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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 4


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Grattan determined to call these acts in question in the Irish parliament, and at least abolish them there. This alarmed even Burke, who, writing to Ireland, said, " Will no one stop that madman, Grattan? " But Grattan, on the 19th of April, 1780, submitted to the Irish house of commons a resolution asserting the perfect legislative independence of Ireland. He did not carry his motion then, but his speech - in his own opinion, the finest he ever made - had a wonderful effect on the Irish public. Other matters connected with sugar duties, and an Irish mutiny bill, in which Grattan took the lead, fanned the popular flame, and the volunteer body at the same time continued to assume such rapidly-growing activity that it was deemed necessary by government to send over the earl of Carlisle to supersede the earl of Buckinghamshire, and to give him an able secretary in Mr. Eden. But this did not prevent the united body of Irish volunteers meeting at Dungannon on the 15th of February, 1782. There were two hundred and forty-two delegates, with their general-in-chief, lord Charlemont, at their head, and they unanimously passed a resolution prepared by Grattan, " That a claim of any body of men other than the king, lords, and commons of Ireland, to bind this kingdom, is unconstitutional, illegal, and a grievance." On the 22nd, Grattan moved a similar resolution in the Irish house of commons, which was only got rid of by the attorney-general asking for some time to consider it.

Grattan employed the time asked for by bringing to the notice of the Irish house of commons five acts of parliament passed in Great Britain in the preceding session, into which the name of Ireland had been introduced contrary to the rights of that country.

Two days only before Grattan had made his motion on Irish rights, that is, on the 20th of February, he seconded a bill for further relief of Roman catholics in Ireland, introduced by Mr. Gardiner. The bill was passed, and wonderfully increased the influence of Grattan by adding the grateful support of all the catholics. Such was the tone of Ireland, and such the transcendent influence of Grattan there, when the new whig ministry assumed office. Scarcely had arrived the new whig lord-lieutenant, the duke of Portland, a heavy half-Dutchman, of no talent or activity, but having the necessary whig qualification for high office, that of high revolutionary family. With him went colonel Richard Fitzpatrick, a much abler man, and a friend of Fox.

Grattan had given notice that on the 16th of April he would move for the utter repeal of the acts destructive of the independent legislative rights of Ireland. Colonel Fitzpatrick immediately waited on lord Charlemont, and entreated him to induce Grattan, under the circumstances, to postpone his motion. Grattan, though ill at the time, would not listen to the request. On the appointed day, the house of commons having been expressly summoned by the speaker, Grattan rose, and, assuming the question already as carried, began, "I am now to address a free people. Ages have passed away, and this is the first moment in which you could be distinguished by that appellation. I have found Ireland on her knees; I have watched over her with an eternal solicitude; I have traced her progress from injury to arms, from arms to liberty. Spirit of Swift! spirit of Molyneux! your genius has prevailed! Ireland is now a nation. In that new character I hail her, and, bowing to her august presence, I say, Esto perpetua!" The speech was received with thunders of applause. It concluded with an address to the crown, declaring in the plainest, boldest language, that no body of men, except the Irish parliament, had a right to make laws by which that nation could be bound. The address was carried by acclamation; it was carried with nearly equal enthusiasm by the lords, and then both houses adjourned to await the decision of the English parliament and ministry.

