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The Reign of George III. (Continued.)


Effect of the Losses in America on North's Ministry - Proposals to make Chatham Minister - Difference betwixt Chatham and Rockingham - North brings in Conciliatory Bills - Lord Howe and Sir William Howe recalled - Lord North desires to resign - The French Ambassador announces the Treaty with America - Lord Stormont recalled from Paris - Coutts, the banker, endeavours to get Chatham made Minister - The King remains inflexible - State of America at this juncture - Chatham's last Appearance in Parliament, and his Death - Return of Burgoyne to England - Repeal of the Penal Code against the English Roman Catholics - Popular Ferment in Scotland - Lord George Gordon - Washington in his Camp at Valley Forge - The Conway Cabal - Proposed Expedition to Canada - Given up - News of the Treaty with France - La Fayette on Barren Hill - The Mischianza - The British Commissioners arrive - Their terms rejected - The British Troops leave Philadelphia - Washington pursues them - Battle of Monmouth - French Squadron under D'Estaing - His Designs on Rhode Island - Wyoming destroyed - British Expedition to Georgia - D'Estaing in the West Indies - Fayette returns to France - Admiral Keppel and Count D'Orvilliers - Action off Ushant - Courts Martial on Keppel and Palliser - No-Popery Riots in Scotland - Protestant Associations - War with Spain declared - Camp on Cox Heath - French Army of Invasion - Allied Fleets in the Channel - Paul Jones - Return of D'Estaing to France - Campaign in America - Washington at Middlebrook - Depreciation of American Money - Insolvency of the United States - Washington's Picture of the Times - Meeting of English Parliament, and Resignation of Lord Gower.
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The loss of the British army in the north of the American states, and the aspect of affairs in France, were circumstances that at once depressed the unlucky ministry, and brought the questions of the opposition rigorously upon them. They demanded of lord North whether he could say that a treaty was not actually signed betwixt France and our American colonies. For some time lord North remained imperturbably silent, but at length he was compelled to confess that such a treaty was far from impossible, but that he had no official information of the fact.

When parliament opened on the 20th of January, 1778, the opposition fell, as it were, in a mass upon the ministry on this question. There was much dissatisfaction expressed at the government allowing Liverpool, Manchester, and other places, to raise troops without consulting parliament. It was declared to be a practice contrary to the constitution and to the coronation oath. Sir Philip Jennings Clarke, on the 22nd of January, moved for an account of the numbers of troops so raised, with the names of the commanding officers. Lord North, whilst observing that this mode of raising troops showed the popularity of the war, and that the country was by no means in that helpless condition which a jealous and impatient faction represented it to be, readily granted the return. In the house of lords the earl of Abingdon moved to consult the judges on the legality of raising troops without authority of parliament; but this motion was not pressed to a division. But, on the 4th of February, Sir Philip Jennings Clarke returned to his charge in the commons, and was very indignant at money being demanded from government for the uniforms of some of these troops. It was declared in the debate that the whole arrangement was not only unconstitutional, but that the regiments of Scotland especially were mere troops of vile mercenaries, by nature slaves, and willing tools of government.

Lord North replied that this now hotly-decried practice was one which had been not only adopted, but highly approved of, in 1745, and again in 1759, when lord Chatham was minister, and that he had then thanked publicly those who had raised the troops for the honour and glory of their country. A motion was negatived by the lords on the same day, to declare this practice unconstitutional, and a similar one later in the session, introduced by Wilkes and supported by Burke.

The spirit of the country appeared to be running in a strong current for the return of lord Chatham to the helm, as the only man who could save the sinking state, and bring the American difficulty to a happy issue. But the great obstacle to this was the still continued assertion of lord Chatham - that the full independence of America could not be for a moment listened to, whilst to almost every other man of the opposition that independence was already an accomplished fact. Lord Rockingham, who was looked up to as a necessary part of any cabinet at the head of which Chatham should be placed, had, in the previous session, asserted his opinion that the time had now passed for hoping to preserve the dependence of these colonies; and, now he saw France coming into the field against us, he was the more confirmed in this view. This was a fatal circumstance in the way of the establishment of a strong co-operative cabinet, formed out of the present opposition, and the friends on both sides endeavoured in vain to get over it.

