William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne
William Petty Fitzmaurice, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, Irish-born British Whig statesman who was the first Home Secretary in 1782 and then Prime Minister in 1782–83 during the final months of the American War of Independence. He succeeded in securing peace with America and this feat remains his most notable legacy. He was also well known as a collector of antiquities and works of art.(2 May 1737 – 7 May 1805; known as The Earl of Shelburne between 1761 and 1784, by which title he is generally known to history) was an
Lord Shelburne was born in Dublin in 1737 and spent his formative years in Ireland. After attending Oxford University he served in the British army during the Seven Years' War. He took part in the Raid on Rochefort and the Battle of Minden. As a reward for his conduct at the Battle of Kloster Kampen, Shelburne was appointed an aide-de-camp to George III. He became involved in politics, becoming a member of parliament in 1760. After his father's death in 1761 he inherited his title and was elevated to the House of Lords. He took an active role in politics. He served as President of the Board of Trade in the Grenville Ministry but resigned this position after only a few months and began to associate with the opposition leader William Pitt.
When Pitt was made Prime Minister in 1766, Shelburne was appointed as Southern Secretary, a position which he held for two years. He departed office during the Corsican Crisis and joined the Opposition. Along with Pitt he was an advocate of a conciliatory policy towards Britain's American Colonies and a long-term critic of the North Government's measures in America. Following the fall of the North government, Shelburne joined its replacement under Lord Rockingham. Shelburne was made Prime Minister in 1782 following Rockingham's death, with the American War still being fought. Shelburne's government was brought down largely due to the terms of the Peace of Paris which brought the conflict to an end. Its terms were considered excessively generous, because they gave the new nation control of vast trans-Appalachian lands. Shelburne, however, had a vision of long-term benefit to Britain through trade with a large and increasingly prosperous United States, without the risk of warfare over the western territories.
After he was forced from office in 1783 at age 45, he permanently lost his power and influence. Shelburne lamented that his career had been a failure, despite the many high offices he held over 17 years, and his undoubted abilities as a debater. He blamed his poor education—although it was as good as that of most peers—and said the real problem was that "it has been my fate through life to fall in with clever but unpopular connections." Historians, however, point to a nasty personality that alienated friend and enemy alike. His contemporaries distrusted him as too prone to trickery and duplicity. Biographer John Cannon says "His uneasiness prompted him to alternate flattery and hectoring, which most of his colleagues found unpleasant, and to suspiciousness... In debate he was frequently vituperative and sarcastic." Success came too early, and produced jealousy, especially when he was tagged as an upstart Irishman. He never understood the power of the House of Commons, or how to deal with its leaders. He advocated numerous reforms, especially free trade, religious toleration, and parliamentary reform. He was ahead of his time, but was unable to build an adequate network of support from his colleagues who distrusted his motives. In turn he distrusted others, and tried to do all the work himself so that it would be done right.
He was born William Fitzmaurice in Dublin in Ireland, the first son of John Fitzmaurice, who was the second surviving son of the 1st Earl of Kerry. Lord Kerry had married Anne Petty, the daughter of Sir William Petty, Surveyor General of Ireland, whose elder son had been created Baron Shelburne in 1688 and (on the elder son's death) whose younger son had been created Baron Shelburne in 1699 and Earl of Shelburne in 1719. On the younger son's death the Petty estates passed to the aforementioned John Fitzmaurice, who changed his branch of the family's surname to "Petty" in place of "Fitzmaurice", and was created Viscount Fitzmaurice later in 1751 and Earl of Shelburne in 1753 (after which his elder son John was styled Viscount Fitzmaurice). His grandfather Lord Kerry died when he was four, but Fitzmaurice grew up with other people's grim memories of the old man as a "Tyrant" whose family and servants lived in permanent fear of him.
Fitzmaurice spent his childhood "in the remotest parts of the south of Ireland," and, according to his own account, when he entered Christ Church, Oxford, in 1755, he had "both everything to learn and everything to unlearn". From a tutor whom he describes as "narrow-minded" he received advantageous guidance in his studies, but he attributes his improvement in manners and in knowledge of the world chiefly to the fact that, as was his "fate through life", he fell in "with clever but unpopular connexions".
Military career and election to Parliament
Shortly after leaving the university, he served in 20th Foot regiment commanded by James Wolfe during the Seven Years' War. He became friends with one of his fellow officers Charles Grey whose career he later assisted. In 1757 he took part in the amphibious Raid on Rochefort which withdrew without making any serious attempt on the town. The following year he was sent to serve in Germany and distinguished himself at Minden and Kloster-Kampen. For his services he was appointed aide-de-camp to the new King, George III, with the rank of colonel. This brought protests from several members of the cabinet as it meant he was promoted ahead of much more senior officers. In response to the appointment the Duke of Richmond resigned a post in the royal household. Though he had no active military career after this, his early promotion as colonel meant that he would be further promoted through seniority to major-general in 1765, lieutenant-general in 1772 and general in 1783.
