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The Reign of George III - (Continued.) page 12


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In parliament, business moved slowly, or, rather, was brought almost to a stand by the neutralising influences of the partisans of " All the Talents." No great majority could be obtained on any question, except on one or two, which we shall have immediately to notice. There was an attempt to censure the introduction of lord Ellenborough, as chief justice of the king's bench, into the cabinet. It was contended that it was contrary to the principle, if not the letter, of the constitution; that, besides a judge, having enough to do on the bench, he would have to sit as a judge ' on such appeals to the privy council which might be made thither against his own decisions; that, moreover, lord Ellen- borough had suddenly changed the whole principles of his life for the sake of advancement, and, in the practice of his court, had, by the most rude and insolent language, never hesitated to carry causes in favour of the government and against the popular liberties. On the part of government it was argued that, both in queen Anne's reign and in that of George II., chief justices had had places in the cabinet; and the subject was evaded by moving the previous question.

Windham, on the 3rd of April, proposed his plan for the improvement of the army. Till this time enlistments had been for life, which gave men a strong aversion to enter it, and made it the resort chiefly of such as were entrapped in drink, or were the off scouring of society, who became soldiers, to enjoy an idle life, and often to escape hanging for their desperate crimes. He said that we could not have recourse to conscription in this country, and to get men, and especially a better class of men, we must limit the term of service, and increase the pay. To prepare the way for his contemplated regulations, lie first moved for the repeal of Pitt's additional force bill. This was strongly opposed by Castlereagh and Canning, who contended that nothing could be better or more flourishing than the condition of the army; and that the repeal of Pitt's bill was only meant to cast a slur on his memory. Notwithstanding this, the bill was repealed by a majority, in the commons, of two hundred and thirty-five against one hundred and nineteen, and in the lords by a majority of ninety-seven against forty. Windham then moved for a clause in the annual mutiny bill, on the 30th of May, for limiting the terms of service. In the infantry, these terms were divided into three, of seven years each; and in the cavalry and artillery three also, the first of ten, the second of six, and the third of five years. At the end of any one of these terms, the soldier could demand his discharge, but his privileges and pensions were to be increased according to the length of his service. Notwithstanding active opposition, the clause was adopted and inserted. He then followed this success by a series of bills: one for training a certain number of persons liable to be drawn from the militia, not exceeding two hundred thousand; a bill suspending the ballot for the militia for England for two years, except so far as should be necessary to supply vacancies in any corps fallen below its quota; a bill, called the Chelsea Hospital bill, to secure to disabled or discharged soldiers their rightful pensions; a bill for augmenting the pay of infantry officers of the regular line; and one for settling the relative rank of officers of troops of the line, militia, and yeomanry. To these bills, which were all passed, was added a vote for the increased pay of sergeants, corporals, and privates of the line, and an augmentation of the Chelsea pensions, and the pensions of officers' widows. Lord Howick moved that the same benefits should be extended to the officers, petty officers, and seamen of the navy, and to the Greenwich pensioners which was carried. These were, undoubtedly, most substantial measures of justice to the two services; and the results of them soon became apparent enough in their beneficial effects on the condition of the army and navy.

But though lord Howick, as the new head of the admiralty, had obtained an addition to the naval pay, he was in no hurry to secure the just honours and rewards of those who had won the magnificent victory of Trafalgar. The new ministry appeared so completely occupied with taking care of themselves and their friends, as to have quite forgotten both those who had fallen in that terrible fight and they who survived. It was a considerable time before the case of Nelson was taken into consideration, and the grants and honours to his family were voted. Lord Barham, the first lord of the admiralty in the late administration, had, mean- time, up to the last moment that he retained office, refused ail acknowledgment of the services of those who had fought in that sanguinary and decisive combat, and now lord Howick was not much more attentive to them. Admiral Collingwood was a man of small fortune, and was actually feeling keenly the narrowness of his income; and he complained that not only was nothing more than a vote of thanks given to him, but that the ships were put into most incapable hands, and that there was a general disgust throughout the Trafalgar fleet at the report that not even medals were to be granted. It is to the honour of the duke of Clarence, afterwards William IV., that he exerted himself with the king and with the admiralty to have proper consideration paid to the heroes who had so completely established the sovereignty of England on the ocean. At length, Collingwood was raised to the peerage, by the title of baron Collingwood, with a pension of two thousand pounds a-year, and of one thousand pounds a-year to his wife, in case she survived him, as well as five hundred pounds a-year to each of his two daughters. The thanks of parliament were voted to admirais Sir Richard Strachan for his capture of Dumanoir's ships which had escaped from Trafalgar, and to admiral Sir John Duckworth for his services in the West Indies; but

