George Cornewall Lewis

The Right Honourable
Sir George Cornewall Lewis
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
28 February 1855  21 February 1858
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister The Viscount Palmerston
Preceded by William Ewart Gladstone
Succeeded by Benjamin Disraeli
Home Secretary
In office
18 June 1859  25 July 1861
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister The Viscount Palmerston
Preceded by Thomas H. Sotheron-Estcourt
Succeeded by Sir George Grey, Bt
Personal details
Born 21 April 1806 (2016-12-09UTC03:03:27)
Died 13 April 1863(1863-04-13) (aged 56)
Nationality British
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) Lady Maria Theresa Villiers
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford

Sir George Cornewall Lewis, 2nd Baronet PC (21 April 1806  13 April 1863) was a British statesman and man of letters. He is best known for preserving the peace in 1862 when the British cabinet debated intervention into the American Civil War. Proponents such as Chancellor of the Exchequer William Gladstone, Foreign Minister Russell and Prime Minister Palmerston favored the Confederacy. They worried about the danger of an extremely bloody race war in the United States, and wanted to restore the supply of urgently needed raw cotton for the Lancashire textile industry. Lewis was a strong opponent, warning that there were very high risks to British interests. His views finally prevailed and the British remained neutral throughout the Civil War.[1]


He was born in London, the son of Thomas Frankland Lewis of Harpton Court, Radnorshire and his wife Harriet Cornewall. Thomas, after holding subordinate office in various administrations, became a poor-law commissioner, and was made a baronet in 1846.

His maternal grandparents were Sir George Cornewall, 2nd Baronet and Catherine Cornewall, daughter of Velters Cornewall.


Lewis was educated at Eton College and at Christ Church, Oxford, where in 1828 he earned a first-class in classics and a second-class in mathematics. He then entered the Middle Temple, and was called to the bar in 1831.

Inquiry into Ireland

In 1833 he undertook his first public work as one of the commissioners to inquire into the condition of the poor Irish residents in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1834 Lord Althorp included him in the commission to inquire into the state of church property and church affairs in Ireland. To this fact we owe his work on Local Disturbances in Ireland, and the Irish Church Question (London, 1836), in which he condemned the existing connection between church and state, proposed a state provision for the Catholic clergy, and maintained the necessity of an efficient workhouse organization.


During this period Lewis's mind was occupied with the study of language. Before leaving college he had published some observations on Richard Whately's doctrine of the predicables, and soon afterward he assisted Connop Thirlwall and Julius Charles Hare in starting the Philological Museum. Its successor was the Classical Museum which he also supported "by occasional contributions.

In 1835 he published an Essay on the Origin and Formation of the Romance Languages (re-edited in 1862), the first effective criticism in United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland of François Juste Marie Raynouard's theory of a uniform romance tongue, represented by the poetry of the troubadours.

He also compiled a glossary of provincial words used in Herefordshire and the adjoining counties. But the most important work of this earlier period was one to which his logical and philological tastes contributed. The Remarks on the Use and Abuse of some Political Terms (London, 1832) may have been suggested by Jeremy Bentham's Book of Parliamentary Fallacies, but it shows all that power of clear, original thinking which marks his larger and later political works.

Translations and reports

Moreover, he translated Philipp August Böckh's Public Economy of Athens and Muller's History of Greek Literature, and he assisted Henry Tufnell in the translation of Müller's Dorians. Some time afterward he edited a text of the Fables of Babrius.

While his friend Abraham Hayward conducted the Law Magazine, he wrote in it frequently on such subjects as secondary punishments and the penitentiary system. In 1836, at the request of Charles Grant, 1st Baron Glenelg, he accompanied John Austin to Malta, where they spent nearly two years reporting on the condition of the island and framing a new code of laws.

One leading object of both commissioners was to associate the Maltese in the responsible government of the island. On his return to Britain, Lewis succeeded his father as one of the principal poor-law commissioners. The Essay on the Government of Dependencies appeared in 1841, a systematic statement and discussion of the various relations in which colonies may stand towards the mother country.


In 1844 Lewis married Lady Maria Theresa Villiers, a lady of literary tastes. She was a daughter of George Villiers and Theresa Parker and younger sister of George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon. She was the widow of novelist Thomas Henry Lister and mother of three children by her previous marriage. Much of their married life was spent in Kent House, Knightsbridge. They had no children. His wife and her family promoted Lewis's career.[2]

Government positions

In 1847 Lewis resigned his office. He was then returned for the county of Hereford, and Lord John Russell appointed him Secretary to the Board of Control, but a few months afterward he became Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs. In this capacity he introduced two important bills, one for the abolition of turnpike trusts and the management of highways by a mixed county board, the other for the purpose of defining and regulating the law of parochial assessment.

