremely active, if not at first a very prominent, member of opposition from the beginning of the 1821 session, when he divided steadily in the Whig campaign on the queen’s behalf. He voted for Catholic claims, 28 Feb., but indicated that he would support securities in order to obtain this, despite personally deeming them unnecessary, 28 Feb., 28 Mar., 2 Apr., and, to O’Connell’s disgust, he presented and endorsed a petition to the contrary effect from the Catholic bishop and clergy of Limerick, 11 Apr.19 Thereafter he spoke and voted with exemplary regularity, especially for economies and reduced taxation, as well as on legal matters, foreign policy and miscellaneous domestic controversies and, of course, Irish issues, occasionally serving as a teller. He was frequently appointed to select committees, including some on English social and economic affairs, and busied himself ceaselessly with minor Irish legislation, such as a measure concerning stealing from shops which he piloted through the Commons that year.20
A dedicated constituency Member, he often presented Limerick petitions, notably on commercial matters: for instance, those complaining of agricultural distress, 26 Feb., and of the obstacle posed by the corporation to investment in the city, 1 May 1821.21 He brought up many others from Ireland, including for Catholic relief, in this period, and, as his reputation grew, not least as the opponent of other corrupt corporations, petitions from British reformers and radicals were increasingly forwarded to him for presentation. He divided for making Leeds a scot and lot, and not a £10 householder, borough, 2 Mar., and it was perhaps at this time, in relation to the disfranchisement of Grampound, that he told his Cambridge acquaintance George Pryme that ‘it was said on that occasion among a few of his friends, "reform is now carried".’22 He voted for parliamentary reform, 9 May, and to ensure the independence of Parliament by the exclusion of placemen, 31 May 1821. He divided silently for inquiry into the Scottish royal burghs, 20 Feb., and to condemn the present influence of the crown, 24 June 1822. He voted for Russell’s reform motions, 25 Apr. 1822, 20 Feb. 1823, 27 Apr. 1826, and to amend the Scottish representative system, 2 June 1823, and the electoral franchise of Edinburgh, 26 Feb. 1824, 13 Apr. 1826.
In October 1821 he played a major part in restoring peace to county Limerick, but he questioned the propriety of addressing the king on this at a meeting of Irish landowners in London that winter.23 Having voted for Hume’s amendment to the address on distress, 5 Feb., he joined his equally dynamic friend Sir John Newport in refusing to endorse government’s repressive legislation unless accompanied by an inquiry into the causes of the unrest, to the annoyance of the Irish secretary Goulburn, 7 Feb. 1822.24 He divided against the Irish suspension of habeas corpus bill that day and on the 11th, and unsuccessfully moved amendments to the Irish insurrection bill (on retaining trial by jury and the appointment of justices in county boroughs), 8 Feb., when he was in the minority against its passage. He made what Sir James Mackintosh* described as ‘a very powerful and eloquent answer’ to Goulburn in an informative speech in support of Newport’s motion on the state of Ireland, 22 Apr., and was damning in his criticisms of ministers for failing to sanction ameliorative Irish measures, 8 July.25 He approved Goulburn’s poor employment bill, 16 May, and expressed his gratitude for English generosity in relieving the victims of the Irish famine, 17 June, but he opposed the constables bill as ineffective, 7 June, and urged that greater alterations be made in the system of Irish tithes, for instance on 19 June 1822, when he was a teller for the minority for inquiry. By that summer he was said by his correspondent Maria Edgeworth to be ‘one of the most distinguished men in the British Parliament’, and O’Connell flattered him that there was ‘no Irish Member who possesses near so much of the public confidence as you already do’.26
His raised standing in Ireland, which was recognized by his admission to the freedom of Dublin, 4 Jan. 1823, reflected his role in several vexed Irish parliamentary questions.27 He led calls for the Irish chief baron, Standish O’Grady, whose son and namesake sat for county Limerick, to be censured for charging excessive fees, making what Henry Grey Bennet* described as ‘a clear, convincing statement’ of the allegations, 22 June 1821.28 He was named to the select committee on this, 26 June, but Lord Londonderry, the foreign secretary, had further consideration postponed, 3 July 1821, and again, 4 July 1822.29 Claiming to be disinterested in the outcome, Rice reintroduced the case, 12 Feb., secured another select committee, 19 Mar., and called on ministers to take it up, 16 May 1823. Failing this, he pursued it with increasing impatience, proposing nine resolutions, 13, 17 June, 2, 3, 8 July, and, although relieved to bring the matter to an end, he acted as a teller for the minority against Scarlett’s motion, which he found unsatisfactory, declaring that no further proceedings would be taken against O’Grady, 9 July 1823. Apparently in consequence of this, the chief baron’s son Waller grossly insulted Lord Limerick, leaving Rice, who took the affair with deadly seriousness, no choice but to issue a challenge to a duel, which was meant to take place near Dublin on 8 Feb. 1824. As George Richard Philips*, who deemed it a triumph for Rice, recounted: ‘With true Irish dexterity the peace officers seized the seconds and not the principals, and for three or four days Rice was dodging the police, for he was determined that it should not be said that he had avoided fighting’. Waller O’Grady later apologized.30
Rice, who was also closely involved with the concurrent inquiry relating to the corporation of Dublin, chaired the select committee on Limerick local taxation, from which he reported in favour of remedial legislative action, 31 July 1822.31 Having clashed with Gort at a meeting in Limerick about this, and on the city’s address congratulating the lord lieutenant Lord Wellesley on escaping unharmed from the Dublin theatre riot at the turn of the year, he brought up his constituency’s petition complaining of abuses in the corporation, 11 Mar. 1823, and oversaw the passage of the ensuing Limerick Regulation Act that session.32 He praised government’s Irish tithes proposals, 6 Mar., 21 Apr., but argued for changes to the grand jury presentments bill, 14 Mar., and, despite being broadly favourable to another insurrection bill, was a minority teller for Lord Althorp’s amendment for prior inquiry into the state of Ireland, 12 May, when he complained that nothing had been done to increase employment of the Irish poor.33 Having obtained Goulburn’s acquiescence, 18 June, he was the first Member named to the select committee, 20 June, and presented his report, which urged direct public investment, 16 July 1823.34 This formed the basis of Maberly’s motion for an advance of capital to Ireland, to which Rice gave his full approval, 4 May 1824. He also chaired a handful of other committees, such as that on the survey and valuation of Ireland that year, and he was, of course, appointed to the significant inquiries on his native country, 11 May 1824, 17 Feb. 1825.35
He condemned the outrages perpetrated by Orangemen in a letter to Lansdowne, 1 Feb., as he did in the House, 12 Feb., 10, 24 Mar. 1823, when he was teller for the majority against the production of information on the theatre attack; he privately speculated that the replacement of Wellesley with an anti-Catholic might, by precipitating a crisis, actually lead to emancipation, although he admitted that this was not only ‘a deep game, but a dangerous and perhaps a criminal one’.36 He spoke and voted for Catholic relief, 17 Apr., and although he disapproved of Burdett’s secession that day, he opined to O’Connell that ‘it worked well for us, for we should not have had as good a division as we might have expected; and as it is that calamity was averted. All I am confident will yet be well with prudence. The quieter we are the better’.37 He had been expected to support the Irish attorney-general Plunket’s use of ex-officio informations on the Dublin Orange rioters against Brownlow’s censure motion on the 15th, and, although he did not speak that day, he insisted, 22 Apr. 1823, when he was in the majority for inquiry, that the real issue was the perversion of justice by the Dublin sheriff and grand jury.38
As energetic as ever on a wide range of subjects in the following session, he (as he repeatedly did in subsequent years) spoke against the grant for Irish Protestant charter schools, 15 Mar., and for securing proper use of the Irish first fruits fund, 25 May, and he voted for Hume’s motion for inquiry into the Irish church establishment, 6 May 1824. Back in Ireland late that summer to pick up election intelligence and forward Limerick business, he was credited with being one of the most efficient Irish Members, but O’Connell wrote sourly to his wife from Tralee, where Rice had sat on the grand jury, that he ‘would have had a public compliment paid to him if I had not interfered. I am quite dissatisfied with him and his politics’.39 This probably reflected Rice’s doubts about the growing influence of the Catholic Association, which he felt would alienate moderate opinion on the Catholic question and make it less likely that a compromise could be reached with the leading Irish Protestants. Writing to Lansdowne, 8 Dec. 1824, he predicted that at the next election the Catholic tenants would desert their landlords in droves, which
in most places will make the separation between the upper and lower orders greater than ever; between them will be opened that great gulf which cannot be passed; the violence and the animosities will be frightful, and if not arrested will make our condition more hopeless than ever.
