Edmond George Petty-Fitzmaurice Fitzmaurice.

Life of William, earl of Shelburne, afterwards first marquess of Lansdowne; (Volume 1) online

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nize the existence of Congress, and to repeal all the vexa-
tious statutes passed since 1763, the latter only suggested
that should any single colony undertake to provide for the
common defence and the civil government, and should
their plan be approved by Parliament, England would
abstain from imposing any tax within the province. The
proposals of Chatham, which Shelburne strongly supported,
were summarily rejected, and a like fate awaited an
analogous plan put forward by Burke in the House of
Commons. Even the moderate propositions of North all
but caused his downfall, owing to the opposition of the
Bedford Whigs, still, as before, the bitterest enemies of
America. To conciliate them, a Bill was proposed to
restrain the commerce of the New England provinces with
Great Britain, Ireland, and the West Indies, and to prohibit
them from sharing in the fisheries on the banks of New-
foundland ; while an address was carried to the Crown by
the House of Commons declaring that Massachusetts was
in rebellion, and pledging the country to join the King in
suppressing the outbreak. The only real step taken in
the direction of conciliation was the recall of Gage, who
had shown as little ability in military as in civil affairs.
He was replaced as Civil Commissioner by Lord Howe,
while the command of the troops was given to General
Howe. Before, however, the two brothers could reach
America, blood had been shed at Lexington, 1 and the
second continental Congress had met. 2

Moderate counsels, however, continued to prevail. Jay
proposed a second petition to the King, and Dickenson
still remained master of the situation. A second petition
was accordingly drawn up in terms resembling the first,
and confided to Richard Penn, one of the Proprietaries of
Pennsylvania. It was only after much hesitation that
Congress, at the request of Massachusetts, took over the

1 April igth, 1775. a May loth, 1775.

i 774 1776 THE BOSTON TEA SHIPS 479

direction of the army, which for some time had been
collecting round Boston, and appointed Washington Com-
mander-in-chief. The greater part of the force was only
enlisted for one year, and the sum borrowed to support it
was not large enough to last beyond that period. Mean-
while not only the Congress, but the individual States had
declared the propositions of the English Ministry unsatis-
factory and inadmissible. " In my life," said Shelburne,
" I never was more pleased with a State paper than with
the Assembly of Virginia's discussion of Lord North's
proposition. It is masterly. But what I fear is, that the
evil is irretrievable." l

It was at this juncture that the rejection of the second
petition of Congress by the King came to render recon-
ciliation between England and her Colonies far more
difficult than it had been previously. 2 It was urged
that it was contrary to the dignity of Parliament to
negotiate with a body which, like the Congress, had no
legal status, but this, said Shelburne, was a subtlety worthy
only of Mansfield. It should be recollected, he added,
that the idea of an American Congress was no new idea ; 3
for it could be shown not only that men like Franklin had
favoured it, but that it had met the approval of Lord
Halifax, Mr. Grenville, and Mr. James Oswald. 4 It was
also useless, he pointed out, to embitter the discussion of the
questions before Parliament by accusing the Colonies of
planning Independence, in the face of their explicit declara-
tion to the contrary, contained in the Petitions which they
had sent over. To do so was the best means to make
them desire Independence. To call the Americans rebels
was idle and wicked. The Romans had a war of a
character similar to that being carried on in America.
They did not call their enemies in that war rebels ; the
war itself they called the Social war, and in the same way
he desired to call the war in America a Constitutional war.
The principles of Selden and Locke, he went on to say,
had since the Revolution been generally considered the

