William Huskisson

William Huskisson,  

THE RIGHT HONORABLE
WILLIAM HUSKISSON, M.P.
ETC. ETC. ETC.

(11th March, 1770 – 15th September 1830)

WHEN the history of the momentous era in which we have lived shall he written, few names will appear upon its page of higher celebrity, or of more real importance, than that of WILLIAM HUSKISSON . His great advancement in society from a private rank to that of a Cabinet Minister, entrusted with the most essential concerns of the nation, is a sufficient proof that his mind was of no ordinary quality; and the extent of his views on financial and commercial questions, leading as they did to a mighty alteration in the whole system of British policy, demonstrates with equal truth, that he was among the few competent to grapple with the new opinions and the difficulties of the age, and to turn to prosperity and weal, what, under an opposite course, could only have been productive of wretchedness and wo.

That in a country like this, crowded with peculiar and conflicting interests, the principles and measures of Mr. Huskisson, should have been challenged and opposed, was as necessary a consequence as their proposition : but candour must allow, that as existing prejudices died away, they have already proceeded far in the career of conversion, and at length afford a clear prospect of being ultimately acknowledged and adopted as the only true bases of national security, wealth, power, and grandeur.
Of the parentage of this eminent man, we cannot give a more correct and concise account, than was contained in the public journals, soon after the dreadful accident which removed him from his influential sphere of usefulness in this world.

Mr. Huskisson's father, William, was the second son of William Huskisson, Esq., of Oxley, near Wolverhampton; who married Elizabeth, daughter of John Rotton, Esq., of an old and respectable family in Staffordshire. On his marriage, he hired a residence with an extensive farm at Birch Moreton, in Worcestershire, and his eldest son, the late William Huskisson, was born at Birch Moreton Court, on the 11th of March, 1770. Mr. and Mrs. Huskisson had three other sons, and she died soon after giving birth to the youngest, in 1774: Mr. Huskisson's elder brother having also died about this time unmarried, he quitted Worcestershire, returning to his father at, Oxley, and, succeeding to that property, continued to reside upon it till his death, in 1790.

Of his family by his first wife, besides the subject of this Memoir, Richard, the second son, died at Guadaloupe, in 1794, a surgeon in the arms; Samuel is the present General Huskisson; and Charles, the youngest, resides near Birmingham. By a second wife, whom he married after a lapse of time, Mr. Huskisson had also several children. the eldest of whom is Captain Huskisson, of the Royal Navy.

On the death of his mother, William, not then five years old was placed in an infant school at Brewood, in Staffordshire ; when older, removed to Albrighton ; and lastly, to Appleby. in Leicestershire, where he gave evident promise of the talents by which he has since been so memorably distinguished.

Arrived at the age of between twelve and thirteen, (in 1783,) William, and his brother Richard, were committed to the charge of Dr. Gem, their mother's uncle, a gentleman highly esteemed, as well for his medical skill, as for his other scientific and literary acquirements. He had accompanied the Duke of Bedford on the embassy to France in 1792-3; and the society of the men of letters with whom he mixed, and the great facilities which Paris then afforded for the researches of science, decided him to fix his residence in that capital and its vicinity, paying occasional visits to his friends in England, and to his small family estate in Worcestershire, which at his decease, in 1800,he bequeathed to Mr. Huskisson. Dr. Gem always felt great interest in the children of his favourite niece, and having expressed a wish, in consequence of the second marriage contracted by their father, that the two eldest boys should be entrusted to his care, they were permitted to accompany him on his return to Paris.

Dr. Gem superintended the education of his relatives with the utmost solicitude : and from the unassuming and bashful character of William. it must have be fortunate for him to have been confided to so kind and fostering a hand. As the greater part of the Staffordshire estate was entailed upon him, there was no necessity far his adopting a profession ; and it appears that, in whatever way his studies were directed, he was anther a medical student nor a banker's clerk, as has been very erroneously reported. On the contrary, the stirring and extraordinary character of the scenes by which he was surrounded, and the private circumstances in which he was placed, his uncle being the intimate friend of Dr. Franklin, seem to have given him that impulse to politics, which became the occupation of his life, and the source of the proud distinction he attained.

