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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 28


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The year 1792 opened in England with a state of intense anxiety regarding the menacing attitude of affairs in France. There were all the signs of a great rupture with the other continental nations; yet the king, in opening parliament, on the 31st of January, did not even allude to these ominous circumstances, but held out the hope of continued peace. George III. stated that he had been engaged with some of his allies in endeavouring to bring about a pacification betwixt the Russians and Austrian s with Turkey, and that he hoped for the conclusion of the war in India against Tippoo Sahib, ere long, through the able management of lord Cornwallis. He also announced the approaching marriage of the duke of York with the eldest daughter of the king of Prussia.

Grey and Fox, in the debate upon the address, condemned strongly our interference on behalf of Turkey - a state which, from its corruption, they contended, ought to be allowed to disappear. They also expressed a strong opinion that the war in India would not be so soon terminated. Fox was very severe on the treatment of Dr. Priestly and the dissenters at Birmingham, declaring the injuries done to Dr. Priestly and his friends equally disgraceful to the nation and to the national church. He passed the highest encomiums on the loyalty of the dissenters. Pitt regretted the outrages at Birmingham, but slid easily over them to defend the support of Turkey as necessary to the maintenance of the balance of power in Europe; and he concluded the debate by stating that the revenue of the last year had been sixteen million seven hundred and seventy thousand pounds, and that it left nine hundred thousand pounds towards the liquidation of the national debt.

The opposition, headed by Fox and Grey, determined to attack the ministry on the score of their Indian policy. They allied themselves with Sir Philip Francis, and at their suggestion major Maitland, on the 9th of February, moved for papers regarding the war with Tippoo, and the conduct of this war by lord Cornwallis. Francis seconded him. These being produced, Maitland and Francis strongly condemned both the war and the conduct of it by lord Cornwallis. Ministers defended the war on the ground of Tippoo recommencing hostilities, and they carried a resolution in commendation of the conduct of lord Cornwallis.

Grey and Fox then made an equally brisk attack on the support of Turkey by ministers. They greatly applauded the czarina, and Fox affirmed that, so far from Turkey soliciting our interference, it had objected to it. On the same day, in the lords, the earl Fitzwilliam opened the same question. He contended that we had fitted out an expensive armament to prevent the conquest by Russia of Oczakoff, and yet had not done it, but had ended in accepting the very terms that the czarina had offered in 1790. Ministers replied that, though we had not saved Oczakoff, we had prevented, by terror of our fleet, still more extensive attempts by Russia. Though the opposition, in both cases, was defeated, the attack was renewed on the 27th, when the earl Stanhope - an enthusiastic worshipper of the French revolution - recommended, as the best means of preventing aggression by continental monarchs, a close alliance on our part with France, which had sworn to renounce all projects of aggrandisement, and this at the very moment that France was about to burst forth on the most wholesale scale of aggrandisement that the world had ever seen! Two days afterwards, Mr. Whitbread introduced a string of resolutions in the commons, condemning the interference of ministers betwixt Russia and Turkey, and the needless expenditure thus incurred, going over much the same ground. A strenuous debate followed, in which Grey, Fox, Wyndham, Francis, Sheridan, and the whole whig phalanx, took part. On this occasion, Mr. Jenkinson, afterwards earl of Liverpool, first appeared, and made his maiden speech in defence of ministers. He showed that the system of aggression had commenced with Russia, and menaced the profoundest dangers to all Europe; that Britain had wisely made alliance with Prussia to stem the evil, and he utterly repudiated all the ideas of the moderation of the czarina, whose ambition he truly asserted to be of the most unscrupulous kind.

Prussia being introduced into the debate, on the 1st of March it was renewed by Mr. Martin, followed by Francis, Fox, and others, who represented that the secret was thus out; we were fighting again on account of the old mischief - German alliances. Pitt ably defended the policy of ministers. He asked whether Russia was to be quietly permitted to drive the Turks from Europe, and plant herself in Constantinople, with Greece as part of her empire? In that case, Russia would become the first maritime power in the world, for her situation in the heart of the Mediterranean, and with Greeks for her sailors - the best sailors in that sea - would give her unrivalled advantages, and make her the most destructive opponent of English interests that had ever arisen. Pitt drew a dark character of the czarina - the Messalina of the North; reminded the house of her endeavours to strike a mortal blow at us during the American war; of her arrogance and insolence on many occasions, and said that he did not envy Fox the honour of having his bust ordered by this notorious woman from Nollekens, the sculptor. Fox well deserved this hard blow, for he had shown a strange blindness to the grasping designs of Russia, and confessed that, whilst in office, he had refused to concur in remonstrances to Russia against the seizure of the Crimea. The motion of Whitbread was rejected by a majority of two hundred and forty-four against one hundred and sixteen.

