Nicholas Vansittart, Baron Bexley - Encyclopedia

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NICHOLAS VANSITTART BEXLEY, Baron (1766-1851), English politician, was the fifth son of Henry Vansittart (d. 1770), governor of Bengal, and was born in London on the 29th of April 1766. Educated at Christ Church, Oxford, he took his degree in 1787, and was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1791. He began his public career by writing pamphlets in defence of the administration of William Pitt, especially on its financial side, and in May 1796 became member of parliament for Hastings, retaining his seat until July 1802, when he was returned for Old Sarum. In February 1801 he was sent on a diplomatic errand to Copenhagen, and shortly after his return was appointed joint secretary to the treasury, a position which he retained until the resignation of Addington's ministry in April 1804. Owing to the influence of his friend, Ernest, duke of Cumberland, he became secretary for Ireland under Pitt in January 1805, resigning his office in the following September. With Addington, now Viscount Sidmouth, he joined the government of Fox and Grenville as secretary to the treasury in February 1806, leaving office with Sidmouth just before the fall of the ministry in March 1807. During these and the next few years Vansittart's reputation as a financier was gradually rising. In 1809 he proposed and carried without opposition in the House of Commons thirty-eight resolutions on financial questions, and only hisloyalty to Sidmouth prevented him from joining the cabinet of Spencer Perceval as chancellor of the exchequer in October 1809. He opposed an early resumption of cash paymentsin 1811, and became chancellor of the exchequer when the earl of Liverpool succeeded Perceval in May 1812. Having forsaken Old Sarum, he had represented Helston from November 1806 to June 1812; and after being member for East Grinstead for a few weeks, was returned for Harwich in October 1812.

When Vansittart became chancellor of the exchequer the country was burdened with heavy taxation and an enormous debt. Nevertheless, the continuance of the war compelled him to increase the custom duties and other taxes, and in 1813 he introduced a complicated scheme for dealing with the sinking fund. In 1816, after the conclusion of peace, a large decrease in taxation was generally desired, and there was a loud outcry when the chancellor proposed only to reduce, not to abolish, the property or income tax. The abolition of this tax, however, was carried in parliament, and Vansittart was also obliged to remit the extra tax on malt, meeting a large deficiency principally by borrowing. He devoted considerable attention to effecting real or supposed economies with regard to the national debt. He carried an elaborate scheme for handing over the payment of naval and military pensions to contractors, who would be paid a fixed annual sum for forty-five years; but no one was found willing to undertake this contract, although a modified plan on the same lines was afterwards adopted. Vansittart became very unpopular in the country, and he resigned his office in December 1822. His system of finance was severely criticized by Huskisson, Tierney, Brougham, Hume and Ricardo. On his resignation Liverpool offered Vansittart the post of chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. Accepting this offer in February 1823, he was created Baron Bexley in March, and granted a pension of £3000 a year. He resigned in January 1828. In the House of Lords Bexley took very little part in public business, although he introduced the Spitalfields weavers bill in 1823, and voted for the removal of Roman Catholic disabilities in 1824. He took a good deal of interest in the British and Foreign Bible Mission, the Church Missionary Society and kindred bodies, and assisted to found King's College, London. He died at Foot's Cray, Kent, on the 8th of February 1851. His wife, whom he married in July 1806, was Isabella (d. 1810), daughter of William Eden, 1st Baron Auckland, and as he had no issue the title became extinct on his death. There are nine volumes of Vansittart's papers in the British Museum.

See Spencer Walpole, History of England (London, 1890); S. C. Buxton, Finance and Politics (London, 1888).

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