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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 12


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During the debate, Pitt and his colleagues were taunted with coming into power through secret and back-stairs influence; that Pitt was the minister of the crown, but not of the house; that, though the king certainly possessed the prerogative of dissolving parliament, without the confidence of parliament this was but a scarecrow prerogative; and Erskine predicted that Pitt would be minister of only a few hours. Pitt, on his part, maintained a wonderful coolness for so young a man, merely saying that he went into office by no back-stairs influence, and that, if he discovered any, he would immediately go out.

Fox, in committee, moved that, " if any person employed in the issuing of public money, should pay any sums for services voted during the session after parliament should have been prorogued or dissolved - if that event should take place before the passing of an act for the appropriation of supplies - he would be guilty of a high crime and misdemeanour." This was carried without division.

Next, lord Surrey moved that there should be an administration, which, in the present circumstances of public affairs, had the confidence of the house and nation. Dundas moved an amendment, that the motion should include the crown as well as the parliament and the nation; but this was rejected, and the motion carried after a warm debate, being a fresh insult to the crown on the part of Fox and his friends. Fox then moved, and lord Surrey seconded, a motion for deferring the reading of the mutiny act till the 23rd of February, another means of postponing any dissolution of parliament, and this, too, was carried. Lord Surrey instantly followed this up by another motion - " that the late changes in his majesty's councils were preceded by dangerous and universal reports, that his majesty's sacred name had been unconstitutionally abused to affect the deliberations of parliament, and that the appointments made were accompanied by circumstances new and extraordinary, and such as did not conciliate or engage the confidence of the house." Dundas moved an adjournment, as it was now six o'clock in the morning, and the debate very vehement; but he was overruled, and ministers were once more left in a minority of fifty-four! These triumphant majorities might look like decided victory on the part of Fox and his late colleagues, but every one of them in reality weakened them, for they were palpably the mere efforts of a faction to drive the new administration, without a trial, from their seats. Fox declared that Pitt and his supporters could not see what stared them in the face; but Fox and his supporters could not see what equally stared them in the face, that they were destroying themselves out of doors by their successes within, and that Pitt was quietly waiting the operation of their suicidal exertions.

When the house met again on Wednesday, Pitt moved for leave to bring in his bill for the better government and management of the affairs of the East India Company. He was aware, he said, how certain men would triumph when he informed them that he had based his intended measures on the resolutions of the proprietors of India stock; that he agreed almost entirely with their views. He was so miserably irresolute, he said, as not to venture on a bill founded on violence and disfranchisement. He was so weak as to pay respect to chartered rights; and he had not disdained, in proposing a new system of government, to consult those who had the greatest interest in the matter, as well as the most experience in it. These were all hard hits at Fox and his party. In his bill he went on the principle of placing the commerce of India chiefly under the control of the company itself; but the civil and military government, he admitted, required some other control than that of the company, yet even this, in his opinion, ought to be established in accordance with the convictions of the company. In truth, it was a bill rather calculated to win the good will of the East India Company - at that moment so critical to Pitt's ministry - than to reform the abuses of that body, and to protect the interests of the natives. Fox, with as much truth as personal feeling, designated the bill as the wisdom of an individual opposed to the collective wisdom of the commons of England.

The bill was suffered to pass the second reading, but was thrown out, on the motion for its being committed, by two hundred and twenty-two against two hundred and fourteen. Fox then gave notice of his intention of bringing in a new bill of his own on India, and demanded to know from the ministers whether he might expect to proceed in security with it, or whether the house would be dissolved. Pitt did not answer; the question was repeated by other members, but Pitt continued silent, till general Conway said it was a new thing to see a minister sitting in sulky silence, and refusing to satisfy the reasonable desires of the house. He declared that the ministry originated in, and maintained themselves by, darkness, secrecy, and artifice, and were now about dissolving parliament after sending agents to bribe electors. This brought out Pitt with an indignant denial; but he preserved silence as to the probability of a dissolution. The debate was adjourned for half a day, and then resumed. Lord Charles Spencer, previous to this debate, had moved that the ministers retaining their posts after the strong expression of the house, was contrary to the principles of the constitution, and to the interests of the king and people. This, too, had been carried by a majority of twenty-one, and it was now thrown out in debate that a coalition betwixt the parties of Fox and Pitt was desirable. This was singular after so much abuse of coalitions had passed, but Fox appeared to listen to it. Pitt, however, observed drily, that a coalition not founded on principle would be fallacious and dangerous.

These party tactics were continued with unwonted heat by the opposition on all occasions, till the house adjourned for three days, to meet again on the 29th, the opposition revelling in large majorities, though they were aware that both the king and the house of lords were adverse to them; but the country was also now growing weary of this unsatisfactory position of things, and began to sympathise with the great patience of Pitt rather than the tumultuous conduct of Fox and his friends. At this time of day, no ministry could have remained, like that of Pitt, in direct opposition to the majority, and the repeated votes of the house of commons; but Pitt was strong in the assurance of the adhesion of the crown and the peerage, and saw unmistakable signs of a revulsion in the feeling of the public. The majorities of the commons were themselves becoming every time less, and on the 16th the city of London had presented a strongly-expressed address to the king, declaring its approval of the late dismissal of ministers, and its opinion that the India bill of Fox was an encroachment on the prerogative of the crown.

This was the signal for a general movement in the country.

