CRUGER, Henry (1739-1827), of Bristol.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

1774 - 1780
1784 - 1790

Family and Education

b. in New York 22 Nov. 1739, 2nd s. of Henry Cruger of New York by his w. Elizabeth Harris. educ. King’s Coll. N.Y. (now Columbia Univ.). m. (1) Dec. 1765, Hannah (d. Feb. 1767), da. of Samuel Peach, Bristol merchant (a cos. of Samuel Peach), 1s.; (2) Elizabeth Blair (d. 1790), 1da.; (3) 1799, Caroline Smith, an American, 4 ch.

Offices Held

Common councillor, Bristol 1766-90, sheriff 1766-7, mayor 1781-2.

Biography

The Crugers were a family of New York merchants, prominent in provincial politics. Henry Cruger sen., a member of the provincial assembly 1745-59 and of the governor’s council 1759-73, came to England in 1775, joined his son at Bristol, and died there in 1780. His brother John was mayor of New York in 1756, the first president of the New York chamber of commerce, a member of the Stamp Act congress, and Speaker of the New York assembly 1769-76. Henry Cruger’s eldest son, John Harris Cruger, was a member of the governor’s council of New York, served as a loyalist during the American war, and afterwards came to England. Two other sons settled in the West Indies.

Henry Cruger jun. came to England in 1757, and established himself as a merchant in Bristol. He married the daughter of a wealthy Bristol merchant and became active in local politics. In 1766 he was a member of the deputation of Bristol merchants which visited London to press for repeal of the Stamp Act. ‘I was three weeks in London’, he wrote to his father on 14 Feb. 1766,1 ‘and every day with some one Member of Parliament, talking as it were for my own life. It is surprising how ignorant some of them are on trade and America.’ The non-importation agreement seriously affected his business, and during the remainder of his life in England he appears to have been financially embarrassed. In a letter to an American debtor, on 13 Feb. 1768,2 he spoke of ‘my pressing necessities’, and on 14 July 1772 described himself as ‘distressed for the want of money more than ever man was’.3 Edmund Burke in 1780 said that Cruger was ‘not now worth a shilling’.4

Peach and Cruger were among the leaders of the radical movement, which grew rapidly in Bristol after 1768. Cruger presided over the meeting held at the Guildhall on 18 July 1769 to petition against the Middlesex election, and was the principal speaker at that of 20 Feb. 1772 to vote instructions to the Members.5 He was present at the reception given to Wilkes on his visit to Bristol in January 1772,6 and was described by North in September 1774 as ‘a hot Wilkite’.7 Well before the general election of 1774 he had been selected as the radical candidate at Bristol.

In 1773 Cruger went on a visit to America, returning to England in July 1774.8 The committee of correspondence of the New York assembly wrote to their agent, Edmund Burke, on 31 May 1774:

We beg leave to refer you for many particulars relative to the present situation of the colonies to Mr. Henry Cruger junior of Bristol, whose opportunities and means of information for a twelve month past have been extensive respecting a variety of matters of which you may be inclined to be informed.

At the general election in October he declined a union with Burke, and after a contest lasting 28 days was returned head of the poll. At its close (2 Nov.) he wrote to his brother-in-law, Jacob Walton, in New York:9

Fum Hoam [Cruger’s nickname in his family] is now, my dear Jacob, at the pinnacle of all human greatness—oh transitory joy!—he is exalted to the summit of all his earthly wishes, his foes are bending at his feet.
By the permission of providence I shall ascend the honourable car—the most magnificent chair that ever appeared in Bristol. Let the arrows of envy fly. I am fortified, I shall be protected against their malignant effects by the love and esteem of an hundred thousand people who will be assembled to attend my procession, and with shouts and acclamations of regard and approbation are determined to rend the air and shake the heavens.

At the declaration of the poll the next day he repeated a pledge he had given before the election:10

It has ever been my opinion that the electors have a right to instruct their Members. For my part I shall always think it my duty in Parliament to be guided by your counsels and instructions.

The story that Cruger said ‘I ditto to Mr. Burke’ is an invention. As head of the poll Cruger spoke first.

