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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 11


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During this session of parliament, on the 17th of June, a petition was presented by the Society of Friends for the total abolition of the slave trade. It was received with smiles, as the romantic demand of amiable enthusiasts; but it proved to be the commencement of the greatest and most perseveringly-prosecuted agitation in the cause of humanity. In a short time, Clarkson and Wilberforce were working it with heart and soul; the enthusiasm spread and deepened, and became national, and did not terminate until it had not only destroyed that accursed trade in men, but had liberated every negro slave in the British dominions.

On the 23rd of June, the king sent down a message to the commons, recommending them to take into consideration a separate establishment for the prince of Wales, who had arrived at the age of twenty-one. This young man, whose whole career proved to be one of reckless extravagance and dissipation, was already notorious for his debauched habits, and for his fast accumulating debts. He was a great companion of Fox, and the gambling roues amongst whom that great orator but spendthrift man was accustomed to spend his time and money, and therefore, as a pet of this coalition ministry, the duke of Portland proposed to grant him one hundred thousand pounds a-year! The king, alarmed at the torrent of extravagance and vice which such an income was certain to produce in the prince's career, declared that he could not consent to burthen his people, and encourage the prince's habits of expense, by such an allowance. He therefore requested that the grant should amount only to fifty thousand pounds a-year, paid out of the civil list, and fifty thousand pounds as an outfit from parliamentary funds. The ministers were compelled to limit themselves to this, though the saving was merely nominal, for the debts on the civil list were again fast accumulating, and the prince was of a character which would not hesitate to apply to parliament to wipe off his debts, as well as his father's, when they became troublesome to him. Resenting, however, the restraint attempted to be put upon him by his father, the prince the more closely connected himself with Fox and his party, and the country was again scandalised by the repetition of the scenes enacted when Frederick, prince of Wales, father of George III., was the opponent of his own father, George II., and the associate of his opponents. Such, indeed, had been the family divisions in every reign, since the Hanoverian succession.

On the 16th of July parliament was prorogued, and Pitt and Wilberforce, then inseparable friends, went over to Paris, with Mr. Elliot, for an introduction to the French court, and to improve their French. Whilst they were in that capital, the preliminary treaty with Holland was signed there on the 2nd of September, and on the next day, the 3rd - Oliver Cromwell's great day - the definitive treaty was also signed betwixt England, France, Spain, and America. John Adams was soon after named the first American ambassador at London; but he did not present himself for an audience at court till the 1st of June of the following year. Being then presented by lord Carmarthen to the king, he thus addressed his late sovereign: - " I think myself more fortunate than all my fellow-citizens in having the distinguished honour to be the first to stand in your majesty's presence in a diplomatic character; and I shall esteem myself the happiest of men if I can be instrumental in recommending my country more and more to your majesty's royal benevolence."

"Sir," replied king George, " I wish you to believe, and that it may be understood in America, that I have done nothing in the late contest but what I thought myself indispensably bound to do by the duty which I owed to my people. I will be very frank with you. I was the last to consent to the separation; but, the separation having been made and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I now say, that I would be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power."

Adams, in his letter to secretary Jay, said, " The king was indeed much affected, and I confess I was not less so." Jay himself, who had written some of the most fiery proclamations and appeals against both the king and England, in which he had designated George as a bloody and brutal tyrant, when, a year or two later, he was introduced to him, became equally changed in his feelings and opinions towards him and this country; but Jefferson never seemed capable of divesting himself of his revolutionary animus against both England, the English, or the monarch, who was naturally benevolent, but was more easily misled by thoše about him than recalled to the right track when once out of it.

The regathering of parliament, on the 11th of November, was distinguished by two circumstances of very unequal interest. The prince of Wales, having arrived at his majority, took his seat as duke of Cornwall, as it was well known, intending to vote for a great measure which Fox was introducing regarding India. We shall now almost immediately enter on the narration of the important events which had been transpiring in India during the American war. It is sufficient here to observe that these were of a nature to give the most serious concern and alarm to all well-wishers of the country, and of the unfortunate natives of that magnificent peninsula. Fox's measure for the reform and restraint of the East India Company was comprehended in two bills, the first proposing to vest the affairs of the company in the hands of sixteen directors, seven of them to be appointed by parliament, and afterwards sanctioned by the crown, and nine of them to be elected by the holders of stock. These were to remain in office four years; the seven parliament nominees to be invested with the management of the territorial possessions and revenues of the company; the nine additional to conduct the commercial affairs of the company under the seven chief directors; and both classes of directors to be subject to removal at the option of the king, on an address for the purpose from either house of parliament. The second bill related principally to the powers to be vested in the governor-general and council, and their treatment of the natives.

The bills were highly necessary, and, on the whole, well calculated to nip in the bud those enormous and evergrowing abuses of India and its hundred millions of people which, in our own time, have compelled government to take them out of the hands of a mere trading company, whose only object was to coin as much money as possible out of them. But it required no great sagacity to see that the means of defeat lay on the very surface of these bills. Those whose sordid interests were attacked by them, had only to point to the fact that parliament, and not the crown, was to be the governing party under these bills, in order to defeat them at once. This was quickly done through a most ready agent. Thurlow had been removed by the present ministry from the woolsack, where he had remained as a gross anomaly, and a steady opponent of all the measures of his colleagues; and it required only a hint from the India House, and he was at the ear of the king. The fact of his being frequently closeted with the king on this subject seems to have been well known at the time. Nothing was easier than for Thurlow to inspire George III. with a deep jealousy of the measure, as aiming at putting the whole government of India into the hands of parliament and of ministers - and the effect was soon seen.

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.

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