The English statesman Robert Barks Jenkinson, 2d Earl of Liverpool (1770-1828), served as prime minister from 1812 to 1827 and was at the center of governmental decisions during more than a quarter century of foreign and domestic crises.
The eldest son of Charles Jenkinson, Robert Jenkinson was born in London on June 7, 1770. He received a superb education, first at Charterhouse and then at Christ Church, Oxford. Interested in history and foreign languages, Robert proved adept at debate, and it was through this talent that he won the notice and ultimately the friendship of his fellow student George Canning. After leaving Oxford, Jenkinson traveled to the Continent. At the age of 20 he was suddenly catapulted into public life by being chosen a member of Parliament for the borough of Appleby. When he was asked by William Pitt to defend an unpopular government measure, his brilliant speech won the approval of the entire House of Commons. He was appointed to the India Board in 1793 and the following year married Lady Louisa, daughter of the Earl of Bristol. During this time he was aided in his public and private affairs by Canning, who was also a rising young politician, and the two men seemed to make a most effective team.
In 1796 Jenkinson's father, who had been given a barony 10 years earlier, was raised to the earldom of Liverpool. The son thus received the title of the barony, Hawkesbury, as a courtesy; more important was the son's promotion to the lucrative and influential post of master of the mint. Hawkesbury supported most of Pitt's policies. When the Prime Minister sought to relieve Roman Catholics from some of the legal disabilities they labored under, he was forced to resign by King George III. But Hawkesbury had broken with Pitt over the Catholic issue, and he was willing to serve under Henry Addington, the new prime minister. At the age of 31 Hawkesbury was made foreign secretary and a member of the Cabinet. Almost his first task was to negotiate peace with the French. The resultant Treaty of Amiens seemed to make too many concessions to the French, now led by Napoleon Bonaparte, and the government was severely censured by the opposition. Hawkesbury ably defended his actions in Parliament. In 1803 he was created Baron Hawkesbury and immediately became the government's principal speaker in the House of Lords.
The next year Pitt returned to office, and Hawkesbury was moved to the home secretaryship, while keeping his leadership in the Lords. When Pitt died at the end of 1805, Hawkesbury was asked by George III to form a new ministry, but he declined and became the leader of the Tory opposition. The Whig ministry fell in 1807 and the Tories returned to power under the nominal leadership of the Duke of Portland; Hawkesbury, Canning, Lord Castlereagh, and Spencer Perceval directed matters. Canning and Castlereagh, however, quarreled and then dueled, and Portland's health gave way and he resigned from office. Therefore Hawkesbury, who succeeded to his father's title upon the earl's death in 1808, and Perceval formed a government, which in the face of formidable (and irresponsible) opposition carried on the war against Napoleon and the administration of the country until Perceval was assassinated by a madman in 1812.
Among the domestic tasks facing Liverpool had been the setting up of a regency under Prince George. His close ties with the regent (the old king having gone mad for the last time in 1810) led him to be asked once more to form a ministry. In 1812 he became prime minister and thus headed a government which, with only the most minor changes of personnel, ruled England for 15 years. His greatest talent seemingly lay in his ability to survive; his survival appeared to rest on his ability to reconcile men of differing opinions. In the last analysis Liverpool possessed this power because his own views did not follow any hard ideological line but differed considerably on each major problem confronting him.
Liverpool's chief foreign assignment was of course the winning of the war—which by now had become two wars, one against the French and the other against the new United States. His first 3 years in office saw the one against Napoleon won (twice) and the one against the United States brought to a successful conclusion. The coming of peace served to focus discontent on Britain's economic and social problems, and for the last dozen years of his public life, Liverpool would be forced to contend most fiercely in this area. The principal issues were free trade as opposed to protectionism, taxation, public order, and Catholic emancipation.
Liverpool made no concession to civil unrest; after the suppression of a gathering at "Peterloo, " in 1819, he introduced the harsh measures known as the Six Acts into Parliament, where they were adopted by an overwhelming majority. When the Irish grew more unruly than usual in 1822, he not only opposed Canning's Catholic Relief Bill but suspended habeas corpus in Ireland and renewed the stringent Insurrection Bill; for the time, at least, these measures seemed to work.
The Prime Minister was much more "liberal" regarding questions of foreign policy. He supported Castlereagh in dealing with the reactionary powers of Europe and with the newly created South American nations. After Castlereagh's suicide, Liverpool strongly urged George IV to appoint Canning to his position as foreign secretary. From 1822 on Liverpool gave his full support to Canning's policies. Liverpool was also a "liberal" in economic policy. He favored free trade and advanced the cause of the "free traders" by securing William Huskisson's appointment as member of the Board of Trade in 1822. Though he did not succeed in abolishing the Corn Laws, which limited the amount of grain which could be imported into Britain, he did introduce a sliding scale which enabled the government to act at its discretion to remove inequities.
Early in 1827 Liverpool suffered a paralytic stroke. He left the political arena and died on Dec. 4, 1828. Under Liverpool the development of Cabinet government reached maturity; the role of the king was permanently reduced; and the subordination of the Cabinet to the prime minister was completed.
The most complete treatment of Liverpool is Charles Duke Yonge, Life and Administration of Robert Banks, Second Earl of Liverpool (3 vols., 1868). More accessible is Sir Charles Petrie, Lord Liverpool and His Times (1954). For the student of political history, W. R. Brock, Lord Liverpool and Liberal Toryism, 1820-27 (1941; 2d ed. 1967), is invaluable.
Gash, Norman, Lord Liverpool: the life and political career of Robert Banks Jenkinson, Second Earl of Liverpool, 1770-1828, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984.