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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 13


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The house on the 8th was excessively crowded, for a very warm debate was anticipated, but Sir James Lowther took an effectual means for preventing the public hearing that speeches of Fox and his friends, or even getting then; reported. As soon as this motion was brought on he rose, and, asserting that he brought down a friend to hear the debates, but had found it impossible to obtain for him a seat in the gallery, he therefore inferred that there were strangers in the gallery not introduced by members, and moved that the gallery be cleared. Many members zealously opposed this motion, but Sir James persisted, and carried it. In consequence, the speech of Fox was very imperfectly reported, and Burke, who spoke for two hours, was not reported at all. Fox, however, moved that a third address be carried up to the king, expressing the surprise and affliction of the commons at the replies which his majesty had been advised to make to them, and that this should be in the form of an humble representation, which required no answer. Fox could not conceal his chagrin at the falling away of his majorities, nor refrain from stigmatising those who had ceased to support him, as men of whose society no one was even ambitious. Pitt scarcely cared to reply, for he saw too well that Fox was most effectually ruining his own cause, but Dundas vehemently exposed the absurdity and the mischief of the present proceeding. He declared it the final consummation of a monstrous outrage on the constitution. " Why," he asked, " did Fox not claim the right for the house to negative his majesty's appointment of ministers without giving a single reason? Why send such an address to the king, at the same time forbidding any answer? The right honourable gentleman had not asked for the punishment of ministers, because they had committed no crime; he only asked for their removal, and the world would readily understand that he merely wanted their places."

Fox did not escape without considerable triumphant ridicule from those who saw how matters were going. Sir Richard Hill repeated some burlesque verses which he had written upon him by the name of Carlo Khan, the name given to him in a very popular caricature issued during the progress of his first India Bill, in which he was riding as Mogul emperor into Delhi on an elephant, having the queer, fat face of North, and a hircarrah, equally like Burke, leading the elephant, as his trumpeter, When the house came to divide about midnight, Fox was found to have carried his resolution, but only by a majority of one.

This was the climax of defeat. The once triumphant opposition saw that all was over with them, and they gave up the contest. Never, in fact, had a great and powerful party so completely destroyed itself by rash and headlong intemperance. They had heaped upon themselves the censures of all parties, from the highest to the lowest; whilst their enemies, by a patient endurance, and an unwearied activity to turn their opponents' follies to account, had been constantly growing in public opinion. Nothing could have been more unconstitutional, more repugnant to the sense of English fairness, than the remaining in office of Pitt and his colleagues in the face of such marked majorities of the house of commons; and had Fox and his friends been content to wait the legitimate effect of this, they might have immensely profited by it. But they showed too plainly that they were more rabid for regaining office than anxious to labour for the interests of the nation, and they fell never to rise again for nearly twenty long years, through a succession of most momentous events.

The supplies and the mutiny bill were now passed without much difficulty, but ministers did not venture to introduce an appropriation bill. On the 23rd, lord North, stating that the dissolution of parliament was confidently asserted out of doors, declared that such a dissolution, without passing an appropriation bill, would be an unparalleled insult to the house. He expressed his astonishment that the minister did not condescend to utter a syllable on the subject of the proposed change. Pitt, now confident of his position, replied that gentlemen might ask as many questions as they pleased; that he had adopted a course which he felt was advantageous to the country, and did not feel bound to enter then into any explanations. All mystery, however, was cleared up the next day, for the king went down to the house of lords and prorogued parliament, announcing that, under the particular circumstances, he felt it his duty to the constitution and the country to convoke a new parliament as speedily as possible. Accordingly, on the next day, the 25th of March, he dissolved parliament by proclamation.

When the new parliament met, on the 18th of May, it was seen how completely Fox and North had destroyed their prestige by their late factious conduct, and how completely Pitt had made himself master of the situation. His patience and cool policy under the tempestuous assaults of the opposition had given the country a wonderful confidence in him. One party extolled him as the stanch defender of the prerogative, another as the champion of reform and enemy of aristocratic influence. Not less than one hundred and sixty of the supporters of the late coalition ministry had been rejected at the elections, and ridiculed as " Fox's Martyrs." The king, in opening the session, could not repress the air of triumph, and congratulated the houses on the declared sense of his people, not forgetting to designate.

Fox's India bill as a most unconstitutional measure, In fact, no one was so delighted as the king. He had contemplated the victory of Fox and his friends over Pitt with actual horror. He had never liked Fox, and the violent and overbearing manner in which he had endeavoured to compel the king to dismiss his ministers, had increased his aversion into dread and shuddering repugnance. In his letters to Pitt he had said, u If these desperate and factious men succeed, my line is a clear one, and to which I have fortitude to submit." Again: " Should not the lords stand boldly forth," alluding to lord Effingham's motion, u this constitution must soon be changed; for if the two remaining privileges of the crown are infringed, that of negativing the bills which have passed both houses of parliament, and 'that of naming the ministers to be employed, I cannot but feel, as far as regards my person, that I can be no longer of utility to this country, nor can, with honour, remain in the island." In fact, George was menacing, a second time, a retreat to Hanover; a step, however, which he was not very likely to adopt. The sentiment which the words really express is his horror of the heavy yoke of the great whig houses. The addresses from both houses of parliament expressed equal satisfaction in the change, Pitt's triumphant majority having now rejected the amendments of the opposition.