1 Bancroft, vii. 388. 2 August 1775.

3 The allusion is to the General Congress which met at Albany in 1764.

4 Parliamentary History, xviii. 922.


surest guide for English statesmen, but the present
Ministers were reverting to the precedents of the Stuart
period. It was the lurking spirit of despotism that
produced the Stamp Act in 1765 ; that fettered the
repeal of that Act in 1766 ; that revived the principle
of it in 1767 ; and had since accumulated oppression
upon oppression. But if the ideas of the Ministers were
odious, the means by which they sought to carry them
out were still more so. They had gone about begging for
troops from every petty potentate in Germany. They
had not scrupled to arm the Roman Catholics of Canada
against the Protestants of New England, and to let loose
the savage Indian nations of the interior against the
civilized inhabitants of the Colonies. Ministers were,
however, he confessed, able to do what they liked while
Parliament was constituted as it was. Not only did
Parliament misrepresent the nation, but the Ministers
had corrupted the Parliament. Parliament was full of
placemen, pensioners and contractors, and as regarded the
support of the landed interest, which was so frequently
appealed to, the landed interest was neither the whole
nation, nor always the most enlightened portion of it. It
was idle, therefore, to talk of the nation wishing this, or
the nation wishing that. It was not the nation, but only
Parliament that spoke, and Parliament was dictated to by
Ministers, who were themselves the creatures of the King.
For many years, he insisted, a fatal and overruling influence
had governed the country. Lord Mansfield was the real
Prime Minister, and through his despotic counsels a Great
Empire was being plunged in all the miseries and horrors
of civil war, while the domestic liberties of the country
were equally endangered. In how odious a light the
conduct of the Ministers appeared to the people at large,
might, he said, be judged from the unpopularity of both
the services. The resistance of the City authorities to
the press warrants had met with as much approval as it
had met with disapproval when the question was not of
fighting the Colonies but of fighting Spain, and the first
lord of the Admiralty had had to threaten officers, who

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did not at once furnish the Board with an account of their
places of residence, with striking them off the list. Loyal
addresses were indeed many, but enlistments were as few
as the signatures to the addresses were numerous. 1

Under the influence of feelings similar to those of
Shelburne, Grafton, who for some time past had been
dissatisfied with his position, resigned the Privy Seal,
after making a vain attempt to induce the King and
the Prime Minister to retrace their steps. About the
same time Rochfort, who had held the Seals of the
Southern Department ever since the resignation of
Shelburne in 1768, resigned his place, and was suc-
ceeded by Wey mouth. The additions which were there-
upon made to the Ministry clearly indicated the nature
of the ideas which the King intended to govern it. The
Privy Seal was given to Dartmouth, while Lord George
Sackville, now become Lord George Germain, filled the
place of Dartmouth as Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Grafton now threw himself into a vigorous opposition.
His great object was to unite the various sections of the
Whig Party, and after many difficulties, chiefly occasioned
by the hesitations of the friends of Rockingham, he suc-
ceeded in concerting a plan of action for the coming
session, which enabled the Opposition to act with greater
vigour and union during the winter of 1775 than it had
done for some time past. "The light," he says, "in
which the business appeared to me was partly this : that
if a cordial reconciliation was not speedily effected with the
Colonies, to lose America entirely would be a lesser evil
than to hold her by a military force, as a conquered
country ; and that the consequences of holding that
dominion by an army only, must inevitably terminate in
the downfall of the constitution and liberties of Britain.
Thus success itself would be dreadful. To prevent these
threatening consequences,ithe Opposition was most honour-
ably engaged : and it was with the most hearty concur-
rence with the principal men who composed it, that I

1 The principal speeches of Shelburne in 1775 w '^ be f unc l ' n the Parliamentary
History, xviii. 162, 448, 722, 920, 1083, I22O.

VOL. I 2 I


added my little aid : having fully opened our minds to
each other, and found little difference in our opinions.

" I did not aim at any particular knowledge of Lord
Shelburne's opinions, as I had heard from Lord Camden
that they tallied to a great degree with my own. But I
was, however, much pleased with the following paragraph
of a letter which, dated November 4th, 1775, I received
from Lord Camden. * The mention of the last lord's
(Shelburne's) name gives me an opportunity of acquaint-
ing your Grace that I was desired by him to deliver a
handsome and a frank message to your Grace, which I
could not well do then, nor indeed can I now ; because I
cannot venture to recollect the words, and I am afraid of
going too far. Thus much I can safely say, that he will
fairly open his mind, and tell your Grace very frankly
how far he will go, and where he will stop : and in my
opinion, he and his friends Barre and Dunning have a
manly and explicit way of proceeding which pleases me.' 1

" After some conversation with Lord Shelburne on
public affairs, in consequence of the above message, we
became good political friends, and remained so, with the
exception of a few immaterial squabbles, to the end of his
life. It is but justice to the eminent personages, who
composed this Opposition, to say that there never existed
at any time, such another in purity of intention towards
the public, to whose benefit and welfare their measures
were solely directed." 2

The King still further aggravated the position by
issuing a proclamation for repressing rebellion and
sedition, the terms of which seemed equally pointed at
the Opposition in England and at the colonists in
America, while a Bill was brought forward extending
the Prohibitory Bill, so as to include not only New
England, but the other Colonies as well. The answer
of America to the Boston Port Bill had been the first
meeting of Congress. The answer to the attack on
Concord had been the first organization of the con-

1 See a correspondence on these subjects which passed between Sir George Savile and
Dr. Priestley in 1775, Hist. MSS. Commission Reports. Foljambe Papers, 149-151.
* Autobiography of the Duke of Grafton, 3 1 8.

