Henry Grey, 3rd earl Grey - Encyclopedia

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HENRY GREY GREY, 3RD Earl (1802-1894), English statesman, was born on the 28th of December 1802, the son of the 2nd Earl Grey, prime minister at the time of the Reform Bill of 1832. He entered parliament in 1826, under the title of Viscount Howick, as member for Winchilsea, which constituency he left in 1831 for Northumberland. On the accession of the Whigs to power in 1830 he was made under-secretary for the colonies, and laid the foundation of his intimate acquaintance with colonial questions. He belonged at the time to the more advanced party of colonial reformers, sharing the views of Edward Gibbon Wakefield on questions of land and emigration, and resigned in 1834 from dissatisfaction that slave emancipation was made gradual instead of immediate. In 1835 he entered Lord Melbourne's cabinet as secretary at war, and effected some valuable administrative reforms, especially by suppressing malpractices detrimental to the troops in India. After the partial reconstruction of the ministry in 1839 he again resigned, disapproving of the more advanced views of some of his colleagues. These repeated resignations gave him a reputation for crotchetiness, which he did not decrease by his disposition to embarrass his old colleagues by his action on free trade questions in the session of 1841. During the exile of the Liberals from power he went still farther on the path of free trade, and anticipated Lord John Russell's declaration against the corn laws. When, on Sir Robert Peel's resignation in December 1845, Lord John Russell was called upon to form a ministry, Howick, who had become Earl Grey by the death of his father in the preceding July, refused to enter the new cabinet if Lord Palmerston were foreign secretary (see J. R. Thursfield in vol. i. and Hon. F. H. Baring in vol. xxiii. of the English Historical Review). He was greatly censured for perverseness, and particularly when in the following July he accepted Lord Palmerston as a colleague without remonstrance. His conduct, nevertheless, afforded Lord John Russell an escape from an embarrassing situation. Becoming colonial secretary in 1846, he found himself everywhere confronted with arduous problems, which in the main he encountered with success. His administration formed an epoch. He was the first minister to proclaim that the colonies were to be governed for their own benefit and not for the mothercountry's; the first systematically to accord them self-government so far as then seemed possible; the first to introduce free trade into their relations with Great Britain and Ireland. The concession by which colonies were allowed to tax imports from the mother-country ad libitum was not his; he protested against it, but was overruled. In the West Indies he suppressed, if he could not overcome, discontent; in Ceylon he put down rebellion; in New Zealand he suspended the constitution he had himself accorded, and yielded everything into the masterful hands of Sir George Grey. The least successful part of his administration was his treatment of the convict question at the Cape of Good Hope, which seemed an exception to his rule that the colonies were to be governed for their own benefit and in accordance with their own wishes, and subjected him to a humiliating defeat. After his retirement he wrote a history and defence of his colonial policy in the form of letters to Lord John Russell, a dry but instructive book (Colonial Policy of Lord John Russell's Administration, 1853). He resigned with his colleagues in 1852. No room was found for him in the Coalition Cabinet of 1853, and although during the Crimean struggle public opinion pointed to him as the fittest man as minister for war, he never again held office. During the remainder of his long life he exercised a vigilant criticism on public affairs. In 1858 he wrote a work (republished in 1864) on parliamentary reform; in 1888 he wrote another on the state of Ireland; and in 1892 one on the United States tariff. In his latter years he was a frequent contributor of weighty letters to The Times on land, tithes, currency and other public questions. His principal parliamentary appearances were when he moved for a committee on Irish affairs in 1866, and when in 1878 he passionately opposed the policy of the Beaconsfield cabinet in India. He nevertheless supported Lord Beaconsfield at the dissolution, regarding Mr Gladstone's accession to power with much greater alarm. He was a determined opponent of Mr Gladstone's Home Rule policy. He died on the 9th of October 1894. None ever doubted his capacity or his conscientiousness, but he was generally deemed impracticable and disagreeable. Prince Albert, however, who expressed himself as ready to subscribe to all Grey's principles, and applauded him for having principles, told Stockmar that, although dogmatic, he was amenable to argument; and Sir Henry Taylor credits him with "more freedom from littlenesses of feeling than I have met before in any public man." His chief defect was perceived and expressed by his original tutor and subsequent adversary in colonial affairs, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who wrote, "With more than a common talent for understanding principles, he has no originality of thought, which compels him to take all his ideas from somebody; and no power of working out theory in practice, which compels him to be always in somebody's hands as respects decision and action." The earl had no sons, and he was followed as 4th earl by his nephew Albert Henry George (b. 1851), who in 1904 became governor-general of Canada.

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