This was a serious position of affairs for the consideration of the new whig ministry. They were called on to declare, either that Ireland was part of the empire, and subject to the same laws, as regarded the empire, as Great Britain, or that it was distinctly a separate empire under the same king, just as Hanover was. The ministry of Rockingham have been severely blamed by one political party, and highly lauded by another, for conceding the claims of Ireland on that head so readily; for they came to the conclusion to yield them fully. They were by no means blind to the difficulties of the case, and to the evils that might arise from a decision either way. By conceding the entire independence of Ireland of our parliament and courts of law, they saw that there was but one individual that linked that country to Great Britain - and that was the king. Supposing Ireland should, some day, go a step further, and repudiate the sovereign, adopting the older dynasty, and the British parliament declined to furnish him troops for the recovery of his crown, Ireland would be lost to the empire altogether. Even whilst remaining attached by this single link, what influence was to maintain the royal power there in times of high discontent? To make Ireland move in cordial union with England, there might possibly require more than simple justice under certain circumstances of temptations from without, or factious agitation within. In that case, there would, in all probability, arise great corruption in the delegated government there, as the means of maintaining the royal authority, and even that might not always avert danger. Such corruptions, to an enormous extent, and such further dangers, did afterwards arise, as was foreseen; but the case with the present ministry was one of simple necessity. England had committed the great error of refusing all concession to demanded rights in the case of America, and now lay apparently exhausted by the fight to compel submission, and with all Europe m arms against her. Ireland, aware of this, was in arms, and determined to profit by the crisis. Neither Ireland nor England was prepared for that union which took place years afterwards, and which was not effected without arduous labour and great pecuniary cost; to resist the present demand might cause the Irish agitators to look abroad; and France, Holland, and Spain would have only been too happy to have responded to an appeal from Ireland to aid her in assuming independence. The least evil was to put all such contingencies to flight by at once conceding the Irish demands. Fox, therefore, on the 17th of May, announced the intention of ministers at once to acknowledge the independence of Ireland by repealing the act of the 6th of George I. Fox, in his speech, declared that it was far better to have the Irish willing subjects to the crown than bitter enemies. The bill repealing the 6th of George I. accordingly passed both houses as a matter of course, and the effect upon Ireland was such, that in the first ebullition of the national joy the Irish house of Commons voted one hundred thousand pounds to raise twenty thousand seamen - a most timely grant; for the marquis of Rockingham wrote to the duke of Portland that government had ten ships-of-the-line with scarcely a man to put into them! The Irish commons, moreover, offered to grant Grattan, for his patriotic and successful exertions in this cause, a similar sum, to purchase him an estate. Grattan - though a poor man, his income at that time scarcely exceeding five hundred pounds a-year - disinterestedly refused such a sum, and was only with difficulty induced ultimately to accept half of it.

There were not wanting, however, those who strove to disturb the joy of Ireland, and the peace of England thus acquired, by sowing suspicions of the sincerity of England, and representing that the independence granted was spurious rather than real. Amongst these, Flood, the rival of Grattan in political and parliamentary life, took the lead. He seized on every little circumstance to create doubts of the English carrying out the concession faithfully. He seized on an imprudent motion of the earl of Abingdon, in the peers, and still more vivaciously on the decision of an appeal from Ireland, in the court of King's Bench, by lord Mansfield. The case had remained over, and it was deemed impracticable to send it back to Ireland, though nearly finished before the act of repeal. Fox explained the case, and made the most explicit declaration of the u full, complete, absolute, and perpetual surrender of the British legislative and judicial supremacy over Ireland." But the suspicions had been too adroitly infused to be removed without a fresh and still more positive act, which was passed in the next session.

The claims of Ireland appearing, for the moment, to be happily satisfied, ministers now proceeded to carry out those reforms for which they had loudly called during the many years that they had been in opposition. They adopted and introduced the bills of Sir Philip Jennings Clarke and Mr. Carew for excluding contractors from the house of commons, and revenue officers from voting at elections. The bill against the contractors passed the commons with little opposition; but the ministers immediately felt the mischief of allowing lord Thurlow to retain his place of chancellor. He opposed the measure vehemently, and divided the house upon it. Lord Mansfield gave it his cordial resistance, and the new lord Ashburton, though made so by the present administration, tacked to it a clause exempting all gentlemen who merely contracted for the produce of their estates. The clause, however, was lopped away again on the return of the bill to the commons, and the act passed without it.

The bill for disqualifying revenue officers was opposed with equal pertinacity by Thurlow and Mansfield; though lord Rockingham stated that the elections in seventy boroughs depended chiefly on revenue officers, and that nearly twelve thousand of such officers created by the late ministry had votes in other places. The bill passed, after exempting all officers who held their posts for life, and therefore were charitably supposed to be beyond the reach of undue influence, as if no such thing as promotion had its effect.

At this favourable crisis, Wilkes seized the opportunity to move that the resolution of 1769, annulling his election for Middlesex, and all the subsequent proceedings founded upon it, should be expunged from the journals of the house, and he succeeded; but Charles Fox incurred the inextinguishable resentment of Wilkes by opposing the motion, on the ground that the house ought to possess the privilege of expelling such members as it deemed unworthy of a seat. Byng, the other member for Middlesex, seconded Wilkes, and lord North as firmly opposed him, but the motion was carried by one hundred and fifteen votes against forty- seven.

