BAKER, William (1743-1824), of Bayfordbury, Herts.
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Family and Education
b. 3 Oct. 1743, 1st s. of Sir William Baker. educ. Eton 1753-60; Clare, Camb. 1761; I. Temple 1761, called 1775. m. (1) 23 May 1771, Juliana (d. 23 Apr. 1772), da. of Thomas Penn of Stoke Park, Bucks., gd.-da. of William Penn, gov. of Pennsylvania, 1da.; (2) 7 Oct. 1775, Sophia, da. of John Conyers of Copt Hall, Essex, 9s. 6da. suc. fa. 1770.
Sheriff, London and Mdx. 1770-1; bencher, I. Temple 1808, reader 1818.
Baker, according to his obituary notice in the Gentleman’s Magazine (1824, i. 183), ‘was bred up as a country gentleman’; and from the London directories it appears that his younger brother Samuel took over their father’s business. Yet in the lists of Members of the House of Commons printed in the Royal Kalendar, 1773, Baker was described as ‘a merchant in London, and one of the committee of the Hudson’s Bay Co.’, and he was present at meetings of North American merchants in October 1775, helping to organize their petitions against the Government’s American policy.1
In 1768 Baker’s return for Plympton on the Edgcumbe interest was arranged by his father through the Duke of Newcastle.2 And in Parliament he followed the same line as his father; attached himself to the Rockinghams, and voted constantly against the Grafton and North Administrations, though throughout his career he always put great emphasis on his independence. He wrote to his friend the Rev. Mr. Talbot on 13 Sept. 1770:3 ‘My political religion has but few tenets—perhaps they are rather unfashionable, but I am rather a bigot to them—to consult those whom I believe honest, and my own heart—to attend the advice of one, but to follow implicitly the dictates of the other.’ Baker spoke fairly frequently in the House, particularly on City and American affairs. He vigorously attacked the Quebec bill and proposals to alter the Massachusetts government: ‘I fought it through every stage almost alone when most of the Opposition were attending the Newmarket meeting or other occupations equally to be preferred to that duty’,4 he wrote to an American friend, Charles Lee.
In 1774 Baker, finding that Lord Edgcumbe would not return him again for Plympton, wrote to Rockingham on 14 Sept. to ask if he knew of ‘any borough, for which, at a price not exorbitant, I may be elected with certainty, and have free use of my vote on all occasions’.5 Rockingham, acting for Lord Galway, offered Baker a seat at Pontefract. What followed is by no means clear, but it seems that Henry, 2nd Duke of Newcastle persuaded Galway to return Charles Mellish, a common friend, promising a seat at one of his own boroughs for Baker as soon as a vacancy occurred.6 In the meantime Baker unsuccessfully contested London, where he prejudiced his chances by refusing to commit himself to a definite plan for parliamentary and economical reform, though he favoured both: ‘I must preserve my own judgment free on all subjects which may arise in Parliament’, he wrote in an election address, ‘I cannot with honour engage myself indefinitely and beforehand, to the fulfilling of instructions which I do not know.’7 After his defeat Baker wrote to Charles Lee:8 ‘Though I should have thought it infamous to have deserted my post and not endeavoured to get in, yet I hardly can say that I much regret being out, there is so little prospect of doing good.’ Nevertheless he continued to look for a seat, though he told Rockingham that he was reluctant to stand unless certain of election, his City contest having cost him £1500.9In December 1776 he was asked to stand for Westminster, but thinking his chances doubtful, refused.10 In 1777, under the agreement with Newcastle, Baker was elected for Aldborough on the understanding that he was free to follow his own line in the House; and he continued to vote and speak against the Administration.
Baker’s interventions in City politics were spasmodic, and, it seems, generally at the instigation of Rockingham who had hopes of using him to establish an interest in the City. When in September 1778 it seemed likely that Richard Oliver would vacate his seat, Baker considered resigning Aldborough and contesting London. Rockingham wrote to him on 18 Sept.:11
Your reluctance or perhaps your fixed resolution of never taking upon you the load of a City gown, will be objected to you ... if it was possible that you could not only become one of the representatives for the City, but also at once take upon you the vacant aldermancy and instantly become Lord Mayorfor the ensuing year, it would be a most important stroke in favour of the public, and would be perhaps the salvation and restoration of honour and dignity to the City of London.
But Oliver did not vacate his seat.
At the general election of 1780 Baker successfully contested Hertford on his own interest. After the fall of North, Baker voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783; supported Pitt’s proposals for parliamentary reform, 7 May 1783, and voted for Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783. On 17 Dec. 1783 he moved that it was a breach of privilege to influence votes by reporting any ‘opinion or pretended opinion of his Majesty’.12 He was counted as a Foxite in Robinson’s list of January 1784 and Stockdale’s of 19 Mar. At