Isaac Barré

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The Right Honourable
Isaac Barré
Col Barre.jpg
Colonel Barré, c. 1765, by Douglas Hamilton
In office
1782
Treasurer of the Navy
Monarch George III
Prime Minister Lord Rockingham
Preceded by Welbore Ellis
Succeeded by Henry Dundas
Paymaster of the Forces
In office
1782–1783
Monarch George III
Prime Minister The Earl of Shelburne
Preceded by Edmund Burke
Succeeded by Edmund Burke
Personal details
Born 1726 (1726)
Dublin, Ireland
Died 20 July 1802 (1802-07-21)
London, England
Nationality Irish
Political party Whig
Alma mater Trinity College, Dublin

Isaac Barré (1726 – 20 July 1802) was an Irish soldier and politician.[1] He earned distinction serving with the British Army during the Seven Years' War and later became a prominent Member of Parliament, in which role he became a vocal supporter of William Pitt. He is known for coining the term "Sons of Liberty" in reference to American Whigs opposed to the British government's policies.

Early life[edit]

He was the son of Peter Barré, a Huguenot refugee living in Dublin as a linen dealer, who became high sheriff of Dublin (1756).[2] He was educated at Trinity College. While his parents had hoped he would study law, and although he had potential as an actor, Barré instead entered the British Army in 1746.

Military career[edit]

After studying at Trinity College, he joined the 32nd regiment of foot as an ensign in 1746, and was promoted to lieutenant in 1755, and captain in 1756. He served under his patron General James Wolfe on the Rochefort expedition of 1757, when he first met Lord Shelburne, and afterwards in Canada where he was appointed adjutant-general, fighting at both Louisbourg (1758) and Quebec (1759). In the Quebec expedition, in which Wolfe was killed, Barré was severely wounded by a bullet in the cheek and lost the use of his right eye, and was among the group gathered around the dying Wolfe, immortalised in Benjamin West's celebrated picture.

Returning to England in September 1760, despite many years of commendable service, Barré was denied a promotion by William Pitt the Elder[3] and turned to Shelburne for help. After undertaking a tour of Shelburne's Irish estates, he was advanced to lieutenant-colonel of the regiment of 106th Foot at Shelburne's instigation, and in 1763 was appointed to the lucrative posts of adjutant-general to the British army and Governor of Stirling Castle.

Political career[edit]

Colonel Isaac Barré, 1785, by Gilbert Stuart

Shelburne introduced him to Lord Bute and brought him into parliament for his borough of Chipping Wycombe (1761–1774), having been selected by Shelburne "as a bravo to run down Mr. Pitt", and then for Calne (1774–1790). One of the few self-made soldiers in parliament, Barré became one of Shelburne's principal supporters in the House of Commons. In his first political speech, he vehemently attacked the absent war minister William Pitt, renewing this assault the next day to Pitt's face. This caused a sensation, and set the tone of a long and colourful parliamentary career in which he acquired a fearsome reputation as an orator. However, he ultimately became a devoted adherent.

A vigorous opponent of the taxation of America, Barré displayed his mastery of invective in his championship of the American cause, and the name "Sons of Liberty", which he had applied to the colonists in one of his speeches, became a common designation of American organisations directed against the Stamp Act, as well as later patriotic clubs. His appointment in 1782 to the treasurership of the navy, which carried a pension of £3200 a year at a time when the government was ostensibly advocating stringency, caused great discontent; subsequently, however, he received from the younger Pitt the clerkship of the pells, a sinecure for life in place of the pension, which thus was saved to the public. Becoming blind in 1784,[4] he retired office in 1790.

Barré's knowledge of North America (he was one of the few politicians with friendships among the American mercantile classes) made him a champion of the colonists, whom he famously dubbed "Sons of Liberty" while opposing the intended Stamp Act, which nevertheless passed on 6 February 1765. An example of his fiery oratory was his response to Charles Townshend's observation when introducing the Stamp Act resolutions that the colonies should "contribute to the mother country which had planted, nurtured and indulged them", to which he replied:

They planted by your care! No, your oppressions planted them in America. They fled from your tyranny to a then uncultivated, inhospitable country, where they exposed themselves to almost all the hardships to which human nature is liable, and among others to the cruelties of a savage foe and actuated by principles of true English liberties, they met all hardships with pleasure compared with those they suffered in their own country from the hands of those who should be their friends.

In the Stamp Act crisis, Barré not only championed repeal but also followed Pitt in opposing the complete right of taxation as stated in the Declaratory Act. His efforts against the Stamp Act were commemorated in America with the founding in 1769 of the Pennsylvania town of Wilkes-Barre, named for John Wilkes and Isaac Barré. The towns of Barre, Massachusetts and Barre, Vermont were also named in his honour.[1]

Horace Walpole described Barré as "a black [meaning his hair was black], robust man, of a military figure, rather hard-favoured than not, young, with a peculiar distortion on one side of his face, which it seems was a bullet lodged loosely in his cheek, and which gave a savage glare to one eye".[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Barré, Isaac". The Columbia University (6th ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. December 2007. Retrieved 2 June 2008. 
  2. ^ Distinguished Huguenot Refugees and Their Descendants
  3. ^ Petrillo, F. Charles (1988). "Wilkes Naming Wilkes-Barre". John Wilkes and Isaac Barre: Politics and Controversy in Eighteenth Century Graphics. Sordoni Art Gallery, Wilkes University. Retrieved 2 June 2008. 
  4. ^ [1] History of Parliament Online article.
  5. ^ George Thomas, Earl of Albemarle, Memoirs of the Marquis of Rockingham and His Contemporaries, London: Bentley, 1852

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Welbore Ellis
Treasurer of the Navy
1782
Succeeded by
Henry Dundas
Preceded by
Edmund Burke
Paymaster of the Forces
1782–1783
Succeeded by
Edmund Burke
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Viscount FitzMaurice
Robert Waller
Member of Parliament for Wycombe
1761–1774
with Robert Waller
Succeeded by
Robert Waller
Hon. Thomas FitzMaurice
Preceded by
Hon. Thomas FitzMaurice
John Dunning
Member of Parliament for Calne
1774–1790
with John Dunning 1774–1782
James Townsend 1782–1787
Joseph Jekyll 1787–1790
Succeeded by
Joseph Jekyll
John Morris