« EdellinenJatka »
the Crown. The first two princes of the House of Hanover, foreigners with a disputed title, were easily kept in subjection ; but when a young king came to the throne who could boast that he was born a Briton, with an undisputed title and an avowed policy supported by the whole Tory and Jacobite connexion, the Whigs were alarmed, and not without reason, lest the work of the last seventy years might be undone. The conflict therefore, between George III. and the Whigs, during the early years of his reign, was not, as it has sometimes been represented, a struggle between the Crown and a selfish oligarchy, but a struggle which was to decide whether the principles of the revolution should be maintained or high monarchism. We do not detract from the praise due to Lord Shelburne and some of his contemporaries in anticipating the wisdom of a later generation by their acceptance of the truths of political economy; but we think the Whigs as a party were better employed in resisting the designs of George III. and his friends against the British Constitution than in actively promoting the prosperity of the cotton trade. We firmly believe that if the King had been allowed to have his way in setting up prerogative, in corrupting parliaments, in turning English statesmen into courtiers, in truckling to foreign Powers, and coercing his colonial dependencies, the Crown would not have withstood the shock of the French Revolution.
The resignation of Shelburne caused an important change in the policy of the Government. He had been one of the bare majority in Council who were for moderate and conciliatory measures with regard to the American States. Grafton proposed to repeal all Charles Townshend's unfortunate taxes; this was agreed to, but, by a majority of one, the Cabinet determined to retain the duty on tea, for the purpose of saving the right of taxation. The King would not allow the Secretary of State in communicating the decision of the Government to the Colonies to employ the soothing language which the Ministers had dictated. After this, the Whig members of the Administration felt that they could no longer retain office. Camden denounced the policy of his colleagues in his place in Parliament, and was deprived of the great seal. Dunning, the solicitor-general, followed his chief; and though not a member of the Cabinet, the resignation of this great law officer was of hardly less importance than that of the Chancellor himself. The Duke of Grafton, after an ineffectual attempt to patch up the Government, at length resigned. There had never seemed so fair an opportunity for the formation of a powerful Whig Ministry. Chatham had come out of his mysterious seclusion in the full vigour of his unrivalled powers. Shelburne supported his old leader with conspicuous ability. Rockingham, with characteristic irresolution, hesitated for a while, but at length took his place in front of the Opposition. The Grenvilles were reconciled to their old allies by the question of the Middlesex election. The Marquis of Granby, deserting the Court, brought the aid of his popularity to the Whig combination. The only members of the Whig connexion which clung to the wreck of the Administration after the retirement of Grafton were the Bedford party; but the Bedford party had long departed from Whig traditions, and during the present reign had stedfastly supported the policy of the Court. Out of these materials the King determined to reconstruct the Government. He told General Conway, he would rather abdicate, or appeal to the sword, than submit to the Whigs;' and he acted with his usual promptitude and decision.
One of the few public men who had consistently and consecutively supported the King against the old ruling oligarchy was Lord North. Among the foremost statesmen of this country none have resembled each other so nearly as Lord North and Lord Melbourne. The same attachment to the Crown, the same honesty of purpose, moderation, good sense, good temper, and knowledge of the world characterised both; while in one rare quality, an exquisite wit, and fine sense of humour, they are nearly parallel. Still more, we will venture to say that had Lord North's lot been cast in the happier days of Queen Victoria, he would have been the sagacious counsellor, as well as the faithful friend and guide, of his youthful sovereign. But so much are human beings the sport of circumstances, that this able and amiable man, who, under favourable conditions, might have ranked in history among the best of English Ministers, by an undeviating course of mistakes and misfortunes, was destined to bring his country to the verge of ruin. North had not as yet taken a prominent part in public life. On the death of Charles Townshend, he had been persuaded, not without reluctance, to accept the vacant post of Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the House of Commons. He had previously filled subordinate offices, but was so well thought of that he had been talked of as the successor of Lord Halifax at the Board of Trade ten years before. He had been the early friend, and for a short time the preceptor, of George III. His nomination therefore to the head of the Government, as the most eminent of the party known as the King's Friends,
* Lurd Albemarle's · Memoirs of Rockingham,' vol. ii. p. 179.
caused no surprise, and, outside the circle of the Whig party, no dissatisfaction; while the Court could command the majority of the House of Commons. The Whigs, disappointed in their hopes of coming into power, had already relapsed into their normal state of dissension. The Ministry were, nevertheless, in much trouble. The hesitation of their foreign policy at a time while England was insulted by France and Spain, caused Choiseul the French Minister to observe, with as much truth as point, 'Le Ministère ne veut pas faire la
guerre, et ne sait pas faire la paix.' On the other hand, the last despatch which they had sent to America was equivalent to a declaration of war against our own people; while they were committed to a domestic conflict at once ignoble and dangerous by the vindictive determination of the King to ruin Wilkes. But all these elements of danger to the country did not seem to imperil the safety of the Government. While party-spirit was raging in Parliament, the country was a cool and uninterested spectator. The ostensible causes of dispute with France and Spain were remote and not very intelligible. The Manilla ransom and the occupation of Corsica were matters which failed to excite a war passion. The affair of the Falkland Islands, which was nearer in interest, admitted of settlement by treaty. The Colonial policy of the Government, fraught as it was with danger and disaster, met with approval throughout the country.
