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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 12

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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.

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.

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