Lord North Resigns as British Prime Minister

North holds the rather dubious distinction of being the first Prime Minister of Britain, or indeed anywhere else in the world, to be forced out of office by a motion of no confidence, resigning on 20 March 1782 on account of the British defeat at Yorktown the year before. In an attempt to end the war, he proposed the Conciliation Plan, in which he promised that Britain would eliminate all disagreeable acts if the colonies ended the war. The colonies rejected the plan, as their motivation had become independence.

Ironically in 1782 the war began to turn in Britain's favor again, through naval victories, owing largely to policies adopted by Lord North and the Earl of Sandwich. Britain was able to make a much more favorable peace in 1783 than had appeared likely at the time when North had been ousted.

Oh my God! It's all over.”

— Lord North, upon hearing news of the surrender at Yorktown.

In America things went from bad to worse and North's nerve broke even though he had a majority in the general election of 1780. His ministry fell because of the final failure of the American War, especially after the fall of Yorktown in 1781. North wrote in his diary, "Oh God! It's all over." He was worn out, exhausted, deserted in the Commons and he felt that he could not carry on. In March 1782 George III reluctantly accepted his resignation. North went into the Commons to announce that he had resigned and went straight to his waiting carriage with the comment, "Sometimes, it is good to be in on the secret."

From the end of North's ministry in March 1782 until the beginning of Pitt the Younger's ministry in December 1783 there was a further period of ministerial instability. Once the American War of Independence was over the ministers vied with each other and tried to capitalize on North's failure. The County Associations were still in existence and continued to pressurize parliament. People again were looking for a scapegoat - in fact, "normal" eighteenth-century politics.

North again submitted his resignation to the King. The American war was lost, he argued; the colonies would have to be given their independence. George III stubbornly refused to accept North's resignation or relinquish his colonies.

From February until mid-March, the North ministry was attacked in Parliament by the Opposition in six major votes. On 7 and 26 of February, Fox led censure motions against Sandwich; both defeated. On the 22nd, Henry Conway, a former minister in the Chatham administration, led an address to the throne to end the American war and cede the colonies their independence. It was defeated by only one vote. On the 27th, his reworded resolution passed with nineteen votes to spare. Absentees and defections from within North's own party strengthened the Opposition. On 8 March, they were narrowly defeated in their motion of no-confidence against North's government. The vote of the 20th was even closer.

North realized that his government's end was near. In front of a packed chamber on the 22nd, he rose to be recognized. The Opposition had hoped to vote on its no-confidence measure before North could resign. An hour long debate followed before North could be heard. He resigned: "those persons who had for some time conducted the public affairs, were no longer his Majesty's ministers."

Reluctantly, the King appointed Rockingham to succeed North.