On the 7th of March the house of commons went into committee on the establishment of the duke of York, on account of his marriage. On this occasion Fox united with Pitt in supporting the recommendation that twenty-five thousand pounds a-year should be added to the twelve thousand pounds which the duke already had; besides this the duke had a private revenue of four thousand pounds a-year, making altogether forty-one thousand pounds a-year, besides the bishopric of Osnaburg, in Germany, which had been conferred on the duke, though a layman and a soldier. Notwithstanding the union of whigs and tories on this occasion, the vote did not pass without some sharp remarks on the miserable stinginess of the king of Prussia, who only gave his daughter the paltry sum of twenty-five thousand pounds as a dowry, and stipulated that even that should be returned in case of the duke's death, though in that case his daughter was to have a permanent allowance of eight thousand pounds a-year.

Fox, on this occasion, also introduced the subject of the prince of Wales's allowance, who, he contended, had far less than had been allowed to a prince of Wales since the accession of the house of Hanover, that allowance being one hundred thousand pounds a-year; and the present parsimony towards the prince being grossly aggravated by the royal civil list having been raised, in this reign, from six hundred thousand pounds to nine hundred thousand pounds, and the privy purse from six thousand pounds to sixty thousand pounds. Fox's remarks were rendered all the more telling because, when the house went into committee on the finances, Pitt had made a most flourishing statement of the condition of the exchequer. He professed to take off the taxes which pressed most on the poorer portion of the population, namely, on servants, the late augmentations on malt, on wagons, on inhabited houses, &c., to the amount of two hundred thousand pounds, and to appropriate four hundred thousand pounds towards the reduction of the national debt. Still blind to the storm rising across the straits of Dover, he declared that these were mere trifles compared with what we should be able to do shortly, for never was there a time when a more durable peace might be expected!

But besides nascent war, the anti-slavery movements of Wilberforce, Pitt's friend, were decidedly adverse to the expected increase of income. The abolitionists had now begun to abandon the use of slave-grown sugar, and they proposed to extend this to all the produce of the West India islands, till the slave trade should be abolished. This alarmed Pitt, as chancellor of the exchequer, and he prevailed on Wilberforce to discourage this project for awhile. The abolition cause received serious injury from the frightful insurrection which had broken out in St. Domingo, and from the outrages which the insurgent blacks had perpetrated on the whites. These were held up by the friends of slavery as the legitimate consequences of these novel doctrines of philanthropy. What made the matter more serious was, that Brissot and the worst of the jacobins were the authors of these bloody tragedies, by their violent advocacy of the universal adoption of the Rights of Man. All these men were enthusiastic applauders of the English abolitionists. Paine was a prominent abolitionist; and Clarkson, the great right-hand of Wilberforce, was an equal admirer of the French revolution, and gave serious offence by attending a great dinner at the Crown and Anchor, to celebrate the taking of the Bastille. These circumstances had a great effect when Wilberforce, on the 2nd of April, brought in his annual motion for the immediate abolition of the slave-trade. Fox and Pitt eloquently supported him; but Dundas, now become secretary of state, prevailed to introduce into the motion the words " gradual abolition." The Wilberforce party managed to carry a motion in the commons, for the abolition of the trade to the West Indies, on the 1st of January, 1796; but this was thrown out in the lords, where it was opposed by the duke of Clarence, who had been in the West Indies, and thought the descriptions of the condition of the slaves overdrawn. It was also opposed by Thurlow, by Horsley, bishop of St. David's, and a considerable majority.

During this session, a very important bill was introduced, and passed both houses, for the improvement of the police, and the administration of justice in London. The old unpaid and very corrupt magistrates were set aside. The metropolis was divided into five districts, each having its police-office, at which three justices were to sit, each having a salary of three hundred pounds per annum. They were not allowed to take fees in their own persons, and all fines paid in the courts were to be put in a box towards defraying the salaries and other official expenses. Constables and magistrates were empowered to take up persons who could not give a good account of themselves, and commit them as vagabonds.