On the 15th of April a message was sent down to both houses from the king, in conformity to his pledge to the new ministry, with regard to Mr. Burke's plan of economical reform, which it proposed should be a measure of effectual retrenchment, and to include his majesty's own civil list. Lord Shelburne, in communicating it to the lords, moved an address of thanks, assuring the house that this was no mere ministerial message, but was the genuine language of the king himself, proceeding from the heart. Burke, in the commons, used more exuberant terms of eulogy, declaring that " it was the best of messages to the best of people from the best of kings!" Early in May he moved for leave to bring in his bill on the subject, and then most of the promised wonders of reform and retrenchment vanished. It was but another example of the marvellous effect of office in shrinking up the brave demands of patriots in opposition. Numbers of those things which Burke had for years denounced as monstrous, nowhere appeared in the scheme of curtailment. " He found," says his own biographer, " what most reformers in time discover, that it is easier to propose public corrections when out of office, than to carry them into effect when in." It may be some palliation for this falling off, that Burke, by his whig colleagues, had been carefully excluded from the cabinet, as only a man of genius and not of family; and therefore was compelled rather to act as the organ of these cabinet ministers than as the independent framer of his own bill.

The duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster and the principality of Wales were at once cut out of his scheme of reform. That of supplying the royal household by contract was abandoned; the ordnance office, in the hands of the duke of Richmond, was not to be touched, nor the treasurer of the household's office; and some other of the royal establishments, which were mere sinecures, were left, the Mint, &c. But he succeeded in lopping off the third secretary of state, which had been created for the American colonies, and was useless now they were virtually gone; the lords of trade and plantations; the lords of police in Scotland; the principal officers of the great wardrobe, jewel office, treasurer of the chamber, cofferer of the household, six clerks of the board of green cloth - in all, about a dozen useless offices were swept away, and Burke shed tears of joy at such a sweeping out of the dens of corruption. It was, indeed, something to have made such an inroad into these tabooed regions of royal waste and aristocratic plunder, yet what a falling off from Burke's long-vaunted demands! Instead of the saving of two hundred thousand pounds a- year, which he proposed in 1779, he now effected only a saving of about seventy-two thousand pounds.

The pension list was vigorously revised. No pension was to exceed three hundred a-year, and not more than six hundred was to be granted in pensions in any one year; the names of the persons to whom they were granted to be laid before parliament in twenty days after the beginning of each session, until the amount in the pension list should reach ninety thousand pounds. The secret service money was, at the same time, limited; and a solemn oath was to be administered to the secretaries of state regarding its proper employment. It may be imagined what were the consternation and the disgust of the large class which had been revelling on these misappropriated funds of the nation. Burke, in a letter, describes feelingly the gauntlet he had to run in proceeding with his reform. " I was loaded," he says, " with hatred for everything withheld, and with obloquy for everything given." What, however, brought unjust odium on him, but just reproach on the cabinet, was, that lord Rockingham made haste, before the bill was passed, to grant enormous pensions to his supporters and colleagues, lord Ashburton and colonel Barre. This latter ardent patriot, who, whilst Burke's bill was in consideration, said it did not go far enough in reform, now willingly pocketed three thousand two hundred pounds a-year, as a pension, beside the salary of his office! Such were the men with whom Burke had to act in the business of reform, and we shall soon see that, in matters of parliamentary reform, they were still worse. In the house of lords, Thurlow again attacked the bill, supported by lords Mansfield and Loughborough; but it passed, and Burke immediately gave an illustrious proof of his disinterestedness, by bringing in a bill for regulating and reducing the enormous emoluments of his own office, the paymastership of the forces. This was a brilliant contrast to the conduct of Henry Fox, first lord Holland, Charles Fox's father, who held it snugly and pertinaciously for a long term of years, making the best of it and its opportunities for amassing money. Burke, on the other hand, the poorest man that ever held that office, relentlessly cut it down, and then proceeded to give up the profits on clothing the pensioners, as treasurer of Chelsea Hospital, amounting to seven hundred a-year, and, by a new contract, saved to the country six hundred a-year. Amid all the abuse which had been poured on the later conduct of Burke, these are instances of patriotism rare indeed in those who can better afford them. In addition to these reforms, lord Shelburne introduced and carried a bill, compelling such people as held patent places in the colonies, or anywhere abroad, to reside there, and discharge the duties.

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