William, 2nd Viscount Melbourne

1834, 1835 - 1841

Melbourne’s (1779-1848) first “reforming” measure, the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, replaced mostly Tory-controlled corporations with Whig-controlled electoral boroughs with a middle-class franchise; it was the local government equivalent of the 1832 Reform Act. With a Tory majority in the Lords and his Commons majority dependent on Radicals and Daniel O’Connell’s (1775-1847) Irish supporters, Melbourne could not thereafter pass much constructive legislation. His economic management was also poor, with continual budget deficits and a sluggish economy.

However, from 1837 he was able to concentrate on mentoring the young Victoria, teaching her much valuable Constitutional lore, albeit from a regrettably Whig perspective. After he engineered her refusal to accept Tory ladies in waiting in 1839, his government staggered on for an extra two years, but they were unproductive.

As a human being, Melbourne is highly sympathetic, and his generation of moderate Whigs included the notably capable figures of Lansdowne and Palmerston (1784-1865), but as prime minister he was somewhat below average, somewhere in the third quartile.

© 2020 Martin Hutchinson