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Chapter XII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7


The Goderich Administration; its Dissolution - The Wellington Ministry- Creation of Peers - Canning's Widow a Viscountess - The Grenville Party - Eldon Discarded; his bitter Mortification - The Battle of Navarino - Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge - Brougham - "The Schoolmaster Abroad " - Mr. Huskisson - East Retford and Penryn - Retirement of the Canningites from the Ministry - Wellington's Mental Reservation - The Nonconformists - The Act of Uniformity - The Penal Code against Dissenters - Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts; Peel's Objections; The Government adopt the Measure - Opposition in the Lords - Lord Eldon's frantic Denunciations of the Government and the Bishops - The Declaration substituted for the Sacramental Test; Commemoration of the Triumph.
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The ministerial changes consequent on the death of Mr. Canning were announced on the 17th of August. Viscount Goderich, afterwards earl of Ripon, became the first lord of the treasury, the duke of Portland president of the council, Mr. Herries chancellor of the exchequer, Mr. Huskisson colonial secretary, and Mr. C. Grant president of the board of trade. On the 22nd the duke of Wellington was gazetted as commander-in-chief. He accepted this office at the earnest request of the king, and it was universally felt that he was the fittest man for the post; but those who, with lord Eldon, earnestly wished for the speedy downfall of the new ministry - which they regarded as almost exclusively Canningite - lamented that he should have assumed that position which would necessarily paralyse his opposition in the house of lords, and so far tend to keep in the administration. There was, however, little chance of that, for perhaps no cabinet was ever more divided. They intrigued man against man, section against section; and at last, without any external pressure, the cabinet fell to pieces from its own weakness. Lord Goderich lost heart, and gave in his resignation before parliament met. The king was at Windsor while the work of dissolution was going on. When it was complete, he said, " If they had not dissolved themselves by their own acts, I should have remained faithful to them to the last." They appeared before him on the 8th of January, to resign the offices which they had received from his hands. The duke of Wellington was then sent for. It was not his wish, we are assured by his biographer, to become prime minister of England. The reasons which had impelled him, on a former occasion, to resist the solicitations of his colleagues induced him now to remonstrate respectfully with the sovereign, but the king would take no denial. " He pointed out that except the duke himself there was no public man - none, at least, whom he (the sovereign) could trust - sufficiently influential, amid the complications and difficulties of the times, to form a strong government, and implored him to waive whatever personal scruples he might entertain, and to take upon himself the responsibilities of office. Such an appeal went to the very core of the principle on which the whole tenor of the duke's public life had been founded. His sovereign required his services, and it was not for him to oppose his own inclinations. He accepted the trust, returned to town next day, and entered into immediate communication with Mr. Peel."

Lord Goderich, on this occasion, acted with great humility. In a letter to the duke of Buckingham, shortly after his resignation, he expressed his willingness to serve under the duke, though it might certainly be a matter of doubt with him how far, under existing circumstances, he could with credit accept office. But as the government was to rest upon a broad basis, and was not to oppose the principles he had always advocated, he was ready to consider favourably any offer that might be made to him. The task which the duke undertook was certainly a most difficult one, considering the nature of the questions that agitated the public mind, and the course which he had adopted in reference to them. The new government was announced on the 25th of January. It retained several members of the Goderich ministry - namely, lord Dudley, Mr. Huskisson, and Mr. Herries. The duke of Wellington was premier, Mr. Goulburn chancellor of the exchequer, lord Aberdeen chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, and lord Ellenborough privy seal. On this occasion several peers were created. Sir Henry Wellesley, who so long occupied the post of ambassador in France, became baron Cowley, Sir Charles Stuart lord Stuart de Rothesay, Sir William A'Court baron Heytesbury, Mr. Lambton lord Durham, Mr. Wilbraham lord Skelmersdale, and Mr. Wallace baron Wallace. At the same time, Mr. Canning's widow was created a Viscountess, with a grant of £6,000 a-year, to be enjoyed after her death by her eldest son, and, in case of his death, by her second son. The former was in the navy, and perished accidentally soon after his father's death. The second son, to whom the family honours descended, was the governor-general of India during the most memorable crisis in the history of that empire. The grant was opposed by lord Althorp, Mr. Hume, and Mr. Banks, but was carried by a majority of 161 to 54. The debate is memorable for the tributes paid to the merits of the deceased. Among these the most remarkable was the speech of Sir J. Mackintosh, who said: " That he was a man of the purest honour, I know; that he was a man of the most rare and splendid talents, I know; that he was a man renowned through Europe for his brilliant genius and philosophic thinking, not a member of this house can be ignorant; or that, with his best zeal, as well as with success, he applied that genius and those views of policy to advance the service and glory of his country. A friendship of thirty-six years has given me, and I am not ashamed to confess it, a deep interest in any measure which is intended to do honour to his memory." The Grenville party were completely disregarded in the new arrangements, the duke never having cast a look towards them. Mr. Wynne left the board of control. Dr. Philimore, also, went out at the same time. On the 27th of February the marquis of Anglesey was gazetted as lord lieutenant of Ireland.

