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Reign of George III. (continued.) page 5


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the arbitrary fines and commitments of the house of lords and court of King's Bench; the mercy of a chaste and pious prince extended cheerfully to a willing murderer, because that murderer is the brother of a common prostitute " (Miss Kennedy), "would, I think, at any other time have excited universal indignation. But the daring attack upon the constitution, in the case of the Middlesex election, makes us callous and indifferent to inferior grievances."

For these daring censures, Woodfall, the printer of the "Public Advertiser," was tried, and also Almon, the publisher of the "London Museum," a monthly periodical, for reprinting the libel there. Almon was convicted of publishing, and sentenced to pay a fine of ten marks, and give security for his good behaviour for two years, himself in four hundred pounds, and two sureties in two hundred pounds each. He moved in vain for a new trial. Woodfall was convicted of " printing and publishing only; " but he obtained an order for a new trial, on the ground of the phrase "only" being ambiguous. But the circumstance which excited the attention and turned the resentment of both liberal statesmen and the people was, that lord Mansfield on these trials had instructed the juries to confine themselves to the facts alone, and to leave the question of legality to the judges. This was properly declared a dangerous infringment of the rights of juries, and calculated to make their verdicts merely the servile echoes of the dicta of the judges. Lord Chatham, on the 28th of November, denounced in the peers this dictation of the judge to the juries. Serjeant Glynn, at the same time, moved in the commons for an inquiry into the administration of justice in Westminster Hall, where such unconstitutional instructions could be given. This occasioned a warm debate, in which Burke, Dunning, and others, ably defended the public rights. The motion was negatived. The power of the attorney- general to file ex-officio information in cases like that of Almon was strongly called in question by Burke, who, in the course of a very eloquent speech, drew the following striking character of Junius: - " The myrmidons of the court," he said, " have long been pursuing this Junius in vain. They will not spend their time upon me, or upon you, when the mighty boar of the forest, that has broke through all their toils, is before them. But what will all their efforts avail? No sooner has he wounded one, than he strikes down another dead at his feet. For my own part, when I saw his attack upon the king, I own my blood ran cold; I thought he had ventured too far, and that there was an end of his triumphs. Not that he had not asserted many bold truths. Yes, sir, there are in that composition many bold truths by which a wise prince might profit. It was the rancour and venom with which I was struck. But while I expected, from this daring flight, his final ruin and fall, behold him rising still higher, and coming down souse upon both houses of parliament. Not content with carrying away our eagle in his pounces, and dashing him against a rock, he has laid you prostrate, and king, lords, and commons thus become but the sport of his fury." J unius, in his murderous concealment, was never destined to be hunted out by all the incensed orders of the state.

The year closed by various changes in the ministry. Wedderburn abandoned the opposition, and became solicitor-general; the swearing and blaspheming Thurlow was made attorney-general in the place of Mr. De Grey, who was made chief-justice of common pleas. The great seal was taken from the temporary grasp of Mansfield, and given to the honourable Henry Bathurst, who was created baron Aspley. Lord Sandwich was placed at the head of the board of admiralty, sir Edward Hawke resigning; lord Halifax succeeded Sandwich as secretary of state, and the earl of Suffolk succeeded Halifax as privy seal. Some of these changes gave great disgust, but no astonishment to the opposition, who were but too well accustomed to the ambition of lawyers, and their consequent easy abandonment of friends and principles, in the act of climbing.