‘You may rely upon it’, he wrote to Peter Van Schaack in New York on 5 Dec. 1774,11: ‘I will connect myself with none of the violent parties, but endeavour to temper my fire with prudence.’ The American problem naturally concerned him most, and his first speech, 16 Dec. 1774, reflected the loyalty he felt for both Britain and America:12

I am far from approving all the proceedings in America. Many of their measures have been a dishonour to their cause. Their rights might have been asserted without violence, and their claims stated with temper as well as firmness. But ... if they have erred, it may be considered as a failing of human nature. A people animated with a love of liberty, and alarmed with apprehensions of its being in danger, will unavoidably run into excesses ...
I acknowledge that there must exist a power somewhere to superintend and regulate the movements of the whole for the attainment and preservation of our common happiness; this supreme power can be justly and adequately exercised only by the legislature of Great Britain ...
When Great Britain derives from her colonies the most ample supplies of wealth by her commerce, is it not absurd to close up those channels for the sake of imposing taxes, which ... never have and probably never will defray the expense of collecting them?

He was willing to believe that ‘the impolicy and inexpediency of the late measures may reasonably be imputed to the difficulty of the occasion’. While pleading for forbearance towards America, he was not prepared to deny that the British Government had a case; and he had no confidence in the Opposition. He wrote to Van Schaack on 3 May 1775:13

The Opposition in the House of Commons flatter themselves that the confusion in your country will overthrow the ministry in this. But ... let them come in when they will, they must adopt, and they know it, nearly the same measures with America that have been pursued by the present Administration, or they can not hold their places a single session. To get in is what we all want, and patriots in one station are great tyrants in another. America has long been made a cat’s paw. On the ground of their calamities we fight our ambitious quarrels; and let who will gain the victory, New York will not be sixpence the gainer.

His second recorded speech, 2 Feb. 1775, was a failure.14 In reply to a stupid tirade by James Grant on the cowardice of the Americans and their ‘disagreeable manners’,

he endeavoured to vindicate the Americans both as to their cowardice and gallantry ... the latter he did with much good humour and pleasantry, but lost his temper in the former, became personal, and was called to order.

‘I pant after peace between this country and its colonies’, he said on 15 May;15 and believed that only concessions on the part of America could bring it about. To his brother, John Harris Cruger, he wrote on 5 July:16

By one thing or other my heart is almost broke. Administration, finding everything in this country go to their liking, are bent upon carrying matters to the utmost extremities ... Poor America will be utterly undone, unless some concession on their part is speedily made, which I am persuaded will be as speedily grasped at here, for all good men wish for a reconciliation.

In a speech of 20 Feb. 1776, on Fox’s motion to inquire into the conduct of the war, he reproached ministers for their treatment of the Loyalists:17

The friends of peace and good order in the province of New York did not deserve to be reproached with a shameful neutrality. They stood forth and opposed as long as they were able the increasing current of tumult and disorder, and exposed themselves ... to the resentment and vengeance of their incensed neighbours. In a dutiful manner they submitted their grievances to the clemency of this House. ... I shall not dwell on the contempt with which their zealous advances to a reconciliation were rejected ... Administration not only neglected to aid them with a force sufficient to maintain their opposition against the zealots in their own province and the united powers of the adjacent colonies, but withdrew to Boston the few troops ... which might have assisted in preserving order and the freedom and impartiality of public proceedings.

In private conversation with ministerial supporters he tried to put the American point of view. ‘The answer always was’, he wrote to Van Schaack on 17 June 1776,18 ‘that England would neither be intimidated by, nor receive laws from, America.’

Cruger did not vote for the Opposition amendment to the Address of 26 Oct. 1775, nor for their motion on the civil list debts of 16 Apr. 1777 (for neither division is a majority list extant). About this time he began to send to Charles Jenkinson reports from an agent in America on the state of affairs there. His first extant letter to Jenkinson is of 11 May 1777;19 in it he wrote:

Let me entreat of you not to consider my attention in these small matters officious. You have been peculiarly obliging to me. I am sensibly grateful. And such is my natural turn of mind I shall always remain so.

How Jenkinson had obliged Cruger does not appear from their correspondence—possibly by services to his brother in America.

Only reluctantly did Cruger abandon the hope of an eventual reconciliation between Britain and America. On 10 Dec. 1777 he supported Wilkes’s motion to repeal the Declaratory Act, and said:20

From my connections in America I have had an opportunity of collecting the sentiments of men of all orders and parties, and have reason to believe that independency is not yet the great object of the majority of the people; but a rooted and unconquerable aversion to those impolitic Acts prevail in every mind.

No further speech by Cruger on America is recorded until 5 May 1780,21 when, in the debate on Conway’s conciliation bill,

he said the American war ... should be put an end to at all events; in order to do this the independency must be allowed, and the thirteen provinces treated as free states.