" Can you blame lord Chatham," said his son-in-law, lord Mahon, to the duke of Richmond, " for desiring to keep the now distracted parts of the empire together, and for attempting to prevent such a disgraceful and fatal dismemberment of this country? " The duke replied that, " so far from blaming lord Chatham for wishing to prevent this separation, I highly applaud him for it, if he has any kind of reason in the world to think that the thing can be rendered practical by any means whatever."

But the duke declined promising his support to a Chatham administration, except on the condition that, if the earl found it impossible to obtain peace on these terms, he should be willing to obtain it on some basis less improbable. In fact, every one must now see that Chatham, with all his genius, had not contemplated the progress of events with sufficient attention, and that, had he come into office with the expectation of preserving the dependence of the colonies, he would assuredly have failed.

Still there was a strong desire in the country, and also amongst the leading men in parliament, to see Chatham at the head of the ministry; it was even surmised that this was also the wish of the king. We shall soon see that nothing was farther from the king's thoughts; but whether or not George for a time listened to the suggestions of such a scheme without altering his own fixed determination on this head, certain it is that several persons were conveying such an idea to Chatham. Thomas Coutts, the banker of the Strand, who, having connections with some of the highest persons in the state, might be supposed to have obtained correct information, wrote to the countess of Chatham on the 21st of January that he had heard the sentiments of persons of various ranks, all uniting in the idea that it was most essential to the preservation of the nation that the earl of Chatham should be called to the helm. He added, that as no peace with America could ever be made through the present administration, he apprehended that the king would be very glad at the present moment to receive a proposal from the only person who could possibly succeed in a point so essential, not only to the welfare but to the very existence of Great Britain as a powerful nation; and he thought that such a proposal would be quite acceptable, if but one person should be included in the cabinet, who might, in the language of politics, be called the Icing's friend; and he mentioned the earl of Rochford as such a person.

This must have appeared to Chatham a pretty direct proposal from the highest quarter, especially as, previous to this, Brown, the landscape-gardener, called Capability Brown, who was on a familiar footing with both the king and lord Bute, had also written to the countess of Chatham, that he had had very favourable conversations with his majesty about her lord, in which the king had shown no acrimony or ill-will; that he had taken the liberty to show the king some of her ladyship's letters, and to express his opinion that lord Chatham had nothing in view but the dignity of the crown, the honour and happiness of the royal family, and the lustre of the whole empire; and that those who called him an American did him great wrong. The king, in reply, said that " lord Chatham had too much good sense to wish harm to his country."

The countess had, in reply, said " that the earl felt much gratification in the favourable opinions of his majesty, and that his views of things told him that ruin was at our door, if not immediately prevented by an entire change of the ministry. To Coutts she also replied, that lord Chatham felt the friendly disposition which Mr. Coutts had always shown to him, and was glad of the favourable opinions of the king; but that his lordship felt also that, to rescue a falling country from the last consequences of their own fatal errors - until those errors were fully perceived, and, from conviction, sincerely mourned - was a work too dangerous for presumption itself to undertake unbidden and uncommanded; and that, to obtrude ideas now - perhaps in any case too late - would be folly as well as presumption - courting extreme danger to no good end, and being but too likely to sink under the load of the faults of others - that nothing short of commands could be a motive to act in desperate cases."

It was clear, from this answer, that, however the king might be disposed, under the gloomy circumstances of the time, to waive his repugnance to Chatham, Chatham, on his part, was not disposed to concede one atom of his demands in all such cases - to abate one iota of his proud dictation; he would have the whole formation of the cabinet without any stipulations for a single king's friend; and the king must himself entreat him to take the management of affairs. Nor, in this case, can any sensible man blame him. To assume office now, was to be willing to undertake the rescue of the nation from the most deplorable condition, into which the obstinacy of the king and the stupidity of his ministers had plunged it, in steady defiance of the most solemn warnings on his part. Nothing but the most absolute power of action in him could produce any favourable result - it was scarcely possible that even that could now avail.

But the rumour grew strong that Chatham was about to resume office. Lord Temple wrote to his sister, the countess of Chatham, that Capability Brown had been to him, piping hot, to say that lord Bute was outrageous in his expressions of the necessity for the king sending, without a moment's delay, for Chatham; that lord Mansfield had been to lord Holderness with tears in his eyes - a very unusual mood, certainly, for that hard, clever lawyer - protesting that the vessel was sinking, and that lord Chatham must be sent for; that lord Bute was very complimentary on Chatham's letter to lord Rockingham, and on the very handsome proceeding of the earl's, making a firm stand for the sovereignty and the restrictions of trade. And Temple added with what distinction the Grenvilles and Pitts had been received at court.

