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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 3


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The battle for place went on briskly: the attorney- general's motion was carried without a division; but the next day, the duke of Chandos, in the lords, moved that the loss of lord Cornwallis's army was owing to the neglect of government to have a sufficient fleet on the coast - a self- evident fact. On the 8th of March, lord John Cavendish moved the following resolutions: - " That, since the year 1775, more than one hundred million pounds had been spent on fruitless wars; that, during that period, we had lost the thirteen colonies of America, except the ports of New York, Charleston, and Savannah, as well as Florida, and most of our West India islands; that the cause of all our misfortunes, including an expensive war with France, Spain, and Holland, was the want of foresight and ability in his majesty's ministers." Ministers defeated this by the small majority of ten. But, on the 15th, only a week later, Sir John Rous moved a vote of want of confidence, which was again lost by a minority of only nine. It was instantly determined to renew this motion through lord Surrey; and lord North saw so clearly that nothing could now avert his fall, that he implored the king most earnestly to accept his resignation. On the 10th, the king consented to his seeing the marquis of Rockingham, and ascertaining on what basis he thought a new administration might be formed. It was well known that George preferred the idea of lord Shelburne as premier to that of Rockingham, but hated and dreaded any whig cabinet, as handing him again over to his old slavery to the great whig houses. In fact, had it not been for the overbearing and overpowering selfishness of these houses, the whigs might have been in all along, and very different results would have been the consequence. So extremely did the king dislike the idea of the recurrence of whig domination, that he actually contemplated retiring to Hanover, and remaining there. It is certain, says Horace Walpole, that for a fortnight together the royal yacht was expediting and preparing for the voyage. It remains unknown whether he contemplated resigning the crown altogether, or leaving a regency; but that he proposed a permanent retirement from this country, was confided to lord Holland by George IV. But by degrees George became resigned to the endurance of the whigs rather than to the abandonment of his kingdom. He sent for lord North on the 20th, and addressed him in these words: - " Considering the temper of the house, I thought the administration at an end." Lord North instantly seized on the words, saying: - " Then, sire, had I not better state the fact at once? " The king consented, and North hurried down to the house of commons in his court-dress, as he was.

It was five o'clock - the house densely crowded; for lord Surrey was going to make the great opposition motion of want of confidence, and only waited for the arrival of the minister. As North hurried up the house, there were loud cries of " Order! order! Places! places!" North no sooner reached the treasury bench than he rose to make his important disclosure; but the opposition called vociferously for lord Surrey, while the ministerial members called for lord North. Fox then moved that " lord Surrey do speak first," but North instantly exclaimed, " I rise to speak to that motion." Being now obliged to hear him, for he was perfectly in order, he observed, that, " had they suffered him at once to proceed, he might have saved them much useless noise and confusion; for, without any disrespect to the noble lord, he was going to show that his motion was quite unnecessary, as the ministers had resigned, and that that resignation was accepted by the king! That he had only wanted to announce that fact, and to move an adjournment of a few days, in order to make the necessary arrangements for the new administration." Never was there a more profound surprise. The opposition could scarcely for some time realise the actual event. The house was adjourned for five days, and the members prepared to depart and spread the news. But it proved a wild, snowy evening; the carriages had not been ordered till midnight, and whilst the members were standing about in crowds waiting for their equipages, rather than walk home through the snow, lord North, who had kept his carriage, put three or four of his friends into it, and, bowing to the other members, said, laughingly, " You see, gentlemen, the advantage of being in the secret. Good night! "

Thus lord North retired from his premiership of twelve years with the same imperturbable good nature as he had maintained uniformly through it. Had his ability as a statesman been in any degree proportionate to his temper, we should not have lost America and most of the West Indies, Minorca, one hundred thousand men, one hundred and thirty-six millions of money, together with our prestige - the growth of many glorious years. But lord North could sacrifice a kingdom and a continent, and go out with a jest! North was as disinterested as he was good-humoured. He retired from office poorer than he went into it, though the perquisites of his ministry had enriched so many others. His father, the earl of Guildford, was still living, and he would have found himself unable to maintain his ordinary style of living, and educate his six children, but for the wardenship of the Cinque Ports, which the king continued to him. George, five years before North's resignation, had offered to lend him twenty thousand pounds, but he took care to stipulate for its repayment.

