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Reign of George III. (Continued) page 9

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On the 11th of March, 1768, the parliament, having nearly lived its term of seven years, was dissolved, and the most unprecedented corruption, and bribery, and buying and selling the people's right to their own house, came into play. The system originated by Walpole was now grown gigantic, and the sale and purchase of rotten boroughs was carried on in the most unblushing manner by candidates for parliament, particularly aristocrats, who had managed to secure the old boroughs as their property, or to control them by their property.

The mayor and aldermen of Oxford wrote to their members, long before the dissolution, to offer them the renewal of their seats for the sum of seven thousand five hundred pounds, which they meant to apply to the discharge of the debts of the corporation. The house arrested the mayor and aldermen, and clapped them in Newgate for five days; but on their humbly begging pardon at the bar of the house, they released them again to continue their base contract. Nay, whilst in prison, these corporation officials had sold their borough to the duke of Marlborough and the earl of Abingdon. Lord Chesterfield states in his letters to his son that he had offered four thousand five hundred pounds for a borough seat for him, but was laughed at; and was told that the rich East and West Indian proprietors were buying up little boroughs at the rate of from three thousand to nine thousand pounds. Thus new interests were coming in from the East and West Indies, by which men, seeking to protect their own corruptions in these countries, and to secure their unrighteous prey, swelled the great parliamentary sink of corruption, by which the people were turned out of their own house by the wealthy, and made to pay their greedy demands on the government; for that which these representatives of rotten boroughs bought they meant to sell, and at a plenteous profit. Well might Chatham say this rotten part of the constitution wanted amputating Where the people of corporations had votes, they were corrupted beyond all hope of resistance by the lavish bribes of the wealthy. The earl Spencer spent seventy thousand pounds to secure the borough of Northampton for his nominee. There were attorneys acting then as now for such boroughs, and such corrupt constituents, who were riding about offering them to the highest bidders. One Hickey was notorious amongst this tribe of political pimps and panderers; and, above all, the borough of Shoreham distinguished itself by its venality, which assumed an aspect almost of blasphemy. The burgesses united in a club to share the proceeds of bribery equally amongst themselves, and styled themselves "the Christian Club," in imitation of the first Christians, who had all things in common!

In the train of all this unprincipled corruption followed riots and tumults amongst the people, who were at once starving from the scarcity and dearness of bread, and infuriated with drinking to serve the views of these base candidates. From the centre of this unholy chaos again rose the figure of John Wilkes, as the reputed champion of liberty. Wilkes, uneasy in Paris, his funds dried up, his debts increasing, turned a sharp eye on the proceedings in England. There he saw the great mind of Chatham sunk in eclipse; and in his absence the members of both parliament and cabinet divided into furious factions, thinking not of the honour and interest of the country, but only of their own paltry power and enrichment. The people, left without representatives, without defenders, sunk in ignorance, and suffering from scarcity, were showing their discontent by public disturbances. Never was there so fine an opportunity for a bold demagogue. Was it any wonder that, thus cheated, and neglected, and uninstructed, the people should flock round the first impudent champion that offered to fight their battles? If men cannot have a stone bridge over a river, they will take up with a wooden one, or even a hollow tree, to carry them over. Wilkes was that hollow tree - a noisy and clever demagogue, an adventurer on his own account, caring little or nothing for real liberty or the people; but he was the only man who cried "Liberty!" and the people, without a leader or a friend, were sure to echo the cry.

Wilkes came over to England on the 7th of February. He was advised to try Westminster, where Mr. John Churchill, the brother of his coadjutor, the satirist, and others, were in his interest, but he boldly struck for the city of London. He took up his quarters with Mr. Hayley, in Great Alie Street, Goodman's Fields. There he wrote a most submissive and pleading letter to the king, stating his loyalty and his grievances, and praying for a full pardon, that he might enjoy the privileges of his country. No notice was taken of his letter; and though, when he first entered London, Horace Mann said he saw his hackney-chair followed only by a dozen women and children, yet, no sooner did he boldly appear in the streets of London, with the outlawry still in full force, yet declaring himself a candidate for the representation of the city, than he was received by the crowd with the most vociferous acclamations. There were seven candidates at the poll. Wilkes received one thousand two hundred and forty-seven votes, but he was still lowest on the poll. His friends, the mob, had no franchise.