Of all the expectants of office in the Wellington administration, the most bitterly disappointed was the ex-chancellor, lord Eldon, to whom official life had from long habit become almost a necessity. He had enjoyed power long enough in reason to admit of his retirement with a contented mind; but the passion for it was never stronger than at the present moment. He was in raptures at the attacks made upon Canning by the duke of Wellington and lord Grey, and he had laboured most diligently to effect the downfall of that minister. But still he was doomed to solitude in his retreat at Encombe, " the hall of which was no longer crowded by king's messengers carrying cabinet boxes, by breathless applicants for injunctions and commissions of bankruptcy, by royal visitors to concert measures for protestant ascendancy, nor by parsons with twelve children coming in quest of livings." The death of Mr. Canning afforded his spirit immense relief, and he expected every moment an express from the king in his new emergency, his brain being meanwhile busy in the construction of a cabinet, comparing, arranging, and fitting in. The announcement that lord Goderich was to be the new premier was a great disappointment; but he was comforted by the assurance that it could not possibly last long, and disgusted with the duke of Wellington for giving it a chance by accepting the office of commander-in-chief. He hastened to London a few days after Christmas, on account of rumours of a dissolution of the cabinet. Having so often done this when there was a talk of a ministerial crisis, he was called the " stormy petrel." Believing that he had mainly contributed tİ bring about the ministerial catastrophe, he was dreadfully mortified when he saw in the newspapers the list of the new ministers beginning thus: " Chancellor, lord Lyndhurst." He had not set his heart this time on the office of lord-chancellor, he would have been content with the presidentship of the council or privy seal; but his name was not found in the list at all, nor had he been consulted in any way, or informed about what was going forward during the fortnight that passed before the ministerial arrangements were completed. This utter neglect of his claims excited his anger and indignation to the utmost, and caused him to indulge in bitter revilings and threats against the new cabinet. The great tory lords shared in his resentment, and felt that they were all insulted in his person. Referring to the ministerial arrangements, he wrote: - " You will observe, Dudley, Huskisson, Grant, Palmerston, and Lyndhurst (five) were all Canningites, with whom the rest were three weeks ago in most violent contest and opposition; these things are to me quite marvellous. How they are all to deal with each other's conduct, as to the late treaty with Turkey and the Navarino battle, is impossible to conjecture. As the first- fruits of this arrangement, the corporation of London have agreed to petition parliament to repeal the laws which affect dissenters."

Mr. Peel endeavoured to soothe his perturbed spirit by a kind and conciliatory letter, and the duke of Wellington paid him a visit for the same purpose. But he was not quite satisfied with the duke's candour in those transactions. A fortnight before, his grace had called upon him, stating the difficulties of his position, from the various conflicting claimants to office, and the ex-chancellor, being sure that he could not be mistaken in what this was to lead to, anticipating the coming mention of the chancellorship, desired that he might not be considered as a conflicting claimant for " that office." Thus they parted, "and from the moment of his quitting me," says lord Eldon, "to the appearance in the papers of all the appointments, I never saw his grace. I had no communication with him, either personally, by note, letter, by message through any other person, or in any manner whatever, and for the whole fortnight I heard no more of the matter than you did at Corfu." His old friends and colleagues passed daily by his residence on their way to Apsley House, but so insignificant did he seem to them now, that not one of them thought it worth while to give him a call; and, to crown their ingratitude, they added insult to injury by industriously circulating that he had refused to accept any office on account of his great age. "It is not," he said, "because office was not offered to me that I complain, it is because those with whom I had so long acted and served did not candidly and unreservedly explain themselves and their difficulties to me; and they were not mine adversaries that did me this dishonour, but mine own familiar friends, with whom I had for so many years taken sweet counsel together." He considered himself ill-used, not only by his old colleagues, but in the highest quarter. "I must admit," says lord Campbell, "that he considerably overrated his services there. For he really seems to have thought that George IV. was obliged for his crown to lord Eldon, instead of lord Eldon being obliged for the great seal to George IV." Having been so shabbily treated by those from whom he had so much reason to expect better things, he felt himself fully at liberty to oppose their measures; and occasion soon arose for venting his spleen, as well as indulging his bigotry.

