John Spencer, 3rd Earl Spencer

John Spencer, 3rd Earl Spencer

John Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl Spencer (1782-1845), known during his father's lifetime (i.e. until 1834) by his courtesy title Viscount Althorp, was an English statesman.

Early years

His father George Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer had served in the ministries of Pitt the Younger, Charles James Fox and Lord Grenville, and was First Lord of the Admiralty (1794 - 1801). He was married to the eldest daughter of Lord Lucan Their eldest son, John Charles, was born at Spencer House, London, on 30 May 1782. In 1800, after Harrow, he took up his residence at Trinity College, Cambridge, and for some time applied himself energetically to mathematical studies; but he spent most of his time in hunting and racing. In 1804 he entered parliament as a member for Okehampton in Devon. He vacated his seat in 1806, to contest the University of Cambridge against Lord Henry Petty and Lord Palmerston (when he was hopelessly beaten), but he was elected that same year for St Albans, and appointed a lord of the treasury. At the general election in November 1806, he was elected for Northamptonshire, and he continued to sit for the county until he succeeded to the peerage. For the next few years after this speech Lord Althorp occasionally spoke in debate and always on the side of Liberalism, but from 1813 to 1818 he was only rarely in the House of Commons. His absence was partly due to a feeling that it was hopeless to struggle against the will of the Tory ministry, but more particularly to his marriage on 14 April 1814, to Esther, only daughter of Richard Acklom of Wiseton Hall, Northamptonshire, who died in childbirth 1818.

Leader of the Commons

In 1819, on his return to political life, he pressed for establishing a more efficient bankruptcy court, and of expediting the recovery of small debts; and he saw both these reforms accomplished before 1825. During the greater part of the reign of George IV the Whigs lost their legitimate influence in the state from their want of cohesion, but this defect was soon remedied in 1830 when Lord Althorp was chosen their leader in the lower house, and his capacity for the position was proved by experience. In Lord Grey's government Althorp was both Leader of the House of Commons and Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was instrumental in success of the government measures. Along with Lord John Russell, he led the fight to pass the Reform Bill of 1832, making more than twenty speeches, and is generally considered the architect of its victory.

The Lords

After the dissolution of 1833 the Whig government had been slowly dying, and was further weakened by Althorp's promotion to the House of Lords following the death of his father in 1834. The new Lord Spencer abandoned the cares of office and returned to country life with unalloyed delight. Henceforth agriculture, not politics, was his principal interest. He was the first president of the Royal Agricultural Society (founded 1838), and a notable cattle-breeder. Often as he was urged by his political friends to come to their assistance, be rarely quit the peaceful pleasures which he loved. He died without issue at Wiseton on 1 October 1845, and was succeeded by his brother Frederick (d. 1857).


He had held, as a statesman, a remarkable position. The Whigs required, to carry the Reform Bill, a leader of unstained character, one to whom party spirit could not attach the suspicion of greed of office, and against Lord Althorp malevolence was powerless. No stronger proof of his pre-eminence could be given than the oft-quoted saying of Lord Hardinge that one of Croker's ablest speeches was demolished by the simple statement of Lord Althorp that he "had collected some figures which entirely refuted it, but had lost them." The trust which the house put in him then was never wanting.

Spencer Street in Melbourne, Australia, is named in his honour.



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