Bute would appear to have been in earnest in urging the necessity of calling Chatham to the helm; and Sir James Wright, one of Bute's private friends, communicated what Bute said to Dr. Addington, the father of the late lord Sidmouth, and Chatham's physician. Addington, regarding this as a direct overture, detailed the words to Chatham. Chatham, also receiving it as an indication that Bute was desirous to return to power, and would be glad to coalesce with him, dictated a civil reply to Bute, through Sir James Wright, expressing his thanks for the friendly opinion of lord Bute, but stating that nothing but a real change - new counsels and new counsellors - could prevent the public ruin. Sir James Wright received this answer very coldly, having, no doubt, hoped to see Bute as well as Chatham in power; and Bute, on receiving the message, hastened to make Dr. Addington aware, through Wright, that he was impressed by the words " real change," in lord Chatham's letter, with the idea that lord Chatham imagined that he himself was desirous of again entering the ministry. But he wished the earl to be distinctly informed that ill health and family distresses had accustomed him to a perfectly retired life, to which he hoped to adhere as long as he lived; that his long absence from all sorts of public business, and the many years which had intervened since he saw the king, prevented his knowing more of public affairs than he gathered from general conversation and the newspapers; that this total ignorance, notwithstanding his zeal for his country, love for the king, and very high opinion of lord Chatham, put it out of his power to be of the least use in this dangerous emergency; but that from his heart he wished lord Chatham every imaginable success in the restoration of the public welfare.

But, prompt as Bute had been to disabuse Chatham of the idea that he was thinking of joining him in office, Chatham had been equally prompt in the discharge of his wrath on learning Sir James Wright's notion on that head. He wrote one of his stinging, slashing notes to Addington, saying: - " The conversations which a certain gentleman has found means to have with you are too insidious and, to me, too offensive, to be continued. What can this officious emissary mean by the nonsense he has at times thrown out to you? Let him remember the next attempt he makes to surprise your integrity by courtly insinuation, that his great patron (Bute) and your village friend (meaning himself) differ in this: one has ruined the king and kingdom; the other endeavours to save it."

Two days after this insulting letter, Temple wrote to the countess of Chatham, his sister, to advise strongly that the earl should avoid any engagement with the court; that its affairs were growing desperate, and, though it was too much humiliated to be insolent, it was full of treachery.

Violent attacks on ministers continued to occupy both houses of parliament. In the lords, the duke of Richmond held the most desponding language, and three times in one debate expressed his belief that this country was utterly ruined. In the commons, Fox and Burke were vehement against any more troops being sent out of the kingdom, and against employing the Indians in the war; but this motion was negatived by large majorities. Yet, all this time lord North was anxious to resign his post. He certainly had been too lamentably unfortunate, in his management of American affairs, not to perceive his deep responsibility. But the king would not hear of his resignation. This, then, not being feasible, he next came forward with a scheme of conciliation, which, at the pass things now had arrived at, was as weak and absurd as could possibly be conceived.

On the 17th of February he introduced this plan in two bills. The first bill detailed the particular concessions which he proposed; and the second was for the appointment of commissioners, with full powers to carry out the treaty. He declared that his policy had always been pacific; that he had never proposed any tax on the Americans - when he came into office he had found them taxed already; that he had tried conciliatory means before the sword was drawn, and would still gladly try them. He had thought the former propositions to the Americans very reasonable, and he thought so still.

This, it must be confessed, was not a very hopeful assertion, as regarded any fresh concessions from him, for, if he could so far have mistaken the amount of concession which would have satisfied the Americans, was he likely to give it now? As to the act which led to the Boston riots - that of giving the whole drawback of the teas exported to America to the East India Company - it was an act, in his opinion, of which the Americans ought not to have complained, for it was a real benefit to them; and as to the Stamp Act, it was, as he thought, the very best that had yet been proposed. Here, again, the prospects of such a legislator must, to all sensible people, have appeared hopeless, for, if what he thought the very best of taxes had been rejected by the Americans, it was clear that he did not comprehend the people he had to deal with, or the real nature of their demands. Forgetful of the hopes that he had held out, of assisting the revenues of this country by the taxation of Americans, he now surprised his auditors by asserting that he had never expected to derive much revenue from America, and that, in reality, the taxes imposed had not paid the expenses of the attempt to collect them.

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Pictures for The Reign of George III. (Continued.)

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