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Charles Townshend 1725-1767, click for larger picture (47k)

Sir Lewis Namier

The Leslie Stephen Lecture

Cambridge University Press


For some time past I have been collecting material for a biography of Charles Townshend, and when invited to deliver this year's Leslie Stephen Lecture, I decided to draw on that material for a preliminary sketch dealing with his character and certain aspects of his career

For access to the manuscripts from which I quote my grateful thanks are due to their owners and custodians, and more especially to the Duke of Buccleuch and the Marquess Townshend; theirs are the two most important collections of Charles Townshend papers.



May 1959

I n the summer of 1765, Rockingham, taking stock of his Government's position in the House of Commons, marked a list of its Members with "Pro", "Con", or "Doubtful" against their names.1 Two only eluded classification: William Pitt [The Elder] and Charles Townshend. Not made for team work, they could not be fitted into any political system. Yet so transcendent were their gifts as House of Commons men that neither could be neglected for long. Townshend, while lacking Pitt's grandeur and undaunted courage, was unsurpassed for brilliancy: "if there was something more awful and compulsive in Pitt's oratory, there was more acuteness and more wit in Charles Townshend's", wrote Lord Waldegrave about 1758. And he thus explained the omission of Townshend in November 1756 from "more active employment": "Pitt did not chuse to advance a young man to ministerial office, whose abilities were of the same kind, and so nearly equal to his own."2 This, though written before Pitt's greatness as war minister was fully revealed, is significant.

By the time Townshend reached his thirties, his character, private and public, had impressed itself on contemporaries: its various facets were described and discussed; and there is enormous material to cover the last decade of his short life; but so far no serious biography of this seemingly protean personality has been attempted. Yet there are scores of dicta about him which could serve as texts for such a biography.

Horace Walpole wrote to H. S. Conway on 4 March 1756: "...nothing is luminous compared with Charles Townshend: he drops down dead in a fit, has a resurrection, thunders in the Capitol, confounds the Treasury bench, laughs at his own party, is laid up the next day, and overwhelms the Duchess [of Argyll, his mother-in-law] and the good women that go to nurse him!" And David Hume, in a letter to Adam Smith on 12 April 1759 speaks of Charles Townshend, who passes for the cleverest fellow in England".3

In August 1759 when a vacancy was expected at the Exchequer, Newcastle wrote to Hardwicke: "If Charles Townshend had not such a character, I would make him Chancellor of the Exchequer at once, but there is no depending on him."4 And on 5 October: "Will Charles Townshend do less harm in the War Office or in the Treasury?"5 Yet on 9 December 1762 noticing at Court "a settled inveteracy against Charles Townshend", Newcastle remarked to Devonshire: "I should be sorry we should part with him, considering his abilities."6 On 11 December 1762 three days after Townshend had resigned office, Fox wrote to Bute about him - "whom I can have no personal reason to wish well to, many to do otherwise. It seems to me that he may be had. Get him with all his faults ( I don't say trust him) and they [the Opposition] won't be able even to make our attendance [in the House] necessary."7 And on 11 March 1763, in his scheme for a new Government: "Charles Townshend...must be left to that worst enemy, himself: care only being taken that no agreeableness, no wit, no zealous and clever behaviour... ever betray you into trusting him for half an hour."8 And Edmund Burke, on 9 July 1765: " His actions... seem never to have been influenced by his most wonderful abilities."9 Most penetrating of all is a remark about Townshend by his friend Chase Price, in a letter to the Duke of Portland on 18 July 1765: "The powers of his mind and imagination so superior to the powers of his heart! The one shewing him many precipices and the other not affording a spark of constancy to support him entirely unhinged...."10 Wonderful abilities, inordinate vanity, and poverty of heart explain a great deal in the pattern of this life.

The incessant warnings and reminders that Townshend must not be depended upon or trusted, are significant: so convincing and alluring was his approach, and seemingly so sincere at the moment, that men were apt to gloss over his notorious instability, however much they tried to remember it. His co-operation was sought and solicited - "we could neither do with him, nor without him", wrote Horace Walpole11 - and at almost every change of Government between 1756 and 1766 Townshend delayed its formation by leading a giddy dance. There is something incomprehensible and almost uncanny in these performances: why did he behave, or why had he to behave, in that way, and why did others put up with so much of it? George III, Pitt, and Grenville, each of them unimpressionable in his own way, alone seem never to have fallen under the spell of his "magic quality". Nor did his family, which had done much to shape the pattern of his thoughts and emotions. On 18 August 1755, his father, Charles 3rd Viscount Townshend, wrote to him in one of his long, reproachful letters: "I have done every thing in my power to deserve your affection, esteem and regard, but... I have not ever received any gratefull return from you. The compliances I have at any time made to your requests have not in your opinion... arose from a generous and good natured disposition in my temper but from the magick quality of your great abilities.... All the return I have had has been that of finding that my thoughts and actions have been made the subject of your ridicule and supposed wit...."12 In an earlier letter, of 31 October 1747, Lord Townshend ironically referred to Charles as a "genius", and to himself as "the turnip merchant at Rainham".

