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The Reign of George III. - (Concluded.) page 22

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On this basis Mr. Vansittart, the chancellor of the exchequer, on the 9th of June, produced his budget. Including the interest on the debt, the whole annual expenditure amounted to seventy-six million seventy-four thousand pounds - an ominous peace expenditure. Instead,' therefore, of the supplies, aided by the draft from the sinking fund, leaving a surplus of two million pounds, there was a fresh loan of twelve million pounds, beside the three million pounds new taxes on malt, tobacco, coffee, cocoa, tea, British spirits, pepper, and foreign wool. By the hocus-pocus of exchequer accounts, this was made to look like a reduction of the debt instead of an increase of it; but the country saw with dismay, that three years after the peace, the incubus of past war was still adding to its burden. Mr. Tierney, on the 18th, moved for a committee to inquire into the state of the nation, but this was negatived by three hundred and fifty-seven votes against one hundred and seventy-eight; and a motion of Sir Henry Parnell on the 1st of July for extensive retrenchments was got rid of in the same manner.

But amid the discouragements of monetary legislation, which showed that it would require a determined contest to compel ministers to retrench, there were symptoms of a spirit of legal and social reforms amongst our parliamentary men which augured the approach of better times. Mr. Sturges Bourne obtained the passing of his long-advocated poor law bill; but bills for regulating settlements, and for preventing the misapplication of the poor rates, were thrown out. A bill was passed to regulate the treatment of children in cotton factories, and to limit the hours of their employment - the harbinger of a much necessary enactment for these objects. Mr. Brougham's act, for inquiry into the charitable foundations of England, was extended, and that, with the support of government, from educational to all kind of charities, except such as had special visitors, or were maintained by private subscriptions. Sir James Mackintosh also took up the humane track of labour occupied so nobly by the late Sir Samuel Romilly. On the 2nd of March he moved for the appointment of a select committee to take into consideration the subject of capital punishment as regarded felonies. This was eminently needed, for the penal laws during the reign of George III. were truly Draconian. Notwithstanding a strong opposition by ministers, the motion was carried, amid much cheering, and on the 6th of July Sir James Mackintosh introduced the report, which was ordered to be printed. Government, as if to wipe out their disgrace in resisting so humane a measure, now proposed an inquiry into the condition of gaols and other places of confinement, and into the best method of employing and reforming delinquents during their imprisonment. Some reforms were made in Scotch law. The old right of trial by battle, and of appeals of murder, felony, or mayhem, were abolished as rendered unnecessary by the full exercise of the institution of jury, and as belonging only to a barbarous age. The severity of the Scotch law against duels was mitigated, that law pronouncing forfeiture of all movable property, and banishment against all persons sending, or even carrying a challenge to fight a duel. The principle of that law was sound, but its severity was its own defeat. A more questionable bill was one carried, after much opposition, called the foreign enlistment bill, which was intended to check the aid of Englishmen in assisting the Spanish South American colonists in throwing off the oppressive government of the mother country. Numbers of Englishmen were engaged on the side of independence, and this bill was vainly intended to put an end to that generous aid.

The Scotch burgh question was brought forward again this session. The magistrates of the burgh of Aberdeen having been elected, in 1817, in the same corrupt manner as those of Montrose had been in 1816, the court of session had declared the election illegal. The burgh of Montrose was found to have been disfranchised; but this was not the case with Aberdeen, and the magistrates applied to government to grant a warrant for a new election, or rather a re-election of themselves. This the government, in the face of the decision of the court of session, as well as of a numerously signed petition from the burgesses praying that the election should be by open poll, issued. On the 1st of April lord Archibald Hamilton moved an address to the prince regent, praying for a copy of this warrant. It was strenuously resisted by ministers, but the motion was lost by only a small majority. On the 6th of May lord Archibald Hamilton renewed his motion in another form - namely, that the petitions which had been presented from Scottish burghs on the subject of reform should be submitted to a committee of inquiry. He showed that out of sixty-six royal burghs thirty-nine had voted for reform; that these thirty-nine contained a population of four hundred and twenty thousand souls, whilst the remaining twenty-seven contained only sixty thousand. The preponderance was so great that, spite of the opposition of ministers, the house took another view of the matter, and lord Archibald's motion was carried, though only by one hundred and forty-nine votes against one hundred and forty-four.