On 2 June 1760, while still abroad, Fitzmaurice had been returned to the British House of Commons as a member for Wycombe. He was re-elected unopposed at the general election of 1761, and was also elected to the Irish House of Commons for County Kerry. However, on 14 May 1761, before either Parliament met, he succeeded on his father's death as 2nd Earl of Shelburne in the Peerage of Ireland and 2nd Baron Wycombe in the Peerage of Great Britain. As a result, he lost his seat in both Houses of Commons and moved up to the House of Lords, though he would not take his seat in the Irish House of Lords until April 1764. He was succeeded in Wycombe by one of his supporters Colonel Isaac Barré who had a distinguished war record after serving with James Wolfe in Canada.
Shelburne, who was a descendant of the father of laissez faire economics, William Petty, displayed a serious interest in economic reform, and was a proselytizer for free trade. He consulted with numerous English, Scottish, French and American economists and experts. He was on good terms with Benjamin Franklin and David Hume. He met in Paris with leading French economists and intellectuals. By the 1770s Shelburne had become the most prominent British statesmen to advocate free trade. Shelburne said his conversion from mercantilism to free trade ultimately derived from long conversations in 1761 with Adam Smith. In 1795 he described this to Dugald Stewart:
- I owe to a journey I made with Mr Smith from Edinburgh to London, the difference between light and darkness through the best part of my life. The novelty of his principles, added to my youth and prejudices, made me unable to comprehend them at the time, but he urged them with so much benevolence, as well as eloquence, that they took a certain hold, which, though it did not develop itself so as to arrive at full conviction for some few years after, I can fairly say, has constituted, ever since, the happiness of my life, as well as any little consideration I may have enjoyed in it.
Ritcheson is dubious on whether the journey with Smith actually happened, but provides no evidence to the contrary. There is proof that Shelburne did consult with Smith on at least one occasion, and Smith was close to Shelburne's father and his brother.
Early political career
Shelburne's new military role close to the King brought him into communication with Lord Bute, who was the King's closest advisor and a senior minister in the government. In 1761 Shelburne was employed by Bute to negotiate for the support of Henry Fox. Fox held the lucrative but unimportant post of Paymaster of the Forces, but commanded large support in the House of Commons and could boost Bute's powerbase. Shelburne was opposed to Pitt, who had resigned from the government in 1761. Under instructions from Shelburne, Barré made a vehement attack on Pitt in the House of Commons.
During 1762 negotiations for a peace agreement went on in London and Paris. Eventually a deal was agreed but it was heavily criticised for the perceived leniency of its terms as it handed back a number of captured territories to France and Spain. Defending it in the House of Lords, Shelburne observed "the security of the British colonies in North America was the first cause of the war" asserting that security "has been wisely attended to in the negotiations for peace". Led by Fox, the government was able to push the peace treaty through parliament despite opposition led by Pitt. Shortly afterwards, Bute chose to resign as Prime Minister and retire from politics and was replaced by George Grenville.
Shelburne joined the Grenville ministry in 1763 as First Lord of Trade. By this stage Shelburne had changed his opinion of Pitt and become an admirer of him. After failing to secure Pitt's inclusion in the Cabinet he resigned office after only a few months. Having moreover on account of his support of Pitt on the question of John Wilkes's expulsion from the House of Commons incurred the displeasure of the King, he retired for a time to his estate.
After Pitt's return to power in 1766 he became Southern Secretary, but during Pitt's illness his conciliatory policy towards America was completely thwarted by his colleagues and the King, and in 1768 he was dismissed from office. During the Corsican Crisis, sparked by the French invasion of Corsica, Shelburne was the major voice in the cabinet who favoured assisting the Corsican Republic. Although secret aid was given to the Corsicans it was decided not to intervene militarily and provoke a war with France, a decision made easier by the departure of the hard-line Shelburne from the cabinet.
In June 1768 the General Court incorporated the district of Shelburne, Massachusetts from the area formerly known as "Deerfield Northeast" and in 1786 the district became a town. The town was named in honour of Lord Shelburne, who, in return sent a church bell, which never reached the town.
