David Hartley (the Younger)

David Hartley (the Younger)

David Hartley, the younger (1732 – 19 December 1813), statesman, scientific inventor, and the son of the philosopher David Hartley. He was Member of Parliament (MP) for Kingston upon Hull, and also held the position of His Britannic Majesty's Minister Plenipotentiary, appointed by King George III to treat with the United States of America. He was a signatory to the Treaty of Paris. Hartley was the first MP to put the case for abolition of the slave trade before the House of Commons, moving a resolution in 1776 that "the slave trade is contrary to the laws of God and the rights of men".[1]



Hartley was born in Bath, Somerset, England in 1732. He matriculated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford on 6 April 1747 at the age of 15. He was awarded his B.A. on 14 March 1750 and was a fellow of Merton College, Oxford until his death. He became a student of Lincoln's Inn in 1759. During the 1760s he gained recognition as a scientist and, through mutual interests, he met and became an intimate friend and correspondent of Benjamin Franklin. Hartley was sympathetic to the Lord Rockingham's Whigs, although he did not hold office in either Rockingham ministry. He represented Kingston upon Hull in parliament from 1774 to 1780, and from 1782 to 1784, and attained considerable reputation as an opponent of the war with America, and of the African slave trade.

He was expert in public finance and spoke frequently in parliament in opposition to the war in America. Although a liberal on American policy, Hartley was a long-time friend of Lord North and strongly disliked the Prime Minister, Shelburne. He supported the Coalition by voting against Shelburne's peace preliminaries. It was probably owing to his friendship with Franklin, and to his consistent support of Lord Rockingham, that he was selected by the government to act as plenipotentiary in Paris, where on 3 September 1783 he and Franklin drew up and signed the definitive treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States of America. He died at Bath on 19 December 1813 in his eighty-second year.

His portrait was painted by George Romney and has been engraved by J. Walker in mezzotint. Nathaniel William Wraxall says that Hartley, "though destitute of all personal recommendation of manner, possessed some talent with unsullied probity, added to indefatigable perseverance and labour." He adds that his speeches were intolerably long and dull, and that "his rising always operated like a dinner bell" (Memoirs, iii. 490).


Hartley's writings are mostly political, and set forth the arguments of the extreme liberals of his time. In 1764 he wrote a vigorous attack on the Bute administration, "inscribed to the man who thinks himself a minister." His most important writings are his Letters on the American War, published in London in 1778 and 1779, and addressed to his constituents. "The road," he writes, "is open to national reconciliation between Great Britain and America. The ministers have no national object in view . . . the object was to establish an influential dominion of the crown by means of an independent American revenue uncontrolled by parliament." He seeks throughout to vindicate the opposition to the war. In 1794 he printed at Bath a sympathetic Argument on the French Revolution, addressed to his parliamentary electors.

Hartley edited his father's well-known Observations on Man, in London 1791 and (with notes and additions) in 1801.

In 1859 a number of Hartley's papers were sold in London. Six volumes of letters and other documents relating to the peace went to America and passed into the collection of L.Z. Leiter of Washington; others are in the British Museum.


In his last years, Hartley studied chemistry and mechanics. In 1785 he published Account of a Method of Securing Buildings and Ships against Fire, by placing thin iron planks under floors and attaching them to the ceilings, partly to prevent immediate access of the fire, and partly to stop the free supply of air. He built a house on Putney Heath to verify the efficacy of his invention. An obelisk was built on the heath, adjacent to Tibbet's corner 1776 marking the Lord Mayor of London's decision to give Hartley £2,500 for work on his fire plates. It makes mention of its being erected on the 110th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. On the occasion of a fire at Richmond House, on 21 December 1791, he wrote a pamphlet urging the value of his fire plates.

The brick obelisk with heavily inscribed foundation stone still stands on Putney Heath, near where the A219 veers from the A3 at Tibbet's Corner, towards Putney. There is no parking at the site; however there is parking and footpath access from near the adjacent Telegraph Pub, off Wildcroft Road. Since 1955 the obelisk has been a Grade II listed building.[2]

One side of the upper and lower case inscription reads: By VIRTUE of an ORDER of the Right Hon. the LORD MAYOR ALDERMEN and COMMONS of the CITY of LONDON in Common Council Assembled Dated the 22nd. November 1776 DAVID HARTLEY Esq. was admitted into the FREEDOM of the said CITY in the COMPANY of GOLDSMITHS in the time of the Rt. Hon Sr. THOMAS HALLIFAX KNt. LORD MAYOR and BENJAMIN HOPKINS ESQ CHAMBERLAIN in CONSIDERATION of the ADVANTAGES likely to accrue to the PUBLIC by his INVENTION of FIRE PLATES for securing buildings from FIRE and for his respectful attention to this CITY in his repeated EXPERIMENTS performed before many of the members of the COURT. The RECORD of which EXPERIMENTS and also of his admission into the FREEDOM of the said CITY of LONDON is entered in the BOOK signed with the letter R[…?]c IN WITNESS whereof the SEAL of the Office of CHAMBERLAIN thereunto affixed DATED in the GUILD-HALL of the same CITY the 26th. day of March in the 17th. Year of the Reign of Our SOVEREIGN LORD GEORGE the THIRD &c And in the Year of Our LORD MDCCLXXVII[3]


  1. ^ The History of the Rise, Progress and Abolition of the African Slave-Trade (1839), Thomas Clarkson (available at Project Gutenberg)
  2. ^ http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-207057-hartley-memorial-obelisk-north-east-of-w Hartley Memorial Obelisk (north East of Wildcroft Manor), Putney
  3. ^ http://www.flickr.com/photos/sarflondondunc/4502701874/in/photostream/ Obelisk To David Hartley — Putney Heath
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
William Weddell
Lord Robert Manners
Member of Parliament for Kingston Upon Hull
1774 – 1780
With: Lord Robert Manners
Succeeded by
William Wilberforce
Lord Robert Manners
Preceded by
Lord Robert Manners
William Wilberforce
Member of Parliament for Kingston Upon Hull
1782 – 1784
With: William Wilberforce
Succeeded by
Samuel Thornton
William Wilberforce

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