Birth of William Petty, Earl of Shelburne, Whig Prime Minister 1782-83

An intellectual, the 2nd Earl of Shelburne numbered Jeremy Bentham, Samuel Johnson and Benjamin Franklin amongst his friends. He was one of the first politicians to advocate free trade, a position he put down to debating with Adam Smith. Prior to his entry into politics, Shelburne had a distinguished military career, serving during the Seven Year’s War. In parliament Shelburne served briefly as MP for Wycombe 1760-61 and joined George Grenville’s government as First Lord of Trade, later serving as the first Home Secretary. He succeeded the Marquess of Rockingham as Prime Minister following the latter’s sudden death in July 1782. Shelburne’s hold on power was tenuous and his government lasted only 266 days. His main achievement was to conclude a peace treaty with the US. Although he was only 45 when he lost power, he never returned to government and ceased to play an active political role.