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The Reign of George III. - (Concluded.) page 18

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But ministers were too sensible of the unconstitutional character of their deeds to rest satisfied with the new justification of an accepted report. A bill of indemnity was introduced to cover "all persons who had in 1817 taken any part in apprehending, imprisoning, or detaining in custody persons suspected of high treason, or treasonable practices, and in the suppression of tumultuous and unlawful assemblies." The ministers were shielded thus under general terms, and to avoid all appearance of a personal movement in this matter, by those in the cabinet the most immediately active, the bill was introduced by the duke of Montrose, the master of the horse.

There was an energetic debate in each house as the bill passed through. It was opposed in the peers by lords Lansdowne, Holland, and Erskine, but was carried by ninety- three against twenty-seven. Ten peers entered a strong protest on the journals against the measure, denying the traitorous conspiracy or the extensive disaffection to the government alleged, affirming that the execution of the ordinary laws would have been amply sufficient, and that ministers were not entitled to indemnity for causeless arrests and long imprisonments which had taken place, for the bill went to protect them in decidedly illegal acts. In the house of commons the bill was strongly opposed by Brougham, Tierney, Mr. Lambton - afterwards lord Durham - and Sir Samuel Romilly. They condemned the conduct of ministers in severe language, while the bill was supported by Canning, by Mr. Lamb - afterwards lord Melbourne, who generally went with the other side - by Sir William Garrow, attorney-general, and Sir Samuel Shepherd, solicitor-general. It was on this debate that Canning gave such offence to the liberal part of the nation, by ridiculing the infirmity of one of the persons who had petitioned parliament for redress for their false imprisonment. This was a Mr. Ogden, who had the misfortune to have a rupture, and Canning described him as "the revered and ruptured Ogden." It was a sarcasm on a human ailment which drew down on the speaker the just indignation of the public.

Ministers carried their indemnity in the commons by one hundred and sixty-two against sixty-nine; but this did not prevent a prolongation of the demands of the reformers for a searching inquiry into their employment of the spies. Many petitions were presented to the house of commons for this inquiry - one of them from Samuel Bamford, who had been a sufferer by imprisonment. On the 3rd of February Hone's case was brought forward by William Smith, of Norwich; on the 10th, lord Archibald Hamilton made a motion for inquiry into similar prosecutions of persons in Scotland, and especially of Andrew M'Kinley, and this was supported by Sir Samuel Romilly and others, but rejected; yet the next day Mr. Fazakerley made a demand for a rigid inquiry into the employment of the spies, and for ascertaining whether they really had executed their instructions. Here was an opportunity for ministers to clear themselves, were they really innocent of sending them out to excite as well as to discover conspirators. There was a violent debate, but the motion was rejected by one hundred and eleven against fifty-two. The discussion left no doubt whatever of the employment of Oliver and others, and this fact being put beyond dispute, ministers should, in self vindication, have cleared themselves, if they were guiltless, as their friends pretended: they did not do it. On the 17th lord Folkstone moved for inquiry into the treatment in prison of Mr. Ogden and others, and a similar motion was made on the 19th, in the lords, by the earl of Carnarvon. In both these cases ministers, instead of courting inquiry, resented it, and closed the door of investigation by large majorities. Lords Sidmouth, Bathurst, and Liverpool were prominent in staving off these inquiries; and lords Grosvenor, King, and Holland were earnest in urging on them the necessity of such inquiry for their own good fame. Lord Stanley, afterwards earl of Derby, put it in the strongest light. He said, " He thought ministers had been much calumniated, but they would be most so by themselves if they refused to inquire into those acts, when inquiry, according to their own statements, would fully acquit them of the charges laid against them." This was so self-evident, that the fact that they would not admit this inquiry might, were there no other grounds for decision, be taken as positive proof of their guilt. But it is not likely that Oliver and his comrades, who were for months in daily communication with ministers whilst on their detestable missions, would have dared so far to have exceeded their orders, or, had they done it, that they would have been protected at the expense of the reputations of ministers themselves, and rewarded into the bargain. The instructions to these men were undoubtedly of too dark a character to be produced in open daylight.