The Greeks had been struggling to emancipate themselves from the tyrannical dominion of the Turks, aided in their war of independence only by the voluntary contributions and personal services of enthusiastic friends of freedom, like lord Byron. At length, however, the sanguinary nature of the contest, and the injury to commerce by piracy, induced the great powers of Europe to interfere, in order to put an end to the war. Accordingly, on the 6th of July, 1827, a treaty was signed in London by the ministers of Great Britain, France, and Russia, for the pacification of Greece. In pursuance of this treaty, a joint expedition, consisting of English, French, and Russian ships, entered the Bay of Navarino on the 20th of October, with the object of compelling the sultan to concede an armistice, in order that there might be time for effecting an arrangement. The sultan, Mahmoud, having declined the mediation of the combined powers, and Ibrahim Pasha having received a large reinforcement of troops from Egypt, he was ordered to put down the insurrection at every cost by land and sea. He had accordingly recommenced the war with fanatical fury. All Greeks found in arms were to be put to the sword, and the Morea was to be laid waste. The combined fleet of the allies had received orders to demand an armistice, and if this were refused by the Turkish admiral, his fleet was to be destroyed or captured. They found it ranged at the bottom of the bay, in the form of a crescent. Instead of parleying, the Turks began to fire, and the battle commenced apparently without plan on either side. It soon became general. Admiral Codrington, in the Asia, opened a broadside upon the Egyptian admiral, and soon reduced his ship to a wreck; others in rapid succession shared the same fate. The conflict lasted with great fury for four hours. When the smoke cleared off, the enemy had disappeared, and the bay was strewed with the fragments of their ships. Among the allies, the loss of the English was greatest, though not large - only 75 men killed and 197 wounded. The catastrophe produced immense excitement at Constantinople, and had the janissaries (those fierce and bigoted defenders of Mohammedanism whom the sultan had so recently extirpated) been still in existence, it would have fared ill with Christians in that part of the world. The sultan demanded satisfaction, which would not be granted, and the European ambassadors left Constantinople. The battle of Navarino occurred at the time when the duke of Wellington assumed the reins of office, our ambassador having then returned from Constantinople.

The last day but one of the year 1827 was rendered memorable by the establishment of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, consisting chiefly of eminent public characters and men distinguished by their literary and scientific attainments. The object of the society was the imparting useful information to all classes of the community, particularly to such as are unable to avail themselves of experienced teachers, or may prefer learning by themselves. This object was to be attained by periodical publications, under the superintendence of a committee. The society was inaugurated by an able and comprehensive discourse by Mr. Henry Brougham, upon " The Objects, Advantages, and Pleasures of Science." The society fully answered the expectations of its founders, and contributed materially to the promotion of popular education and the diffusion of useful knowledge.

Parliament was opened by commission on the 29th of January, four days after the formation of the Wellington ministry. The royal speech referred chiefly to the affairs of the east, to the rights of neutral nations violated by the revolting excesses of the Greeks and Turks, to the battle of Navarino with the fleet of an ancient ally, which was lamented as an " untoward event; " but hopes were expressed that it might not lead to further hostilities. The speech alluded to the increase of exports and the more general employment of the people as indications of returning prosperity. The phrase " untoward " was objected to by lords Lansdowne and Goderich. Lord Holland denied that our relations with Turkey were those of an alliance; but the duke of Wellington contended that the Ottoman empire was an ancient ally of Great Britain, that it formed an essential part of the balance of power, and that the maintenance of its independent existence was more than ever necessary as an object of European policy.

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