Chapter V: The King's Minister: The Chatham Administration, 1766-1768

                   Chapter V. The King’s Minister: The Chatham Administration, 1766-1768

On July 9, 1766 George III informed his ministers of the decision to send for Pitt. The King saw Rockingham first, then Conway and Richmond, and finally the duke of Newcastle. He was gracious to all but particularly praised Conway and “hoped that whatever administration he should have, he should have Mr. Conway’s service.” [1] Pleased with Conway’s refusal to resign with the Duke of Grafton the King may have seen that the General, who in that instance put duty to the Crown above personal friendship and obligation, was right for an administration designed to free him from faction. Moreover, Conway had gained considerable stature as a leader in the House of Commons. By this time he and George Grenville were regarded as the only men capable of leading the House, and since Grenville was personally objectionable to the King, Conway was necessary. The King had not seen Pitt as yet but he knew the great man shared this view.  In the previous session Pitt had often expressed his confidence in Conway’s leadership, and even when he attacked the ministry in April, he had not blamed Conway. Indeed, in his speech of April 24 calling for a ministry of all parties, Pitt apparently indicated that such a ministry should have Conway for its leader in the House. [2] One of the first things Pitt did after seeing the King on July 11 was to ask Conway to remain as Northern Secretary of State and lead the House. [3]

Alone among the ministers who saw the King on July 9 Conway welcomed the King’s decision. He told the King, “Sir, I am glad of it; I always thought it was the best thing your Majesty could do. I wish it may answer.” He believed that Pitt was “a great man” although “not unexceptionable.” [4] Nevertheless, Conway received Pitt’s offer with some reserve. He liked an administration formed “without regard to parties, distinctions, or connections,” and was pleased with Pitt’s expressed intention to model it on the basis of the existing administration, but “he could not give any answer till he knew what was designed, the plan of administration, and the measures.” [5] Pitt then informed him that he meant to ask Lord Temple to take the treasury. To serve with Grenville’s brother was asking a great deal of Conway, and he declined to commit himself until he could consult with his friends. Lord Hertford and Horace Walpole urged him to go on, and even Grafton did not object to Temple, but Richmond and Lord John Cavendish pressed him to resign. Many Whigs feared that Temple wou8ld inevitable restore his brother and form a Grenville administration. This fear, however, inclined Conway to go on, since Pitt had warned him that if he could not “conduct the House of Commons, Mr. Grenville must.” [6] Temple’s refusal and Grafton’s acceptance of the Treasury finally removed Conway’s difficulties.
He stayed in administration with the approval of his old colleagues. After Temple’s refusal, Newcastle saw how important Conway could be for the Whigs

Pitt must fling himself into us; and therefore he must be reasonable; and so must we, too; he has no other part to take. This the Duke of Grafton and Conway should urge strongly with him; He is now in their hands… [7]

The Duke urged his friends to use “all their Whig-Credit” with Grafton and Conway “to engage them to support the cause, and their friends.” [8]  Conway could now expect to play the role of intermediary between Pitt and the friends of Lord Rockingham. He had hoped for their union and now it appeared possible. He told Newcastle,
After Lord Temple’s retreat I thought all our difficulties at an end; and still hope it may be so. It depends on ourselves. Your Grace’s temper and generous sentiments…will much help to conciliate a thing which we have long thought right and now seems necessary. [9] 

But apart from informing Conway that a few removals were necessary, Pitt formed the ministry without consulting him or the Whigs. Only on July 22, the day before the changes were announced, was Conway told, and then he was not told everything. This failure to consult angered Conway’s Whig friends.  He induced Pitt to call on Rockingham, but the Marquis was ‘not at home,’ a snub which vexed Conway. Nevertheless, trusting in the influence and god intentions of Conway and Grafton, Newcastle and Rockingham urged friends who were allowed to stay not to quit office. The Marquis told Conway
However calm my conduct may be in the present times, I beg and desire it may be understood and known to proceed in great measure from the regard I bear to you and the Duke of Grafton. [10]
With the ministry finally settled Conway told Newcastle,
I flatter myself with thinking the measures, and I hope in general the men too, will be in the light of a Publick System the same, as when I took and inconsiderable part under the auspices of your Grace and some other friends.[11]
The weakness and divisions eventually displayed in the Chatham administration have obscured the belief, held by many on its setting out, that it would be a strong ministry. Pitt’s presence was expected to provide a necessary controlling and superintending authority. Although departments were still regarded as autonomous, it was believed that a ministry required someone who could pull the whole together in the way that Sir Robert Walpole or Henry Pelham had done. Indeed, the absence of such a figure led to suspicions of a secret controlling influence in previous administrations. During his wartime administration Pitt’s ability to dominate and overawe a Cabinet had been his greatest asset. In 1766 he refused to take a great department or sit in the House of Commons but planned to direct those who held such responsibility. Success in this venture depended much on his relationship with the ministers responsible for leadership in Parliament. If a cordial union had been established between Pitt and Conway, things might have gone on smoothly. Such a relationship never developed. From the outset Pitt apparently viewed Conway as a functionary, and failed to consult or consider his opinion in matters of patronage or policy.

