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Reign of George II. (Concluded) page 4

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An attempt was made by lord Egmont to keep together the prince's party. He assembled a meeting of the opposition at his house on the morning of the prince's death, and hinted at taking the princess and her family under their protection; and he recommended harmony amongst themselves; but some one said, "Very likely, indeed, that there should be harmony, when the prince could never bring it about;" and so every one hastened away to look after himself. It was no sooner seen that there was an understanding betwixt the princess of Wales and the king, than numbers of the late prince's friends offered their adhesion to the Pelhams, equally out of dread of the duke of Cumberland and dislike of the duke of Bedford, who was opposed to the Pelhams, and, it was feared, likely to support Cumberland, and thus place him at the head of affairs.

Early in May a plan of a regency was drawn up by the Pelhams, which was to include Cumberland, and this was introduced to the house of lords in the shape of a bill by Newcastle on the 7th of that month. By this bill it was proposed that the princess dowager should be both guardian of the heir- apparent and regent of Great Britain, in case the king should die before the prince of Wales was eighteen. But the next day, on the second reading, Newcastle brought a message from his majesty, recommending a council of regency, with the duke of Cumberland at its head. In fact, there had been a strong division in the cabinet on the subject. The dread of Cumberland swayed some of the members, but the king having proposed that the council of regency should include the archbishop of Canterbury, most of the ministers, and the lord chief justice, this swayed others the other way. Pitt advocated the council, because, he said, it offered the best security against the ambition "of a great person," meaning the duke, for, if the princess should die, without the council Cumberland might become sole regent, and his ambition might tempt him to think less of protecting than of wearing the crown. Fox defended Cumberland with great vehemence, and the bill passed the commons by two hundred and seventy to ninety, and the lords by one hundred and six to twelve. The king thanked Fox for the defence of Cumberland, and said he wondered why the nation disliked him. He said, moreover, that his objection to leave the power in the princess was, that "women were too apt to pardon." A characteristic fear from the monarch who had sanctioned the butcheries of Culloden, and the courts of justice which succeeded it.

As for the people, they felt serious alarm, and though never attaching much regard to George II. before, they began to pray earnestly for his longevity, that the heir- apparent might be of an age at the king's decease which would save them from the heavy hand of Cumberland. They had their prayer. George lived till his successor had attained his majority, and neither Cumberland nor the regency bill came into action. The nation, indeed, had a near chance of being freed altogether from Cumberland. He had a fall in hunting, and with the family obstinacy, of which he had a double share, refusing to be bled, he became so ill as to be given up by his physicians. The king was also near losing his grandson Edward. Other near connections of George died this year. The prince of Orange, who had married his eldest daughter, and who had lately become hereditary stadtholder, died in October - a matter of considerable political moment to George, as it might greatly influence his foreign relations. The king's youngest daughter, the queen of Denmark, also died in December. His other foreign family connections were not much comfort to him. His nephew, Frederick of Prussia, was an especial thorn in his side. By his continual attacks on Austria he had caused a great deal of trouble, bloodshed, and expenditure of money to this country, and continually endangered the security of Hanover. This was the secret which made George continue to throw so much English money into the lap of Maria Theresa. There was the worst feeling betwixt Frederick and his uncle of England. Nothing, indeed, could be more despicable than the character of the so-called Frederick the Great. He had great military tact, and, beside that, no quality that was not singularly mean and contemptible. Atheistical, and a patron of atheistic French writers, every action by which he attempted to augment his kingdom was one of robbery and grossest breach of faith. For this he had turned his whole kingdom into a camp. The insolence with which he would treat foreign ambassadors when he was displeased with their sovereigns, and the meanness with which he would stop the post and steal their dispatches by night, were never surpassed in the annals of unprincipled tyrants. Sir Hanbury Williams, the English ambassador, in his correspondence never spared him, but described in cutting but just terms the rod of iron with which he ruled his subjects, the miserable, valet-like slavery of his ministers of state, the poverty to which he had reduced the gentry, and the oppressions exercised on the people. For these offences, which Frederick's violation of the secrecy of the post made known to him, Frederick insisted on Williams's recall. Williams took an ample revenge on the peeping and seal-breaking monarch by returning to Dresden, and there concluding a treaty with the elector of Saxony, who was also king of Poland, and engaging him to thwart the plans of Frederick, and to give his vote for the son of Maria Theresa, the archduke Joseph, as king of the Romans.

