Rockingham Whigs

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The Rockingham Whigs or Rockinghamite Whigs in 18th century British politics were a faction of the Whigs led by Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, when he was the opposition leader in the House of Lords during the government of Lord North (1732–1792) from 1770 to 1782 and during the two Rockingham ministries of 1765-66 and 1782.

They opposed the British position which led to the American Revolution and sought reconciliation after it. They also opposed King George III's influence on Parliament through patronage. They were heavily dominated by wealthy aristocrats, many of whom had previously been supporters of Duke of Newcastle during his spells as Prime Minister.

The faction showed less interest in holding office than in preventing a reassertion of royal power. They were prepared to unite with reformers of all kinds to preserve the constitutional settlement of 1689. But their essentially aristocratic and oligarchic character prevented them from collaborating with "Country Party" reformers advocating radical or populistic measures.[1]

Edmund Burke was one of the leading spokesmen in the House of Commons.[2]

Powell, 2002, shows they did not favor Irish constitutional goals but when out of power they used Irish problems to embarrass the government. During Rockingham's government in 1765-66, his faction was generally hostile to the Irish Patriot Party, but during the administration of Lord North, 1770-82, it supported the Patriots' charges of mismanagement of Irish affairs. In power again in 1782, the Rockinghamites made concessions to the Patriots' demand for Irish legislative independence. They sought and failed to obtain a permanent solution that would involved British control over external legislation and Irish control over internal affairs. They also failed to implement British party models in Ireland. Rockinghamites Charles James Fox and Burke were actively involved in Irish issues, says Powell, the former opportunistically and the latter with a genuine interest in reform.

In 1782 they joined forces with other members of the Opposition to bring down the North government which had overseen the American War since the beginning, and was blamed for the surrender of the British army at Yorktown. The new government was led by Rockingham and began to seek peace terms, laying the foundations for the Treaty of Paris agreed in 1783. Rockingham's unexpected death in July 1782 led to a split in the new government with some Rockingham Whigs remaining in office under the new government of Lord Shelburne, and others going into opposition led by Charles James Fox and Edmund Burke. After Rockingham's death, the Duke of Portland became the head of the Rockingham Whig party.

Further reading[edit]

  • Elofson, W. M. "The Rockingham Whigs and the Country Tradition," Parliamentary History, Feb 1989, Vol. 8 Issue 1, pp 90–115
  • Elofson, W. M. "The Rockingham Whigs in Transition: The East India Company Issue 1772-1773," English Historical Review Vol. 104, No. 413 (Oct., 1989), pp. 947–974 in JSTOR
  • O'Gorman, Frank. "Party and Burke: The Rockingham Whigs," Government & Opposition, April 1967, Vol. 3 Issue 1, pp 92–110
  • Powell, Martyn J. "British Party Politics and Imperial Control: The Rockingham Whigs and Ireland 1765-1782," Parliamentary History, Nov 2002, Vol. 21 Issue 3, pp 325–50

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Elofson, "The Rockingham Whigs and the Country Tradition"
  2. ^ * O'Gorman, Frank. "Party and Burke: The Rockingham Whigs," Government & Opposition,