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The Reign of George III - (Continued.) page 2

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The Grenville ministry was approaching its extinction. It had done a great work in the abolition of the slave trade, but there was another species of abolition which they were disposed to further which was not quite so acceptable. They had supported Wilberforce and his party in their measure for the negroes, but Wilberforce and his friends were by no means Willing to support them in liberating the catholics from their disabilities. Grenville and Fox had made no particular stipulation, on taking office, to prosecute the catholic claims, but they were deeply pledged to this by their speeches of many years. It was, therefore, highly honourable of them, though very impolitic, to endeavour to do something, at least, to show their sincerity. They were opposed by powerful parties on account of other of their principles than this; they had always protested against our universal war-mania, and their endeavour to keep, as much as possible, out of the contests of the continent had deeply offended the war party; they were accused of not having supported Alexander of Russia, and of being the cause of his defeat, as if Russia and Prussia were not capable of defending themselves against France, had they gone ably about it; they had offended the church party, of which Wilberforce might be said to be leader, by their more liberal conduct towards the catholics. Though the king was obstinately opposed to any relaxation of the restraints on this class of his subjects, yet the Fox and Grenville ministry had introduced a milder and more generous treatment of the catholics in Ireland. The duke of Bedford, as lord- lieutenant, had discouraged the rampant spirit of orangeism, and admitted catholics to peace and patronage. He had abandoned the dragooning system, and had managed to settle some disturbances which broke out in the autumn of 1806, without even proclaiming martial law. These measure3 had won the cordial attachment of the catholics both in Ireland and England, but, in the same proportion, had exasperated the church and war party against them in both countries. Their adding another three-and-a-half per cent, to the income and property tax had embittered these parties in addition to these other causes, and the antagonism to them was every day becoming stronger. Yet they resolved, in spite of all this, to make an attempt to do some justice to the catholics. As we have observed, it was more honourable than prudent, for, under the circumstances, there was no chance of carrying their object, and it was sure to precipitate their dismissal. Perhaps they saw that this was inevitable, and therefore only wished to show to the catholics that they were honestly mindful of their professions when out of office. They managed to carry an additional grant to the college of Maynooth, and, on the 4th of March, when this grant was debated, Wilberforce, though wanting "the support of ministers for his slave-trade bill, made a violent speech against all concessions to the catholics. He declared the protestant church the only true one, and, therefore, the only one which ought to be supported. " He did not profess," he said, "to entertain large and liberal views on religious subjects; he was not, like Buonaparte, an honorary member of all religions." Undeterred by these prognostics of resistance, lord Howick, the very next day, moved for leave to bring in a bill to enable catholics to hold commissions in the army and navy on taking a particular oath. He said that it was a strange anomaly that catholics in Ireland could hold such commissions since 1793, and attain to any rank except that of commander-in-chief, of master-general of the ordnance, or of general of the staff, yet, should these regiments be ordered to this country, they were, by law, disqualified for service. He proposed to do away with this extraordinary state of things, and enable his majesty, at his pleasure - for it only amounted to that, after all - to open the ranks of the army and navy to all subjects, without distinction, in Great Britain as well as Ireland.

