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The King's Visit to Hanover page 2

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The disabilities under which the Roman catholics laboured was a constant source of irritation in Ireland; the agitation upon the subject was becoming every day more formidable. Mr. Plunket was anxious to bring forward the question in the house of commons, but he was urged by his colleagues to postpone it, from an apprehension that the time was not yet come to give it a fair consideration: the cabinet was divided, the chancellor was obstinate, and the king vacillating, if not double- minded. "As to the conduct of the king," writes Mr. Freeman tie, a member of the government, "it is inexplicable. He is praising lord Liverpool on all occasions, and sending invitations to nobody but the opposition. With regard to Ireland, I am quite satisfied the great man is holding the most conciliatory language to both parties - holding out success to the catholics, and a determination to resist them to the protestants. "

Mr. Canning had been offered the governorship of India. Before his departure, he was resolved, if possible, to make a breach in the system of parliamentary exclusive- ness. On the 29th of March he gave notice of a motion to bring in a bill for the admission of Roman catholic peers to seats in parliament, and brought it forward on the following day, supporting it by a speech of great power of argument and brilliant eloquence, illustrating his position very happily from the case of the duke of Norfolk, and his official connection with the ceremonial of the coronation. He asked, "Did it ever occur to the representatives of Europe, when contemplating this animating spectacle - did it occur to the ambassadors of catholic Austria, of catholic France, or of states more bigoted in matters of religion - that the moment this ceremony was over, the duke of Norfolk would become diseased of the exercise of his privileges amongst his fellow peers? - that his robes of ceremony were to be laid aside, and hung up, until the distant (be it a very distant!) day when the coronation of a successor to his present most gracious sovereign might again call him forth to assist at a similar solemnisation? - that, after being thus exhibited to the eyes of the peers and people of England, and to the representatives of the princes and nations of the world, the duke of Norfolk - highest in rank amongst the peers - the lord Clifford, and others like him, representing a long line of illustrious ancestry, as if called forth and furnished for the occasion, like the lustres and banners that flamed and glittered in the scene, were to be, like them, thrown by as useless and trumpery formalities? - that they might bend the knee and kiss the hand, that they might bear the train or rear the canopy, might discharge the offices assigned by Roman pride to their barbarian ancestors - Purpurea tollant aulsea Britanni; but that with the pageantry of the hour their importance faded away? - that as their distinction vanished, their humiliation returned? - and that he who headed the procession of peers to-day could not sit among them as their equal on the morrow? " The debates were very animated, and excited the liveliest interest. The bill was read the first time by a majority of five. On the 10th of May the house divided on the second reading, which was carried by a majority of twelve, the numbers being, for the bill, two hundred and thirty- five; noes, two hundred and twenty-three. The exertions made to defeat this bill were extraordinary. There were twenty-seven pairs of members who appeared in the house. The duke of York canvassed against it in all directions with the utmost zeal and activity. It was felt that if it passed into law, the admission of Roman catholics into the lower house must follow as a matter of course. The bill, however, was thrown out by the lords.

This session is memorable for the introduction of the subject of parliamentary reform by lord John Russell. His plan was to add one hundred members to the house - sixty for counties, and forty for large towns. He argued that this enlargement of the representation was rendered just and politic by increasing intelligence among the people, especially the middle classes, of whom large numbers were unrepresented in parliament. His motion was negatived, on the 29th of April, by two hundred and sixty- nine to one hundred and sixty-four, Mr. Canning having led the opposition of the conservatives, and defended the constitution as it stood.