The king, in the first instance, applied to lord Shelburne to form a ministry; but he was bound by engagements to Wentworth House, and honourably refused to take the lead. George then tried lord Gower as ineffectually, and so was compelled to send for lord Rockingham, who accepted office, on the condition that peace should be made with America, including the acknowledgment of its independence, if unavoidable; administrative reform, on the basis of Mr. Burke's three bills; and the expulsion of contractors from parliament, and revenue officers from the exercise of the elective franchise. The king stood strongly on the retention of lord chancellor Thurlow and lord Stormont in their offices. Rockingham, with reluctance, conceded the retention of Thurlow, but refused that of Stormont.

The choice of lord Rockingham was such as could only have been made where family influence and party cliques had more weight than the proper object of a minister - the able management of national affairs. Rockingham, though a very honourable man, was never a man of any ability, and though now only fifty-two, his health and faculties, such as they were, were fast failing. Besides this, there was a violent jealousy betwixt him and lord Shelburne, who became his colleague, and brought in half of the cabinet. This was immediately shown by Rockingham procuring a peerage for Dunning, who became lord Ashburton, and Shelburne immediately insisting on one for Sir Fletcher Norton, who became lord Grantley.

The shape which the ministry eventually assumed was this: - Lord Rockingham became first lord of the treasury and premier; the earl of Shelburne and Charles Fox, secretaries of state; Thurlow, lord chancellor; Camden, notwithstanding his age, president of the council; duke of Grafton, privy seal; lord John Cavendish, chancellor of the exchequer; Keppel - made a viscount - first lord of the admiralty; general Conway, commander of the forces; the duke of Richmond, master-general of ordnance; Dunning - as lord Ashburton - chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. Burke was not admitted to the cabinet, for the whigs were too great sticklers for birth and family; but his indispensable ability ensured him the pay-mastership of the forces - by far the most lucrative office in the hands of government, but the salary of which he was pledged to reduce by his bill. Rigby had held this office, as the creature of the Bedford family, fourteen years, with all its enormous emoluments - no less than one million sterling of the country's money commonly lying in the hands of the holder! This enormous balance was notoriously made use of by Rigby in private stock-jobbing speculations, and the whole interest of it was lost to the country. Well might he denounce the change of the ministry!

Colonel Barre took Welbore Ellis's post, as treasurer I to the navy; Thomas Townshend became secretary of war, instead of Jenkins; Kenyon, attorney-general; the duke of j Portland, lord-lieutenant of Ireland, in place of the earl of Carlisle; Burgoyne, notwithstanding his surrender at Saratoga, was made commander of the troops in Ireland; Sir William Howe and lord Howe, the two brothers so distinguished for their miserable management of the earlier part of the American war, were duly rewarded for it - Sir William, as lieutenant-general of the ordnance, and lord Howe as admiral of the Channel fleet. The duke of Manchester became lord chamberlain, and lord Howard, of Effingham, treasurer of the household. Pitt was offered a place as lord of the treasury; but he had already declared, on the 8th of March, on the debate on lord John Cavendish's motion, that he would never accept a subordinate situation. Dundas remained in office, as lord advocate, and John Lee was made solicitor-general. Such was the new administration: it embraced, as leaders, five Rockinghamites and five Shelburnites. The eleventh member of the cabinet, Thurlow, belonged to neither side, but was the king's man. Fox saw himself in office with him with great repugnance, and Burke felt the slight put upon him in excluding him from the cabinet.

On the 28th of March the ministry, as completed, was announced in the house, and the writs for the re-elections having been issued, the house adjourned for the Easter holidays, and on the 8th of April met for business. The first affairs which engaged the attention of the new administration were those of Ireland. We have already seen that, in 1778, the Irish, encouraged by the events in North America, and by lord North's conciliatory proposals to congress, appealed to the English government for the removal of unjust restrictions from themselves. Burke supported these appeals, especially as they regarded the freedom of trade, at the expense of his seat for Bristol. Little relief, however, at that time, was granted, owing to the opposition of the English merchants. An act, nevertheless, for the relief of the Roman catholics - similar to the one carried in England at the same time - was passed, and another for embodying a national militia. In the following year, the Irish in Dublin, Cork, and other principal cities, again inspired by the success of America, formed themselves into non-importation associations, binding themselves not to use English manufactures, the like of which could be manufactured in Ireland, until more liberal principles of trade actuated England.