In 1850 he succeeded Hayter as Financial Secretary to the Treasury. About this time, his Essay on the Influence of Authority in Matters of Opinion was published. From 1853 to 1854 he sat on Royal Commission on the City of London.[3]

Magazine editor

On the dissolution of parliament which followed the resignation of Lord John Russell's ministry in 1852, Lewis sought re-election in the United Kingdom general election, 1852. He was defeated for Herefordshire and then for Peterborough. Excluded from parliament he accepted the editorship of the Edinburgh Review, and remained editor until 1855.

During this period he served on the Oxford commission, and on the commission to inquire into the government of London. But its chief fruits were the Treatise on the Methods of Observation and Reasoning in Politics, and the Enquiry into the Credibility of the Early Roman History, in which he vigorously attacked the theory of epic lays and other theories on which Barthold Georg Niebuhr's reconstruction of that history was based.

Return to government

In 1855 Lewis succeeded his father in the baronetcy. He was at once elected member for the Radnor boroughs, and Lord Palmerston made him Chancellor of the Exchequer. He had a war loan to contract and heavy additional taxation to impose, but his industry, method and clear vision carried him safely through.

After the change of ministry in 1859 Sir George became Home Secretary under Lord Palmerston, and in 1861, much against his wish, he succeeded Sidney Herbert (Lord Herbert of Lea) at the War Office. In that role he successfully argued against Russell's call for British mediation in the American Civil War in the autumn of 1862.

Final works

In 1859 he published the Essay on Foreign Jurisdiction and the Extradition of Criminals, a subject to which the attempt on Napoleon III's life, the discussions on the Conspiracy Bill, and the trial of Bernard, had drawn general attention. He advocated the extension of extradition treaties, and condemned the principal idea of Weltrechtsordnung which Professor Robert von Mohl of Heidelberg had proposed.

His two final works were the Survey of the Astronomy of the Ancients, in which, without professing any knowledge of Oriental languages, he applied a sceptical analysis to the ambitious Egyptology of Bunsen; and the Dialogue on the Best Form of Government, in which, under the name of Crito, the author points out to the supporters of the various systems that there is no one abstract government which is the best possible for all times and places. An essay on the Characteristics of Federal, National, Provincial and Municipal Government does not seem to have been published.


Monument near New Radnor

A marble bust of Sir George, by Weekes, stands in Westminster Abbey. A large monument was built in memory of Sir George Cornewall Lewis in the small village of New Radnor, Powys after he died and still stands today, as does a statue in front of the Shirehall in Hereford. Lewis's large circle of friends included Sir E. Head, the Grotes, the Austins, Lord Stanhope, John Stuart Mill, Dean Milman, and the Duff Gordons. In public life he was described by Lord Aberdeen as notable "for candour, moderation, love of truth". According to Geoffrey Madan, although invited by Queen Victoria each year to stay at Balmoral, he never accepted.[4] Historian J. P. Parry argued that had Lewis lived he and not William Ewart Gladstone might have come to lead the Liberal Party

Wikisource has original text related to this article:


  1. Howard Jones, Blue & Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations (2010).
  2. D. A. Smith, ‘Lewis , Lady (Maria) Theresa (1803–1865)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 accessed 28 Dec 2014
  3. "List of commissions and officials: 1850-1859 (nos. 53-94)". Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 9. 1984. Retrieved 2008-03-10.
  4. J.A.Gere and John Sparrow (ed.), Geoffrey Madan's Notebooks, Oxford University Press, 1981
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Kedgwin Hoskins
Thomas Baskerville
Joseph Bailey
Member of Parliament for Herefordshire
With: Francis Wegg-Prosser 18471852
Joseph Bailey to 1850
Thomas William Booker-Blakemore from 1850
Succeeded by
James King King
Charles Kincaid-Lennox
Thomas Booker
Preceded by
Sir Thomas Lewis, Bt
Member of Parliament for Radnor
Succeeded by
Richard Green-Price
Political offices
Preceded by
George Stevens Byng
Joint Secretary to the Board of Control
Succeeded by
James Wilson
Preceded by
Sir Denis Le Marchant, Bt
Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
Succeeded by
Edward Pleydell-Bouverie
Preceded by
William Goodenough Hayter
Financial Secretary to the Treasury
Succeeded by
George Alexander Hamilton
Preceded by
William Ewart Gladstone
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
Benjamin Disraeli
Preceded by
Thomas Sotheron-Estcourt
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
Sir George Grey, Bt.
Preceded by
Sidney Herbert
Secretary of State for War
Succeeded by
The Earl De Grey
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Thomas Lewis
(of Harpton Court)
Succeeded by
Gilbert Lewis
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 5/9/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.