Chapter VI: Elder Statesman, 1768-1784

                   Chapter VI. Elder Statesman, 1768-1784

By 1768 Conway, a year short of fifty, had come to believe that the ministerial instability of the reign had done great harm. As he looked at the disturbances which had surrounded Wilkes’ election for Middlesex, he was dismayed by the state of the times:
A time of much relaxation of order, a time of luxury, a time of corruption, of general corruption, a time of faction.
Regarding himself as an independent man he especially blames “the party divisions and many potent factions, which exist in this country,” a condition which he believed made it almost impossible to form a stable ministry. [1] Although he wished to play a less active role than he had done over the previous three years in administration, he was determined to support government and did so almost to the end of his political career in 1784. Nevertheless, he was equally determined to retain his independence, a determination which in the future often led him to vote his conscience against government, but at the same time to steer clear of the opposition. Throughout the difficult years ahead he appeared as a conciliator, denouncing factiousness in opposition as well as violent and extreme ministerial measures. He emerged in these years as perhaps the leading independent in the House, a figure always respected. [2]

In the election he was again returned for Thetford by the Duke of Grafton. In the brief spring session Lord North took the lead in the House but Conway’s influence in the Cabinet helped put off the consideration of the Wilkes election until the fuller winter session. [3] Over the summer, however, Conway’s position in the ministry steadily deteriorated. Grafton began to grow cool toward his old friend, a coolness attributed by Horace Walpole to the Duke’s own “fickleness,” and he “machinations” of the Bedfords, who were jealous of the favor which Conway and his brother enjoyed in the Closet. [4]  Hertford was Lord Chamberlain and the favors bestowed on him and his large family raised great envy. Grafton and Richard Rigby both suspected that Hertford wielded more influence with the King than they did, and although the Earl’s position was impregnable, the Bedfords never lost a chance to snipe at Conway whose scruples and independence laid him open to charges of unreliability and obstruction. There is evidence to support Walpole’s contention that by May 1768 Conway was “no longer in the Duke’s confidence” and “out of humour.” [5] In June Grafton, whose marriage was breaking up, was hurt when Conway refused to take his part against the Duchess. [6] Later when Conway came forward successfully to mediate the quarrel between Sir Jeffrey Amherst and the Cabinet, he again angered Grafton and the Bedfords. As a result, he “was hurt beyond measure” and came close to quitting the court in “disgust.” [7] By the time the session opened in November Conway had ceased to have any private communication with Grafton.

Despite this friction he supported government. On November 17, for example, he opposed a surprise opposition measure calling for all the papers relating to the French incursion into Corsica. But on the Middlesex election Conway, who had voted against the expulsion of Wilkes in 1764, gave Grafton early notice that he would not support any violent action against Wilkes. [8] He disliked Wilkes and his criticism of government but believed it wiser to ignore him. Wilkes was still in prison and when a petition was presented to the House complaining of his treatment, Conway urged his colleagues to let it lie on the table. [9] He was for “not proceeding” on Wilkes’ complaint since the House must either decide in his favor, or follow the precedent to the previous House which had “imprudently voted away its privileges.” [10] When the Cabinet decided to proceed against Wilkes, Conway told the House that he did not “consider it a duty to concur with ministers, but to differ with them, if he really felt a difference.” [11] On December 16 he said that he was “no Minister” and warned that
Any violent and intemperate persecution of this man will revert upon the government which attempts it, and tend to the destruction of the country. [12]
The Bedfords complained to the King that “there was no acting with Conway, who always in the House adhered to his own opinion, and would not acquiesce in what was determined,” [13] and as the vote for expulsion approached, Conway was not invited to meetings of the Commons’ leadership. Hertford complained and tried to excuse his brother’s conduct but the King replied that Conway
Could not chuse to give his opinion as to the mode of best affecting what he did not think an eligible measure; I cannot suspect that so unfair a motive as the love of Popularity guides him on this occasion, tho I lament in this instance not having his cordial support…in a measure whereon almost my Crown depends. [14]
On January 28, the day after the King wrote, Conway told Walpole that he and Lord Granby would stay away on the vote of expulsion. Walpole related that
Having declared against violent measures, they would not concur in it; and disapproved Wilkes’ attacks on the Government, they will not defend him. [15]
Although Granby changed his mind, Conway stayed away on February 3, a decision which pleased no one.

Conway also steered a middle ground on America, especially in response to the renewal of strife in Massachusetts where the Assembly and Governor had quarreled over the quartering of troops, and the citizenry of Boston had violently reacted to the Townshend duties. In the Cabinet he opposed those bent on coercing the colonies, [16] and in Parliament he again urged that the grievances of the colonies be removed. He would give the Americans “what they had been used to enjoy,” and urged members to shun abstract notions of right.
The custom and usage of nations, as well as the custom and usage of Parliament, is the law of nations. [17]
On the other hand, he believed that American petitions denying Parliament’s authority were extravagant and harmful to the colonial cause, and also supported an Address to the Crown asking that the treason act of 35 Henry VIII be employed if necessary to bring the Boston rioters to justice. [18]  In February Denys de Berdt, a colonial agent, described Conway as a friend of America who “had grown old and indifferent.” [19]

His conduct on Wilkes and America drew Conway apart from Grafton and the rest of the Cabinet but by no means closer to the opposition. On February 28 Conway’s opposition to Dowdeswell’s motion for an inquiry into the Civil List expenditures finally brought Burke’s suspicions of him into Parliament. The debate had wandered into a conversation on candor in which Burke had been criticized for lack of that virtue. Stung by this charge Burke replied to Conway’s defense of candor.
There is a moment when a man ought to change his opinion: but the man ought to take care that…the changes are not made at the moment his interest induces him to make them.
Besides accusing Conway of deserting principle for interest, Burke made a frontal assault on Conway’s politics.
The maxim of ‘not men but measures,’ is an insignificant maxim. If I see any set of men acting systematically wrong, and consider their intentions toward the public are evil, in that case I declare that no acts of such men ought to be supported…If you support these men for a year in doing wrong acts, it is confirming their power to do wrong always. [20]

Unfair as it was to Conway this criticism found its way a year later into the Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents where it formed the prelude to Burke’s famous defense of party. Conway’s reply to Burke’s criticism—“Where I have considered it right to do so, I have obstinately pursued my own foolish opinion—“ [21] elicited this response in the Thoughts.
It is not enough…that a man means well to his country; it is not enough that in his single person he never did an evil act, but always voted according to his conscience, and even harangued against every design which he apprehended to be prejudicial to the interests of his country. This innoxious and ineffectual character…falls miserably short of the mark of public duty…It is surely no very rational account of a man’s life, that he has always acted right; but has taken special care, to act in such a manner that his endeavours could not possibly be productive of any consequences. [22]
According to this doctrine insofar as Conway’s presence had enabled administration to stand for the previous three years, Conway was responsible for its measures.  

Though some of Conway’s old friends believed that he had become an apostate to the cause of liberty, they misunderstood him. He had originally defended Wilkes because Wilkes’ cause was the cause of the House of Commons. But now after the expulsion Conway supported the motion of the House in refusing to accept Wilkes’ subsequent return, and defended his consistency. On March 17 he said,
As long as it was a question of Mr. Wilkes, I did not concern myself in it; but now it is become the case of the people at large…those who think to set up the liberty of the people against the liberty of parliament, will find themselves mistaken. To strike at the liberty and power of the House of Commons, is to strike at the very foundation of the constitutional liberties of this country.
Constitutionally, Middlesex was no different from “the meanest borough” in the kingdom, and it was impossible to maintain that a gentleman should insist on returning himself from a borough “in opposition to the power of the House.” Conway could only hope that Middlesex would be “wise enough, and dutiful enough to the House, not to re-elect Wilkes a fourth time. [23] When the county persisted, Conway supported the seating of Luttrell.
You lay the axe to the root of the constitution…if there is a doubt whether a man who is capable of taking his seat shall take place of a man who is incapable. [24]
To maintain otherwise would be, as George Onslow affirmed and Conway believed, “contrary to every true principle of Whiggism and liberty. [25]

