Saturday, June 24, 2017

General Henry Seymour Conway: Elder Statesman, 1768-1784.

I recently added the sixth and final chapter of my doctoral dissertation, “Henry Seymour Conway and the Commons’ Cause, 1719-1784” to the page section of this website. All six chapters as well as a Preface on now on the site. Posting the dissertation on this site has been a labor of love on my part.  The dissertation was completed and accepted by Fordham University long ago in 1972 under the supervision of Ross J. S. Hoffman. Dr. Hoffman was an emeritus Professor and I believe I was one of his last doctoral candidates. Although I went on to other things, I will never forget General Conway, Horace Walpole, or Dr. Hoffman.


Gainsborough: General Conway 

Chapter Six covers the sixteen-year period that began with the end of the Chatham administration in 1768 and ends with Conway’s withdrawal from public life in 1784 at the age of 65 after he failed that year to be nominated for a place in the new Parliament. The great central concern of those years was the American war. During this period Conway, known as a friend of America for his role in the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766, consistently opposed all attempts to coerce the Americans by military force.

However, his vaunted independence meant that he was never considered to be part of any opposition group or party. In fact, his independence made him just the man to move the end of all offensive military operations in America after the disaster at Yorktown. He served briefly in the second Rockingham administration but stayed on after Rockingham’s death in order to secure peace. His actions alienated Whig friends like Charles Fox and Edmund Burke and the formation of the Fox North coalition marked the end of his political career.

In retirement he was free for the last ten years of his life to concern himself with a variety of other interests. In her edition of the works of Horace Walpole, Conway's famous cousin and friend, Mary Berry penned this little appreciation of General Conway in retirement.
It is only those who…have had the opportunity of penetrating into the most secret motives of his public conduct, and the inmost recesses of his private life, that can do real justice to the unsullied purity of his character—who like the editor saw and knew him in the evening of his days, retired from the honourable activity of a soldier and a statesman to the calm enjoyment of private life, happy in the resources of his own mind, and in the cultivation of useful science in the bosom of domestic peace—unenriched by pensions or places, undistinguished by titles or ribbons, unsophisticated by public life and unwearied by retirement.[1]
As an avid chess player, I was happy to discover recently that one of his favorite activities was chess. Some of his games can still be found online. One was a loss to the great French master, Philidor.
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[1] The Works of Horatio Walpole, Earl of Orford, (5 vols.; London, 1798), I, XVIII.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Henry Seymour Conway and the Chatham Administration

Today, January 27, 2017, I have added Chapter V of my doctoral dissertation, Henry Seymour Conway and the Commons's Cause, 1741-1784, to the page section of this site. The dissertation was originally completed in 1972, fifty five years ago. I must admit that I have not kept up with General Conway in the intervening years, but reading these pages has brought Conway and his times back to life for me.

Henry Seymour Conway
Lewis Walpole Library
Farmington, CT


Chapter V deals with Conway's role in the short-lived and ill-fated Chatham Administration. He played a major role but history has not been kind to him. I tried to correct that judgment in this chapter.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Henry Seymour Conway and the Stamp Act Crisis



This month I have added the fourth chapter of my doctoral dissertation on the political career of General Henry Seymour Conway to this site. (See page headings above) It deals with his role in the short lived Rockingham administration in which he served as Southern Secretary of State with responsibility for the American colonies. He was a military man and took the position with reluctance mainly at the urging of his patron, the Duke of Cumberland, the uncle of the young King George III.

General Henry Seymour Conway
Walpole Lewis Library
Farmington, CT


On accepting the post he could have had no idea that Cumberland would die a few months later and leave the newly formed ministry substantially weakened. The failure of the new administration to attract additional support among leading politicians forced Conway into a more active role, especially since the great matter of the next Parliamentary session would be the government's response to the surprising riots in the American colonies over the recently imposed Stamp tax.

Eventually, Conway would take the lead for the ministry in guiding the repeal of the Stamp Act through the House of Commons. Coincidentally, Conway had been one of the few in the House who had opposed the passage of the Stamp tax in the previous session.

History has not regarded General Conway's political abilities very highly but even Edmund Burke, who became critical of Conway in the years after the fall of the Rockingham administration, gave Conway high praise for his role during the Stamp Act crisis. Burke described the scene after the vote for repeal.

When at length you had determined in their favor, and your doors thrown open showed them the figure of their deliverer [Conway] in the well earned triumph of his important victory, from the whole of that great multitude there arose an involuntary burst of gratitude and transport. They jumped upon him like children on a long absent father. They clung about him as captives about their redeemer. All England, all America joined in his applause.

Hopefully, in the New Year I will be able to publish the final two chapters on this site.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Henry Seymour Conway and the Commons' Cause


Today I add to this site the second chapter of my 1972 PhD dissertation, "Henry Seymour Conway and the Commons' Cause. The first chapter dealt with Conway's early career especially his family background when he entered the political world during the last years of the tenure of his famous uncle, Sir Robert Walpole. Chapter 2 deals with Conway's political career and associations in the years foliowing Walpole's fall from power until the accession of George III. Conway's association with the Dukes of Devonshire, especially his significant role as Irish Secretary in 1755/6 during the brief but successful tenure of the Marquis of Hartington (later Duke of Devonshire) right before the onset of the Seven Years War.

Below is a brief excerpt from the Preface that can be found in full by clicking on the page heading above. The full chapters with footnotes can be accessed in the same way.

In 1766 General Henry Seymour Conway moved the repeal of the Stamp Act in the House of Commons, and in 1782 it was his motion for an end to offensive warfare in America which brought an end to Lord North’s administration. And yet, save for he article in the Dictionary of National Biography and the summary of his parliamentary career by John Brooke in The History of Parliament, his story has never been told. His presence on those two occasions has been regarded as almost accidental or inconsequential since historians have generally held him to have been an inept and ineffectual politician—“a better soldier than he was an officer, and more of an officer than a statesman.” This judgment was based on the Memoirs of Horace Walpole, Conway’s cousin and great friend, which might cause one to suspect that Conway was a pawn in Walpole’s hands; and on criticism hurled at Conway by such men as Edmund Burke and Charles Fox who accused him of deserting the Whig cause.

The following study of Conway’s parliamentary career suggests, however, that though a good solder, Conway was an even better statesman. An Old Corp Whig from the beginning of his career, he moved in the highest circles of politics, played a key role in the development of the Whig opposition in 1763, and two years later was a major figure in the Rockingham administration. The Chatham administration could not have been formed without his concurrence and his support kept it alive. Of equal importance was his intervention in the affairs of Ireland, America and India during this period. Finally, Conway was a resolute defender of “the cause of the House of Commons,” the great central concern of Whiggery in the age of George III.





* Hopefully, the remaining chapters will be added to this site in the near future.

Dr. Francis P. DeStefano
Fairfield, CT