SMITH, John Abel (1802-1871), of 1 Upper Harley Street, Mdx.

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

Constituency

Dates

1830 - 1831
1831 - 1859
21 Feb. 1863 - 1868

Family and Education

b. 2 June 1802, 1st s. of John Smith* and 2nd w. Mary, da. of Lt.-Col. Martin Tucker; bro. of Martin Tucker Smith*. educ. Eton c. 1814-18; Christ’s, Camb. 1819. m. 26 Dec. 1827, Anne, da. of Sir Samuel Clarke Jervoise, 1st bt., of Idsworth, Hants, wid. of Ralph William Grey of Backworth, Northumb. 3s. suc. fa. 1842. d. 7 Jan. 1871.

Offices Held

Capt. Suss. yeoman cav. 18311

Treas. W. India Dock Co. 1838, E. and W. India Dock Co. 1839-40; dir. E. and W. I. Dock Co. 1842-9, New Zealand Co. 1844-58, Edinburgh Life Assurance by 1842-67.

Biography

As the son of a widely respected Whig banker and parliamentarian, Smith carried a weight of expectations that perhaps affected him as a young man. Although he matriculated in 1819 he had apparently not gone up to Cambridge by 1822, when he began to keep an intermittent private journal. This reads like a catalogue of self-reproach for his ill-natured and socially inept behaviour: on 29 Aug. he admitted to being ‘most sadly hasty and passionate, which must lead in time to settled bad temper’, and on 9 Nov. he recounted his ‘struggle to overcome the dreadful vanity and pride which I feel on all occasions flying up and becoming the main spring of everything’. In the same entry he chided himself for his habitual mockery of his pious uncle and cousin, Samuel Smith* and Abel Smith*. On resuming his journal in 1826, having graduated the previous year, his state of mind had marginally improved, and he believed that travel in France and Switzerland had mellowed his temper. When Lord Dudley Coutts Stuart* met him in Paris that March, he noted that ‘he is an Englishman all over and full of our English good morality, ideas and views’, although this did not prevent him from ‘having very good, noble and generous sentiment’. The following year the brooding introspection of his journal gave way in part to comments on public affairs, initially occasioned by the formation of Canning’s ministry, the staying power of which he doubted, fearing that ‘the result of it all will be a high Tory administration’.2 His marriage in December 1827 to the ‘particularly fascinating’ Anne Grey, a salon hostess, brought him two stepchildren.3 He had joined Brooks’s Club, 26 Nov. 1826. In April 1828 he contested the venal borough of Sudbury, as an advocate of ‘that liberal policy’ which had brought about ‘important improvements in our civil and commercial regulations’, and which he believed would ‘consolidate and strengthen the constitution of the country’. However, the ‘No Popery’ cry was raised against him and he was narrowly defeated.4 Two months later he spoke on his father’s behalf at a dinner to mark the repeal of the Test Acts, which he regarded as ‘a stimulus to further exertions’ and ‘a pledge of better things to come’.5 At the dissolution in 1830 his name was mentioned in connection with Sudbury, Arundel and Chichester, but in the event he was returned unopposed for the family borough of Midhurst.6

The duke of Wellington’s ministry naturally regarded him as one of their ‘foes’, and he duly voted against them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. 1830. He divided for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing dissolution his father’s candidacy for Buckinghamshire created a vacancy at Chichester, for which he was returned after seeing off a radical challenge.7 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and steadily for its details, though he was in the minority for the total disfranchisement of Aldborough, 14 Sept. He divided for the third reading, 19 Sept., the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He voted to punish only those guilty of bribery at the Dublin election and against the motion censuring the conduct of the Irish administration, 23 Aug. He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and for its details. He was cheered by his own side for a neat riposte to Sir Richard Vyvyan’s allegation of errors in the returns of the number of houses in Tavistock, 23 Jan. 1832. He voted for the bill’s third reading, 22 Mar., and Ebrington’s motion for an address asking the king to appoint only ministers committed to carrying an unimpaired measure, 10 May, and was against the Conservative amendment for increased Scottish county representation, 1 June. He divided with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July, relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., and the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr. On 18 July he introduced a bill to regulate the payment of bills of exchange at places other than the drawee’s residence: this non-controversial legislation gained royal assent, 8 Aug. 1832 (2 and 3 Gul. IV, c. 98).

Smith was again returned for Chichester at the general election of 1832 and sat, with one brief interruption, until his defeat in 1868. In 1842 he inherited Dale Park and other properties in Sussex from his father and was the joint residuary legatee of the estate, which was sworn under £250,000.8 His public career emerged from the shadow of his father’s and, like him, he won renown as a friend of religious toleration, leading the successful campaign to allow Jews to sit in Parliament in 1858. Though himself a ‘low churchman’, he was a friend of Pope Pius IX, and his early journal raises the curious possibility that he may have worshipped in a recusant chapel.9 He became senior partner in his family’s London banking firm, 1835-45, and sat on the boards of the associated banks in Derby, Hull and Nottingham. Railways and colonial development were chief among his other business interests.10</