Fox saw the growing change with alarm. He saw that all their resolutions and addresses produced no effect on the ministerial party; he did not dare to go further and pass a bill, either legislative or declaratory, for he felt that the lords would throw it out; and to stop the supplies, or delay the mutiny bill, would probably disgust and annihilate the very majority on which he depended. Under these circumstances, he probably saw with satisfaction further attempts at coalition. Mr. Grosvenor, the member for Chester, during the three days of the adjournment, called a meeting of members of both parties at the St. Alban's Tavern, for the purpose of seeing whether a coalition could not be formed, and thus put an end to this violent contest. About seventy members met, and an address to the duke of Portland and Mr. Pitt was signed by fifty-four. Pitt expressed his readiness to co-operate in such a plan, but the duke of Portland declared that the first indispensable step towards such a measure must be the resignation of the present ministers. This put an end to all hope of success. When the house met on the 29th, Fox adverted to this meeting at the St. Alban's Tavern, and still declared himself friendly to the attempt, but equally of opinion with the duke of Portland, that nothing could avail but a resignation of ministers, and he moved and carried another adjournment till the 2nd of February, to enable them to consider their real situation.

On the 2nd, Mr. Grosvenor moved that nothing but a strong and united ministry could retain the confidence of the people, and put an end to the unhappy distractions of the country. This was carried, but Pitt remained unmoved; and then a second motion was carried by Coke, of Norfolk, declaring that the continuance of the present ministry in office was an obstacle to such a united and satisfactory administration. Pitt only replied that the house had rushed on from one motion to the other, all without effect, and that the two real paths open to the opposition were, impeachment of ministers, if they had committed any crimes, and an address to the crown. The latter idea was accepted by Mr. Coke, who moved and carried, by a majority of twenty- four, that the two resolutions of the house just passed should be laid before his majesty.

But at this crisis the house of lords, which had remained so far a passive spectator of this furious war in the commons, began to comment upon it in strong terms. The earl of Effingham condemned the proceedings of the opposition in the commons as a direct attack upon the prerogative of the crown, and the setting up of a new power. He moved resolutions, declaring it most unconstitutional for one branch of the legislature to assume to itself the right to pass resolutions, attempting to impede or stop the executive power of the government, and to dispute the right of the crown to appoint to the great offices of the executive government. A long debate ensued, in which lords Fitzwilliam and Loughborough, and the duke of Manchester, opposed the resolutions; and the duke of Richmond, the lord chancellor, and lord Sydney, supported the resolutions, which were both carried by one hundred against fifty-three, and an address to his majesty was also carried, in pursuance of the resolutions, to which the king immediately returned a most gracious answer.

No sooner was the king's answer received, thus unequivocally demonstrating the feelings of his majesty as well as of the lords, than lord Beauchamp, whose measure was thus censured, moved that the journals of the house of lords should be searched for precedents, and then moved a string of six resolutions, sanctioning the proceedings of the opposition, which were carried by a majority of twenty-nine. But a different majority was rapidly growing out of doors.

The address of the city of London had produced a succession of such, not, indeed, as in Westminster and Middlesex, without some opposition, but still bearing unmistakable evidence that the feelings of many constituencies were undergoing a rapid change. Fox himself had imprudently dared the ministry to such a test. " Where," he exclaimed, " is that popularity of the present administration in which they confide? Why do not gentlemen call meetings; muster their friends and partisans, and carry their addresses to the house? Till this is done, till the fact is proved, I, for one, will question the truth!"

The fact was now being rapidly proved: Worcester, Exeter, York, Edinburgh, and many other towns, made similar demonstrations. For three months, whilst the opposition in the house of commons were exulting on their majority, the majority amongst the people was rapidly sliding from them; and, whilst they were straining every nerve to prevent the dissolution of parliament, they were only more securely preparing their own fall, for Pitt and the government had been zealously at work everywhere undermining them.

From the 11th of February to the 20th, the struggle went on, many endeavours being made, but without effect, to come to an agreement between the parties. On that day, Mr. Powys moved an address to his majesty, praying him to take measures for a strong and united administration. Fox complained bitterly, in this debate, of the load of obloquy which had been thrown upon him and his friends, for proposing the postponement of the supplies, as a fatal blow given to the national credit, and for his objection to an immediate dissolution of parliament. Most imprudently did Fox now censure the electors, as he had already and repeatedly censured the king; indeed, prudence, in his mortification on dismissal from office, seemed to have been annihilated. He declared that the people, at the present moment, were labouring under deception and delusion - were running upon their own ruin, and therefore it was an act of duty to resist them. Powys's motion was carried by a majority of twenty; and then Fox moved, and carried a resolution, that an address, founded on this, should be presented to his majesty.

On the 25th the whole of the house, or rather of the opposition, went up with the address. His majesty replied that he was as desirous as the commons could be to form such an administration as they recommended, but that he could not see how the dismissal of his present ministers could promote that end, and he therefore trusted that his faithful commons would not wish for such a sweeping measure until there was a prospect of its answering the purpose, as, moreover, he had received many addresses from his subjects, commending strongly the late changes. This answer was so explicit that it might have convinced any persons but those blinded by their passions that the king was not likely to give way. It only tended, however, to exasperate Fox and his party. On the 27th, when it was reported, lord Beaumont moved that it should be taken into consideration on Monday, the 1st of March, and to that day the house adjourned, thus deferring again the supplies and the mutiny bill.

On the 1st of March Fox moved that a second address be carried up to the king by the whole house, representing the violence done to the constitution by a minister retaining his place after a vote of want of confidence by the commons, and insisting strongly on the right and duty of that house to advise his majesty on the exercise of his prerogative. Pitt replied, that, by attempting to force the king to decide contrary to his judgment, they were placing the sceptre under the mace; but the resolution was carried by a majority, though of twelve only, and on the 4th the address was carried up, when the king repeated that his sentiments remained the same. Fox, on the return of the house, moved that this answer should not be taken into consideration before the 8th, and till then the mutiny bill should remain in abeyance.

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