Amid this melancholy manifestation of a convicted, yet dogged, treason against the people on the part of their rulers, many motions for reform and improvements in our laws were brought forward. On the part of Mr. Sturges Bourne, a committee brought in a report recommending three bills for the improvement of the poor-law: one for the establishment of select vestries, one for a general reform of the poor-law, and one for revising the law of settlement. On the part of Henry Brougham, a bill was introduced for appointment of commissioners to inquire into the condition of the charities in England for the education of the poor. There were many attempts to reform the criminal law, in which Sir Samuel Romilly especially exerted himself. One of these was to take away the penalty of death from the offence of stealing from a shop to the value of five shillings, another was to prevent arrests for libel before indictment was found, and another, by Sir James Mackintosh, to inquire into the forgery of Bank of England notes. There was a bill brought in by Mr. Wynn to amend the election laws; and one for alterations in the law of tithes, by Mr. Curwen; another by Sir Robert Peel, father of the late great statesman, for limiting the hours of labour in cotton and other factories; a bill to amend the law of bankruptcy, and a bill to amend the copyright act, by Sir Egerton Brydges; and finally a bill for parliamentary reform, introduced by Sir Francis Burdett, and supported by lord Cochrane, the late gallant earl of Dundonald. All of these were thrown out, except the select vestries bill, Brougham's bill to inquire into the public charities, a bill for rewarding apprehenders of highway robbers and other offenders, and a bill granting a million of money to build new churches. The cause of reform found little encouragement from the parliamentary majorities of the Sidmouths, Liverpools, and Castlereaghs. This list of rejections of projects of reform was far from complete; a long succession followed. The Scotch came with a vigorous demand, made on their behalf by lord Archibald Hamilton, for a sweeping reform of their burghs. Municipal reform was equally needed, both in Scotland and England. The whole system was flagrantly corrupt. Many boroughs were sinking into bankruptcy; and the elections of their officers were conducted on the most arbitrary and exclusive principles. The Scotch had agitated this question before the outbreak of the French revolution, but that and the great war issuing out of it had swamped the agitation altogether. It was now revived, but only to meet with a defeat like a score of other measures quite as needful. Lord Archibald Hamilton asked for the abolition of the Scotch commissary courts, in conformity to the recommendation of a commission of inquiry in 1808; General Thornton called for the repeal of certain religious declarations to be made in taking office; and Dr. Phillimore for amendment of the marriage act of 1753; and numerous demands for the repeal of taxes, o£ one kind or another, all met the same fate of refusal.

The time fixed by law for the resumption of cash payments by the Bank of England was the 5th of the coming July. Ministers were now asked whether this was really to take place, and they returned this extraordinary and oracular answer: - That the bank had made ample preparations for resuming its payments in cash at the time fixed by parliament, and that the government knew of nothing in the internal state of the country, or in its political relations with foreign powers, which would render it expedient to continue the restriction; but there was reason to believe that pecuniary arrangements of foreign powers were going on, of such a nature and extent as might probably make it necessary to continue the restriction some time longer. This declaration was received by the house with astonishment; but it turned out that the governments of France and Russia were about to raise extensive loans, and were offering such high interest as would infallibly draw a vast amount of specie out of this country.

The budget of this year, as a year of peace, bore some small diminution. Last year the supplies voted had been twenty-two millions three hundred and four thousand six hundred and ninety-one pounds; this year they were twenty-one million eleven thousand pounds; but the interest of the debt had been swelled up by war to nearly thirty million pounds, so that the annual expenditure of the nation had now reached the formidable sum of upwards of fifty million pounds. And this was likely to be increased, for the floating debt had grown to sixty-three million pounds; and it was proposed to add twenty-seven million pounds to the already astounding funded debt. This was the prospect of permanent taxation which the indulgence in other people's wars had left for the contemplation of the British people.