With all the natural fervour of youth, he joined the cause of liberty, yet unstained by the atrocities committed in its holy name ; and looked forward with enthusiasm to that dazzling prospect, which was to cover the universal globe with happiness, and realize the dreams of poetry. His time to be a philosopher had not arrived and the reserved boy started at once into the warn assertor of the people's rights. He was present at the taking off the Bastile, at which time he was nineteen, and it us about that period he became distinguished by his speech at the " quatre vingt neuf" not the Jacobin Club, to which latter he never did belong. His speech at the " padre vingt neuf " is extant, and the subject of it is the policy of an additional issue of assignats, treated in a manner which would not have disgraced the mature experience of the speaker. So far from being jacobinical, the only approach to liberalism in this address is, a recommendation to meet the wants of the state, not by the issue of a depreciated paper, but by the sale of national property.

But events speedily took place, which diverted him from this course, and from all connexion with those whose love of freedom soon degenerated into a rage for revolution. He received the offer of becoming private secretary to Lord Gower, (now Marquis of Stafford,) the British Ambassador at Paris ; an office for which he was singularly eligible, from his being a perfect master of the French language, and intimately acquainted with the state of parties in France, their schemes, their intricacies, and their strength.

Having accepted this appointment, Mr. Huskisson became a member of the Ambassador's family, and a resident in his hotel ; thus laying the foundations of the powerful friendship with which his Lordship and the Countess of Sutherland continued to honor him for nearly forty years. Upon the return of Lord Gower to England, in 1792, Mr. Huskisson accompanied him, and continued to pass the greater part of his time with his Lordship. and in his society. Soon after, Mr. Dundas expressed to Lord Gower his wish to select some gentleman of who was intimately conversant with the French tongue, in order to assist in the projected arrangement of an office for the affairs of the emigrants, who had taken 'refuge in England. Lord Gower immediately mentioned Mr. Huskisson as being highly qualified for the situation; which Mr. Dundas then offered, and he accepted, early in 1793.

The previous habits in which Mr. Huskisson had been engaged, and the great expansion of his mind, had unfitted him for following the example of the former members of his family, who had for so many years resided upon their own property, and he felt disinclined to the quiet life of a country gentleman. His father had been obliged to alienate a considerable part of his property, in order to make provision for his younger children, (of whom he left eight by his two marriages,) and his eldest son inherited only the entailed property at Oxley, the adjoining lands and the advowson of the parish of Bushbury having been directed to be sold. These and other circumstances induced Mr. Huskisson to take measures for cutting off the entail, to sell his landed property, and to devote himself to official life.

Nor could he have come to a more prudent and fortunate determination. Already had his talents secured the approbation and regard of those most competent appreciators of political abilities, Mr. Pitt and Mr. Dundas ; and, among other lights of the age, had united him in a friendship with Mr. Canning, which never met the slightest interruption till death dissevered the tie. The unreserved confidence that always aimed between these two veal men, affords not only a fine example of virtue and constancy amid the vicissitude and collisions of the public service, but it produced very marked consequences in the administration of the government. Each confirmed each. in the wisdom and expediency of measures to be proposed ; and the cool head of Huskisson, master of every view of figures and calculation, was not less effective .on these occasions, than the eloquent voice of Canning ; both being gifted with profound judgment, and minds of the most comprehensive order.

