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The French Revolution and Napoleon; Great Britain and Ireland (1789-1802). page 3


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William Pitt the younger, prime minister from 1783 to 1801, was always a Whig (or Liberal) in his heart and in his policy, until the reaction due to the excesses of the French revolutionists drove him to repressive measures which caused him to be the idol of Tory partisans and timid patriots. He made a vain attempt at parliamentary reform, defeated by the king's influence, and showed his wisdom in finance by reducing duties on tea and spirits, to the great discouragement of smuggling in those articles. The Habeas Corpus Act was suspended from 1794 to 1801, and under the Traitorous Correspondence Act (1793), forbidding intercourse with France, an Alien Act, and the Treasonable Practices and Seditious Meetings Acts, many persons were severely punished, not only for really seditious words and writings, but for opposition to and criticism of the king, government, and constitution, and for attendance at meetings to discuss grievances. British freedom was lessened when, in 1799, another Act suppressed certain societies for parliamentary and administrative reform, and all debating clubs. In warlike affairs, brilliant success was won at sea. On the "glorious First of June," 1794, Lord Howe completely defeated the French fleet off Ushant, with seven ships taken and one sunk, and thereby stopped an invasion of our coasts. In 1796 we were confronted by combined naval forces of France, Holland, and Spain; and another plan for invasion of the British Isles was formed, with the assemblage of squadrons at Brest and Cadiz, and at Texel, an island at the entrance to the Zuyder Zee. In February, 1797, the Spanish part of the enterprise was disposed of in the battle of St. Vincent (off the cape of that name on the south-west coast of Portugal), where Sir John Jervis (afterwards Earl St. Vincent), with 15 ships, routed a hostile force of 27, capturing several first-rates. Every Briton knows or should know that Commodore Nelson, as second-in-command, did most of the work on that day, and that Collingwood and Trowbridge were also distinguished. In the same year shameful ill-treatment of the gallant tars caused dangerous mutinies at Spithead and the Nore. In the former instance the mutineers were appeased by the just and popular Lord Howe; at the Nore, concessions were made to proper demands, and vigorous measures of attack caused the surrender of the ringleaders. In October, 1797, the projected Dutch invasion of Ireland, in conjunction with a French fleet, was ruined by the noble Admiral Duncan, first earl of Camperdown, off the place of that name on the Dutch coast. 11 ships were captured, and two years later, in 1799, Admiral Mitchell forced the surrender, off Texel, of 12 Dutch men-of-war and 13 "Indiamen." In northern Europe, a combination against Great Britain, first formed in 1780, was revived by Russia, Sweden, Prussia, and Denmark, under the name of the "Northern Convention," or "Armed Neutrality.", This arrangement denied to us the right of search on neutral ships which might be carrying munitions of war to our foes. In those days it was not the custom of British ministers, with all their faults, to argue with insolent aggression, but to strike promptly and to strike hard. Sir Hyde Parker, with Nelson, as second-in-command, on this occasion doing all the work, was sent to Copenhagen in April, 1801, with a fleet, and after a desperate action with the Danish ships and forts he compelled Denmark's withdrawal from the confederation, already on the way to dissolution from the murder, in March, of the -emperor Paul I. of Russia, who was succeeded by his son, Alexander I.

Some important matters occurred in the development of British freedom. The House of Commons, which did not really represent the people, in being largely controlled by the Crown and by great landowners, showed itself hostile to electoral rights in the case of John Wilkes, who had become notorious as the assailant of the government in his newspaper the North Briton. In 1763 he was arrested, along with nearly 50 other persons - alleged authors, printers, and publishers of the "libel" - under a "general warrant," meaning one in which no name is mentioned, authorising the officers of the law to arrest any suspected persons. Wilkes, the avowed author of the article, was at once released, under writ of Habeas Corpus, by Chief-Justice Pratt, afterwards the first Lord Camden, on pleading his privilege as M.P.; but the important part of the matter was that the Chief-Justice declared "general warrants" to be illegal documents, and Wilkes and others recovered substantial damages for unlawful arrest. In 1769 he was thrice elected for Middlesex and thrice rejected by the Commons, the seat being given to an opponent who had but a small minority of votes. After a long contest, Wilkes, again elected for Middlesex in 1774, took his seat, and in 1782 he carried a motion which caused the resolutions of the Commons, rejecting him from membership, to be expunged from the journals "as subversive of the rights of electors." The newspaper press was also at issue with the Commons on the question of the publication of debates. In 1771, after the imprisonment of certain printers for publishing reports of proceedings in the House, the Commons tacitly yielded the point at issue, and became henceforth more responsible to public opinion through the establishment of "free reporting." The public press, besides being hampered, so far as newspapers were concerned, by the oppressive stamp-duty, under George III., of fourpence on every full-sized sheet, was controlled by the very severe laws of libel. In 1764 Lord Mansfield, Chief-Justice, decided that the judge alone could deal with the matter of a libel, or determine whether the published words were criminal or not, and that the jury had only to decide on the fact of publication. Newspapers and other publications criticising the government were thus at the mercy of judges, but in 1791 the illustrious Whig orator Charles James Fox caused the passing of the Libel Act which rendered juries, in criminal trials for libel, judges of the libel itself, as well as of the fact of publication.