Undaunted by his defeat, he immediately offered himself for Middlesex, and there, though the mob could not vote, they could act for him. They assembled in vast numbers, shouting, "Wilkes and Liberty!" They accompanied him to the poll; they stopped all the roads that led to the hustings at Brentford, suffering no one to pass who was not for Wilkes and liberty. His zealous supporters wore blue cockades or paper in their hats, inscribed " Wilkes and Liberty," or " No. 45." At night they assembled in the streets, insisting on people illuminating their houses in honour of Wilkes; abused all Scotchmen they met; scribbled "No. 45" on the panels of carriages as they passed; made the parties in them shout their favourite cry; broke the windows of lord Bute at the west-end, and of Harley, the lord mayor, at the Mansion House - the same Harley, a younger brother of the earl of Oxford, who, as sheriff, had had to burn the "No. 45" of the "North Briton," in Cornhill. By such means the mob managed to return Wilkes at the very head of the poll.

This was wormwood to the government; and Wilkes did not leave them many days in quiet. He had declared that, on returning to England, he would surrender himself under his outlawry on the first day of the next term. Accordingly, on the 20th of April, he presented himself to the court of king's bench, attended by his counsel^ Mr. Glynn, and avowed himself ready to surrender to the laws. Lord Mansfield declared that he was not there by any legal process, and that the court could not take notice of him; but in a few days he was taken on a writ of capias ad legatum, and on the 8th of June he was again brought before lord Mansfield, who declared the outlawry void through a flaw in the indictment; but the original verdict against him was confirmed, and he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment, and two fines of five hundred pounds each - one for the "North Briton," and the other for the "Essay on Woman."

But these proceedings had not been effected without continual tumults. On the day that Wilkes was arrested by order of the king's bench, on the 27th of April, and, being refused bail, was sent to the king's bench prison, the mob stopped the hackney coach as it proceeded over Westminster Bridge, took out the horses, and, with shouts of " Wilkes and Liberty!" drew him, not to the prison, but into the city, and took him into a tavern in Cornhill, where they kept him till midnight, declaring that he should enjoy his freedom in spite of the law. But Wilkes knew his position better than his champions, and, stealing away, he went voluntarily to the king's bench, and surrendered himself. The next morning, when the mob knew that he was in prison, they assembled in furious throngs, and demanded, under the most terrible menaces, his liberation. This being taken no notice of, they began to tear down the railings, and to light a bonfire, as if they would burn in the door, a? the Porteus mob did at Edinburgh. They were at length dispersed by a detachment of horse guards, but not until the mob liad abused and pelted the soldiers. These riots were kept up in different places from day to day; and on the 10th of May, on which the parliament met, though only for a few days, vast crowds assembled in St. George's Fields, in the firm persuasion that, as Wilkes was member for Middlesex, nothing could prevent him, by virtue of his privilege, coming out of prison and taking his place. As the gates continued closed, the demands were vehement for his appearance, and the crowd began to assail the prison gates with stones and brickbats. The uproar became so violent that the soldiers were called out; and the riot act being read by two magistrates, Messrs. Gillam and Ponton, the mob fell furiously on both soldiers and justices, pelting them with mud and stones. The soldiers, who were Scotch, a detachment of the third regiment of foot guards, hated Wilkes for his continual gibes on their nation, and were in no mood to show much forbearance towards his followers. A Highlander, named Donald Maclean, irritated by the pelting of the mob, broke from the ranks with two other Celts, and gave chase to a young man in a red waistcoat, who had been particularly active in throwing at them. The man escaped into a cowshed, and the soldiers following, found a young man in a red waistcoat in the shed, and shot him. It was alleged in evidence by the young man's father, that this young man whom they shot was not the man they had pursued, but a mere quiet spectator; that the actual rioter had passed through the shed and got away further. Again: it was alleged that the soldiers were ordered to pursue and seize the rioter, but this could only be done through the permission of their officer, Mr. Alexander Murray, and that, so far from having given such permission, he demanded who had fired the gun without his orders.

