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Accession of Queen Victoria

Accession of Queen Victoria - The Queen's Address to the Privy Council - The King of Hanover - Lord Melbourne and the Queen - Lord Brougham's Speech - The Civil List - The Queen's first Speech to the Parliament - The General Election - The Queen at the Lord Mayor's Banquet - The New Parliament - Rebellion in Lower Canada - America sympathises with the Insurgents - Lord Durham Lord High Commissioner; His Difficulties and Mistakes; His Ordinance; Disallowed by Parliament; His Resignation - Lord Durham's Report on the North American Colonies - The Colonial Question - Sir William Molesworth - Wisdom of Lord Durham's Policy - Renewal of the Insurrection- American Sympathisers - American Government - Mr. Roebuck - The New Canadian Constitution - Advantages of Self-government - Introduction of the Irish Poor Relief Bill - Opposition of Mr. O'Connell - Pauperism in Holland and Belgium - Workhouse at Amsterdam - The Belgian Peasantry contrasted with those of Ireland - The Bill in the Lords - Alarm of the Irish Peers - The Bill passes and receives the Royal Assent - Organisation and Working of the System.
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A combination of circumstances invested the accession of the Princess Victoria with peculiar interest. She was the third female sovereign called to occupy the throne of these realms since the Reformation; and like those of Elizabeth and Anne, her reign has served to mark an era in British history. The novelty of a female sovereign, especially one so young, had a charm for all classes in society. The superior gifts and the amiable disposition of the Princess, the care with which she had been educated by her excellent mother, and all that had been known of her private life and her favourite pursuits, prepared the nation to hail her accession with sincere acclamations. There was something which could not fail to excite the imagination and touch the heart, in seeing one who in a private station would be regarded as a mere girl, just old enough to come out into society, called upon to assume the sceptre of the greatest empire in the world, and to sit upon one of its oldest thrones, receiving the willing homage of statesmen and warriors who had been historic characters for half a century. We are not surprised, therefore, to read that the mingled majesty and grace with which she assumed her high functions excited universal admiration, and "drew tears from many eyes which had not been wet for half a lifetime; " and that warriors trembled with emotion, who had never known fear in the presence of the enemy. Loyalty in this case was refined and elevated, and became a thrilling sentiment of tender devotion, akin to the homage which might be supposed to be paid to a superior being.

When the ceremony of taking the oath of allegiance had been gone through, Her Majesty thus addressed the Privy Council: - "The severe and afflicting loss which the nation has sustained by the death of His Majesty, my beloved uncle, has devolved upon me the duty of administering the government of this empire. This awful responsibility is imposed upon me so suddenly, and at so early a period of my life, that I should feel myself utterly oppressed by the burden, were I not sustained by the hope that Divine Providence, which has called me to this work, will give me strength for the performance of it; and that I shall find in the purity of my intentions, and in my zeal for-the public welfare, that support and those resources which usually belong to a more mature age and to long experience. I place my firm reliance upon the wisdom of Parliament, and upon the loyalty and affection of my people. I esteem it also a peculiar advantage that I succeed to a sovereign whose constant regard for the rights and liberties of his subjects, and whose desire to promote the amelioration of the laws and institutions of this country, have rendered his name the object of general attachment and veneration. Educated in England, under the tender and enlightened care of a most affectionate mother, I have learned from my infancy to respect and love the constitution of my native country. It will be my unceasing study to maintain the reformed religion, as by law established, securing at the same time to all the full enjoyment of religious liberty. And I shall steadily protect the rights, and promote, to the utmost of my power, the happiness and welfare of all classes of my subjects."

