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Data supporting the thesis, Sir George Harrison: A 'Man of Business' at the Late Hanoverian Treasury

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posted on 2022-06-08, 15:29 authored by Paul McIntyre

The Database Guide is included in the thesis, Sir George Harrison: A 'Man of Business' at the Late Hanoverian Treasury, pp.290-295, as Appendix 2, and is also included here.


This thesis uses the papers of Sir George Harrison, the first assistant secretary in the British Treasury (a post that would later become that of ‘permanent secretary’, the most senior office held by a person not sitting in Parliament), as a lens through which to explore his role and the day-to-day of the work of the department in the early nineteenth century. The thesis takes a new approach to administrative history, showing how interrogation of voluminous and largely routine official correspondence, a neglected source, can enhance understanding of how government operated. To this end, the main features of some 15,000 of Harrison’s letters, mainly on behalf of the Treasury’s governing Board, are recorded on a database, submitted with the thesis. This creation of metadata enables their allocation to categories of recipient, subject matter and purpose, as well as observations on the character of the official letter. Around one hundred of Harrison’s personal memoranda to the Prime Minister and others have also been examined.

In exploring Harrison’s work in this innovative way, the thesis aims to contribute to important themes in the historiography, including Economical Reform, Old Corruption, and the origins of the civil service. Two issues are addressed. The first is the significance of Harrison’s exclusion from Parliament and his long tenure, serving five First Lords of the Treasury and Prime Ministers, from Pitt in 1805 to Liverpool in 1826, when he retired on health grounds. Though he is a marginal figure in the historiography, his appointment and longevity in post have been viewed by some historians as embodying administrative reform and important steps towards a ‘permanent’ and ‘neutral’ senior civil service. But the thesis suggests that a key assumption underpinning this characterisation, namely that there was a divide in this period between ‘policy’, the province of ministers, and ‘administration’, carried out by officials, is not supported by evidence from Harrison’s correspondence and activities on behalf of the Liverpool government. It suggests that we might better understand Harrison’s ‘permanence’ as contingent on the circumstances of his times and on his aptitudes and political compatibility with his Prime Ministers.

The second issue is the role of the Treasury, particularly its Board, at which Harrison, as its assistant secretary, held a central position. The focus is on the decade after the French wars, when large reductions in public expenditure have been associated by historians with a strengthening of its authority, though some contemporaries complained of its weakness. The thesis shows that, at the end of the decade, public expenditure and accounts, especially those of the army and navy, remained the most common subjects of Harrison’s letters, though less so than in 1816. But the letters also reveal a great diversity of subject-matter and that a significant minority were written to the public rather than other departments. It finds that, though there were tendencies to micro-management, the Treasury was more accommodating to departments in the conduct of day-to-day business than one might expect in an era of retrenchment. It also reveals the Treasury’s reliance on other government bodies for information, advice and execution of its decisions, suggesting that it might be better understood as part of a wider ‘Economic State’ than as a separate department.

The thesis concludes by suggesting that scrutiny and analysis of large numbers of official papers, in improving our understanding of the routine operations of government departments, can help administrative history make a vital contribution to the characterisation of the state, in this and other periods.


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Collection method

Scrutiny of letters, principally in National Archives.



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Paul McIntyre

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