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Reign of George III. (Continued) page 2


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Grenville paid no attention to these reasonable representations - he was destined to establish a great principle of colonial government by the loss of a continent. Fifty-five resolutions, prepared by a committee of ways and means, were laid by him on the table of the House of Commons at an early day of the session, imposing on America nearly the same stamp-duties as were already in practical operation in England. These resolutions being adopted, were embodied in a bill; and when it was introduced to the house, it was received with an apathy which betrayed on all hands the profoundest ignorance of its importance. No ordinary turnpike act ever went through it with half the indifference. Horace Walpole, in his private correspondence on all the topics of parliament, never alludes to it but once, and that is to say that on the 7th of February " there was a slight day od the American taxes." Walpole confessed his utter ignorance of American affairs, and almost every other member of parliament might have done the same. This stolid apathy is only equalled by that of our own times which attached to East Indian affairs. In vain did gentlemen out of doors, and in-doors, too - well acquainted with the ruinouš and wicked policy in progress in India - warn and expostulate. They awoke no feelings but impatience and disgust till the tempest burst upon us in all its horrors. So, then, all was apathy and stolid unconsciousness. Burke, who was a spectator of the debates in both houses, in a speech some years afterwards, stated that he never heard a more languid debate than that in the commons. Only two or three persons spoke against the measure, and that with great composure. There was but one division in the whole progress of the bill, and the minority did not reach to more than thirty-nine or forty. In the lords, he said, there was, to the best of his recollection, neither division nor debate! With such ease are empires thrown away, whilst a question of contemptible party interest will convulse parliament and nation.

Yet, if we are to believe colonel Barre, Grenville having spoken of the Americans as our children, planted by our care, and nourished by our indulgence, he burst out - " Children planted by your care! No; your oppression planted them in America. They fled from your tyranny, to a then uncultivated and inhospitable wilderness, exposed to all the hardships to which human nature is liable. They nourished by your indulgence! No; they grew by your neglect of them. Your care of them was displayed, as soon as you began to care about them, by sending persons to rule them who were the deputies of deputies of ministers; men, whose behaviour, on many occasions, has caused the blood of those sons of liberty to recoil within them - men, who have been promoted to the highest seats of justice in that country, in order to escape being brought to the bar of a court of justice in their own. I have been conversant with the Americans, and I know them to be loyal indeed, but a people jealous of their liberties, and who will vindicate them, if ever they should be violated; and let my prediction of this day be remembered, that the same spirit of freedom which actuated that people at first will accompany them still."

Unfortunately, so far as can be discovered from Debrett's parliamentary debates, and the evidence of Burke, it is doubtful whether this spirited appeal was made at the time. Had it been so, it would have produced no effect. It would have been treated only as the expression of chagrin in Barre, who had just been deprived of his regiment. But Barre, on many other occasions, spoke in the same strain, without effect. No eloquence, however divine, could have turned these stupid Pharaohs of England from the work of national dissection. They went on, rejecting all information, all remonstrance. English merchants, connected with these colonies, and others who had interests in them, or had been in them, sent in petitions which were treated with contempt. The agents of Connecticut, Virginia, Rhode Island, Carolina, and Jamaica, begged to be heard, but were refused, and on the 22nd of March the fatal stamp act became law.

Grenville, when afterwards upbraided with this disastrous measure, said, "I did propose the stamp act, and shall have no objection to have it christened in my name." Posterity has taken him at his word. Yet it would be unjust to charge all the blame upon him. Nearly every other member of the ministry and parliament were equally impercipient of the mischief or equally indifferent. Barre, Grenville admits, did anticipate that the Americans would be angry, but he denied that Barre, or any one, had prophesied beforehand what they spoke loud enough after the event. Pitt himself was quite as undiscerning, or as culpable. During all this time, when his voice should have been heard in its most potent tones, it was silent. Either he did not see the extent of the mischief, or he lay wilfully and criminally still, in order to allow his opponents to commit themselves irrevocably with the nation. Nay, what is still more singular, the cool and sagacious Franklin undoubtedly gave up the question as inevitable. Writing to Mr. Charles Thompson, in America, July 11th, 1765 - a letter preserved in the Biography of Jared Sparks - he says, "There is no use in any further opposing this act. We might as well have hindered the sun's setting. That we could not do. But since it is down, my friend, and may be long before it rises again, let us make as good a night of it as we can. We may still light candles. Frugality and industry will go a great way towards indemnifying us." He even consented, at Grenvilles request, in conjunction with the other agents, to nominate such a person, for his own province, as the most suitable distributor of stamps in America, under the act!

