1st Viscount Sidmouth (1805-1844)
British Prime Minister (1801-1804)
Born 1757 Died 1844
Henry Addington, English statesman, son of Dr Anthony Addington, was born on the 30th of May 1757. Educated at Winchester College and Brasenose College, Oxford, he graduated in 1778, and took the chancellor's prize for an English essay in 1779.
Owing to his friendship with William Pitt he turned his attention to politics, and after his election as member of parliament for Devizes in 1784 gave a silent but steady support to the ministry of his friend. By close attention to his parliamentary duties, he obtained a wide knowledge of the rules and procedure of the House of Commons, and this fact together with his intimacy with Pitt, and his general popularity, secured his election as Speaker in June 1789. Like his predecessors, Addington continued to be a partisan after his acceptance of this office, took part at times in debate when the house was in committee; and on one occasion his partiality allowed Pitt to disregard the authority of the chair. He enjoyed the confidence of George III, and in the royal interest tried to induce Pitt to withdraw his proposal for a further instalment of relief to Roman Catholics. Rather than give way on this question Pitt resigned office early in 1801, when both he and the king urged Addington to form a government. Addington consented, and after some delay caused by the king's illness, and by the reluctance of several of Pitt's followers to serve under him, became First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer in March 1801.
The new prime minister, who was specially acceptable to George, was loyally supported by Pitt; and his first important work, the conclusion of the treaty of Amiens in March 1802, made him popular in the country. Signs, however, were not wanting that the peace would soon be broken, and Pitt, dissatisfied with the ministry for ignoring the threatening attitude of Napoleon, and making no preparations for a renewal of the war, withdrew his support. Addington then took steps to strengthen the forces of the crown, and suggested to Pitt that he should join the cabinet and that both should serve under a new prime minister., This offer was declined, and a similar fate befell Addington's subsequent proposal to serve under Pitt.
When the struggle with France was renewed in May 1803, it became evident that as a war minister Addington was not a success; and when Pitt became openly hostile, the continued confidence of the king and of a majority in the House of Commons was not a sufficient counterpoise to the ministry's waning prestige. Although careful and industrious, Addington had no brilliant qualities, and his mediocrity afforded opportunity for attack by his enemies. Owing to his father's profession he was called in derision 'the doctor', and George Canning, who wrote satirical verses at his expense, referred to him on one occasion as "happy Britain's guardian gander". Without waiting for defeat in the House he resigned office in April 1804, and became the leader of the party known as the king's friends.
Pitt, who now returned to office, was soon reconciled with his old friend; in January 1805 Addington was created Viscount Sidmouth, and became Lord President of the Council. He felt aggrieved, however, because his friends were not given a larger share of power, and when Pitt complained because some of them voted against the ministry, Sidmouth left the cabinet in July 1805. In February 1806 he became lord privy seal in the ministry of Fox and Grenville, but resigned early in 1807 when the government proposed to throw open commissions in the army and navy to Roman Catholics and Protestant dissenters; in 1812 he joined the cabinet of Spencer Perceval as Lord President of the Council, becoming home secretary when the ministry was reconstructed by the Earl of Liverpool in the following June.
The ten years during which beheld this office coincided with much misery and unrest among the labouring classes, and the government policy, for which he was mainly responsible, was one of severe repression. In 1817 the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended, and Sidmouth issued a circular to the lords-lieutenant declaring that magistrates might apprehend and hold to bail persons accused on oath of seditious libels. For this step he was severely attacked in parliament, and was accused of fomenting rebellion by means of his spies. Although shaken by the acquittal of William Hone on a charge of libel the government was supported by parliament; and after the Manchester massacre in August 1819 the home secretary thanked the magistrates and soldiers for their share in quelling the riot. He was mainly responsible for the policy embodied in the Six Acts of 1819. In December 1821 Sidmouth resigned his office, but remained a member of the cabinet without official duties until 1824, when he resigned owing to his disapproval of the recognition of the independence of Buenos Aires.
Subsequently he took very little part in public affairs; but true to his earlier principles he spoke against Catholic emancipation in April 1829, and voted against the Reform Bill in 1832. He died at his residence in Richmond Park on the 15th of February 1844, and was buried at Mortlake.
In 1781 he married Ursula Mary, daughter of Leonard Hammond of Cheam, Surrey, who died in 1811, leaving a son, William Leonard, who succeeded his father as Viscount Sidmouth, and four daughters. In 1823 he married secondly Marianne, daughter of William Scott, Baron Stowell (d. 1836), and widow of Thomas Townsend of Honington, Warwickshire. Sidmouth suffers by comparison with the great men of his age, but he was honest and courageous in his opinions, loyal to his friends, and devoted to church and state.
The 2nd Viscount Sidmouth (1794-1864) was a clergyman of the Church of England; he was succeeded as 3rd Viscount by his son, William Wells Addington (b. 1824).
See Hon. G. Pellew, Life of Sidmouth (London, 1847); Lord John Russell, Life and Times of C. J. Fox (London, 1859-1866); Earl Stanhope, Life of Pitt (London, 1861-1862); Sir G. C. Lewis, Essays on the Administrations of Great Britain (London, 1864); Spencer Walpole, History of England (London, 1878-1886). (A.W.H.)
Being the entry for SIDMOUTH, HENRY ADDINGTON, 1ST VISCOUNT in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.