Although the ministry survived this session, it was in serious trouble. In the Cabinet Grafton relied on Conway, and such friends of Chatham as Camden, Granby, and Sir Edward Hawke, but Chatham appeared on the scene in July and did not hide his coldness toward the Duke. Already vexed by dissensions and lack of support in the Cabinet, Grafton’s sole reliance in the Cabinet grew to be Conway, who though he had been ill-treated by the Duke, would not desert government in such difficult times. Anxious to quit, Grafton’s cares were not alleviated when the furor raised by the expulsion and incapacitation of Wilkes turned into a movement petitioning the Crown for a dissolution of Parliament. As the session of 1770 approached Conway used what influence he had left in the Cabinet to bring it to conciliate the popular movement. He did succeed in keeping a provocative preamble in praise of the House of Commons out of the King’s speech and the speech unfortunately opened with a statement about distempers among “the horned cattle.” [26] Granby and Camden opposed government on opening day but Conway divided with it against Dowdeswell’s amendment to the Address calling for an inquiry into the discontents of the people. The reports of the debates that day and the next are somewhat garbled but it appears that Conway went as far as he could to soothe the anger of the opposition. He did not impugn the petitioners and promised that at the proper time he would support “a free, a fair, and full enquiry.” But he believed it was absurd to petition the House to redress grievances and at the same time call for its dissolution. On the great question, the incapacitation of Wilkes and the seating of Luttrell, he defended the House. He would not “without the fullest conviction from the clearest testimony of the law” change his opinion that the action of the House “has been founded upon ancient principles, and on uninterrupted practice.” [27] On the second day of the session, when Sir George Savile declared that the House had betrayed its constituents, Conway tried to prevent a violent altercation by excusing Savile’s words as spoken in the heat of debate. Savile reiterated his charge and was supported by Burke, and though John Adolphus wrote that Conway then threatened Savile with the Tower, other sources attribute that threat to Sir alexander Gilmour. [28] In private, Conway was not as temperate. He and Walpole urged the Duke of Richmond to check Savile and Burke, and Conway asked the Duke,
Did it become Burke, an Irish adventurer, to treat the House of Commons with such unexampled violence? Do you think…that the majority will bear to hear themselves abused daily? Do you think we are more afraid than you are? Was it come to calling names, or to cutting throats? [29]
In the next two weeks Conway attempted to shore up a tottering administration. He pressed Grafton not to dismiss Camden, and with a view to regaining Granby he declined to take the Master General of the Ordnance which the Marquis had surrendered on opposing. He told the King that he would do the work of the office but stay as Lieutenant General only. According to Walpole, the King told Conway, “You are a phenomenon! I can satisfy nobody else, and you will not take what is offered to you. [30] When Grafton said that he would resign, Conway tried his best to keep him in, and when the Duke persisted in his intention, Conway mentioned Lord Rockingham and his friends to the King. Fearing they would press for a dissolution, the King would not hear of them. [31] During this turmoil Conway supported government in the House, dividing for North’s amendment that the House had followed the law of the land in the case of Wilkes. The government’s majority fell to 44 that day but it was the turning point. Grafton quit two days later and by the end of January North was First Lord of the Treasury.

The King advised North to see Conway early. “I know how much he is pleased at little marks of attention, and that by placing some confidence in Him, you may rely on his warm support.” [32] Conway was cordial when approached by North but asked and got the King’s permission to retire from the Cabinet. Earlier he had told Walpole that he would not remain without Grafton.
He had no objection to Lord North, but had no connection with him; for the Bedfords, he knew they were his enemies…[33]
For the rest of this very heated session Conway continued to recommend temper and moderation to the House of Commons. He chided opposition for its imprudence but on American affairs he criticized government for its failure to repeal the tea duty. On March 5 he said,
There is but one way of drawing a revenue from America; and that is by requisition…I have ever disclaimed the idea of making a revenue of those duties…With regard to the tea duty, I must condemn it…as an uncommercial measure. [34]
The London remonstrance, however, with its censure of the House, its call for a dissolution, and implied threat of armed resistance led Conway to disclaim moderation. On March 15, when the House addressed the Crown for a copy of the remonstrance, Conway rose
to speak against lenity; to condemn the idea of temporizing; to declare that…the very gentleness, the very forbearance of this House, has been the principal source of all our late disturbances, and that mildness any longer, will be the only torch which can possibly set the constitution in flames.
The “indulgence,” the “goodness,” the “moderation” of the House had only led “the enemies of order” to suppose the House dared not act, and Conway insisted that this insult from the livery of London could not be borne: “This, or never, is the time to vindicate the honour of parliament.” If the House feared the consequences of censuring the remonstrance, it was to “die through an apprehension of dying…to destroy the constitution for fear it should be destroyed.” He ended by reminding the House of the fundamental precept of Whiggism:
It is the identical, self-same assembly thus contemned, thus defied, that constitutes the good people of England; that the people of England till our legal dissolution can possibly have no existence but within these walls; and that the voice which denies our authority without doors, hurls a treason against the majesty of the British people. [35]
His speech that day met with “uncommon applause.” [36]

Later in the session Conway defended ministerial policies in relation to Ireland and America. Always interested in Ireland Conway had worked in the last few years to bring about an augmentation of the Irish army, but in 1768 the Irish Parliament rejected the measure. In the summer of 1769 Conway went over to discuss a new plan with Irish leaders, and according to Charles O’Hara he converted John Hely Hutchinson, a leading opponent, by stating terms advantageous to both sides. [37] O’Hara called it only “conversation” but that winter the Irish Parliament did agree to the augmentation provided the troops would not be sent out of the Kingdom except in case of an invasion of England. This occurred during a very stormy session which finally ended with a sudden prorogation after the supplies had been voted. On May 3 opposition in the British Parliament complained of the prorogation and at the same time George Grenville took exception to the military agreement which would keep troops in Ireland whether needed there or not. Conway spoke against an opposition motion for the instructions sent to the Lord lieutenant, and blamed the Irish troubles on faction. He said,
I know a little of Irish politics. They were at the bottom of all this…Instead of being patriots, I look upon the stirrers up of this business as a set of factious men. It is impossible they can be considered as acting for the good of their country.
In regard to the troops, they were necessary for the security of the island. He “should be sorry to see a country full of White Boys and Roman Catholics with only five thousand troops.” [38] As long as the island was largely Papist, he considered it “a rotten part of the British dominions.” [39] this was not religious bigotry but only the old suspicion which even enlightened men shared of Papists. He believed that their religion and disaffection made Ireland a sore spot in the empire, always prey to the sporadic violence of the White Boys, and susceptible to invasion by a Catholic power. His Irish connections were in the North and for him the security of Ireland lay in a strong Irish Protestant leadership. Thus, he appeared less a friend to Ireland than to the Protestant leadership despite the factiousness of its politics. A few days later he defended the presence of British troops in riotous Boston for the same reason. He explained,
With all my love for America, I do not see why the inhabitants of Boston should be exempted from that protection, which the peaceable inhabitants wished to enjoy. They were anxious to have the troops amongst them. They saw, that without such protection, there was no law nor government. [40]
Just as in Ireland, troops were needed to shore up the better sort against mobbish and riotous elements. Britain could only govern America through and with the cooperation of this sort, and Conway’s defense of America was in reality an objection to policies which alienated the affections of what he saw as the natural leadership of the colonies.

