OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Reign of George III. (Continued) page 8


Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 <8> 9 10 11 12 13

During this time the public and many of his friends expressed the utmost impatience, not comprehending the nature of the case; and his enemies demanded why, being incapable or indisposed to discharge his duties, he did not resign, but continued to receive his salary. These complaints have been repeated by historians; but the simple fact was, that he was as incapable of thinking of his salary as of resigning his duties. Once, indeed, he had sufficient command of his energies to request, in January, 1768, that the king would resume the privy seal; but his majesty would not hear of it, saying that his name alone enabled the. government to go on better than it could without it. And thus, as the Cid Ruy Diaz, though dead, was carried into the field of battle on his horse, and thus, by his imagined presence, put the enemy to flight, the name of Chatham, in some degree, still gave force to the administration of affairs.

Such is the explanation of this episode in the life of Chatham, on account of which so much censure has been heaped upon him, as a wayward and intractable man. As if he were likely to be so regardless of his own fame, of his great designs, and of the country's prosperity, for which he had at other times made such gigantic efforts. The very circumstances of his setting out from Burton Pynsent to town, when still so unfit, and of his seeking a medical means of enabling him to go on and attend to business, are of themselves sufficient proofs of his anxiety to have acted, had he been able.

Such a strange calamity could not but be attended with the most mischievous consequences. Chatham was obliged to leave town, and seek retirement and a purer air at North End, near Hampstead. Townshend, who in a few days would have ceased to be chancellor of the exchequer, still retained office, and now showed more freely the wild and erratic character of his genius. He was a singular and meteorlike combination of ambition, brilliancy, wit, levity, and recklessness. He more and more indulged himself in eloquent but startling speeches in the house; and by one, delivered after a dinner-party at his own house, and thence called the "champagne speech," he gave a loose to all the whimsies of his fancy, and astonished the whole country. In it he quizzed and satirised both himself and his colleagues, as well as all other parties. Horace Walpole says that it was "a torrent of wit, parts, humour, knowledge, absurdity, vanity, and fiction, brightened by all the graces of comedy, the happiness of allusion and quotation, and the buffoonery of farce." He had long been preparing it; and Walpole says that for himself, "it was the most singular pleasure he ever enjoyed."

Such a man was evidently out of his sphere; he would have made an admirable comic actor, but was a fatal chancellor of the exchequer. There were now two questions of almost unprecedented importance before the government, those of India and America. Chatham was away, and Townshend plunged into them with all his inconsiderate vivacity.

The East India Company had proposed to make certain overtures to government, in order to stay the searching inquiry and inevitable measures which Chatham would have introduced for the recognition of the rights of the crown. Nothing could be more fortunate for the company than Chatham's illness. They drew Townshend into interviews with them during the recess, and flattered his vanity with the prospect of his achieving the settlement without the great minister. They now presented a string of propositions to the house of commons, which, instead of allowing the government to approach to anything like the grand plan of Chatham's for defining and fixing the rights of the country over India, and for regulating the company's conduct towards the natives, merely offered an annual payment of four hundred thousand pounds to government, on condition that the charter was continued till 1800; that the internal duties on tea should be lowered; the monopoly of trade to the Indies be secured for that term to the company; and that government should use its influence with France to procure the demands of the company for the conveyance of the French prisoners home, and with Spain for the payment of the Manilla ransom. In such terms was this question settled for the present, though not without strong opposition in the lords; and so elated was the company, that its stock immediately rose six per cent., and the proprietors raised their dividends to ten and then twelve and a half per cent. There was a danger of another jobbing mania, like that of the South Sea Bubble, and government was obliged to step in, and, by a bill, restrained the annual dividends to ten per cent.

This was bad enough; but the proceedings with regard to America were far worse, and put the finish to the mad policy of Grenville. Grenville, in fact, was again the instigator of the fresh sins. He proposed that, notwithstanding the resistance of the Americans, they should be compelled to maintain the troops employed there, and that taxes of some kind should be levied on them to the amount of four hundred thousand pounds per annum. Wise men would, at all events, have let the subject rest till the irritation occasioned by the stamp act had subsided, and until the best mode of proceeding could have had full and mature consideration. The temper of the Americans still continued most excited and antagonistic. They still refused to find the vinegar, salt, &c., required by the mutiny act, and the assembly of New York had set aside the act altogether, by a decree of its own. Even Chatham had been roused from his lethargy by the accounts of the spirit of the colonists to condemn their conduct in the severest terms. In reply to their continued remonstrances against the mutiny act, he declared that they would, by their violence and ingratitude, bring destruction on their heads. His friend Beckford protested that the devil possessed the minds of the Americans; that Grenville's act had raised the foul fiend, and that only a prudent firmness would lay him for ever.

