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Dartmouth, Lord (1731–1801)

Known to his contemporaries as “the good Lord Dartmouth,” William Legge, second earl of Dartmouth, was a philanthropist and statesman who played an important role in precipitating the American Revolution. Legge’s life was characteristic of a man born into the wealth and privilege of eighteenth-century England’s landed elite. Born on June 20, 1731, he was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Oxford. Following his education, Legge and his stepbrother, Frederick North, went on a grand tour of the Continent, which, during the eighteenth century, was considered an essential part of the maturation process of all young gentlemen. Legge remained abroad from 1751 to 1754 and visited such places as the University of Leipzig, Venice, Florence, and Paris. Upon his return to England in the spring of 1754, Legge became engaged to Frances Nicholl, daughter of Sir Charles Gunter Nicholl. The two were married in January 1755 and had nine children. In 1750, Legge had succeeded his grandfather as earl of Dartmouth, and, on May 31, 1754, he took a seat in England’s House of Lords. Although he was not particularly interested in politics preferring to focus on his family and philanthropic work Lord Dartmouth quickly gained a reputation as a staunch Whig and made governmental stability a primary concern. In 1765, Lord Rockingham invited Dartmouth to become a member of his newly formed Whig government. Dartmouth accepted the position of first lord of trade on July 19, 1765. During his year as president of the Board of Trade, Dartmouth was faced with the controversy surrounding the historic Stamp Act, and he played a critical role in arguing for its repeal. Dartmouth’s actions during the Stamp Act crisis became well known among his contemporaries and gained him a considerable reputation as someone who was sympathetic to the plight of the colonists. An example of these actions was his supporting a measure that required colonial assemblies to pay reparations to individuals who suffered losses during the Stamp Act riots. Throughout his political career, however, Dartmouth remained loyal to Parliament and to the principles of the Declaratory Act, which bolstered the legislative authority of the English government over its colonies. Dartmouth resigned as president of the Board of Trade on July 30, 1766, amid the intense political infighting that emerged in the wake of the Stamp Act crisis. Frustrated at his lack of power, Dartmouth made a bid for a secretaryship, but the man who had replaced Lord Rockingham, Sir William Pitt, first earl of Chatham, would not support such a move. Dartmouth temporarily removed himself from politics. In 1772, Dartmouth obtained the coveted secretaryship. He became secretary of state for the colonies in yet another new government led by his stepbrother, Lord North. As secretary of state, Dartmouth became a member of the innermost circle of royal advisers and intimately tied to the affairs of the colonies. Although he remained sympathetic to the demands of the colonists, Dartmouth viewed their acts of protest, especially the Boston Tea Party and its aftermath, as a “most unwarrantable insult to the authority of this Kingdom,” and made it his priority to secure “the dependence of the colonies.” As tensions mounted and it became increasingly apparent that Parliament would not be able to ensure colonial dependence, Dartmouth decided once again to remove himself from politics and resigned his post as secretary of state in 1775, but this did not mark the end of his political life. Dartmouth remained involved in English government in various advisory capacities for the next seven years. He received the title of lord privy seal a post with significantly less responsibility than secretary on November 10, 1775, and continued to support the government of his stepbrother, Lord North, until its demise in 1782, at which time Dartmouth gave up the privy seal. William Legge, second earl of Dartmouth, served in the British government as secretary of state for the colonies from 1772 to 1775. While sympathetic to the plight of the colonists, he regarded their acts of defiance as “unwarrantable.” (Coram Foundation, Foundling Museum, London, United Kingdom/Bridgeman Art Library) Throughout his life, Dartmouth remained a pious and philanthropic family man. His biographer, historian B. D. Bargar, describes Dartmouth as a “sincerely pious Anglican” and argues that Dartmouth sought to reform the Anglican Church “from within” by engaging in numerous good works. Perhaps Dartmouth’s most well-known act of philanthropy was his direct involvement in the creation of the Indian Charity School in New Hampshire, which, after 1769, became known as Dartmouth College. Lord Dartmouth died on July 7, 1801. Michael A. Rembis See also: Board of Trade; Stamp Act (1765). Bibliography Bargar, B. D. Lord Dartmouth and the American Revolution. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1965. Thomas, P. D. G. British Politics and the Stamp Act Crisis: The First Phase of the American Revolution, 1763–1767. Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1975. Lordsiegelbewahrer – Wikiwand NPG L146; The Death of the Earl of Chatham – Portrait – National … Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington, Whig, 1742-1743 | Prime …

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