Yet he also conceded that to attempt to suppress the Association would only worsen the situation.40
Thus, in early 1825, when there were apparently rumours that he would replace William Gregory as Irish under-secretary, he was active in the opposition’s resistance to the Irish unlawful societies bill.41 He opposed giving leave for the bill, not on the ground that the excesses of the Association were largely pardonable, but because it was rather by concession than by repression that Ireland was to be pacified, 14 Feb. He spoke and was a teller for the Catholics’ leaders to be heard at the bar against it, 18 Feb., when he called for Catholic relief, and he moved the unsuccessful wrecking amendment against the third reading, basing his argument on the constitutional right of Irishmen to gather together in order to advance their interests, 25 Feb. He participated in the questioning of O’Connell that day, and was involved in the preparations for the presentation of the Irish Catholics’ petition on 1 Mar., when, as on 21 Apr., 10 May, he of course voted for their claims.42 He supported the related franchise measure as a salutary electoral development, 28 Mar., when he presented and endorsed the petition from his county’s Catholics in favour of emancipation accompanied by securities, and 9 May, as well as the proposal for the state payment of Catholic priests, 29 Apr. He stated that he felt wretched at the defeat of the relief measure in the Lords, 18 May, and on the 26th made a long speech on moving for papers on the state of religious animosities in Ireland. He complained bitterly that nothing had been done to improve the country’s condition, recommended that further evidence be produced to influence peers in favour of concession and advocated steps to prevent the increase of divisive sectarianism, but he acceded to calls not to force a vote, admitting that he had at least been able to provoke an extensive debate. One contemporary source sourly remarked that he had been ‘very active, but not very profound’ during the session.43
Rice, who was considered popular enough to be secure in his seat during electoral speculation that autumn, signed the requisition for a pro-Catholic county Limerick meeting (which the sheriff refused to authorize) and spoke in favour of emancipation at the Catholics’ provincial meeting in Limerick, 24 Oct. 1825.44 He was, nevertheless, convinced of the need to hold back agitation on the issue during the last session before a general election, and declined to attend the O’Connellite dinner to the friends of religious and civil liberty in Dublin on 2 Feb. 1826.45 He had his first two articles, on Irish education and the sculptor Canova, published in the Edinburgh Review that winter.46 He asked that the emergency banking regulations should be extended to Ireland, 15 Feb., and briefly called for a commission on Irish tolls and customs, 16 Feb. With Newport, he introduced a bill to alter Irish local jurisdictions, 9, 20 Mar., and secured its passage that session.47 He strongly attacked the Protestant bias inherent in Irish religious education, 20 Mar., failed in his attempt to amend the Irish church rates bill to the advantage of Catholic and Presbyterian places of worship, 21 Apr., and was reluctantly drawn into a vindication of Catholic relief by George Robert Dawson’s vitriolic attack on him, 28 Apr. 1826.
Early that year Rice exchanged a series of addresses with a rival, ostensibly independent, candidate at Limerick, Samuel Dickson, who, however, soon withdrew. Rice, who boasted of the reforms he had obtained and supported Catholic relief (on which he acknowledged he had not been pledged in 1820), alteration of the corn laws and further retrenchment, was therefore returned unopposed at the general election of 1826, when he seconded Richard Fitzgibbon* in the county contest.48 He also attended the Mallow contest in support of his brother-in-law Lord Glentworth.49 In his pastoral letter on the education of the Catholic poor that August, Bishop Doyle praised Rice, ‘whose talents and whose zeal for the public interests have on this occasion, as on many others, placed him foremost among his countrymen’.50 He gave notice of a motion, for after the Christmas recess, on the government of Ireland, 28 Nov. 1826, and informed Wellesley’s secretary Colonel Merrick Shawe the following day that the real point behind it was to consider the substitution of a cabinet minister for the lord lieutenant in order to bypass the ‘arts of counteraction’ practised by the Irish administration. A week later he complained to Shawe that his intentions had been misunderstood (‘my countrymen at large have a most ingenious faculty for misapprehension’) and despaired: ‘What a state our country is in. I think there is more real danger though latent than in 98 or 1803’.51
In January 1827 Rice published, as a letter addressed to Liverpool, his pamphlet in favour of Catholic Emancipation, which Wellesley admired and which Lansdowne, who had seen it the previous month, lauded as ‘clear, striking and dispassionate’.52 Unlike Lansdowne, in February Rice was among those Whigs who, not least because ‘the safety of the Protestant establishment in Ireland requires Catholic emancipation’, were for persisting with the planned motion for relief, despite Liverpool’s recent stroke. He was involved in the planning for 5 Mar., including by informing the police about Raikes’s challenge to Brougham, who might otherwise have been unable to attend.53 His contribution, which, according to Charles Richard Fox*, was ‘the speech of the night’, was much admired, although George Agar Ellis* thought he had spoken only ‘tolerably’.54 He was a teller for the minority the following day and on the 7th, summoning Edward John Littleton* to take part in a Whig confabulation, confided that ‘great interests in both countries - the very existence of Ireland - all in short is at stake. God forgive those whose follies and wickedness have overthrown our hopes for a time - but it is for a time only’.55 He assumed an increasingly high profile that spring, for example on the allegations against Leicester corporation, 15 Mar., Brownlow’s motion for information on the Orange procession and Lisburn magistrates, 29 Mar., and the Irish miscellaneous estimates, 5 Apr. 1827.
Rice voted in the minority for Tierney’s motion to postpone the committee of supply, 30 Mar. 1827, but was clearly favourable to the appointment of the pro-Catholic Canning as prime minister the following month. He pressed O’Connell to show forbearance so as not to weaken the new premier’s position among the Tories and, with Brougham, John Calcraft* and Lord Dudley, he was one of the ‘principal performers’ in the negotiations between Canning and the moderate Lansdowne Whigs.56 Although said to be eager for office, he at an early stage declined Canning’s offer to him, as an individual, of a seat at the India board, and it was recorded (in the account of his political life that he gave in 1843) that he did so ‘on the grounds that as a party man he should go with his party’.57 He told Canning that he would vote with government ‘zealously and anxiously’, but, even with his patron’s blessing, he felt he had to make the painful decision to stand aloof as long as there was any prospect of an administration being formed in full co-operation with Lansdowne.58 Much to the regret of O’Connell, who was intent on ‘non-oranging Ireland’, he was therefore not in office during the initial stage of the new ministry.59 Nevertheless, he took his seat behind Canning on the treasury side of the Commons, 1 May, and he heard the duke of Wellington deliver his hostile but ‘admirable’ speech in the Lords the following day.60 He spoke several times, mainly on non-party topics, during the remainder of the session, for instance in favour of a select committee on Irish grand jury presentments, to which he was named, 6 June, and liaised with William Lamb*, the Irish secretary, on minor legislation.61 He divided in the majority for the disfranchisement of Penryn, which Canning was forced to accept, 28 May, but sided with ministers for the grant for water communications in Canada, 12 June 1827.
