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The Reign of George III. - (Concluded.) page 13

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The effect was immediately shown by a rapid rise of prices, wheat becoming one hundred and three shillings a quarter. But this did not satisfy the land-owners, and Mr. Western, in 1816, introduced no less than fourteen resolutions, to make more stringent the exclusion of foreign corn. It was openly declared " that excessive taxation renders it necessary to give protection to all articles, the produce of our own soil, against similar articles, the growth of foreign countries." Mr. Barham declared that " the country must be forced to feed its own population. No partial advantage to be derived from commerce could compensate for any deficiency in this respect. The true principle of national prosperity was an absolute prohibition of the importations of foreign agricultural produce, except in extreme cases; " and on this ground it was proposed to exclude foreign rapeseed, linseed, tallow, butter, cheese, &c.

Some of the most eminent land-owners were clear-sighted and disinterested enough to oppose these views with all their power. The dukes of Buckinghamshire and Devonshire, the lords Carlisle, Spencer, Grey, Grenville, Wellesley, and many members of the commons, voted and protested energetically against them; and the additional restrictions were not carried. But enough had been done to originate the most frightful sufferings and convulsions. We shall see thesp agitations every remaining year of this reign. The prince regent, in his opening speech, in 1816, declared " manufactures and commerce to be in a flourishing condition." But Mr. Brougham at once exposed this fallacy. He admitted that there had '.sen an active manufacturing and an unusual amount of exportation in expectation of the ports of the world being thrown open by the peace; but he declared that the people of the continent were too much exhausted by the war to be able to purchase, and that the bulk of these exported goods would have to be sold at a ruinous reduction - at almost nominal prices; and then would immediately follow a stoppage of mills, a vast population thrown out of employment, and bread and all provisions made exorbitantly dear when there was the least power to purchase. All this was speedily realised. English goods were soon selling in Holland and the north of Europe for less than their cost price in London and Manchester. Abundant harvests defeated in some degree the expectations of the agriculturists, and thus both farmers and manufacturers were ruined together; for, the check being given to commerce, the manufacturing population could purchase at no price, and, spite of the harvest, the price of wheat was still one hundred and three shillings per quarter. Many farmers, as well as manufacturers, failed; country banks were broken, and paper-money was reduced in value twenty-five per cent.; and a circumstance greatly augmenting the public distress was the reduction of its issues by the bank of England from thirty-one millions to twenty-six millions.

The year 1816 was a most melancholy year. Both agricultural and manufacturing labourers rose in great masses to destroy machinery, to which, and not to the temporary poverty of the whole civilised world, exhausted by war, they attributed the glut of manufactured goods, and the surplus of all kinds of labour. In Suffolk and Norfolk, and on the Isle of Ely, the agricultural labourers and fen-men destroyed the thrashing-machines, attacked mills and farms, pulled down the houses of butchers and bakers, and marched about in great bands, with flags, inscribed " Bread or blood! " In Littleport and Ely shops and public-houses were ransacked, and the soldiers were called out to quell the rioters, and much blood was shed, and numbers were thrown into prison, of whom thirty-four were condemned to death, and five executed. The colliers and workers in the iron mines and furnaces of Staffordshire and Warwickshire, as well as in the populous districts of South Wales, were thrown out of work, and the distress was terrible. The sufferings and consequent ferments in Lancashire were equally great. In Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, and Derbyshire, the Luddites broke out again, as they had done in 1812, and by night demolished the stocking-frames, and the machinery in the cotton-mills. Great alarm existed everywhere, and, on the 29th of July a meeting was called at the City of Loudon Tavern, to consider the means of relieving the distress, the duke of York taking the chair, and the dukes of Kent and Cambridge, the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of London, the chancellor of the exchequer, &c., attending, where many palliatives were proposed; but where lord Cochrane and other reformers declared that the only effectual remedy would be the abolition of the Corn Law. Soup-kitchens were recommended; but in Scotland these were spurned at as only insults to the sufferers; at Glasgow the soup-kitchen was attacked, and its coppers and materials destroyed; and at Dundee the people helped themselves by clearing a hundred shops of their provisions.

