Canning, George


Address leaf in Canning’s hand with franking signature and his black wax seal



Type: Franked address leaf
Description: (1770-1827) British Tory statesman, Foreign Secretary 1807-09 & 1822-27, PM April-August 1827, the last 119 days of his life.

Canning entered politics in 1793 and rose rapidly. He was Paymaster of the Forces 1800-01, Treasurer of the Navy 1804–1806 under Wm. Pitt the Younger. Canning was Foreign Secretary under the Duke of Portland 1807-09, the dominant figure in the cabinet and directed the Battle of Copenhagen, the seizure of the Danish fleet in 1807 to assure Britain’s naval supremacy over Napoleon.

In 1809, he was wounded in a duel with rival Lord Castlereagh and was shortly thereafter passed over as a successor to the Duke of Portland in favor of Spencer Perceval. He rejected overtures to serve as Foreign Secretary again because of Castlereagh’s presence in Perceval’s Cabinet and was out of high office until after Perceval’s 1812 assassination. He was Ambassador to Portugal 1814-16 under PM the Earl of Liverpool, President of the Board of Control 1816-21, and Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons 1822-27. King George IV disliked Canning and there were efforts to frustrate his foreign policies, but Canning gained much public support for his policies.

When Lord Liverpool resigned in April 1827, Canning succeeded him as Prime Minister, ahead of the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel. Both declined to serve under Canning and the Tories split between Peel and Wellington’s Ultra-Tories and Canningites. Canning then invited several Whigs to join his cabinet. His health collapsed, and he died of pneumonia while still in office after 119 days.

In 1809 Canning argued with the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, Lord Castlereagh, over deployment of troops that Canning had promised would be sent to Portugal, but which Castlereagh sent to the Netherlands. The government became increasingly paralyzed. Canning threatened resignation unless Castlereagh were removed and replaced by Lord Wellesley. Portland secretly agreed to make the change when possible. Castlereagh discovered the deal in September 1809 and challenged Canning to a duel, fought on 21 September 1809. Canning, who had never before fired a pistol, widely missed his mark. Castlereagh wounded Canning in the thigh. There was much outrage that two cabinet ministers had resorted to such a method. Shortly afterwards the ailing Portland resigned as PM and the King appointed Spencer Perceval, and Canning left office once more. He took consolation in the fact that Castlereagh also stood down.

Upon Perceval’s 1812 assassination, new Prime Minister Lord Liverpool offered Canning the position of Foreign Secretary once more. Canning refused, as he also wished to be Leader of the House of Commons and was reluctant to serve in any government with Castlereagh. Castlereagh was appointed Foreign Secretary by Liverpool, replacing Wellesley who had resigned, remaining until his August 1822 suicide, overseeing British participation in the final years of the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna which redrew the map of Europe. Canning succeeded him as Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons. He supported the growing campaign for abolition of slavery and continued many of Castlereagh’s foreign policies, incl. the view that the European powers (Russia, France, etc.) should not be allowed to meddle in affairs of other states. He also prevented the United States from opening trade with the British West Indies.

During his 1st period in the Foreign Office (1807–09), Canning was deeply involved in the affairs of Spain, Portugal and Latin America. In his 2nd term of office, he sought successfully to prevent South America from coming into the French sphere of influence. He helped guarantee the independence of Brazil and the Spanish colonies, acting in support of the Monroe Doctrine and aiding British merchants to open new markets across South and Central America. By granting recognition to Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Brazil he brought these new states into the European system of trade and diplomacy, while blocking further colonization. Canning was the 1st Foreign Secretary to devote a large proportion of his time and energies to the affairs of Latin America (as well as to those of Spain and Portugal) and to foresee the important political and economic role Latin American states would one day play in the world.

In 1827, Liverpool was forced to stand down as PM after suffering a severe stroke. Canning, as Liverpool’s right-hand man, was chosen by George IV to succeed him. Canning’s health by this time was in steep decline: he died from tuberculosis that year.

4 ¾ x 4 ¾ front and back panel from a folded letter address sheet, addressed by Canning to the Countess Dowager of Erroll, Grove Farm, Brompton, with his franking signature; on bottom is Canning’s black wax seal.  Undated but 1819-27.

William Hay, 17th Earl of Erroll (1772-1819), known as Lord Hay to 1778, Scottish peer who succeeded to the earldom of Erroll in 1798. In 1816, he married, thirdly, to Harriet Somerville (d.1864). Lord Erroll died in 1819, his widow, the Dowager Countess of Erroll, died in 1864.

Condition: Very Good, mounted on heavier paper, sight soiling

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