SMITH, Abel (1788-1859), of 15 Portland Place, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 17 July 1788, 1st s. of Samuel Smith* and Elizabeth Frances, da. of Edmund Turnor of Stoke Rochford, Lincs. educ. Harrow 1800-5; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1805. m. (1) 28 Aug. 1822, Lady Marianne Leslie Melville (d. 22 Mar. 1823), da. of Alexander, 9th earl of Leven and Melville [S], s.p.; (2) 12 July 1826, Frances Anne, da. of Sir Harry Calvert, 1st bt., of Claydon, Bucks., 4s. 6da. suc. fa. 1834. d. 23 Feb. 1859.
Smith, who rose to greater eminence in business than any other of his generation of the family banking dynasty,1 resumed his parliamentary career in 1820 when he was returned for the family borough of Midhurst. Maria Edgeworth judged him to be an ‘agreeable young man’, but his funeral oration, with its reference to an unnamed ‘deep affliction’ from which he suffered all his adult life, provides a possible clue as to why he was never a very active or vocal Member.2 As in earlier Parliaments, he voted with the Whig opposition to Lord Liverpool’s ministry on certain issues, but his political course was decidedly moderate. He gave no recorded votes on the question of parliamentary reform and, contrary to his previous line, he divided against Catholic relief, 30 Apr. 1822, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He generally voted for economy and retrenchment during the sessions of 1820, 1821 and 1822, but, having divided for Brougham’s motion for more extensive tax reductions, 11 Feb., he was against Lord Althorp’s motion on the same issue, 21 Feb. 1822. He voted to restore Queen Caroline’s name to the liturgy, 26 Jan., 13 Feb., and to condemn ministers’ conduct towards her, 6 Feb. 1821. He divided for the motions accusing lord chancellor Eldon of a breach of privilege, 1 Mar., and condemning the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June, but voted for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824. He voted for repeal of the usury laws, 17 Feb., and against the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 30 May, 2 June 1825. It was said of him at this time that he ‘attended frequently and voted with the opposition’.3 He divided for inquiry into the silk trade, 24 Feb., and against any relaxation of the corn laws, 8, 11 May 1826. He was returned unopposed for Midhurst at the general election that summer.
He divided against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, but for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. 1828. He voted with the minority against the duke of Wellington’s ministry to restrict the circulation of small bank notes in Scotland and Ireland, 5 June 1828. In February 1829 Planta, the patronage secretary, predicted that he would side ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation, but in fact he continued to vote against it, 6, 30 Mar. He divided against the silk trade bill, 1 May 1829. He voted for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address on distress, 4 Feb., but was presumably the ‘J.A. Smith’ who divided against reduction of the grant for South American missions, and the ‘J. Abel Smith’ who was against abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. In April 1830 Wellington had noted that Smith was ready to ‘support the government without asking for anything’, as was his uncle Lord Carrington, who returned him for his pocket borough of Wendover at the general election that summer.4
The ministry reckoned Smith to be one of the ‘good doubtfuls’, and in the event he voted with them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. 1830. Reflecting a family concern, he presented an anti-slavery petition from a group of female Methodists, 10 Dec. 1830, and his religious devotion is hinted at in his presentation of petitions calling for a general fast, 10 Feb. 1831. The Smith family was divided over the Grey ministry’s reform bill but, in accordance with his uncle and father’s views, he divided against the second reading, 22 Mar. This stance led to his being offered the Tory interest in Hertfordshire (where his father owned property) at the anticipated dissolution, but he declined, telling Lord Salisbury that ‘I neither find myself qualified for the situation, nor do I think I have any pretensions to it’. He also explained that he had earlier resolved to turn down ‘an application of the same nature ... made by the opposite party, which I had reason to expect in the event of a dissolution ... previously to the agitation of the reform question’.5 He confirmed his estrangement from the Whigs by voting for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr. 1831. He was returned again for Wendover at the ensuing general election. He divided against the second reading of the reintroduced bill, 6 July, for use of the 1831 census to determine the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, and against the bill’s passage, 21 Sept. He voted against the second reading of the revised bill, 17 Dec. 1831. In a letter to Salisbury the following month he indicated his support for a Hertfordshire anti-reform petition and observed that ‘I shall not believe that new peers are to be created until it appears in the Gazette, although from the experience we have had of the present government, there is nothing too bad for them to do’.6 In his only recorded speech in this period, 1 Feb. 1832, he attested to the independence of the £50 tenants-at-will who were to be enfranchised by the Chandos clause. He voted against the bill’s third reading, 22 Mar. He divided against ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July 1832.
Smith rejected Salisbury’s suggestion that he should stand for Hertfordshire at the impending general election, as he believed that ‘under the excitement which still prevails on the subject of reform, more than one Tory Member would not be tolerated’, and in any case he had ‘neither time, nor inclination nor courage for such an undertaking’.7 In 1834 he inherited the Woodhall Park estate in Hertfordshire from his father, and was the residuary legatee of personalty sworn under £500,000.8 The following year he was returned for the county without difficulty and sat until his retirement in 1847. He remained a steady Conservative, but apparently declined a peerage from Sir Robert Peel* in order to devote his time to ‘the pursuits of a country gentleman and resident landlord’, notably the establishment and restoration of numerous churches.9 He died in February 1859 and left Woodhall to his eldest son, Abel Smith (1829-98), Conservative Member for Hertfordshire, 1854-7, 1859-65, 1866-85, and East Hertfordshire, 1885-98.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Howard Spencer
- 1. Gent. Mag. (1859), i. 542; H.T. Easton, Hist. of a Banking House, 51-52; J. Leighton-Boyce, Smiths the Bankers, 271-2.
- 2. Edgeworth Letters, 252; L.J. Barrington, The Gain of Death, 24.
- 3. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 485.
- 4. Add. 40309, f. 31.
- 5. Hatfield House mss 2M/Gen., Smith to Salisbury, 4 Apr. 1831.
- 6. Ibid. Smith to Salisbury, Jan. 1832.
- 7. Ibid. Salisbury to Smith, 23 June, replies, 26 June, 20 Oct. 1832.
- 8. PROB 11/1830/239; IR26/1367/153.
- 9. Gent. Mag. (1859), i. 542-4.