The death of the princess Charlotte left the prospect of the succession to the crown equally serious. Of the numerous sons and daughters of George III. not one had legitimate issue. It might be necessary soon to look abroad in Germany or in Denmark for an heir to the crown. This consideration led to a number of royal marriages during the earlier part of this year. The first of these marriages was not of this description. It was that of the princess Elizabeth, his majesty's third daughter, to the landgrave and hereditary prince of Hesse-Homburg, on the 7th of April. As the princess was already nearly eight-and-forty, no expectation of issue in that quarter was entertained. On the 13th of April lord Liverpool brought down a message from the regent to the peers, and lord Castlereagh to the commons, announcing treaties of marriage in progress between the duke of Clarence and the princess Adelaide Louisa, of Saxe Meiningen; and also between the Duke of Cambridge and the princess Augusta Wilhelmina, of Hesse, youngest daughter of the landgrave of Hesse. The house of commons was also asked to add an additional ten thousand pounds a-year to the allowance of the duke of Clarence, and six thousand pounds a-year each to those of the dukes of Cumberland and Cambridge, and to that of the duke of Kent, if he, too, should marry. Ministers intimated that it had been the intention to ask much larger sums, but they found that it was necessary to reduce the sum asked for the duke of Clarence. I< was a matter of notoriety that the duke had already a large family by the actress, Mrs. Jordan, and probably the feeling of the house was influenced by his desertion of that lady; but there was a stout opposition, and the sum was reduced to six thousand pounds. Loud acclamations followed the carrying of this amendment, and lord Castlereagh rose and said, after the refusal of the sum asked, he believed he might say that the negotiation for the marriage might be considered at an end. The next day the duke sent a message declining the sum granted; yet, after all, his marriage took place. The duke of Cumberland was already married to the princess Frederica Sophia, the daughter of the duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who had been divorced from Frederick Louis, prince of Prussia, and was the widow of a second husband, the prince of Solins Braunfels. The duke of Cumberland was one of the most unpopular men in the kingdom, and that with all parties, for there were rumours of very dark passages in his life, and parliament had rejected an application for an additional allowance on his marriage; and it now rejected this application, and that amid much applause. The sum asked for the duke of Cambridge was carried, but not without considerable opposition.

On the 13th of May came down a message, announcing the approaching marriage of the duke of Kent with the daughter of the duke of Saxe Coburg, Mary Louisa Victoria, the sister of prince Leopold, and widow of Emrich Charles, the prince of Leiningen. The princess was already the mother of a son and daughter. The nation was extremely favourable to this match. The duke of Kent was popular, and the more so that he had always been treated with unnatural harshness by his father. He had been put under the care of an old martinet general in Hanover, who had received a large annual allowance with him, and kept him so sparely that the poor youth ran away. He had been then sent to Gibraltar, where the severe discipline which he had been taught to consider necessary in the army brought him into disgrace with the garrison. But towards the public at large his conduct had been marked by much liberality of principle. It was particularly agreeable to the nation that from this marriage sprang one daughter - Queen Victoria, who has realised to the nation all that it had fondly anticipated from the reign of the princess Charlotte.

The marriage of the duke of Cambridge took place on the 1st of June; that of the dukes of Clarence and Kent on the 13th of July. Amid these royal marriages the queen was taken ill, and there was an apprehension of her decease. Four additional members were added by bill to the council for assisting her in the care of the king's person; and a clause was added, rendering it unnecessary for parliament to reassemble in case of the queen's demise. At this time, however, she recovered.

During this session treaties were entered into with Spain and Portugal for the abolition of the slave-trade. With Spain we, in fact, purchased this abolition, by a sum of four hundred thousand pounds, as a compensation to such Spanish subjects as should suffer loss by the suppression of the trade. It was to cease on the 30th of May, 1820, throughout all the Spanish dominions, and right of search was agreed to, to be exercised by vessels of war under special instructions. The treaty with Portugal only effected the extinction of the trade on any part of the African coast lying north of the equator, which was, in fact, effecting very little. But such bas been the humanity of the treatment of their slaves by the Portuguese in Brazil, that the increase of the black population there has of itself rendered the continuance of the trade now for some years unnecessary - a trait in the character of the Portuguese very différent to that of the planters of the southern states of North America.

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