Before I deal with Charles Townshend's family background, I must revert to a remark which may have puzzled you in my first quotation from Horace Walpole: "he drops down dead in a fit". Townshend suffered from convulsive disorders which at times incapacitated him for weeks. There are detailed accounts of them and of their after-effects in Charles's letters to his father, and a good many references in letters from relatives and friends. The fits seem to have started in adolescence: in June I745, when Charles was twenty, his father refers to "those disorders you have labor'd under for some time past". The latest, discreet yet unmistakable, references to fits which I have so far found, occur in 1761: on 5 July Horace Walpole wrote to Lord Strafford that Townshend has had "a bad return of his old complaint"; and on 4 December a debate which he was to have opened and which attracted much attention, had to be postponed because of "a severe fit of ill health" which, he said on the 9th, had left him "in a very weak condition".13 Sir Charles Symonds, a foremost authority on epilepsy, has very kindly examined my material on Townshend's fits, and thinks there can be little doubt that they were epileptic; that the seizures had probably a focal origin in the left hemisphere, and were due to injury at birth; that Townshend had also inhibitory motor seizures of the minor kind; and that a succession of such minor attacks accounted for periods of malaise and misery of which Townshend complained. Sir Charles further writes: "The presumed organic basis for the attacks makes it quite possible that some psychological abnormality may have existed in association with the epileptic liability, i.e. due to the same organic cause." Lastly, Townshend's "crazy constitution" (to quote his own words) may very well have been associated with his epileptic liability. One is struck, following him month by month and year by year, by the frequency and diversity of ills from which he suffered. Still, with incredible pertinacity and drive he struggled on, giving his life a brilliant and amusing appearance. The tragic side was usually overlooked.

Charles's family background was unhappy. He was the son of a formidable father, intelligent yet primitive, suspicious, vehement, and oppressive, and of a mother, fastidious and intellectual, famed for her wit and promiscuity. They separated when Charles was fifteen [1740], and he remained with his father, professing the greatest attachment to him and indifference or even contempt for his mother. But for his father Charles felt no love either: much rather fear seeking relief in mockery, a weapon of the intelligent under oppression. At times Charles's letters make his father appear a petty tyrant. He wrote from Cambridge on 30 December 1744: "I have never felt any return of my passion for cricket since you objected to it, nor has my attendance on the tennis court been either prejudicial to my time or my purse... following it under such restrictions... I have never spent four shillings or four days on this article. I shall obey your orders in discontinuing this exercise." But as the letter to which this is the reply is not extant, judgment must be withheld: for in some other cases Charles is seen outdoing behests to his own discomfort if thereby he could place his father in the wrong.

Their correspondence is a constant struggle: in letters of portentous length, rising to 2000 words, they dissect as under a microscope what has been said, manoeuvre for position, and find fault by putting forced constructions on what the other has said (a technique which Charles was to use all his life). There was self-damaging torment on both sides. This alternates with feigned submission on Charles's part and flattery so extreme as to render both unconvincing - thus in a letter on 1 September 1745: "...your inclination is my rule, as your judgment must be best able to promote my interest in the best manner... it is my interest to acquiesce in the directions you give for my conduct, and as I willingly acknowledge this truth in discourse, so I shall constantly observe it in practise;... your choice will always be productive of my happiness... an opinion which I shall practise, as well as profess." How this sets the tone in fervency as in non-performance for later professions of devotion to political chiefs!

Lord Townshend seems to have placed little trust in such declarations, especially when linked with requests for additional financial help, which he greatly resented; and while irate reactions of a parent on such occasions cannot be taken at face value, Lord Townshend's reproaches, seen in the setting of their correspondence, carry a measure of conviction. He wrote in October 1747: "I find by experience that whenever there is an imaginary want of money my advice is call'd for and a great shew of submission and resignation to my opinion is made." And in January 1753, when Charles, planning marriage, turned to him "to make up the fortune of this match": "I am thoroughly sensible from what I have experienced from your constant and uniform conduct towards me that nothing I can offer on this occasion to dissuade you from your present scheme will or can have any effect.... Advice from me is never agreeable to you nor would you ever throughout the whole course of your life hitherto attend to it...." And on Charles again turning to him in August 1755 about his marriage settlement with Lady Dalkeith, Lord Townshend affirmed that since November 1754, when he cleared the whole charge of Charles's last parliamentary election, Charles had never come near him, nor inquired after his health, but had with success avoided seeing him: assertions hardly made without a factual basis. Indeed, after marriage had freed Charles of financial dependence on his father, relations between them became distant, and Charles drew closer to his mother.