Late in July Conway was “thunderstruck” at Hans Stanley’s appointment as Ambassador to Russia, a preliminary to Chatham’s projected Northern alliance. Both the policy and the appointment fell into Conway’s department but he was not even consulted. He remonstrated against a plan likely to drive Austria back into the arms of France, and requested a delay until the matter could be fully considered in Council. [12] His protest availed little and the project collapsed only because of coolness in berlin and St. Petersburg. Later, when it became clear that Chatham planned to investigate the affairs of the East India company with a view to gaining a revenue from that source, He chose William Beckford to take the lead in that business without consulting other ministers. In addition to this neglect changes in the administration were made by Chatham which added further to Conway’s discomfort. In August an overture to the Bedfords on Lord Egmont’s resignation of the Admiralty vexed Conway, and in September he protested against the elevation of the Earl of Northumberland, Bute’s son-in-law, to a Dukedom. [13] At the same time he regretfully informed Newcastle that the Whigs must expect “some further removals; and that some of them would be very disagreeable.” [14] He hoped these would be few and sought to prevent the more disagreeable ones, among which was the removal of the Earl of Edgcumbe as Treasurer of the Household. To gain strength in the House of Commons Chatham wanted the Earl’s staff for John Shelley. This change would have been disagreeable indeed for Shelley was ratting on his uncle, the Duke of Newcastle, and Edgcumbe was a good Whig who, as a favor to Rockingham, had recently bought Lord Beauchamp, Conway’s nephew, into Parliament. Conway imagined that he had succeeded in preventing the Earl’s displacement. Nevertheless, Chatham’s manner and the intentions implicit in these changes were disturbing, and over the summer observers noted that Conway appeared uneasy and displeased. [15] Personal motives added to his discontents. The promotion of Lord Granby, a younger officer associated in the past with Grenville and Bedford, to Commander-in-Chief made Conway fear that his involvement in politics was jeopardizing his military career. Grafton sensed Conway’s feelings and warned Chatham that business would suffer. He suggested that a military position, “enough to show that he has not quitted that line,” would make Conway easy and enable him to “go on with his civil business with alacrity. [16] Chatham would not entertain such an idea but did make some attempt to soothe, praising Conway “for his Whiggism” and asking Horace Walpole to move the Commons’ address.[17] As the session opened there was still some hope that Conway’s importance would make Chatham reasonable.

Parliament was opened on November 11. The King’s speech mentioned the summer’s drought and the resulting scarcity of corn, and ministers asked that Parliament approve an extension on the embargo on corn which the Privy Council had ordered to meet the emergency. Hardly anyone blamed government for this action and only Grenville and his friends opposed in the House of Commons. Grenville did not object to the embargo but blamed the ministry for a neglect which had led to the crisis. He was particularly abusive of Conway but the latter handled him well and was supported by his old friends. The friends of Rockingham and Newcastle had attended Conway’s presession meeting and were giving what Burke called a “voluntary” support to administration. [18] They were waiting to see which way Chatham would go but in the meantime they took pains to show their regard for Conway. Chatham quickly showed his hand. On Friday, November 14, with Conway out of town, Lord Edgcumbe was asked to surrender his staff. A place in the Bedchamber was offered as compensation but the Earl did not regard it as sufficient. When Conway returned to town on Monday, he sent for Rockingham to whom he expressed his hurt and surprise, and wrote a long letter to Chatham confessing himself “much distressed and hurt with what passes on this occasion.” [19] Claiming that Chatham had agreed that no change would be made unless Edgcumbe was satisfied, Conway sided with the latter in viewing the Bedchamber as inadequate compensation. Nor could Conway understand what political advantage was to be gained by this change. Speakers were needed in the House but John Shelley could hardly compensate in that way for the loss of Edgcumbe’s considerable borough influence. In conclusion, he asked Chatham to prevent a deed which would make it exceedingly difficult for him to remain in office.
I cannot with honour continue long in the situation I am in, unless I can preserve that reputation of fairness and consistency which I think I must forfeit by a seeming concurrence in such repeated injuries to those with whom I have lately acted, and to whom I conveyed an engagement…that far from being the objects of particular neglect or resentment, they would rather, in preference, meet the favour and protection of government. [20]
Still, it would be difficult to resign. Conway told Rockingham,
he felt himself in all these matters ill-treated, wished himself out, but doubted whether he would be justified in throwing the King’s affairs into confusion, which his resignation might occasion. [21]
He feared that the collapse of the ministry would force the King to call upon Lord Bute and then “our struggles of the previous four or five years would be thrown away.” [22] When Chatham refused to budge, Conway went to him and spoke of retiring but the Earl replied that he would himself “resign, rather than suffer Mr. Conway to do it.” [23] In this dilemma Conway’s friends pulled him both ways, Hertford and Walpole pressing him to stay on, but Lord George Cavendish and the Duke of Richmond urging him to resign. Conway steered between their views and characteristically decided to attempt a reconciliation. He enlisted Grafton’s support to gain a suitable compensation for Edgcumbe.

In the meantime the Whigs threw added fuel into the fire. On November 19 they decided that the Duke of Portland and Lords Bessborough, Scarborough, and Monson should resign their places. This show of spirit was designed to force Chatham’s hand or back up Conway’s position. Some indeed believed that these resignations would induce Conway to go out although others judged more accurately that he would not. Newcastle told Rockingham,
Conway is our great point. Your Lordship says very rightly, his conduct may depend on ours; and therefore, if he will be our steddy friend, he should in great measure direct us; and our conduct should be agreeable to him.[24]

Nevertheless, a majority of Rockingham’s friends favored the resignations and Portland gave Conway advance notice on November 21. According to the Duke, Conway confessed that
He had not had one happy moment since his embarking…and that if he only consulted his own ease of mind and body he should not stay one moment longer in employment; but that in the present distracted state of affairs he thought it his duty to struggle against his inclinations and endeavor to ride out the storm.
For this reason, while acknowledging the complaints of his friends to be just, Conway objected to their “precipitation” and,  
hoped things were not gone so far as to be beyond an accommodation, and begged the execution of our determination be suspended.
Portland agreed to wait until Monday, November 24, when Conway hoped to approach Chatham with Grafton. [25] At the same time, Lord Bessborough offered to take the vacant place in the Bedchamber and give up the Post Office to Edgcumbe, and Conway jumped at this chance for accommodation. He wrote to Chatham that the solution was at hand, not knowing that Rockingham rejected that scheme. [26]
On the 24th Grafton’s tardiness in getting to town as well as parliamentary business prevented Conway from seeing Chatham. That day Conway introduced a bill of indemnity for those who had advised or executed the corn embargo by order in council. There was no defense against the opposition’s charge that the original embargo was illegal and Conway wisely repudiated Lord Camden’s opinion that necessity made the embargo legal. He was still supported by the friends of Rockingham and Newcastle. That evening a Cabinet was held at Conway’s to hear William Beckford’s plan respecting the East India company. Reports of a great increase in the wealth of the company had sent India shares soaring, and Chatham and the other ministers all saw an opportunity to derive a substantial revenue for the public. [27] But Chatham would not communicate his ideas on this matter to Grafton, Conway, or Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend. Rather, he entrusted William Beckford, an enemy of the company, to bring this great measure into Parliament. Conway was alarmed at the Earl’s method and for months had sought a Cabinet on India fearing that “a rude design must create confusion and impediment.” [28] Finally, he called this meeting of November 24th himself with a view to getting his signals straight with Townshend, who was already acting as a shield for the company. Chatham was absent but the ministers decided to support Beckford’s very general motion for an inquiry into the affairs of the company. Next day, Rockingham’s friends opposed this inquiry, and although they took pains to praise Conway, divided against him. What effect this parliamentary confusion had on the ultimate outcome of the Edgcumbe affair is difficult to say. In any event, Grafton and Conway saw Chatham early Wednesday and found him absolutely determined not to treat on that matter. A spate of Whig resignations followed and Conway blamed Chatham for the failure of reconciliation. The Earl’s remark that “he would not suffer connections to force the King,” infuriated the usually placid soldier, who declared that “such language had never been held west of Constantinople.” From this moment Conway “dropped all intercourse with Lord Chatham.”[29] The treatment of Edgcumbe was the last in a series of provocations making clear that Conway held no authority in this administration.

