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 2


Pages: 1 <2> 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

On the 22nd of January, the same day that sir Fletcher Norton was made speaker of the house of commons, the marquis of Rockingham moved in the lords for an inquiry into the state of the nation. The duke of Grafton declared himself ready to join in such an inquiry; and Chatham, rising, delivered one of his most remarkable speeches, which we have carefully reported by sir Philip Francis. He said: - " The constitution has been most grossly violated! the constitution at this moment stands violated! Until that wound be healed - until the grievances be redressed, it is vain to recommend union to parliament; it is vain to promote concord amongst the people. If we mean seriously to unite the nation within itself, we must convince them that their complaints are regarded - that their injuries shall be redressed. On that foundation I would take the lead in recommending peace and harmony to the people; on any other, I would never wish to see them united again. If the breach in the constitution be effectually repaired, the people will of themselves return to a state of tranquillity; if not, may discord prevail for ever! I know to what point this doctrine and language will appear directed; but I feel the principles of an Englishman, and I utter them without apprehension or reserve. The crisis is indeed alarming - so much the more does it require a prudent relaxation on the part of government. If the king's servants will not permit a constitutional question to be decided on according to the forms and on the principles of the constitution, it must then be decided in some other manner; and, rather than it should be given up, rather than the nation should surrender their birthright to a despotic minister, I hope, my lords, old as I am, I shall see the question brought to issue, and fairly tried between the people and the government."

He complained of the corruption of the people through the candidates for parliament - a corruption which has grown to so monstrous a height in the present day. He declared that for some years the riches of Asia had been poured into this country, and had brought with them Asiatic principles of government. That men without connections, without any natural interest in the soil, had forced their way into parliament by such a torrent of private corruption, that no hereditary fortune could resist. That these adventurers had corrupted the people, and that parliamentary reform was absolutely necessary.

But, when he came to describe the reform he proposed, what a fall from the exalted ideas of his earlier days! The removal to the peerage, and into the very hot-bed of corrupt interest in boroughs, had, it was clear, corrupted even his powerful mind in that direction. He now no longer represented the rotten boroughs as gangrened members of the political system which must be amputated; but he asserted that these decayed boroughs, corrupt as they were, must be considered only as the natural infirmity of the constitution; and that, like the natural infirmities of the body, we must be content to carry them about with us. "The limb is mortified, but the amputation might be death!" Nay, he went further - he would add another member to every county. The landed aristocracy, who had hitherto been the most determined supporters of arbitrary measures, were thus to flood the house of commons, and thus game-laws, corn-laws, and all the interests of the aristocracy, as opposed to the liberties of the people at large, were to receive fresh and, indeed, invincible strength. This was a momentary- adumbration of the great political luminary; and he was not long in recanting his scheme, and confessing that the landed members were not the most enlightened or liberal portion of the commons. Chatham, in conclusion, announced, with much triumph, his union with lord Rockingham, as well as with the Grenvilles, and declared that they were united for ever; no open force, no secret artifices could ever sever them, and that they were capable of setting at defiance the profoundest policy of the ministry. Unfortunately, these eternal friendships of Chatham were too frequently very brief.

The crumbling down of the cabinet continued. James Grenville resigned; Dunning, the solicitor-general, and general Conway, followed; and on the very day of lord Rockingham's motion, the duke of Grafton himself laid down the seals. The whole of his administration had thus vanished, like a mere fog ministry, at the first reappearance of the Chatham luminary.

In this utter desertion, the king prevailed on lord North, who was already chancellor of the exchequer, to accept Grafton's post of first lord of the treasury, with the premiership. Lord North, eldest son of the earl of Guildford, was a man of a remarkably mild and pleasant temper, of sound sense, and highly honourable character. He was ungainly in his person and plain of countenance, but he was well versed in the business of parliament, and particularly dextrous in tagging to motions of the opposition some paragraph or other which neutralised the whole, or turned it even against them. He was exceedingly near-sighted, so much so, that he once carried off the wig of the old secretary of the navy, who sate near him in the house. Burke describes his action in delivery in a very burlesque style: - " The noble lord who spoke last, after extending his right leg a full yard before his left, rolling his flaming eyes, and moving his ponderous frame, has at length opened his mouth." He was said greatly to resemble the royal family, and to be a caricature likeness of the king, which people readily accounted for by the great intimacy betwixt Frederick prince of Wales and lady Guildford. For the rest, he was of so somnolent a nature that he was frequently seen nodding in the house when opposition members were pouring out all the vials of wrath on his head. He thought himself a whig, but if we are to class him by his principles and his acts of administration, we must pronounce him a tory. Nothing can be more decisive than his own words on this point.