There were many and grievous provocations to this. To prevent the Americans being supplied with Irish produce, an embargo had been laid on it since 1776, and thus their great staple commodities, beef and butter, were, to a great degree, without a market. To add to their distress, rents had been remorselessly raised, and by none more than by the absentee landlords. Not only had the country been drained of money, but of its men, for the supply of the war, and when there was a menace of invasion by France, the country was found destitute of defence. The act passed to embody a militia was found ineffective, and the Irish then seized the opportunity to form themselves into volunteer companies. These grew rapidly; and in May, 1779, they were calculated at ten thousand men. They claimed arms, as a militia, from government, elected their officers, and placed some of the leading noblemen in the country at their head. The earl of Clanricarde was their colonel in Connaught, the earl of Charlemont in Ulster.

The Irish were not slow to perceive the power they were acquiring by these associations; the English government quickly perceived it too, and took alarm. So soon as the danger of invasion diminished, the secretary of state instructed the lord-lieutenant to discourage the volunteer movement, by "all proper and gentle means." But the Irish knew better than to take these hints; and, by the end of 1779, the volunteers of Ireland numbered fifty thousand.

It was when Ireland felt that it was thus in an unusually powerful position for being heard, the English being fully engaged with the growing difficulties of the American and now of the European war, that Henry Grattan made his appearance, as the head of the opposition, in the Irish house of commons. He had entered that house in 1775, and had been constantly acquiring the confidence of his countrymen.

When the Irish parliament assembled in October, 1779, Grattan moved an amendment in favour of " free trade," a phrase then happily coined, and since made universal. He carried it; and, whilst the volunteers of Dublin lined the streets, with the premier peer of Ireland, the duke of Leinster, at their head, the address, thus amended, was carried by the whole house of commons up to the lord- lieutenant. The answer of the king proving vague and unsatisfactory, Grattan moved, and carried by a large majority, a resolution, "That, at this time, it would be inexpedient to grant new taxes;" and, instead of voting the supplies, as usual, for two years, they were passed for only six months. He was supported by Mr. Flood, the vice-treasurer; and Mr. Burgh, the prime serjeant; the latter exclaiming, " Ireland is not in a state of peace; it is smothered war. England has sown her dragon's teeth, and they have sprung up armed men!"

The proceedings in the Irish parliament and language like this operated on the quick feelings of the populace, and four or five thousand people rose in riot in Dublin armed with swords and pistols, calling for free trade and for the short money bill then proposed by Grattan. They stopped the speaker, and endeavoured to force him to swear that he would vote as they wished. This they repeated with other members proceeding to the house, and not finding Scott, the attorney-general, against whom they were especially bitter, they rushed to his house and sacked it, vowing they would have his life. The volunteers appeared rather to enjoy than actively to suppress this ebullition.

In the English house of lords, lord Shelburne moved a vote of censure on the ministers for their conduct to Ireland in not abrogating its oppressive laws, and the same was moved in the commons by lord Upper Ossory. Both these motions were thrown out by large majorities; but, combined with what was going on in Ireland, they were not lost upon the English government. Early in 1780, lord North introduced three bills which conceded the recent clauses, and removed the impediments to their trade, and they were carried almost unanimously. These concessions were received in Ireland with testimonies of loud approbation and professions of loyalty; but they only encouraged the patriot party to fresh demands. These were for the repeal of the two obnoxious acts which conferred the legislative supremacy regarding Irish affairs on England. These acts were - first, Poynings' Act, so called from Sir Edward Poynings, and passed in the reign of Henry VII., which gave to the English privy council the right to see, alter, or suppress any bill before the Irish parliament, money bills excepted; the second was an act of George I., which asserted in the strongest terms the right of the king, lords, and commons of England to legislate for Ireland.

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