February 27th, 1782

motion_of_no_confidence_against_lord_north_1782_silver_medalPrime Ministers didn’t last long as one administration quickly gave way to another. Since the Ministry of Henry Pelham ended under the reign of George II in 1754, Great Britain had seen seven men, and eight administrations holding office for no more than two to three years apiece. That was until the rise of Frederick North as he ascended to the First Ministry

For twelve years, twelve long years, with the full support and consent of George III, he would preside over the most powerful Empire of the world. Yet there was little doubt that time had taken its toll, aging the 49 year old perhaps the full measure of a lifetime in little over a decade. Even before his rise the American situation was beginning to steam. Within his first three month in office it would boil over. Within 6 years protests had turn to violence, violence to open defiance, and defiance to revolution as the American colonies asserted their Independence from the Court of Saint James. Perhaps, at times, he knew he was in over his head. Even as he declared the colonies in a state of rebellion in 1775, following Bunker Hill, he had sought to resign in favor of a Prime Minister who perhaps more experience in handling these affairs. In 1776, following the Battle of Saratoga, he would once more attempt to offer his resignation. The next year, as France entered the war, he would try again. In fact, on numerous occasions he had sought to set aside his own ambition, and alleviate his burden for someone he believed more apt and able, and each time the George III refused.

Yet, resignation would come. It just not in the form that he had perhaps hoped as he was marked as the man who lost the war.

By February 27th, 1782, it would become clear that the end was now near for not only Lord North but also the Revolution that had come to define so much of his administration. Even as word of the fall of Yorktown reached him, he would confide in his diary, “Oh God! It’s all over.” Now General Henry Seymour Conway was rising to the floor of the House of Commons. Despite his majority in Parliament, the hold that Lord North had was beginning to crack as defections from his Tory’s strengthened the Whig Opposition. Five days earlier Conway had tried to end the War. He would fail by one vote. Now, with his resolution reworked, and reworded, 234 would vote for it, 215 would vote against. With a 19 vote majority a motion would pass to recognize America’s Independence and begin the peace process. Deserted, abandoned by many in his party, not just those who voted for the measure, but also by those who chose rather to be absent than vote for or against, it would be only the second time in the history of the Westminster System that a government had lost a vote of no-confidence. A few days later the papers would declare, “In consequence of this important decision, the nation are at last within the prospect of enjoying the blessings of a Peace with America.“ Having faced not just the American Revolution, but the Falkland Crisis against Spain, the Gordon Riots in Ireland, the potential invasion of the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth, and the prospect of losing Gibraltar, North couldn’t hold on anymore, nor lead the pro-War cause. But then it wasn’t as if he wished to either.

Within the next few weeks he would tender his resignation to George III. It would, despite it all, be with hesitation and reluctance that the King would accept. The Marques of Rockingham, after almost 16 years out of power, would be asked to lead despite the disdain the monarch felt towards him. Within less than half a year though Rockingham would be dead at age 52 from the flu. Despite the instability that would arise from the three Whig Prime Ministers who would take to the office between the resignation of Lord North and the rise of William Pitt the Younger in 1783, peace for the former American colonies would be secured at the Treaty of Paris, the lasting legacy of the almost ten months that William Petty, the Earl of Shelburne, spent as Prime Minister.


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