By that time there were rumours that the king, already unhappy with the intended appointment of Lansdowne to the home office, would refuse Rice’s nomination as under-secretary, not least because he was perceived, as Mrs. Arbuthnot recorded, as ‘a most violent ultra Whig, who, among other pledges, has given notice of a motion for abolishing the lord lieutenancy’.62 However, Canning, despite being furious about Rice’s attempt to undermine his own pet scheme for the government of Ireland, named him to the post in mid-July 1827. Lord Londonderry, a disaffected Ultra Tory, believed this indicated that Lansdowne was ‘omnipotent’ within the ministry, while the Whig Edward Ellice*, disappointed by the limited number of places offered to opposition, consoled himself with the observation that ‘Lansdowne and Spring Rice will be something to the purpose’.63 As he later acknowledged, Rice had no hesitation in accepting the under-secretaryship because, by becoming the de facto home office minister in the Commons, ‘his position and status were thus permanently established’.64 Writing to congratulate him on this promotion, the English Whig Edward Davies Davenport*, who believed ‘that no greater boon could be conferred upon the half starved people of this and your native country’, commented that ‘you will have little trouble in Parliament; men must feel disposed to confide in you’.65 The expectation that Rice would soon be ‘intermeddling in everything’ led to the retirement of the home office civil servant Henry Hobhouse, and even the more equable Lamb was not entirely pleased by his frenetic interest in Irish affairs, which included the compilation of a list of nine legislative proposals for the following session.66
Canning’s death in early August 1827 found Rice in Limerick, where he just had time to inform O’Connell that ‘it was impossible to form a no-popery administration’ and that he imagined Lansdowne would become premier, before rushing back to London.67 He was overoptimistic regarding his chief, but, as he wrote to Brougham on the 13th, by means of ‘the firmness of some and the self denying moderation of others ... all promises to go well, and ... the good principle will survive and be transmitted forwards’ under Lord Goderich. In particular, he was adamant that the Whigs should remain in office despite the provocative appointment of John Herries* as the new chancellor. In a letter of about this date, he wrote firmly to Brougham, with whom he differed over the handling of Barnes’s hostile treatment of the ministry in The Times in early September, that the
only real danger we have to encounter, unless from the pains that the old Tories take to make mischief and to create disunion [is] to suggest to some of us that we make undue sacrifice of dignity, and to others that they are establishing the supremacy of the Whigs, and to the country that the administration is composed of two sides that must eventually split like an ill built wall in a frost. This must be counteracted by frankness, confidence and good humour.68
He thoroughly approved of Lansdowne proffering his resignation, which was refused by the king, 1 Sept. 1827, because this gesture, by isolating the secessionist Tories, re-established the influence of the government. He informed Lansdowne that all his correspondents thought the same and he was confident that the ministry, being popular with the country, would be able to continue to pursue Canning’s policies, such as retrenchment.69
To give an example of one of his initiatives, that autumn Rice recommended the ending of payments for the publication of proclamations in Irish newspapers, arguing that this practice ‘has produced the degradation of the press without in any degree contributing to the power of the government’; Lamb was persuaded by his opinion, but left it to his successor to implement the change.70 As a friend to Ireland, he had to deal with various patronage requests, the most awkward of which, such as for an overseas posting for Richard Newton Bennett, came from O’Connell, whose alternating public statements of support for, and hostility to, the ministry, Rice denounced as ‘a shifting and incomprehensible course’. He also had to deal with O’Connell’s frustration at not receiving a patent of precedence at the bar, and, following a misunderstanding between them in December, Rice pointedly informed him that ‘at the very moment when you expressed so much of bitterness of feeling towards me and others and suggested so much more, I was actively, zealously and I hope usefully employed in advancing your object’; O’Connell’s grateful and apologetic reply prevented their quarrel becoming permanent, as yet.71 Overall, Rice’s attitude to Ireland, especially his desire to see the Orangemen put down and sectarian outrages ended, chimed in with that of Wellesley, on whose retirement that winter he wrote to him of ‘the deep sense I entertain as an Irishman of the great services you have rendered my country’.72
Rice, who was in communication with Lansdowne on police and lunacy questions, was well aware of the instability of the government in January 1828, and on the 15th, informing O’Connell that he expected to return to the opposition benches, he wrote from Whitehall that
I came here that I might be of service to Ireland and, when that hope ceases, I shall quit office without at least the consciousness of having done or omitted any act that could compromise the great interests to which I am pledged ... A Tory and exclusive government cannot certainly claim any sympathy from me, should such a monster be formed, as I consider is most probable.73
He was given a hint that Wellington, the new prime minister, might ask him to stay on, but no direct offer was made, so he quitted the home office with Lansdowne, whose departure soon made life much harder for Lamb.74 Lord Limerick regretted the loss of family influence caused by this resignation and, like Rice’s father, who agreed that he should seek greater financial and political opportunities, urged him to accept the position of private secretary to Lord William Henry Cavendish Bentinck*, who was shortly to become governor-general of Bengal. He had apparently done so by the end of February, partly in ‘despair of being able to do any real good in Parliament’, and although his wife was against the idea, he was expected shortly to leave for India.75 This was ‘universally deplored’, according to Joseph Jekyll†, who blamed Rice’s father for making him live in penury, and so the Whig grandees, led by Lansdowne, who made a personal appeal to Stephen Rice, began a subscription to provide him with a sufficient income. Such a mark of importance and popularity seems to have had an effect, and Rice senior, to whom Rice wrote in early April 1828 that ‘my stay in England has been considered of such value to the interests of Ireland than could have been looked for even of your parental partiality’, secured his continuance in Parliament by raising his allowance, reportedly by £2,000 a year. Thanking him for this sacrifice, Lansdowne offered to contribute to any political expenses, such as future contests at Limerick, where Rice’s apparent desertion was a cause of considerable unease.76 It was perhaps in relation to these episodes that De Vere later commented about his uncle, that ‘I was aware of his determination to abandon political life and sacrifice all his prospects, rather than forsake the old Whig principles of his career’.77
Rice, who indicated that he would support government measures to liberalize trade, 31 Jan., posed the awkward question whether ministers would renew the Irish Unlawful Societies Act that day and again, 12, 15 Feb., and vindicated the continued agitation in favour of Catholic claims, 5, 6 Feb. 1828. He divided for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., insisting on the 29th that Irish Catholics approved of this measure, and Catholic relief, 12 May, speaking in its favour, 6 Mar., 25 Apr., 12 June, 3 July. In drawing up the list of the finance committee, Herries observed that he ‘preferred Rice to Newport because I think he is less mischievous and may be much more useful. Both of them would be too much, especially considering how much they act together’; but in the end it was Newport who was chosen as the Irish opposition Member.78 Rice presented, but distanced himself from, the Limerick petition for repeal of the Irish Subletting Act, 19 Feb. He defended Lansdowne’s decision to reduce the yeomanry corps, 25 Feb., 20 June, and referred to other home office business, 28 Mar., 2 Apr., 14 May. He fully supported the proposals of Peel, the home secretary, for a metropolitan police force, 28 Feb., being appointed to the select committee on this that day, and on 11 Mar. he secured another on Irish education, whose report in favour of the devising of a national system, written by himself, he presented, 19 May.79 As on 20 Mar., when he successfully divided the House for the continued prohibition of the use of ribbons at elections, he remained active on many electoral, financial and Irish bills, perhaps most significantly on the corporate funds bill. He often worked in co-operation with ministers, for example personally lobbying Wellington on various Irish measures, and showed great persistence, for instance over his rights of executors bill, which, first introduced on 2 Apr., he did not get on to the statute book until two years later.80 On the provision for Canning’s family, which Wellington had at one point thought of placing in his hands, he made such a strong emotional appeal in its support, 14 May, that he had to apologize to several aggrieved Members, 20 May.81 He referred disparagingly to the ‘Bassetlaw bill’, 2 June, spoke and voted against the additional churches bill, 30 June, and divided several times in favour of economies towards the end of the session. He discouraged Wilmot Horton, who mentioned him to Wellington among those who were happy to be quoted in favour of emancipation, from moving for an inquiry into the English and Irish churches, 8 July, but called on ministers not to leave Ireland in a dangerously restless state, 18 July 1828.82
