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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 13

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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.

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.

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