Rather than stand in awe of Lord Chatham, so recently the ‘Great Commoner,’ pride in his connections and profession led Conway to view himself as equal in dignity to the new Earl. Although full of praise for each other in the previous session these compliments could only mask the basic cleavage between the two men. In the previous reign Conway had been ever in the midst of that inner circle which had dominated politics; he was the nephew of Sir Robert, the intimate of Cumberland, the friend of fox. Pitt had been always an outsider who despairing of breaking into that circle could only try to break it. This antagonism carried over into the reign of George III as Conway naturally fell in with those Whigs who regarded themselves as the heirs of the Whig tradition, while Pitt could never come to concert with them. Different political backgrounds created different approaches to politics. Conway, like Rockingham, preferred to act in politics with a small group of friends who shared the same principles. Pitt had no friends, only admirers. Bemoaning the absence of a “cordial confidence” between Conway and Chatham, Lord Hertford told Grafton,
I believe both wish it though the different manners of the men may in some measure have thrown obstacles in the way. [30]
Conway assured his friends that he meant to leave as soon as possible and believed that the administration could not last long “upon the principles Lord Chatham has adopted.” [31] But while duty obligated him to remain in office, he would not be a tool or slave. He retreated into his own department and determined to follow his own line in Parliament, performing what the age called “official” as distinguished from “active” service. Horace Walpole noted,
He would neither receive nor pay any deference to the Minister’s orders, acting for or against, as he approved or disliked his measures. [32]
Lord Hertford wrote that his brother
sees with calmness and good wishes the difficulties that may attend administration and will…go as far as his own delicate feelings will allow him to act…He does not mean to quit administration immediately, tho’ he seems upon the whole to think he cannot act long in the post he now holds, [33]
It was not uncommon for a parliamentary leader who was denied confidence and authority to remain in place and follow an independent line. Pitt himself had done so after Henry Pelham’s death in 1754. When Newcastle offered him the lead of the House but refused to give him full powers, Pitt replied
If it was expected, that he should take an active part, in support of measures, he must be enabled to do it…he would support the measures which he himself had advised; but would not, like a lawyer, talk from a brief.  [34]
In the House although Conway would not promise that full and hearty support necessary to successful management, he would still act with spirit in support of his own opinion. He never lost an opportunity, for example, to battle George Grenville. On December 3 Grenville again attacked the ministry on the Indemnity bill and,
Had the House with him, had not Conway done better, than ever he did in his life, and cut him down fairly, treating him with contempt and ridicule. [35]
In general, however, administration could not always rely on him. Beckford planned to launch the East India inquiry on December 9 by moving for the inspection of papers relating to the company’s activities in Bengal, and a few days before the King had written Conway that
my great reliance on its success in the House of Commons is on your Abilitys and Character, and I am certain I can rely on your Zeal at all times to carry on my Affairs. [36]
But two days later the King was not sure what part Conway would take. He urged Grafton to speak to him and early in the morning of the day the measure came on he anxiously asked the Duke for the results of his meeting. Grafton replied that Conway would support the inquiry, “being also himself for that entire Information.” [37]  In the House that day both Burke and Grenville attacked the inquiry. The former was extremely sarcastic on Chatham and charged that an invisible power or deity left no Minister in the House, while the latter defended chartered rights. Conway replied to Grenville in a “masterly manner” showing that Parliament had often inquired into the affairs of chartered companies. To Burke’s charge Conway answered that
He disclaimed slavery; was only a passenger in Administration, but always remonstrated against whatever was contrary to his opinion. [38]
The Ministry’s majority remained substantial on the 9th but Conway’s declaration was a sign that it was in for trouble after the recess.

Over the holidays Chatham grew too ill to conduct any business and the Cabinet which he was supposed to superintend continued to fall apart. Without leadership the House of Commons tended to follow its own inclinations or whoever was willing to pander to these, and after the recess the absence of Chatham and the retreat of Conway led to the emergence of Charles Townshend as the mirror of the House. Chatham had always distrusted Townshend but Grafton had insisted that Townshend be his Chancellor of the Exchequer. Conway shared Grafton’s view of Townshend’s abilities and a cordial relationship had long existed between them. Although the two often disagreed during the course of this session, their relationship did not suffer and Conway did not come to share Horace Walpole’s view of Townshend. Nevertheless, Townshend needed a strong man to restrain him, and with Chatham and Conway out of the way he took the initiative. On the India question Townshend wished to avoid an inquiry into the company’s affairs, and offered the House the prospect of a revenue derived from negotiations with the company. In January and February he was able, much to the embarrassment of Beckford, repeatedly to put off the India inquiry. At the same time, he disturbed the ministry by raising the prospect of a revenue from America. On January 26 in a debate on the Army extraordinaries he boasted that he knew the way to gain that revenue. His statement was unauthorized by the Cabinet and Conway could only sit by in amazement. Townshend justified himself in the Cabinet later by appealing to the sense of the House, and Conway was forced to agree that the House liked the idea. In his Autobiography Grafton stated that no one in the Cabinet had sufficient authority to advise Townshend’s dismissal. [39] Even more indicative of this lack of leadership was the ministry’s defeat on another question of supply late in February. A united opposition, country gentlemen, and some placemen seeking popularity, joined to reduce the land tax from four to three shillings in the pound. The leaders in the House did poorly on this question. They appeared unprepared for the attack and disagreed among themselves. Townshend introduced the usual land tax but indicated it might be reduced in the next year if other supplies materialized. Although not in administration, Lord North gave the best defense of the government measure and even argued that Townshend’s prediction of a future reduction was unrealistic. Conway did not speak well but did agree with North on Townshend’s optimistic forecast. [40] Lord George Sackville attributed the defeat to this division among the ministry although others suspected treachery. [41] Both Chatham and Horace Walpole believed that Townshend deliberately dished the measure. A recent biographer of Townshend has put the blame on Conway, however, for failing to employ the arts of management. [42] While there is evidence that Conway wished the 4s. tax to pass, it is true that he refused to influence Members on this occasion. His natural reluctance to employ such tactics was now reinforced by his disgust with Chatham. If a matter lay outside his department, or if he had no strong opinion on it, Conway would not take pains with it. Chatham had never given him such authority and he could not seize it.

