(11 April 1770 â€“ 8 August 1827) was
a British statesman and politician
served as Foreign
and briefly Prime Minister
was born at his parents' home in Queen Anne Street, Marylebone, London.
father, George Canning, Sr., of Garvagh, County Londonderry, was a gentleman of
limited means, a failed wine merchant and lawyer, who
renounced his right to inherit the family estate in exchange for
payment of his substantial debts.
George Sr. eventually
abandoned the family and died in poverty on 11 April 1771, his
son's first birthday, in London. Canning's mother, Mary Anne
, took work as a stage actress
, a profession not considered
respectable at the time.
Because Canning showed unusual intelligence and promise at an early
age, family friends persuaded his uncle, London merchant
Stratford Canning (father to the diplomat
), to become his nephew's guardian. George Canning grew
up with his cousins at the home of his uncle, who provided him with
an income and an education. Stratford Canning's financial support allowed
the young Canning to study at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford.
While at school, Canning gained renown for his skill in writing and
debate. He struck up friendships with the then-future Lord Liverpool
well as with Granville
and John Hookham
. Canning began practising law after receiving his
from Oxford in the summer of
1791. Yet he wished to enter politics.
Entry into politics
Stratford Canning was a Whig and would introduce his nephew in the
1780s to prominent Whigs
Charles James Fox
, Edmund Burke
, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Canning's friendship with Sheridan would last for the remainder of
George Canning's impoverished background and limited financial
resources, however, made unlikely a bright political future in a
Whig party whose political ranks were led mostly by members of the
wealthy landed aristocracy in league with the newly rich
industrialist classes. Regardless, along with Whigs such as Burke,
Canning himself would become considerably more conservative in the
early 1790s after witnessing the excessive radicalism of the
. Henry Brooks Adams
wrote, "The political
reaction which followed swept the young man to the opposite
extreme: and his vehemence for monarchy gave point to a Whig
sarcasm, - that men had often been known to turn their coats, but
this was the first time that a boy had turned his jacket."
(Library of America) p. 968.
So when Canning decided to enter politics he sought and received
the patronage of the leader of the "Tory" group, William Pitt the Younger
thanks to the help of Pitt, Canning became a Member of Parliament for Newtown on the Isle of Wight, a rotten
In 1796, he changed seats to a different
. He was elected to represent
Canning rose quickly in British politics as an effective orator and
writer. His speeches in Parliament as well as his essays gave the
followers of Pitt a rhetorical power they had previously lacked.
Canning's skills saw him gain leverage within the Pittite faction
that allowed him influence over its policies along with repeated
promotions in the Cabinet. Over time, Canning became a prominent
public speaker as well, and was one of the first politicians to
campaign heavily in the country.
As a result of his charisma and promise, Canning early on drew to
himself a circle of supporters who would become known as the
. Conversely though, Canning
had a reputation as a divisive man who alienated many.
He was a dominant personality and often risked losing political
allies for personal reasons. He once reduced Lord Liverpool to
tears with a long satirical poem mocking Liverpool's attachment to
his time as a colonel in the militia. He then forced Liverpool to
apologise for being upset.
Elevation to office
statue.jpg|thumb|upright|Statue in Parliament Square, London
Executed by Sir Richard
, and erected in 1832]]On 2 November 1795, Canning
received his first ministerial post: Under Secretary of
for Foreign Affairs. In this post he proved a strong
supporter of Pitt, often taking his side in disputes with the
. He resigned this post on 1 April 1799.
In 1799 Canning became a commissioner of the Board of Control,
followed by Paymaster of the
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
Canning left office with the death of Pitt but was appointed
Foreign Secretary in the new government of the Duke of
the following year. Given key responsibilities for the
country's diplomacy in the Napoleonic
Wars, he was responsible for planning the attack on Copenhagen in
September 1807, much of which he undertook at his country estate,
Park at Easthampstead in Berkshire.
November 1807, Canning oversaw the Portuguese royal
from Portugal to Brazil.
Duel with Castlereagh
In 1809 Canning entered into a series of disputes within the
government that were to become famous. He argued with the
State for War and the Colonies, Lord Castlereagh, over
the deployment of troops that Canning had promised would be sent to
Portugal but which Castlereagh sent to the Netherlands.