These same politics led Conway to persist in defending the House of Commons against increasing popular agitation. Early in the session of 1771, in the debate on the seizure of Falkland’s island by Spain, he defended government and spoke out against those who would alienate the affections of the people from the Crown. He meant the supporters of Wilkes and parliamentary reform out of doors but Sir William Meredith and Burke took his remarks to themselves and again accused him of deserting old friends and principles. Conway replied that he had not changed; that he still loved the Cavendishes and the cause of liberty, and that he defended the cause of the House as a “friend of liberty.” [41] Although always recommending “moderation” and “temper” to the government’s increasing majorities, no one was more vehement in defense of the “cause of the House” than Conway. On February 7 when Savile brought in a bill to secure the rights of electors, Conway opposed it after Savile admitted that his motion would in effect declare that the incapacitation of Wilkes was illegal. Conway did favor a limited incapacitation believing it improper “that the people should have the power immediately to re-elect the person expelled,” but that incapacity for seven years was too long. [42] In the next month, he even defended the House against itself. The ministry was content to hear Dowdeswell’s bill for settling the rights and powers of juries in silence, and only the “candid” Conway rose to defend the previous question.
I do not believe there is a more sacred principle in the constitution, and I have heard with pain the attempts lately made to infringe it. I allow that the evil calls for a remedy, and that parliamentary inquiry is necessary; but I see so little hope of success, that if such an inquiry was now to take place, I am afraid parliament would disgrace itself. [43]
He took little part in the prosecution of the London newspapers until that too became the cause of the House. When opposition resorted to repeated divisions in order to delay, Conway accused Burke of “supporting disorder” in justifying such stalling tactics:
for a minority to compel a majority to come to a decision by moving adjournment upon adjournment, then there is an end of every idea of our being a parliament; then is the House turned into a beargarden. [44]
A few days later Conway tried to mediate the great contest that ensued when the magistrates of the city of London arrested a messenger of the House attempting to apprehend one of the printers charged by the House. On March 20 government resisted an attempt to allow the Lord Mayor to be heard by counsel against the privileges of the House, and Conway offered a compromise by suggesting that the Lord Mayor be heard by counsel “as far as shall not affect the privileges of parliament.” He wished at all costs to avoid a contest on the point of privilege.
If the privileges of the city of London could be set up against our privileges, we should be no longer a parliament; nevertheless, it will not misbecome us to pay attention to that great body, as far as we can. [45]
Opposition called this compromise a “mockery” but North adopted it. Five days later with a great crowd surrounding the House Conway supported the motion to commit the Lord Mayor to the Tower. 
If we have not spirit to maintain an essential privilege, struck at in so unprecedented a manner, let the mob that is now at our door come in and drag us from our seats. While we sit here we must act like men…If we do not, the mace of the city, like Aaron’s rod, will swallow up your mace, and the House, despoiled of all its honours, will be left a bare and fleshless carcass. [46]
Conway’s defense of the House led him to support government in this session, but Burke and others in opposition believed that his attachment to the Court had led him to defend the House. Conway’s independence led him to differ with both sides, however, and after one debate Sir Gilbert Elliott remarked “that Conway had only clashed with his nephew, his friends, and the Minister.” [47] Throughout the session he had tried to mediate between government and opposition, but his strong language when mediation failed alienated the friends of Rockingham further. Burke was especially vexed by the distinction the House drew between him and Conway.
Whenever the honourable gentleman accuses any one, his language is milk and honey; mine all gall and bitterness! As the House well knows, the practice of the honourable gentleman is be begin mildly and gently, as if honey were falling from his lips, as if he was diffident and uncertain how to proceed, and afterwards to lay furiously about him. [48]
In the next three years North created the first stable ministry of the reign and the threat to government diminished. Despite this calm Conway broke with the Court in the session of 1772 when he opposed the Royal Marriage act. Scandalized by the marriages of his two brothers the King asked ministers to prepare a bill which should make his control effectual over such marriages. The government measure prevented any descendant of George II from contracting marriage without the King’s consent before the age of twenty five. After that age royal approval was not required but the Privy Council would have to be informed a year before the ceremony, which still could not take place if Parliament disapproved. The bill’s preamble stated that the royal prerogative had always extended to the approval of royal marriages. The measure raised great opposition on religious, constitutional, and prudential grounds. Those who took the constitutional line argued that the bill vested the King with a prerogative the Crown had never possessed, and that it violated the natural and inherent rights of the members of the royal family, as well as of the subject. Though he declared himself “a friend to the principle of the bill and to the minutest wish of the Crown,” Conway owned that “the Crown claimed more than it was entitled to,” and hoped, like the friends of Lord Rockingham, to mend it in Committee. [49] There he tried to put off the reading of the obnoxious preamble, but when that tactic failed he supported Dowdeswell’s motion to omit any mention of the King’s ancient rights over the royal family. He did not like Parliament to grant perpetual powers (two years later he voted against making Grenville’s election bill perpetual) and told the House that they were “creating a power that could never be taken away.” [50] Government’s majority shrank to 36 and next day the King, who was determined to “remember defaulters” on this measure, complained to Lord Hertford of his brother’s opposition. Hertford urged Conway to reconsider, and Conway consulted Walpole, whose niece had married the Duke of Gloucester. According to Walpole Conway would not be swayed and “censured his brother for his unbounded servility.” [51] On March 23, the last day of the committee deliberation, Conway supported Dowdeswell’s motion to limit the terms of the bill, and in the debate castigated those who voted for the bill though declaring “against it in the private sentiments.” He himself had been told,
Why take a part in this bill in the situation you are in?...why not do as others do? You cannot turn the fate of the bill!—why break through your connections?
But he insisted that in any great constitutional question he would not “be confounded in the mass of courtiers,” for when men voted against their own opinion,
The Parliament was no longer a parliament. After Rome fell there was a form of parliament, but only the skeleton. [52]
That day the government’s majority fell to 18. The King blamed it on the suddenness with which the House came to a division, but it appears that the debates brought a number of independents to vote against him. [53]

The obvious integrity of Conway’s stance added to the honor he already possessed in the House, but the King was determined to punish him. The King had learned his lesson in 1764, however, and proceeded slowly and indirectly. In June Lord Townshend was given the Master General of the Ordnance, a move designed to drive Conway out as Lieutenant General since he had previously declared that he would not serve under a junior officer. Though angry with his brother, Lord Hertford interposed with the King, and North, who had not taken Conway’s opposition personally, helped find a suitable compensation for him. On Lord Albemarle’s death in October the King gave Conway the governorship of the isle of Jersey with a grace that suggested that Conway’s offence had been forgiven. Nevertheless, in leaving the Ordnance Conway severed his last remaining tie with the administration. His independence as well as his liking for North led him to support government in the session of 1772/3 but he was not connected with North. At the same time he remained friendly with the Duke of Richmond and the Cavendishes yet did not concert with them politically. As the rupture with America approached he was more isolated than ever.

The news of the Boston Tea party in early 1774 brought America back to the center of British politics and kept it there for the next nine years. [54] In the face of an angry Parliament Conway, out of power and unconnected, once again came to the defense of America. Like the Rockinghamites Conway was hurt by the violence of the Americans and saw the fuel it would provide the old advocates of coercion. In the House Lord George Germain and Charles Jenkinson blamed all on the repeal of the Stamp Act. Burke and Conway insisted that the repeal had tranquillized the colonies but the House was in no mood for such arguments. On March 23 Conway supported the Boston Port bill, the first of the government’s American measures, but only because it was a response limited to a particular offense. He certainly believed the Bostonians should be punished but did not want the warmth of Parliament directed against America in general. On this occasion he disclaimed “anything in the debate that tends to call up old sores, or create anger.” [55] When the government brought in the rest of its proposals, Conway lamented that it had produced only the sword without any sign of the olive branch. He said,
Nothing less than non-taxation…can be the olive branch…if his Majesty’s ministers have the least thoughts of putting an end to taxation, let them adopt it now at once, and it will put an end to everything. [56]
On April 15 he divided for Rose Fuller’s motion to repeal the tea duty. On the second reading of the bill for better regulating the government of Massachusetts, Conway urged that in some manner the Americans be heard on this attempt to alter their charters. Noise in the House made him warm:
we are the aggressors and innovators, and not the colonies. We have irritated and forced laws upon them for these six or seven years last past…all these things have served no other purpose but to distress and perplex. I think the Americans have done no more than every subject would do in an arbitrary state, where laws are imposed against their will.
In the case of America he believed that taxation and legislation were inconsistent, and he reminded the House of Ireland where “the right to tax was never more than an abstract one.” [57] On the third reading of the bill he again spoke for “lenity and tenderness to the Americans,” and warned members that “it is better to have peace with America, and war with all the world, than to be at war with America.” [58] There was, however, no restraining the tide running in Parliament against the colonies.