In the midst of this ministerial anarchy, when doubts existed as to whether Chatham would ever return to government, the King apparently approached Lord Hertford with the idea of making Conway the Minister. Walpole is the only source for this story [43] and if he was correct, the King certainly must have been desperate. A general at the head of affairs was certainly an anomaly and the King must have known how hard it would have gone down in Parliament. However, it was about this time that Lord Camden complained about Conway’s “niceties, difficulties, and impracticability,” [44] and there is evidence that the King, much as he admired Conway, was struck in the same way. After Portland resigned as Lord Chamberlain in November, the King chose to give the wand to Lord Hertford but carefully kept the news from Conway knowing he would be sensitive to charges that his family was being aggrandized at the expense of his old friends. [45] Again, in March when Conway objected to the termination of Stanley’s embassy to Russia, the King told Grafton, “I perceived he would be flattered if I seemed to give some attention to what he said,” but then ignored Conway’s difficulty. [46] Even if we disbelieve the assertions of Burke and Walpole that the King wanted a pliant tool as Minister, it is clear that George III did not like to be told what he must or must not do. In the previous four years Conway had repeatedly acted against the King’s wishes. By 1767 the King had come to respect his honesty and independence, but these qualities and his military status kept him from filling the gap left by Chatham. In any event, Chatham’s return in early March put an end to speculation of this sort. He returned just as the Cabinet was trying to get down to determination with respect to India and America.

A few days before Chatham returned the negotiations between the ministry and the East India company came to a halt. The directors of the company had submitted a list of proposals but a majority of the Cabinet found these objectionable. Conway and Townshend, however, wished to use the proposals as a ground for further negotiations. Since they were the leaders in the House, their opinion could be ignored only with great difficulty. Unlike Townshend Conway had no India shares and treated this question entirely as a matter of principle, [47] but unlike Chatham he disliked a parliamentary consideration of the company’s right to its territorial possessions. An Old Corps Whig did not like to bring such profound, potentially disturbing questions into Parliament. Indeed, he was happy when Grenville suggested that the right of the Company could best be determined in the law courts. Moreover, he was reluctant, as were the Rockinghamites, to interfere in the affairs of a chartered company. In the language of the day, he disclaimed “violence,” that is, Parliament’s invading the rights of a private company. At one point in the India debates Grenville stated that anything might be taken from the company by legal means, but Conway ridiculed that as “legal tyranny.” [48] He did not believe, however, that Parliament lacked the authority to inquire into the company’s affairs, especially if such a threat induced the company to offer more favorable terms to the public. He desired the Crown to gain a substantial revenue from the company, but only through negotiated settlement.

The resistance of Conway and Townshend forced the administration to give up the parliamentary determination of the “right” of the company, but the Cabinet remained firm in rejecting the director’s proposals and decided to continue the inquiry. Conway declined to conduct that business in the House and even gave the King a written opinion in favor of accepting the company’s proposals as a ground for further treaty. He argued that the proposals did “in effect give up their claim of right” and gave promise of “a very clear revenue for the use of the public.” Finally, he told the King
By pursuing this method of negotiation all the difficulties which attend a Parliamentary decision of this question may be avoided, as well as the inconvenience that must follow from a breach with the Company, or even a delay on making some proper settlement of their affairs. [49]
When the King nevertheless agreed with the rest of the Cabinet, Conway and Townshend both refused to attend any further meetings on India, or take the lead in the House on that matter. Conway declared that he “would cede his province to any man that would.” [50]  On March 6 Beckford moved for all the papers which had passed between the company and the ministry, and although they tried to stay in the background, Conway and Townshend were eventually forced to admit the difference of opinion in the Cabinet. The confusion of having the leaders in the House divide against administration was only avoided by the opposition’s failure to divide against the papers. The King was pleased with the success of Beckford’s motion. “It augers well,” he told Grafton,
For the subsequent days on the East India business, and I am not without hope that if pains are taken…Conway may be persuaded to take a more active part on this occasion than there was any reason to imagine. [51]
The King sent Conway a note appealing to his duty and patriotism, asking him to forget the late difference in the Cabinet as it “related only as to the Mode, not Matter under deliberation.” [52]
Thereafter, Conway did stand forward on the India business but only to steer it in what he considered to be a proper direction. In the House he fought off the opposition but at the same time he and Townshend induced the Cabinet to move back to a negotiated settlement with the company.  On March 9, for example, the opposition united behind a petition from the company asking the House to rescind its order for printing the papers.  The ministry was surprised and run hard but Conway artfully gained a delay of two days by asking the company to name the objectionable papers. Rockingham complained, “It was unlucky Conway did so well today. [53] When the company responded on March 11, Conway and Townshend disarmed opposition by agreeing not to print the papers named by the company, disclaimed any ‘violence,’ and giving their opinion for a negotiated settlement, an opinion which had the general support of the House. Although the parliamentary inquiry resumed on March 20, Conway and Townshend took little part in it and it dwindled to nothing. At the same time, Conway was instrumental in bringing the Cabinet to re-open negotiations with the company. [54] He, Grafton, and Townshend were commissioned to negotiate, and by the end of April he told the House that “the Indian business is in a more promising way than ever.” [55] Indeed, negotiations were going just as he wished until the general court, always an uncertain element in the company, rashly raised the dividend from 10% to 12.5%. In short, the shareholders were taking the money before the public could get its hands on it. This action angered the House of Commons and administration was forced to bring in a bill to restrain the dividend to 10%. Conway, however, regarded this measure as violent and opposed it, forcing Grafton to rely on Jeremiah Dyson to introduce it in the House. The House was then treated to the curious spectacle of a Secretary of State and Chancellor of the Exchequer dividing with the minority against administration. In the end, however, the main lines of the settlement with the company were in conformity with Conway’s views. A substantial revenue was gained, and the right of the company had not been denied.