In the year 1795, Mr. Huskisson succeeded Mr. Nepean, as Under Secretary of State in the Colonial department, the seals of which were then held by Mr. Dundas ; and was brought into parliament for the town of Morpeth, under the auspices of Mr. Pitt, which borough he continued to represent till the dissolution in 1802, though he had resigned his situation on the retirement of the Pitt ministry, in 1801. At the general election he stood for Dover ; but, after a severe contest, during five days. declined proceeding ; his opponents, Messrs. Trevannion and Spencer Smith beats: ahead on the poll, the former
200, and the latter votes. His farewell address was so conciliatory and handsome, that it won him the admiration even of his adversaries. He remained out of parliament till 1804; when, Mr. Pitt and his friends returning to power, the succession of the Hon.. John Elliot to the peerage opened to him the representation of Liskeard, which he carried, after a close contest with Mr. Thomas Sheridan, and was appointed Joint Secretary of the Treasury, together with Mr. Sturges Bourne. For this borough he was again elected in 1806.* On the death of Mr. Pitt, in this year, Mr. Huskisson again relinquished office ; and was, during the short administration of Lord Grenville and Mr. Fox, a member of the opposition.

*His other parliamentary seats were Harwich, 1807; Chichester, 1812 to 1823; and, finally, Liverpool, where he succeeded Mr. Canning.

In 1807 he returned to his post at the Treasury, Mr. Canning having been appointed Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs ; and, in 1809, when that gentleman quitted the government, Mr. Huskisson followed him, and did not again accept office till Mr. Canning was appointed to the embassy to Portugal in 1814, when he became First Commissioner of Woods and Land Revenue. He remained do that situation till 1823, when he succeeded Mr. Robinson (now Lord Goderich) in the offices of Treasurer of the Navy and President of the Board of Trade, and was shortly after called to a seat in the cabinet. On the death of Mr. Canning, and the formation of Lord Goderich's administration, Mr. Huskisson again succeeded his Lordship, and became Secretary of State for the Colonial Department the seals of which he held till the appointment of Sir George Murray in May, 1828.

Mr. Huskisson also held for some years the valuable Colonial Agency for the island of Ceylon ; but, in 1823, considering it incompatible with his other situations, he relinquished the office.

Having traced the official appointments, and the elections to parliament, of Mr. Huskisson, it becomes our duty to cast a cursory glance over the principal events which illustrated either career. Etiquette and the discipline of office prevent the inferior members of government from being frequent speakers in the House, or delivering their opinions upon the great questions which are brought into discussion ; and, in this respect, able men on the side of opposition enjoy many advantages of popular distinction above contemporaries of higher talents, who happen to be trammelled by the considerations to which we have alluded.

We find, accordingly, that throughout the earlier years of his parliamentary life, Mr. Huskisson spoke bat little, though, in his ministerial capacity, he furnished the organs of the Cabinet with a large. proportion of the financial details, on the soundness and accuracy of which their measures and their exposition so mainly depended.. When he did speak, the clearness with which he stated the most intricate subjects, and the perfect simplicity of his address, always commanded attention ; and he was listened to as a man whose arguments, if not approved, it would be very difficult to combat. By this means be gradually advanced. acquiring additional weight in the House of Commons : and a amber of his speeches, at a later period, flayed various and extensive powers, which it would bare been rash to predicate even from the promise of
he former. fame. His reasoning was always cogent ; but it required time and practice to render him so formidable in the satire and other engines of oratory, with which he was ultimately wont to embellish and enforce his opinions. It was thus he replied to the motion of Colonel Wardle for retrenchment in the army and navy, when the brightest dawn of success rose upon the British arms, in the mortal struggle in which we were engaged. But, though be condemned the wild projects of innovation to paralyze our strength, he was, throughout his whole course, the advocate for economy, and the reform of real evils—in office, by suggesting plans to the executive ; and, out of office, by a straight-forward, constitutional, and persevering, yet not by a vexatious and harassing parliamentary opposition.

On the celebrated Bullion question, Mr. Huskisson took a prominent share : and, as one of the Committee, as well as by his pen. contributed much to the prevalence of the doctrine, that a return to cash payments was absolutely necessary for the credit and prosperity of the kingdom His pamphlet on this subject (though he wavered slightly in 1815) is, indeed, a work of prodigious information ; but, on the question itself, we do not feel qualified to pronounce a judgment.