At the close of the session Conway responded to an invitation from his old friend Sir Robert Keith, the Ambassador to Austria, and left England for a military tour of the continent. As a result the dissolution of Parliament in October found him out of the country and Grafton, citing his absence and the needs of his own family, did not have him returned again for Thetford. Walpole suspected the Duke of duplicity believing that the King wished to keep Conway out because of his opinions on America. [59] Walpole pressed Lord Hertford to change the Duke’s mind or bring Conway into Parliament himself. Unwilling to displace one of his sons, Hertford demurred, which intensified Walpole’s suspicions. In any event Conway was not returned at the general election and had to wait until March 1775 when Grafton brought him in upon a vacancy at Bury St. Edmunds (Sussex). Thus he entered the session only after the opposition had shot its bolt on America. Nevertheless, on April 5 he gave his opinion to a thin House with Burke, Fox, and Barre absent. He praised the conciliatory measure passed in February although he believed the Americans were not being given a proper chance to come into it. With Lexington and Concord only a few weeks away he feared
The unhappy divided state of both countries, and…the dreadful consequences which must follow, should the sword be once drawn, and the whole empire convulsed with the horrors of a civil war.
Rigby ridiculed Conway for inconsistency in having supported the Townshend duties and then opposing, and laughed at the military prowess of the Americans. Conway admitted his change of mind but saw that,
Our troops could never be sufficient to make such extensive dominions submit. [60]
In the fall of 1775 Parliament met early to deal with the crisis that had produced war and Conway took the first opportunity, in the debate on the Address, to condemn the war. He viewed himself as still “joined with the King’s servants” and apologized for opposing them, but “he detested that principle of implicitly supporting every measure of government.” He regarded the war “as cruel, unnecessary, and unnatural…a butchery of his fellow subjects,” and declared that “his conscience forbad him to give his assent.” He called upon North for information on the state of affairs in America and wondered if any part of it remained in British hands. Reiterating his opinion on taxation of America he even suggested that the Declaratory act ought to be repealed since “so bad an use had been made of it.” [61]

Though he continued to oppose government on the war, it was only on the war, and even there he was not fully with the opposition. On November 1 he supported the increased navy estimates in order that “the country might not be left defenseless.” [62] and two days later, although he declared the employment of German troops “illegal and dangerous” he refused to support a motion to that effect believing it “too general, and…a censure on a measure, which so far as his Majesty was concerned, he was sure proceeded from the best motives.” [63] His belief that a land war in America would prove futile led him to object to the army estimate on November 8, [64] but in general he rarely opposed the ways and means for conducting the war once Parliament determined on war. Throughout the struggle it was the war itself he objected to, but as a good soldier he only criticized reluctantly the way it was conducted. As an officer opposed to the war Conway was in a difficult position, and at one point in the session he rose to address himself to the question of an officer’s duty:
He did not imagine there could be any struggle in the mind of a military man so dreadful, as any doubts of this kind. There was a great difference between a foreign war, where the whole community was involved, and a domestic war on points of civil contention, wherein the community was divided…a military man, before he drew his sword against his fellow subjects, ought to ask himself whether the cause was just or no? [65]
Men understood that Conway would not serve in America.

For the rest of the session he continued to oppose the war in the strongest terms. He insisted, for example, that administration “had most shamefully, if not basely, broke their word with America” in regard to taxation, and accused ministers of pandering to the expectation of “country gentlemen” for a revenue from the colonies. [66] Nevertheless, he commended North and called himself “no indiscriminate opposer of government.” [67] North and the House apparently took him at his word since he was one of the few in the minority to gain stature this session. Angered by the continued refusal of administration to inform the House of its plans, especially in regard to the peace commission, Conway gave notice a few days before the end of the session, that he meant to move for the instructions to the commissioners. He believed that if the commission went without instructions from Parliament, or at least without the express consent of Parliament, it would be disregarded in America. There were many means by which the ministry could have put off this potentially embarrassing motion, but they failed to do so. Walpole laid it to their stupidity but the ministry perhaps recognized the esteem in which Conway was held by the House. Though his motion was defeated, Conway spoke with “pathetic eloquence and weight” and “charmed almost all his audience.” [68] The Americans he regarded as “rebels of a different kind,” and in defending their cause he used words similar to those being drawn up in Philadelphia. They were men
defending against the arm of power, what God and nature have given them, and no human power can justly wrest from them; the glorious privileges of the Revolution…
America was fighting for those “Whig principles” which Englishmen had once been glad to defend. [69]

According to William Lecky the weakness of Charles Fox’s opposition to the war was that “whenever he differed from the policy of Government, he never appeared to have the smallest leaning or bias in favour of his country.” [70] This charge was never levelled against Conway whose patriotism always endeared him to the House. In the session of 1777, for example, he did not secede from the House but said that he would “support anybody that could compose our troubles.” He still insisted that America could never be brought “to unconditional submission,” but foreseeing the probability of war with France, he said that “the moment France and America are joined, he should be an enemy of America.” [71] That moment came in the next session when a Franco-American treaty followed close upon the surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga. On March 17, 1778 a royal message informed the House of the treaty and the recall of ambassadors, and Conway came to the defense of his country. He opposed William Baker’s motion for the removal of ministers as inappropriate in such a crisis. Though not excusing ministers he thought “the purport of the message was of much higher importance than a question of who should be Ministers.” He expressed “the resentment he felt as a Briton, at the treatment we had received from France,” and offered his services if war proved necessary. He said,
though he had some time ago given offence by declaring his opinion that an officer who disapproved the American war ought not to serve in it, the case was different with regard to France.
Although he believed the country was secure against invasion, he did not believe it equal to a war with the Bourbon powers and America. For this reason he agreed with the view expressed earlier in the debate by Thomas Pownall that peace with the American colonies demanded a recognition of “what they really were, and what they were determined to remain, independent states.” [72]  Conway was applauded and the tenor of the House was the reason North gave in asking the King for leave to resign his office. His Majesty was determined to stand his ground and refused to permit North’s resignation. Conway went to the King “to say in private what he had said in public and to offer his services.” According to Walpole, Conway told the King that “he had not thought that a day for attacking the Ministers.” [73] Many shared that opinion and the French war gave a temporary boost to the shaken government.

At this time Conway was working behind the scenes to bring members of both the government and the opposition to agree on American independence. Spurred by private information that Franklin had indicated America would treat if independence were acknowledged, Conway put out soundings. He was even led to believe that North and Germain would not object but he doubted that they had “honesty and courage” enough to act against the King’s will. His efforts came to an end when it became clear that the Chathamites would not hear of independence. [74] Early in April he also realized that the King would not make use of his services, and he told the House that “he looked on himself as laid aside.” [75]

In the session of 1779 Conway tried to prevent Parliament from quarreling over the conduct of the war. He opposed the court-martial of Admiral Keppel not only because he supported him in his dispute with Admiral Palliser but also because he saw how divisive the trial would be. [76] Before Keppel’s vindication Conway persuaded Fox to withdraw a motion for stripping Palliser of his flag. [77] On the other hand, when North, in response to General Howe’s request for a parliamentary inquiry into his conduct in America, claimed that the House was incompetent to inquire into military matters, Conway said that he had never heard so gross “an attempt to violate the inherent and constitutional privileges of that House. [78] During the session he also supported attempts to relieve the economic distress of Ireland, but he was forced to leave Parliament in May after the French mounted an invasion of the isle of Jersey. On arriving at his post he found that the attack had already been repulsed. Still, some of the credit fell to him due to the considerable pains he had taken to prepare the defenses and militia of the island.

Remaining in Jersey throughout the summer it was only from a distance that he could observe the fortunes of his country sink to their lowest ebb. Spain entered the war and the combined Bourbon fleet became master of the Channel. At home the distress of the nation roused the opposition which planned a vigorous campaign for economical reform. The crisis led both Walpole and Grafton, the latter having rejoined his old friends on the outbreak of the war, to urge Conway to attend the session. By the time he received Grafton’s letter Conway had already received the King’s permission to leave his command and was preparing to return to the “gloomy” situation at home. He saw his country reduced to “begging for alliances like alms…without a system at home or abroad; loaded with debt, and overpowered with enemies.” America was hanging “by a thread” and Ireland was “only waiting the next move.” Nevertheless, he told the Duke that whatever the situation
We must set our faces to it: Despondence can but augment our evils…tis a time for action only and dispatch if anything can save us. [79]
In Parliament Conway supported but did not take a lead in the movement for economical reform. He did not like all of Burke’s plan but saw that a general reform on the lines laid down in that plan was essential to quiet the nation. Thus, he praised Burke’s efforts and was severe on those who denied the competence of the House to interfere in the Civil list. [80] But he steered clear of the extremes the Association movement engendered. When a member spoke of resorting to arms if the radical reforms were not granted, Conway censured the “indecency” of such remarks and made a great impression on the House. [81] On April 5 he gave, however, a whole-hearted support to Dunning’s famous motion, and gave it as his own opinion “that the influence of the crown had increased of late, and that to an alarming extent.” [82] He could see no other reason why majority continued to support the American war. A week later he again joined in the attack on influence by supporting Crewe’s motion to disenfranchise revenue officers. He argued that it was “perfectly agreeable to the petitions,” and a necessary consequence of Dunning’s resolution. [83] Crewe’s bill and the great part of Burke’s plan failed, however, and late in April Conway defended a motion asking the King not to dissolve Parliament until some redress had been given to the petitions for economical reform. [84] Still, Conway was not a reformer and like the Rockinghamites he opposed attempts to reform the system of representation.

