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Reign of George III. (continued.)


Reconciliation of Chatham and the Grenvilles - Meeting of Parliament, 1770 - Chatham reappears - Camden dismissed from Office - Sir Charles Yorke made Chancellor of the Exchequer - Commits Suicide - Duke of Grafton resigns - Lord North Prime Minister - Affairs of America - Affray at Boston - Trial of Captain Preston - "The Massacre" - Wilkes released from Prison - Death of Beckford - Death of Grenville - Affairs of Ireland - The Falkland Islands invaded by Spain - The French Court - Fall of Choiseul - Peace confirmed - Duel of Lord George Germaine - Disputes with the City of London - Crosby and Oliver committed to the Tower - Popular Tumults - Mr. Fox's Entry on Public Life - Decline of Wilkes's Influence - John Home Tooke - Meeting of Parliament, 1772 - Subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles - Marriage of Duke of Cumberland and Duke of Gloucester - Sorrowful History of George III.'s Sister, Caroline Matilda Queen of Denmark - The Conspiracy against Struensee - The Confinement and Death of Caroline Matilda - Death of the Princess Dowager - Royal Marriage Bill - Fox resigns Office - Accepts it again - Revolution in Sweden - Russian War in the Mediterranean - Troubles of Poland - First Treaty of Partition - Foreign Policy of England.
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On the 9th of May, 1769, parliament was prorogued, and did not meet again till January, 1770. During the interval the chief subjects that engrossed the public attention were the agitations in the city, the discontents of the nation, and the unsettled state of Ireland. In the city, subscriptions were set on foot to pay the debts and furnish an income for Wilkes. It was found that his debts amounted to seventeen thousand pounds, of which seven thousand had been already compromised. There remained, therefore, against him ten thousand pounds. A subscription was entered into at a meeting at the London Tavern, and three thousand three hundred and forty pounds raised on the spot. A committee was formed to extend the subscription throughout England. "The Supporters of the Bill of Rights" sent him into the King's Bench prison three hundred pounds. In all, from first to last, Wilkes is said to have received for his patriotism upwards of thirty thousand pounds, besides considerable sums as private gifts.

The agitation was kept up in the city by dinners at the Thatched House Tavern, attended by most of the members of the opposition, and petitions were sent up by the city and the freeholders of Middlesex to the king, praying him to dismiss his ministers, as enemies to freedom, and traitors to their country. Westminster demanded the dissolution of parliament, and these examples were followed by the chief towns all over England, demonstrating the excessive unpopularity of the government. Chatham, who was recovering from his depression, and the Grenvilles were plotting against the administration, and Junius was launching his heaviest thunders at their heads.

The state of Ireland was, as usual, worse than that of England. For years that country had been overrun by White-boys, Cork-boys, Levellers, and Hearts of Steel. These associations appeared to have as their chief object the resistance to the levying of tithes, but they kept the whole country in terror and uneasiness. Lord Townshend, who was now viceroy, had obtained the king's promise that twelve thousand troops should be maintained in Ireland; that number was voted by the Irish parliament, after a strong opposition, in October, and, in November, a money bill was sent over from the English cabinet, as the custom was, under the provision of Poyning's Act, that it might receive the sanction of the Irish parliament. But, in November, the Irish parliament rejected this money bill, claiming the right to pass their own money-bills, and thereupon they passed a bill of their own, more liberal than the English one. But the lord-lieutenant refused to receive it, and referred the matter to the English cabinet. The English cabinet had no resource but to order Townshend to prorogue the parliament, which delayed, but did not settle the question. Thus, both at home and abroad, in the metropolis, in the country, in Ireland, and in America, the English government found itself in embarrassing circumstances with the people - embarrassments which their headstrong incapacity had created, and which they did not appear capable of dealing with.

Parliament assembled on the 9th of January, 1770. People had been surprised at the unusual delay in calling it together, considering the critical state of America, but they were much more surprised when the subject put foremost in the king's speech was a lamentation over the murrain which had appeared amongst horned cattle during the recess, and which ministers had taken some measures to stop without calling together parliament. It was true that he afterwards alluded to the state of affairs in America, and trusted some means would be devised by parliament to appease the irritation. But, whilst war itself appeared imminent there, whilst the whole country at home was in a state of high discontent, and the Spitalfields weavers were at this moment in a state of open riot, the idea of giving the chief place in the royal speech to horned cattle caused a burst of universal ridicule. It was thenceforth called " The Horned Cattle Session." Junius launched one of his fierce missives at the duke of Grafton, observing, " Whilst the whole kingdom was agitated with anxious expectation on one great point, you meanly evaded the question, and, instead of the explicit firmness and decision of a king, gave us nothing but the misery of a ruined grazier." The public prints abounded with jests on this absurd topic of a king's speech, which, they remarked, belonged rather to George's farmerly tastes, than to his more important cares as a monarch.