He interpreted the speech by George Dawson*, the treasury secretary, at Londonderry in August 1828 as sufficient proof of ministers’ intentions, and only hoped that emancipation would be granted swiftly, with grace and liberality, once Parliament reassembled in the autumn.83 In June he received an address of thanks from the congregated trades of Limerick for rescuing the city from ‘political non-existence’ under a ‘mercenary faction’, so it was rather unfair of Donoughmore to tell Thomas Creevey* in October that Rice was
very clever in conversation, tells his stories capitally, like a man of the world in great practice, without any vulgarity, and never overcharging them; but as for the interest he takes in Ireland - I am quite sure my old shoe feels as much.84
He was at first cautious of opposition launching a concerted attack at the start of the session in the new year, fearing that making a last ditch stand on emancipation would alienate many pro-Catholics in government, while concentrating on foreign policy was not an option because he thought the Whigs cared ‘not a fig’ about Greece and Portugal.85 However, despite the recall of the pro-Catholic lord lieutenant Lord Anglesey, which he deprecated, he was quietly confident of Wellington accepting a relief bill with some securities and, as he wrote to Lord Milton*, 26 Jan. 1829, if
Wellington does not pledge himself either to introduce or to support a measure of concession, I trust and believe that among our friends in the House of Commons there will be no difference of opinion with respect to the duty and necessity of immediate, earnest and systematic opposition. Any other course would be in my mind unintelligible to all and indefensible to many.86
The ministry’s about-turn in favour of emancipation rendered such a proposal unnecessary. Rice explained that, with its avowed purpose obtained, he would willingly support the suppression of the Catholic Association, 12 Feb., and angrily insisted that the granting of Catholic relief was in no way intended to weaken the rightful place of the established church in Ireland, 6, 9, 10, 16 Mar. Conscious of how historic a decision it would be for his country, he, of course, voted for emancipation, 6 Mar. (and on the 30th), and rejoiced that it would create peace for the Protestants, 17 Mar. With Althorp, he had approached government with a request to make the related Irish franchise measure prospective in character, but, being ‘ready to swallow anything to get emancipation’, as Greville recorded, he strenuously advocated the abolition of the 40s. freehold franchise as its essential accompaniment, 20 Mar. (though he objected to details of this and other minor securities, 24, 26 Mar.)87 In spite of having apparently taken offence at something attributed to O’Connell, he judged that his status was such as to merit his being seated for Clare; he was against pressing this, 23 Mar., but, having voted for allowing him to take his seat unimpeded, 18 May, he spoke forcefully, if unsuccessfully, for his own motion for amending the Emancipation Act in O’Connell’s favour, 21 May.88 As he was often to do, he argued against the introduction of poor laws to Ireland, 7 May 1829, contending that they were ‘indefensible in principle, oppressive in practice, burdensome to the farmer and landowner, and injurious to the real interests of the lower classes’, but he advocated a general inquiry into the issue of Irish economic relief. By that summer Rice was evidently disappointed that, as he had anticipated a year earlier, the way emancipation had been handled had neutralized its good effect, but, in reference to one (unidentified) issue, Wellington commented to Peel that ‘we are travelling along the road which he recommends to us’.89
Rice, who encouraged O’Connell to study the parliamentary papers on the East India Company that autumn, asked the anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Fowell Buxton* what his plans were ‘and what I ought to fag at during the recess’, while offering him his ‘best help, night and day, if necessary’ on any intended committee on colonial slavery.90 He busied himself with Limerick concerns, including the Mechanics’ Institute and his own electoral position, in September 1829, when, despite the renewed calm, he expressed great dissatisfaction with the lackadaisical Irish secretary Lord Francis Leveson Gower* and the continued dominance of the old Ascendancy interest at the Castle.91 He informed Vesey Fitzgerald, the president of the board of trade, on the 23rd that ‘I never stood so well in Limerick, I may say with both parties’, and would be safe in the event of an election, ‘unless I should voluntarily make my bow and give way to an agitator’, as ‘I am not very much in love with the House of Commons and where the step could be taken honourably I do not think my friend Villiers Stuart’s resolution [to retire] an unwise one’.92 In a letter dated 4 Nov. to the knight of Kerry*, in which he contemplated writing a long printed address to Wellington on the state of Ireland, he speculated that, as ‘the federal system of cabinet making is so utterly at a discount’, it was unlikely that Huskisson would join the government.93 Ironically, in December 1829, and again the following spring, there were rumours in the press that he was about to accept public office, so precipitating a by-election, but it was finally made clear that he had never intended to accompany Lord Clare, an ally in his struggles against the corporation of Limerick, to Bombay, of which he was to be the new governor.94 John Croker* judged that his adhesion, like that of other Whigs, would only weaken Wellington, but included him in his list of a conjectured Huskissonite government.95 Calling it ‘a sound, reasonable, as well as learned and very agreeably written paper’, Macvey Napier accepted his article on ‘Mr. Sadler’s School - Italian Economists’ for publication in the January 1830 issue of the Edinburgh Review, after which Rice offered to send him an essay on ‘the duties political and civil which remain to be performed in Ireland and for Ireland’.96 In a long and cogent parliamentary analysis in a letter of the 9th to James Abercromby*, during which he regretted the enforced resignation on the ground of illness of Vesey Fitzgerald, he concluded that ‘if my dissection of the House of Commons is just, it would appear that the relative strength of the government is increased, and that the absolute strength of all other parties is considerably diminished since the adjournment’, and that Wellington would continue to ‘endeavour so to poise the political balance as to make it incline either way at his will and pleasure’, while trying ‘in various ways to conciliate and to soften opposition’.97 A month later Lord Limerick agreed with Rice that ‘the ministry cannot stand as now constituted’.98
Rice admitted that it was really only the ministerial slip about distress that induced him to vote for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address, 4 Feb., but he reverted to the problem of Irish distress, 12, 17 Feb. 1830. He raised a question about the East India Company, 5 Feb., and was named to the select committee on it, 9 Feb. As he had the previous year, he voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., 5, 15 Mar., and he divided for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and parliamentary reform, 28 May. He backed O’Connell’s attempt to reduce the grant for Irish volunteers, 22 Feb., and joined in the renewed opposition campaign for economies and lower taxation that session, privately expressing to Althorp his horror at the idea of opposition supporting any proposal for the reintroduction of a property tax.99 He threatened to move for an investigation into Irish education if the grants for it were left unaltered, 26 Feb., and, not for the first time, insisted that an inquiry into the Irish church could only be to its own benefit, 4 Mar. With government support, he carried his motion for a wide-ranging select committee on the Irish poor, which he intended as a means of making practical suggestions, 11 Mar.100 A few days later he commented to John Rickman, a Commons clerk, that ‘they must make a great effort in Ireland at agricultural improvements’, and, treating his cynical response with characteristic courtesy, accepted the written evidence which Rickman gave him ‘as a God-send at a dead lift’.101 He chaired most of its meetings, proving himself a highly able questioner, to Doyle’s satisfaction, and drafted its extensive reports, which, when they became available in print in October, Wellington promised to consider.102 His assiduity in attending these committees prevented him from attending a rescheduled meeting with Sir John Benn Walsh*, who complained in his diary, 25 Mar. 1830, that ‘there is always something mistaken, or blundered, in all engagements with Irishmen’.103 Rice sided with opposition on Portugal, 10 Mar., and the affair at Terceira, 28 Apr. 1830. He voted for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr. (when his name also appeared in the minority list) and 17 May. He supported Hume’s motion for abolition of the Irish lord lieutenancy, not because he favoured it as such, but because he wanted to improve the efficiency and reduce the expense of the viceregal system of government, 11 May; opposition was split, with O’Connell and others hostile, but Rice persuaded them to divide, which they did by 229-115, and John Cam Hobhouse* considered this ‘a very great minority for such a question’.104 He was a teller that day, and again on the 13th for the minority (182-120) on his own motion for repeal of the Irish coal duties, which he considered a crucial economic issue. He played a major part in the parliamentary lobby against the increased Irish spirit and stamp duties that month, expressing his delight on the abandonment of this plan in a letter to the Limerick chamber of commerce, 15 June, and in the House, 2 July, when he complained about the mishandling of the Irish miscellaneous estimates and the loss of intended Irish reforms.105 He spoke in support of Newport’s resolutions on the Irish first fruits fund, 18 May, but condemned O’Connell’s motion for repeal of the Irish Vestry Acts, preferring a forlorn amendment of his own for their alteration, 10 June. After much obstruction, he got his Galway franchise bill through the Commons, 25 May, but it was lost in the Lords. Among numerous other votes that session, he divided to end capital punishment for forgery, 24 May, 7 June, and he spoke and was a teller for reform of the divorce laws, another hobbyhorse, 3 June 1830.