The question of catholic emancipation was brought forward on the 3rd of May, by Grattan; it was the last time that he did so, but he had the satisfaction of seeing that the question was rapidly advancing, for it was lost by only two votes. A fortnight afterwards lord Donoughmore introduced a similar motion, in the hope of surmounting this small difference, but, after a long debate, he found the majority increased against it by thirty-nine votes. The closing contest of the session was for parliamentary reform. Sir Francis Burdett brought on his annual motion, on the 1st of July, for the eighteenth time, but was defeated by one hundred and fifty-three votes against fifty-eight. He was seconded by Mr. George Lamb, brother of the late lord Melbourne, who, however, did not go the length of annual parliaments and universal suffrage. Even at that day, Joseph Hume was for moderate reform, and lord John Russell was alarmed at anything further than triennial parliaments, and the transferring the franchise from certain corrupt boroughs to others not yet represented. Such were the feeble ideas of reform amongst its self-constituted leaders. Parliament was prorogued, on the 13th of July, by the prince regent in person.

During this, the first session of the new parliament, ministers had carried matters with a high hand, imagining that they had a majority which would enable them to resist popular opinion, as they had done since the conclusion of the war. But the progress of the session did not warrant this conclusion. They were defeated in several very important contests, and before the session came to an end were made to feel that they had greatly declined in public confidence. In the severe debate of the 18th of May, on the motion of Mr. Tierney for a committee of inquiry into the state of the nation, they had a majority of more than two to one. But this was very different on the 3rd of June, when they only carried their foreign enlistment bill by a majority of thirteen. On the question of the resumption of cash payments, the conversion of Mr. Peel to the principles of Horner was a rude shock to the cabinet, and shrewd men prognosticated that, the entire system of Mr. Vansittart being thus overturned, he must retire. Then came not merely partial conversions, or near approaches to defeat, but actual defeats. Such were those on Sir James Mackintosh's motion for inquiry into the criminal laws, and of lord Archibald Hamilton's on Scotch burgh reform. The question of catholic emancipation had approached to a crisis, and a majority of only two against it was, in truth, a real defeat. The consequence was that the conviction of the insecurity of ministers was not only shared by men of impartial judgments, but by themselves. Towards the end of the session, lord Liverpool himself was found writing to a friend, that unless the measure for the return to cash payments raised the confidence of the public in them, they must soon go out. - " I am quite satisfied that, if we cannot carry what has been proposed, it is far better for the country that we should cease to be a government. After the defeats we have already experienced, during this session, our remaining in office is a positive evil. It confounds all ideas of government in the minds of men. It disgraces us personally, and renders us less capable every day of being of any real service to the country, either now or hereafter. If, therefore, things are to remain as they are, I am quite sure that there is no advantage, in any way, in our being the persons to carry on the public service. A strong and decisive effort can alone redeem our character and credit, and is as necessary for the country as it is for ourselves."