To such prudence Townshend was a stranger. He had lost half a million from the revenue by the reduction of the land tax, and he pledged himself to the house to recover it from the Americans. He declared that he fully agreed with George Grenville, even in the principle of the stamp act, and ridiculed the distinction set up by Chatham, and admitted by Franklin, of the difference betwixt internal and external taxation. This was language calculated to enrage Chatham, could anything at that moment have touched him; it was more calculated to fire the already heated minds of the colonists, who, the more they reflected on Chatham's lofty language on the supreme authority of the mother country in the declaratory act, the more firmly they repudiated it.

The speech of Townshend, and his proposition to lay his new taxes in the shape of import duties, which Franklin had declared were quite allowable, and could not be objected to by his constituents the Americans, greatly alarmed lord Shelburne, who, as one of the secretaries of state, was däily receiving news of the ominous state of public feeling in the colonies. He declared that he could not understand the conduct and language of Townshend. To lay import duties on glass, paper, painters' colours, and tea, which would produce only thirty-five thousand or forty thousand pounds a year, was certainly to endanger a fierce excitement for a most paltry profit. He considered the language in which this was proposed the most unlikely to make the impost go down with the Americans.

But Gerard Hamilton, best known as "single-speech" Hamilton, who knew the colonies well, warned the ministers of the mine they were rushing upon in strong terms. "There are," he said, "two hundred thousand men in these colonies fit not only to bear arms, but, having arms in their possession, unrestrained by the game laws. In Massachusetts there is an express law, by which every man is obliged to have a musket, a pound of powder, and a pound of bullets, always by him; so there is nothing wanting but a knapsack, or old stocking, which will do as well, to equip an army for marching, and nothing more than a Sartorius or a Spartacus at their head, requisite to beat your troops and your custom-house officers out of the country, and set your laws at defiance. There is no saying what their leaders may put them upon; but, if they are active, clever people, and love mischief as well as I do peace and quiet, they will furnish matter of consideration to the wisest amongst you, and perhaps dictate their own terms at last, as the Roman people formerly did in their famous secession upon the Sacred Mount. For my own part, I think you have no right to tax them, and that every measure built upon the supposed right stands upon a rotten foundation, and must consequently tumble down, perhaps upon the heads of the workmen."

This was clear, sound sense, and completely prophetic in its soundness. There was another imminent danger which lord Shelburne glanced at - that France and Spain, eager for avenging themselves of the disgrace and losses which Chatham had piled upon them, would be likely to step in, should there be a breach with America, and assist to foil us. But so little did these dangers present themselves to men generally, so little did they, even the greatest of them, Chatham and Burke, see clearly what Hamilton saw - that we had no right to tax them, but through their own representatives - that this bill passed with the utmost indifference, and was immediately followed by two others, one putting these and all other duties and customs that might be laid on the American colonies, under the management of the king's resident commissioners; and the other prohibiting the legislature of New York from passing any act, for any purpose whatever, until the mutiny act should be complied with. This last act was the only one complied with by the colonists, whilst, at the same time, it no doubt strengthened their opposition to the rest.

The session was closed with the voting of annuities of eight thousand pounds a-year each to the king's brothers, the duke of York, who soon after died, as supposed, in consequence of excess, at Modena, in Italy, and the dukes of Gloucester and Cumberland; and parliament was prorogued on the 2nd of July.

But through the whole of this session the opposition, encouraged by the absence of Chatham, had kept up a continual system of annoyance, and rendered the ministry without a head anything but a bed of roses. General Conway was heartily disgusted with his position, and anxious to resign. He declared that no life could be so unsupportable as a ministerial one at that moment, and that it was impossible for any one, who had not gone through the ordeal, to form any conception of the manoeuvres, intrigues, and cabals, that prevailed; that there were so many great men in the world, and so many little ones belonging to them, that it was impossible to do the country's business properly. So far had the opposition prevailed through the illness of Chatham, that in the debate in the lords on the Massachusetts bill, the majority was only two - sixty-five against sixty-three. The ministers, but especially the duke of Grafton, who took the place and cares of Chatham, were in the most terrible anxieties. Nor was the king less so. He wrote the most pressing letters to Chatham to give them, if possible, his advice, and offered himself to call. Through the whole he showed the most extraordinary firmness, declaring that, though none of his ministers should stand by him, he would not truckle.