But a very different spirit displayed itself in America on the arrival of the news of the passing of the act. Franklin's friend Thompson replied to him, that, instead of lighting candles, there would be works of darkness. The rage of the American public burst forth in unequivocal vigour. At New York, the odious stamp act was represented surmounted with a death's head instead of the royal arms, and was hawked through the streets with the title of "the folly of England and the ruin of America." At Boston the colours of the shipping were lowered half-mast high, and the bells of the city were muffled and tolled funereal knells. Everywhere there was a frenzied excitement, and the provincial assemblies resounded with the clamour of indignant patriotism. It was the fortune of that of Virginia to give the leading idea of union and co-operative resistance, which led to the grand conflict, and to eventual victory over the infatuated mother country. There a very different man to Franklin, started up, and kindled by his fiery breath the torch of confederate resistance, which was soon sent, like the fiery cross, through every state, and lit the conflagration which burnt England and all her follies and despotisms from the country.

Patrick Henry, like Franklin, was an American born. He saw the light at Mount Brilliant, in Virginia, in 1736; consequently, he was now twenty-nine years of age. He had tried his hand at a little shop, at farming, and other things, and failed in all. He then commenced as barrister, on a six weeks' study of the law, but soon found that, though he could not be heavily laden with law, he had eloquence and strong sense, and they gave him immediate popularity. He rose at once to the head of his profession; he became a member of the assembly of burgesses, at Williamsburg, and then he burst out on the stamp act with that fire and impetuosity which carried all before him. "Caesar," he cried, with indignant vehemence, "had his Brutus; Charles I. had his Cromwell; and George III.-" "Treason!" cried the speaker. "Treason! treason!" resounded from all sides of the house; but Henry, pausing only for a moment, added, "may profit by their example. If that be treason, make the most of it."

Catching the contagious fire, the assembly passed a series of resolutions, denying, in the most unqualified language, the right of the mother country to tax them without their consent, and demanding the repeal of the obnoxious statute.

The governor hastened to dissolve the assembly; but the resolutions were already passed, and set the example to the other assemblies. But it was at once seen that, to acquire their full weight, the colonies must unite. Speeches, pamphlets, articles in newspapers, all called for co-operation. A print was published exhibiting a snake cut into a number of pieces, each piece inscribed with the name of a colony, and with the motto, "Join or die" In consequence, several of the states sent representatives to a general congress, to be held at New York in the month of October, to take measures for a general resistance to the stamp act.

Whilst the American colonies were thus stimulated, by unwise taxation, into a temper which never again could be entirely allayed, and which concession only made more determined, because it gave them a heightened idea of their own strength, the king was suddenly attacked with an illness, that startled himself and the kingdom from that security which his apparently robust constitution had inspired. The disorder was attributed to a humour which appeared in his face, and which means had "been employed to remove which only repelled it inwardly, and threw it upon his lungs. He was said to labour under cough and fever; but it became pretty well understood, after a time, that it was something more alarming - that it was, in fact, an attack of that insanity which recurred again and again, and held him for years, during the latter part of his reign, in its fearful power. This time it was of short occurrence; and the moment it was past, George held a levee at St. James's, and appeared at it with a cheerful air, as if to dissipate all alarm. The real nature of the attack was kept as close buried as possible in the inner circle of the palace. But the king himself immediately proposed a measure, which showed that it had awoke serious thoughts in him. He submitted to ministers the propriety of a provision for a regency, in case of any recurring malady which should incapacitate him for business. His eldest on was not yet quite three years old. He did not wish to nominate any particular person now, but to authorise, by an act of parliament, at any time when he might deem it expedient, such person as he thought proper. The matter was discussed in the cabinet, and it was agreed that such a bill should be prepared, empowering the king to name, if deemed necessary, "either the queen, or any other person of the royal family usually residing in Great Britain."

