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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 11


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Fox introduced his first bill on the 20th of November; all went smoothly, and the second reading was ordered for that day week. Then the storm burst. Mr. Grenville, afterwards lord Grenville, described the bill as a scheme to put the company into the hands of ministers, and to annihilate the prerogatives of the crown at the same time. He denounced it as one of the most daring and dangerous attempts that had ever been brought into that house. He moved that it should lie over till after Christmas, and there was a strong phalanx ready to support him. Pitt, Dundas, Jenkinson, afterwards lord Liverpool; John Scott, afterwards lord Eldon, who opened his long tory career that evening; Erskine, who also spoke for the first time in parliament that night, zealously supported the motion. Grenville did not press the motion to a division, and the bill was read a second time on the 27th, when a vehement and long debate took place. Pitt put forth his whole strength against it, Fox for it, and it was carried by two hundred and twenty-nine votes against one hundred and twenty. On the 1st of December it was moved that the bill be committed, when the opposition was equally determined. On this occasion, Burke, who had made himself profoundly acquainted with Indian affairs, took the lead, and delivered one of his very finest speeches, equally full of information and eloquence. Pitt resisted the going into committee with all his power, and pledged himself, if the house would throw out the bill, to bring in another equally efficacious, and at the same time devoid of its danger. The debate, like the former one, did not close till half-past four in the morning, and then it was with a triumphant majority of two hundred and seventeen against one hundred and three. The bill, thus carried by such majorities through the commons, was carried up to the lords, on the 9th of December, by Fox, accompanied by a numerous body of the commoners, and it was considered as certain of passing there; but the king and his party, exasperated at this resolute conduct of the house of commons, had gone lengths to quash the bill in the lords that are rarely resorted to by the crown. As in the lower house, so here, it was allowed to be read the first time without dividing; but it was attacked with an ominous solemnity by Thurlow, the duke of Richmond, and lord Temple, who, since his recall from the lord lieutenancy of Ireland, had thrown himself into the opposition with peculiar vivacity. It was known that he had been frequently closeted with the king of late, and he bluntly declared the bill infamous. Thurlow went further; and, fixing one of his most solemn glances on the prince of Wales, who was sitting in the house to vote for the bill, declared that if this measure passed, the crown of England would not be worth wearing; and that, if the king allowed it to become law, he would, in fact, have taken it from his head and put it on that of Mr. Fox. On the 15th, when the bill was proposed for the second reading, then the royal proceedings against it were brought at once to the day-light. The duke of Portland rose, and said, before going into the question, he was bound to notice a report which was confidently in circulation, and which, if true, vitally affected the constitution of the country. This was no less than that the king had written a note to lord Temple, stating that " his majesty would deem those who voted for the bill not only not his friends, but his enemies; and that if lord Temple could put this into still stronger language, he had full authority to do so."

The duke of Richmond read a paragraph from a newspaper in which the report was stated, naming lord Temple without any disguise. On this Temple rose, and admitted that he had given certain advice to the king, but would neither admit nor deny that it was of the kind intimated in the report. That the rumour was founded on truth, however, was immediately shown by the division. Numbers of lords who had promised ministers to vote for the bill withdrew their support; the prince of Wales declined voting; and the opposition moved and carried a resolution for adjournment till the next day, in order to hear evidence in defence of the East India Company. It was clear that the bill had received its death-blow, and would never pass the lords after this determined expression of the royal will. But it did not at all intimidate ministers. That evening, in the house of commons, Mr. Baker moved, that to report any opinion, or pretended opinion, of his majesty on any bill or other proceeding, &c., pending in either house of parliament, with a view to influence the members, was a high crime and misdemeanor, derogatory to the honour of the crown, a breach of the fundamental privileges of parliament, and subversive of the constitution; and, secondly, that the house would, on Monday next, resolve itself into a committee to consider the state of the nation.