The grand measure of the parliamentary session of 1751 was the reformation of the calendar. This great improvement was the work of lord Chesterfield. The error in the old calendar had now reached eleven days, and had long been corrected by most civilised nations. England, Sweden, and Russia alone adhered to the old style, as Russia does still. Chesterfield, therefore, called the attention of the public to the circumstance in some of the periodicals, and then brought in a bill, in which he was supported by the earl of Macclesfield. This bill provided that the legal year in future should begin on the 1st of January, and not, as heretofore, on the 25th of March; and that, to correct the error of the calendar, eleven nominal days should be omitted in September, 1752, so that the day following the 2nd of that month should be styled the 14th. The difficulties resulting from this change, as it regarded rents, taxes, bills of exchange, &c., were all provided for. The duke of Newcastle opposed the change, on the good old tory principle that he did not like disturbing that which had been long established, and introducing newfangled things. The lords had sense enough to laugh at this absurdity, and the bill passed both houses.

Another measure of a liberal nature was less successful - a bill for the naturalisation of protestant foreigners. Such a bill had been passed in 1708, but had been repealed in 1711. In 1747 a new bill had been introduced, on the plea of the drain of population by the war, but failed. It was now strenuously opposed by the common council of London and other bodies, on the ground that foreign workmen would flock in and throw out our English ones; and, being fixed for the third reading on the very day that prince Frederick happened to die, advantage was taken of that circumstance to let it drop.

The close of this year beheld a revolution in the cabinet which had been long imminent. The dukes of Newcastle and Bedford, as secretaries of state, were pulling two ways, if Bedford could be said to pull at all. One secretary, at that time, took the business of northern Europe, the other of southern. One sent his instructions to Berlin or St. Petersburg, the other to Paris or Madrid, with equal independence of the other. There was no concert when the secretaries were not on the best of terms. Lord John Russell, in a note to the "Bedford Correspondence," says it was just as if a coach were driven by two coachmen, one holding the right rein, the other the left. Bedford, according to Pelham, did just nothing at all but receive his five thousand pounds a-year. "With him," he says, "it is all jollity, boyishness, and vanity. He persuades himself that riding post from London to Woburn and back again once a week, or fortnight, is doing a great deal of business, and that nobody has a right to complain of his absence." Newcastle was, besides, extremely jealous of Bedford, and on the death of prince Frederick, and the dissolution of the opposition, the timid Pelham joined with his brother to get Bedford dismissed. To induce him to resign, his great friend and ally, the earl of Sandwich, was dismissed from the admiralty, which produced the anticipated effect, and the earl of Holderness was appointed in his place. Lord Anson succeeded Sandwich at the admiralty, lord Hartington became master of the horse, and lord Granville at length came into office again as president of the council. Lord Halifax was made president of the board of trade, and laboured hard to have the colonies subjected to that board, and to take the place of a third secretary of state, that is, for the West Indies and America, but found the king not to be moved on that head. Granville was no longer what he had been as lord Carteret. His health was shattered by hard drinking, his mind had visibly suffered from the same cause; and though his encumbered estate made the five thousand pounds a-year welcome, he retained no real influence in the cabinet, notwithstanding his loud merriment at the council board, and the undiminished favour of the king.

The year terminated with the death of Bolingbroke. This showy statesman and indefatigable plotter continued his devotion to a sceptical philosophy and to a mole-like working in the secret places of political life to the last. So long as the prince of Wales lived, he managed to sway the councils of his little court, and prepare all the weapons of the opposition. He was extremely ambitious of achieving an earldom; the death of Frederick was a fatal blow to that hope. He died at Battersea, on the 12th of December, of cancer of the heart, having long been afflicted with as virulent a cancer of the mind; and having, in his most flourishing days, successfully tripped up his colleague, lord Oxford, so he spent his latest hours in blackening the character of his great friend, Pope, the poet.

