WHO WAS LORD CAMDEN?
By Edward Fox
Lord Charles Pratt (1714-94), the man for whom the City and County of Camden was named, was a British jurist and diplomat, the Lord Chancellor of Britain (1766-1770), and the first Earl of Camden. In the decade before the American Revolution, Charles Pratt, Lord Camden, was one of the more
popular British figures in the American colonies. He was recognized as a friend of the American ìcauseî for his defense of constitutional liberty and his opposition of the British governmentís ìunfairî American tax policies.
|Charles Pratt, who held the title of Lord Camden, was forced from one of his government offices because of his outspoken support of the American Colonies.
Charles Pratt was born in Kensington, England as the third son of Sir John Pratt, chief justice of Kingís Bench. Pratt attended Eton, Kingís College, Cambridge, and the Middle Temple law school. He was admitted to the bar in 1738 and practiced common law on the English western circuit. His first acclaimed case was the 1752 government prosecution of bookseller for libel against the House of Commons. In 1757 he became attorney general and was elected to the House of Commons. Five years later, Pratt was knighted and appointed chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas, where in 1763 he ruled against the legality of general warrants. Recognizing the popularity of this case and others, as well as his reputation for moderation in party politics, the King elevated Charles Pratt to Baron Camden, of Camden Place, in the county of Kent. The next year Pratt was made Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom.
The office of Lord Chancellor, which dates back more than one thousand years, was often given to a clergyman whom the king trusted as his conscience and holder of his seal. Prior to the rise of the role of Prime Minister in modern British administrations, the Lord Chancellor was one of the most important men in Britain, outranking the Prime Minister, as the most senior member and de facto speaker of the House of Lords. The Lord Chancellor is a member of the Cabinet, responsible for the administration of the courts and the appointment of judges. His position makes him head of the kingdomís judiciary, as well as an ex officio church commissioner responsible for the appointment of clergy and bishops.
As Lord Chancellor, Pratt discharged his duties honorably. Only one case was reversed during his tenure. However, during his term, Pratt became a thorn in the side of the government for his vocal disagreement with its American colonial tax policies. As Britainís highest ranking official opposed to those policies, Pratt was forced to leave his post in 1770. Afterwards, Pratt continued in national politics and in his support of the American colonies. In 1778, he signed the protest of the Lords to the king regarding the American colonies. In 1782 he was appointed president of the Council, where he remained until his death in 1794, except for a few months between governments. He was raised in 1786 to the status of earl (marquess) and became the first Viscount Bayham.
The Pratt family title of Lord Camden descends to the Marquessís first sons. The current Lord Camden is David Pratt, 6th Marquess Camden (1930- ). His heir is John Pratt, Earl of Brecknock (1965- ).