At the dissolution in June 1790, George III seemed to have recovered from the bout of insanity which had caused a political crisis over the issue of a regency in the winter of 1788-9. His 31-year-old prime minister, William Pitt, had been in office for six and a half years, and was at the summit of his power, master of the Commons and the cabinet. By the time this Parliament was dissolved in May 1796, Britain was in its fourth year of war with revolutionary France, Pitt’s plans for restoring the national finances had been shelved, and a major political realignment had occurred as the Whig opposition, led in the Commons by Charles James Fox, was fractured by the impact of the revolution and war.
The 1790 general election ran from 16 June until 28 July. Ninety-two of the 314 constituencies (29 per cent) were contested, an increase of five on the figure for 1784; the longest and most expensive contest was in County Durham. Despite an unprecedented level of orchestration of resources by the opposition, directed by William Adam, the outcome was a strengthening of the ministry’s already powerful position in the House: in crude terms, the 558 Members might be classed as 340 government, 183 opposition, and 35 independent or doubtful. The number of Members returned who had no previous parliamentary experience was 124 (22 per cent). At by-elections during the life of this Parliament, 114 new Members came in.
Opposition mustered 173 votes (to the government’s 253) in April 1791 against Pitt’s ultimatum to Russia over her occupation of Oczakov; but as the revolu