Nor was his marriage without effect on relations with his political chiefs, which followed the pattern of those with his father, and from now on assumed a seemingly incalculable character. Horace Walpole wrote to Richard Bentley on 17 July 1755: "Charles Townshend marries the great Dowager Dalkeith: his parts and presumption are prodigious. He wanted nothing but independence to let him loose: I propose great entertainment from him." And when in April 1767 Lady Dalkeith inherited a considerable fortune from her mother, Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer under Grafton, sweetly wrote to him with resentments set free: "Your Grace's regard for me will incline you to be pleased with hearing that my late accession of fortune has placed me and, what I love more than myself, my children, in great affluence and ample station. The relish for this is heightened in me by the recollection of former in-certainties... and the delay of every favour I have ever had reason to expect from the Crown. I am now out of the reach of fortune, and can act without anxiety."14

This was written four months before his death. But illustrations of Charles Townshend's character can be picked out anywhere during his adult life. He did not change or mellow; nor did he learn by experience; there was something ageless about him; never young, he remained immature to the end. At thirty-three, after eleven years in Parliament, during which he had alternately sworn allegiance to Newcastle and gone out of his way to attack him, sometimes with more outrage than wit, Townshend wrote to him in 1758 a recantation, reminiscent of some letters to his father: "... in every passage of my life, I shall wish and endeavour to deserve your Grace's favourable opinion and the honour of your friendship; from which if I have sometimes been too much diverted by errors and indiscretions; they are errors which I ever remember with regret, and in- discretions I flatter myself I have had the sense to discover and correct."15 Which did not prevent him from repeating them when occasion offered.

Or consider his performance on 8 May 1767, so near the end of his life, when, writes Horace Walpole,16 he displayed "the amazing powers of his capacity, and the no less amazing incongruities of his character". Having, early in the day, dealt very sensibly with the affairs of the East India Company, he "told the House that he hoped he had atoned for the inconsideration of his past life by the care he had taken of that business" - an odd declaration for a leading statesman aged forty-two. But at night, intoxicated more with high spirits than drink, he delivered his famous "champagne speech", a torrent of wit, knowledge, absurdity, and fiction, heightened by buffoonery; an encomium and a satire on himself; an arraignment of Chatham's "wild incapacity"; and he concluded his mockery of the Government of which he was a foremost member, by saying that "it was become what he himself had often been called, a weathercock". A singularly immature and self-damaging performance.

A remarkable feature in the character of this most fickle of men was that his fickleness followed a predictable pattern, constantly reproduced. Conscious superiority over other men freely flaunted, a capacity for seeing things from every angle displayed with vanity, and the absence of any deeper feelings of attachment, left Townshend, as Chase Price put it, "entirely unhinged". Perhaps imitating Pitt [The Elder], he prided himself on standing alone, on being politically "unconnected"; and, while swayed by his changing moods, he boasted of being constant and consistent, which in a sense he was. Of his gyrations and fluctuations I give one example. During the anxious months, September-December 1762, while the Peace Preliminaries were under discussion, he, then Secretary at War, was courted by the Government and the Opposition, and no one knew from day to day, what line he would take. From the mass of reported contradictions on this occasion I can here pick out but a few: brief dicta which require no explaining.

"He laughs at the Ministry at night and assures them in the morning that he is entirely theirs", wrote Rigby on 19 October.17 And Shelburne to Bute, on the same day: a friend of Townshend's has reported that he was "determined to support the King's measures and your Lordship both statedly and steadily, and with cordiality".18 But apparently the same day Townshend sent word to Newcastle that the moment Newcastle and Devonshire called upon him "he was ready"19 - what he was ready for is not specified. On 28 October Fox reported to Bute that Townshend was freely talking against the peace.20 On 10 November Townshend congratulated the King "but coldly" on it, and criticised its terms.21 The next day Fox wrote to Bute: "Charles Townshend is worse than ever; upon my word, my Lord, we shall not be able to go on with him in his employment and this fickle humour."22 Bute to Shelburne on 12 November: " to Charles Townshend, I beleive the best method will be to leave him to himself; ...he dare not oppose, and the day of retribution will come".23 Fox to Bute on the 23rd: "Mr C.T. was [here], and any body who did not know him, would have thought him not only a friend but the most zealous one".24 And later on, the same day: "Charles Townshend is intolerable. He will I beleive do all he can to ruin you; but he has ruined himself."25 Rigby to Bedford on the 24th: "There is no guessing at Charles Townshend's intentions, but he continues yet to shuffle, and I dare say will resign or be turned out."26 And the King to Bute about that time: Townshend may "yet join the Duke of Newcastle (which I can never think impossible) ".27

But here is the picture which, in the midst of these fluctuations, Townshend drew of himself in a letter to an unknown correspondent: "It is my firm resolution to act the part of a man of business and a man of honour; to be decided by things and not men; to have no party; to follow no leader, and to be governed absolutely by my own judgment, with respect to the Peace now concluded, the approaching system of measures, and the future Ministry."28 And he proceeds to retail his grievances: in the past he was "neglected and frequently injured" by Newcastle; "dismissed from public office" by him and by Devonshire; left by Pitt [The Elder] "at the end of a successful Opposition, in an unpleasant office, without communication or common respect". Unconnected with Newcastle, he would be inconstant if he adopted his resentments; he must not act second to Devonshire's "personal and private disgusts"; he could never unite with Fox; and if he has declined Cabinet office (which he claimed had been offered to him) he has done so "not from want of ambition, but from a love of consistency".

