J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, November 07, 2022

“Whitmore, usually a courtier, spoke for the Opposition”

Here’s a brief return to the series of postings about George III’s speech to Parliament on 31 Oct 1776 and the Whig opposition’s responses to it.

As I composed those, I was relying on the close-to-official record of the legislature’s debate, the Parliamentary Register published by John Almon.

I supplemented that with comments from Horace Walpole’s Journal of the Reign of King George the Third, from the Year 1771 to 1783. Walpole was the son of Britain’s first prime minister and a keen political observer.

Not until I got back from a trip was I able to confirm an odd detail: Walpole (shown here) recorded one more Member of Parliament speaking in the debate than the Parliamentary Register. His précis included:
Mr. [Thomas] Whitmore, usually a courtier, spoke for the Opposition; asked if the Houses had any terms to propose to the Americans?—if they had, what terms? Were the present measures Lord North’s, or were they forced upon him?
Whitmore didn’t make that volume of the Register at all, despite questioning Lord North—or because he usually didn’t.

By “usually a courtier,” I believe Walpole meant that Whitmore was normally part of Britain’s “court party,” a pejorative term for those supporting those in power in London. (Their opponents called themselves the “country party.” American Whigs often used the same terms since they were an acceptable way of discussing factional political organizing.)

I’m not sure who Whitmore was implicating when he asked if someone had “forced” the prime minister to adopt his American policy.

Later, in 1784, Whitmore was part of the St. Alban’s Tavern group, a caucus of members urging an alliance between William Pitt the Younger and Charles James Fox. Those legislators presented themselves as independent of parties, and apparently that’s how Whitmore was also acting back in 1776.

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