A great raid of reform was made in the opposition, and it fell first on the corruption of the boroughs, both in Scotland and England. The subject was brought on, as it were, incidentally. An inclosure bill, affecting some parts of the New Forest, Hampshire, was attacked, as a job intended to benefit Pitt's stanch supporter, George Rose, who had rapidly risen, from an unknown personage, to the post of secretary to the treasury. Rose had a house and small estate in the forest, and there was a universal outcry, both in parliament and in the public press, that, in addition to the many sinecures of the fortunate Rose, there was also a sop intended for him at the cost of the crown lands. The reformers were successful in casting much blame on ministers, and they followed it up, by charging Rose with bribing one Thomas Smith, a publican in Westminster, to procure votes for the ministerial candidate, lord Hood. Though the motion for a committee of the house to inquire into the particulars of this case was defeated, yet the debates turned the attention of the country on the scandalous bribery going on in boroughs. The Scotch, the countrymen of Rose, petitioned for an inquiry into the condition of their boroughs. Of the sixty-six boroughs, petitions for such inquiry came from fifty. They complained that the members and magistrates of those corporations were self-elected, and by these means the rights and property of the inhabitants were grievously invaded.

Sheridan introduced the subject on the 18th of April, and Fox ably supported him; but the motion was negatived. But this defeat only appeared to stimulate the reformers to higher exertions. On the 28th of April, a new reform society, entitled the Society of the Friends of the People, was formally inaugurated by the issue of an address, which was signed by no less than twenty-eight members of the house of commons, and a considerable number of lords, amongst them, the lords Lauderdale, John Russell, Dair, Stanhope, and Fitzgerald. Their title was unfortunate, for, though they were united only for parliamentary reform, this cognomen was so much in the French style, as to create suspicion and alarm. Many of the members were known to be warm admirers of the French revolution, and about the same time, another and decidedly French-admiring society started, calling itself the Corresponding Society, and prosecuting a zealous intercourse with the Girondists and jacobins. The admiration of French political principles rendered the conservative portion of the population quite determined to resist all innovations; and, as this Society of the Friends of the People was regarded as a direct imitation of the jacobin club, it was violently opposed and stigmatised. On the 30th of April, Mr. Grey, as representative of this society, rose to announce that in the next session he meant to introduce a regular measure for the reform of parliament; that it was necessary, he said, had long been asserted by the two leading men of the house - Pitt and Fox. Pitt rose on this, and declared himself still the friend of reform; but he contended that this was not the time to attempt it. He had only, he said, to point to the state of things in France, and to the effervescence which those principles of anarchy had produced here, to show the necessity of remaining quiet for the present; neither did he believe that the great body of the English people would support any immediate change in our constitution. Fox upbraided Pitt with the abandonment of his former sentiments, and contended that we had only to look at the money spent lately in the armament against Russia, money thus spent without any consent of the people, to perceive the necessity of reform in our representation. He referred to Pitt's remarks on revolutionary books and pamphlets recently published, and declared that he had read very few of them. He had only read one of the two books of a native of America, Thomas Paine, the " Rights of Man," and did not like it. If the rest of his information on this subject was not more correct than that regarding the native country of Paine, it was not worth much. Burke replied to him, and drew a most dismal picture of the condition of France under her revolutionists. He said that the French assembly was composed of seven hundred persons, of whom four hundred were lawyers, and three hundred of no description; that he could not name a dozen out of the whole, he believed, with one hundred pounds a-year; and he asked whether we should like a parliament in this country resembling it. In this debate, the further dissolution of the whig party became obvious, by Wyndham and others taking the side of Burke.

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Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 28

Russian sledge driver
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Russian peasants
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Montreal
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St. Jons
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East India House
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Taking the civic Oath
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Death of Mirabeau
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Porte St. Denis
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View of Notre Dame
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Arrest of the Royal family
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Royal family of France
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Tuileries and Louver
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St. Jacques De La Boucherie
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Forest of the Gironde
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Danton
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National Assembly
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Lighthouse of Cordovan
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Madame Roland
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La Vendee
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Tippoo Sahibs sons
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Plan of Seringapatam
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Marriage of Duke of York
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William Wilberforce
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Assassination of Gustavus III
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Sans Culottes
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