*774-i776 THE BOSTON TEA SHIPS 483

tinental army. The reply to the Royal Proclamation
against sedition and the Prohibitory Bill were the first
acts of real sovereignty exercised by the Congress, viz.
the appointment of a Committee on Foreign Affairs and
the issue of letters of marque. Events now marched
rapidly. Step by step the party of moderation had to
yield to the party of action, as it gradually became clear
that, notwithstanding the efforts of Shelburne, Grafton,
and the other members of the Opposition, the English
Government gave no choice between war and absolute
submission, while the early successes of the American
arms encouraged the belief that the result of war
might not be unfavourable to the younger country. On
the 4th of July 1776 the Declaration of Independence
announced that a new State had taken its place amongst
the Powers of the World. " The Colonies," said Lord
Camden, " are gone for ever." l

One of the first steps which the party of action in
the Colonies had taken was to seek the aid of foreign
powers, especially of France, to which Silas Deane was
sent on a mission. It is extraordinary to read the speeches
of the English Ministers of the time in which, regardless
of the information existing in the offices over which they
presided, they insisted that no danger was to be appre-
hended from abroad. It was in vain that Shelburne, aware
that since the very recent death of Louis XV. the ideas
of Choiseul in the person of Vergennes were once more
inspiring the councils of the French Government, warned
the country of the perilous position in which it stood.
" I foresee the possibility," he said, " if not the strong
probability, of our being compelled to engage in a foreign
war. I remember a few years since that we were lulled
into a security which must inevitably have proved fatal,
but for the strange revolution which took place in the
French Cabinet, the dismission of that bold enterprising
Minister Choiseul, 2 who had planned the destruction of
this country, in revenge for the disgraces France had
suffered, and the repeated injuries, he imagined, she had

1 A uttbiography of the Duke of Grafton, 290. 2 In 1770.


received in the course of a long, glorious, and successful
war, carried on by Great Britain. I do not pretend to
dive into the secrets of Cabinets farther than I am well
warranted, or presume to point out the persuasive argu-
ments employed to bring over the woman to whose influ-
ence this unexpected turn of affairs is attributed ; l but
this I will venture to assert, because I have the proofs
in my power, that Gibraltar, Minorca, Jamaica, and the
greater part of our possessions in the East and West
Indies would have been among the first sacrifices that
would have fallen, had it not been, I may say, for the
miraculous interposition of Providence in our favour."
As regarded the pacific attitude of France, which was
being perpetually insisted upon by the Ministers, he said
he would only remind the House of what happened in
1741 during the Spanish war, when Cardinal Fleury, a
man of a most pacific disposition, directed the councils
of France. Lord Waldegrave, the English Ambassador
at Paris, frequently pressed his Eminency relative to an
armament then fitting out at Brest, to know its destination,
whether it was meant to join the Spanish fleet or not.
The Cardinal always assured him in the fullest and most
explicit terms that France was determined to take no part
whatever in the quarrel. Lord Waldegrave, however, one
day heard in the streets that the fleet had left Brest, to
reinforce the Spanish fleet in the Mediterranean. He
immediately repaired to the Cardinal to upbraid him with
his breach of promise. " You were not misinformed, my
Lord," replied the Cardinal, " the fleet has actually sailed,
and for the purpose you heard. I confess likewise that
I had frequently solemnly assured you of the contrary ;
and I further own, that Spain is entirely in the wrong,
and that it is perhaps neither prudent nor politic in us
to take part in their business ; but I would wish you,
my Lord, at the same time to perfectly understand, though
we do not approve of the motives of their going to war,
and will always carefully avoid to encourage them in their
broils in the first instance, when engaged for any time