No sooner was this motion made than Spencer Perceval rose to oppose it. He had been selected to the chancellorship of the exchequer and the lead of the house of commons in a new ministry. To induce him to give up his lucrative practise at the bar for this office, he had been promised the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster for life. Sid- mouth, Ellenborough, himself, and others, had already been several times closeted with the king, and the plan of a conservative ministry had been decided on. He professed to see in this measure only one of a number which would end in destroying the protestant ascendancy in Ireland, and, not stopping there, would go on to annihilate all the defences against popery and dissent which the wisdom of our ancestors had set up. The bill was, notwithstanding, brought in, read a first time, and the second reading fixed for the 12th of March. But now it was found that the king, who had consented to some compromise on the question, seeing his way clear with another ministry, refused even his qualified consent to the prosecution of the measure. The ministers postponed the second reading to the 18th, promising an after statement of their reasons. But their reasons were already well known in both houses of parliament through the private communications of the embryo cabinet. The bargain for the permanent possession of the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster for Spencer Perceval had long transpired, and on the 19th of February, more than a fortnight before lord Howick had introduced the army and navy catholic bill, and before the grant of the additional sum to the college of Maynooth, Mr. Banks had moved that no office, employment, or salary should be granted in reversion in any part of his majesty's dominions. This was warmly supported by the ministry and their friends. Mr. Plumer directly attacked Spencer Perceval on the subject, and said a motion like this ought to have been carried forty years ago. It was retorted that, indeed, it would have been very well for them, if a certain family - meaning that of the Grenvilles - had not been loaded with sinecures, amounting to sixty thousand pounds a-year. Mr. Martin moved that an address to his majesty should convey the sense of Mr. Banks' motion, observing that from the year 1GC0 to the present time, the duchy of Lancaster had only had two chancellors appointed for life - namely, lord Lechmere, in 1717, and Dunning, then created lord Ashburton, in 1782. Mr. Martin's motion for the address was ably supported by Mr. Ward, afterwards lord Dudley and Ward, by lord Henry Petty, Sheridan, and the friends of the ministry. Spencer Perceval declared that he had received no promises of the chancellorship of the duchy for life, which, notwithstanding his religious character, must have been a pitiable quibble, as the thing was not only notorious, but was afterwards carried into effect. The motion was vehemently opposed by the friends of the incoming cabinet - especially by Mr. Montagu, Sturges Bourne, and Johnstone. The latter went again into violent strictures on the manner in which lord Grenville had helped himself and family. He instanced his pushing through the house a bill at nine o'clock at night to enable him to hold the office of auditor of accounts with its vast emoluments, whilst another was to discharge the duties; the increase of salary to another member of the family, as first lord of the admiralty, and that not by means of parliament, but clandestinely; the holding by another of the tellership of the exchequer; and a number of similar boons to the Grenvilles. These were only too true, for the whigs were never guilty of neglecting themselves; and Johnstone was equally merciless in pressing on another whig weakness. He said they had boasted of the retrenchments they were going to make; the economy which they were about to enforce; but he looked in vain for these results. " On the contrary," he said, " the accounts of the army remained as they were; the India commissioners long ago appointed, at large salaries, had not yet even sailed." These were trying details for the nerves of the ministry, but the address of Mr. Martin was carried, notwithstanding, by two hundred and eighteen against one hundred and fifteen.

On the 25th of March there were motions made in both houses for an adjournment: this was to allow the new ministry to be announced in the interval. In the lords, earl Grenville seized the opportunity to make some observations in defence of the conduct of his cabinet during its possession of office. He said they had entered it with the determination to carry these important measures, if possible: the sinking fund, the abolition of the slave trade, and the relief of the catholics. He was happy to say that they had carried two of them; and, though they had found the resistance in a certain quarter too strong for them to carry the third, they conceived that never did the circumstances of the times point out more clearly the sound policy of granting it. France had wonderfully extended her power on the continent; peace between her and the nations she had subdued would probably lead Buonaparte to concentrate his warlike efforts on this country. What so wise, then, as to have Ireland attached to us by benefits? With these views, the king, he said, had been induced to allow ministers to make communications to the catholics of Ireland through the lord-lieutenant, winch he had seemed to approve; yet, when these communications as to the intended concessions had been made, his majesty had been induced to retract his assent to them. Ministers had then endeavoured to modify the bill, so as to meet his majesty's views; but, not succeeding, they had dropped the bill altogether, reserving only, in self-justification, a right to make a minute on the private proceedings of the cabinet, expressing their liberty to bring this subject again to the royal notice, as circumstances might seem to require; but now his majesty had called upon them to enter into a written obligation never again to introduce the subject to his notice, or to bring forward a measure of that kind. This was more than could be expected of any ministers of any independence whatever, Lord Sidmouth followed, and let it be understood that lie did not go along with his colleagues in their desires for catholic emancipation. He said he would allow the catholics to enjoy toleration under the act of 1793, but lie thought further liberties would endanger our constitution in church and State. Lord Erskine appears to have acted a strange and inconsistent part on the occasion. He took a private opportunity of warning the king not to dismiss his ministers on this question, as it would greatly exasperate Ireland, and to assure him that, if lie did, he would never enjoy another hour's peace; yet we shall hear him speedily qualifying this opinion in public.

The king now announced to ministers his fixed resolve to call in another cabinet, though the whigs had endeavoured to keep office by dropping the bill, and, on the 25th of March, they delivered to the king their seals of office. Erskine alone retained his for a week, that he might pronounce his decrees on the chancery suits which had been heard by him; and, two days before he parted with the seal, he took the opportunity to make his son-in-law, Edmund Morris, a master in chancery. This was regarded as a most singular act, Erskine being no longer bona-fide chancellor, but only holding the seal for a few days after the resignation of his colleagues, to complete necessary business. The house adjourned to the 8th of April, and, before this day arrived, the new appointments were announced. They were, the duke of Portland, first lord of the treasury; lord Hawkesbury, secretary of the home department; Canning, secretary for foreign affaire; lord Castlereagh, secretary for war and the colonies; the earl of Chatham, master of the ordnance; Spencer Perceval, chancellor and under-treasurer of the exchequer; lord Camden, lord président of the council; lord Bathurst, président of the board of trade, with George Rose as vice-president; the earl of Westmoreland, keeper of the privy seal; lord Eldon, lord chancellor; and the duke of Richmond, lord lieutenant of Ireland. On the 3rd of April lord Mulgrave was announced as first lord of the admiralty, and the hon. Robert Dundas président of the board of control. On the 8th of April, the very day on which parliament again met, lord Melville was again restored to a place in the privy council, and, in a few days after, George Rose was further promoted by being made treasurer of the navy