Upon the Corn Laws also, Mr. Huskisson must be considered one of the highest authorities ; and while we often read in newspapers, and other periodicals, the loudest charges against him as the supporter of the Free Trade system, which these writers are pleased to deprecate, it is worth while to notice, that he contended strenuously against the free importation of grain, on the ground that the reciprocity principles, however sound in the abstract, were inapplicable in the complexity of our artificial state.

His exertions in the Finance Committee of 1819, and a the debates which ensued, probably saved the ministry from being overthrown ; and his principal speech upon the occasion was one of so extraordinary a character, as to excite a vivid sensation throughout the political world. It has justly been said of it, that his masterly detail, on taking his stand between the combatants, went through the financial revisions of the several continental states, as though the management of each exchequer had been under his own control ; and while he did not disguise or embarrassments, but insisted upon the sole remedy of retrenchment and economy, he forbade the country to despair, and pointed out the path. which, if pursued, must lead to future security and happiness.

In our Commercial relations, the objects subsequently carried by Mr. Huskisson as a minister of the crown, have been. and are. of immense importance, although the many individual and private interests which were implicated, whether in the continuance of monopolies or the enjoyment of lucrative privileges, exposed him to the clamour of many loud tongues. in the midst of the very general applause, which hailed him as these same points as an oracle of national wisdom. With regard to the silk trade, he showed that the inferiority of our manufactures was owing to the absence of competition, as we excluded foreign goods by our heavy duties, which yet did no protect our own, in consequence of the temptations they held out to successful smuggling.

His alterations in our Colonial system were still more momentous ; for in 1825 he opened the trade of the colonies (hitherto confined to the parent state,) to all other countries navigating in direct intercourse, either in ships of their own or in those of the colonies to which they were bound. And in many other ways he relaxed or threw off the shackles which cramped and limited the interchange of commodities. On some he reduced our import duties,—duties imposed not with a view to revenue, but to give monopoly, under the name of protection, to the home producer, and which were of course met by counter-prohibitions in foreign countries- By entering into the history of commerce, he demonstrated, that those articles of manufacture which had been most fostered, had most languished; that excessive duties made the lawless and desperate smuggler's fortunes. at the same time demoralizing a numerous class of people, while the manufacturer was disappointed, the fair trader ruined, and the exchequer cheated; and that the true policy of the state, and the real advantage of those immediately concerned, would be best consulted by reducing those duties to what was merely sufficient to counteract whatever might be imposed on the importation of the raw material used in the respective manufactories of every kind and description.

In the Navigation Laws, Mr. Huskisson, in the same spirit, caused considerable relaxations to be made; and when this increased the outcry against him, he manfully challenged the impugners of his " Free Trade" to come forward with their plan to show the superiority of their " Fettered Trade."

In our rapid sketch of Mr. Huskisson's political life, we brought it down to 1828 when he was succeeded as Colonial Secretary by Sir George Murray. Anxious to superintend till they had reaped the maturity of a fair trial, those great measures to which have succinctly alluded, and on the fruition of which be believed the prosperity of England to depend, Mr Huskisson  had, at the disolution of Lord Goderich's ministry, accepted of office under the premiership of the Duke of Wellington. It does not appear, however, that his Grace was quite cordial in this co-operation ; at least a mistake on the interpretation of his colleague's opinions respecting the Corn Bill, by which it was virtually thrown out by the Peers, showed a difference of views, or a misunderstanding, on that important subject. But, whatever were the real wishes of the Premier, a circumstance occurred, which led to an abrupt and no very ceremonious separation between him and Mr. Huskisson.