1 Madame du Barry.

1774-1776 THE BOSTON TEA SHIPS 485

we can never submit to remain inactive spectators of their
ruin and your consequent aggrandizement." l

The language of Cardinal Fleury was exactly that
with which Vergennes in a year's time was parrying the
complaints of Lord Stormont. 2 Silas Deane had arrived
in France by July, and was having frequent conferences
with the French Ministers. Arrangements were made
between them for the secret supply of war material to
America, while numberless officers flocked over to take
service under Washington, and the American privateers
were received in the French ports. It was tolerably certain
that where France led, Spain would soon follow, whatever
the danger might be to her colonial empire from an active
participation in the war. Under these circumstances,
Shelburne said in a powerful speech in the House of
Lords, a crisis having arrived, it was necessary that the
supreme direction of affairs should be placed in the hands
of the Earl of Chatham. " He was not influenced by any
private motive in saying so ; it would be vain and pre-
posterous in him to insinuate that his connection with that
noble Earl was anything but a political one. The disparity
of their years rendered private friendship unattainable, but
he considered the Earl of Chatham as the greatest orna-
ment of the two Houses, in which he shone with such
unrivalled lustre : the most efficient servant of the crown,
and, while he had life in him, the nerve of Great Britain." 3
Unfortunately at this moment Chatham was again struck
down by the same mysterious malady which had paralysed
his energies in 1767 ; and was only able to declare, in a
paper which he dictated to Dr. Addington, and sent to
Shelburne as a species of political testament, " that he
continued in the same sentiments, with regard to America,
which he had always professed, and which stand so fully

1 Parliamentary History, xviii. 673-675.

2 Charles Gravier de Vergennes was born at Dijon in 1717. After holding several
important diplomatic posts, including that of Ambassador to the Porte, he went on a
special embassy to Sweden, and contributed largely to the success of the Revolution
carried out in 1772 by Gustavus against the aristocracy. (See Le Comtede Vergennes, son
Ambassade en Suede, par Louis Bonneville de Marsangy, Paris, 1898.) Soon after-
wards he became Minister for Foreign Affairs. He died in 1/87.

3 Parliamentary History, xviii. 922, I22O.


explained in the Provincial Act offered by him to the
House of Lords. Confiding in the friendship of Dr.
Addington, he requested of him to preserve this in his
memory ; that, in case he should not recover from the
long illness under which he laboured, the Doctor might
be enabled to do him justice, by bearing testimony, that
he persevered unshaken in the same opinions. To this he
added that, unless effectual measures were speedily taken
for reconciliation with the Colonies, he was fully persuaded,
that, in a very few years, France would set her foot on
English ground ; that, in the present moment, her policy
might probably be to wait some time, in order to see
England more deeply engaged in the ruinous war, against
herself, in America, as well as to prove how far the
Americans, abetted by France indirectly only, might be
able to make a stand, before she took an open part by
declaring war upon England." *

The speech which Lord Shelburne made on the above
occasion marked his position as the destined successor in
the lead of the section of the party which recognized
Chatham as their chief. Lord Camden rated his oratorical
powers above those of any peer of his time, Lord Chat-
ham alone excepted. 2 Lord Thurlow complimented him
on the correctness and minuteness of his information, 3
and Walpole does not deny him a high place amongst
the debaters of his time. Jeremy Bentham, indeed, does
not join the latter in his commendation. " Lord Shel-
burne," he says, " used to catch hold of the most
imperfect scrap of an idea, and filled it up in his
own mind, sometimes correctly, sometimes erroneously.
His manner was very imposing, very dignified, and
he talked his vague generalities in the House of
Lords in a very emphatic way, as if something good
were at the bottom, when in fact there was nothing at
all." 4 Jeremy Bentham, however, cannot be considered

1 Chatham Correspondence, iv. 423-427.

a Sketch of Life by Mr. George Hardinge. Lord Campbell's Chancellory v. 362.
Lord Stanhope's History, v. 317.