The scene was thus described by Mr. Disraeli: - "The prelates and chief men of her realm then advanced to the throne, and kneeling before her, pledged their troth, and took the sacred oath of allegiance and supremacy - allegiance to one who rules over the land that the great Macedonian could not conquer, and over a continent of which even Columbus never dreamed; to the queen of every sea, and of nations of every zone. Fair and serene, she has the blood and beauty of the Saxon. Will it be her proud destiny, at length, to bear relief to suffering millions, and with that soft hand, which might inspire troubadour and guerdon knights, break the last link in Saxon thraldom? "

The young Queen enjoyed, in the new King of Hanover, the advantage of a foil which, with all the force of contrast, placed her character as a constitutional sovereign in the best possible light. At her accession the crown of Hanover, which could not be inherited by a female, was separated from the crown of England, with which it had been united since the accession of George I. in 1712, and which had descended to the Duke of Cumberland, the next surviving male heir of George III. This severance, instead of being regarded as a loss, was really felt as a great relief by the English nation, not only as terminating its connection with German politics, from which nothing but annoyance and expense could result, but, what was regarded as much more important, freeing the country from the presence of the Duke of Cumberland, who was at once detested for his arbitrary temper and for the conspiracy which had for its object his usurpation of the throne of these realms. On the 24th of June, Ernest Augustus, King of Hanover, left London, apparently in a very churlish spirit, and breathing hostility to constitutional freedom in the country which was to be cursed by his rule. So strong were his feelings against constitutional government, that he had not the grace to receive a deputation of the Chambers, who came to offer him their homage and their congratulations; and on the 5th of July he hastened to issue a proclamation, announcing his intention to abolish the constitution. He not only did this, but he ejected from their offices, and banished from then- country, some of the most eminent professors in the University of Göttingen. It was thus he inaugurated a rule of iron despotism, worse than that of the native princes, who had not the advantage of being brought up in a free country.

The Queen did not disturb the administration which she found in office. It was constituted as follows: - Cabinet - Marquis of Lansdowne, Lord President of the Council; Lord Cottenham, Lord High Chancellor; Viscount Duncannon, Lord Privy Seal and First Commissioner of Land Revenue; Viscount Melbourne, First Lord of the Treasury; Right Hon. T. Spring Rice, Chancellor of the Exchequer; Earl of Minto, First Lord of the Admiralty; Lord John Russell, Secretary of State for the Home Department; Viscount Palmerston, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; Lord Glenelg, Secretary of State for the Colonies; Sir John Cam Hob- house, President of the Board of Control; Lord Holland, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; Right Hon. C. P. Thomson, President of the Board of Trade; Viscount Howiek, Secretary at War. Not of the Cabinet - Earl of Lichfield, Postmaster-General; Right Hon. Henry Labouchere, Master of the Mint and Vice-President of the Board of Trade; Sir John Parnell, Paymaster- General of the Forces; Right Hon. Sir R. H. Vivian, Bart., Clerk of the Ordnance; Sir John Campbell, Attorney-General; Sir R. M. Rolfe, Solicitor-General. Great Officers of State - Duke of Argyll, Lord Steward; Marquis of Conyngham, Lord Chamberlain; Earl of Albemarle, Master of the Horse. Ireland - Earl of Mulgrave, Lord Lieutenant; Lord Plunket, Lord High Chancellor; Viscount Morpeth, Chief Secretary. Scotland - Right Hon. John A. Murray, Lord Advocate; Andrew Rutherford, Esq., Solicitor-General.