During the whole of these scenes the attitude of government was not merely indifferent, but absolutely repulsive. At no time had so cold and narrow-spirited a ministry existed. The names of Castlereagh, Liverpool, Sidmouth, and lord Eldon as lord-chancellor, recall the memory of a callous cabinet. They were still dreaming of additional taxation when, on the 17th of March, they were thunderstruck by seeing the property-tax repealed by a majority of forty. The prince regent had become utterly odious by his reckless extravagance and sensual life. The abolition of the property-tax was immediately followed by other resistance. On the 20th of March a motion of disapprobation of the advance of the salary of the secretary to the Admiralty, at such a time, from three to four thousand pounds a-year was made, but lost. On this occasion Henry Brougham pronounced a most terrible philippic against the prince regent, describing him as devoted, in the secret recesses of his palace, to the most vicious pleasures, and callous to the distresses and sufferings of others! Mr. Wellesley Pole described it as " language such as he had never heard in that house before."

Not only in parliament, but everywhere out of doors the cry for reform rose simultaneously with the distress. Hampden clubs were formed in every town and village almost throughout the kingdom, the central one being held at the Crown and Anchor, Strand, its president being Sir Francis Burdett, and its leading members being William Cobbett, major Cartwright, lord Cochrane, Henry Hunt, &c. The object of these clubs was to prosecute the cause of parliamentary reform, and to unite the reformers in one system of action. With the spirit of reform arose, too, that of cheap publications, which has now acquired such a vast power. William Cobbett's " Political Register," on the 18th of November, 1816, was reduced from a shilling and a halfpenny to twopence, and thenceforward became a stupendous engine of reform, being read everywhere by the reformers, and especially by the working-classes in town and country, by the artisan in the workshop, and the shepherd on the mountain. The great endeavour of Cobbett was to show the people the folly of breaking machinery, and the wisdom of moral union.

It is only too true, however, that many of the Hampden clubs entertained very seditious ideas, and designs of seizing on the property of the leading individuals of their respective vicinities. Still more questionable were the doctrines of the Spenceans, or Spencean Philanthropists, a society of whom was established in London this year, and whose chief leaders were Spence, a Yorkshire schoolmaster, one Preston, a workman, Watson the elder, a surgeon, Watson the younger, his son, one Castles, who afterwards turned informer against them. Mr. orator Hunt patronised them. They sought a common property in all land, and the destruction of all machinery. These people, with Hunt and Watson at their head, on the 2nd of December, met in Spa Fields. The Spenceans had arms concealed in a wagon, and a flag displayed declaring that the soldiers were their friends. The crowd was immense, and soon there was a cry to go and summon the Tower. Mr. Hunt and his party appear to have excused themselves from taking part in this mad movement. The mob reached the Tower, and a man, supposed to be Preston, summoned the sentinels to surrender, at which they only laughed. The mob then followed young Watson into the City, and ransacked the shop of Mr. Beckwith, the gunsmith, on Snow Hill, of its firearms. A gentleman in the shop remonstrated, and young Watson fired at him, and severely wounded him. Young Watson then made his escape, but his father was secured and imprisoned; and the lord mayor and Sir James Shaw dispersed the mob on Cornhill, and took one of their flags and several prisoners. Watson the elder was afterwards tried and acquitted; but a sailor, who was concerned in the plunder of the gunsmith's shop, was hanged. Only a week after this riot the corporation of London presented an address to the throne, setting forth the urgent necessity for parliamentary reform.