The complaints of agricultural distress prevalent in England, with the sudden reaction from war prices at the establishment of peace, had become so loud and general this year, that parliament undertook to find a remedy. An agricultural committee had been appointed to inquire into the subject, and had produced a report which was far from satisfactory. On the 29th of April the house of commons resolved itself into a committee to consider the report. Three different schemes were proposed for the relief of the farmers and landlords - the first by the marquis of Londonderry, the second by Mr. Ricardo, and the third by Mr. Huskisson. There was no scarcity of produce in England; on the contrary, it was very abundant, and the evil that oppressed the farmers was excessive cheapness, by which they were disabled from paying the high rents and heavy taxation entailed by the war. Some of the remedies proposed were sufficiently radical in their character. The most natural was the reduction of taxation by means of retrenchment in the public expenditure. Some proposed that the tithes should be alienated from the church, and used for the purpose of reducing the national burdens. The largest party insisted upon the reduction of the interest of the national debt, which was defended as an equitable measure, on the ground of the increased value of the currency since the passing of Peel's bill for the resumption of cash payments. The plan of relief proposed by lord Londonderry consisted of the repeal of the annual malt tax, and the loan of a million by exchequer bills to the landed interest upon the security of warehoused corn.

Mr. Vansittart introduced some financial measures, which effected a material saving. He proposed a plan for reducing the interest of the navy five per cents to four per cent. Holders not signifying their dissent were to have one hundred and five pounds in a new four per cent, stock, and persons dissenting were to be paid off in numerical order. By this scheme, an annual saving to the public of one million one hundred and forty thousand pounds would be effected; besides a further saving of upwards of ninety thousand pounds of annual charge, which would be gained by similar reduction of the Irish five per cents. The high prices of the public funds obviated all difficulty in the execution of this financial operation, and the holders of the five per cent, stock found it expedient to acquiesce in the ministers' terms. The dissentients were in number only one thousand seven hundred and seventy-eight, and the stock held by them amounted to two millions six hundred and fifteen thousand nine hundred and seventy-eight pounds, not a fifteenth part of the five per cent, capital. Another operation related to what was called " The Dead Weight Annuity." The amount of military and naval pensions and civil supernumeraries was about five millions annually. On the 24th Mr. Vansittart brought forward his amended scheme for relieving the immediate pressure of this dead weight by extending it over a longer term of years than the natural lives of the annuitants. For this purpose an annuity of two millions eight hundred thousand pounds was appropriated out of the existing revenue for forty-five years, invested in trustees for the discharge of the then payments, which for that year were estimated at four millions nine hundred thousand pounds, subject to a yearly diminution by deaths. It was computed that, according to the ordinary duration of human life, the annuities for the lives of the then holders would be equal to the annuity of two millions eight hundred thousand pounds for forty-five years. The trustees were therefore empowered to sell from time to time such portions of this annuity as would provide the funds required for the payment of the dead weight, according to a computation made of the amount which would probably be due in each year. The bank of England became the contractor for a portion of the annuity. There was no novelty of principle in the project; it was only the old one of anticipating distant resources by throwing the burden of the existing generation on the next. It had the further disadvantage of incurring a useless expense for management; whereas the sinking fund, amounting at the time to about five millions, might have been applied to existing exigencies, and a real saving effected.

A question was opened in the house of commons, on a motion of Mr. Western, which often subsequently occupied its attention. It referred to the effect on prices of Mr. Peel's act of 1819, for the resumption of cash payments. According to the views of Mr. Western and Mr. Attwood, the value of money had been enormously increased by the resumption of payments in specie by the bank, and its necessary preliminary, a diminution of the circulation. Prices had in consequence fallen; rents, taxes, annuities, and all fixed payments become more onerous. They were opposed by Messrs. Huskisson, Peel, and Ricardo, and, on the motion of the former, a resolution was carried, by one hundred and ninety-four to thirty, " That this house will not alter the standard of gold or silver in fineness, weight, or denomination."

On the 25th of June Mr. Abercrombie moved for a committee of the house of commons, to inquire into the conduct of the law officers of the crown in Scotland, with respect to the public press. It was stated that the lord- advocate, Sir Walter Scott, and other ministerial partisans, had been instrumental in setting up certain scurrilous newspapers, that were made the vehicles of attacks on their political opponents. The exposure by Mr. Abercrombie drew from Messrs. Hope and Menzies, two of the parties implicated, letters of remonstrance, which were deemed by the house a breach of privilege, and they were summoned to the bar. They appeared there; but no ulterior proceedings followed, and the business was got rid of.