No sooner was the session at an end, than it was deemed necessary to endeavour to make some alterations in the cabinet. Townshend had retired to his house in Oxfordshire, and was supposed to be planning arrangements with some of the great whig houses which should place him at the head of the administration. To counteract this he empowered Grafton to open communications with the marquis of Rockingham, and this led to others with the dukes of Bedford, Newcastle, Richmond, and Portland, the earl of Sandwich, and viscount Weymouth. But these negotiations were defeated by the duke of Bedford and Lord Temple, as well as Grenville, who had also been invited to co-operate, insisting on America being compelled by force, if necessary, to submit to the enactments of this country. To this Rockingham objected, as well as to the duke of Bedford putting out general Conway to make way for his creature Rigby, whom he was always dragging after him.

In the midst of these abortive attempts, Townshend died on the 4th of September, of a putrid fever, in the forty- second year of his age. This event necessitated some changes. Lord North was prevailed upon to take Townshend's place, as chancellor of the exchequer; Thomas Townshend, a cousin of Charles Townshend, taking that of lord North, the paymastership of the forces, and Mr. Jenkinson succeeding Thomas Townshend as one of the lords of the treasury. General Conway and lord Northington retired, though Conway, at the express desire of the king, remained in the cabinet, and as spokesman of the house of commons. Again the duke of Bedford was applied to. He refused office for himself, for his health was failing, and he had just lost his only son by a violent death; but he consented, instead of the everlasting Rigby, to introduce lord Weymouth as secretary of state, Rigby still having a snug berth. Lord Gower was made lord president, and lord Hillsborough was installed in a new office, that of secretary for the colonies, suggested by the increased business in that department.

Many of these arrangements would have been most unwelcome to Chatham, had he been in a condition to notice them; but he continued sunk in his depression, and the present ministry took the name of the Grafton ministry instead of the Chatham, though he still retained the privy seal.

Parliament met on the 24th of November, but little real business was transacted. The chief matter was the so-called Nullum Tempus Bill, introduced by Sir George Saville, one of the members for Yorkshire. The measure arose out of private enmities, but seriously affected the property of the crown. Amongst the vast estates given by William HI. to his favourite Dutch follower, the duke of Portland, out of the crown lands, was a fine estate including the Honour of Penrith. Contiguous to this lay the forest of Ingle wood, which Portland, like so many of our nobility, had quietly appropriated, though not comprised within the terms of his grant. Sir James Lowther, a man of high tory principles, and of arbitrary temper, as well as of enormous landed estates in Cumberland and Westmoreland, taking advantage of the duke of Portland being now in opposition, applied for and obtained a lease of the king's interest in the forest of Inglewood, on the ground of the old state maxim, that "Nullum tempus regi vel ecclesiae occurrit" - that no lapse of time affects the rights of king or church. The lease was readily granted, but the circumstance instantly raised a fierce clamour amongst those who held similar property by similar insufficient titles, and Sir George Saville brought in a bill called the Nullum Tempus Bill, to resist the claims of the crown on any property over which for sixty years it had not exercised its rights. This would have been a fine boon to numbers of noblemen and gentlemen who were quietly holding such crown property by no valid title, and would have been a fatal measure for the crown. Ministers were obliged, for decency's sake, to resist it, and it was thrown out by one hundred and seventy- four votes to one hundred and thirteen; but the very next session it was quietly introduced again, and passed almost unanimously. It was a measure too inviting to the aristocracy, and certainly alienated at once vast tracts of land from the crown. This, in fact, was one of those many means by which our landed aristocracy have robbed the crown of its revenues, and thrown it for support on the nation at large.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 <8> 9 10 11 12 13

Pictures for Reign of George III. (Continued) page 8

Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin >>>>
William Pitt
William Pitt >>>>
The Princess Amelia
The Princess Amelia >>>>
Riots at Boston
Riots at Boston >>>>
Lord Clive
Lord Clive >>>>
John Wilkes
John Wilkes >>>>
Wilkes triumphal entry into the city
Wilkes triumphal entry into the city >>>>
Town and Harbour of Boston
Town and Harbour of Boston >>>>
Faneuil hall
Faneuil hall >>>>
British troops entering Boston
British troops entering Boston >>>>

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About