These events were a little diversified by the storming of Algiers on the 27th of August. In 1815 the government of the United States of America had set the example of punishing the piratical depredations of the Algerines. They seized a frigate and a brig, and obtained a compensation of sixty thousand dollars. They do not appear to have troubled themselves to procure any release of Christian slaves, or to put an end to the practice of making such slaves; and, indeed, it would have been rather an awkward proposal on the part of North Americans, as the day might have demanded, as a condition of such a treaty, the liberation of some three millions of black slaves in return. But at the congress of Vienna a strong feeling had been shown on the part of European governments to interfere on this point. It was to the disgrace of Great Britain that, at the very time that she had been exerting herself so zealously to put an end to the negro slave trade, she had been under engagements of treaty with this nest of-corsairs; and lord Cochrane stated in parliament this year-that only three or four years before it had been his humiliating duty to carry rich presents from our government to the day of Algiers. But in the spring of this year it was determined to make an effort to check the daring piracies of Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli. Lord Exmouth was sent to these predatory powers, but rather to treat than to chastise; and lie effected the release of one thousand seven hundred and ninety-two Christian slaves. From Tunis and Tripoli he obtained a declaration that no more Christian slaves should be made. The day of Algiers refused to make such concession till he had obtained the permission of the sultan. Lord Exmouth gave him three months to determine this point, and returned home. A clause in the treaty which he had made with Algiers ordered that Sicily and Sardinia should pay nearly four hundred thousand dollars for the ransom of their subjects, and they paid this accordingly. This clause excited just condemnation in England, as actually acknowledging the right of the Algerines to make Christian slaves. But this matter was not to be thus peacefully ended. Before lord Exmouth had cleared out of the Mediterranean, the Algerines - not in any concert with their government but in an impulse of pure fanaticism - had rushed down from their castle at Bona on the Christian inhabitants of the town, where a coral fishery was carried on chiefly by Italians and Sicilians, under protection of a treaty made by us, and under that of our flag, and committed a brutal massacre on the fishermen, and also pulled down and trampled on our flag, and pillaged the house of our vice-consul.

Scarcely had lord Exmouth reached home when he was ordered forth again to avenge this gross outrage, and he sailed from Plymouth on the 28th of July with a fleet of twenty-five sail of large and small ships. At Gibraltar he was joined by the Dutch admiral "Van Cappellan with five frigates and a sloop, to which were added a number of gun- boats of our own. On the 27th of August lord Exmouth sailed right into the formidable harbour of Algiers, and dispatched a messenger to the dey, demanding instant and ample recompense for the outrage; the delivery of all Christian slaves in the kingdom of Algiers; the repayment of the money received by the dey for the liberation of Sicilian and Sardinian slaves; the liberation of the British consul - who had been imprisoned - and of two boats' crews detained; and peace betwixt Algiers and Holland. The messenger landed at eleven o'clock, and two hours were given the dey to make his answer in. The messenger remained till half-past two o'clock, and no answer arriving, he came off, and lord Exmouth gave instant orders for the bombardment. The attack was terrible. The firing from the fleet, which was vigorously returned from the batteries in the town and on the mole, continued till nine in the evening. Then most of the Algerine batteries were knocked literally to pieces, but the firing did not cease till about eleven. During that time the English commander and his Dutch allies had burnt eighteen tons of gunpowder, and thrown five hundred tons of shot and shell. The Algerines declared that hell itself had opened its mouth upon them. No sooner was the assault over than a land wind arose and carried the fleet out of the harbour, so that the vessels were all out of gunshot by two o'clock in the morning. A wonderful spectacle then presented itself to the eyes of the spectators in the fleet. Nine Algerine frigates, a number of gun-boats, the storehouses within the mole, and much of the town were in one huge blaze, and by this they could see that the batteries remained mere heaps of ruins. Scarcely had the fleet anchored when it had to endure a terrible storm, accompanied by thunder and lightning. The loss on the part of the assailants was very severe, and showed the dogged courage of the Algerines. There were killed and wounded, of the English, eight hundred and fifty-two, including a considerable number of officers, and of the Dutch sixty-five.

The next morning lord Exmouth sent in a letter to the dey with the offers of the previous day, saying, " If you receive this offer as you ought, you will fire three guns." They were fired. The dey made apologies, and signed fresh treaties of peace and amity, which were not of long endurance. But within three days one thousand and eighty-three Christian slaves arrived from the interior, and were received on board and conveyed to their respective countries. The scene of their going on board was most strange and affecting. They were beside themselves with wonder and joy, and, when the English boats put off from the shore with them, they simultaneously took off their hats, and shouted in Italian, " Viva il ré d? Ingliterra, il padre eterno! e Vammiraglio Inglese che ci ha liberato da questo secondo inferno! (Long live the king of England, the eternal father! and the English admiral who has delivered us from this second hell!) "

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