On the American business of this session Conway again differed with the ministry. It appeared that America had not after all been quieted by the repeal of the Stamp Act. New York had refused to comply with the provisions of the Mutiny Act for quartering and supplying troops in the provinces. A Cabinet of March 12 decided to ask Parliament to prohibit the governor of New York from giving the royal assent to any bills until the New York assembly complied with the provisions of the Mutiny Act. Conway expressed doubts over this measure in the Cabinet, [56] and spoke and divided against it on may 13 when Townshend finally brought it into the House. [57] In the debate that day Grenville violently attacked Conway’s leniency towards America, characterizing his correspondence in the previous year as “encouragement to the colonies in their misbehavior,” and threatening impeachment. [58] His old friends gave him little support against Grenville and almost alone Conway resisted Townshend’s New York resolution, branding it “violent, dangerous, and ineffectual.” He regarded New York’s disobedience as “trifling” and reminded the House that,
The Colonies were not mere corporations; their charters gave them legislative power. On taxes they would always be tender. [59]
Townshend had his way on this measure just as he did on his scheme for raising an American revenue through import duties, which he also introduced on May 13. Aside from the debate that day, which was intertwined with the discussion of the New York resolution, little is known of the passage of the so-called Townshend duties through the House, except that in later years Conway admitted that he had not objected to the duties.  He believed that it was unwise to tax the colonies but accepted the distinction between internal taxation and duties levied in regulation of trade.
Conway’s leadership in the House in this session has been severely criticized but his position in the ministry as well as his performance in the session does not offer much basis for such criticism. [60] It is true that he refused to act as manager of the House but he neither desired nor was given full powers. Therefore, to blame Conway for his refusal to pick up the pieces of this administration after Chatham dropped them is to blame him where none of his contemporaries did. On the contrary, his friends blamed him for staying in and unnecessarily prolonging the life of this “piece of joinery.” He stayed in to serve the King and his country and it cannot be said that he was altogether unsuccessful. On the East India question he resisted Chatham’s violent and extreme plan. Again and again the House showed its preference for a negotiated settlement with the company, and Conway, with no personal following in the House, must be given a large share of the credit for arriving at a mutually satisfactory solution. Nevertheless, his moderating or pacific brand of politics could only go so far in a House which had come to feel that its authority had been questioned too often. Just as the House was quick to react when the general court of the East India company provoked it by raising the dividend, so too did it react when the New York assembly refused to assist the empire in meeting its financial needs.

By the end of May the Indian and American questions were moving smoothly through the commons and the scene of battle shifted to the Lords where Grafton barely survived an opposition onslaught. At last Conway could think of fulfilling his intention, expressed in December, to resign. Serving in this administration had been agony and Conway was determined to free himself at the end of the session. Late in June he gave formal notice to the King and Grafton, and even informed Rockingham. His resignation would mean the end of the administration for Grafton would not stay without him. Once again Conway found himself in a delicate situation: resignation would leave the King without a ministry. Conway advised the King to bring Rockingham and his friends back into office. He always liked to work with these friends, and even though the session had strained their relationship he told Walpole that he would never again serve in administration without them. [61] He wanted them back in office and perhaps would have agreed to lead the House in that case although not as Secretary of State, his preference going to the War Office. He was not suggesting a restoration of the Rockingham administration which had lived in fear of Bute and need of Pitt. Much had happened in one year. The latter was out of the picture and two years in administration had convinced Conway that Bute’s influence was no longer to be dreaded. While he did not disbelieve in that influence, he was confident it could be checked without a wholesale dismissal of Bute’s friends, a point on which the king was very sensitive. [62] Conway’s great concern was to keep Grenville out for the sake of both King and country. Grenville was, as Walpole saw, the only man who had ever inspired Conway with animosity. [63] Ever since the loss of his regiment in 1764 Conway and Grenville had battled in the House, and the repeal of the stamp Act only made their conflict more bitter. Grenville had attacked the liberties of the subject, indecently given law to the King, and thrown an entire continent into riot and rebellion. Conway originally entered administration to free the King from Grenville and correct his measures, and thereafter had been led to believe that only his continued presence kept Grenville from forcing his way back into office. Nothing disturbed Conway more than the thought that his old friends might join Grenville.

No one fully shared Conway’s views. [64] The King did not object to taking a part of the opposition into administration but would as soon have come into Grafton’s view and taken the Bedfords, which Chatham advised. On July 3 Grafton was commissioned to talk to the Bedfords while Conway went to Rockingham. To his disappointment Conway found that his friends did not wish to strengthen what they still considered to be Chatham’s administration, nor did they feel that they had strength enough to come in on their own. Fearing Bute’s influence and believing that help was needed to counter it, they wished to bring the Bedfords into any negotiations. If they were to come in with the Bedfords, there would have to be a general exclusion of Bute’s friends. Although averse to these proposals, Conway advised the King to allow Rockingham to form a plan with the Bedfords. The King, who preferred to divide rather than unite opposition, was horrified at the idea, and sought an alternative. He asked Grafton, whose talks with the Bedfords had come to naught, to remain but again the Duke refused to go on without Conway. In desperation the King even suggested that Lord Hertford take the lead. In the end, however, he agreed to Conway’s proposal but became even more concerned at Rockingham’s insistence that the present ministry must be regarded as ended. To the King this meant that the opposition would ‘storm the Closet,’ and even as Rockingham proceeded to form his plan the King labored to avoid its consequences by preventing Conway’s resignation. He had many willing helpers. Grafton, Hertford, and Walpole all worked on Conway but only Walpole seems to have realized that the way to keep Conway was to give Rockingham every opportunity Conway desired, and then wait for the Marquis to stumble.

