Lord Dartmouth was a philanthropist and statesman whose actions precipitated the American Revolution. He was known as “the good Lord Dartmouth” by his contemporaries. The life of Legge was typical of an eighteenth-century English landed elitist born into wealth and privilege.
His education included Westminster School and Trinity College, Oxford, where he was born on June 20, 1731. His education was followed by a grand tour of the Continent with his stepbrother, Frederick North, an important part of a young gentleman’s maturation process during the eighteenth century. As part of his travels abroad between 1751 and 1754, William Legge visited Leipzig University, Venice, Florence, and Paris.
Frances Nicholl, daughter of Sir Charles Gunter Nicholl, became Legge’s fiancee when he returned to England in the spring of 1754. Nine children were born to the couple after they were married in January 1755. On May 31, 1754, William Legge took a seat in England’s House of Lords after succeeding his grandfather as earl of Dartmouth in 1750. Lord Dartmouth wasn’t particularly interested in politics, preferring to focus on his family and philanthropic work, but he quickly gained a reputation as a staunch Whig who put government stability at the forefront of his priorities.
As a member of the newly formed Whig government, Dartmouth was invited by Lord Rockingham in 1765. The first lord of trade position was offered to Dartmouth on July 19, 1765. He played an important role in advocating for the repeal of the historic Stamp Act during his year as the president of the Board of Trade. Lord Dartmouth gained a considerable reputation as someone sympathetic to colonists during the Stamp Act crisis of 1765 because of his actions during the Stamp Act crisis.
A good example of these actions was his support of a measure that required colonial assemblies to compensate victims of the Stamp Act riots. The English government retained its legislative power over its colonies throughout Dartmouth’s political career due to the Declaratory Act, which strengthened its legislative authority. The intense political infighting that emerged after the Stamp Act crisis led Dartmouth to resign as president of the Board of Trade on July 30, 1766. As a result of his frustration at his lack of power, Dartmouth sought a secretaryship, but Sir William Pitt, first earl of Chatham, who replaced Lord Rockingham, refused to support the request.
In order to avoid politics, Lord Dartmouth temporarily stepped aside. The Dartmouth College secretaryship was awarded in 1772. Yet another new government led by his stepbrother, Lord North, appointed him secretary of state for the colonies. In his role as secretary of state, Dartmouth was intimately linked to the affairs of the colonies and became a member of the inner circle of royal advisers. Even though Dartmouth was sympathetic to the colonists’ demands, he regarded their protests, especially the Boston Tea Party and its aftermath, as a “most unwarrantable insult to this Kingdom’s authority,” and made it his priority to ensure that the colonies were independent.
Dartmouth decided once again to remove himself from politics as tensions mounted and it became increasingly apparent that Parliament would not be able to ensure colonial dependence in 1775, but his political career did not end with this resignation.
Following this, Lord Dartmouth continued to provide advisory services to the English government for the next seven years. Having received the title of lord privy seal-a post with significantly less responsibility than secretary-on November 10, 1775, Dartmouth supported the government of his stepbrother, Lord North, until it fell in 1782, at which time he renounced the privy seal. In addition to his piety and philanthropy, Dartmouth was a loving and caring father.
BD Bargar, Dartmouth’s biographer, describes him as a “sincerely pious Anglican” and argues that Lord Dartmouth engaged in numerous good works in order to transform the Anglican Church “from within.” Dartmouth’s most well-known philanthropic act was to establish the Indian Charity School in New Hampshire, which became Dartmouth College after 1769. July 7, 1801, marked the death of Lord Dartmouth. Read More – Hernando de Soto – Conquistador, Explorer, and Economist