the whole of the ministerial acknowledgments of the services of the navy at Trafalgar were marked by a most discouraging coldness and parsimony, in revolting contrast to then eagerness to secure advantages to themselves and their friends and supporters. There was an endeavour made, early in the session, to impeach the earl St. Vincent for mismanagement and. neglect, as first lord of the admiralty, whilst he held that office, but failed. But whilst there was so little disposition to reward the services of the defenders of the country, there was no hesitation in augmenting the allowances to the junior branches of the royal family, which were now applied for and granted.

The budget, which was opened on the 28th of March by lord Henry Petty, was a most astonishing display of the ease with which men forget all their complaints and demands of reform when they get into office. Fox and his colleagues, who had so vehemently condemned the war system and the lavish taxation of Pitt, now prepared for the fullest continuant of that system, and they rushed into still higher expenditure. The supplies demanded for the year were forty-eight millions nine hundred and sixteen thousand pounds. Of this, fifteen millions two hundred and eighty-one thousand pounds were for the navy; eighteen millions five hundred thousand pounds for the army; four millions seven hundred and eighteen thousand pounds for the ordnance. There were taxes already in force to the amount of thirty- two millions five hundred and thirty-five thousand nine hundred and seventy-one pounds; but, to make up the deficiency, the income-tax was at once raised from six and a half to ten per cent.; war taxes, including a tax of forty shillings a ton on pig-iron, and a petty tax on appraisements, were passed to the amount of nineteen millions five hundred thousand pounds, and a new loan was ordered of eighteen million pounds. Every person was brought under the sweep of the property-tax down to fifty pounds a-year, and ail persons claiming exemptions were compelled to pay in the first instance, and then go to the tax-office to obtain repayment - a process, from old experience, so difficult and irritating, that many persons rather lost their money than encounter the nuisance; and this, no doubt, was calculated upon. Ministers could not, from their past professions, defend these proceedings; they admitted that the complaints that were made were perfectly just, but they said they did not see how to carry on the government without these measures.

A ministry which, when out of office, had been so eloquent against the continental wars, which had been so profuse in their blame of the burdensome taxation, should have put forth their energies, and have resolved to confine themselves to the defence of the country by the navy, now found so omnipotent, which would have enabled them to dispense with a large amount of war taxes. They ought to have made a strict scrutiny into the abuses of office, and cut down sinecures and corrupt emoluments; but then they knew very well that they would cut down their majority, and must go out. So all the old system went on, and, instead of a decrease of taxation, there was a heavy increase of it. But ministers thought it a sufficient excuse that they did not bring the country into this unhappy position; they were quite content, nay, happy, however, to continue it in it. The almost solitary attempt of lord Henry Petty was, in enforcing some auditing of the public accounts. And, truly, there was enormous need of this. It was found that not a single account in the army pay-office had been audited since 1782; it was the same with the account of the stores for the same length of time; the navy accounts were in the same state; the accounts of the late war, ending with the peace of Amiens, had never been examined or audited; and ail those relating to the expeditions to Holland and Egypt, and the enormous subsidies to foreign powers, had never passed under review at all! Yet ail this time there had been a regular board of auditors, receiving twenty-eight thousand pounds a-year for doing nothing. This board was remodelled, and, to enable it to go, through the work of so many years, and bring order out of chaos, the income of it was raised to forty-two thousand pounds, which, however, it was said, was only to continue on that scale till the arrears were brought up.