On July 17 the King sent Hertford what Walpole termed a pathetic letter urging him to prevent his brother’s resignation. Reviewing the events of the previous two weeks the King said that Conway had already “most scrupulously fulfilled his unguarded promise” to the Rockinghams “for he had persuaded me to cast my eyes towards them.”  In response they had made the “most indecent demands” and the King threatened to do anything “rather than submit to their Chains.” If Conway would think of his duty, “it must teach him that he must continue the Chief Minister in the House of Commons.”  The King would allow him to remove from the Northern department and become Secretary of State for America, and promised him the regiment of Blues on General Ligonier’s death. [65] Reading the letter Conway protested that the King’s suggestion was “impossible,” and despite the entreaties of his wife and brother, it fixed him in his intention to resign. [66] Next day, however, in discussing the matter with Walpole he still insisted on resigning but agreed, if Rockingham failed to come in, to return to office. He would not prejudice Rockingham’s chances of forming a comprehensive plan but if that plan failed, he would not leave the King. He fixed his resignation for Wednesday, July 22, and communicated this news to the Rockinghams before their meeting with the Bedfords, scheduled for July 20. He took the opportunity to separate himself from any plan embracing the Bedfords and Grenville. Responding to a message from Rockingham he wrote on July 20,
I agree perfectly with your Lordship in the idea of restraining the power [Court influence] you mention, but in the mode of doing it I am not sure we agree. I would do what was necessary for that purpose and no more; and I would take care the world should see that alone was intended and that other views and purposes were not substituted to it; for I think too much may be done, as well as too little, towards that right purpose, and may even succeed the less to that very end.[67]
Later that day Rockingham and Bedford met at Newcastle House. The Grenvilles were not present but they had given their views to Richard Rigby, Bedford’s man of business. The meeting came close to breaking up on America, but Bedford temporarily smoothed over that touchy subject. However, the negotiations came to an abrupt end when Rockingham insisted that Conway must remain as leader in the House. The Bedfords would have no part in Conway claiming that he was incompetent and a tool of Bute’s. The Duke of Richmond easily exposed the absurdity of these charges especially as the latter was only based on Conway’s marriage to Lady Ailesbury, a Scotchwoman. The animosity of Bedford and Rigby toward Conway went back to the friendships and connections of the previous reign. We have had a glimpse of it in 1757 when the two, then Lord-lieutenant and Secretary in Ireland, criticized the previous administration of the Duke of Devonshire and Conway. In 1762-3 Bedford broke with the Duke of Cumberland whereas Conway remained true to their old patron. In 1763 it was Bedford more than Grenville who had demanded that Conway be deprived of his regiment for opposition in Parliament, and ever since that time Rigby had rivalled Grenville in attacking Conway in the House. Principles played a role in this rivalry. Although the Bedfords were willing to desert Grenville if an opportunity arose, they never abandoned the view they shared with him on America. Conway’s views with respect to America and his great role in repealing the Stamp Act made him doubly objectionable. Indeed, the reason why the Bedfords would not hear of Conway as leader in the House was the same reason why Rockingham would not go on without him. Earlier Burke had admitted that the Rockinghams had no one “strenuous and pugnacious enough” to lead the House, and that their only hope was to gain Conway or Townshend. [68] A strong man was needed to counter Grenville and without Conway both the Bedfords and Rockingham must have realized that the Marquis would be a cipher in his own administration. Rockingham insisted on Conway because “the person who was the Leader in the House of Commons, should be a person, in whom I might confide.” [69] Charles Townshend might have fit this bill but although he was acceptable to the Bedfords, Rockingham apparently did not consider him.

After the failure of Rockingham’s attempt to form a comprehensive plan, some friends of the Marquis, according to Richmond, told Conway that “he must go on.” [70] Although Conway could now feel that he had done all he could for the Marquis, he still tried to effect his original plan. Rockingham was to inform the King on July 22 and Conway and Grafton were convinced that His Majesty would ask the Marquis and his friends to come in alone. Rather than resign on the 22nd then, Conway waited the outcome of Rockingham’s audience. This meeting went off badly, however, and on leaving the closet Rockingham told Conway and Grafton that no invitation had been tendered. The Marquis now believed that he had been deceived all along. That evening his Rockinghamite friends were again urging Conway to resign, and although he was pleased with the failure of the Bedford negotiations, he still felt obligated to the Marquis for breaking off those talks on his account. Once again Walpole stepped into the picture urging Grafton to invite the Rockinghams to come in, for only their absolute refusal, he argued, would make Conway go on. The King would not see Rockingham again but allowed Grafton and Conway to approach him. “In a free, friendly way,” Conway exhorted the Marquis “to let them all reunite in their old system.” [71] Rockingham, however, could not change his ground and refused to regard this as a real offer. A few days later, as Rockingham was about to leave town, Conway made one last try. He wrote, “if you and your friends don’t come in, there is, as I think, no one good alternative.” He dreaded a separation from such friends but owned he had “no plea or pretense to take the part you seem inclined to take.” He ended,
I shall trouble your Lordship no further; I have done it too much with my vain and insignificant thoughts already. You have others that advise you better, and much more forcibly. [72]
Considering the possibility that the Rockinghams would refuse to come in on their own bottom, Conway had told Grafton, “If they refuse, your Grace and I must do the best we can.” [73] After Rockinghams final refusal, Grafton informed Chatham,
That General Conway has given him authority to say, that, though the particular situation is not fixed on, he is determined to stand forward in the House of Commons to carry on the King’s business. [74]
Burke, after visiting Conway in late July, also saw his determination now that the load of contending obligations which had pulled him to and fro had been removed. Burke never saw Conway “talk in a more alert, firm and decided tone.” [75] On July 31 Walpole wrote that Conway and Grafton “have jointly undertaken the administration,” and that Chatham “remains as he was, in place, no minister, and with little hopes of recovering.” [76] It had become a virtual Grafton—Conway administration and Conway was very active during the summer and fall. He remained as Northern Secretary of State, and also became Lieutenant General of the Ordnance after Lord Townshend went to Dublin Castle. To allay criticism he declined the emoluments of Secretary of State, a reduction of about 5000 pounds. [77] He played a leading role in Irish affairs and was a strong advocate in the Cabinet for having an Irishman fill the vacant post of Lord Chancellor of that country. In addition, he pushed his pet scheme for an augmentation of the Irish army. [78] During this same time Conway took part in efforts to strengthen the administration although, as William Burke said, it was only with a mind “to secure his retreat to his own profession.” [79] Conway’s activity and determination could not mask his desire to return to the military. He continued to hope the Rockinghams would join so that he could leave he King in good hands, but except for Richmond, the friends of the Marquis found Conway’s ideas objectionable. Edmund Burke told Rockingham that Conway still thought of the present administration fortified by the Marquis,
with a few only of the chief of your friends…the rest should wait those vacancies which Death, and occasional arrangements might make in the course of time. [80]
For Burke this was deserting the principles on which the party was based, and he concluded that Conway had given up both those principles and his friends. “Conway is gone fairly to the devil,” was Burke’s opinion. [81] After two years in administration Conway was in a kind of political limbo. He was in administration but anxious to get out, and at the same time had no intention of joining the opposition. Neither his colleagues nor his old friends in opposition could place much reliance on him.

