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Charles Watson-Wentworth
2nd Marquess of Rockingham
1765-66, 1782

Rockingham was the party leader of the Whigs under Newcastle, and became first lord of the treasury (prime minister) in July 1765 following Grenville's resignation.

Rockingham was a wealthy gentleman of lofty principles and he gathered his kind around him to form his government... young ambitious men of little experience and a few worn out old veterans. His supporters included Lord John Cavendish, son of the 3rd Duke of Devonshire; George Montagu, 4th Duke of Manchester; William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland; and Barlow Trecothick, a merchant who would become Lord Mayor of London in 1770. The government was not much liked by most of the gentry and was considered flimsy, with little popular support. Rockingham served with the support of the King and the Duke of Cumberland who had promoted his ministry to the King while Grenville was in office.

Rockingham's government was responsible for the repeal of the Stamp Act in February, 1766, inspired by protests in the colonies against the act that imposed duties on all official papers used in the colonies. It was a victory of sorts for the friends of the colonies in Parliament, but its passage was only made possible by the passage of another law declaring Parliament's right to make laws that were binding to the colonies. In the colonies, the popular interpretation of the repeal was that active opposition led to a lessening of British authority.

Rockingham's government, perceived as lacking support from its inception, now began to crumble from the inside following the death of the Duke of Cumberland. In April, 1766 the resignation of Grafton, one of two secretaries of state, started a chain reaction. The King approached Pitt to take on the government and in July informed Rockingham that his services would no longer be required. Pitt took over the rule of the ministry with Grafton as first Lord of the Treasury, the traditional leadership post. Pitt governed as lord privy seal and Earl of Chatham.

Rockingham again served as prime minister, in 1782. He opened peace negotiations with the Americans, championed independence for the Irish parliament and was beginning a process of reform based on Edmund Burke's "economical" ideas ( reduction of administrative waste and the elimination of sinecures) when he died suddenly in July of 1782.

Detail of painting in the National Portrait Gallery, London


1765 - The Stamp Act is passed, taxing the colonies. Virginia Assembly questions the British government's right to tax. Delegates from nine colonies meet in New York to draft a declaration of rights and liberties.
1766 - Repeal of the Stamp Act. Britain's right to tax the colonies is restated in the Declaratory Act. Mason-Dixon Line is laid down by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, two English surveyors. Theatre Royal in Bristol opens. Czarina Catherine the Great of Russia declares freedom of worship. The first paved sidewalk is finished in Westminster, London. Henry Cavendish discovers hydrogen is lighter than air.
1782 - Thomas Grenville represents British interest in Paris in negotiations with Benjamin Franklin to bring an end to the American Revolution. The Spanish take Minorca from Britain. J. C. Bach dies. Nicolo Paganini, Italian god of the violin is born. James Watt invents the double-acting rotary steam engine. In Philadelphia, the Bank of North America is founded.

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