There is some ambiguity about Cruger’s political attitude. Though elected as a professed radical, he is not known to have spoken for any radical measure. He did not attach himself to the Opposition, and seemed reluctant to break his links with the Government. One circumstance is particularly puzzling. In Robinson’s ‘Account of pensions extinguished’, drawn up after the general election of 1780, is the entry of one of £500 per annum to Cruger, stopped when he left Parliament.22 In Robinson’s secret service accounts only one payment of this pension is recorded—on 19 May 1779;23 but since these accounts are not extant before Jan. 1779 it is impossible to say when the pension started. Nor is it clear why it was given. £500 per annum was about the normal pension for a Member of Cruger’s standing, and in the accounts it appears among those of Government supporters. Yet every one of Cruger’s recorded votes was against Government, and in Robinson’s survey for the general election of 1780 he was classed as against Administration. The sending of information such as he transmitted to Jenkinson was natural for a man in his position, but not a sufficient basis for such a pension.

Cruger and Burke were rivals at Bristol rather than colleagues; they disliked each other; and their enmity was aggravated by their supporters. Cruger had cultivated his constituents—according to Burke by ‘a diligent attendance on them, and a total neglect of attendance in Parliament’.24 In 1778 he obeyed instructions sent him from Bristol, and spoke and voted against removing the restrictions on Irish trade. He was popular with the poorer classes at Bristol, and in spite of strong opposition in 1780 from two Government candidates had a fair chance of success. The poor showing he made on the poll was due to deliberate abstention by Burke’s supporters in revenge for Cruger’s refusal to join with Burke. Cruger stood again at the by-election of 1781, but even with the support of Burke’s friends was defeated. In both these contests he seems to have been financed mainly by his father-in-law.

On the conclusion of peace with America, Cruger wrote to John Hancock of Boston, 5 Mar. 1783:25

It is with heartfelt joy that I felicitate you on the channels of our intercourse being again opened by the accomplishment of our most sanguine wishes—the liberty and independence of America—an event on which I do most sincerely congratulate my countrymen. I embrace the earliest opportunity to inform my old friends and correspondents that I shall continue in this city in the American business, where I hope by receiving fresh marks of their favour and by redoubled industry to redeem the time lost in the late accursed war, and to repair the ravages which its influence has made on my fortune because of the steady principles which so strongly attached me to the just cause of America and mankind ...
I purpose visiting my native land early the ensuing summer to participate in the joys and happiness which I hope to find resulting from the triumph of liberty and virtue.

Cruger was in America when the dissolution of 1784 took place, and the campaign at Bristol was conducted on his behalf by Peach and John Harris Cruger. He stood as a follower of Pitt, and was returned second on the poll.

His first speech in the new Parliament, 14 Feb. 1785,26 was against the bill to restrain the United States from trading with Newfoundland. He

urged the expediency of encouraging the United States to continue their commercial intercourse with us as much as possible ... He spoke ... as a merchant, whose attachment was to Great Britain alone, and who regarded her prosperity as superior to every other consideration.

His further speeches were on subjects of interest to his constituents:27 the Irish commercial propositions (he voted against Pitt on this question), the hawkers and pedlars bill, the shop tax, and the slave trade (‘he considered a sudden and total abolition ruinous in the extreme’). He voted for parliamentary reform on 18 Apr. 1785; and supported Pitt on Richmond’s fortifications plan and on the Regency.

On 17 Sept. 1789 Cruger applied to Pitt for a consular appointment in the United States, ‘which would tend to rescue me and a large family from great difficulties’.28 He was prepared to resign his seat at Bristol and support a candidate recommended by Pitt. But nothing came of this, and in March 1790 Cruger announced his intention of retiring to America. He sailed for New York on 8 Apr., still a Member of the British Parliament.

In 1792 he was elected to the senate of New York State, and died in New York on 24 Apr. 1827.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: John Brooke

Notes

In writing this biography use has been made of a paper by P. T. Underdown, and information supplied by Mr. A. H. Robertson, a descendant of Cruger.

  • 1. ‘Commerce of Rhode Island, 1726-1800’, Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll. ser. 7, ix. 139-43.
  • 2. Ibid. 219-20.
  • 3. Ibid. 405.
  • 4. Burke to Portland, 3 Sept. 1780.
  • 5. London Chron. 25 July 1769, and Bristol Gaz. 27 Feb. 1772.
  • 6. Bristol Jnl. 4 Jan. 1772.
  • 7. Fortescue, iii. 137.
  • 8. Rev. T. Wilson to Burke, 11 July 1774.
  • 9. Ms in possession of Mr.