Lord Liverpool – A Reappraisal of the First Conservative Prime Minister
Lord Liverpool was Prime Minister for an unbroken period of almost fifteen years, having previously held other high offices for ten years. It is unarguable that his government had two great achievements to its name; the triumph in the Napoleonic Wars and the wide ranging reforms during the 1820s which were without precedent in our modern history. In spite of this, he was rather taken for granted in his lifetime, his reputation declined swiftly after his death, and for many years thereafter he was disparaged if he was not ignored. Certainly, a more generous view has been taken by some recent commentators, but it is arguable that full justice is still not being done to his lengthy tenure of high office. Of course there have been reasons for the muted assessments, some fair, some less so. There is no doubt that Lord Liverpool’s performance as premier in the difficult years after Waterloo can be criticised, though the aftermaths of more recent victorious but costly wars provide evidence that political leadership in such periods is fraught with difficulty. He was perhaps fortunate to be able to call on the services of some very able people, Castlereigh, Canning, Wellington, and Peel to name a few, but it is strange that biographers and historians have extended the influence of these statesmen without real evidence into areas where they lacked interest, knowledge, or responsibility. It is of course inevitable that Lord Liverpool’s conservative outlook has reduced his chance of balanced treatment by liberal and Whig historians.
This book is neither the full modern biography that Lord Liverpool lacks, nor, I hope, is it just a favourable polemic, since I give attention to weaknesses and failings as well as pointing to strengths and achievements. After a brief account of Lord Liverpool’s career, personality and beliefs, I consider different areas of government, with a view to identifying the extent to which Lord Liverpool was either the prime mover, or had a major input, and should accordingly be given credit or criticised. My main conclusions are that Lord Liverpool was a far more significant and capable figure than he has often been accounted, but that greatness probably just eluded him, as much because of the style as the substance of his lengthy premiership.
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