HUSSEY, William (1724-1813), of Upper Eldon, Hants and Salisbury, Wilts.
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Family and Education
bap. 1 Jan. 1725, s. of John Hussey, mayor of Salisbury 1737, by 2nd w. Margery, wid. of Richard Rumsey of Salisbury. m. (1) 9 Oct. 1752, Mary (d. 21 May 1754), da. of John Eyre of Landford Lodge, Wilts., 1da.; (2) 5 Apr. 1758, Jane, da. of Robert Marsh, London merchant and gov. Bank of England, 1s. 1da. suc. fa. 1739.
Common councilman, Salisbury 1755, alderman 1756, mayor 1759.
Hussey sat for nearly 48 years in the House of Commons and at his death had the second longest record of continuous service of any Member in the House. Throughout this period he never gave whole-hearted approbation to any ministry and to most of them he was in declared opposition. It was therefore understandable that the Whigs wished to claim him for themselves and he did not altogether discourage them. He joined the Duke of Portland’s Whig meeting at Burlington House, 11 May 1790; was listed favourable to repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in April 1791; and if he was not listed a Portland Whig in December 1792, his support of Fox’s amendment to the address that month and subsequent support for Foxite motions against war with France might be reason enough. He was on Windham’s provisional list for a ‘third party’ in February 1793, but had no truck with it. He called Fox ‘his right honourable friend’, 8 Apr. 1794, while disagreeing with him on that occasion. On 28 May 1795 he drew attention to their agreement of opinion. He was frequently an opposition teller throughout that decade, though mostly on his own motions. He was listed ‘con’ by George Rose* for the Treasury in 1795. He was earmarked for the Board of Trade if the Whigs came into office in 1798.1 Yet he never joined the Whig Club, was not an enthusiast for parliamentary reform, subscribed £2,000 to the loyalty loan and, as Fox was well aware, disapproved of the Whig secession in 1797.2 So if he earned respect in the House it was as an independent country gentleman, upright, able and industrious.
Between 1790 and 1801 Hussey was an active and forthright critic of Pitt’s administration. His main topic, as always, was finance: he was a stickler for economy, the touchstone by which he judged all ministerial measures. He was top of the ballot (with 315 votes) for the select committee on public expenditure, 4 Apr. 1791,3 and was named to the committee to review the Prince of Wales’s expenditure on Carlton House, 3 June. He was past the age when most Members were excused committees when he was balloted for that on the Bank, 1 Mar. 1797, but he admitted, 27 Mar., that his proposals in it were not heeded. As a speaker he had ‘a disagreeable hesitation in his mode of delivery’, and while his zeal was undoubted, his suggestions usually fell on deaf ears: ‘All we have to lament is, that it should prove such an endless source of uneasiness to himself, and occasion such frequent appeals to the patience of those who are obliged to hear him’.4 He had hobbyhorses other than the public credit. Measures that discouraged ‘the honest industry of the country’, such as the malt duties, 21 Dec. 1790, and the public lottery, 19 May 1791,27 Apr. 1792, were his bugbear. He was an avowed critic of the East India Company: opposing the renewal of its charter, 25 Mar. 1791, he ‘did not blush to own that he was a proprietor and stockholder, and that he argued for his interests’. He was an opponent of the Quebec bill, as it would promote disunity in Canada, 21 Apr., 11 May 1791. He opposed the New Forest bill, 14 May 1792: ‘to provide timber for the navy was a good thing: but to provide food for the people was a better’. He was nevertheless a champion of the navy: ‘a few good ships had ten times the force for us of any land operation’, 3 Feb. 1794. On 21 Jan. 1795 he advocated the addition of 20,000 seamen to the navy; on 16 Nov. 1797 he tried to prevent a reduction of 10,000 men.