Having been detained on parliamentary business, he arrived in Limerick, where a memorial to him was under construction, in time for the general election of 1830, when, faced with a challenge from Dickson, he emphasized his many years of service and advocated further economic and social reforms.106 It was probably at this time that O’Connell, who placed his name on Rice’s committee, made a speech in his favour as a Repealer; his nephew De Vere later recalled Rice’s ‘indignant chafing’ at this action by O’Connell, who ‘thought he could have tied him to the tail [political following]. He failed, and thenceforth he hated him ... there was no love lost between them’.107 Identifying himself on the hustings as an independent, resident, honest and proven candidate, Rice was nevertheless subjected to a long contest, and was feared to be ‘in jeopardy’. Yet he finished over 300 votes ahead of Dickson and was congratulated by Edward Smith Stanley*, who opined that ‘it would have been a scandal to Ireland had you been thrown out, and I was glad to see the decisiveness of your victory at last’.108 On 20 Sept. he confided to Dawson from Mount Trenchard that
I have had some indisposition and many severe trials since the election. We lost a most beautiful and accomplished child, a daughter of my sister Lady De Vere, under our very windows, drowned while bathing. Immediately after [his eldest son] Stephen had the narrowest escape from fire and I burned both my hands so desperately as to lose the use of them for three weeks. I am not yet recovered though doing well. I am, however, grateful for the escape I have had from greater calamities. What an awful event has been the death of Huskisson.
Unable to attend the Dublin meeting on the French revolution that month, he warned Dawson, not without surprising prescience, that
the time draweth near when the small games of parliamentary tactics will be as nothing when compared with the larger and more fearful questions that are arising and must arise. The war of opinion of which Canning spoke, and which I sincerely believe he was the only man who could have averted, is now begun. And if begun, think you that we insulars are in so satisfactory a state that the French cry will not find an echo on our shores. Depend upon it, times of no ordinary difficulty are approaching, to be met in my mind by one course only [of] acquiring through the means of large concessions, made early and cheerfully, a right to resist what is unreasonable and dangerous. You opposed us last year [23 Feb. 1830] on Lord J. Russell’s motion in favour of the great unrepresented towns. You will have to swallow that and many larger matters before long.109
However, he thought the time was ripe for advantageous Irish improvements to be implemented and, convalescing in Limerick that autumn, he occupied himself with local affairs and, for example, chaired an anti-slavery meeting, 29 Sept.110 In November 1830 two petitions were entered against his return, but were not pursued.
Rice, who was of course listed by ministers among their ‘foes’, was thought of as a possible opposition candidate for the Speakership if Manners Sutton retired.111 He had lost some of his alarmism about the state of Ireland by the time of his speech on the address, 2 Nov. 1830, when he condemned O’Connell’s repeal agitation out of hand and, much to the frustration of the knight of Kerry, turned the moderate Whigs ‘on an adverse course’ away from conciliation with Wellington.112 He gave notice of a motion for repeal of the coal duties, 3 Nov., and secured the reappointment of his committee on the Irish poor, 11 Nov., although both these matters were overtaken by subsequent events. He voted to reduce the duty on wheat imported to the West Indies, 12 Nov., when he agreed that the Irish Subletting Act should be amended. He was privy to the preparations for Brougham’s parliamentary reform motion and duly divided in the decisive majority for appointing a select committee on the civil list, to which he was named, 15 Nov.113 It was initially thought that he would resume his position under Lansdowne at the home office in Lord Grey’s new government;114 but Lansdowne, now the lord president, whose prop (with Smith Stanley) Rice was supposed by Abercromby to be, obtained for him the Irish vice-treasurership, which he declined as a sinecure. Rice, the only Irishman in the new administration, was then offered the financial secretaryship to the treasury, which he accepted with the blessing of Althorp, the new chancellor and leader of the Commons.115 Like his colleague Ellice, the patronage secretary, he did not have to stand for re-election, which was just as well as it was considered possible that he might have lost his seat.116 He moved the writs for Althorp and the other new ministers, 22 Nov. 1830, and, in their absence, fielded much of the treasury business during the remainder of the pre-Christmas session.
He was courted over Irish education grants, in ‘a confidential conversation’, 25 Nov. 1830, by O’Connell, who, however, perhaps in relation to the dusted-off Irish proposals he had formulated in 1827, privately remarked: ‘as to Spring Rice’s "nineteen bills", they may all be dispatched in one word - fudge!’117 George Pigott* reported that Rice ‘began very well with the estimates’, 6 Dec., but, succumbing to the pressures of office, he was non-committal on the topics of coal duties, 8 Dec., and Irish grand juries, 9 Dec. 1830, and soon demonstrated a reluctance to release official papers as parliamentary returns.118 In a letter to Lansdowne on the 30th he made several suggestions about the Irish electoral system, including the enfranchisement of leaseholders and payers of local taxes, and stated that Limerick deserved a second Member.119 According to Maria Edgeworth, he was confident of his colleagues’ chances of success, in that ‘though it requires nice steering, we shall get through’, and in early January 1831 he informed her that ministers would choose their moment to make a dramatic strike against O’Connell.120 He notified Grey that the Provincial Bank of Ireland, of which he was chairman, had ‘stood the shock’ of O’Connell’s attempted run on it, and his hostility to repeal, as expressed in his reply to the Limerick cordwainers’ request to present their repeal petition (which he did not bring up), 10 Jan., was given wider currency in a Unionist pamphlet published that month.121 He devoted himself to the administrative detail of his post and, for example in relation to the admission of sugar to distilleries, the Orkney Member Traill commented that
I am much pleased with him. He is one of the ablest men connected with the ministry, and is so willing to receive information and so attentive to what is suggested, that it is very satisfactory to have such a person to treat with in matters of importance to our local interests.122
However, he was not unaware of the necessity of forwarding his constituents’ patronage demands and, out of fear of ‘treasury jobbing’, Anglesey, the reappointed lord lieutenant, warned Smith Stanley, his chief secretary, 24 Feb., that Rice ‘is a capital fellow and full of intelligence upon Irish matters, but he is Limerick all over’.123 Doyle’s pamphlet in favour of making legal provision for the Irish poor was addressed to Rice in March 1831 in recognition of his commitment to the cause, despite their acknowledged differences on the subject.124 With Poulett Thomson, another junior minister, he took the credit for much of Althorp’s first and rather disastrous budget in February 1831, although he was a late, and perhaps not sincere, convert to the idea of the controversial transfer tax.125 This he defended on the 14th in the House, where, amid numerous contributions to debate, he stressed government’s endeavours to make economies, 21, 28 Feb., 25, 28 Mar., and challenged O’Connell to put down a substantive motion on repeal, 28 Feb. Voicing ‘ad deterrendum’ the hint that the king would grant a dissolution if the reform bill was lost, he sat through the debates on 21 and 22 Mar., scribbling the first of a series of laconic accounts of the proceedings for the delectation of Lady Holland.126 He was a teller for the majority of one for the second reading, 22 Mar., and, in what he feared would be a ‘doubtful’ division, for the minority against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. The following day, when he clashed with the knight of Kerry over this in the chamber, he privately observed that the decision not to increase the number of Irish and Scottish seats ‘will I very much apprehend lead to most formidable and calamitous consequences ... slackened support here and great and increasing discontent in Ireland’.127
