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Reign of George III. (Continued) page 12

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Dunning, the new solicitor-general, who began as a patron of Wilkes, and professed himself a zealous whig, defended the measure as necessary; that it was applicable to Ireland, and therefore to America. Chatham was so struck with the reasoning and abilities of Dunning some time before, that he said "he was not a lawyer, but the law itself." In this case, his office, which led him on to the title of lord Ashburton, blinded him to the greatest of our constitutional principles. Hannah More represented "his manners as insufferable, coughing and spitting at every word; but his sense and expression finished to the last degree." In this case, he spit in the face of the Americans to the last degree, and was followed by Mr. Vansittart and Mr. Dyson on the same side. But the bulk of the speakers energetically condemned this flagrant violation of the right of jury. Sir William Meredith, quoting lord Bacon, that "to ramble back into antiquity was the same as to innovate," observed, what a monstrous idea it must give the Americans of the English parliament to see it raking up the acts of the most arbitrary times in order to punish her; and sir William Pownall quoted the charter of Massachusetts, and observed that it expressly prohibited the bringing over any man for treasonable acts out of the colony, to try him. He reminded them that these very people quitted this country to avoid tyrannical government, and he was certain that they would now rise to a man rather than submit to any kind of taxation which their own assemblies had not sanctioned. If they would not believe it, at least ministers were now warned.

Notwithstanding, Mr. Rose Fuller's motion to re-commit the address was negatived by one hundred and sixty-nine to sixty-five votes. On the 14th of March a petition from New York, denying their right to tax America in any way, was rejected, on the motion of lord North; and, still later in the session, governor Pownall moved that the revenue acts affecting America should be repealed forthwith. By this time everybody seemed to have become convinced of the folly of the attempt; but ministers had not the i magnanimity to act at once on the certainty that stared them in the face. Parliament was prorogued on the 9th of May, and did not meet again till the following January, as if there were nothing of moment demanding its attention. But during this interval the great events of the time were steadily rolling on, whilst the parliamentary power of England slept. Before tracing these events, we must, however, bring up the other leading topics of the session. The greatest of these, next to that of America, was the case of Wilkes.

With the same want of sagacity which was driving ministers and parliament to the loss of America, they were still persecuting Wilkes into popularity. On the 14th of November, 1768, Sir Joseph Mawby, member for Southwark, presented a petition from Wilkes, reciting all the proceedings of government against him, and praying for his being heard at the bar of the house. The 2nd of December was fixed for this hearing; but, owing to inquiries into the massacre of St. George's Fields, it was postponed, and he still continued in the King's Bench prison unheard, when Mr. Martin, on the 23rd of January, 1769, moved that though he had been convicted of a seditious libel, he was still entitled to the privilege of parliament. Lord North, now chancellor of the exchequer, moved an amendment, in which he styled the libel not only seditious, but impious and blasphemous, and proposed only his discharge from prison. This was carried by a large majority. On the 27th of January, when the subject was again pressed, lord North moved that the petitioner's counsel should confine himself to two points. These two points were, that lord Mansfield had altered the record of his indictment the day before the trial in Westminster, which alteration amounted only to substituting the word "tenor" for "import," a mere technical variation; and the other that Wilkes's "Essay on Woman" had been surreptitiously obtained, by bribing the printer, Curry, to take it from his house, when it had never been published. All other points, lord North contended, were open in a court of law, and that Wilkes was now availing himself of them, and was prosecuting lord Halifax, the secretary of state, on such grounds, laying his damages at twenty thousand pounds. The motion of North was carried, though opposed strenuously by the opposition.