Although he believed economical reform would help to quiet the country, Conway laid the distress of the nation primarily on the American war. On May 5 he asked the House for leave to bring in a bill to quiet the troubles in America, believing that he had found a plan which would satisfy all parties. Though not in concert with either government or the elements in opposition, he communicated it to both, [85] and told the House that “he had studiously avoided touching upon any topics likely to prove contentious, or to challenge objection.” His speech mentioned two motives which had led him to offer the plan: first, England’s need for peace, and second, the desire and readiness of an equally distressed America for peace if only Parliament would show a disposition to “secure to the colonies the full possession of liberty, and…a free constitution.” He went into the causes of the war blaming it on a foolish attempt to tax a people who were not represented, and on a “criminal inattention” to petitions from America which drove them into the arms of “some few mad and absurd people, of small note and inferior character,” who hoped to attain their own interests by “bringing about independence.” He was especially severe on the bishops in the House of Lords for consistently supporting, even leading, this “dance of death.” In consequence England had been left isolated and exposed in Europe with even the “little Lubeckers, the Dantzickers, and the town of Hamburg against us.” Could any one doubt, he asked, the need for peace with America if only to pursue the struggle with France more effectively? He vividly portrayed the distress of America and its army, and insisted that now was the time to remove all the obstacles which kept the two countries apart. His plan was based on the plans of conciliation, especially Chatham’s, which had earlier been presented in Parliament although Conway believed he had removed the difficulties which had led each of them to fail. North’s plan had failed because peace commissioners had gone to America without instructions from Parliament. Chatham had insisted that America admit the sovereignty of Great Britain but Conway understood that “America would laugh in our face if we held such language now.” He followed Chatham in proposing repeal of all the laws and regulations which had vexed America, but went further by insisting on no acknowledgement of British sovereignty. Thus Conway admitted that he was willing to give up the Declaratory Act. His bill would only reserve to Parliament “the ordering and enacting such things as concern…the general weal of the empire, and the due regulation of the trade and commerce thereof,” and he implored the House to come into the principle if not the particular words of the bill. [86] His proposal can be viewed as either looking back to the old Whig formula or ahead to the idea of the Commonwealth, and it is easy to see why the House would not accept it. Militarily, it was the high point of the war for British arms as the southern campaign prospered. Supporters of the war argued that Conway’s plan would encourage America in its resistance, and that if Parliament held firm now, the distress of America, which Conway had described, would force the colonies to return to obedience. On the other hand, opposition was unenthusiastic over his proposal. All supported it but Fox and Pownall objected to its call for a new peace commission, and Thomas Townshend believed that only the removal of the present ministers would induce America to treat.

The session ended with the Gordon riots. On June 2, the first day of the rioting, Conway was one of the members who reprimanded Lord George Gordon for his behavior, [87] but in general he saw that the petitions of the Protestant Associations would have to be heard if peace was to be restored. On June 6 he moved that the House hear the petitions when the tumults had subsided for it would be beneath the dignity of the House to come into them while surrounded by rioters and soldiers. [88] Two days later he was prepared to move the repeal of the laws granting relief to Papists but was prevented by a hasty adjournment. [89] When the House eventually reconvened he supported the measures designed to allay Protestant fears. At the height of the rioting Conway received what looked like an overture from the King. Walpole wrote that on June 3 Conway received a note from an “inferior person” who said he was authorized to say that the King wished to change administration and would leave it “entirely to general Conway to form a new one.” Conway could be Commander in chief and the King would only insist that Germain, Sandwich, and Thurlow remain. There is no other evidence to show that the King had any such intention. Conway showed the letter to Walpole and they agreed that such bait must not be taken. According to Walpole Conway was warm at the supposition he would treat with Germain, or “act a moment with Lord Sandwich.” [90] For this same reason he declined to attend a Privy Council on the riots. [91] He apparently had no part in the unsuccessful negotiation for a coalition ministry which took place early in the summer.

In August 1780 he reviewed his political conduct over the previous few years in a letter to his old friend, Sir Robert Keith.
I feel as you do, the utility and necessity of all kinds of peace, mais le moyen? To be ’angry and sin not,’ is of all, I believe, the hardest lesson among men. You say ‘Parliament should correct faults and punish crimes:’ but that peace at home is necessary, to make vigorous war, or procure peace abroad.’ True—but how to correct faults, or punish crimes, and yet keep peace at home?
He blamed government for the war but saw the opposition as “faction in all its shapes” and could only regard himself as “a miserable tame politician, contemned by the warm and vigorous ones for that sneaking vice called candor.”
To find fault is to discompose. There is, it would seem; no difference without squabbling, nor finding fault without giving offense; and the dilemma of the peaceably-disposed and unambitious men is sometimes great, in certain situations.
He admitted that he had blamed those who would “make Parliament a mere register of ministerial decrees, or simply the banker of the nation,” but his blame had never been directed solely at the ministry.
I have neither promoted country meetings, nor mad associations, nor signed petitions, nor remonstrances, nor been for botching the constitution by short parliaments, and equal representation. I see defects in our constitution, which is an excellent piece of patchwork, but I don’t know how to mend them. The Parliament, I am afraid, would not if they could, unless they are mended themselves; and I dread the heavy hand of the people in such operations.
Parliament had been further corrupted by the war and nothing hurt Conway more than to hear members who supported the war in the House, oppose it in their private conversations. Finally, he told Keith that though he had predicted all the horrors of the war, and now saw that the colonies were lost, he was
Not for yielding dishonourably, but for more exertion, and so I have long been; and I must say for myself…that though condemning the war, I have never opposed any of the means for carrying it on. [92]
His position was reconciliation, not surrender. No wonder the most vehement supporters and opponents of the administration disliked Conway’s stance during these years and branded it as weak and vacillating. Nevertheless, the great middle in the House admired his independence and candor, and gave him credit for patriotic rather than personal and party motives. Although he had refused to serve in the American war, and his services had not been used in the French, the little island he governed threw back invasion in 1779 and 1781. The latter caused him to miss the session of 1781 but absence did not diminish his stature. Fox publicly praised him and the Duke of Grafton recalled at the time
There was no member of the House more looked up to, both for talents, probity, military knowledge, and experience than General Conway.[93]
The news of Yorktown arrived in England November 25, 1781, just two days before the meeting of Parliament. [94] A stunned North realized that the war was over but the speech from the throne reiterated his Majesty’s resolution to persist in the struggle until terms consistent with “his own honour, and the permanent interests and security of his people” were obtained. Opposition saw the Address as sanctioning the continuance of the war, and Conway joined in opposing it. Speaking with “great energy” he said,
Must he go up to his royal master, and give him assurance that he would support him with his life and fortune, in that which he was convinced would bring ruin upon his country? He should be a traitor to his King and country if he was to act in this manner. [95]
The House of Commons divided against an amendment to the Address by a substantial majority but the days of the ministry were numbered. Its leaders quarreled, gave each other up, and slowly lost parliamentary support. Their going out might be called inevitable but opposition still had to apply pressure. Rockingham and Shelburne led the two wings of the opposition, and Fox, Lord John Cavendish, Burke, Dunning and Barre were its spokesmen in the House. Though connected with neither group Conway supplied opposition with an indispensable support, at once independent, patriotic, and military. In the assault on the ministry Fox concentrated on Sandwich’s mismanagement of the Navy, but on December 14 in the debate on the Army estimates, Conway found the line which eventually broke the government’s majority. North had argued that the estimates showed the intention of the ministers to contract the war in America, but Conway seized on their inability to explain just what type of war they did contemplate. He complained,
we were not to march, but we were to fight; we were not to fight to reduce America, but still we were to fight, and to continue in America. It was not to be continental, and it was to be continental; it was to be offensive, and it was not to be offensive. [96]
After the recess Conway supported the naval inquiry which saw the ministry’s majority drop to approximately 20. On February 20 he spoke for Fox’s motion censuring Sandwich’s management, but digressed at one point to return to the theme of no offensive war. Alluding to the recent appointment of Sir Guy Carleton as Commander in Chief in America, Conway was sure that such an outstanding officer “would not be an idle commander; he would not carry on a defensive war.” [97] By this time he had already prepared, in concert with the opposition, his motion for an Address to the Crown imploring that “the war on the continent of North America may no longer be pursued for the impracticable purpose of reducing the inhabitants of that country to obedience by force,” and on February 22 he presented it to the House. His opening words indicated that his speeches early in the session had induced “gentlemen to request him to move the question.” [98] 

No doubt Conway was asked because it was a military question; because of his persistent although undoubtedly loyal opposition to the war; and because, as Walpole said, “the candour and fairness of his character had drawn much respect to him from all thinking and honest men.” [99] He reiterated all the horrors which had resulted from the war, and asked if the new Secretary of State Welbore Ellis meant to continue them. Another campaign was unthinkable and Conway urged that the American agents believed to be at Paris be immediately treated with. [100] Lord John Cavendish seconded and Fox and Burke brought up their cannon after ministers had spoken. Thus opposition led with its most independent and respected figure and saved the best debaters for reply. The motion failed by one vote (195-196) and Fox immediately gave notice that a similar one would soon be presented.