Rice declined a requisition to stand for Liverpool, Gascoyne’s constituency, at the general election of 1831, but made a good declamation in favour of the reform bill there on his way to Limerick, where the now completed statue of him had recently been placed on a tall pillar in Pery Square.128 His friends mustered in his support, but once it became clear that neither Dickson nor Tuthill would stand, he was returned unopposed as a steadfastly reformist minister, who explained that he had joined the government in order to advance the best interests of Ireland.129 He voted for the successful reformers Robert Way Harty and Louis Perrin in the Dublin contest and was the guest of honour at a public dinner in Belfast at the end of May 1831.130 Back at Westminster, where one of his duties was to hold parliamentary dinners, despite the seriousness of the cholera epidemic that summer, he resumed his very constant attendance in the House.131 He was frequently on his feet to handle routine government business, notably the proceedings in the committee of supply and on minor financial legislation, and, while making almost no significant speeches, he often intervened on petitions, returns, procedural and privilege questions. He of course invariably divided with his ministerial colleagues, except, as very often, when he was acting as a teller. The Freeman’s Journal called him ‘the legislator for Ireland’ that year, and Denis Le Marchant† later stated that Rice, ‘an excellent secretary to the treasury, was a ready speaker, and thoroughly conversant with Irish affairs’.132
Heading his letter to Lady Holland, 4 July 1831, ‘1st bulletin of the grand army’, he noted that ‘the thermometer stands in the House at 96 at the least and our reform quicksilver is equally high’, while on the 27th, referring to the debacle about Saltash being transferred from schedule A, he reassured her husband that ‘I think the accident of last night will not lead to the mischief that might have been feared ... We have got on our legs and people are in good humour again’.133 He differed with Goulburn on Irish tithes, 12 July, and made a suggestion about tightening up the system of grants for colonial improvements, 25 July. His decision to retain his hat, because of a cold, while chairing the grand committee, 15 July, led to remonstrations from the floor and Littleton drew up a bogus list of precedents which enjoyed much success.134 At the end of the month, Lord Ellenborough observed of the possible demise of Lord Spencer, which would have removed Althorp to the Lords, that the ‘persons talked of for the exchequer are Stanley, Rice and Parnell. Of these they all say Rice is the ablest, Parnell very dull, but Stanley of course will have it’.135 He spoke at length against Sadler’s motion for an Irish poor law, 29 Aug. (and again, 19 June 1832), for the plan of national education in Ireland, of which he was in large part the architect, 9 Sept., and against Goulburn’s amendment to the Irish public works bill, 16 Sept. 1831.136
On the death of his father, 20 Sept. 1831, Rice came into an annual income of about £8,000, or what he later described as ‘the fortune of a comfortable Irish country gentleman and no more’.137 That month Anglesey doubted that he would be a suitable Irish secretary: ‘he has already too much to do with Ireland, even where he is. He is clever, and I like him; but he is not liked’.138 As if to bear this out, Grey deemed him to have stepped out of line in expressing his mortification at not being consulted over who was to be appointed as lord lieutenant of county Limerick.139 Despite being ill and dispirited, he was back at his post to see the reform bill reintroduced, 12 Dec. 1831, and later that month was heard dropping heavy hints in private that ministers would accept alterations to it in order to secure its passage through the Lords.140 On its recommittal, 20 Jan. 1832, he informed Lady Holland that ‘we make way but slowly and it almost looks like a recommencement of the botch of last session’, while on the 24th he despondently pointed out that ‘the bill consists of 53 pages: in three nights we have got through four’. He despaired of the grindingly slow progress on the second readings of the English and Irish reform bills in typically amusing letters to her, 20 Mar. and 22 May, and was of course prepared to resign with Althorp on the reform issue in early May 1832.141
In relation to the difficult debate on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. 1832, he reported to Lady Holland that it ‘was a very nervous moment. The keel scraped along the shingles for two mortal hours, and even when we floated downwards the water was very shallow. Still, we did float’. Given an opening by Dawson, he ‘gallantly supported’ Althorp, as Littleton noted, against Goulburn’s censure motion on the state of government finances, 6 Feb., and his implicit attack on Lord Eldon for giving his son six public offices, 6 Mar., drew a rejoinder from him in the Lords, 12 Mar.142 He spoke for Smith Stanley’s Irish tithes resolutions, 27 Mar., and on 31 Mar. declared that it was not by legislative repression but by the determined resistance of the magistracy that unrest was to be quelled in Ireland, although he was prepared to concede a select committee on this, 23 May. It was about this time that he joined the Political Economy Club, and on 6 Apr. John Lewis Mallet recorded in his diary that he had met him the day before: ‘a cheerful, agreeable, good-natured man, with whom I chatted on all sorts of subjects, and it was much the best part of the entertainment’.143 Attacked by O’Connell on Frederick Shaw’s motion for preserving the rights of Irish freemen, 2 July, Rice, according to one newspaper report, ‘answered in a great passion and at the close of each sentence thumped the table with a very vehement gesture’; he returned to this subject on 3 Aug., promising that the unacceptable Lords’ amendment would be altered sometime in future.144 His only other major speech that session was for the grant for scriptural education, 23 July, when he repeated his arguments in favour of children of all religions being educated together except for religious studies. He was kept incessantly busy in attending the House right up to the prorogation, 15 Aug. 1832.
O’Connell’s determination that Repealers should be returned for his constituency led Rice to seek a berth elsewhere, and he received offers from Manchester and Wolverhampton.145 On the pretext of needing to reside closer to London, he therefore took leave from what he referred to as the now liberated borough of Limerick in a parting address, 26 June. At the suggestion of Ellice, he announced his candidacy that month for Cambridge, where he defended the government’s record and was returned with the like-minded Pryme after a contest against a Conservative, at the general election in December 1832.146 He was again considered the ministry’s preferred candidate for the Speakership that year, but, despite his several times staking his claims, the chair always eluded him.147 He therefore continued in office and joined the cabinet in 1834, having given the performance of his life on 23 Apr. that year in his speech repulsing O’Connell’s repeal motion. As chancellor in Melbourne’s second ministry he was considered a failure and he retired into an exchequer sinecure, with a peerage, in 1839. A capable speaker, if sometimes given to ‘studied pompousness’, he made few enemies in the House, where he was described by James Grant as ‘somewhat of a dandy’, having a ‘prim appearance, both in manners and dress’, although Maria Edgeworth was more struck by his ‘inspiration-electrico look’.148 Although he assisted in the development of liberal doctrines, he, by his own admission, never departed from the precepts of the Whigs throughout his career, once calling himself ‘an old Foxite Whig’.149 In a not entirely unjust attack, Benjamin Disraeli† (in his sixth Runnymede letter) addressed Rice as
shrewd without being sagacious, bustling without method, loquacious without eloquence, ever prompt though always superficial, and ever active though always blundering, you are exactly the sort of fussy busybody who would impose upon and render himself indispensable to indolent and ill informed men of strong ambition and weak minds.150
He died in February 1866, his title and estates descending to his grandson, his late son Stephen’s son, Thomas (1849-1926), 2nd Baron Monteagle. Several of his offspring obtained official employments, including another grandson, the diplomat Sir Cecil Arthur Spring Rice (1859-1918), who wrote the words to the hymn, ‘I vow to thee, my country’.151
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. Wellington mss WP1/1042/70.