The death of the young man was only the prelude to further bloodshed. The mob became frantic, and assailed the troops with brickbats. Gillam, the magistrate, ordered them to fire; they fired, and killed six men, and wounded fifteen, including two women. The excitement against the soldiers and magistrates was intense. The people styled it the massacre of St. George's; the coroner's inquest brought in a verdict of wilful murder against Donald Maclean, and against his commander, ensign Murray, as an accessory. Gillam, who had ordered them to fire, was also indicted for murder. Maclean, as he was conveyed to prison, was in danger of being torn to pieces by the populace; but, when the prisoners were brought to trial, they were not only acquitted, but the new parliament voted loyal addresses on the occasion; and the government, through lord Barrington, the secretary at war, and in the king's name, thanked publicly the officers and men for their signal service in protecting the public peace. This only added fresh fuel to the popular flame. To protect the public peace by shooting the people, and to assure the perpetrators of this outrage, as lord Barrington did, that they should have every assistance from government in defending them from all legal consequences, was rightly deemed most un-English conduct. The riots spread on all sides. The lord mayor, Harley, was obliged to have soldiers to defend him in the Mansion House. The sailors, the very day before the riot, had, in a body, gone up to parliament to petition for an increase of wages. They now kept together, and forced the men from the merchant ships in the river to join them. They forcibly detained ships that were ready to sail, in order to increase their numbers. The coalheavers, thus prevented unloading ships, took the field against the sailors, and came to mortal combat at Stepney. Several of the sailors were killed; the coalheavers cleared the ground of them, and then proceeded through the city streets with drums beating and flags flying, and declaring that they would give five guineas for a sailor's head. The disorder soon spread to Newcastle and other ports. In London, the confusion grew every day more alarming. The tailors turned out, and surrounded the Mansion House; the glass-grinders and the artisans swelled the chaos. It was midsummer before quiet could be restored, and still the anxiety remained, when it was seen how easily a single, worthless demagogue could thus raise all the elements of anarchy.

Scarcely, indeed, was the tumult laid, when it was in danger of revival. Cooke, the colleague of Wilkes in the representation of Middlesex, died in August; and sergeant Glynn, Wilkes's daring and constant advocate, was nominated, and elected as Wilkes's colleague.

Abroad, things appeared as unsettled as at home. News of the most gloomy character came from the American colonies: the tidings of the new duties had excited the wildest indignation and menaces, especially in Massachusetts. On the continent of Europe, amongst others, the French design of making themselves masters of Corsica, excited the strongest feeling. Corsica had been held for centuries by Genoa, and with such oppressive rigour, that the people had rebelled and fought desperately for their independence. In 1736 they had chosen as their king Theodore Neahoff, a German adventurer; but the Genoese called in the aid of the French, and were thus enabled to put down the resistance for a time, and to drive out Neuhoff, who, after many wanderings, arrived in London in the utmost poverty, and died there in 1756, after a long imprisonment for debt. The Corsicans, however, rebelled again, and put at their head general Pascal Paoli, a brave man and a superior statesman. Paoli made an appeal to the whole of Europe to enable him to maintain the independence of his country. So long as he had only the Genoese to contend against he set them at defiance, and confined them to the few fortified places of the island. But the Genoese, tired out by the struggle, made over all their assumed rights in the island to the French, and Choiseul sent out an armament to reduce it. Paoli solicited the assistance of England, as a free nation, to assist them in being so, too. Amongst those who most warmly sympathised with the struggling Corsicans, was Boswell, the biographer of Johnson. He had been in Corsica, and established a firm and admiring friendship with Paoli. In the spring of this year appeared his Tour in Corsica," in which he endeavoured to rouse the sympathies of England for the island, and represented Paoli as the Pericles of Corsica. He appealed to Englishmen through the newspapers, and addressed a zealous letter to Chatham. He pointed out the advantages of having Corsica in friendly alliance with us, and implored Chatham to use his influence to obtain the recall of a proclamation issued by the British government, prohibiting the subjects of George HI. from any intercourse with what it styled " the insurgents /ind malcontents of Corsica."

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