On 6 December he wrote to Bute that he wished "to retire from the office of Secretary at War" - the letter is noted in the Register of Bute's Correspondence,29 but I have failed to find it among the Bute Papers; and Townshend's reasons for retiring are nowhere stated. He actually resigned on the 8th, the day before the Peace Preliminaries came before the House; was expected to arraign them, but when the debate turned in favour of the Government, spoke on their side ("C. Townshend... made the finest speech I ever heard", wrote Rigby to the Duke of Bedford),"30 and negotiations for his rejoining the Government followed soon.

These months of crisis are but one example of Townshend's instability. Reacting negatively to group-ties, when in the Government he almost invariably cultivated the Opposition, and when in Opposition made approaches to the Government. Much of his time and energy was taken up by such shifts and manoeuvres; while his unbridled ridicule was practised on all alike, even on Administrations which he tried to enter. The posts assigned to him he usually felt to be beneath his rank and merit, which gave a concrete form of grievance to his negative reactions. In fact, in terms of office his career was disappointing: after five years as a junior member of the Board of Trade, nearly two years at the Admiralty, and one year in Opposition, from 1756 till 1761 he was relegated to a Court sinecure; from February 1761 till December 1762 was Secretary at War, in the eighteenth century a subordinate post not carrying Cabinet rank; for seven weeks, 23 February to 15 April 1763, he held the Board of Trade with powers less extensive than he had contended for; from May 1765 till July 1766, the Pay Office, a lucrative but politically ineffective post; and in July 1766 was made by Chatham to accept that of Chancellor of the Exchequer, without a place in the Cabinet: the Chancellor of the Exchequer as such, being merely an Under-Secretary to the First Lord of the Treasury, had no claim to membership of the Effective Cabinet, though Townshend in his own right could have expected it. "Cabinets meet, but Charles never sent to", wrote Selwyn to Lord Holland on 5 August.31 In October 1766, after a good deal of sulking, Townshend managed to wriggle himself into it, with the well-known disastrous results. Considered a dozen times for a Secretaryship of State, he was offered it at least three times, but declined. He showed poor judgment in joining or leaving Governments; resigned from Bute's on the eve of its greatest triumph, and rejoined it a few weeks before Bute's resignation; threw away his chances on the formation of the Grenville Government in April 1763, and joined it in May 1765 when it was doomed.

Poverty of heart warped even his judgment: too much preoccupied with his own person, he did not enter into the feelings of other men, lacked intuitive awareness, and so would misjudge situations. Instead of sensing reality, he would argue against it, as if able to impose on it his own conceptions. Here is an example. When in May 1765 George III was forced to reinstate the Grenville Government, the least obnoxious to the King of their conditions was the dismissal of Lord Holland from the Pay Office and his replacement by Townshend. Yet, that for the King this was part of the same humiliating transaction, Townshend refused to see or acknowledge; went about complaining of the treatment now meted out to him at Court, 32 and when told the obvious, that his acceptance "had been unpleasing to the King, from the manner in which it had been forced upon him, at such a time, and with other similar affronts to him", Townshend denied the fact and recapitulated the circumstances: he had refused to accept without the King's approbation!33 A degree of obtuseness remarkable in one so clever and versatile.

The same lack of psychological understanding he showed in his dealings with America, the most important aspect of his career. These moreover reveal an unexpected, though hardly incongruous, facet of his character: his obstinate adherence to his own ideas unaffected by developments, and the persistence with which he tried to realise them. His fatal American measures of 1767, so far from being an improvisation, enacted at the end of his career a programme he had formulated at its start, in 1753 - 4; and there was a strong emotional colouring to that programme: a rebel towards his father and chiefs, he turned into a heavy father when acting for the Mother Country in relation to her offspring. To the subject of Townshend and America I shall devote the rest of this lecture.

In 1749 Charles Townshend started his official career, not at the Admiralty as he had wished but at the lowest Board, that of Trade and Plantations. His five years of apprenticeship there were of vital importance: he became acquainted with colonial problems and formed his ideas on America. In August 1753 instructions of a rather unusual character were issued to Sir Danvers Osborn, Governor of New York34 - Horace Walpole, writing about 1755, described them as "better calculated for the latitude of Mexico and for a Spanish tribunal, than for a free rich British settlement".35 These instructions Charles Townshend subsequently avowed in the House to have " advised",36 that is, to have drafted. They charged the New York Assembly with trampling upon the royal authority and prerogative by assuming "to themselves the disposal of public money"; directed it to make permanent provision for the salaries of the Governor, judges, and other officials; and for the security of the province and any foreseeable charges. The money was to be applied by warrants from the Governor advised by the Council, the Assembly being merely "permitted, from time to time, to view and examine... accounts". In short, the royal executive was to be rendered financially independent of the colonial Assembly. A remodelling of colonial government was Townshend's aim, to which the raising of a revenue by act of the British Parliament became a necessary corollary.

