Smith, William (1756–1835)

Politician. He was the son of Samuel Smith (1728–1798), a wealthy wholesale grocer and Dissenter. William Smith’s business activities were not successful, but his family’s money subsidized his lengthy political career – he was MP for Sudbury 1784–1790 and 1796–1802, Camelford 1791– 1796 and Norwich 1802–1806, 1807–1830. Smith was a long-standing supporter of parliamentary reform, religious equality and the abolition of the slave trade. He was also an early supporter of the French Revolution, an enthusiastic Whig from the early 1790s and a convert to Unitarianism. These views condemned him to the backbenches and he never held office. He was, though, a regular contributor to debates on a wide range of subjects. Some MPs found his contributions rather too regular, though, and his sententious style did not always command the House of Commons’ respect. When he denounced Southey in a debate on the 14 March 1817 for changing his views on political reform, Southey defended himself with A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P. (1817) and Smith decided not to prolong the exchange. His voice continued to be heard regularly in the Commons, though.

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