The Duke of Welington, after the painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A.
The Duke of Welington, after the painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A.

[Ed. This short section really just sets the scene for two great political struggles to follow - Catholic Emancipation and Electoral Reform]

Social Reform
On Canning's death he was succeeded as Prime Minister by Lord Goderich who, as Frederick Robinson, had been one of his colleagues for the last four years. There was little change in the ministry, but its strength had lain in the personality of Canning. Goderich was inefficient, and resigned after six months, when the Duke of Wellington was persuaded to undertake the Premiership in spite of his own consciousness that the position was one for which he was thoroughly unfitted. No man was ever more absolutely sincere, more patriotic, more thoroughly disinterested.

In certain emergencies, as when he had to deal with the Spaniards or when the victorious allies entered Paris, no man could have shown a cooler brain, a firmer hand, a stronger grasp of the situation. But party politics were entirely outside his range, and he was wholly out of touch with popular feeling; in an independent position his words, his counsels, and his judgment always carried a very great weight, hut as the leader of a party he invariably found himself conducting retreats from positions which, very much against his own will, he had learnt to recognise as practically untenable.

The Battle of Navarino
Goderich resigned precisely five months after Canning's death. His tenure of office was signalised by only one remarkable event, the battle of Navarino. For some years past the Greeks had been engaged in the struggle for liberation from Turkish rule, for which Lord Byron gave his life. Russia had found it not inconsistent with the principles of the Holy Alliance to encourage the Greeks, with the expectation that by acting on their behalf she would make her own profit.

Canning, also sympathising with Greece, had endeavoured to prevent separate action on the part of Russia, and to work by bringing to bear on the Porte the combined pressure of Britain, Russia, and France. Canning's efforts had culminated in his last public act, the signing of a treaty between the three Powers in July 1827. The Porte remained obdurate, refused a suspension of hostilities against the Greeks, and summoned to its assistance the fleet of its great nominal vassal, Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt. Ibrahim's fleet was lying in the bay of Navarino.

In spite of warning from Admiral Codrington, who was in command of the allied French and British squadrons, Ibrahim continued to take part in the war on the mainland. The allied fleets in October entered the bay of Navarino. The Turco-Egyptian fleet fired upon them and was then annihilated in an action which lasted for four hours, although there had been no declara­tion of war. Public opinion endorsed the action of the Admirals; but in January Wellington had become Prime Minister, and the King's speech at the opening of Parliament referred to the battle as an "untoward event," a phrase which excited great indignation among the Whigs and the disciples of Canning.

In fact it very soon became evident that Wellington's attempt to reconstruct the Liverpool ministry of combined Tories and Canningites was doomed to failure; in a very short time the Canningites, Huskisson and Palmerston, resigned, and Wellington's ministry became an exclusively Tory one, with Robert Peel leading the House of Commons.

Foreign Policy
In effect the result of Wellington's accession to power was a reversion to the extreme policy of non-intervention, which left Russia very nearly a tree hand in settling the Greek question, though the actual terms of settlement were finally arranged by Russia, France, and Britain in concert, and imposed upon both the Greeks and the Turks. The Greek frontier was defned, and Greece was erected into an independent monarchy, with Prince Otho of Bavaria as its king, in 1832.

The Government was Tory, but it spent its time mainly in beating a series of reluctant retreats. Finding that the sense of the House of Commons had at last become strongly in favour of the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, it accepted a bill abolishing the Sacramental test and substituting a very mild form of declaration that officers would do nothing to the injury of the Church, although Wellington and Peel, like Canning, had hitherto resolutely opposed any change. Again, the Duke had wrecked Huskisson's previous proposal to substitute a sliding scale for the Corn Law of 1815. Now he accepted a sliding scale; that is to say, instead of prohibiting the importation of corn when the price was below eighty shillings, a duty of twenty-three shillings was imposed when the home price was below sixty-four shillings, diminishing as the price rose till it was reduced to one shilling when the price was seventy-three shillings or more.

This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's point of view may not be currently accepted by modern historians, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.

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