Fox was very indignant, and made no scruple of attributing the conduct of the king, not to mere report, but to fact. "There is," he said, "a written record to be produced. This letter is not to be put in the balance with the lie of the day;" whereupon he pulled from his pocket a copy of the note said to have been written by the king to lord Temple. When he sate down Mr. Grenville rose, and stated that he had taken down the words read as the king's note, and had shown them to his relative, lord Temple, who had authorised him to say that such words had never been made use of by him. But Fox demanded whether lord Temple had not used words to that effect, and Grenville was silent. Fox continued in a very fierce strain, denouncing back-stairs lords and bedchamber politicians, and declared that the best-meant and best-concerted plans of ministers were subject to the blasting influence of a villanous whisper. He added that he could not continue in office any longer consistent either with his own honour or the interests of the nation. He felt that he was goaded to it, and upbraided for not resigning instantly; but a very honourable majority of that house stood pledged to a great measure, and ministers were equally bound not to abandon the affairs of state in the midst of so much anarchy. These last words, and the division, which was nearly two to one in favour of ministers, left it doubtful, after all, whether Fox and his colleagues would resign. As such language, however, could not be used by ministers with impunity, and a dissolution of the cabinet was probable, Erskine moved another resolution, pledging the house to persevere in the endeavour to remedy the abuses in the government of India, and declaring " that this house will consider as an enemy to this country any person who shall presume to advise his majesty to prevent, or in any manner interrupt, the discharge of this important duty." All strangers were excluded, but it was ascertained that the motion was severely censured as an invasion of the king's prerogative, yet the resolution was carried by one hundred and forty-seven votes against seventy-three.

Strong as was the majority of ministers, however, the king did not wait for their resigning. The day after this debate (Thursday, December 18th), the king sent, at twelve o'clock at night, to Fox and lord North an order to surrender their seals of office to Mr. Frazer and Mr. Nepean, under-secretaries, as a personal interview, under the circumstances, would be disagreeable. Fox instantly delivered up his, but lord North was already in bed, and had intrusted his seal to his son and under-secretary, colonel North, who could not be found for some time. The seals were then delivered to lord Temple, who, on the following day, sent letters of dismissal to all the other members of the coalition cabinet. Pitt, though in his twenty-fifth year only, was immediately appointed first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer, and on him devolved the arduous office of forming a new administration under these conflicting circumstances. Earl Gower was nominated president of the council, and lord Temple one of the secretaries of state. When the house of commons met in the afternoon, Fox imagined, from a motion of Dundas, to proceed to business without the usual adjournment on Saturday, that it was the object of the new party to pass certain money bills, and then resort to a dissolution. Fox opposed the motion, declaring that a dissolution at this moment would produce infinite damage to the service of the nation, and that, should it take place, in order to suit the convenience of an ambitious young man - meaning Pitt - he would, immediately on the meeting of the new house, move for an inquiry into the authors and advisers of it, in order to bring them to punishment. This caused lord Temple, who had occasioned the breaking up of the coalition, to resign again immediately, declaring that he preferred meeting any aspersions upon him in his private and individual capacity. This certainly removed a great danger from his colleagues, although it rendered the task of his friend and relative, Pitt, still more difficult, in having to form an administration alone. The ministry was then filled up thus.- - Viscount Sydney, secretary of state for the home department; the marquis of Carmarthen for the foreign; the duke of Rutland, first made lord privy seal, but this office was soon changed, lord Gower taking the privy seal and Rutland going to Ireland as lord-lieutenant; lord Camden became president of the council; the duke of Richmond, master- general of the ordnance; William Grenville and lord Mulgrave joint paymasters of the forces; lord Thurlow again chancellor; lord Howe, first lord of the admiralty; duke of Chandos, lord-steward of the household; Dundas, treasurer of the navy; Sir George Yonge, secretary at war, Mr. - afterwards Sir - George Rose and Thomas Shute, secretaries of the treasury; Mr. Lloyd Kenyon - afterwards lord Kenyon - attorney-general; and Mr. Arden, solicitor- general.