On the 21st of June Pitt introduced and carried several resolutions, which formed the basis of his " Commutation Act." These went to check smuggling, by reducing the duty on tea from fifty to twelve and a half per cent., and to raise the window-tax so as to supply the deficiency. A bill was then passed to make good another deficiency in the civil list, to the amount of sixty thousand pounds. Early in August Mr. Pitt brought in his India bill, which differed chiefly from his former one in introducing a government board of commissioners, with power to examine and revise the proceedings of the court of directors. This, which has since acquired the name of the Board of Control, was strongly opposed by Fox, but passed both houses with little trouble. We shall enter more particularly into the merits of this measure in our approaching treatment of India affairs.

Before this great measure had passed, Pitt had introduced his budget. On the 30th of June he made his financial statement. He stated that the resources of the country were in a very burthened and disordered state; but that was not his work, but the work of his predecessors. The outstanding arrears, owing to the late war, were already ascertained to amount at least to fourteen million pounds. These operated very injuriously on the public credit, being at a discount of from fifteen to twenty per cent.; and that, without greatly affecting the public securities, he should not be able to find more than six million six hundred thousand six hundred pounds of them at once. To meet the interest, he proposed to raise taxes to the amount of nine hundred thousand pounds a-year. The imposts- some entirely new, and some augmented - were on hats, ribbons, gauzes, coals, saddle and pleasure - horses, printed linens and calicoes, candles; licences to deal in exciseable commodities, bricks, and tiles; licences for shooting game; paper, and hackney coaches.

The duties on bricks and tiles were strongly opposed, as affecting brick-makers rather than the public, because stone and slates were not included. These duties were, however, carried, and the bill passed; but great discontent arising regarding the duties on coals and on licences to deal in exciseable commodities, the chancellor of the exchequer was obliged to produce a supplementary budget, and, after withdrawing these, to lay others on the sale of ale, gold and silver plate, the exportation of lead, and postage of letters, at the same time limiting the privilege of franking. It was high time that the latter practice was put under regulation, for the privilege was enormously abused. Till this time, a simple signature of a member of parliament, without name of the post town whence it was sent, or date, freed a letter all over the kingdom. Many persons had whole quires of these signatures, and letters were also addressed to numbers of places where they did not reside, so that, by an arrangement easily understood, the persons they were really meant for received them post-free. The loss to government by this dishonest system was calculated at one hundred and seventy thousand pounds a-year. By the present plan, no member was to permit any letter to be addressed to him except at the place where he actually was; and he was required, in writing a frank, to give the name of the post town where he wrote it, with the dates of day and year, and to write himself the whole address.

The last great act of this session was one of genuine liberality, being the restoration of the estates forfeited by the Scottish rebels in 1745. Forty years had now elapsed since this forfeiture; the population of the highlands had become as loyal as that of any other part of the kingdom; the estates had remained in trust under the crown, and it was a measure calculated particularly to conciliate the people of Scotland. Mr. Dundas introduced the bill, and observed that lord Chatham had been the first to put an end to the remembrances of past feuds, and had, with admirable success, called the inhabitants of the highlands to aid in the defence of the country at large. They had responded with a spirit and a valour that had been equally honourable to them and the nation, and he felt assured that, had the late ministry now been in office, they would have brought or ward such a measure. Personally, he knew that lord North was anxious for it.

Dundas did no more than justice to the opposition; they supported the measure cordially, and Mr. Fox strongly recommended that this graceful act of clemency should be extended to the heirs of the earl of Derwentwater, whose case was still stronger} it being then seventy years since the confiscation of those estates. Pitt did not respond to this challenge, and the bulk of these fine estates of lord Derwentwater have since been conferred on Greenwich Hospital; but the bill for Scotland went through the house of commons without even an adverse comment. In the lords, Thurlow made some grumblings over it as a removal of those severities which ought always to surround treason; but he begged that these might be taken as his thoughts and not as his objections, and added that, should the bill go into committee, he would absent himself and throw no further obstacle in its way. The bill therefore passed on the 18th of August, and, on the 20th, the appropriation bill and other measures of routine having been carried through with great triumph by the now strong ministry, the king prorogued the parliament, which did not meet again till the 25th of January following. Pitt had now firmly rooted himself in a power which for seventeen years he was destined, with unshaken security, to wield. Could the nation, however, at this period have foreseen the stupendous scenes into which his policy was to lead it. and the then inconceivable taxation which he was destined to impose, its horror would far have exceeded that of the king at the dreaded return of the whigs to power.

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