The Premier, who was now fifty-eight years old, had had much experience of public life. He had been Chief Secretary for Ireland, Home Secretary, and Prime Minister, to which position he had been called the second time, after the failure of Sir Robert Peel's administration in the spring of 1835. The young Queen seems to have looked to his counsel with a sort of filial deference; and from the time of her accession to the close of his career, he devoted himself to the important task of instructing and guiding his royal mistress in the discharge of her various official duties - a task of great delicacy, which he performed with so much ability and success, as not only to win her gratitude, but to secure also the approbation of the country, and to disarm the hostility of political opponents. No royal pupil, it may be safely said, ever did more credit to a mentor than did Queen Victoria. There is not one of her subjects at the present day who will not admit that after a reign of thirty-five years Her Majesty has more than realised the anticipations which were eloquently expressed by Lord Brougham in his speech on the Civil List. He said: - "Not any one among you all can rejoice more sincerely than I have done in the enthusiasm of affection which has burst from all her subjects to greet the accession of the reigning monarch. They have generously let anticipation usurp the place of gratitude. They have taken counsel with hope, rather than experience. For as memory scatters her sweets with a cold and churlish hand, it has been found more pleasing to array the object of the general love in the attire of fancy; and as fervent a devotion has been kindled towards the yet untried ruler, as could have glowed in her people's bosom after the longest and most glorious reign, in which she should have only lived and only governed for the country's good; by some chronic miracle escaping all error and all failure, and only showering down blessings upon mankind. I heartily rejoice in this enthusiasm. I do not complain of it as premature. I rejoice in it because it must prove delightful to the royal object of it. I rejoice still more because I know that it will stimulate the Queen to live for her country, in order to earn the affections which have already been bestowed, and justify the opinion which has been formed, and is so fondly cherished upon trust. But most chiefly do I rejoice, because it extinguishes for ever all apprehensions of the English people's loyalty and trustworthiness; puts to shame all who would represent them as disaffected towards monarchical institutions; demonstrates the safety of entrusting them with an ample measure of political rights; and teaches to statesmen this great practical lesson, that the more we extirpate abuse from our system, the more searching we make our reforms, the more we endear the constitution to the people by making them feel its benefits, the safer will be the just rights of the monarch who is at its head, and the stronger will be the allegiance of the subject who cheerfully obeys."

Prior to the revolution, the sums voted for the Civil List were granted without any specification as to whether they should be applied to the maintenance of the army, the navy, the civil government, or the household. The king got a lump sum, for carrying on the government, defending the country, and supporting the royal dignity; and was allowed to apportion it according to his own discretion - the plan most agreeable to an arbitrary monarch. After the revolution, the expenses of the army and navy were separately voted, and the charges for civil government have been gradually removed from the Civil List. At the accession of William IV. these charges were reduced to the amount required for the expenses of the royal household, by the removal of the salaries of the judges, the ambassadors, and the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, together with a number of Civil List pensions. This fact should be borne in mind in connection with the sums on the civil list of former sovereigns. For example: William III., Anne, and George I. had £700,000 a year; George II. and George III., £800,000, George IV., £850,000; William IV., £500,000; Queen Victoria received £385,000. The application was thus limited: Privy purse, £60,000; household salaries and retired allowances, £131,260; household expenses, £172,500; royal bounty, alms, and special services, £13,200; leaving an unappropriated balance of upwards of £8,000 to be employed in supplementing any of the other charges, or in any way Her Majesty thought proper. Economists grumbled about the magnitude of these allowances, and Lord Melbourne was accused of being over-indulgent to the youthful sovereign; but her immense popularity silenced all murmurers, and the nation felt happy to give her any amount of money she required.

On the 17th of July - a week after the burial of the King - the Queen went in state to meet Parliament. She was received along the line of procession with extraordinary enthusiasm; and never on the accession of a sovereign was the House of Peers so thronged by ladies of rank. A tone of kindness, mercy, and conciliation, befitting her youth and sex, marked her first speech from the throne. She stated that she regarded with peculiar interest the measures that had been brought to maturity for the mitigation of the criminal code, and the reduction of the number of capital punishments; promised that it should be her care to strengthen our institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, by discreet improvement, wherever improvement was required, and to do all in her power to compose and allay animosity and discord. Immediately on the delivery of the royal speech, Parliament was prorogued, in order to its dissolution. The general elections speedily followed, and were all over early in August. The ministerial candidates were accused of making an unconstitutional use of the Queen's name in their addresses, and availing themselves of her popularity to strengthen the position of the Government, and the Conservatives asserted that the Queen had no partiality for her present advisers, whom she found in office, and bore with only till Sir Robert Peel and his colleagues would feel strong enough to take their places.

On the 9th November the Queen honoured the City with her presence at the Lord Mayor's banquet, which was one of the most costly displays of civic magnificence on record. Business was suspended in London, the streets along the line of procession were crowded to excess, the windows of the houses were thronged with fair spectators, and it was evident that all the unpleasant associations connected with royalty which had been created during the last two reigns, were now completely obliterated by the presence of the Queen, from whose accession the monarchy seemed to have gained a new lease of existence.