In the summer of 1754, with war imminent, plans were discussed in America and London for a " general concert" between the American Colonies for mutual defence. Townshend, promoted in April to the Board of Admiralty, was consulted by Newcastle on a scheme of union submitted by his recent chief, Lord Halifax, First Lord of Trade. This Townshend thought impracticable, and anyhow undesirable."37 he did not expect the Colonies to reach agreement concerning their respective contributions; but if they did, they would continue their "settled design" to draw to themselves by their annual Bills of Supply the prerogatives of the Crown, "the only means of supporting... the superintendency of the Mother Country". "Whatever is done, can only be done by an Act of Parliament"; and the Provinces are more likely to accept "a candid and just plan sent from hence" than form one themselves. "I shall endeavour to prepare such a plan for your Grace... with a fund which all the Provinces will, I am certain, approve and chearfully pay." I have failed to trace that plan either among the Newcastle or the Townshend Papers. But Charles Townshend's unfounded belief that he could devise a plan for taxing the Colonies by act of the British Parliament which would prove acceptable to them, was to be repeated on later occasions - another example of his way of clinging to his own conceptions in disregard of reality.

In Parliament he continued to speak on colonial matters; and when in December 1759 peace negotiations were expected to start soon, he applied to Pitt to be made Plenipotentiary for America,38 though this would have given him only the third place on the delegation. When by the summer of 1762 Townshend talked of resigning the War Office, and the King and Bute too wished him out of it, a transfer to the Board of Trade was discussed. On 16 September Rigby wrote to the Duke of Bedford:39 "The world talks much of me as Secretary at War;... I believe Charles Townshend has a promise for his favourite American plan." So far I have not found this plan which presumably reproduced the programme enunciated in 1753 - 4, and realised in 1767. And when after 8 December Townshend's return to office was discussed, the Board of Trade was again envisaged, but the powers to be conceded to him were once more the subject of weary negotiations. They do not seem to have been extensive when Townshend at last assumed office on 23 February; but anyhow his one remarkable performance concerning America during his seven weeks at the head of the Board of Trade was of a most irregular nature.

The account of it given by Bancroft40 is inaccurate and confused. When on 4 March Welbore Ellis, Townshend's successor at the War Office, brought in the Army Estimates, it was he, and not Townshend, who stated "that the American Force was intended to be paid for a future year by America".41 And when later on, about 20 March, Townshend proposed that a revenue be immediately raised in America by lowering the duties on French molasses and enforcing their payment, he acted entirely off his own bat, and not in a ministerial capacity as Bancroft supposed. The King, in an undated letter to Bute,42 bitterly complains of other Ministers having remained silent on that occasion - "this subject was new to none, having been thought of this whole winter; all ought to have declar'd that next session some tax will be laid before the House but that it requires much information before a proper one can be stated, and thus have thrown out this insidious proposal; I think Mr Townshends conduct deserves the dismissing him or the least the making him explain his intentions". What action followed, if any, is uncertain; but on 30 March James Harris notes in his parliamentary reports 43 a dispute between Grenville and Townshend about American duties; after which the matter was "adjourned to a long day".

At this time the Grenville Administration was being formed. The intention was to remove Townshend to the Admiralty; against which he demurred. The danger of having him deal with America seems to have been appreciated. Thus Fox, in a letter of 17 March,44 wished Townshend out of the Board of Trade, and to have "that greatest and most necessary of all schemes, the settlement of America", effected by others. And James Oswald wrote to Bute on 13 April: "...nothing, surely, will embarrass the future administration more than Mr Townshend's continuing in the resolution of remaining where he is. The settlement of America must be the first and principal object.... Can we imagine that either he [Mr Grenville], Lord H[alifax], or Lord Eg[remont], or all these together, can manage C.T. in that department?"45

From April 1763 till May 1765 Townshend was out of office; and on 25 February 1764 Newcastle wrote to Townshend, as his expert on colonial affairs, about the forthcoming budget: "The next point of consequence... is their disposition of North must suggest to us what it may be proper to do there."46 And when on 7 March Grenville "gave us", notes Harris, "some general idea of his plan, particularly as to the taxing America", Townshend spoke strongly on the Government side: "that our plan of expences being so great, America ought to share". But when on g March Grenville fully developed his scheme, which included the American Stamp Bill, Townshend was absent, having gone to Cambridge to manage for Newcastle the contest between Hardwicke and Sandwich for High Steward of the University.

The discussion of the stamp duties was deferred for a year. On 20 January 1765, in a debate on Naval Estimates, Townshend went out of his way to assert "the supremacy of this country over the colonys - would not have them emancipated".47 And when on 6 February Grenville introduced his Stamp Bill, Townshend supported him in a speech which he concluded with a peroration in the best paternal style: "And now will these Americans, children planted by our care, nourished up by our indulgence untill they are grown to a degree of strength and opulence, and protected by our arms, will they grudge to contribute their mite to releive us from the heavy weight of that burden which we lie under?"48 To which Barre replied in a speech widely publicised in America: "They planted by your care? No! your oppressions planted 'em in America.... They nourished by your indulgence?", etc.