The government became increasingly
paralysed in disputes between the two men. Portland was in
deteriorating health and gave no lead, until Canning threatened
resignation unless Castlereagh were removed and replaced by
. Portland secretly agreed to make this change when it
would be possible.
Castlereagh discovered the deal in September 1809 and challenged
Canning to a duel. Canning accepted the challenge and it was fought
on 21 September 1809. Canning, who had never before fired a pistol,
widely missed his mark. Castlereagh, who was regarded as one of the
best shots of his day, wounded his opponent in the thigh. There was
much outrage that two cabinet ministers had resorted to such a
method. Shortly afterwards the ailing Portland resigned as Prime
Minister, and Canning offered himself to George III
as a potential
successor. However, the King appointed Spencer Perceval
instead, and Canning left
office once more. He did take consolation, though, in the fact that
Castlereagh also stood down.
Return to government
Upon Perceval's assassination in 1812, the new Prime Minister,
, offered Canning the position of Foreign Secretary
once more. Canning refused, as he also wished to be Leader of the House of
and was reluctant to serve in any government with
Castlereagh. In 1814 he became the British Ambassador to
Portugal, returning the following year.
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, in opposition to
the treatment of Queen
, estranged wife of the new King George IV
. Canning and
Caroline were close friends and may have had a brief sexual affair.
This would have been regarded as unacceptable.
Portrait of George Canning by Richard
Evans, circa 1825
In 1822, Castlereagh, now Marquess of
, committed suicide. 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
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. Despite personal issues with
Castlereagh, he continued many of his foreign policies, such as the
view that the powers of Europe (Russia, France, etc.) should not be
allowed to meddle in the affairs of other states. This policy
enhanced public opinion of Canning as a liberal. He also prevented
the United States from opening trade with the West Indies.
In 1827, Liverpool suffered a severe stroke and died soon
afterwards. Canning, as Liverpool's right-hand man, was then chosen
by George IV 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 40 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 difficult to form a government and chose to invite a number of
Whigs to join his Cabinet, including Lord
. The government agreed not to discuss the difficult
question of parliamentary reform
which Canning opposed but the Whigs supported.
However, Canning's health by this time was in steep decline. He
died on 8 August 1827, in the very same room where Charles James
Fox met his own end, 21 years earlier. To this day Canning's total
period in office remains the shortest of any Prime Minister of the
a mere 119 days
. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
Canning has come to be regarded as a "lost leader", with much
speculation about what his legacy could have been had he lived. His
government of Tories and Whigs continued for a few months under
but fell apart in early 1828. It was succeeded by a
government under the Duke of Wellington
which initially included some Canningites
but soon became mostly "High Tory"
when many of the Canningites drifted over to the Whigs.
Wellington's administration would soon go down in defeat as well.
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
, Canning came to be regarded as a model and forerunner
of One Nation Conservatism
providing a contrast to Sir Robert Peel
whom Disraeli attacked bitterly.
A central square in Athens, Greece is named after Canning (Canning
Square (Plateia Kanigos)), in appreciation of his supportive stance
toward the Greeks during their War of Independence
Canning married Joan Scott
1st Viscountess Canning
) (1776-1837) on
8 July 1800, with John Hookham Frere and William Pitt the Younger
George and Joan Canning had four children:
George Canning's Government, April 1827 - August 1827
- Dixon, Peter George Canning: Politician and Statesman
New York: Mason/Charter, 1976
- Deane, CiarÃ¡n The Guinness Book of Irish Facts &
Feats Guinness Publishing 1994 ISBN 0-85112-793-2
- Hunt, Giles (ed) Mehitabel Canning: A Redoubtable
Woman Royston, Herts, England:Rooster Books Limited, 2001 ISBN
- Hunt, Giles The Duel: Castlereagh, Canning and deadly
cabinet rivalry 2008 I B Tauris & Co Ltd, UK/Palgrave
Macmillan ISBN 1845115937
- Westminster: King St, Great George St and the Broad
Sanctuary in Old and New London: Volume 4 (1878), pp.
26-35, from British History Online