The Addington ministry and the interaction of foreign policy and domestic politics, 1800-1804
Historians have generally dismissed the ministry of Henry Addington as an absurd interlude in the political career of William Pitt, the Younger, and the few attempts to rehabilitate Addington have been unable to overcome the weight of this negative historiography. The focus of contemporary and historical criticism has centred on the foreign and war policies of the ministry, but this has failed to take into account the serious and interrelated diplomatic, military, social, and political problems faced by the government. Social unrest caused largely by high prices of grain, political pressure from interests that had been hurt by the closure of European markets to British trade, and a poor diplomatic and strategic position meant that peace was highly desirable but that concessions were necessary to obtain it. While the end of the war helped to resolve the social pressures upon the government and enabled it to implement some useful reforms, continued French aggression created new diplomatic problems and led to the resumption of war. The disadvantageous terms of the peace treaty and the difficulties that the ministry faced preparing for a French invasion when the war resumed fostered political opposition to the government within Parliament. These opponents of the ministry had unrealistic expectations of what the British government could accomplish because they did not understand the complexity of the problems that it faced. Lacking sufficient debating and parliamentary management skills, however, the ministry was unable to restrain a political assault led by the most talented and influential men in Parliament. Thus despite pursuing policies that were largely sensible considering the various political pressures and several of which were continued or reintroduced by future ministries, Addington chose to resign to avoid defeat in the House of Commons.