Although actually the Second Earl of Guilford by inheritance, Sir Frederick North was best known by the courtesy title of Lord North. The honorary title was given to North when he became prime minister, and he used it until his father’s death in 1790.
Born April 13, 1732, North attended Eton and Oxford, an education that provided him with good social and political contacts, who proved helpful to him when he entered Parliament at the age of 22. As the representative for the town of Banbury, North remained in Parliament for nearly forty years. The Duke of Newcastle made him lord of the treasury in 1759, a position he held under both John Stuart Bute and George Greenville until 1765. North was a natural politician who rose through the government, first entering the Privy Council and becoming paymaster general in 1766, then being made chancellor of the exchequer in 1767. He became prime minister in March 1770, a post he held for the next twelve years. This was a time of unprecedented turmoil for the British Empire, and North had few friends by the time his ministerial position ended.
Although a man of notable intelligence and undeniable ability, North, while prime minister, allowed himself to be placed into the unenviable position of pawn between king, Parliament, and the colonies. Private letters between North and the king reveal that there was the intimacy and confidentiality of friendship between them, which possibly explains the compliance of North. As minister, North was in a difficult position. It was his task to defend measures he neither created nor approved. This required him to engage in debates in the House of Commons with some of the ablest orators of the period, particularly Charles J. Fox and Edmund Burke, with little or no support except from a few champions of the Crown, who were paid for their help. While North’s time as prime minister lasted twelve years, the American Revolution was certainly the most important event during his service, and he was one of the main participants in the action. In the past, critics and some historians have wrongfully charged North with pushing the colonies toward independence, but this is not entirely the case. In nearly every circumstance where North presided over legislative activities placing him at odds with the colonies, he was following the orders of the Crown. Nevertheless, North’s first act as head of the government was the retention of the tea duties. Later, in 1774, North introduced the Boston Port Bill.
After the war erupted, North counseled the king to sue for peace and reconciliation with the colonies. North might have succeeded, but outside forces swayed the king. Of questionable mental stability, the king was persuaded by his advisers that it would be better to wage war even though, by 1779, many considered it impossible to win than to let another Whig-dominated government come to power. Having heard about the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, North resigned from his position as prime minister in March 1782.
Sir Frederick North, commonly known as Lord North, served as British prime minister from 1770 to 1782 and is remembered for his role in losing the American colonies. He resigned after the British surrender at Yorktown. (San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, California/Bridgeman Art Library) Lord North re-entered politics in April 1783, when he formed a coalition with his former political opponent Charles J. Fox. North and Fox shared the position of secretary of state under the premiership of the duke of Portland, but the coalition ministry collapsed in December 1783, when Fox’s East India bill was rejected by Parliament. Suffering from failing eyesight, North dropped entirely out of public life. Although completely blind by 1789, he made a final political appearance in Parliament to offer his support to the Regency bill. He died in London on August 5, 1792. Solomon K. Smith See also: Boston Port Bill; Revolutionary War. Bibliography Thomas, Peter D. Lord North. New York: St. Martin’s, 1976. Valentine, Alan C. Lord North. 2 vols. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967. Whiteley, Peter. Lord North: The Prime Minister Who Lost America. London: Hambledon Press, 1996.