George Canning

(1770—1827) prime minister and parodist

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Prime minister. The most brilliant disciple of the younger Pitt, Canning was distrusted as an intriguer. He also suffered from the fact that his father had died in penury and that his mother had been an actress. Rescued by a wealthy uncle, Canning was educated at Eton and Oxford. Entering the Commons in 1794 he shone as an orator and writer of witty polemical verses, denouncing the French Revolution and supporting the war against France. When Portland became prime minister in 1807 Canning was made foreign secretary. He prevented the Danish fleet from falling into French hands and supported the Spaniards and Portuguese in their struggle against Napoleon. But the failure of the Walcheren expedition heightened distrust of Canning and he sought to make Castlereagh the scapegoat. The outcome was the famous duel which consigned both men to the back benches. Only in 1818 did Canning return to office as president of the Board of Control and in 1822 he was about to sail for India as governor‐general when Castlereagh's suicide led to his appointment as foreign secretary. His success was as dazzling as it was controversial. Always opposed to the Congress system, he disengaged from Europe with enthusiasm. By recognizing the independence of the Spanish American colonies, he opened up Latin America for British commerce. When he was asked to form a government in 1827 Wellington and Peel refused to serve under him. Canning's ministry was a coalition of liberal Tories and conservative Whigs. His unexpected death in August 1827 after only three months meant that his premiership did not fulfil its promise.

Subjects: British History.

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