The parliament met on the 7th of January, 1752, and the very first subject of any importance introduced was that of fresh subsidies to Germany. The king seemed perfectly insane about carrying the election of the archduke Joseph as king of the Romans, and English money was to be scattered profusely amongst the petty German princes to engage them to vote for him, as though it were not their own proper business to vote for the interests of the Germanic empire, and as if England had even the remotest concern in it. Pelham brought up the late treaty with the king of Saxony - made to purchase his influence for this very object. The engagement was to pay the king of Saxony thirty-two thousand pounds for four years, a total of a hundred and twenty-eight thousand pounds, for the mere vote for a mere German object. Nor was this the worst. It was clearly seen that this was but the beginning of the evil; that the bonus would set all the German little potentates agape, and that we should have to buy them all up to do their own business. The duke of Bedford, being now out of office, was induced by the slender opposition to attack this scandalous job. Bedford had come up to solicit a pension for lady Elizabeth Waldegrave, his wife's sister; but whether he perceived that he was not likely to obtain it, or whether he was flattered by the oppositionists putting himself at their head, on the 28th he made a decided stand against the subsidy. He said we were teaching all the thirty or forty princes of Germany to expect money from us for whatever they did, and to unite with us, not even for their own interests, but for money; that it would be a most unpopular measure with the English public, who could not perceive how it concerned them in any way; that it would lead to a quarrel with France, and a war without any English object;

and he declared the minister had displayed a grievous imbecility in allowing himself to be the medium of any such measure. The ministers defended the bill by the usual arguments, and the motion of Bedford was rejected without a division. In the commons lord Harley made a motion against subsidies in a time of peace, but with equal want of success; his motion was negatived by a hundred and eighty to fifty-two. Thus, whether we had war or peace, it was plain the money of England was to go to support the little despots of Germany; and, as there was no strong opposition in parliament, the country looked on with a strange apathy. Yet the activity of Bedford somewhat alarmed the Pelhams, and they had several interviews with Bubb Dodington, with the view of getting his support, with that of his boroughs; but the king would not listen to the sort of reward that Dodington wanted for his services, namely, a peerage, and it came to nothing.

Perhaps at no period of our history did the house of commons carry the matter of its privileges to so ridiculous an extent as during the reign of George II. On one occasion it voted that the killing of rabbits on the warren of lord Galway was a breach of its privileges, because he was a member of the house; at another these mysterious privileges were violated by the catching of Mr. Jolliffe's fish, who also was a member. The trees of Mr. Hungerford, the coals of Mr. Ward, and lead of Sir Robert Grosvenor, were all pronounced under the protection of parliamentary privilege. The persons of the footmen, the porters, and even the meanest servants of members, were declared as inviolable as the persons of the members themselves.

Meantime, scarcely a bill passed the houses which did not bear the stamp of the duke of Cumberland's savage spirit. A bill for diminishing the severity of military law, though it passed the commons, was thrown out of the lords. Another to diminish the necessity of a standing army, by improving the militia, was as promptly rejected, both the king and Cumberland always treating the militia with the utmost contempt. Nor did a bill for ameliorating the condition of the Highlanders pass without a secret vigorous resistance from Cumberland. The object of the bill was to appropriate a certain portion of the rents of the estates lately forfeited to the crown by the Scotch rebellion, to establish colonies, and trades, and industrial labour in the Highlands. Legge, a protege of Pitt, declared that it was a question of food or continued disquiet in the Highlands; that that mountainous region was so impoverished that food or starving meant loyalty or disloyalty. The bill passed the commons by a majority of a hundred and thirty-four to thirty-nine. Cumberland was furious; he would prefer exterminating the whole of the clans with fire and sword, and he was the more incensed because he had not been consulted on the subject. He managed, through Horace Walpole, to engage Bedford - who, so that he was now but in opposition, apparently did not much regard the nature of the thing opposed - to take the field against it; and, through the same channel, he furnished Bedford with a mass of anecdotes and arguments, to show that a most dangerous lenity had been practised in the Highlands since the rebellion. Spite of this, the bill passed the lords by a majority of eighty against twelve. Cumberland, highly enraged at this exhibition of a truly wise humanity, hurried to the king, and presented him a list of sixty notorious Jacobites, who had received posts and promotions in Scotland since the insurrection, but ministers were sensible enough to know that the only way to put an end to Jacobitism was to give the Jacobites comfortable places. They also passed a very necessary act to confine the benefit of private naturalisation bills to the time during which such foreigners should be resident in the kingdom. An order was also passed this session for printing the journals of parliament. Pelham, also, made a salutary step in financial reform by consolidating the fourteen different stocks into nine; condensing the different classes of annuities into five, chargeable on the sinking fund, and made transferable at the Bank and the South Sea House respectively.

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