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Charles Watson Wentworth Rockingham

ROCKINGHAM, Charles Watson Wentworth, Marquis of, English statesman, born in England, 19 March, 1780; died in Wimbledon, Surrey, England, 1 July, 1782. He attached himself with ardor to the Whig party in his youth, escaping from home in December, 1745, to bear arms in the army of the Duke of Cumberland against the last of the Stuarts. The Hanoverian princes rewarded his devotion with distinctions and honors. In 1750 he succeeded his father in the marquisate. The reactionary course of George III. impelled him to resign his office of lord chamberlain, and on the death of the Duke of Devonshire in 1764 he became the recognized chief of the Whig party, and was called on 30 June, 1765, to preside over a cabinet. The principal task that he set before himself was to restore a harmonious feeling between the mother country and the colonies in North America, exasperated as they had been by the measures of the preceding ministry. In this object he was opposed by the king and was not supported by his colleagues. The ministry made a show of carrying the stamp-act into execution, but recoiled from the work of enforcing it with the bayonet, and when the manifestations in America had made clear the state of feeling there, Rockingham was able, in March, 1766, to secure the repeal of the stamp duties. Before he succeeded in redeeming his promise to remove the restrictions on commerce or to carry further measures of conciliation he was compelled, by the defection of the Duke of Grafton and the ill will of the king, to give up the seals of office in 5 May. During the ministries of the Duke of Grafton and Lord North he combated the errors of his successors, and led in opposition the younger statesmen that finally repaired them. At the height of the crisis, when England, distracted by faction, had to face a coalition of France, Spain, and the United States, Rockingham was again called to the direction of affairs, but had scarcely taken up the work when he died. He accepted office on the express condition that peace should be concluded with the United States, and began negotiations with the belligerents. In the earlier stages of the conflict Rockingham and his secretary, Edmund Burke, were not inclined to accept the claims of the colonists to immunity from taxation mid from parliamentary control that were supported by William Pitt. Rockingham was the representative of the aristocratic traditions of the Whig party, while Pitt was the precursor of Democratic ideas. He was not an orator, and as a man of affairs was hampered by a timid disposition. Yet his good sense and his uprightness in a period of corruption and intrigue aided in regenerating the Whig party. Burke, in eulogizing his patron, said that "in opposition he respected the principles of government, and in the ministry protected the liberties of the people." See the Earl of Albemarle's "Memoirs of the Marquis of Rockingham and his Contemporaries" (London, 1852).

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