- 2. Creevey Pprs. ii. 180; Fox Jnl. 94, 135.
- 3. M. Hurst, Maria Edgeworth and Public Scene, 46; Taylor Autobiog. ii. 209-13; Scott Jnl. 545; Lord Teignmouth, Reminiscences of Many Years, ii. 216; Jerningham Letters ed. E. Castle, ii. 396.
- 4. C. Knight, Passages of a Working Life, ii. 160; P. Mandler, Aristocratic Government in Age of Reform, 100, 113; R. Brent, Liberal Anglican Politics, 78, 135-6; B. Hilton, Age of Atonement, 237, 258; Oxford DNB.
- 5. See J. Ridden, ‘‘Making Good Citizens’: National Identity, Religion and Liberalism among the Irish Elite, c.1800-1850’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1998), 7-13, 20, 167-75, 258-71, and ‘Irish Reform between 1798 Rebellion and Great Famine’, in Rethinking the Age of Reform ed. A. Burns and J. Innes, 271-94.
- 6. Lady Holland to Son, 178-9; S.C. Hall, Retrospect of Long Life, i. 210.
- 7. Not to be confused with Stephen Henry Rice (d. 1831), asst. barrister of Kerry (Limerick Evening Post, 5 July 1831).
- 8. C.M. Murphy, ‘Life and Politics of Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon’ (Univ. Coll. Cork M.A. thesis, 1991), 1-2; D.H. Burton, Cecil Spring Rice, 20-21; NLI mss 14119.
- 9. Murphy, 3-5.
- 10. T. Rice, Inquiry into Effects of Irish Grand Jury Laws, 3-4, 7, 89-90.
- 11. NLI, Monteagle mss 11140 (1), Horner to Rice, 27 June 1815; Horner Pprs. 9, 901.
- 12. General Advertiser and Limerick Gazette, 23, 30 June, 3, 10, 17, 24, 28, 31 July 1818; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 668-9.
- 13. CJ, lxiv. 22-23, 171, 189; PP (1819), iv. 287-9.
- 14. Murphy, 6.
- 15. Croker Pprs. i. 131-2; General Advertiser, 22 Feb., 3, 10, 24 Mar., 11, 14 Apr. 1820.
- 16. R. Herbert, ‘Chairing of Thomas Spring Rice’, N. Munster Antiquarian Jnl. iv (1945), 133-42; General Advertiser, 7, 21 July, 1 Aug., 12 Sept. 1820.
- 17. O’Connell Corresp. ii. 869.
- 18. Monteagle mss A/30 (NRA 19437).
- 19. O’Connell Corresp. ii. 895.
- 20. CJ, lxxvi. 147, 168, 294, 383.
- 21. The Times, 27 Feb., 2 May 1821.
- 22. Autobiographic Recollections of George Pryme ed. A. Bayne, 89, 179.
- 23. Dublin Evening Post, 25 Oct., 8 Dec. 1821.
- 24. Add. 37298, f. 158.
- 25. Add. 52445, f. 78; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 318.
- 26. Edgeworth Letters, 402; O’Connell Corresp. ii. 973.
- 27. Dublin Evening Post, 7, 16 Jan. 1823; O’Connell Corresp. ii. 987-8.
- 28. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 101.
- 29. The Times, 4 July 1821.
- 30. Ibid. 12-14, 17, 18 Feb. 1824; Monteagle mss A/2-13 (NRA 19437); Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Philips mss DR 198/11; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1092, 1095.
- 31. PP (1822), vii. 235-348.
- 32. Dublin Evening Post, 31 Dec. 1822, 2, 7, 11 Jan.; The Times, 12 Mar. 1823.
- 33. The Times, 15 Mar. 1823.
- 34. Ibid. 21 June 1823; PP (1823), vi. 331-529; B. Jenkins, Era of Emancipation, 208-9.
- 35. PP (1824), viii. 79-203.
- 36. Lansdowne mss.
- 37. O’Connell Corresp. ii. 1012.
- 38. Buckingham, i. 446.
- 39. Add. 37302, f. 350; 37303, ff. 1-5, 105; Lansdowne mss, Lansdowne to Rice, 2 Sept.; Dublin Evening Post, 9 Sept. 1824; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1126.
- 40. Add. 37303, f. 75; Lansdowne mss.
- 41. Jenkins, 227.
- 42. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1176, 1178.
- 43. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 482.
- 44. Dublin Evening Post, 8, 10 Sept., 4, 11, 27, 29 Oct.; Brougham mss, Rice to Brougham, 14 Oct. 1825.
- 45. NLW, Coedymaen mss 999, 1000; Jenkins, 234; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1278.
- 46. Edinburgh Rev. xliii (1826), 194-224, 496-510.
- 47. The Times, 16 Feb., 21 Mar. 1826.
- 48. Limerick Chron. 25 Feb., 1, 22 Mar., 1, 12 Apr., 31 May, 7, 14, 17, 24 June 1826.
- 49. Southern Reporter, 15, 17 June; Dublin Evening Post, 17, 20 June 1826.
- 50. Pastoral and Education Letters of Bishop James Doyle ed. T. McGrath, 228.
- 51. Add. 37304, ff. 248, 281; E. Brynn, Crown and Castle, 71.
- 52. Add. 37405, f. 1; Lansdowne mss, Lansdowne to Rice, 30 Dec. 1826.
- 53. Canning’s Ministry, 32, 40; Creevey Pprs. ii. 107-8; Hurst, 44.
- 54. Add. 52058, f. 7; 52447, f. 51; Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary.
- 55. Canning’s Ministry, 43.
- 56. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1378; Add. 51584, Tierney to Holland [22 Apr. 1827]; Canning’s Ministry, 241, 272.
- 57. Creevey Pprs. ii. 114; Monteagle mss A/26 (NRA 19437).
- 58. Canning’s Ministry, 206.
- 59. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1389, 1397-8.
- 60. Broughton, Recollections, ii. 189.
- 61. Add. 37305, ff. 117, 121.
- 62. HMC Bathurst, 638; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 129-30.
- 63. TNA, Ellenborough mss, Londonderry to Ellenborough, 10 Aug. 1827; Canning’s Ministry, 340, 344.
- 64. Monteagle mss A/26 (NRA 19437).
- 65. Murphy, 33-34.
- 66. Parker, Peel, ii. 36; Torrens, Melbourne, i. 223-4, 247-8, 274-5, 287-8; Jenkins, 253-4; Monteagle mss 548, pp. 4, 17, 18, 26, 32, 35, 37, 57.
- 67. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1407.
- 68. Brougham mss; NLS mss 24748, f. 30; Lansdowne mss, Rice to Lansdowne, 6-8 Sept. 1827.
- 69. Murphy, 36-37; Add. 37305, f. 169; Lansdowne mss, Rice to Lansdowne, 3, 11 Sept.; Fitzwilliam mss, Rice to Milton, 7, 11 Sept. 1827.
- 70. Torrens, i. 248-50; B. Inglis, Freedom of Press in Ireland, 185-6.
- 71. Brougham mss, Rice to Brougham, 1 Oct. 1827; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1413, 1419, 1431, 1437-9, 1445, 1447.
- 72. Add. 37305, ff. 179, 204, 258.
- 73. Lansdowne mss, Rice to Lansdowne, 1, 6 Jan., reply, 2 Jan. 1828; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1450; Hurst, 46, 48.
- 74. Monteagle mss A/26 (NRA 19437); Torrens, i. 304-5.
- 75. Murphy, 42, 46-48; Torrens, i. 305-6; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland mss PwH 146; Add. 38755, ff. 116, 141; Hurst, 48; Corresp. of Lord William Henry Cavendish Bentinck ed. C.H. Philips, i. 13, 17, 22, 25, 30.