"It so happens," he said, in a speech in the house of commons, in March, 1769, " that, for the last seven years, I have never given my vote for any one of the popular measures. In 1763 I supported the cider tax; and I afterwards opposed the repeal of that tax - a vote of which I never repented. In 1765 I was for the American stamp act; and when, in the following year, a bill was brought in for the repeal of that act, I directly opposed it, for I saw the danger of the repeal. And when, again, in 1767, it was thought necessary to relieve the people by reducing the land tax to the amount of half a million, I was against that measure also. Then appeared on the public stage that strange phenomenon of popularity, Mr. Wilkes. I was the first to move his expulsion, in 1764. Every subsequent proceeding against that man I have supported; and I will again vote for his expulsion if he again attempts to take his seat in this house. In all my memory, therefore, I do not recollect a single popular measure I ever voted for - no, not even the Nullum Tempus Bill, nor the declaration of law in the case of general warrants."

Such was the minister chosen at this important crisis, when the fate of our colonies depended on the sagacity, and not the boastful obstinacy, of the premier in resisting all popular measures. What could come of such a choice but what did come of it? And who shall still give George III. credit for sense and ability after such a choice at such a time?

The ministry, as re-constructed, consisted of Lord North, first lord of the treasury; the great seal was in commission; Granby's places, the ordnance and commander of the forces, were still unsupplied; so was the duke of Manchester's post of ex-lord of the bed-chamber. The earl of Halifax became lord privy seal; the earl of Pembroke became a lord of the bed-chamber; the earl of Waldegrave, master of the horse to the queen; sir Gilbert Elliot, treasurer of the navy; Charles James Fox became a junior lord of the admiralty; admiral Holborne another; Mr. Welbore Ellis became one of the vice-treasurers of Ireland; and Thurlow solicitor- general, in place of Dunning.

Lord North soon found himself briskly assailed in both lords and commons. In the former, Chatham was not so happy in amalgamating the parties of Rockingham and Grenville as he hoped; but he had stanch friends and oppositionists in lords Camden, Shelburne, and Stanhope, and in the commons he was as warmly supported by Barre, Beckford, Calcraft, and Dunning.

Dowdeswell, in the commons, moved the case of Wilkes, in the form of a resolution that no person could be disqualified, except by an express act of parliament. It was negatived by two hundred and twenty-six to one hundred and eighty-one. In the lords the same topic was renewed by lord Rockingham's adjourned motion, on the 2nd of February, when a long and vehement debate took place, but to little purpose. On the 2nd of March a motion was also made in the lords for an address to the king, praying him to increase the number of seamen in the navy; and it was made to introduce strong censures on the dismissal of able officers for their votes in parliament. On this occasion Chatham loudly reiterated the old charge, of the royal councils being influenced by favourites. "Along train of these practices," he said, " has convinced ine that there is something behind the throne greater than the throne itself." He referred to Mazarin, of France; and as Bute was just at this period gone to Turin, he added, " Mazarin abroad is Mazarin still!"

It is not to be supposed that Bute had any secret influence whatever at this period; but the people still believed that he had, and that two men especially were his agents with the king - Bradshaw, commonly called " the cream-coloured parasite," and Dyson, both placemen and members of the commons. Probably, Chatham had a secondary object - to punish these men, who with Rigby, the parasite of the duke of Bedford, were continually running about endeavouring to depreciate the efforts of the more competent, to whom they were pigmies, saying - " Only another mad motion by the mad earl of Chatham." Grafton, though now out of office, repelled the insinuation of secret influence with indignation.

