JMC fellow William Anthony Hay’s book, Lord Liverpool: A Political Life, was reviewed in the Wall Street Journal.
A Tory in His Prime
By Allan Massie
From The Wall Street Journal
Robert Banks Jenkinson, second Earl of Liverpool, was prime minister of Great Britain from 1812 to 1827. These were momentous years, encompassing the wars against Napoleon ic France, radical agitation, renewed demands for Catholic Emancipation and calls for parliamentary reform. Only two British prime ministers— Robert Walpole and William Pitt the Younger—have had a longer unbroken tenure. What’s more, Liverpool was at the heart of government for almost 20 years before becoming prime minister. Yet he is little remembered. Disraeli dismissed him as “the Arch-Mediocrity who presided, rather than ruled, over this Cabinet of Mediocrities,” and the slur stuck.
It is the first great merit of William Anthony Hay’s Lord Liverpool: A Political Life that it demonstrates the absurdity of Disraeli’s judgment and restores Liverpool to his proper place in British political history. The subtitle is apt: Though Liverpool had a happy, if childless, marriage, he occupied himself with little but politics from his early 20s.
Robert Banks Jenkinson (1770-1828), 2nd Earl of Liverpool, was Britain’s longest serving prime minister since William Pitt the Younger. Liverpool’s tenure in office oversaw a series of seismic events including the War of 1812 with the United States, the endgame of the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna, the Corn Laws, the Peterloo Massacre, and escalating contention over the issue of Catholic Emancipation. However, Liverpool’s overall standing within British political history has been overshadowed by contemporaries such as Castlereagh and Canning, and his reputation and achievements were downplayed by the Reform period that followed.
This new political biography explores Liverpool’s career and puts his efforts at resisting change into context, bringing this period of transformation into sharp focus. It shows Liverpool as a defender of the eighteenth-century British constitution, documenting his efforts at adapting institutions to the challenges of war and then the very different post-1815 world. Shaped by eighteenth-century assumptions, Liverpool nonetheless laid the foundations for the nineteenth-century Britain that emerged from the Reform era. This book uses his career and outlook as a way of exploring the crucial transition from the Georgian to the Victorian era.
William Anthony Hay is an Associate Professor of History and Director of the College of Arts & Sciences Institute for the Humanities at Mississippi State. He specializes in British History and International Relations since the eighteenth century. Elected a fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 2009, Hay is a past-president of the Southern Conference on British Studies. Along with research grants from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and the Earhart Foundation, he has held fellowships at the Lewis Walpole Library and Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University and the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.
Hay is currently writing a book tentatively entitled King George’s Generals: Strategy, Policy and Britain’s War for America, 1763-1781. Boydell & Brewer will publish Hay’s latest book Lord Liverpool: A Political Life in Spring 2018. His first book The Whig Revival, 1808-1830 (Palgrave: 2005) examines the political realignment that brought the Whigs to power in 1830 through an alliance with provincial interests. Hay writes regularly for publications including the Wall Street Journal, National Interest and Literary Review. Before coming to Mississippi State, Hay directed a program on European politics and U.S. foreign policy at Foreign Policy Research Institute. Hay received his Ph.D. Modern European and International History from the University of Virginia in 2000.
Want to help the Jack Miller Center transform higher education? Donate today.