Before the reassembling of parliament, the new ministers had done all in their power to arouse a " No popery! " cry in the country, because they intended to advise a dissolution of parliament - although this had only sate four months - in order to bring in a more anti-catholic and anti-reform body. On the 9th of April, the day following the meeting of parliament, Mr. Brand moved a resolution, that it was contrary to the first duties of the confidential advisers of the crown to bind themselves by any pledge to refrain from offering the king such counsel as might seem necessary to the welfare of the kingdom. The new ministers, who had probably entered office without any such pledge being demanded, for their sentiments were too well known to the king, yet, seeing that this was the first of a series intended to end in a vote of want of confidence in such ministers, at once opposed it, and threw it out by two hundred and fifty- eight to two hundred and twenty-six. The marquis of Stafford made a similar motion in the lords, and Sidmouth now spoke and voted against his late colleagues, to whom he must have been throughout opposed on all points; but the strangest thing must have been to hear Erskine, whilst supporting the motion, avowing his great repugnance to the catholics, as people holding a gross superstition, the result of the darkness of former ages, and declaring that he never thought of encouraging them, but rather that they might feel inconvenience, though suffering no injustice: as if this were possible; for, if suffering no injustice, they could feel no inconvenience. And this, after assuring the king that lie would never again enjoy peace if lie dismissed his ministers for desiring to encourage them! The marquis of Stafford's motion was rejected by a hundred and seventy- one against ninety.

Parliament was prorogued on the 27tli of April, for the avowed purpose of a dissolution; and in the speech by commission, ministers stated that it was necessary the people should be appealed to as soon as possible, whilst the effect of " the late unfortunate and uncalled-for agitation was on their minds." Immediate preparations were made for & most determined contest. Money was spent on both sides most prodigally, but the new ministers had the greater command of it - their opponents said, out of the king's privy purse; but, whether that were so or not, on the system then in vogue, of ministers in different departments drawing even millions from the treasury long before they were legitimately wanted, they could have no lack of means of corruption; and this corruption, in bribery and in purchasing of seats, never had been carried further than on this occasion. It was calculated that it would cost Wilberforce eighteen thousand pounds to get in again, and this sum was at once subscribed by his friends. Tierney offered ten thousand pounds for two seats, and could not get them. Romilly, who was utterly averse to ail this corruption, was compelled to give two thousand pounds for a seat for the borough of Horsham, and then only obtained it through favour of the duke of Norfolk. Seats, Romilly says, might have been expected to be cheap after a parliament of only four months' duration, but quite the contrary; never had they reached such a price before. Five and six thousand pounds was a common sum given, without any stipulation as to the chance of a short parliament. He names particular holders of boroughs who h ad sold all they had to government. And such was the hocus-pocus of an English parliament! - such were the means by which those who had the impudence to call themselves the representatives of the people stole into the house of commons, and bought the power to vote away some fifty millions of the people's money annually, taking good care to reimburse themselves, and settle all their relatives and dependants on the funds of the nation! These were the men, too, who continually boasted that the British constitution was the glory and the envy of the world! The animas which was excited in the public mind against the catholics by the incoming ministers, for party purposes, was terrible. The Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge and other religious societies took the field in the bigot outcry. The catholics of England, alarmed at the violence of the sensation stirred up against them, and, fearing a repetition of the Gordon riots, published an address to their fellow-countrymen, protesting their entire loyalty to the crown and constitution. Henry Erskine, lord Erskine's brother, wittily said that, if lord George Gordon were but alive, instead of being in Newgate, he would be in the cabinet. The ministers found that they had obtained a powerful majority by these means, and when parliament met, on the 22nd of June, they were enabled to reject an amendment on the address, by a hundred and sixty against sixty-seven in the lords, and by three hundred and fifty against a hundred and fifty-five in the commons. One of the very first things which the ministers did was to reverse the mild system of the late cabinet in Ireland, and to restore the old régime of coercion. A bill was brought into the commons by Sir Arthur Wellesley, now again secretary to the lord lieutenant, giving authority to the latter functionary to proclaim counties in a state of insurrection, and to prohibit any person being out of his house between sunset and sunrise, under severe penalties. Then followed another bill, compelling all persons to register what arms they had, and authorising, on the part of the magistracy, domiciliary visits in search of arms. Education of the people, both there and in England, was discouraged. A bill for establishing a school in every parish in England, introduced by Whitbread, was allowed to pass the commons, but was thrown out in the lords.

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