On February 27 Conway again brought in his motion but this time as a resolution in order to conform to the rule of the House against presenting the same motion twice in the same session. He told the House that his action was prompted by the very small majority on the previous division and that many absent members that day subsequently assured him that they would have voted for it. He cited the recent statements by Rigby and Lord Advocate Dundas against the war, but regretted that “they had not followed up their manly declaration with a manly vote for the address.” Nothing was worse than members who failed to vote their own opinion and throughout these debates Conway constantly excoriated those who put places and interest ahead of duty to country. The remainder of his speech answered the two objections made against his motion in the previous debate. In the first place, it had been claimed that the House had no right to interfere in the royal prerogative to wage war, but after quoting precedent upon precedent, Conway could only say that “a man must fly in the face of common sense and conviction” to affirm that his motion was unconstitutional or unparliamentary. The second objection claimed that his motion called for a withdrawal of all forces from America and was, in effect, a surrender. Conway replied that he
had not said a syllable of withdrawing our troops from the places which they actually held; he had not advised any such measure; and he would not advise it; perhaps he would rather condemn it.
He was not about to surrender the honor and dignity of his country and his motion only gave up “the idea of conquest, and consequently, of an offensive war.” His hope was still for a reconciliation with America, and he again insisted that if negotiations were not begun shortly, America would be locked irrevocably in the arms of France. [101] The motion passed 234 to 215 and Conway immediately moved and carried without division an Address to the Crown to be carried up by the whole House. A saddened North wrote,
We are beat completely…General Conway, not contented with carrying the question, moved an Address to the King to be presented by the whole House, in order to make the measure as grievous and insulting as possible to his best benefactor. [102]
After this debate Nathanial Wraxall saw that Conway was “now completely master of the deliberations of the lower house, on the subject of America.” [103] On March 4 he took the lead as the House considered the King’s reply to its Address. Although he found some fault with the reply, Conway moved an Address of Thanks and brought Fox, whose objections to it were stronger, to acquiesce. [104] The General followed with another Address declaring that the House viewed those who advised or attempted the further prosecution of the war as “enemies to his Majesty and the Country.” [105] Both addresses passed without a division. As the ministry fell, it seemed likely that Conway would have a place in the new arrangement. On the same day North announced that he was no longer Minister, Burke looked to Conway’s becoming a minister telling the House that his “rank and pretensions naturally pointed to that elevation,” and “no man deserved it more.” Conway responded modestly but gave a hint of what he expected from a new ministry.
All our hopes, all our expectations, all our wishes,… depended on a system of incorruptibility, and not on a system of corruptibility…in whatever situation he might be, whether that of a minister, or a private member of that House, he should always be the direct, avowed, and most determined foe to corruption. [106]
He traced all the distresses of the country to the decline of the dignity and independence of the House which had resulted from a widespread system of corruption.
Conway apparently played little part in the formation of the second Rockingham administration. The Marquis asked him to be Commander in Chief and he accepted. According to Walpole, his appointment satisfied “the general voice of mankind” and his reputed independence stifled questions over who should control the Army. The King could feel that if the Army was not in his hands, it was not in Rockingham’s, and Shelburne made no objection for perhaps the same reason. [107] Conway’s conduct in his office justified these expectations as it soon became clear, to the disappointment of both Fox and Burke, that he would not use the patronage at his disposal to satisfy political or personal friends. Immersed now in military affairs, Conway played little role in Parliament during the short tenure of this administration but he was of great importance in the Cabinet. As Rockingham grew fatally ill and the division in the Cabinet between the friends of Fox and Shelburne hardened, Conway held the balance. Both Fox and Shelburne regarded him as an innocent dupe totally unaware of the power he held in this situation. After his resignation Fox blamed Conway for failing to see that American independence and the fate of the empire “depended upon his vote.”
it was the fate of his right hon. Friend to be the last to discover those things which struck every man alive; and experience ought to have sharpened his penetration. [108]
Shelburne called Conway an “innocent man” and believed he “never found out that he had a casting vote in the Cabinet. [109] It is hard to believe that Conway could have been so naïve and the little evidence available suggests that he consciously used his vote in the Cabinet in behalf of what he considered the means to achieve unanimity at home, and reconciliation with America and Ireland.

On June 3 Conway wrote Sir Robert Keith that “our yielding and reconciling spirits” have pacified Ireland and
produced a present actual unanimity at home, to be shortly followed (though on the same yielding principle) by an equal reconciliation with America. All this is the completion of my system, which you and I have sometimes debated about…I shall not triumph, till the effects are more clear and complete. [110]
What was Conway’s system? After Rockingham’s death and Fox’s resignation Conway explained to the House that he chose to remain in administration because it had and would continue to pursue the four basic principles on which it had embarked. Although there was disagreement on the precise nature of these principles, and on the extent to which administration had been committed to them, there was no question in the minds of Conway and the Duke of Richmond. The first principle was an offer to America of “unlimited, unconditional independence, as a basis for a negotiation for peace.” The second was that “they should establish a system of economy in every department of government” by adopting the spirit and provisions of Burke’s bill. Next, Conway believed administration had committed itself to “annihilate every kind of influence over any part of the legislature.” Finally, they were committed to calming the discontents in Ireland by settling its “freedom” or independence. [111] Although Conway expressed in Cabinet some reservations about parts of Burke’s bill, he supported it as well as the third principle although it was not his business to take a part in conducting either through Parliament. [112] He was, however, deeply interested in America and Ireland and sought, as did all the ministers, not only peace but reconciliation. If reconciliation was the goal, he felt that independence could only be part of a treaty or some general system linking sovereign states. For this reason Conway joined Burke and Fox on April 8 in attacking William Eden, the former Secretary in Ireland, for rashly moving the repeal of the act of VI George I before any such system had been developed. Conway told the House that the new Lord lieutenant would soon be empowered with terms which “he trusted would establish a firm and happy union between the two countries.” [113]  Conway also believed that the recognition of American independence would be attached to negotiations for a treaty, which might possibly effect a reconciliation as well. When Fox moved in the Cabinet for an explicit acknowledgement of independence prior to any treaty, Conway cast his tie-breaking vote with Shelburne. He also opposed Fox on the ground that England would be giving up her only card in dealing with America. He said,
The acknowledgment of independence might be a leading argument for their making peace with us; but should they refuse peace, should we not weaken our right of warring on them by having acknowledged their independence.[114]
Fox chose to regard this as giving up the basic principle on which the administration had been formed, and he resigned right after the death of the Marquis on July 1.