The year 1771 opened under circumstances which greatly diminished the interest in parliamentary proceedings. As all reporting was excluded from the house of lords, the chief speakers there felt that they were no longer addressing the nation, but merely a little knot of persons in a corner, and consequently the stimulus of both fame and real usefulness was at an end. Chatham says, in a letter: - " The house being kept clear of hearers, we are reduced to a snug party of unhearing and unfeeling lords, and the tapestry hung up." In the commons, the desire of the ministry to reduce that popular arena to the same condition of insignificance produced a contest with the city as foolish and mischievous in its degree as the contests then going on with Wilkes and America. George Onslow, nephew of the late speaker, and member for Guildford, moved that several printers, who had dared to report the debates of the house of commons, should be summoned to the bar to answer for their conduct. Accordingly, these mediums of communication betwixt the people and their representatives were summoned and reprimanded on their knees. One of their number, named Miller, however, declared that he was a liveryman of London and that any attempt to arrest him would be a breach of the privileges of the city. The sergeant-at-arms dispatched a messenger to apprehend this sturdy citizen, and bring him before the house; but, instead of succeeding, the parliamentary messenger was taken by a city constable, and carried before Brass Crossby, the lord mayor. With the lord mayor sate alderman Wilkes and alderman Oliver. It was delightful work to Wilkes thus to set at defiance the house of commons, which had made such fierce war on him. The lord mayor, accordingly, was fully confirmed in his view - that the messenger of the commons had committed a flagrant violation of the city charter, in endeavouring to lay hands on one of its liverymen within its own precincts, and they held the messenger accordingly to bail.

The house of commons was fired with indignation at this contemptuous disregard of their dignity. They passed a resolution, by a large majority, ordering the lord mayor and the two alderman to appear at their bar. Wilkes bluntly refused to attend the house in any shape but as a recognised member of it. Crossby pleaded, in Chatham's style, a severe fit of the gout; and Oliver, though he appeared in his place, refused to make any submission whatever, but told them he defied them. The house, in its blind anger, resolved that Oliver should be committed to the Tower, and Crossby to the custody of the serjeant-at-arms. But Crossby declared that he would not accept this indulgence at the hands of the house, but would share the incarceration of his honourable friend; and he was accordingly sent also to the Tower. As for Wilkes, the king declared that he would have nothing more to do with that devil, and he was let alone.

The consequence of this stretch of tyranny - for the commons has shown on many occasions that it has been only restrained by the popular spirit out of doors from the commission of acts as despotic as any of those of the crown - was a vehement outburst of indignation in the opposition, Chatham urging them on, and Burke, and Barre, and others, making the intensest protests against the proceeding.

The people out of doors were in the highest state of fury. They greeted the city members on their way to and from the house, but they hooted and pelted the ministerial supporters. Charles James Fox, still a government man, as all his house had been, was very roughly handled; lord North's carriage was dashed in, and himself wounded; and had he not been rescued by a popular member, Sir William Meredith, he would probably have lost his life. It was thought that he would resign; but, strong in his mistaken sense of duty, North, with tears in his eyes, that evening declared that he was determined to maintain the cause of Iiis country and king. That if he followed his own inclination, he should already have resigned a hundred times; but nothing but his majesty's wishes should compel him to such a step. So completely were these infatuated ministers incapable of seeing that the whole course of the policy, since the coming of George III. to the throne, was one long attempt to destroy the constitution - and an attempt scarcely less infamous, or less persevering, than those which had ruined the Stuarts.

The city defended the cause of their officers strenuously. The three other members of the house of commons, Treco- thick, Sawbridge, and Townshend, made common cause with their imprisoned colleagues. Thanks were voted in full council at Guildhall to the imprisoned lord mayor, also to Wilkes and Oliver, for their manful resistance to the tyranny of the commons. It was ordered that all the expenses of the lord mayor and Oliver should be defrayed by the corporation. The opposition members of both lords and commons visited the captives in the Tower; amongst them the dukes of Manchester and Portland, the earls Fitzwilliam and Tankerville, lord King, admiral Keppel, Sir Charles Saunders, Burke, Dowdeswell, and many others. The populace outside, at the same time, amused themselves by cutting off the heads of the effigies of North, Bute - against whom and the princess dowager their resentment still burned - and other ministers and their supporters.

On the 5th of March writs of habeas corpus were issued at the cost of the city, and the lord mayor and Oliver were brought to the chamber of the lord chief-justice, De Grey, attended by a host of their friends, and defended by serjeant Glynn and Mr. Lee. De Grey said that he could neither bail nor discharge them; whereupon they were carried before lord Mansfield, who pronounced it a new case, and. that he could not discharge them during the sitting of parliament.