When the commons met, on the 22nd, it was informed of the resignation of lord Temple, and the house then resolved itself into a committee on the state of the nation. Erskine referred to the words which had been attributed to lord Temple as ominous of an intended dissolution, and declared that, after the house had devoted two years to the consideration of Indian affairs, such a dissolution just now would be most calamitous. Mr. Bankes said he was authorised by Mr. Pitt, who was not in the house, a new writ for Appleby being moved for on his appointment to office, to say that he had no intention to advise a dissolution. Erskine's motion, therefore, was carried without a division, and an address on that point was proposed to the king. Lord North vindicated his late ministry and present party from the perpetual cry of coalition. He observed that some one had recommended the house to keep a starling to shout perpetually, " Coalition! coalition!" but that there was no occasion for a starling whilst certain gentlemen were in the house, and he wittily defended the union of persons of different political opinions by an anecdote of two men shut in together in the Eddystone lighthouse for six weeks, who were so opposed to each other that they never spoke, yet, out of mere rivalry, took care to do each his duty in maintaining the light. When some one also spoke of Mr. Fox as having resigned, North sharply retorted, "No; my right honourable friend did not resign - he was turned out; I was turned out; we were all turned out!" Lord Beauchamp moved that the commissioners of the treasury ought not to permit the acceptance of bills from India until the house should be satisfied that they could be provided for by the company out of their clear effects, after discharging all sums due to the public; but lord Mulgrave properly remarked that the lords of the treasury were authorised by act of parliament to accept such bills, and could not be restrained. His majesty, on the 24th of December, having assured the house that he would not interrupt their meeting after the recess by either prorogation or dissolution, the house adjourned till the 20th of January.

When parliament reassembled, Fox seized the very earliest moment to address the chair, and occupy the attention of the house. He rose at the unusually early hour of half-past two o'clock in the day, before the newly-returned members had taken their oaths. Pitt himself was in this predicament, but, as soon as he had taken his oath, he rose to speak; but Fox contended that he was already in possession of the house, and, though Pitt announced that he had a message from the king, Fox persisted, and moved that the house should go into committee on the state of the nation. This allowed Pitt to speak, who declared that he had no objection to the committee; but he thought it more advisable to go into the question of India, on which subject he proposed to introduce a bill. He then made some sharp remarks on the conduct of Fox, in thus seizing, by artifice, a precedence in speaking, and on the petulance and clamour which the opposition had displayed, and on the violent and unprecedented nature of their conduct, by which they hoped to inflame the spirit of the country, and excite unnecessary jealousies.

In truth, Fox and his party were now running a most unwise career. Possessed of a large majority, they were indignant that the king should have dismissed them, and thought that they could outvote the new ministry, and drive them again from office. They had, no doubt, such a majority; but, at the same time, they had the king resolute against them. They had insulted him by their violent denunciations of his letter, and they had not, in their anger, the discernment to perceive that not only would this be made use of by their opponents to injure them, both in parliament and out of it, but their proceeding with so much heat and violence was calculated to make them appear factious - more concerned for their places than for the interests of the country. All this took place; the king and ministry saw how all this would operate, and calmly awaited its effects. Fox and his party had, moreover, deeply incensed the powerful India party, and it was actively exerting itself to turn public opinion against them. Fox and North, under the circumstances, should have been particularly calm and prudent in their proceedings; they were wholly the contrary, and they soon felt the fatal effects of their impetuous demeanour. The whole of this session was a violent struggle for the ascendancy betwixt the two parties, in which one was all fire, and declamation, and impatient partisanship; the other quiet, immobile persistence under defeat after defeat, but still seeing victory sure in the end. The first debate lasted twelve hours, from two o'clock in the day till two o'clock the next morning, and terminated by a majority of thirty-nine against ministers.

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