Townshend declined Cabinet office in the Rockingham Administration, but remained in the wings as Paymaster General, and had a share in shaping their American policy. After a good deal of equivocation he, who in February 1765 had whole-heartedly supported the Stamp Act, a year later voted for its repeal while reasserting his own attitude towards America. In the crucial debates on the subject he rarely intervened, which was remarked upon at the time: only three speeches by him are recorded, and reports of two have but recently come to light which give a fully intelligible account of his argument.

On 17 December 1765 Townshend opposed Grenville's motion declaring the Colonies in a state of rebellion. According to James Harris, he owned his difficulties; would await further information from America; spoke strongly for the supremacy of Parliament; "yet...if you have done any thing to stop or injure their trade, releive them and they will submit". Here is in embryonic form the policy of Repeal coupled with a Declaratory Act. When, contrary to Newcastle's stated opinion, the resolutions asserting the right of Parliament were made to precede the Repeal, the measures were hammered out in two small informal meetings at Rockingham's, on 19 and 21 January, at which, of those present, Townshend was by far the ablest and best versed in American affairs.49 "I have had very little to do in the settlement of them", wrote Newcastle to the Arch-bishop of Canterbury [presumably Frederick Cornwallis, who married Charles Townshends cousin, Caroline Townshend] on 2 February; "which, I understand, was done at a meeting with the three Ministers [Rockingham, Grafton, and Conway], Mr Charles Yorke, Mr Dowdeswell, and Mr Charles Townshend ".50 [Charles Townshend attended Leiden, a Dutch University, and was classmates with John Wilkes and possible also William Dowdeswell who also attended there]

Nonetheless, when the resolutions came before the House, on 3 - 6 February, Townshend preserved silence, and only broke it on the 7th, when Grenville moved an address for enforcing the laws in America. The fullest account of Townshend's speech is preserved in the shorthand notes by Nathaniel Ryder (first Lord Harrowby) from which I quote: " C. Townshend. Does not rise to differ from the spirit and the temper expressed by the honourable gentleman who proposed this address. He feels for the situation of N. America as much as Grenville. He thinks if some proper plan is not formed for governing as well as quieting them at present and for the future, it will be extremely dangerous. The magistrates at present in many colonies elective, the judges dependent on the assemblies for their salaries." 51 But Townshend opposed Grenville's motion as "tending directly to the enforcing of the Stamp Act". "We are now without forts or troops. Our magistrates without inclinations and without power. Would you raise this temper while you are the most unable to resist it? If a delay is necessary, do not let us lose the fruits of this delay by this hasty, this preclusive measure...." And Sir Roger Newdigate, when jotting down a few notes on Townshend's speech, singles out his remarks about the need to alter "the plan of government in North America", about the position of governors, judges, and other officials, etc.52 In short, Townshend was harping once more on his old theme, the remodelling and strengthening of the executive power in America.

The third speech by Townshend on the Repeal of the Stamp Act, on 11 February, again shows that over American taxation he was basically in agreement with Grenville. He declared, reported James West to Newcastle, "he could not repeal the Act on account of the right whereby it was imposed, nor on account of the violence that had been used against it, but only if at all, on the impracticability, or inexpediency of it, or the inability of the Colonies to pay the tax"53. Surely very half-hearted support for what came afterwards to be considered the chief plank in the programme of the Rockinghams.

Yet during the crisis caused by Grafton's resignation in the first fortnight of May 1766, Newcastle proposed making Townshend Secretary for America (a new office to be created for him), because of "that attention to the settlement and government of our Colonies, which in their present situation they will require"; and "Charles Townshend knows more of the matter than anybody".54 Conway agreed, and Rockingham was to speak to Townshend about it.55 Of what passed between them we have only an obviously embroidered second-hand account, in a letter from Whately to Grenville.56 All we know for certain is that the Rockinghams were about to entrust Townshend with the management of American affairs, and he apparently declined. True, at this juncture the colonial problems of immediate interest were the commercial regulations concerning North America and the West Indies and the free port in Dominica, on which Townshend was reputed an expert. But even so, in view of his attitude on American constitutional problems, it seems, to say the least, incongruous with the later claims of the Rockinghams that they of all people should have wished to put him in charge of American affairs.