The Parliament met on the 15th November, when Mr. Abercromby was unanimously re-elected Speaker. On the 20th, the Queen opened the new Parliament in person. In the royal speech the serious attention of the Legislature was requested to the consideration of the state of the province of Lower Canada, which had now become a question so urgent, that it could not be any longer deferred. The demands of the habitans of that province were so extravagant that they were regarded by Sir Robert Peel as revolutionary. "Look," said he, "at the position of Lower Canada, commanding the entrance of the mouth of the St. Lawrence, and then ask if a population of half a million had a right to insist upon a measure which, in the heart of the British colonies of North America, would establish a French republic." They demanded, not only that the Executive Council should be responsible to the House of Representatives, but also that the Senate, or Upper House, then nominated by the Crown, should be elected by the people. The home Government, sustained by an overwhelming majority of the House of Commons, rejected the demand; and when the news reached Canada, the Lower Province was quickly in a flame of rebellion. Violent harangues were delivered to excited assemblies of armed men, who were called upon to imitate the glorious example of the United States, and break the yoke of English oppression. Papineau, the Canadian O'Connell, was the centre of a dramatic scene at St. Charles, in the county of Richelieu. He stood at the foot of a column, which was surmounted by a cap of liberty, where he was presented with an address by a monster meeting, composed of the " sons of liberty," who had marched in bands to the column, on which they placed their hands, and vowed eternal devotion to the service of their country. They also went in procession through the streets of Montreal, their leaders adopting all possible sorts of devices for exciting them to revolt; the discontented being encouraged, as may be easily supposed, by many warm sympathisers among the citizens of the United States. Fortunately, disaffection in the Upper Provinces was confined to a minority. The Loyalists held counter demonstrations at Montreal; regiments of volunteers to support the Government and maintain British connection were rapidly formed, and filled up by brave men, determined to lay down their lives for the fair young Queen who now demanded their allegiance. Sir Francis Head had so much confidence in the inhabitants of the Upper Provinces, that he sent all the regular troops into Lower Canada, for the purpose of suppressing the insurrection. A small force, under the command of Colonel Gore, encountered 1,500 of the rebels so strongly posted in stone houses in the villages of St. Denis and St. Charles, that they were obliged to retreat before the well-directed fire from the windows, with the loss of six killed and ten wounded, leaving their only field-piece behind. Among the wounded was Lieutenant Weir, who was barbarously murdered by the insurgents. At St. Charles, Colonel Wetherall, at the head of another detachment, stormed the stronghold of the rebels, and completely routed them, after an obstinate resistance, and with a loss of only three killed and eighteen wounded. The village was burned, and the news of the decisive success of the troops so alarmed the rebels at St. Denis, that they precipitately fled, the leaders escaping into the United States. The strength of the insurgents, however, lay in the country of the Two Mountains, where they were pursued by Sir John Col- borne in person, with a force of 13,000 men, including volunteers. Many of them took to flight at his approach, including their commander Girod, who, on being pursued and captured, shot himself. But 400 rebels, commanded by Dr. Chenier, took up a position in a church and some other buildings, around which they erected barricades, and there made a desperate resistance for 5 two hours. Their defences were soon demolished by the artillery, the buildings were set on fire, and they were driven by the flames upon the points of the British bayonets, when 100 of those brave fellows were killed, and 120 taken prisoners. Next day the British troops proceeded to another stronghold of the rebels, St. Benoit, which they found abandoned, and to which the exasperated loyalists set fire. " Thus," wrote Lord Gosford, " have the measures adopted for putting down this ruthless revolt been crowned with success. Wherever an armed body has shown itself, it has been completely dispersed; the principal leaders and instigators have been killed, taken, or forced into exile; there is no longer a head, or concert, or organisation. Among the deluded and betrayed habitans, all the newspaper organs of revolution in the provinces, the Vindicte, Minerve, and Liberale, are no longer in existence, having ceased to appear in the commencement of the trouble; and in the short space of a month, a rebellion which at first wore so threatening an aspect has, with much less loss of life than could have been expected, been effectually put down." Papineau, the leader of the insurrection, had escaped to New York.

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