This measure did something to strengthen them, but not permanently. The fact that parliament might terminate any day, from the death of the king, did much to keep members in remembrance of their constituents; but the great cause of ministerial decay of popularity was that the circumstances and the spirit of the times demanded more liberal legislation than such men as Liverpool, Sidmouth, and Eldon could comprehend, much less originate. The manufacturing districts were especially in a depressed condition. The efforts which had been made to force a trade had failed. The excessive exportations of manufactured goods had resulted exactly as lord Brougham had prognosticated: the foreign markets had been glutted before the people were capable of buying, and the fall in prices had been ruinous. The equally great importations of raw material to continue the supply of fabrics for which the demand was inadequate, had made matters worse. The bankruptcies during the first half of this year were double the average number, credit was severely shaken, and numbers of workmen were thrown out of employment, or reduced to very low wages. Wheat, though not so high as a year or two ago, averaged eighty shillings per quarter. The consequence was a renewed political action, and meetings were called by the workmen in various parts of the manufacturing districts to consider both their unsatisfactory petition, and the governmental as well as commercial causes of it. The corn-laws were justly denounced as one potent cause of their sufferings, and the popular leaders of reform were called upon to assist them in getting rid of it. So early as the 18th of January a meeting of this character was held at Manchester. Application had been made to the borough- reeve to summon a meeting to petition parliament for this object, but he declined, the Manchester authorities of that day standing strangely aloof from the people in their endeavours for relief from this unnatural enactment, which was as inimical to their own interests as manufacturers, as it was to the comfort of their workpeople. Had the employers and employed drawn together on these questions, it would have materially tended to maintain the public peace, at the same time that it gave vastly increased momentum to the agitation.

Refused in this quarter, the people proceeded to call a meeting without such sanction, and invited Mr. Orator Hunt to go down and take the chair. Perhaps they could not have selected a more unsafe guide on the occasion, for personal vanity was Hunt's besetting sin. His vanity was particularly flattered by the manner in which he was received, great crowds going out to bring him into the town, with banners inscribed, " Hunt and Liberty!" " No Corn- Laws I " " Rights of Man I" " Universal Suffrage! " &c. He was conducted to an open place called St. Peter's Field, destined ere long to a sanguinary fame, and to the cognomen of Peterloo. Hunt, instead of encouraging the very constitutional object of the meeting - to petition parliament for the repeal of the obnoxious law - treated the petitioning that house as ridiculous, and persuaded the excited people to put their sentiments into the form of a remonstrance to the prince regent. The meeting then dispersed quietly; but Hunt found occasion to keep himself in the public eye there a little longer. Some officers of the 7th Hussars, who were posted at Manchester, rudely treated him as he appeared at the theatre, asserting that when " God Save the King " was called for he hissed. Whether he did so or not, the conduct of the officers answered his purpose of making political capital; he wrote to the commander-in-chief, the duke of York, and then sent his letter to the newspapers. Still more, he wrote to Samuel Bamford to support him in a scheme which was particularly calculated to produce a riot and bloodshed, and in this case Bamford did not exercise his usual good sense. At Hunt's suggestion - to select a dozen stout fellows, and appear on the evening of the following Monday in the pit of the theatre, armed with stout cudgels, to inflict a summary chastisement on the officers, in case of a second demonstration of their feelings - Bamford appeared at the time appointed with ten stout, picked fellows, with knotty cudgels, marching along the streets to the theatre. The object was immediately perceived by the people, who crowded to the door of the theatre, completely gorging the space in front. But the manager was too prudent to open his theatre under such circumstances. He announced that there would be no performance that evening. Hunt was, therefore, disappointed of a catastrophe in the theatre; but he drove up in a carriage, mounted the box, and addressed the crowd in very exciting tones, declaring that the magistrates desired nothing so much as an opportunity of letting loose the bloody butchers of Waterloo upon them- - meaning the 7th Hussars. It was not his fault that all went off quietly.

In May the gingham-weavers of Carlisle and that neighbourhood held a similar gathering, and in June such also were held on Hunslet Common, near Leeds, at Glasgow, Ashton-under-Lyne, and other places. The meeting at Glasgow, on the 16th of June, was held on the Green, and amounted to thirty or forty thousand people. They complained of the low wages for cotton weaving, and proposed a petition to the prince regent, praying that he would enable them to get over to Canada, promising that all such as received that favour should repay the outlay by yearly instalments. But the bulk of the assembly protested against emigration, asserting that the remedy for their distresses lay in annual parliaments, universal suffrage, and the consequent reduction of taxation; and they proposed that they should march up to London in a body, and present their petition to the prince regent in person.

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