Parliament met on November 24 for the last session before the dissolution. Conway had read the King’s speech at the pre-session meeting of ministerial supporters, and took the lead in defending it and the Commons’ Address, moved by his nephew, Lord Beauchamp. In his speech Conway praised the late Charles Townshend and lamented his loss, especially since it had prevented government from settling on a plan for effective relief of the poor. [82] Burke and Dowdeswell took up this failure but they were not supported by Grenville who chose to be personal on Conway. Grenville complained that he had been libeled in the newspapers and blamed Conway for misrepresenting him on the Manilla ransom a few years back. Conway had expected this attack and turned it to ridicule by joking about “Almon’s monthly libels” upon himself, “which he bore very patiently, as it was the poor man’s bread.” More seriously, he answered complaints about the ministry by declaring “he had long wished an administration, stable, firm, formed from all setts of men, of every connexion.” [83] At the same time, he reiterated his independence, claiming that he “sometimes differed with the other Ministers; he was pinned to no great man’s sleeve.” [84] In the next few days he withstood criticism from Burke and Rigby. At this time much was going on behind the scenes. In December the Bedfords indicated a willingness to come in without Grenville. Grafton did not hesitate to seize this opportunity even though it might mean that Conway would have to surrender the seals. Conway refused to stand in the way of such an accession of strength to government, and resigned the seals in January after a month of negotiation. [85]

In accepting his resignation the King was full of praise and gratitude and told him “he had never liked any man so well.” He promised a regiment, “the first that fell,” and the Blues, the best regiment in his service, whenever it should become available. [86] Not even Walpole doubted the King’s sincerity on this occasion for His Majesty “continued to distinguish Conway by favour, confidence, and benefits.” [87] In facilitating Conway’s return to the Army the King had no wish, however, to lose his political service. Conway was to remain at the Ordnance, be of the effective Cabinet, and for the time being share the lead in the House of Commons with Lord North. The King requested his attendance and advice, and said he would rely on him for the report of the House. [88] George III obviously trusted him and hoped that he and Grafton would act as a check on the Bedfords. Thus, Conway was not detached from administration but rather found himself in the type of ministerial situation he really desired. He was in a position of power and influence but not sufficiently involved in the Cabinet to lose his independence. He could devote himself to the Ordnance, a service he loved and wished to reform, and be free of the burdens of the Secretary’s office. Finally, he could defend government in the House, but avoid management and patronage. The difficulties of maintaining this position were not immediately felt as Parliament, looking ahead to the dissolution, wound down its business. Conway supported government on matters that interested him, mainly the Army and Ireland, and conducted a revision of the statutory limit on the number of troops in Ireland—a necessary preliminary to an augmentation of the Irish Army—through the House. [89] His independence, however, was still apparent. He condemned the corruption already being practiced before the election and embarrassed the ministry by “threatening to pursue complaints of Court corruption of revenue officers.” [90] True to his conduct in the previous session he divided against a government bill for continuing the restraint on the East India dividend. [91] Finally, although Grafton was involved in the Nullum Tempus affair, Conway stayed away on February 17 when opposition ran the ministry hard on Sir George Savile’s motion to quiet subjects in their possessions. [92] As the election of 1768 approached Conway was an independent, isolated statesman with no political following.