In the Chatham Administration the Colonies were primarily Shelburne's concern, and when on 26 January 1767, over Grenville's motion that the expense of the Army in the Colonies be defrayed by them, Townshend pledged himself to raise a revenue there for the purpose, his action was unauthorised, an aggravated repetition of his intervention in March 1763: his methods and set purpose remained unchanged. Nor was his pledge a spontaneous reaction to a challenge. Shelburne, writing to Chatham on 1 February, correctly stated some parts of Townshend's plan which he had heard "from general conversation".57 Townshend had obviously been preparing it, but had not submitted either its principle or its details to the Cabinet. With whom he prepared it is suggested by an undated draft of the Townshend duties among the Buccleuch MSS.: it is in the handwriting of Samuel Touchet, MP, a bankrupt merchant of considerable ability but doubtful reputation, with whom Townshend associated a good deal, and for whom in June 1767 he tried to obtain financial provision from Grafton stating that "he and he alone has the merit of what ever has been honourably done in this winter for the public and the Treasury in the choice of taxes".58 Townshend assured the House that the revenue would be drawn from America "without offence",59 presumably because of its external character, and then treated "the distinction between external and internal taxes as ridiculous in every body's opinion except the Americans", which, as Shelburne remarked, was "not the way to make any thing go down well in America".60 A more exact indication of the duties was given by Townshend, incidentally, when on 13 May he introduced resolutions for punishing the delinquency of New York with regard to the Mutiny Act. Conway, disapproving of the measure, had refused to do so. Still, also in the case of Townshend there occurred a hitherto unexplained hitch. He was to have opened the plan on g May, but "that very morning", writes Walpole, "he pretended to have fallen down-stairs and cut his eye dangerously".61 Walpole's comment, however, that Townshend's "strange irresolution and versatility could not conceal itself even on so public an occasion", is wide of the mark. It was his determination to free the royal officials of their dependence on the Colonial Assemblies which produced the delay. Townshend wrote to Grafton in an undated letter which must, I think, be placed on 5 May: "Mr Townshend...sincerely laments that the opportunity has not been taken of soliciting his Majesty's assent to the proposition of independent salaries for the civil officers of North America: especially as he has pledged himself to the house for some measure of this sort; and had the assurances of Lord Shelburne in the last cabinet for the whole extent of the establishment and the D. of Grafton on Saturday adopted the idea at least as far as New York. In this distress, Mr T. does not think he can with honour move the resolutions this day, and therefore hopes either to have the authority or that some means may be found of postponing the matter for a day or two till he can receive it. He feels his honour absolutely at stake."62

By 13 May, when he moved the resolutions, he had obtained the desired authority, though in a restricted form. Horace Walpole's report of the speech,63 which he described as "consonant to the character of a man of business, and...unlike the wanton sallies of the man of parts and pleasure", quotes him saying: "The salaries of governors and judges in that part of the world must be made independent of their Assemblies: but he advised the House to confine their resolutions to the offending provinces." Charles Garth, MP, agent for South Carolina, reported to its Committee of Correspondence Townshend's forecast of his "plan for improving the system of government in the Colonies": he was going to propose "that, out of the fund arising from the American duties... His Majesty should be enabled to establish salaries... better suited to support the dignity of the respective officers, and for which to be no longer dependent upon the pleasure of any Assembly".64 Confined "to the offending provinces", these proposals were embodied in the sixteenth resolution of the Committee of Ways and Means which lays down that the duties to be raised in the Colonies be applied in making provision for the administration of justice and the support of civil government, in such Colonies "where it shall be found necessary", and the residue be used for defence.65 When on 2 July the American Bills received the Royal assent, Garth's comment was that this provision "must operate to render the Assembly...rather insignificant". "Indeed", he added, "the Bill did not pass the Commons without an intimation of this kind to the House, but the measure was taken, and the friends of America are too few to have any share in a struggle with a Chancellor of the Exchequer."66 Thus after fourteen years, towards the end of his career and life, Charles Townshend, the reputed weathercock, carried into effect the scheme which he had put forward as a very junior minister in 1753 - 4: a steadiness of purpose with which he has not been credited.

When Townshend died on 4 September 1767, Horace Walpole wrote: "... our comet is set! Charles Townshend is dead. All those parts and fire are extinguished; those volatile salts are evaporated; that first eloquence of the world is dumb! that duplicity is fixed, that cowardice terminated heroically. He joked on death as naturally as he used to do on the living.... With a robust person he had always a menacing constitution. He had had a fever the whole summer, recovered as it was thought, relapsed, was neglected, and it turned to an incurable putrid fever."67 I close with a reflection which often saddens a biographer: it is easier to analyse the shortcomings and mistakes of a man than to convey an idea of his genius, charm, or eloquence, unless they are transmitted in his writings, which is not the case with Charles Townshend. For us "that first eloquence of the world" remains "dumb". The record we have is of a man of quite exceptional ability, unhappy and self-frustrated, and now best remembered for the disastrous part he played in the prelude to the American Revolution.