Such was the revelation of the mode of government of the so much-boasted Pitt - 'the " heaven-born minister." He appears to have troubled himself about nothing but the voting immense sums of money for foreign kings and fruitless expeditions. The money, once voted and collected, was suffered to be expended or wasted, as the heads of the différent departments chose; no inquiries were made after it. If these sums did not reach the required objects, fresh ones were voted, and fresh loans raised. The officers of the différent departments retained what sums they pleased in their hands, and speculated with them how and as long as they pleased. Pitt expended the country's wealth over rotten foreign instruments, which continually and universally broke in his hands, and yet he never seemed to see that they were rotten, or to feel one pang for the waste of the public substance, or take one measure for preventing that portion of it which stayed at home from being embezzled. If the people of England could only know the large amount of the present public debt which never went to do an hour's service to the country, but to enrich lazy officials, who thus left the public accounts without check or audit, it would, at least, entertain juster ideas of the reputations of statesmen whom party has elevated from criminals of gigantic proportions to objects of veneration.

Lord Henry Petty also introduced some stricter regulations into the office of treasurer of the ordnance, the post-office, the excise-office, the custom-house, and other offices, to prevent the practice of the public money lying in the hands of the officers to trade with. He also effected the removal of some of the commercial restrictions betwixt Great Britain and Ireland, permitting the free transit of grain between them. Romilly was anxious to have the system of government lotteries abolished; but ministers, though admitting the demoralising effects of them, declared that they could not do without them.

The best feature of "Ail the Talents" was the sincerity with which they went into the endeavours to suppress the slave trade. Pitt had always stood by Wilberforce and the abolitionists, to a certain degree, and had made some of his ablest speeches on this topic; but, beyond speaking, lie had done little practically to bring his supporters to the necessary tone on the subject. The present ministry, though com- prising several members decidedly hostile to abolition, and other mere lukewarm friends, went with much more spirit into the question, and lord Henry Petty had canvassed the university of Cambridge, and made many friends of the measure there. The royal family were decided opponents to the abolition of the slave trade, and George III. clung to this diabolical traffic with his usual narrow - minded obstinacy. The ministry, therefore, deserved praise for their support of Wilberforce and the abolitionists. Clarkson and the Society of Friends had been working indefatigably out of doors to great purpose, and it was now deemed possible to make a preparatory assault on the hideous trade. On the 1st of January the attorney-general brought in a. bill to prohibit the exportation of slaves from any of the British colonies. This, though it permitted the direct transport of slaves from Africa to those colonies, or to foreign colonies, cut off the convenience of making our islands depots for this trade; and Pitt had already, by an order in council, prevented the introduction of slaves into the colonies conquered by us during the war. Wilberforce was so elated by the carrying of the attorney-general's bill, that he wanted to follow it up by one prohibiting the trade altogether; but Fox and Grenville declared that this was not yet practicable. But, on the 10th of April, they permitted Wilberforce to move an address to the king, requesting him to use his influence with foreign powers for putting down this traffic; and this being carried, Fox moved, in the commons, a resolution that the house considered the African slave trade to be contrary to the principles of justice, humanity, and sound policy, and would, with all practicable expedition, proceed to take effectual measures for its abolition, in such manner and at such period as should seem advisable. This, too, was carried by a hundred and fifteen against fourteen. This was a great step, for it pledged the house of commons to the declaration that the trade was indefensible, and ought to be put an end to. Still more, to prevent that rush for securing slaves which the fear of the suppression of the trade, at no distant date, might occasion, a bill was also passed, prohibiting the employment of any vessel in that trade which had trafficked in it previous to the 1st of August, 1806, or been contracted for before June 10th, 1806. This act was limited to two years, and, spite of its benevolent intention, had one serious drawback - that of causing the vessels employed to be still more crowded, and therefore more fatal to the slaves.

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Pictures for The Reign of George III - (Continued.) page 12

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Lord Sidmouth
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