Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool

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Jenkinson in 1790s

Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool (7 June 1770 – 4 December 1828) was a British Tory statesman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1812 to 1827. He also held many other important cabinet offices such as Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary and Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. He was also a member of the House of Lords and served as leader.


  • France is your natural enemy; she is more so as a republic than as a monarchy. We know less at what point a nation will stop than a king.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (1792), quoted in Maximilien Sébastien Foy, History of the War in the Peninsula, Under Napoleon, Vol. I (1827), p. 122
  • No, youth is not the age of pleasure; we then expect too much, and are therefore exposed to daily disappointments and mortification. When we are a little older, and have brought down our wishes to our experience, then we become calm and begin to enjoy ourselves.
    • Remarks to Egerton Brydges (1794), quoted in Sir Egerton Brydges, The Autobiography, Times, Opinions, and Contemporaries of Sir Egerton Brydges, Vol. I (1834), p. 181
  • To conclude: we wish that the King of France would hang or shoot Buonaparte, as the best termination of the business; but if this is impracticable, and the allies are desirous that we should have the custody of him, it is not unreasonable that we should be allowed to judge of the means by which that custody can be be made effectual.
    • Letter to Lord Castlereagh (20 July 1815), quoted in Charles Duke Yonge, The Life and Administration of Robert Banks, Second Earl of Liverpool, Vol. II (1868), p. 199
  • Where a government was established, it must proceed upon one of two principles; either to frame it in concert with permanent and immutable laws, or in connexion with laws that might be altered and modified according to particular exigencies? The former system, he apprehended, would not be very conducive to the happiness of mankind; on the other hand, if as much liberty were granted to the subject as could be conceded consistently with the safety of the state; there must be a power somewhere competent to the temporary suspension of that liberty, when such a measure becomes necessary for the protection of it ultimately.
  • On the present occasion, they had the fullest proof (if they believed the report) of a treasonable conspiracy in the metropolis, to overturn, by a general insurrection, the laws, the government, and the constitution of the kingdom. It was also, a matter of perfect notoriety, that the same system was spread over a great part of the country. There was a double engine at work; the operation of the one, was evidently aiming at what every person must agree would overthrow the constitution; the operation of the other (he alluded to the Spenceans) was calculated to produce a complete convulsion in the elements which composed the system of social life.
    • Speech in the House of Lords on Habeas Corpus Suspension Bill (24 February 1817)
  • He felt all the importance of the measure that was now proposed: but he would not allow any imputations that might be insinuated to preclude him from discharging what he conscientiously believed to be his duty. His only object was, to support the throne, to support the constitution and to protect the peace, the happiness, and the confidence of every private man in the kingdom; his only view was, to preserve our morals, our religion, our establishments, and to secure to every man the tranquil enjoyment of his fireside. He asked of parliament to entrust the Prince Regent's ministers with that power for a short time—a most odious one, he agreed—and one which ought not to be confided to any man, or to any set of men, except in cases of the last necessity, except in such cases as, he apprehended, now justified him in calling for it.
    • Speech in the House of Lords on Habeas Corpus Suspension Bill (24 February 1817)
  • He thought that, in order to maintain the Protestant ascendancy, it was necessary to have a Protestant parliament, a Protestant council, and Protestant judges.
    • Speech in the House of Lords (24 May 1824)
  • How, for instance, could the Protestant succession be maintained without a Protestant parliament? Such were his reasons for resisting the higher claims of the Catholics; but, with the same sentiments be would give his concurrence to the present measure. He apprehended from it none of the dangers which he had alluded to in the former case. Nay, he even believed, that the granting of such privileges to the Catholics of England, would strengthen the Protestant establishment, as a cause of discontent would thus be removed—as a reproach perpetually thrown in their teeth would be taken away—and as, by conceding these little things, they acquired strength to resist greater encroachments.
  • I cannot in a letter enter into all the particulars, but be assured the Government hangs by a thread. The Catholic question in its present state, combined with other circumstances, will, I have little doubt, lead to its dissolution in the course of this session.
    • Letter to Frederick John Robinson (16 December 1826), quoted in Charles Duke Yonge, The Life and Administration of Robert Banks, Second Earl of Liverpool, Vol. III (1868), pp. 438-439

Quotes about Lord Liverpool[edit]