Wilkes appeared on the 31st at the bar of the house, where he took exception to the word "blasphemous" as applied to the "Essay on Woman." Thurlow, afterwards lord chancellor, a most swearing, blaspheming man, protested that, if the house did not declare it blasphemous, it would be a disgrace to it. However, the words "impious" and "obscene" were substituted. On the 1st of February the house determined that Wilkes had not made good the two points, and therefore his petition was frivolous. The next day the house went into another charge against Wilkes. In the preceding April lord Weymouth, previous to the riots in St. George's Fields, had issued a letter, as secretary of state, to the magistrates of Lambeth, warning them of the danger of these riots taking place in the endeavour to free Wilkes from prison, and offering them the aid of the military. Wilkes, while in the King's Bench, had obtained a copy of this letter, and sent it to the "St. James's Chronicle," with his own comments, styling it a "hellish project," and as the direct cause of that "horrid massacre." Weymouth complained to the house of lords that this was a breach of privilege. A conference was had with the commons; Wilkes was brought to the Bar, where Baldwin, the printer, had acknowledged the letter to be his, and then, so far from denying it, claimed the thanks of the country for having exposed that "bloody scroll." The commons decided that he was guilty of an insolent and seditious libel, and on the following day, February 3rd, on the motion of lord Barrington, expelled him the house, by a majority of two hundred and nineteen to one hundred and thirty-seven. The king had directly asked for such a verdict by a letter to lord North, declaring that Wilkes's expulsion was "highly expedient and must be effected."

But the decision was not accomplished without a most determined opposition. The debate lasted till two o'clock of the morning, and called forth all the eloquence of Burke, Beckford, Barre, and others. George Grenville, who commenced the prosecution of Wilkes, as well as the proceedings against America, was partly in favour of both. But his speech, so far from pleasing Wilkes, occasioned him to write a fierce letter to him on some parts of it, which so offended Grenville, that he never again spoke to Wilkes during his life. Burke declared the whole debate a tragi-comedy for the benefit of Wilkes, at the expense of the constitution. The fact that the government was blindly running their heads against the constitution, whilst aiming only at Wilkes, was so palpable, that Dunning, though solicitor- general, kept away, and Conway would not vote. Out of the house, Horace Walpole said, that, to render Wilkes insignificant, was not to keep him out of the house, but to let him in. Wilkes himself, who saw what the result of such proceedings must be, rejoiced in them. The expression of captain Phipps, that the house of commons was wasting the whole session in examining "horse-waterers and newspaper-jackals" was far from expressing the whole mischief. The government were actually stabbing the very vitals of the constitution, and adding, every day, power to the man they sought to put down. Even whilst these debates were proceeding, Wilkes was chosen an alderman of Farringdon ward, and thus became a magistrate of London, whilst declared unfit to sit in parliament, and kept prisoner by government as a criminal!

The direct consequence was that he was immediately nominated again by the freeholders of Middlesex. Mr. Dingley, a mercantile speculator of London, offered himself as the government candidate, but withdrew in a fright, and Wilkes was returned, without opposition, on the 16th of February, only thirteen days after his expulsion. The next day lord Strange moved in the commons, that John Wilkes, after having been expelled, was incapable of serving again in the present parliament, and the case of Sir Robert Walpole was quoted in justification. The opposition once more resisted with the usual arguments, but Dowdeswell hit the weakest point of the expulsion most happily. He asked, if they expelled Wilkes on the grounds of morality, where were they to stop? " You have turned out one worst man in the house; well, is there not, then, another worst man left? And, if you turn him out too, there is another worst man yet left; where will you stop? Whose seat will be secure? You turn out one man of impiety and obscenity: when half- a-dozen members meet over their bottle, is their discourse entirely free from obscenity? Even in the cabinet - that pious, reforming society! - why, were Mr. Wilkes to be adjudged there, and the innocent man to throw the first stone, they would slink out, one by one, and leave the culprit uncondemned!"