The Middlesex election was regarded as a local and parliamentary quarrel, which only affected the parties immediately concerned. The City had made a stir, but an attempt to get up a movement in the aristocratic county of York had not been successful. The people in that age showed more sympathy with the Crown than with the party who would tell them they were ill-governed. Before the end of the first year of Lord North's administration, the Opposition had virtually broken up. The several sections of the party had at length come to oppose each other as virulently and as publicly as they had ever opposed the Government. Shelburne, disgusted and disheartened at this state of things, determined to withdraw for a time at least from public life and to go abroad ; and announced his intention to Chatham in an
l angry letter, which seemed intended to sever their connexion.
Lord Shelburne, who had recently become a widower, was accompanied on his travels by Barré, with whom he was associated by a long, unvarying private and political friendship. They visited France and Italy At Milan they made the ac
. quaintance of Beccaria. At Paris they made a prolonged stay, “and were received by Madame Géoffrin, in whose salon • all that was most brilliant in French society was accustomed 'to gather.' Madame de Boufflers, Mademoiselle de l'Espinasse, the friend of D'Alembert, Madame du Deffand, Turgot the great financier, and Morellet, the Adam Smith of France, were among the persons of European reputation whose friendship Shelburne formed in the French capital. It was to Morellet that he owed his conversion to the doctrines of the economical school, which did not then include many practical politicians. Morellet afterwards visited Bowood, where Jeremy Bentham, Dr. Price, and Dr. Priestley were frequent guests. Priestley ultimately took up his residence at Calne in the capacity of librarian at Bowood and Lansdowne House, an office which he held for seven years. Shelburne's intercourse with these eminent Nonconformists led to his taking an active interest in a question which had lately engaged public attention. A certain number of the clergy adhering to that section of the Establishment now known as the Low Church, had come to Parliament with a petition for relief against subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles. The Protestant Dissenters, with more reason, prayed for a similar relief; and through Shelburne they succeeded in obtaining the support of Chatham. Accordingly a bill was brought into Parliament to exempt Nonconformists from subscription; and as the bill only confirmed an immunity which had been practically enjoyed since the Toleration Act, the Ministry, not unwilling to conciliate the Dissenters, but afraid of offending the Church and the King, adopted a shabby compromise. They allowed the bill to pass the House of Commons, but abandoned it to the bishops in the House of Lords. The bill was accordingly lost on this occasion, but seven years afterwards it was allowed to pass with a faint show of opposition. The session of 1773 was mainly occupied by East India and colonial affairs, in the debates upon which Shelburne added greatly to his reputation by the knowledge and ability which he displayed. But all other questions, however important, were thrown into the shade by the arrival of a crisis in the quarrel between England and America.
The armed forces of the Crown and the insurgent Colony of Massachussetts had come into collision at Lexington. Boston was invested by a provincial army of twenty thousand men, and the battle of Bunker's Hill, though ending favourably to the regulars, was contested with so much vigour and conduct that the British generals found they had not a disorderly levy to disperse, but a formidable insurrection to put down. France, eager to avenge the humiliation to which she had been subjected by this country in the late war, saw her opportunity in the American revolt. The Government, however, satisfied by the pacific assurances of the French Minister, made no preparation, while warlike stores were sent from France to America, and French officers in great numbers had accepted commissions in Washington's army. Under these circumstances, Shelburne insisted that Chatham should be recalled to the head of affairs; but Chatham was again prostrated by illness, and could only urge from his bed of sickness the necessity of taking prompt and effectual measures for a reconciliation with the Colonies; but the counsels of Chatham without Chatham in power were urged in vain against the infatuated arrogance of the Crown, the Parliament, and the people. In the following year the Declaration of Independence was promulgated by the United Provinces of America, and it was too late then to offer terms of reconciliation. Lord Howe's mission was rejected with contempt. The ill-timed success which attended the British arms in their early encounters with the American levies rendered all farther attempts to put an end to the war hopeless; next came the surrender of Burgoyne, which made the prosecution of the war by this country equally hopeless. The Government, which a little more than a year before had denounced the insolence and ingratitude of the rebellious Colonies, now came down to Parliament with measures giving up all the rights for which this country had contended, proposing to treat with the Congress of the United States as a legally constituted assembly, and hesitating only at a direct formal recognition of the independence of the Union. Hardly had these humiliating measures been introduced when it was announced that a treaty of alliance had been signed between France and the American Colonies. The unanimous voice of the country now called for Chatham. His old antagonists, Bute, Mansfield, and Richmond, and notably Lord North himself, concurred in the general opinion. There was but one man who offered an uncompromising resistance to this call, and that was the King. “No “advantage to the country,' said this patriotic sovereign, ‘no
personal danger to myself, can ever make me address myself ' to Lord Chatham, or to any other branch of the Opposition. Honestly, I would rather lose the crown I now wear than bear the ignominy of possessing it under their shackles.' His Majesty had no objection to receive Lord Chatham with Shelburne as subordinate to Lord North and implicit supporters of his policy, but he very naturally expressed his belief that Lord Chatham · and his crew'would not consent to these terms. Chatham, on the other hand, was hardly less arrogant, and, it may be added, hardly more reasonable in the conditions