There was one present that day, in the house of peers, who was not likely to let such feebleness escape without castigation. Chatham, during the last summer, had been visited with his old enemy, but now especial friend, a good fit of the gout. With it was thrown from his nervous system its oppression; he revived to all his apparent vigour of mind, and amongst his first movements was to become reconciled to his brother-in-law, lord Temple, and George Grenville, so as to form a powerful political battery against the ministers and their mischievous policy.

Chatham had begun to ponder the proceedings of ministers towards America and towards Wilkes, or rather his constituents, as soon as the returning activity of his mind permitted him. The conduct of the duke of Grafton, who had taken the lead during his retirement, did not escape his censure. He had too easily fallen into the demand of the cabinet for severe measures in both those cases. No sooner, therefore, did Chatham appear than he launched the whole thunder of his indignation, and such was still his power that he shattered the cabinet to atoms.

No sooner was the address to the king moved and seconded, than he rose and passed, with some expressions of contempt, from the mention of the horned cattle to the more important topics. He drew a dismal picture both of the domestic condition and the foreign relations of the country. He glanced at the manner in which the treaty of Paris had been made, the abandonment of the king of Prussia, and the consequent isolated condition of the kingdom, without a friend or an ally. But bad as the external affairs of the nation were, he described the internal as far worse. There everything was at discount. The people were partly starving and wholly murmuring; the constituencies were alarmed at the invasion of their rights in the case of John Wilkes; and the colonies were on the very edge of rebellion. Such was the condition to which the government in a short time had reduced the commonweal.

More than all did he condemn the policy pursued towards America. He protested against the term " unwarrantable," as applied to the conduct of the colonists; proposed to substitute the word " dangerous." He owned that he was partial towards the Americans, and strongly advocated a system of mildness and indulgence in their case.

As for Wilkes, he counselled them earnestly to introduce a paragraph into their address to the king, stating their conviction that the chief discontents of the nation arose from the violation of the rights of representation in his expulsion from the commons; and he thus ably separated the merits or demerits of the man from the question of right: " My lords, I have been tender of misrepresenting the house of commons. I have consulted their journals, and have taken the very words of their resolution. Do they not tell us, in as many words, 'that Mr. Wilkes, having been expelled, was thereby rendered incapable of serving in parliament?' And is it not their resolution alone which refuses to the subject his common right? The amendment here says: that the electors of Middlesex are deprived of their free choice of a representative. Is this false, my lords, or have I given an unfair representation of it? Will any man presume to affirm that colonel Luttrell is the free choice of the electors of Middlesex? We all know the contrary! We all know that Mr. Wilkes - whom I mention without either praise or censure - was the favourite of the county, and chosen by a very great and acknowledged majority. My lords, the character and circumstances of Mr. Wilkes have been very improperly introduced into this question, not only here, but in the court of judicature, where his cause was tried: I mean the house of commons. With one party he was a patriot of the first magnitude; with the other, the vilest incendiary. For my own part, I consider him merely and indifferently as an English subject; possessed of certain rights, which the law has given him, and which the law alone can take from him. I am neither moved by his private vices nor by his public merits. In his person, though he were the worst of men, I contend for the safety and security of the best; and God 'forbid that there should be a power in this country of measuring the civil rights of the subject by his moral character, or by any other rule than the fixed laws of the land!"

This was going to the very heart of the question with that clear, searching sense for which Chatham was so distinguished. Lord Chancellor Camden, who had himself a strong and honest intellect, but not the moral courage of Chatham, had retained the great seal, though disapproving of the measures of his colleagues. Emboldened by the words of his great friend, he now rose and expressed his regret for so long suppressing his feelings. But, he added, " I will do so no longer; I will openly and boldly speak my sentiments. I now proclaim to the world that I entirely coincide in the opinions expressed by my noble friend, whose presence again reanimates us, touching this unconstitutional and illegal vote of the house of commons.... By this violent and tyrannical conduct ministers have alienated the minds of the people from his majesty's government - I had almost said from his majesty's person!"