Hussey was a silent critic of Pitt’s policy towards Russia in 1791 and 1792, but he became an outspoken one of the war on the Continent against France. In 1793 he merely voted against it, until he seconded Fox’s motion of 17 June; in February 1794 he advised Pitt not to persevere in the expense of it. Subsequently he regularly voted for motions advocating peace negotiations. He particularly disliked subsidies to continental allies and on 28 Jan. and 23 Feb. 1795 exposed the Austrian loan as ‘a bankrupt bargain’. On 13 Feb. 1795 he presented a petition for peace from his constituents’. Rather than resort to burdensome taxes, the government should induce sinecurists to resign their places (8 Apr. 1794) or sell crown forests (8 May 1795) whereby they might also pay the Prince of Wales’s debts and encourage agriculture. When his proposal went unheeded he opposed Pitt’s settlement of the Prince’s affairs, 1 and 17 June 1795. He was a leading critic of the public loan contracted for Pitt by Boyd and Benfield, 8 Dec. 1795, and of Pitt’s navy funding bill, 22 Dec. 1796. Of the stoppage of cash payments by the Bank, 28 Feb. 1797, he said: ‘It was not the Bank, but the minister who had adopted this measure, in order that he might be supplied with money, which he squandered for the ruin, not for the advantage of his country’. Of this event he remarked: ‘Such a melancholy day as this for England he had hoped never to live to see’. He was an opponent of paper credit, 27 Mar. 1797, and opposed the renewal of the stoppage, 23 Nov. He subscribed £2,000 to the loyalty loan for 1797, but disclaimed any dividend in order to oppose it, 1 June 1797. He silently opposed the curtailment of liberty at home, 16, 17 May 1794 and 10 and 25 Nov. 1795. He had little to say on parliamentary reform: he opposed the disfranchisement of the burgage borough of Stockbridge as an attack on property, 11 Apr. 1793. He voted for Grey’s reform motion of 1797, but refused to secede. Emphasizing the need for peace, he opposed Pitt’s assessed taxes, 5 Dec. 1797, and subsequently the window tax, the land tax redemption bill, and a session later the income tax, by vote, 14 Dec. 1798—he had spoken in favour of one on 9 May. He voted for inquiry into the state of Ireland, 14 June 1798, but no vote against the Union is recorded.
Although he was an agricultural protectionist, he was a critic of the board of agriculture, 15, 17 May 1793, and thought that in times of scarcity distillation should be stopped, 21 Jan., 18 June, 2 Nov., 10 Dec. 1795, export of grain should be curbed and import encouraged by selective bounty, 30 Oct., 18 Nov., 14, 15 Dec. 1795, 29 Feb. 1796; otherwise he thought prices should find their own level, 16 Mar. 1795, but if he had to chose between regulating prices or wages, he would choose the former, 12 Feb. 1796. He was a member of the select committee on the price of corn, 4 Nov. 1795, and voluntarily cut bread consumption in his family by a third, 11 Dec. He opposed the tobacco duty because among ‘the lowest classes of the people’ it was ‘a substitute for many other necessaries of life’, 14 Dec. Although he wished to see waste lands cultivated, he described the general enclosure bill as inadequate, 20 Mar., 22 Apr. 1796. He was a champion of canals, 1 Mar. 1793, and opposed taxes on them, 3 July 1797.
Hussey voted steadily against Pitt in his last year in office, seconding Western’s censure motion of 9 July 1800. On Addington’s succession to power, he voted for Grey’s censure motion, 25 Mar. 1801, but subsequently appeared infrequently in the minority lists. He voted against indemnification of government for their use of informers during the war, 5 June 1801, and was in the minorities on the civil list questions, 29 and 31 Mar. 1802. In the Parliament of 1802 his attendance fell off, until the resumption of war was imminent, when he voted against Addington, 24 May 1803. He had ceased to figure in debate (no speech is known after 10 June 1801). Only one minority vote of his, against the war in Ceylon, 14 Mar. 1804, is known between then and Addington’s fall.
He was listed ‘Fox’ in May 1804, ‘Fox and Grenville’ in September 1804 and ‘Opposition’ in July 1805. His votes against Pitt’s additional force bill in June 1804 and in the majorities against Melville in 1805 attest it. His attitude to the Grenville ministry was not explicit. He was listed ‘friendly’ to the abolition of the slave trade (for which he had voted on 15 Mar. 1796). In January 1807 he took leave, extended until the dissolution, for infirmity. He did the same for the session of 1808 and was clearly a spent force. Although a number of opposition votes between February 1809 and May 1811 were attributed to Hussey, they were possibly those of Thomas Hussey*. Apart from his vote for Wardle’s motion on 15 Mar. 1809, there is no clear evidence of his reappearance at Westminster, though he was listed by the Whigs as one of their adherents in 1810 and invited to join the Friends of Constitutional Reform in 1811.
Hussey died 26 Jan. 1813. He had been a considerable benefactor to his native town and on 15 Nov. 1809, the 50th anniversary of his mayoralty, had been thanked by the corporation for his parliamentary services. He did not take the hint and dissatisfaction developed. In his will he left £3,000 for the support of ten almshouses he had entrusted to the corporation in 1794.5