  1. Fitzwilliam MSS. At Northants R.O.
  2. Memoirs, p.87.
  3. New Letters of David Hume, ed R. Klibansky and E. C. Mosser, p. 54.
  4. [Add. MS.] 32895, f. 76.
  5. 32896, f. 300.
  6. 32932, ff. 78-91.
  7. Bute MSS.
  8. Fitzmaurice, Shelburne, I, 146.
  9. Correspondence, ed. T. W. Copeland, I, 209.
  10. Portland MSS. At Nottingham University.
  11. Memoirs of the Reign of King George III, 1, 327. Remark refers to spring of 1764
  12. Charles Townshend's correspondence with his father is quoted from the MSS. Of the Marquess Townshend at Raynham.
  13. 38334, ff. 19-20
  14. Grafton MS. 452, at W. Suffolk R.O.
  15. 32881, f. 337.
  16. Mem. Geo. III, 17-18.
  17. Bedford MS. 46, f. 56.
  18. Bute MSS.
  19. Newcastle to Devenshire, 21 October, 32943, ff. 32-40.
  20. Bute MSS.
  21. letters from George III to Lord Bute, ed. R. Sedgewick, no. 223
  22. Bute MSS.
  23. Lansdowne MSS. Bowood.
  24. Bute MSS.
  25. Ibid. The letter is wrongly docketed, obviously at a later date: ‘December 1762.'
  26. Bedford MS. 46, f. 128.
  27. Sedgwick, no. 231.
  28. From an incomplete copy dated 10 November 1762, in the Charles Townshend papers of the Duke of Buccleuch.
  29. 36796
  30. Bedford MS. 46, f. 170.
  31. Letters to H. Fox, Ed. Earl of Ilchester, p. 269.
  32. Newcastle to the Bishop of Oxford, 1 June 1765, 32967, ff. 1-7.
  33. See C. Townshend's two letters to his brother, Lord Townshend, 3 and 4 July 1765, Grenville Papers, III, 65-9; and his letter to Dowdeswell, 25 June 1765, in the Buccleuch MSS.
  34. For their text see Gentleman's magazine (1754), pp. 65-6, and L. Labaree, Royal Instructions to British Colonial Governors, 1670-1776, I, 190-3.
  35. Memoirs of the Reign of King George II, I, 397.
  36. Ibid. II, 173; debate of 20 February 1756.
  37. For Halifax's scheme see 32736, ff. 243-5 and 247-56, for Townshend's letter to Newcastle and his ‘Remark', ibid. ff. 508-13
  38. 32900, ff. 120-1
  39. Bedford MS. 45, f. 220; the letter is printed in the Bedford Corr. III, 122-5, with the sentance about Townshend omitted.
  40. History of the United States (1856), v, 86-8.
  41. See Jenkinson's report of the debate, MS. North b. 5, ff. 87-8 and 94-9 at the Bodleian.
  42. Sedgwick, no. 282
  43. Malmesbury MSS.
  44. Fitzmaurice, Shelburne, I, 148.
  45. Memorials of James Oswald of Dunnikier (1825), 413-19.
  46. 32956, f. 95.
  47. Harris's parliamentary notes, Malmesbury MSS.
  48. The fullest report of the debate is given in a letter from Jared Ingersoll, agent for Connecticut, to its governor, Thomas Fitch, 11 February 1765; See Collections of Conn. Hist. Soc., Fitch Papers, II, 317-26. It was first published in 1766 in Mr Ingersoll's Letters relating to the Stamp-Act.
  49. About the two meetings see 35430, f. 31 (misdated), and 32973, f. 224.
  50. 32973, ff. 342-4.
  51. Harrowby MSS., document 65.
  52. Newdigate MS. B. 2546/18, at the Warwicks R.O.
  53. 32973, f. 411
  54. 32975, ff. 89, 104. See also Fortescue, Corr. of King George III, I, 301.
  55. 32975, ff. 102 and 164 (misdated); and 33001, f. 225.
  56. Grenville Papers, III, 235-6.
  57. Chatham Corr. III, 184-5.
  58. Grafton MS. 454.
  59. Grafton, Autobiography, 126.
  60. Loc. cit.
  61. Mem. Geo. III, III, 15.
  62. Grafton MS. 445.
  63. Op. cit. III, 21-4
  64. So. Ca. Hist.& Geneal. Mag. XXIX (1928), 227-30.
  65. Parliamentary History, XVI, 376, and Commons Journal, XXXI, 394-5.
  66. Op.cit. 298-300.
  67. To Horace Mann, 28 September 1767

Rt. Hon Charles Townshend (1725 - 1767)
second son of Charles Townshend (1700 - 1764), 3rd Viscount
grandson of Charles Townshend (1674 - 1738), 2nd Viscount.

He married Caroline Campbell, Lady Dalkieth (b.???? - ????), daughter and heir of the Duke of Argyll, in 1755 and had 3 children

  • Thomas-Charles Townshend (1758 - ????), dies young
  • William-John Townshend (1761 - ????), dies young
  • Anne Townshend (???? - ????) 1779 marries Richard Wilson
Rt Hon Charles Townshend raised his stepson, the Duke of Buccleuch. Apparently, he calls on the services of Adam Smith for parts of the Duke's education. This is feasible knowing the close relationship between Adam Smith and the Duke of Argyll and also Adam Smith's friendship with David Hume, one of Charles Townshend's friends. See the 3rd paragraph