This charge of Chatham's was followed up, four days after, by a most outspoken remonstrance from the corporation of London. It was carried up to St. James's on the 14th of March, by Beckford, the lord mayor, and two hundred and twenty common councilmen and other officers. Seckford read the address, which charged secret counsellors, and a corrupt majority of the house of commons, with depriving the people of their rights. That it was an act worse than the levying ship-money by Charles I., or the dispensing power of James II. It declared that the house of commons did not represent the people, and called upon him to dissolve it.

The king received the address with manifest signs of displeasure, and the courtiers, who stood round, with actual murmurs and gesticulations of anger. The address was laid before the commons on the motion of Sir Thomas Clavering, and it was contemplated to obtain a censure on the leaders of the city. The address was laid on the table, but then the court became alarmed, and did not venture to attempt getting Beckford and his colleagues committed to the Tower, which would have produced a perfect flame in the city and country. It was now known that similar addresses were preparing by Westminster and the freeholders of Middlesex, and that Chatham meant to support them. The court was in the greatest alarm, and contented itself with obtaining a vote of censure on the city address, which, however, they did not carry till three o'clock in the morning, and then with difficulty.

At this moment began to appear on the stage of public life the Rev. John Home, afterwards known as John Home Tooke, the toughest and smartest antagonist of Junius. Tooke, at political meetings at Mile End, roused the people greatly, and threatened to attack the Rockingham party. Alarmed at this prospect of division, Chatham employed his zealous friend and political agent, Calcraft, also an active member of parliament, to prevent this, and Tooke was persuaded to let it drop, and both at Mile End, on the 80th of March, and with the electors of Middlesex, to carry most outspoken petitions and remonstrances to the king against the censure on the city address. On the other hand, the court party was convinced that it was better to let the city alone, much to the disgust of the king, who exclaimed, " My ministers have no spirit! they pursue no measures with any spirit! "

At this crisis George Grenville brought in and carried through a measure, which showed how useful he might have been, had he never been raised out of his proper element, to rule and alienate colonies. He was now fast sinking into the grave, though but fifty-eight years of age. This measure was a bill to transfer the trial of controverted elections from the whole house of commons to a select committee of it. Ever since the famous Aylesbury case, the whole house had taken the charge of examining all petitions against the returns of candidates and deciding them. This was a great obstruction of business; and Grenville now proposed to leave the inquiry and decision to the select committee, which was to be composed of fifteen members of the house, thirteen of whom were to be chosen by the contesting claimants for the seat, out of a list of forty-five, elected by ballot from the whole house. The other two were to be named, one each, by the contesting candidates. The committee was empowered to examine papers, call and swear witnesses, and, in fact, to exercise all the authority previously wielded by the whole house. It was opposed by Welbore Ellis, Rigby, Dyson, and Charles James Fox, not yet broken from his office shell into a full-fledged patriot. It was, however, carried, and being supported in the lords by lord Mansfield, who on this occasion manifested an unusual disregard of his party principles, it was passed there too. The bill, though strong enough to drag forth the corruption of Shoreham the next session, has required many alterations since then to enable it to deal with the malpractices of candidates for parliament, and the cupidity of constituents.

Grenville also called for a return of the civil list expenditure, the excess of which both Wilkes and others had attributed to the sums paid to bribe members of parliament. He referred to the singular fact, that though the king's mode of living was extraordinarily simple, yet, notwithstanding a civil list of eight hundred thousand a-year, he had already received half a million from parliament to pay his debts. Dowdeswell, who had introduced and lost a bill for disqualifying any excise and custom-house officers from voting at elections, not only supported this, but moved also for an account of the money left in the exchequer at the death of George II., a sore subject with the present king. This, of course, was rejected, and Dowdeswell then moved for an address to the king to retrench his expenses.

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

Pictures for Reign of George III. (continued.) page 2

Tumult in the House of Lords
Tumult in the House of Lords >>>>
Tea riot at Boston
Tea riot at Boston >>>>
Lord Mayor Beckford
Lord Mayor Beckford >>>>
Charles James Fox
Charles James Fox >>>>
The castle of Cronborg
The castle of Cronborg >>>>
Arrest of Queen Caroline Matilda of Denmark
Arrest of Queen Caroline Matilda of Denmark >>>>
Burning of the Gaspee Schooner
Burning of the Gaspee Schooner >>>>
Imperial throne of Russia
Imperial throne of Russia >>>>

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About