Conway and Richmond tried to prevent this rupture but when Fox and a few others went out, Conway wrote Grafton,
All the fine structure I thought was formed for saving the Country seems crumbling to pieces in one unhappy moment. Caballing about posts and power takes place of the public interest, by which all solidity at home and confidence abroad is in imminent danger of being destroyed. [115]
In the debate in the House on July 9 Fox attributed his resignation to a deviation in the Cabinet from the principles originally agreed upon, and the impossibility of returning to those principles with the Earl of Shelburne at the head of affairs. Conway defended his remaining and professed that there had been no deviation from principle. There had been “small and nice shades of difference” in the Cabinet, but he knew of nothing which “reasonably ought to have induced” Fox to quit. As for Shelburne, Conway could see no reason to believe that he would depart from the principles of the Marquis, and said that he would not enquire “with scrupulous nicety what men were to carry good measures into execution.”
Provided the measures were good, it was a matter of perfect indifference to him…whether this minister was called a Shelburnite or a Rockinghamite.
It was at this point that he listed the four principles of the Rockingham administration and argued that all had been achieved but peace with America. He pledged himself to the House for the attainment of that object, and said he would not remain in office a moment if Shelburne showed any sign of departure from that goal. Fox was furious at Conway’s words and complained that what he called a little shade of difference was in truth the question of whether there should be peace or war with America. Fox had often praised Conway but now he made the same condemnation of his politics that Burke had used in the Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents.  In the Chatham administration Conway’s “unsuspecting confidence, and his not respecting shades of difference,” had held up that administration “which in the end had ruined, or well-nigh ruined the country.” Like Burke Fox saw Conway’s private virtues—“magnanimity of character” and “generosity of mind”—as political vices. He traced all the recent misfortunes of the country to “the political liberality” practiced by Conway, so that
If he were to be asked who was the person who of all others had contributed the most to the misfortune of the American war? he should be tempted to say, the right hon. general.
If Conway had resigned in 1766 there would have been, according to this view, no Chatham administration and no Townshend duties, but he had given his support to bad men trusting that they would be induced to do good. When they did wrong, Conway had opposed but that was weak and ineffectual compared to what might have been accomplished if he had not supported the system in the first place. Fox believed that if Conway had withheld his support from Chatham (and of course Shelburne in 1782) the King would have been forced to call upon the good men. Conway replied that he would always be “for public measures, not men” and that he would never depart “from this broad and beaten ground of politics.” He recalled that when he had acquainted Chatham with his wish to resign, the great man had said,
If the well wishers to their country should retire, it would make it absolutely necessary for ministry to apply to those very persons for support, who had been driven out by them. [116]
Lacking any attachment to Shelburne Conway remained in office only to assist in the completion of the work of peace and reconciliation with America.  As the session of 1782/3 opened he defended government and praised Shelburne although in a somewhat backhanded way:
He had watched him closely and so no reason to doubt; the surest way to keep him sincere, was to take care that he acted up to his professions, which…he had hitherto uniformly done. [117]
A few days later when Fox attacked Shelburne for his unwillingness to recognize American independence, Conway gave his opinion that
The provisional agreement was a full, absolute, and irrevocable recognition of the independence of America. It had naturally been the desire of ministers…to conclude a separate treaty with America; but finding…that that was impracticable…they made a treaty, the provisions of which the Americans would claim whenever they thought proper so to do—a treaty recognizing their independence, which was to take place whenever a peace should happen between this country and France… [118]
Conway declared that the pledge he had made the last session was now accomplished. Nevertheless, he was one of those in the Cabinet who fought Shelburne every step of the way against too many concessions to France and Spain. [119] By the new year the Cabinet was seriously divided on this question, and Grafton, Camden, and Richmond were complaining of Shelburne’s secrecy. Though he stayed at the Ordnance Richmond ceased to attend Council but according to Walpole Conway “was unwilling to quarrel for trifles and stop the peace.” [120] By the time the preliminaries came into the House in February part of the Cabinet was unwilling to defend it, and even Conway warned young William Pitt that if anything was said on the restoration of Trincomalee to France, he would have preferred continuing the war. [121] He voted for the peace but did not speak when Fox and North came together to beat government. Though he did not desert Shelburne, his silence was interpreted as dislike of the peace. [122] After this defeat Conway advised the Earl to step down and put aside any thought of a dissolution. [123] After consulting with Grafton, who resigned the Privy Seal on February 20, Conway decided to remain as Commander in Chief until a new ministry was formed. On March 26 as he was discussing military affairs with the King, the talk turned to politics and the King asking his opinion, Conway advised him “to take the Coalition” although owning that he knew nothing and had had no communication with either Fox or North. [124]

On the formation of the new ministry the Duke of Portland asked Conway to remain as Commander in Chief, but not of the Cabinet. Conway did not wish to be associated with the Coalition and was not offended at his exclusion from the Cabinet. He stayed at the head of the Army but only after gaining the King’s approval. [125] His situation, he told Grafton,
tho’ losing perhaps something of dignity, gains so much in point of freedom and propriety agreeable to my own feelings, as to be the only one I could take with any degree of satisfaction. [126]
Only his duty to the King made him be “an apparent part” of a system which he disliked. He disapproved of the way in which the Coalition had forced itself upon the King, but he concurred with it because of the pressing needs of the military and his belief that some administration must be suffered to become permanent.[127] As he had done before he refused to pay any heed to the pleas of politicians, especially now that the armies were being reduced. Though he angered Fox, he was always fair and even induced North to bring in a bill for half pay for loyalist corps who, although he disagreed with their cause, had fought for their country. [128]

Despite his dislike of the Coalition, in December 1783 its cause became the cause of the House of Commons. After the House of Lords threw out the India bill, Conway resigned his office and joined Fox and North on the opposition benches. ON December 24 he bitterly condemned the use of the King’s name to influence the debate in the Lords and derided that House for its failing to give “a true test of their opinion.” Referring to the sudden change of opinion evidenced in the conduct of some lords, he said,
These were circumstances as well known as the unconstitutional means were known, that had been used to produce the event that had happened…he hoped due means  would be found to bring the charge of having used the name of the person who wore the Crown as a means of defeating a Bill of the first importance home to the criminals… [129]
When Pitt dared form an administration without a majority in the Commons, Conway viewed it as the greatest threat he had ever seen to the House and the constitution. On January 4 he wrote to Grafton,
A system of Administration (and one having flaws too in it) forced upon His Majesty, I much dislike; but a system against the bent of the House of Commons, and supported only by the Crown, I take it to be impracticable. [130]
On January 12 he branded Pitt’s refusal to explain the King’s message as unconstitutional, and urged those who advocated the absolute power of the Crown to dissolve Parliament, “unchecked by discretion,” to look back to the reigns of Charles I and James II. He compared the late Earl of Chatham to his son,
the former quitted his office because he found about the throne something greater than the King himself; while the latter was avowedly introduced into the cabinet by that very something which had driven his noble father from it.
It was impossible to contemplate this ministry, its contemptible situation in the House, and its mad intention to dissolve, “without horror and astonishment.” Only the House could save the nation in this crisis.
It is now that the House of Commons answers the end of its institution, and proves itself, not in speculation, but in practice, the glorious palladium of our rights. [131]
Conway kept up this warmth throughout the session and it is a tribute to his stature that it often forced Pitt, who preferred to remain silent under attack, to rise if only to reiterate his reasons for silence. Nevertheless, Pitt held fast and on March 23, the day before the dissolution, Conway rose
To take his share of the humiliation in which the House was sunk; he had hitherto been fool enough to consider the House of Commons as of consequence to the country, and weight in the constitution; but the right hon. gentleman had undeceived him; he had triumphed over the House of Commons, and proved it to be a cypher.
This speech, his last in the House, ended with the following characteristic note:
Public peace was what ought to have been cultivated; and if any man had, from punctilio, pride, personal consideration, or emolument, declined that union which could alone save the country, he would not hesitate to call him an enemy to his country. [132]
Conway was not returned in the election of 1784 and retired from politics.[133]  The remainder of his life was spent in a variety of quieter pursuits. He of course still had his regiment and was governor of Jersey but most of all he tended to his farm at Park Place, a veritable Cincinnatus. He dabbled in invention and even before retirement helped plan the bridge which still stands at Henley-on-Thames. He wrote poetry and adapted a French drama for a private theatrical in which his daughter, the well known sculptress Mrs. Anne Damer, appeared. He kept in touch with the great world, especially with the Whig circles around Fox and the Prince of Wales, but avoided politics. In 1785 he invited Sir Robert Keith to Park Place “to be annihilated like myself,” and “pass a good peaceable sort of nonentity.” [134] The French Revolution he naturally viewed with disgust. In 1793 he was created Field Marshall but died in the summer of 1795. Mary Berry, Walpole’s friend, came to know Conway in those years and saw that he had at last found the life he had always desired. In her edition of Walpole’s works she wrote,
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.[135]