Shelburne went into Opposition where he continued to associate with William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham. They were both critical of the policies of the North government in the years leading up to the outbreak of the American War of Independence in 1775. As the war progressed Shelburne co-operated with the Rockingham Whigs to attack the government of Lord North. After a British army was compelled to surrender at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, Shelburne joined other leaders of the Opposition to call for a total withdrawal of British troops.
In March 1782 following the downfall of the North Government Shelburne agreed to take office under Lord Rockingham on condition that the King would recognise the United States. Following the sudden and unexpected death of Lord Rockingham on 1 July 1782 Shelburne succeeded him as Prime Minister. Shelburne's appointment by the King provoked Charles James Fox and his supporters, including Edmund Burke, to resign their posts on 4 July 1782. Burke scathingly compared Shelburne to his predecessor Rockingham. One of the figures brought in as a replacement was the 23-year-old William Pitt, son of Shelburne's former political ally, who became Chancellor of the Exchequer. That year, Shelburne was appointed to Order of the Garter as its 599th Knight.
Shelburne's government continued to negotiate for peace in Paris using Richard Oswald as the chief negotiator. Shelburne entertained a French peace envoy Joseph Matthias Gérard de Rayneval at his country estate in Wiltshire, and they discreetly agreed on a number of points which formed a basis for peace. Shelburne's own envoys negotiated a separate peace with American commissioners which eventually led to an agreement on American independence and the borders of the newly created United States. Shelburne agreed to generous borders in the Illinois Country, but rejected demands by Benjamin Franklin for the cession of Canada and other territories. Historians have often commented that the treaty was very generous to the United States in terms of greatly enlarged boundaries. Historians such as Alvord, Harlow and Ritcheson have emphasized that British generosity was based on Shelburne's statesmanlike vision of close economic ties between Britain and the United States. The concession of the vast trans-Appalachian areas was designed to facilitate the growth of the American population and create lucrative markets for British merchants, without any military or administrative costs to Britain. The point was the United States would become a major trading partner. As the French foreign minister Vergennes later put it, "The English buy peace rather than make it".
Fox's departure led to the unexpected creation of a coalition involving Fox and Lord North which dominated the Opposition. In April 1783 the Opposition forced Shelburne's resignation. The major achievement of Shelburne's time in office was the agreement of peace terms which formed the basis of the Peace of Paris bringing the American War of Independence to an end.
His fall was perhaps hastened by his plans for the reform of the public service. He had also in contemplation a Bill to promote free trade between Britain and the United States.
When Pitt became Prime Minister in 1784, Shelburne, instead of receiving a place in the Cabinet, was created Marquess of Lansdowne. Though giving a general support to the policy of Pitt, he from this time ceased to take an active part in public affairs. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1803. A personal act of 1797 relieved him from "from disabilities in consequence of his having sat and voted in the House of Lords without having made the necessary oaths and declarations".
Lord Lansdowne was twice married:
- John Henry Petty, 2nd Marquess of Lansdowne (6 December 1765 – 15 November 1809), who sat in the House of Commons for twenty years as member for Chipping Wycombe before inheriting his father's marquessate. He married Mary Arabella Maddox (died 24 April 1833), the daughter of Rev. Hinton Maddox and the widow of Duke Gifford, on 27 May 1805; they had no sons.
- Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne (1780–1863), who succeeded his half-brother in the title.
- Lady Louisa Fitzmaurice (born bef. 1789)
Cabinet of Lord Shelburne
|Ancestors of William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne|
- Cannon, John. "Petty, William, second earl of Shelburne and first marquess of Lansdowne (1737–1805)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford University Press, 2004); online edn, Sept 2013 accessed 16 Nov 2014 doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/22070
- Fitzmaurice, Edmond. Life of William, Earl of Shelburne. Macmillan & Co. (2nd ed., 1912 [1st ed. 1875], reprinted 2006).OCLC 3220064 (complete list of all editions).
- Fleming, Thomas. The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival After Yorktown. First Smithsonian books, 2008.
- Middleton, Charles. The Bells of Victory: The Pitt-North Ministry and the Conduct of the Seven Years' War, 1757–1762. Cambridge University Press, 1985.
- Nelson, Paul David. Sir Charles Grey, First Earl Grey: Royal Soldier, Family Patriarch. Associated University Presses, 1996.
- Norris, John. Shelburne and Reform. Macmillan, 1963. online
- Ritcheson, Charles R. "The Earl of Shelbourne and Peace with America, 1782–1783: Vision and Reality." International History Review (1983) 5#3 pp: 322–345. online
- Schweizer, Karl W. (ed.) Lord Bute: Essays in Reinterpritation. Leicester University Press, 1998.
- Simpson, W. O. "Lord Shelburne and North America." History Today (Jan 1960) 19#1 pp 52-62.