After these words, Camden could no longer remain lord chancellor. The rent in the ministry was every moment growing wider. Lord Mansfield endeavoured to defend the ministers, but it was a very lame defence. He disclaimed all obedience on the bench to mere declarations of law by either house of parliament; he condemned general warrants as illegal, and only endeavoured to get rid of the question by declaring, that all matters concerning house of commons elections belonged only to the house of commons - that they had no right whatever to discuss them there; and that lord Chatham's amendment was a breach of the privileges of the commons, which might lead to a serious quarrel between the two houses, or between the king and the commons.

This called up Chatham again, who spurned the timid counsels of lord Mansfield; declared that such was not the practice of the members of that house in the days of the barons. He exclaimed, " that a breach had been made in the constitution; the battlements," he said," are dismantled; the citadel is open to the invaders; the walls totter; the constitution is not tenable - what remains, then, but for us to stand foremost in the breach to repair it, or to perish in it?"

The amendment of Chatham was negatived; but this did not prevent the more real consequences of the explosion. The ministry went to pieces. Lord Pomfret moved for an adjournment of some days; but lord Temple and lord Shelburne contended that this adjournment was only asked for to enable the ministers to collect their disordered wits, and to dismiss the virtuous and independent lord from the woolsack; that it was evident that the cabinet was falling to pieces, and that the seals would immediately go a-begging. Lord Shelburne added, that " he hoped there would not be found in the kingdom a wretch so base and mean- spirited as to accept of them on the conditions on which they must be offered."

In the other house there was a violent debate on the address. Chatham had sent lord Temple to George Grenville to muster all the strength of the opposition for the occasion. The chief discussion turned on the vote of the commons disqualifying Wilkes. Dowdeswell moved an amendment on the address on that point. The marquis of Granby declared that he should always lament his vote in favour of that disqualification as the greatest misfortune of his life; that he was ashamed of his error, and now would vote for the amendment. Amongst those defending ministers, singularly enough, was Charles James Fox, the second son of lord Holland, who thus began his political career with endeavouring to bolster up such arbitrary and unconstitutional acts as he spent his after life so eloquently and vigorously in opposing. But Fox was already involved in heavy pecuniary difficulties from those habits of gambling and reckless expenditure, which were ever the foil to his otherwise fair fame, and he was now endeavouring to procure a place in the government, which he soon after obtained.

The marquis of Granby resigned his posts as paymaster- general of the ordnance, and commander-in-chief of the army, much to the annoyance and against the entreaties of the king and the duke of Grafton. Camden would have done the same, but as the ministers were anxious to be rid of him, Chatham and his friends counselled him to remain, and put the ministry to the odium of dismissing him. This was done, and thus two of the men most popular with the public - Granby and Camden - were lost to the administration. The seals, as lord Shelburne had predicted, went a-begging. Charles Yorke, second son of the former lord chancellor, Hardwicke, had all his life been hankering after this prize, but as he was closely pledged to the party of lord Rockingham, he most reluctantly declined it. Three days subsequently, however, the king, after the levee, suddenly called him into his closet, and so pressingly entreated him to accept the seals and rescue his sovereign from an embarrassment, that he gave way. This was on the 18th of January. He was to be raised to the peerage by the title of lord Morden, but, on encountering the keen reproaches of his party at lord Rockingham's, he went home and committed suicide.

The seals were then successively offered to Mr. de Grey, the attorney-general, to sir Eardley Wilmot, and lord Mansfield, who refused them, and they were obliged to be put in commission, lord Mansfield consenting to occupy the woolsack, as speaker to the house of lords, till that was done. After some time, sir Sidney Stafford Smythe, one of the barons of the exchequer, the Honourable Henry Bathurst, one of the justices of the common pleas, and sir Richard Aston, one of the justices of the King's Bench, were named the commissioners.

In the house of commons, too, the speaker, Sir John Cust, was removed by death at the same moment, and Sir Fletcher Norton was elected in his place. So rapid were these events, that Yorke died on the 20th of January, and Sir Fletcher Norton was elected speaker of the commons on the 22nd- Norton was a man of high ability, but scarcely qualified for this post by his temper, which was rough and violent. Other changes came as quickly on their heels. "The ministry," wrote lord Temple to Chatham, "live upon moments; heaven and earth are in motion." On the 16th of January the earl of Coventry had quitted his post of lord of the bed-chamber; directly after, the duke of Beaufort quitted that of master of the horse to the queen. On Granby's resignation the ordnance was offered to Conway, who refused it, Baying he would have none of lord Granby's spoils. The earl of Huntingdon then gave up the office of groom of the stole; the duke of Manchester, that of a lord of the bedchamber; sir Francis Brett and sir George Younge, junior lords of the admiralty, retired, declaring that it was for lord Chatham's honour and the quiet of the country.

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