In a debate on the 19th of May, 1828, on the proposed disfranchisement of East Retford, Mr. Huskisson being called on to redeem a former pledge, felt himself in honor constrained to divide against his colleagues ; and on this dilemma wrote a explanatory letter to the Head of the administration, in which he stated that if his conduct in this particular rendered it necessary, he was prepared to place his office at his Grace's disposal. The Duke immediately acted upon this as ash absolute resignation, and, in despite of a correspondence which ensued, insisted peremptorily on his own construction of the terms, so that Mr. Huskisson had no alternative but to retire. Without offering an opinion upon the matter, we may remark, that by the dismissal of his most efficient colleague, a man so much looked up to by the country as at once a practical and statesman the Duke of Wellington struck a severe bulss against the strength of his own position. When the attack came by which he was overwhelmed, the want of the aid, which the party with whom Mr. Huskisson acted would hare afforded him, precipitated the fall of his ministry.

After leaving office, in the sessions 1828-9, Mr. Huskisson delivered luminous speeches on the East India trade and in favour of free intercourse, on the Roman Catholic Bill, on the shipping interests, on the Colonial reciprocity system, on the necessity of strengthening the Canadas, on the expediency of reducing the duties on sugar, on emigration as a relief to the mother country, and other questions of paramount interest.. He also supported Lord Palmerston in his motion on Portugal, (March 10th, 1830,) and maintained that the line pursued by the successors of Mr. Canning was discreditable and unjust; and he farther spoke in their behalf, on Mr. Charles Grant's motion in favour of the Jews.

On the dissolution of Parliament, his health, which had been for some time fluctuating, and had previously required a trip to the Continent, was so much affected, that he could not attend at his re-election for Liverpool. But the repose of a short adjournment in the Isle of Wight, released from ministerial toils, and the burdens of parliamentary application to the most important subjects, restored him so much, that he resolved in the early part of September to visit his constituents, and assist at the grand ceremony of opening the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. At Liverpool he was received with enthusiasm, and addressed the multitude assembled to swell his triumph in a speech in which be enforced his well-known principles respecting free trade. &c.. and appealed to the prosperous condition of Liverpool itself, in proof of their incontrovertibility.

Only two days after (Oh the uncertainty of human hopes and existence !) the fatal accident occurred, which deprived Liverpool of his services, and his country of his counsels, for ever. On the particulars of this dreadful event it would be painful to dwell ; aid as we cannot draw a more modest, just, and unaffected picture of its bearings, than is contained in the brief memoir which a well-informed friend published, in order to correct the floating misstatements of the press, we shall offer no apology for transcribing his words.

He says of the esteemed and lamented Mr. Huskisson" His commercial measures are often before the world ; and even those who have not been converted to his liberal views of policy, admit the integrity of his intentions ; whilst no higher testimony can be offered to his private worth, than the almost universal regret and sorrow. manifested for his loss. The energies of his powerful mind were not subdued under the agonising sufferings of his closing hours and the clearness and self possession with which be performed the last duties of a man and a Christian, excited the astonishment  and admiration of all who surrounded him at that awful moment. Those who knew his most can best bear testimony to the perfect truth and sincerity of his dying declaration,' that he expired at peace with all mankind.'

On the same unquestionable authority it is added, " His long acquaintance with the Duke of Wellington, and the recollection which he retained of several kind offices received from him, had always kept alive, in Mr. Huskisson's mind, notwithstanding the political misunderstandings which had arisen between them, sentiments of private regard towards his Grace, which made him most ready to follow the Duke's example in continuing towards each other the usual courtesies of society. Upon the occasion of the Duke of Wellington's visit to Liverpool, when he was to receive the freedom of that town, voted to him many years since for his transcendent military services, Mr. Huskisson naturally felt that, from his connexion with Liverpool, he was more especially called upon to pay to his Grace every mark of respect and attention, and, actuated by these feelings, he was induced to go in front of the car to shake hands with the Duke of Wellington, at the time when a pause had occurred in the procession of the carriages on the railway. His return into the car was thereby delayed. and to this delay is to be attributed the fatal accident which caused his death. That such only were his feelings, prompted by no political motives, his intimate friends will perfectly understand ; for more than one of them well knew his determination not again to accept office under the Duke of Wellington. It is proper to state, that to Mr Huskisson himself, his Grace had never made the slightest overture for any political reconciliation since 1828.."