This sally not only hit hard many members of the commons, but of the lords too; especially Sandwich and the duke of Grafton, who paraded the notorious Nancy Parsons at the head of his table, and, though first lord of the treasury to the pious king George, was frequently seen handing her from the opera house in presence of the queen. A ministry with such unclean hands, thus straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel, was damaging public morals far more than Wilkes could have done. Wilkes was a second time declared incapable of sitting, the election was declared void, and the public indignation rose higher than ever. The freeholders of Middlesex instantly met at the London Tavern, and subscribed on the spot two thousand pounds towards defraying the expenses of Wilkes's election. They then formed themselves into a "Society for Supporting the Bill of Rights," and a third time proposed Wilkes as their candidate. The Dingley party, on the other hand, met at the King's Arm Tavern, in Cornhill, to propose a loyal address to his majesty, but were ousted by the Wilkesites. Eventually, however, they managed to get up their address, and on the 22nd of March went in procession to present it. But the mob surrounded them, shouting "Wilkes and liberty!" and accompanied them by a hearse, with rude paintings upon it of the death of young Allen by the soldiers, and that of Clarke, a man killed by the chairmen of Sir William Beauchamp Procter, in the election contest with Wilkes's friend, serjeant Glynn. On reaching St. James's Palace, lord Talbot rushed out and seized two of the mob, and the soldiers seized fifteen more. The address was carried in amid groans and hisses.

Wilkes was immediately returned for Middlesex, Dingley not finding any one who dared to nominate him. The next day, the 17th of March, the commons again voted the election void. In this exasperated state of the public feeling, the chairmen of Sir William Procter, Balfe and Macquirk, were brought to trial, and a verdict of wilful murder returned against them. The government referred the point to the College of Surgeons, who declared that the blow received by Clarke was not necessarily the cause of his death; and government granted the condemned men a free pardon. This open contempt of the law in the case of murderers - so that they were murdering in support of the government - did not merely shock the populace, it roused the indignation of the most clear-sighted of the community.

With the commencement of this year, 1769, there commenced the most remarkable series of political letters, under the signature of "Junius," which ever appeared in our political literature. Time has not yet disclosed who this public censor was, though the most weighty reasons attach the belief to its having been Sir Philip Francis. Whoever he was, his terrible dissections of the conduct and characters of public men - the duke of Grafton, the duke of Bedford, lord Mansfield, and others, not excepting the king himself - caused the most awful consternation amongst the ranks of the ministry, and raised the highest enthusiasm in the public by the keen and caustic edge of his satire and his censure, by the clear tone of his reasonings, his obvious knowledge of secret government movements, and the brilliant lustre of his style. In a letter to the duke of Grafton, dated March 18th, on this acquittal of the murderers, he showed that the surgeon who gave evidence on the trial, that Clarke did die of the wound, was on his oath, while the two applied to afterwards by government were not on their oaths; and he asked the duke of Grafton, "When this unhappy man, Macquirk, had been solemnly tried, convicted, and condemned, when it appeared that he had been frequently employed in the same services, and no excuse for him could be drawn, either from the innocence of his former life or the simplicity of his character, it was not hazarding too much to interpose the strength of the prerogative between this felon and the justice of his country?" Whether he could not be satisfied "without committing the honour of his sovereign, or hazarding the reputation of his government?"

At the same unfortunate juncture, the king insisted on lord North demanding from parliament half a million for the liquidation of his debts, though he possessed a civil list of eight hundred thousand a-year. Simple as were the habits of George and his queen, the most reckless disregard of economy was practised in his household. There were no means taken to check the rapacity of his tradesmen, and it was shown that even for the one item of the royal coach, in 1762, there had been charged seven thousand five hundred and sixty-two pounds! The commons voted the half million, the public grumbled, and the popularity of Wilkes, the great champion of reform, rose higher than ever. A fourth time the freeholders of Middlesex nominated him as their candidate; and on this occasion a fresh government nominee presented himself. This was colonel Henry Lawes Luttrell, the eldest son of lord Irnham, lately created an Irish peer, and afterwards made viscount and earl of Carhampton. Luttrell was already member for Bossiney, but resigned and run this risk at the request of government. These Luttrells, father and son, had a most odious name in Ireland, and Junius, in his sixty-seventh letter, one addressed to Grafton, has branded this opponent of Wilkes, this government protege, to all posterity for his crimes. Two other candidates, encouraged by Luttrell's appearance, came forward; and on the 13th of April the list of the poll, which had gone off quietly, showed Wilkes, one thousand one hundred and forty-three; Luttrell, two hundred and ninety-six? Whitaker, five; and Roach, none.

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