John Foster (1740–1828)
The politics of improvement and prosperity
John Foster was the last (1785–1800) speaker of the Irish House of Commons and the most important opponent of the Act of Union which extinguished both his office and the separate Irish parliament. He also served three times as chancellor of the Irish Exchequer, passing on the first of these occasions the famous Corn Law of 1784 which has always borne his name. Although he remained doggedly and exclusively Irish in his mentalité, he achieved at Westminster in 1804 a political come-back which was quite remarkable, particularly for a man of 65, and remained politically active into his eighties.
Dr Malcomson’s first book on Foster was published in 1978. Professor S.J. Connolly described it as ‘potentially one of the most important books on 18th century Ireland to appear in the past 50 years’. The present book incorporates new insights drawn from recently discovered archives, other new ideas generated by the commemorations of the 1798 Rebellion and the Union, and some second thoughts and shifts of emphasis which the author considers important. Foster's paternalist approach to politics, and his determined pursuit of improvement and prosperity as the cure for political ills, are the principal themes of the book and are shown to be the motive forces of Foster's career. In many ways, they are an anticipation of the late nineteenth-century Conservative policy of killing Home Rule with kindness.
A.P.W. Malcomson was director of the PRONI from 1988 until 1998. His many publications include Archbishop Charles Agar, 1760–1810 (2002) and Virtues of a Wicked Earl: The life and legend of William Sydney Clements, 3rd earl of Leitrim, 1806–78 (2008).