- 76. Corresp. of Joseph Jekyll ed. A. Bourke, 178; Agar Ellis diary, 29 Feb., 1 Mar., 12 Apr.; Lansdowne mss, Lansdowne to Rice [Mar.], to S.E. Rice, 10 Mar., 11 Apr.; Limerick Evening Post, 14, 18 Mar., 1, 4, 15 Apr., 9 May, 3 June 1828; Murphy, 48.
- 77. Monteagle mss A/30 (NRA 19437)
- 78. Add. 40395, ff. 219, 221.
- 79. PP (1828), 223-8.
- 80. Wellington mss WP1/942/9; 1010/3; 1100/7; P. Jupp, British Politics on Eve of Reform, 160, 171-2, 177, 203.
- 81. Ellenborough Diary, i. 61.
- 82. Wellington mss WP1/978/13.
- 83. Brougham mss, Rice to Brougham, 20 Aug. 1828; Coedymaen mss 1003.
- 84. Monteagle mss A/15 (NRA 19437); Creevey Pprs. ii. 180.
- 85. Lansdowne mss, Lansdowne to Rice, 26 Dec., Smith Stanley to Lansdowne, 31 Dec. 1828; Jupp, 299.
- 86. PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/32A/3/1/13; Fitzwilliam mss.
- 87. Greville Mems. i. 263-4; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 250.
- 88. Greville Mems. i. 266, 280; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1513a, 1572-3.
- 89. Hurst, 48; Jenkins, 277; Wellington mss WP1/1042/70.
- 90. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1610; viii. 3415; Buxton Mems. 225-6.
- 91. Lansdowne mss, Rice to Lansdowne, 1 Sept.; Monteagle mss 549, same to ?same, 23 Sept., to Vesey Fitzgerald, 23 Sept., to Goderich, 23 Sept., to wife, 23, 24 Sept., to Dawson, 28 Sept.; Limerick Evening Post, 29 Sept. 1829.
- 92. Monteagle mss 549.
- 93. PRO NI, Fitzgerald mss MIC639/13/7/24.
- 94. Lansdowne mss, Clare to Lansdowne, 23 Dec.; Dublin Evening Post, 29 Dec. 1829; Limerick Evening Post, 16 Mar., 6 Apr.; Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 25 Mar. 1830.
- 95. Croker Pprs. ii. 58, 62.
- 96. Monteagle mss 13370 (1), Napier to Rice, 20 Dec. 1829; Add. 34614, ff. 268, 446; Edinburgh Rev. c (1830), 344-63.
- 97. NLS mss 24770, f. 39; Torrens, i. 327-8.
- 98. Monteagle mss 13370 (5), Limerick to Rice, 9 Feb. 1830.
- 99. Le Marchant, Althorp, 239.
- 100. Jupp, 163.
- 101. O. Williams, Life and Letters of John Rickman, 252-3.
- 102. W.J. Fitzpatrick, Life of Dr. Doyle, ii. 213; Add. 34614, f. 431; PP (1830), vii. 1-834; Wellington mss WP1/1144/8, 9.
- 103. NLW, Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 39-40.
- 104. Add. 56554, f. 98.
- 105. Limerick Evening Post, 4, 11, 21 May, 18 June 1830.
- 106. Ibid. 6, 9, 16, 23, 27 July 1830.
- 107. Dublin Evening Post, 22 July 1830; Monteagle mss A/29, 30 (NRA 19437).
- 108. Limerick Evening Post, 6, 10, 13, 17 Aug.; Add. 76381, Poulett Thomson to Althorp, 14 Aug; Monteagle mss 13370 (6), Smith Stanley to Rice, 26 Aug. 1830.
- 109. Monteagle mss 13370 (8); Warder, 4 Sept. 1830.
- 110. NLI, Wyse mss 15024 (7), Rice to Wyse, 9 Sept.; Limerick Evening Post, 21, 28 Sept., 1 Oct. 1830.
- 111. Hatherton mss, Palmerston to Littleton, 19 Nov. [Dec.] 1830.
- 112. Fitzgerald mss T3075/18/54; Derby mss 920 Der (14) 124/3, knight of Kerry to Smith Stanley, 7 June 1831.
- 113. Agar Ellis diary, 12 Nov. 1830.
- 114. Croker Pprs. ii. 77.
- 115. Add. 51575, Abercromby to Holland, 19 Nov. 1830; Monteagle mss A/26 (NRA 19437).
- 116. Fitzgerald mss MIC639/13/7/99; Murphy, 54.
- 117. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1733, 1735.
- 118. Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/139/14/73; Cockburn Letters, 280, 283.
- 119. Lansdowne mss.
- 120. Edgeworth Letters, 440, 467.
- 121. Grey mss GRE/B41/10/1; Limerick Evening Post, 14 Jan. 1831; Ireland Vindicated ... by a True Whig, 11-12, 48.
- 122. Orkney Archives, Balfour mss D2/8/9, Traill to Balfour, 5 Feb., 16 Mar. 1831.
- 123. Derby mss 119/2.
- 124. Fitzpatrick, ii. 275-6; Pastoral and Education Letters of Doyle, 26-27.
- 125. Baring Jnls. i. 81; Three Diaries, 9.
- 126. Three Diaries, 70; Add. 51573.
- 127. Add. 51573, Rice to Lady Holland [19, 20 Apr. 1831].
- 128. Dublin Evening Post, 21, 28 Apr.; Hatfield House mss, Leigh to Salisbury, 27 Apr. 1831.
- 129. Limerick Evening Post, 26, 29 Apr., 3, 10 May; Limerick Herald, 5, 9 May 1831.
- 130. Dublin Evening Post, 17 May; Limerick Evening Post, 31 May 1831.
- 131. Macaulay Letters, ii. 46, 48.
- 132. Murphy, 62; Le Marchant, 489; Dublin Evening Post, 12 July 1832.
- 133. Add. 51573.
- 134. Hatherton diary.
- 135. Three Diaries, 110.
- 136. Monteagle mss A/30 (NRA 19437); Ridden, ‘Irish Reform’, 286-7.
- 137. Limerick Evening Post, 27 Sept. 1831; Gent. Mag. (1831), 381, 653; Murphy, 2.
- 138. Anglesey mss 27B, p. 52.
- 139. Derby mss 117/5, Grey to Smith Stanley, 18 Sept.; 8, Rice to same, 17 Sept. 1831.
- 140. Add. 51573, Rice to Lady Holland [12 Dec. 1831]; Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. d. 154, f. 46; Wellington mss WP1/1205/18.
- 141. Add. 51573; Lansdowne mss, Lansdowne to Rice [10 May 1832].
- 142. Add. 51573, Rice to Lady Holland, 27 Jan., 6 Feb. 1832; Three Diaries, 190; Holland House Diaries, 153.
- 143. Pol. Economy Club (1921), 233, 360.
- 144. Murphy, 59-60.
- 145. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1905; Hatherton diary, 31 May; Monteagle mss 13372 (1), De Vere to Rice, 12 June; (5) Hadfield to ?Fincham, 25 June 1832.
- 146. Dublin Evening Post, 30 June, 12 July; The Times, 30 June, 8 Aug., 6 Nov. 1832; Pryme Recollections, 186-9.
- 147. Croker Pprs. ii. 185; Coedymaen mss, Williams Wynn to Phillimore, 28 Nov. 1832.
- 148. F.B. Hamilton, Picture of Parl. (1831), 80; [J. Grant], Random Recollections of Commons (1837), 208-12; Edgeworth Letters, 488.
- 149. Brent, 16, 39, 43; I. Newbould, Whiggery and Reform, 316; D. Southgate, Passing of the Whigs, 129.
- 150. B. Disraeli, Whigs and Whiggism, 261.
- 151. Limerick Chron. 8 Feb.; The Times, 9 Feb. 1866; Gent. Mag. (1866), i. 425-6; DNB; Oxford DNB.