Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth, PC (30 May 1757 – 15 February 1844) was a British statesman, and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1804.
Henry Addington was the son of Anthony Addington, Pitt’s physician, and Mary Addington, the daughter of the Rev. Haviland John Hiley, headmaster of Reading School. As a consequence of his father’s position, Addington was a childhood friend of William Pitt the Younger. Addington studied at Winchester and Brasenose College, Oxford, and then studied law at Lincoln’s Inn.
He was elected to the House of Commons in 1784 as Member of Parliament (MP) for Devizes, and became Speaker of the House of Commons in 1789. In March 1801, William Pitt the Younger resigned from office, ostensibly over the refusal of King George III to remove some of the existing political restrictions on Roman Catholics in Ireland (Catholic Emancipation), but poor health, failure in war, economic collapse, alarming levels of social unrest due to famine, and irreconcilable divisions within the Cabinet also played a role. Both Pitt and the King insisted that Addington take over as Prime Minister, despite his own objections, and his failed attempts to reconcile the King and Pitt.
Addington’s period as Prime Minister was most notable for his reforms that doubled the efficiency of the Income tax and for the negotiation of the Treaty of Amiens, in 1802. While the terms of the Treaty were the bare minimum that the British government could accept, Napoleon Bonaparte would not have agreed to any terms more favorable to the British, and the British government had reached a state of financial collapse, owing to war expenditure, the loss of Continental markets for British goods, and two successive failed harvests that had led to widespread famine and social unrest, rendering peace a necessity.
By early 1803 the United Kingdom’s financial and diplomatic positions had recovered sufficiently to allow Addington to declare war on France, when it became clear the French would not allow a settlement for the defenses of Malta that would have been secure enough to fend off a French invasion that appeared imminent. Addington’s management of the war was characterized by the cultivating of better relations with Russia, Austria, and Prussia, that later culminated in the Third Coalition shortly after he left office. Addington also strengthened British defenses against a French invasion through the building of Martello towers on the south coast and the raising of more than 600,000 men at arms.
Loss of Office
Addington was driven from office in May 1804 by an alliance of Pitt, Charles James Fox and William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville, who decided that they wanted Cabinet offices for themselves. Addington’s greatest failing was his inability to manage a parliamentary majority, by cultivating the loyal support of MPs beyond his own circle and the friends of the King. This combined with his mediocre speaking ability, left him vulnerable to Pitt’s mastery of Parliamentary management and his unparalleled oratory skills. Pitt’s Parliamentary assault against Addington in March 1804 led to the slimming of his Parliamentary majority to the point where defeat in the House of Commons was imminent.
Addington remained an important political figure, however, and the next year he was created Viscount Sidmouth. He served in Pitt’s final Cabinet as Lord President of the Council to 1806, and in the Ministry of All the Talents as Lord Privy Seal and again Lord President to 1807.
He returned to government again as Lord President in March, 1812, and, in June of the same year, became Home Secretary. As Home Secretary, Sidmouth countered revolutionary opposition, being responsible for the temporary suspension of habeas corpus in 1817 and the passage of the Six Acts in 1819. His tenure also saw the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. Sidmouth left office in 1822, succeeded as Home Secretary by Sir Robert Peel, but remained in the Cabinet as Minister without Portfolio for the next two years, fruitlessly opposing British recognition of the South American republics. He remained active in the House of Lords for the next few years, making his final speech in opposition to Catholic Emancipation in 1829 and casting his final vote against the Reform Act 1832.
As Prime Minister, in 1802, Addington accepted an honorary position as vice president for life on the Court of Governors of London’s Foundling Hospital for abandoned babies.
Residences and Land
Addington maintained homes at Up Ottery, Devon and Bulmershe Court, in what is now the Reading suburb of Woodley, but moved to the White Lodge in Richmond Park when he became Prime Minister. However he maintained links with Woodley and the Reading area, as commander of the Woodley Yeomanry Cavalry and High Steward of Reading. He also donated to the town of Reading the four acres (16,000 m²) of land that is today the Royal Berkshire Hospital, and his name is commemorated in the town’s Sidmouth Street and Addington Road as well as in Sidmouth street in Devizes.
Henry Addington died in London on 15 February 1844 at the age of 86, and was buried in the churchyard at St Mary the Virgin Mortlake, Greater London.