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About Nicholas Vansittart
Nicholas Vansittart, 1st Baron Bexley PC, FRS, FSA (29 April 1766 – 8 February 1851) was an English politician, and one of the longest-serving Chancellors of the Exchequer in British history.
Background and education
The fifth son of Henry Vansittart (died 1770), the Governor of Bengal, Vansittart was born in Bloomsbury, Middlesex, and raised in Bray, Berkshire. Educated at Christ Church, Oxford, he took his degree in 1787, and was called to the bar at Lincolns Inn. From the early 1770s he was living with his mother at 60 Crooms Hill, Greenwich.
Vansittart began his public career by writing pamphlets in defence of the administration of William Pitt, especially on its financial side, and in May 1796 became Member of Parliament for Hastings, retaining his seat until July 1802, when he was returned for Old Sarum. In February 1801 he was sent on a diplomatic errand to Copenhagen, and shortly after his return was appointed joint Secretary to the Treasury, a position which he retained until the resignation of Henry Addington's ministry in April 1804. Owing to the influence of his friend, the Duke of Cumberland, he became Chief Secretary for Ireland under Pitt in January 1805, resigning his office in the following September. With Addington, now Viscount Sidmouth, he joined the government of Charles James Fox and Lord Grenville as Secretary to the Treasury in February 1806, leaving office with Sidmouth just before the fall of the ministry in March 1807.
During these and the next few years Vansittart's reputation as a financier was gradually rising. In 1809 he proposed and carried without opposition in the House of Commons thirty-eight resolutions on financial questions, and only his loyalty to Sidmouth prevented him from joining the cabinet of Spencer Perceval as Chancellor of the Exchequer in October 1809. He opposed an early resumption of cash payments in 1811, and became Chancellor of the Exchequer when the Earl of Liverpool succeeded Perceval in May 1812. Having forsaken Old Sarum, he had represented Helston from November 1806 to June 1812; and after being member for East Grinstead for a few weeks, was returned for Harwich in October 1812.
When Vansittart became Chancellor of the Exchequer the country was burdened with heavy taxation and an enormous debt. Nevertheless, the continuance of the Napoleonic Wars compelled him to increase the customs duties and other taxes, and in 1813 he introduced a complicated scheme for dealing with the sinking fund. In 1816, after the conclusion of peace, a large decrease in taxation was generally desired, and there was a loud outcry when the Chancellor proposed only to reduce, not to abolish, the property or income tax. The abolition of this tax, however, was carried in parliament, and Vansittart was also obliged to remit the extra tax on malt, meeting a large deficiency principally by borrowing. He devoted considerable attention to effecting real or supposed economies with regard to the national debt. He carried an elaborate scheme for handing over the payment of naval and military pensions to contractors, who would be paid a fixed annual sum for forty-five years; but no one was found willing to undertake this contract, although a modified plan on the same lines was afterwards adopted.
Vansittart became very unpopular in the country, and he resigned his office in December 1822. His system of finance was severely criticized by William Huskisson, Tierney, Brougham, Hume and Ricardo. On his resignation Liverpool offered Vansittart the post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Accepting this offer in February 1823, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Bexley, of Bexley in the County of Kent, in March, and granted a pension of £3000 a year. He resigned in January 1828. In the House of Lords, Bexley took very little part in public business, although he introduced the Spitalfields Weavers Bill in 1823, and voted for Catholic Emancipation in 1824. He took a good deal of interest in the British and Foreign Bible Mission, the Church Missionary Society and kindred bodies, funded Kenyon college and seminary on the U.S. western frontier (the seminary is now named Bexley Hall in his honour) and assisted in founding King's College London. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1822.
Lord Bexley married the Hon. Catherine Isabella (1778–1810), daughter of William Eden, 1st Baron Auckland, in July 1806. He withdrew from public life in the spring of 1809 to take her on rest cures at Malvern and Torquay. The marriage was childless. He died at Foots Cray, Kent, on 8 February 1851. As he had no issue the title became extinct on his death. There are nine volumes of Vansittart's papers in the British Library.
Nicholas Vansittart, 1st and last Baron Bexley's Timeline
April 29, 1766
July 22, 1806
February 8, 1851