Meantime, a committee of the commons had been sitting to consider what should be done regarding these circumstances; and they came to the conclusion that Millar, the printer, should still be taken into custody by the serjeant-at-arms. The opposition burst into wild laughter at the absurd conclusion, for their serjeant-at-arms had already attempted it in vain; his messengers, Carpenter and William, in defiance of the house, had two bills presented against them at the quarter sessions at Guildhall. The commons had engaged in a strife with the city, in which they were signally beaten, and no further notice being taken of the printers, from this time forward the practice ol reporting the debates of parliament became recognised as an established privilege of the people, though formally at the option of the house; and so far now from members or ministers fearing any evil from it, the most conservative of them would be deeply mortified by the omission of their speeches in the reports.

In the course of a speech on the existing condition of things, on the 1st of May, lord Chatham took a sweeping review of the conduct of ministers for some time past, and moved an address to the king, praying him to dissolve parliament and call a new one. He referred to the time when we were victorious abroad and tranquil at home, and then exclaimed, " But now how is the prospect darkened? How are the mighty fallen? On public days the royal ears are saluted with hisses and groans; and he sees libels against his person and government written with impunity juries solemnly acquitting the publishers. What greater mortification can befall a monarch? Yet this sacrifice he makes to his ministers; to their false steps he owes his disgrace." He ran over the treaty of Fontainbleau; the affair of the Falkland Islands; the proceedings against Wilkes; the "Massacre of St. George's Fields;" the iniquity of ministers in refusing to inquire into these attacks on the rights and the lives of the people; and the consequent unpopularity of parliament, which, to avoid the searching observation of the public, endeavoured to shut up the proceedings of the legislature from view; the prosecution of the printers and reporters, and of the dignitaries of the city for standing by the rights of the subjects; and their imprisonment of the chief magistrate because he would not violate his oath.

The review certainly presented a most melancholy and long persistence in a course of most imbecile and arbitrary government, which, combined with the alienation of the loyalty of the American colonies, was enough to excite the alarm of any people. He declared that the government had become odious and contemptible, the commons more than suspected of a design to destroy the bulwark of the constitution, and that these things had convinced him that it was absolutely necessary to repeal the septennial act, and had converted him into an advocate of triennial parliaments.

This speech produced a vast sensation in the country. It was vigorously echoed by the pen of Junius, who added, that he had long been convinced that it was the only possible resource left us for the preservation of the constitution. Out of the unwise and unpopular administration of the early part of George III.'s reign, thus loomed the great question of reform of parliament, which has continued to advance in strength and importance to the present hour.

On the 8th of May the session came to an end. The poor king, who saw in the ominous proceedings, which Chatham had enumerated, nothing but the groundless discontent of the people, and no want of sense or liberality in his ministers, congratulated parliament on the blessings of peace, and bade them, by avoiding animosities amongst themselves, to perpetuate this happy state of things. The termination of the session also opened the doors of the Tower, and liberated the lord mayor and alderman Oliver. They were attended from the Tower to the Mansion House by the corporation in their robes, where a banquet celebrated their restoration to freedom, and the populace displayed their sympathy by bonfires and illuminations.

During the recess considerable changes took place in the cabinet. Lord Halifax died on the 8th of June, and the earl of Suffolk succeeded him as secretary of state. Suffolk introduced his friend, lord Hyde, afterwards earl of Clarendon, to the post of chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, with an augmented salary. The administration of lord North was considerably strengthened, too, by the abilities of Thurlow, as attorney-general, and of Wedderburn, as solicitor-general. Thurlow was famous for his knowledge of Greek and Latin, but still more famous for cursing, swearing, and ill temper. His morals were not more refined than his tongue, though he was the son of a clergyman, and his principles were high church. His intellect was vigorous and acute, and no man could discharge the duties of a judge with more credit, when his political prejudices did not come in the way. Office was his great ambition; but the indulgence of his surly temper his great failing. Under his rude and crabbed exterior, he nevertheless concealed some virtues and some generosity. His head and countenance are said to have resembled in massy majesty the busts of the Olympian Jupiter, and Fox and no man was ever yet so wise as Thurlow looked. It must not be forgotten, either, amid his many interested promotions, when he became lord chancellor, that he was the friend of the admirable but unfortunate poet Cowper, and the patron of bishop Horsley.

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