3rd duke of Portland, William Cavendish-Bentinck

(1738—1809) prime minister

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Portland began his career as a follower of Newcastle and rose to the status of second in command to Rockingham, succeeding the latter as official head of the Whig opposition in 1782. He shared the leadership with the party's Commons spokesman, Charles Fox. As nominal premier during the Fox–North coalition ministry, Portland conducted a series of difficult negotiations with the king, which belie his reputation for weakness. The India Bill crisis, which precipitated the fall of the coalition, set the pattern of politics for a decade, with Portland and Fox the twin leaders of an increasingly organized Whig opposition. The duke long resisted the pressure to break with Fox, but in 1794 led the conservative Whigs into coalition with Pitt. As home secretary (1794–1801) Portland favoured the use of surveillance and repression to counter the threat of radicalism. He was also a prime mover in the recall of Fitzwilliam from Ireland in 1795 over the question of catholic emancipation. By the early 19th cent. Portland had ceased to be a party leader, but had become an elder statesman. For this reason the aged and infirm duke became the figurehead prime minister (1807–9) in a ministry that contained the germs of the Toryism that was later to flourish under Liverpool.

Subjects: British History.

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