George Canning

The Rt Hon. George Canning</font></caption>
Period in Office: April 10 - August 8, 1827
PM Predecessor: The Earl of Liverpool
PM Successor: The Viscount Goderich
Date of Birth: April 11 1770
Place of Birth: Marylebone, London
Date of Death: August 8 1827
Place of Death: Chiswick, Middlesex
Political Party: Tory

George Canning (11 April 1770-8 August 1827) was a British politician who served as Foreign Secretary and, briefly, Prime Minister.


Early Life

Canning was born in London, but in relative poverty after his father had renounced his right to inherit the family estate in exchange for the payment of his heavy debts. Canning's father died when he was one year old. However his maternal uncle, a banker, helped provide for the family, including sending Canning to be at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford.

Canning's uncle was a Whig and initially he introduced his nephew to Whigs such as Charles James Fox, but he soon came to be a supporter of William Pitt the Younger. In 1793, thanks to the help of Pitt, Canning became a Member of Parliament for Newtown on the Isle of Wight, a rotten borough. Canning became a prominent public speaker and was one of the first politicians to campaign heavily in the country, making many speeches outside Parliament.In 1797 upon hearing of the death of Edmund Burke, Canning wrote "Here is but one event, but that is an event for the world - Burke is Dead!". Canning was also one of the first prominent politicians of the era to openly use the label "Tory" which was slowly coming into use as a term for the Pittites. Later in 1824 he was almost the first to use the term "Conservative".

First Ministerial posts

He received his first ministerial post three years later when he became Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. In this post he proved a strong supporter of Pitt, often taking his side in disputes with the Foreign Secretary Lord Grenville. In 1799 Canning became a commissioner of the Board of Control, followed by Paymaster of the Forces in 1800. When Pitt resigned in 1801, Canning loyally followed him into opposition and again returned to office in 1804 with Pitt, becoming Treasurer of the Navy.

When Pitt died in 1806, Canning left office but the following year he was appointed Foreign Secretary in the new government of the Duke of Portland. Given key responsibilities for the country's diplomacy in the Napoleonic Wars, he was responsible for planning the outmanoeuvring of Napoleon Bonaparte at Copenhagen.

Duel with Castlereagh

In 1809 Canning entered into a series of disputes within the government which were to become famous. He entered into arguments with the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, Lord Castlereagh over the deployment of troops which Canning had promised would be sent to Portugal but Castlereagh sent to Holland. The government became increasingly paralysed in disputes between the two men, with most Cabinet ministers siding with one or the other. Portland was in deteriorating health and gave no lead, until Canning threatened resignation unless Castlereagh was removed, hopefully replacing him with Lord Wellesley. Portland agreed to make this change when it was possible and kept the agreement secret.

Castlereagh discovered the deal in September 1809 and was furious, demanding redress. He challenged Canning to a duel, which was fought on September 21 1809. Canning had never before fired a pistol. In the conflict Canning missed whilst Castlereagh wounded his opponent in the thigh. There was much outrage that two Cabinet Ministers had resorted to such a method. Shortly afterwards Portland resigned as Prime Minister due to his health and Canning offered himself as a potential successor to George III. However he was not chosen, with Spencer Perceval instead being appointed, and Canning left office once more. He had, however, achieved a Pyrrhic victory as Castlereagh also left office.

Return to government

Upon Perceval's assassination in 1812 the new Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool offered Canning the position of Foreign Secretary once more. However Canning refused as he also wished to be Leader of the House of Commons and was reluctant to serve in government with Castlereagh. In 1814 he became the British Ambassador to Portugal, returning the following year. He received several further offers of office from Liverpool and in 1816 he became President of the Board of Control.

Canning resigned from office once more in 1820, on this occasion in opposition to the treatment of Queen Caroline, wife of the new King George IV who had become estranged from her husband. Canning and Caroline were personal friends and are believed to have had a brief affair.

Another return

In 1822 Castlereagh, now Marquess of Londonderry, committed suicide and Canning succeeded him as both Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons. In his second term of office he sought to prevent South America from coming into the French sphere of influence and in this he was successful. He also gave support to the growing campaign for the abolition of slavery.

Prime Minister

Missing image
Arms of George Canning

Liverpool retired as Prime Minister in 1827 and Canning was chosen to succeed him, in preference to both the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel. Neither man agreed to serve under Canning and they were followed by five other members of Liverpool's Cabinet as well as forty junior members of the government. The Tory Party was now heavily split between the "High Tories" (or "Ultras", nicknamed after the contemporary party in France) and the moderates supporting Canning - often called 'Canningites'. As a result Canning found it hard to form a government and recoursed to inviting a number of Whigs to join his Cabinet, including Lord Lansdowne. The government agreed not to discuss the difficult question of parliamentary reform, which Canning was opposed to but the Whigs supported.

However Canning's health was already in decline and on August 8 1827 he died in the very room as Fox had done so, 21 years earlier. Canning holds the dubious record of having served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for the total shortest period - a mere 119 days. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.


Canning has come to be regarded by some as a "lost leader", with much speculation about what would have happened had he lived. His government of moderate Tories and Whigs continued for a few months under Lord Goderich but fell apart at the start of 1828. It was succeeded by a government headed by the Duke of Wellington, initially including some Canningites but which rapidly became a "High Tory" rump, with many of the Canningites drifting over to the Whigs, and which soon went down to massive defeat. Some historians have seen the revival of the Tories from the 1830s onwards, in the form of the Conservative Party as the overcoming of the divisions of 1827. What would have been the course of events had Canning lived is highly speculative.

To some later Conservatives, most prominently Benjamin Disraeli, Canning came to be regarded as the forerunner of liberal One Nation Conservatism, providing a contrast to Sir Robert Peel, who Disraeli attacked bitterly.

George Canning's Government, April - August 1827


Preceded by:
Dudley Ryder and Thomas Steele
Paymaster of the Forces
(jointly with Thomas Steele)
Succeeded by:
Thomas Steele and The Lord Glenbervie
Preceded by:
George Tierney
Treasurer of the Navy
Succeeded by:
Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Preceded by:
Viscount Howick
Foreign Secretary
Succeeded by:
The Earl Bathurst
Preceded by:
The Earl of Buckinghamshire
President of the Board of Control
Succeeded by:
Charles Bathurst

Template:Succession box one to two

Preceded by:
Frederick John Robinson
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by:
John Charles Herries
Preceded by:
The Earl of Liverpool
Prime Minister
Succeeded by:
The Viscount Goderich

Template:End boxsv:George Canning uk:Каннінг Джордж


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