On the 24th of April, accordingly, the king proposed, in a speech from the throne, the measure to the houses in these words. Both houses sent addresses of affection, and the bill was introduced into the house of lords; and it was there contended that it was too vague, no person being directly named, except the queen. To remedy this, the king sent a new message, naming the five princes of the royal house, with the power of nominating others in the case of the deaths of any of them. Still, on the second reading, lord Lyttleton declared that this left it perfectly uncertain who would become regent; and he moved an address to the king to name which one of the persona specified he would nominate as regent. But here the duke of Richmond asked, whether the queen were naturalised; and if not, whether she were capable of acting as regent. He asked, also, who were, strictly speaking, the royal family? The earl of Denbigh replied, "All who were prayed for;" but the duke of Bedford contended that those only in the order of succession constituted the royal family. This went at once to exclude the princess dowager of Wales, the king's mother; and Halifax, his colleague, agreed with him. The question was proposed to lord Mansfield, but he warded it off by saying, that he had his own thoughts who were, and who were not, of the royal family, but he did not choose to express them. The question of the queen's naturalisation was then referred to the judges, who reported that she was capable of acting without any formal naturalisation. The lord chancellor, Henley, also declared that the royal family was not confined to the persons merely in course of succession, as the duke of Bedford supposed. Amidst all this confusion, lord Halifax hastened away to the king, and advised him to have the name of his mother omitted, lest the lords should strike it out, and thus make it appear a public insult. The poor, bewildered king, taken by surprise, said, "I will consent, if it will satisfy my people."

Halifax, possessed of this authority, returned to the house of lords, and announced that, by the king's permission, he proposed the re-commitment of the bill, with the names only of the queen and the sons of the late king now living. Thus, the princess dowager was publicly stigmatised, on the authority of her own son, as incapable of reigning, whilst such men as the butcher Cumberland were made capable. The amendment, as the royal pleasure, was agreed to. The country was struck with astonishment. The duke of Bedford is represented by Horace Walpole as almost dancing about for joy; the consternation of Bute and his party was indescribable. To cover the disgrace, they represented it as the wish of the princess dowager herself.

But, when the king was left to his own reflections, it began to flash upon him that he had, by his weak compliance, openly insulted his own parent in the grossest manner. He bitterly upbraided Halifax with having thus stolen his consent by a surprise. He expressed his mortification to lord Mansfield amid torrents of tears, and demanded Grenville to reinstate the princess's name in the house of commons. But Grenville, with his usual obstinacy, declined to do it, unless it were strongly pressed upon him in the house. He trusted, however, than the opposition, who hated the princess, would relieve him of this necessity voting against the reinsertion of the name. But he was mistaken. Mr. Morton, the chief justice of Chester, one of the Bute party, moved for the insertion of the princess's name in the bill, and the opposition made no objection; they only toe much enjoyed Grenville's embarrassment. He was therefore compelled to insert the name, which - thus falsifying Halifax's assertion to the king, that, if left in, it would be struck out by parliament - was carried by an overwhelming majority.

The circumstance sank deep into the mind of the king, and, resenting especially the conduct of Grenville - who had acted as though he held a monopoly of office - he determined to be rid of him. He therefore consulted with his uncle, the duke of Cumberland. Besides this public affront, and the pertinacity with which Grenville was accustomed to enforce his measures on the royal mind, he had just vexed the monarch in another particular. George had desired a grant of £20,000, to secure a piece of land behind the gardens of Buckingham House, foreseeing the danger of buildings springing up there, - as they afterwards did, in the present Grosvenor Place, - overlooking the gardens, and destroying their retirement. Grenville opposed it. To this might be added the public discontent. Grenville had succeeded as little as Bute in securing the goodwill of the public. There was an under current of popular displeasure, and, whilst the ministers and parliament were thinking little but of their party feuds, the people were on the verge of outbreak. That outbreak, to a certain extent, immediately followed this miserably managed regency bill. On the very day that it passed the, lords, a bill was sent up to it, from the commons, for imposing high duties on foreign silks. The duke of Bedford made a speech against this bill, and was particularly severe on what he termed the folly and selfishness of those concerned in the domestic silk trade. But the fact was, that vast numbers were thrown out of work by the influx of silks from France - through the stipulations of the peace of Paris - and hungry men are not patient listeners to lectures on political economy, much less to taunts, when they are famishing.

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