Mr. Huskisson's leg and thigh being horribly lacerated by the wheel of the engine passing over them, as the unfortunate gentleman lay upon the road, his sufferings were most appalling. His melancholy fate was witnessed by his wife, whose shriek of agony none that heard (says an eye-witness of the circumstances) will ever forget. He was removed, as carefully and speedily as possible, amid the confusion and distress, to Eccles, where, in the house of the vicar, Mr. Blackburn, after partaking of the holy sacrament, and making a few slight alterations in his Will, he breathed his last at five minutes past nine o'clock, on Wednesday, September 15, 1830. The admirable fortitude with which he endured the tortures of his frame, and the calmness with which he met his end, have been described, in most affecting language, by the medical attendants, and by his friends who were present. Mrs. Huskisson, with the resolution which calamity and danger so often inspire in the tender and delicate breast of woman, remained with her beloved husband to the last; when, nature yielding to the overwhelming power of affliction, she was almost by force separated from the dead.

We need not particularize- the sitting of the inquest—the sighs of mourning observed at Liverpool, and other places near the scene it this melancholy event—the ceremony of the public funeral in the centre of the New Cemetery at Liverpool—the contents of the Will—nor all the other minutiae, which fill up the usual measure of biographical details. But before allotting a sentence to his domestic history, we may repeat of his public character, that the secret of his oratory lay in the facility with which he could bring a number of facts to bear upon his argument, and in the soundness and comprehensiveness of his views. He was not an opponent with whom it was difficult to grapple, for he disdained all slippery arts of avoiding an antagonist; but he was one whom the stoutest champion found it impossible to throw. To the matter-of-fact arguer, Mr. Huskisson could present an accumulation of details sufficient to stagger the most practical ; while to him who looted to rule: rather than cases, he could offer general principles conceived in so enlarged a spirit, that even in his unadorned communication of them, they rose to sublimity Nothing could be finer than the splendid perorations of his more elaborate speeches. With such powers, what would have been his influence in the House of Commons, about to assemble at the period of his death what effect would his presence hare had on the great political questions which so soon occupied its attention. and on the shape of those changes which almost immediately ensued The answer is beyond our sphere : but we may safely assert, that, had he not been removed by an over-ruling Providence, so eminent was his station, and so commanding his talent, they must have produced a striking difference in the turn of affairs, and consequently in the destinies of Britain and the world. It is glory enough to an individual who has raised himself by his native energy, to merit a tribute like this.

In private life Mr. Huskisson evinced the same mildness and affability that distinguished him in public employment. There was a charming quietude in his general manner ; and it was only when drawn out, when stimulated by inquiry or the conversation of those with whom he was intimate, that the ample stores of his rich mind were poured forth, or the animation of social intercourse elicited.

On the 6th of April, 1799, Mr. Huskisson married Eliza Emily, the youngest daughter of Admiral Milbanke ; but has left no family.

In 1800 he purchased the Villa of Eartham, about five miles from Chichester, from Hawley the poet, which he enlarged and adorned in an elegant style, making it his Sabine farm from the cares of state_ at such times as his heavy official duties permitted this indulgence. The estate he also increased to five or six hundred acres ; and here he maintained that community with his Chichester constituents, which so greatly endeared him to that respectable and independent body of electors.

We have only to add, that our Portrait is, by his kind permission, engraved from an original picture of John Gladstone, Esq. (one of his most influential and stedfast friends, as he had been before of the illustrious George Canning,) by John Graham, Esq. of Edinburgh, three months previous to Mr. Huskisson's lamented death.