3 Debate in the House of Lords, February 4th, 1782.

* Bentham, fPorkt, x. 116. "We suspect that the gracefully rounded periods of

1774-1776 THE BOSTON TEA SHIPS 487

a good judge of Parliamentary speaking. He would
probably have wished every speech to have begun with a
general statement of the utilitarian theory, to have pro-
ceeded to the application of it to legislation in general,
and to have concluded with its bearing on the question
immediately under discussion. " In his public speeches,"
says the third Lord Holland, " Lord Shelburne wanted
method and perspicuity, and was deficient in justness of
reasoning, in judgment and in taste ; but he had some
imagination, some wit, great animation, and both in sarcasm
and invective not (infrequently rose to eloquence. His
mind seemed to be full and overflowing, and though his
language was incorrect and confused, it was often fanciful,
original and happy. There was force and character, if
there was not real genius, in his oratory. If he did not
convince the impartial, or confirm the wavering, he generally
gratified his own party and always provoked his adver-
saries ; he was a great master of irony, and no man ever
expressed bitter scorn for his opponents with more art or
effect. His speeches were not only animated and enter-
taining, but embittered the contest and enlivened the whole
debate." l Sarcasm and invective certainly seem to have
been his forte ; difFuseness and repetition his weakness.
It was the latter faults which were the butt of the satirists
of the Rotliad, when, in after years, taking off the speech
he made on the first of March 1787 on foreign politics
in the House of Lords, they make him come forward and
speak as follows :

" Lost and obscur'd in Bowood's humble bow'r,
No party tool no candidate for pow'r
I come, my lords, an hermit from my cell,
A few blunt truths in my plain style to tell.
Highly I praise your late commercial plan ;
Kingdoms should all unite, like man and man.
The French love peace ambition they detest ;
But Cherburg's frightful works deny me rest.
With joy I see new wealth for Britain shipp'd.

Murray, and the splendid declamation of Pitt would have been similarly described by
the philosopher as vague generalities with nothing at the bottom." (Edinburgh Re-view
for 1875, p. 404.)

1 Memoirs of the Whig Party, i. 41.


Lisbon's a froward child, and should be whipp'd ;

Yet Portugal's our old and best ally,

And Gallic faith is but a slender tie.

My lords ! the manufacturer's a fool ;

The clothier, too, knows nothing about wool ;

Their interests still demand our constant care ;

Their griefs are mine their fear is my despair.

My lords ! my soul is big with dire alarms ;

Turks, Germans, Russians, Prussians, all in arms !

A noble Pole (I am proud to call him friend)

Tells me of things I cannot comprehend.

Your lordships' hairs would stand on end to hear

My last dispatches from the Grand Vizier.

The fears of Dantzick merchants can't be told ;

My accounts from Cracow make my blood run cold.

The state of Portsmouth and of Plymouth Docks,

Your Trade your Taxes Army Navy Stocks,

All haunt me in my dreams ; and when I rise

The Bank of England scares my open eyes.

I see I know some dreadful storm is brewing ;

Arm all your coasts your Navy is your ruin.

I say it still ; but (let me be believ'd)

In this your lordships have been much deceiv'd,

A noble Duke affirms I like his plan ;

I never did, my lords ! 1 never can

Shame on the slanderous breath which dares instil

That I, who now condemn, advis'd the ill.

Plain words, thank Heav'n, are always understood ;

I could approve, I said but not I would.

Anxious to make the noble Duke content,

My view was just to seem to give consent,

While all the world might see that nothing less was meant." x

His favourite antagonist was always Lord Mansfield,
" the dark designing lawyer," " the director of the fatal
and overruling influence." On one occasion, during the
debate on the address to the King upon the disturbances
in North America, a scene of extraordinary violence took
place between them. Lord Mansfield insinuated that Lord
Shelburne had not behaved like a gentleman, and that the
charges he made were malicious, unjust, and indecent ;
whereupon Lord Shelburne returned the charge of false-
hood in direct terms. 2 On another occasion he became

1 The allusion was to the fortifications of Gibraltar which Lord Lansdowne
criticised in 1787, but which, according to the Duke of Richmond, he had approved
in 1782.

2 Parliamentary Hillary, xviii. 276, 281, 283.

1774 1776 THE BOSTON TEA SHIPS 489

involved in an altercation almost as violent with the
Archbishop of York, who in a charge to his clergy had
attacked the fair character of Lord Rockingham. 1 It
would, however, be difficult perhaps to draw any real dis-

Online LibraryEdmond George Petty-Fitzmaurice FitzmauriceLife of William, earl of Shelburne, afterwards first marquess of Lansdowne; (Volume 1) → online text (page 45 of 46)