The legislation of the session comprised five acts on the navigation laws, the main purposes of which were to repeal obsolete commercial statutes, to relax the strictness of the laws enacted for the encouragement of British shipping, and to afford to our colonies a more direct intercourse with foreigners.

A church question, which had been brought before parliament during the previous year, was again debated in the house of lords towards the close of this session. Lord King had presented a petition from the Rev. Henry W. Neville, a rector in the diocese of Peterborough, who had presented as curate to a living the Rev. John Green, a clergyman every way unexceptionable, who had signed the thirty-nine articles, and given his assent to all the formularies of the church. The bishop of Peterborough, Dr. Herbert Marsh, refused to give him a licence unless he subscribed to a new creed, which he had framed himself, containing eighty-seven articles, in the form of questions, which were to be answered categorically by the candidate, in the fewest words possible, without liberty of explanation or qualification. This was manifestly a gross invasion of the liberty of the clergy. It was creating a new test, imposed with an assumption of infallibility by a single bishop, who undertook to determine for his clergy what was the exact interpretation of the church's articles, creeds, and formularies, and to bind their consciences to his personal opinion, thus depriving them of the right of private judgment. The object was to exclude from the ministry of the church clergymen holding evangelical sentiments, and to restrain the reviving spirit of scriptural Protestantism which had originated in the missionary movements of Whitfield and Wesley. Mr. Green having declined the test sought to be imposed, an unsuccessful appeal was made to the archbishop of Canterbury. Another petition was presented this year by the Rev. Mr. Grimshaw, on behalf of a curate named Thurtell, who refused to give the bishop the " short, plain, and positive answers " which he required to his seventy-two questions, in order that he might know "whether the opinions of the persons examined accorded with those of the church," the bishop himself being the infallible judge. Of course, every other bishop might claim the same right of imposing a new and voluminous test, and there might be as many creeds in the church as bishops. The lords, however, were unable or unwilling to afford any remedy. The bishops were profoundly silent; not one of them could be provoked to utter a word on the subject, even by the taunts of the lay peers. The question was left to be decided by the tribunal of public opinion, before which the bishop of Peterborough had no chance of sustaining his attempt to impose fetters of his own forging on the consciences of the clergy.

Marriage is one of the fundamental principles of the social system; it is the basis of the family institution; it is the source of the sanctities of home, around which cluster all the sacred associations which support and shelter the moral principles and domestic habits, without which society could not be held together. The law of marriage, therefore, ought to be plain and simple, intelligible to all, and guarded in every possible way against fraud and abuse. The state has to do with it as a civil contract, securing civil rights, leaving the parties free to have it solemnised by whatever religious ceremonies are most binding upon their consciences. Yet the marriage laws of the United Kingdom were long in the most confused, unintelligible, and unsettled state, leading often to ruinous and almost endless litigation; and even yet the legal tribunals of the country may take years to determine whether any particular marriage has been valid or not, as we saw in the " Yelverton case," which, though before the superior courts of Ireland and Scotland, had after all to come before the house of lords. A new marriage act was passed in the session now under review, which, like many acts of the kind, originated in personal interests affecting the aristocracy. It was said* to have mainly originated in the marriage of the marquis of Donegal with Miss May, who was the daughter of a gentleman celebrated for assisting persons of fashion with loans of money. The brother of the marquis sought to set this marriage aside, and to render the children illegitimate, in order that he might himself, should the marquis die without lawful issue, be heir to his title and estates. In law the marriage was invalid; but it was now protected by a retrospective clause in the new act. By the marriage act of 1754, all marriages of minors certified without the assent of certain specified persons are declared null. A bill was passed the commons, giving validity to marriages which, according to the existing law, were null, and providing that the marriages of minors, celebrated without due notice, should not be void, but merely voidable, and liable to be annulled only during the minority of the parties, and at the suit of parents or guardians.

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