[1] Sir Henry Cavendish, Debates of the House of Commons during the 13th Parliament of Great Britain commonly called the Unreported Parliament, drawn from the original manuscript by J. Wright (2 vols.; London, 1841), I, 15. Hereafter cited as Cavendish. Conway’s remarks were made on May 13, 1768, the first day of the new Parliament, in a debate on the Address of Thanks.
[2] This account of Conway’s last sixteen years in Parliament still relies heavily on Walpole who chronicled his cousin’s career right to the end. In addition, reports of the debates in Parliament improve considerably in these years thanks to Cavendish and the London newspapers, whose accounts were used in the Parliamentary History.
[3] Walpole, George III, III, 142.
[4] Ibid., 107.
[5] Ibid., 133, 144.
[6] Conway to Grafton, June 23, 1768, Grafton MSS.
[7] Walpole, George III, III, 163.
[8] Ibid., 172.
[9] Ibid., 183.
[10] Cavendish, I, 66.
[11] Ibid. 81.
[12] Ibid., 111; and Rockingham to Charles Yorke, Dec. 17, 1768, Add. MSS 35430, f. 138.
[13] Walpole, George III, III, 209.
[14] George III to Hertford, Jan. 27, 1769, Fortescue, II, 75.
[15] Walpole, George III, III, 211.
[16] Ibid., 189-190; and Grafton, Autobiography, 229-30.
[17] Cavendish, I, 92.
[18] Ibid., 217.
[19] Denys de Berdt to Richard Cary, Feb. 2, 1769, “Letter book of Denys deBerdt, 1765-1770, “Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts s, Transactions 1910-1911, XIII, 358.
[20] Cavendish, I, 276.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Edmund Burke, “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents,” Works, I, 422-3.
[23] Cavendish, I, 351-2.
[24] Ibid., 362-3.
[25] Ibid., 367.
[26] Walpole, George III, III, 265; IV, 23.
[27] Parliamentary History, XVI, 712-3. Cavendish did not report the debates on these opening days.
[28] Ibid., 701. Adolphus, History of England, I, 361. Walpole, George III, IV, 26, also disagrees with Adolphus.
[29] Walpole, George III, IV, 28.
[30] Walpole to Mann, Jan. 22, 1770, Yale Walpole, XXIII, 179.
[31] Walpole, George III, IV, 41.
[32] George III to Lord North, Jan. 29, 1770, Fortescue, II, 126-7.
[33] Walpole, George III, IV, 42.
[34] Cavendish, I, 497.
[35] Parliamentary History, XVI, 888-892.
[36] Walpole, George III, IV, 69.
[37] O’Hara to Burke, Nov. 4, 1769, Hoffman, 455.
[38] Cavendish, I, 558.
[39] Burke to O’Hara, Nov. 27, 1767, Hoffman, 419. Conway was not insensitive to the distress of Ireland and he supported efforts to improve the Irish economy by reforming the trade laws. See Parliamentary History, XVII, 1151; XX, 138.
[40] Cavendish, II, 11.
[41] Ibid., 79.
[42] Ibid., 249.
[43] Ibid. 376.
[44] Ibid., 396.
[45] Ibid. 434-5.
[46] Ibid., 452.
[47] Walpole, George III, IV, 143.
[48] Cavendish, II, 396.
[49] Horace Walpole, The Last Journals of Horace Walpole…from 1771-1783, with notes by Dr. Doran, ed. A. Francis Steuart (2 vols., London, 1910, I, 43.
[50] Ibid., 51-2.
[51] Ibid., 52.
[52] Ibid., 66.
[53] For the King’s opinion see George III to North, March 23, 1772, Fortescue, II, 332. But Walpole claimed that the early vote shut our more opponents than defenders of the bill. Last Journals, I, 67.
[54] For the British response to the Tea Party see Bernard Donoghue, British Politics and the American Revolution, The Path to War, 1773-75 (London, 1964).
[55] Parliamentary History, XVII, 1176.
[56] Ibid., 1210.
[57] Ibid., 1279.
[58] Ibid., 1311.
[59] Walpole, Last Journals, I, 379-397.
[60] Ibid., 454; and Parliamentary History, XVIII, 606.
[61] Parliamentary History, XVIII, 761.
[62] Walpole, Last Journals, I, 490.
[63] Parliamentary History, XVIII, 836.
[64] Ibid., 886.
[65] Ibid., 998.
[66] Ibid., 1181, 1187.
[67] Ibid., 1357; and Walpole, Last Journals, I, 552.
[68] Walpole, Last Journals, I, 552.
[69] Parliamentary History, XVIII, 1359.
[70] William E. H. Lecky, A History of England in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1919-20), IV, 438-9.
[71] Walpole, Last Journals, II, 8.
[72] Ibid., 137; and Parliamentary History, XIX, 947-9.
[73] Walpole, Last Journals, II, 139.
[74] Ibid., 145-54.
[75] Ibid., 159.
[76] Ibid., 224.
[77] Ibid., 254.
[78] Parliamentary History, XX, 723.
[79] Conway to Grafton, Oct. 29, 1779, Grafton MSS.
[80] Parliamentary History, XXI, 177, 186-7; and Walpole, Last Journals, II, 292.
[81] Walpole, Last Journals, II, 292.
[82] Parliamentary History, XXI, 365.
[83] Ibid., 409.
[84] Ibid., 522.
[85] Walpole, Last Journals, II, 303.
[86] Parliamentary History, XXI, 570-591.
[87] Walpole, Last Journals, II, 306.
[88] Parliamentary History, XXI, 663.
[89] Walpole, Last Journals, II, 312.
[90] Ibid., 308.
[91] Ibid., 311.
[92] Conway to Sir Robert Keith, Aug. 30, 1780, Memoirs and Correspondence of sir Robert Murray Keith, ed. Mrs. Gillespie Smyth (2 vols.; London, 1849), II, 106-9.
[93] Grafton, Autobiography, 314. For Fox’s praise see Walpole, Last Journals, II, 346.
[94] The last days of the North administration are studied in I. R. Christie, The End of North’s Ministry, 1780-1782 (London, 1958).
[95] Parliamentary History, XXII, 728-9.
[96] Ibid., 841.
[97] Ibid., 937.
[98] Ibid., 1028.
[99] Walpole, Last Journals, II, 406.
[100] Parliamentary History, XXII, 1028-1030.
[101] Ibid., 1065-8.
[102] North to the Earl of Dartmouth [March 1782], Historical Manuscripts Commission, Fifteenth Report, Appendix, Part I, the Manuscripts of the Earl of Dartmouth, III, (1896), 257.
[103] N. W. Wraxall, Historical Memoirs of My Own Time (Philadelphia, 1845), 272.
[104] Walpole, Last Journals, II, 414.
[105] Parliamentary History, XXII, 1089.
[106] Ibid., 1227-9.
[107] Walpole, Last Journals, II, 431-4. Rockingham to Shelburne, March 24, 1782, Albemarle, Rockingham, II, 464.
[108] Parliamentary History, XXIII, 169.
[109] Lord John Russell, The Life and Times of Charles James Fox (London, 1859), I, 263.

[110] Conway to Keith, June 3, 1782, Memoirs of…Keith, II, 154.
[111] Parliamentary History, XXIII, 166-7.
[112] Fox to Colonel Fitzpatrick, April 15, 1782, Russell, Fox, I, 297.
[113] Parliamentary History, XXII, 1254, 1258.
[114] Walpole, Last Journals, II, 458.
[115] Conway to Grafton, July 5, 1782, Grafton MSS.
[116] Parliamentary History, XXIII, 165-176.
[117] Ibid., 278.
[118] Ibid., 291-2.
[119] George III to Shelburne, Dec. 11, 1782, Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, Life of William, Earl of Shelburne, (3 vols.; London, 1875-6), III, 313. Grafton, Autobiography, 345, 348.
[120] Walpole, Last Journals, II, 532.
[121] Ibid., 484.
[122] Ibid.
[123] Ibid., 485n., 486.
[124] Ibid., 505-6.
[125] Ibid., 509.
[126] Conway to Grafton, April 3, 1783, Grafton MSS.
[127] Conway to Grafton, Jan. 4, 1784, Grafton Autobiography, 388.
[128] Parliamentary History, XXIII, 1057.
[129] A Full and Complete Account of the Debates in the House of Commons, on Tuesday, November 17, Friday, December 19, Monday, December 22, and Wednesday, December 24, 1783 (London, J. Stockdale, 1784), 184-6.
[130] Conway to Grafton, Jan. 4, 1784, Grafton, Autobiography, 388.
[131] Parliamentary History, XXIV, 292-3.
[132] Ibid., 773.
[133]Grafton put Conway up again for Bury St. Edmunds but when the canvass went against him, the duke had to substitute a relation. Namier and Brooke, The House of Commons, II, 244.
[134] Conway to Keith, sept. 4, 1785, Memoirs of…Keith, II, 177.
[135] The Works of Horatio Walpole, Earl of Orford, (5 vols.; London, 1798), I, XVIII.

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