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

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