  • Lord Liverpool was a very timid man: never sufficiently regarded—he carried the country through the most formidable war in which it was ever engaged. No use in having your general if Liverpool had not raised taxes.
    • Lord Aberdeen, remarks to Samuel Wilberforce (16 October 1858), quoted in Reginald G. Wilberforce, Life of the Right Reverend Samuel Wilberforce, Vol. II (1881), p. 411
  • Notwithstanding, however, all this successful mystification, the Arch-Mediocrity who presided, rather than ruled, over this Cabinet of Mediocrities, became hourly more conscious that the inevitable transition from fulfilling the duties of an administration to performing the functions of a government could not be conducted without talents and knowledge. The Arch-Mediocrity had himself some glimmering traditions of political science. He was sprung from a laborious stock, had received some training, and though not a statesman, might be classed among those whom the Lord Keeper Williams used to call "statemongers." In a subordinate position his meagre diligence and his frigid method might not have been without value; but the qualities that he possessed were misplaced; nor can any character be conceived less invested with the happy properties of a leader. In the conduct of public affairs, his disposition was exactly the reverse to that which is the characteristic of great men. He was peremptory in little questions, and great ones he left open.
  • History has hardly done justice to Liverpool's solid though not shining talents. That he was for nearly fifteen years head of an administration which concluded successfully the French war, carried the country through the perils which followed upon the peace of 1815, and brought it to the eve of the great reform period, and that during all that time his ministry, even when it consisted of two hostile and irreconcilable parties, was rarely in danger from its opponents, is proof conclusive that, although neither an impressive orator nor a great statesman, he had consummate tact, an infallible instinct for the practical solution of difficulties, unfailing temper, and eminent talents as a man of business and a public official.
  • Lord Liverpool, however, is much more entitled to the gratitude and admiration of posterity than some statesmen who have enjoyed much more of it. He was one of that class of Ministers whom we should be very glad to see more numerous: patient, prudent, and patriotic; careless of his own fame, so that those measures were pursued which he considered for the public good; shunning rather than courting popular applause; and by his clear common sense, his unselfishness, and his equanimity, solving problems and surmounting difficulties which more brilliant men are wont either to create or to exasperate.
    • T. E. Kebbel, A History of Toryism: From the Accession of Mr. Pitt to Power in 1783 to the Death of Lord Beaconsfield in 1881 (1886), p. 81
  • Both in 1806 and in 1809 he might have been Prime Minister had he chosen. But he recoiled from the first place, nor did he finally accept it till he saw that without him the Tory Party must be broken up, and the Whigs admitted in a body. Thus, he was not a man either to originate a great policy, to make personal enemies, or to be mixed up in political intrigues and back-stairs conspiracies. His career, accordingly, was deficient in all those elements which excite wonder and curiosity. No "revelations," no scandals, no racy anecdotes were to be expected from his private papers. There were no aspersions on his character which his family might have been eager to refute; no passages in his career which might seem to require vindication. Thus, many of the ordinary motives to which he publication of political biographies and the private papers of deceased statesmen may reasonably be attributed, were in his case wanting. And the literary warfare which usually follows such productions, and keeps alive the memory of men not above mediocrity, has not yet been kindled by the quiet virtues of Lord Liverpool.
    • T. E. Kebbel, A History of Toryism: From the Accession of Mr. Pitt to Power in 1783 to the Death of Lord Beaconsfield in 1881 (1886), p. 81
  • Lord Liverpool was an essentially fair-minded man, of great common-sense and great business capacity. He had not the genius which discerns from afar the signs of the times and treats present evils by the light of them; but he did what more brilliant men might have failed to do. He held together, for ten or twelve years, a Cabinet composed of very discordant materials, and was thus enabled to secure for his Government the support of both the old Conservative Tories and the younger advocates of Reform, who began to grow impatient of abuses. Without some such combination it is doubtful how far the country could have been governed at all during the critical period which followed the conclusion of the war. His high character, tact, moderation, and perfect disinterestedness secured for us a strong Government at the time when it was most wanted, and this, at all events, is a claim upon our gratitude which is never likely to be disputed.
    • T. E. Kebbel, A History of Toryism: From the Accession of Mr. Pitt to Power in 1783 to the Death of Lord Beaconsfield in 1881 (1886), p. 129
  • It has seldom been sufficiently considered that in the adoption of those repressive measures which have been singled out for special abuse by the hostile critics of Lord Liverpool, Government was face to face with seditions and insurrectionary plots which culminated in a scheme for the assassination of the whole Cabinet. I see little or no justification for the various Arms Bills and Crimes Bills, and other precautionary measures which have been demanded for Ireland, which did not equally exist for the Six Acts. Governments are answerable for the preservation of peace and the security of life and property; and I doubt whether impartial men, after the experience of the last ten years, would be disposed to judge as harshly of these measures as was the fashion forty years ago, when public danger of this kind had come to seem almost like a dream.
    • T. E. Kebbel, A History of Toryism: From the Accession of Mr. Pitt to Power in 1783 to the Death of Lord Beaconsfield in 1881 (1886), p. 404
  • Ld. Mulgrave told me in the morning that nothing was fixed about the Foreign office, and that Ld. Liverpool was too good a War Secretary to be spared there.
    • Robert Plumer Ward, diary entry (21 February 1812), quoted in Edmund Phipps, Memoirs of the Political and Literary Life of Robert Plumer Ward, Vol. I (1850), p. 428

External links[edit]

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