[1] Newcastle to John white, July 11, 1766, Newcastle, Narrative, 79.
[2] Walpole, George III, II, 228.
[3] The Chatham administration is studied in great detail in John Brooke, The Chatham Administration 1766-68 (London, 1956). D. A. Winstanley, Lord Chatham and the Whig Opposition (London, 1912) is still valuable. See also Fortescue, Chatham Correspondence, and Grafton, Autobiography. For Conway’s role the best source is Walpole’s Memoirs, while Newcastle’s papers provide insight into his relationship with the Rockinghamites.
[4] Walpole, George III, II, 240.
[5] Newcastle to White, July 20, 1766, Newcastle Narrative, 83.
[6] Walpole, George III, II, 241.
[7] Newcastle to Rockingham, July 18, 1766, Add. MSS 32976, f. 261.
[8] Newcastle to Onslow, July 18, 1766, Add. MSS 32976, f. 175.
[9] Conway to Newcastle, July 18, 1766, Add. MSS 32976, f. 171.
[10] Rockingham to Conway, July 26, 1766, Albemarle, Rockingham, II, 6.
[11] Conway to Newcastle, July 26, 1766, Add. MSS 32976, f. 302.
[12] Conway to Pitt, July 29, 1766, Chatham Correspondence, III, 15-18.
[13] Newcastle to Portland, Aug. 16, 1766, Add. MSS 32976, f. 423. George III to Grafton, September 28, 1766, Fortescue, I, 401.
[14] Newcastle to Rockingham, Sept. 18, 1766, Add. MSS 32977, f. 95.
[15] Rockingham to Newcastle, Oct. 8, 1766, Chatham Correspondence, III, 107-9.
[16] Grafton to Chatham, Oct. 14, 1766, Chatham Correspondence, III, 107-9.
[17] Walpole, George III, II, 261, and Walpole to Conway, Oct. 18, 1766, Toynbee, VII, 52.
[18] Burke to O’Hara, post. Nov. 11, 1766, Hoffman, 368.
[19] Conway to Chatham, Nov. 17, 1766, Chatham Correspondence, III, 128. The editor incorrectly dated this letter November 22.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Rockingham to the Earl of Scarborough, Nov. 20, (actually 21), 1766, Albemarle, Rockingham, II, 20.
[22] Ibid.
[23] In Newcastle’s narrative of the Edgcumbe affair, Add. MSS 32978, f. 2.
[24] Newcastle to Rockingham, Nov. 18, 1766, Add. MSS 32977, f. 418.
[25] Portland to Newcastle, Nov. 21, 1766, Add. MSS 32978, f. 12.
[26] Conway to Chatham, Nov. 21, 1766, Chatham Correspondence, III, 130. The editor incorrectly dated this letter Nov. 25.
[27] For the East India affair see Lucy S. Sutherland, The East India Company in Eighteenth-Century Politics (Oxford, 1962), c. VI, and Brooke, Chatham Administration. Neither of these sources, however, focuses on Conway for Sutherland was concerned mainly with the company and those ministers who worked most closely with company officials, while Brooke tended to concentrate on Charles Townshend.
[28] Walpole, George III, II, 278-9.
[29] Ibid., 270-3.
[30] Hertford to Grafton, Dec. 4, 1766, Grafton MSS. Printed in Brooke, Chatham Administration, 71.
[31] Portland to Newcastle, Nov. 26, 1766, Add. MSS 32978, f. 78.
[32] Walpole, George III, II, 273.
[33] Hertford to Grafton, Dec. 4, 1766, Grafton MSS..
[34] Newcastle to the Earl of Hardwicke, Sept 3, 1755, Add. MSS 32858, ff. 408-16.
[35] Newcastle to Rockingham, Dec. 4, 1766, Add. MSS 32978, f. 166.
[36] George III to Conway, Dec. 6, 1766, Fortescue, I, 423.
[37] Grafton to George III, Dec. 9, 1766, ibid., 424.
[38] Walpole, George III, II, 289.
[39] Grafton, Autobiography, 126.
[40] For this debate see Lord George Sackville to General Irwin, March 3, 1767, Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report on the Manuscripts of Mrs. Stopford-Sackville (1904), I, 120.
[41] Ibid.
[42] Brooke, Chatham Administration, 109.
[43] Walpole, George III, II, 294.
[44] Ibid., 320.
[45] Ibid., 280.
[46] George III to Grafton, March 23, 1767, Fortescue, I, 467.
[47] Walpole to Mann, March 19, 1767, Yale Walpole, XXII, 499.
[48] Walpole, George III, III, 12.
[49] Fortescue, I, 458-9.
[50] Walpole, George III, II, 303.
[51] George III to Grafton, March 7, 1767, Fortescue, I, 461.
[52] George III to Conway, March 6, 1767, ibid.
[53] Rockingham to Charles Yorke, March 10, 1767, Add. MSS 35430, f. 70.
[54] Walpole, George III, III, 8. Walpole says that this decision was taken at a Cabinet “held the evening before the meeting of Parliament” and dates it March 27. Parliament reconvened after the holidays on April 28, and it seems as if Walpole just got the month wrong.
[55] Ibid., 9. This debate occurred on April 29 but Walpole again dated it March.
[56] Grafton to Chatham, and Shelburne to Chatham, both March 13, 1767, Chatham Correspondence, III, 231-2.
[57] Walpole, George III, III, 15.
[58] Thomas Bradshaw to Grafton, [May 14, 1767], Grafton, Autobiography, 177.
[59] Walpole, George III, III, 27.
[60] Brooke, Chatham Administration, 11.
[61] Walpole, George III, III, 10.
[62] Ibid., II, 323.
[63] Ibid., III, 9.
[64] For the negotiations of July, 1767 see Brooke, Chatham Administration, c. VI; and Walpole, George III, III, 48-65.
[65] George III to Hertford, July 17, 1767, Fortescue, I, 499-500.
[66]  Walpole, George III, III, 54.
[67] Brooke, Chatham Administration, 202.
[68] Burke to O’Hara, March 28, 1767, Hoffman, 396.
[69] Draft letter, July 26, 1767, Wentworth Woodhouse MSS.
[70] Walpole, George III, III, 61.
[71] Ibid., 64.
[72] Brooke, Chatham Administration, 217.
[73] Walpole, George III, III, 64.
[74] Grafton to Lady Chatham, July 31, 1767, Chatham Correspondence, III, 281-2.
[75] Burke to Rockingham, August 1, 1767, Burke Correspondence, I, 316.
[76] Walpole to Mann, July 31, 1767, Yale Walpole, XXII, 543.
[77] Walpole to George Montagu, Nov. 1, 1767, Yale Walpole, X, 252.
[78] Burke to O’Hara, Oct. 27, 1767, Hoffman, 414.
[79] William Burke to O’Hara, ca. Aug. 18, 1767, Hoffman, 408.
[80] Burke to Rockingham, Aug. 1, 1767, Burke Correspondence, I, 316.
[81] Burke to Rockingham, Aug. 18, 1767, ibid., 321.
[82] The History, Debates, and Proceedings of both Houses of Parliament, 1743-1744 (London, 1792), IV, 502-3.
[83] J. West to Newcastle, Nov. 24, 1767, Add. MSS 32987, f. 95.
[84] Walpole, George III, III, 83.
[85] Brooke, Chatham Administration, 327-333.
[86] Walpole, George III, III, 83.
[87] Ibid.
[88] Ibid.
[89] West to Newcastle, [Feb. 3, 1768], Add. MSS 32988, f. 152.
[90] Walpole, George III, III, 112-3.
[91] West to Newcastle, Jan. 25, 1768, Add. MSS 32988, f. 76.
[92] Rockingham to Newcastle, Feb. 18, 1768, Add. MSS 32988, f. 370.

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