In Ireland, in the reign of George III., important events took place The penal laws against Catholics had, as time went on, been much modified in action, but there were still abundant grievances for Irish patriots. An opportunity came in 1779, when many thousands of volunteers, raised to encounter possible French invasion, backed the parliamentary leaders Henry Grattan and Henry Flood. The repeal of Poynings' Acts was followed by legislation which allowed Catholics to hold land, erect schools, and enjoy other common rights of British subjects, and in 1782 the country had an independent Parliament, a body which existed for 18 years. The Irish House of Commons, wholly Protestant, was a very corrupt assembly, returned chiefly through the influence, in small boroughs, of the government and of a few great nobles. In 1780 and 1782 Protestant dissenters in Ireland obtained political freedom, and the great majority of the people in Ulster, who were Presbyterians in religious belief, were thus enabled to hold civil, military, and municipal posts. Some degree of freedom had been given to trade, but the efforts of the enlightened Pitt in that direction were frustrated by the jealousy of English merchants, manufacturers, agriculturists, and cattle-breeders. The country soon fell into confusion. The Catholics, excluded from Parliament, banded themselves together against the payment of rent to the landlords and tithes to the Protestant clergy. Catholic "Defenders" in the north fought with Protestant "Peep-o'-Day Boys." Then the "Orange" lodges, composed of extreme Protestants, were formed, and a new source of anarchy thus arose. The French Revolution, at its outbreak, brought together both Protestants and Catholics, under Rowan and Wolfe Tone, in the body called the "Society of United Irishmen," founded at Belfast in 1790. The Parliament was thus forced, in 1792-93, to remove many existing Catholic grievances. Catholics were admitted at last to the parliamentary franchise and to the legal profession. They were free to dispose of property by sale or by will, to marry Protestants, to educate their children, to worship in their own way, and to hold the lower civil and military offices. The "United Irishmen," under Wolfe Tone and Lord Edward Fitzgerald, at last adopted republican ideas, and, aiming at independence of Great Britain, appealed to France for aid. An expedition, in 1796, under the famous Hoche, was dispersed by a storm, and other attempts at invasion were baffled by British squadrons. Matters came to a head through cruel measures of repression, and in 1798 a rebellion took place. Enniscorthy and Wexford were taken by the rebels, and some cruelties were perpetrated on Protestants, but on June 21st the main force was broken up in the battle of Vinegar Hill by General Lake, and then the most brutal severity was employed by the agents of the British government. Pitt saw the only remedy for the miserable condition of affairs in a legislative union, and by a free use of intimidation, coercion, bribery, and corruption he managed, in June 1800, to pass the Bill through the Irish Parliament. The Act of Union, coming into force on January 1st, 1801, gave Ireland 100 members in the Imperial Parliament (Commons) at Westminster, and placed for that country, in the Lords, four bishops of the Protestant Church, sitting by rotation, and 28 temporal peers, chosen for life by the general body of Irish nobles. Free trade between Great Britain and Ireland began, and the Union flag added the cross of St. Patrick to the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George, united in 1707. The stupid bigotry and prejudice of the half-mad king, who protested that to admit Catholics to Parliament would be a violation of his coronation-oath, compelled Pitt to break the promises which, in conjunction with the Whig leaders, he had wished to fulfil, in the Union Act, as the price paid to the Irish Catholics for their assent to the legislative union. Pitt then retired from office, for a time, in disgust.

In March, 1802, the war ended for a brief space with the Peace of Amiens. We need not discuss the terms of what was a mere truce, and only note that Trinidad was ceded to Great Britain by Spain, and Ceylon by the "Batavian Republic" (Holland). The position of Napoleon, as we shall henceforth style "Bonaparte," in France was much strengthened by the conclusion of peace after brilliant successes in war. It was at this time that he did the best work of his life, in creating institutions and executing works which have survived all changes in the country for whose benefit they were devised. The judicial system and local government were placed on a firm basis. The Bank of France arose. The University was reorganised as an incorporated body of teachers who had passed a state-examination, and the whole system of higher education came under the control of the government. The "Institut National" was rearranged into four "academies" - the Academie Francaise, Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Academie des Sciences, and Academie des Beaux-Arts, originally founded under Louis XIV., or, in the case of the Academie Francaise, under his predecessor. A new order of chivalry, the Legion of Honour, since much degraded by indiscriminate admissions to its ranks, was founded, Much was done for the promotion of agriculture, manufactures, and commerce. A general amnesty allowed the royalist emigres to return to France. A court and a brilliant society again existed in Paris, and a monarch arose when a popular vote (plebiscite) of 3,500,000, in August, 1802, confirmed Napoleon as Consul for life, with the right of appointing a successor. The chief jurists of the nation, under the great man's own supervision, took in hand the Code Napoleon, the most famous of the modern codes of law, a splendid simplification published between 1804 and 1810, a great boon to France, which became, wholly or in part, the model for many Continental systems of law, as in Italy, Belgium, Greece, and Rhenish Germany. The Louvre Gallery in Paris was formed with the works of art stolen from Italy, and superficial observers thought that France was started anew on a peaceful and prosperous career. They knew not the vast ambition and the unscrupulous arrogance of the new ruler. He was eager for wider sway, and - fatal mistake of his career - he could not rest until he had humbled Great Britain, the power he should have sought, above all others, to conciliate and to render neutral.

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