Edmond George Petty-Fitzmaurice Fitzmaurice.

Life of William, earl of Shelburne, afterwards first marquess of Lansdowne; (Volume 2) online

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of the Congress of the United States and the State Legislatures to the Loyalists is


Newfoundland, and why have you not stipulated for
a reciprocity of fishing in the American harbours and
creeks," he showed that for the first of the two annual
fishing seasons it would have been impossible to exclude
the American fishermen, while in the second there would
be plenty of room for both parties, and no necessity for
the English fishermen, owing to their superior advantages
from the exclusive command of the neighbouring shores,
to feel hampered by the presence of those of the United
States. The same reply could be given on the question
of the concessions made to France, which had the additional
merit of being the best means of preventing the eternal
bickerings of the fishermen of the two countries.

The cession of the two Floridas, like that of the back
lands of Canada, he defended, by the test of imports and
exports. These amounted to 220,000 a year, a sum not
worth contending for, at the hazard of continuing the war.
The cession of Tobago, it had been said, would be the
ruin of the English cotton manufacture. He replied that the
English cotton manufacture had been great before Tobago
was an English possession, while the islands restored to
England were just as well adapted to the cultivation of
cotton as Tobago. The cession of St. Lucia and the
clause relating to Dunkirk were, he said, mourned over
as fatal, when considered from a naval and military stand-
point ; but the opinion of Admiral Rodney could be
quoted to the effect that Dominica was more than the
equal of St. Lucia for those purposes ; while the authority
or Admiral Hawke, and there was no higher authority,
could be quoted to show that all the art and cost which
France could bestow on the harbour of Dunkirk would
not render it formidable to England. France, as Lord
Grantham had already observed, wished to have the
feathers she had formerly strutted in restored to her, and

not pleasant reading. Only in South Carolina was any attempt made to carry out the
promises of the Treaty. (See Rose, William Pitt and the National Revival, 444-445.)
The Loyalists were almost everywhere treated with great injustice, and in many places
with cruelty. (See Kingiford'i History of Canada, vii. ch. iii. 173, ch. v. 214. Tkt First
American Civil (far, by Henry Belcher, ii. 94-9$. Sabine, The American Ley alt in, Pre-
liminary Remarks, %&-$-. Noi-a Scotia, by Dickies Wilson, ch. ix.)

i 7 8 3 THE COALITION 239

no sober man would continue the war to thwart a fancy
so little detrimental. The cession of Senegal, he observed,
had been declared to be as fatal to the gum trade as that
of Tobago to the cotton trade. The objection breathed
the spirit of the old colonial system : " By this article of
the treaty," he said, " we secure as much as we ever had
secured, a share in the gum trade, and we are not under
the necessity we formerly were of making that coast a
grave for our fellow-subjects, thousands of whom were
annually devoted to destruction from the unhealthiness of
the climate, by means of our jealousy, which sent them
there to watch an article of trade which in vain we
endeavoured to monopolise."

The distracted state of the British dominions in India,
and the condition of the affairs of the Company, were the
justification for the concessions made in that quarter of the
globe. The troops were four months in arrear of their
pay ; the credit of the Company was at the lowest ebb ;
there were drafts unpaid to the amount of 1,400,000,
and there were others to the amount of 240,000 coming
home. The ancient enemy of England, M. de Bussy,
was leaving France in the decline of life almost at the age
of eighty for the sole purpose of forming alliances. The
Mahrattas were still hostile ; the forces sent out against
Hyder Ali were in daily dread of being starved to death.
In such a condition of affairs concession was unavoid-
able, and neither in India nor elsewhere did he
deny that concessions had been made ; the question
however was whether those concessions could have
been avoided, and the answer depended on the condition
of the finances, and of the naval and military resources
of the country. In his opinion peace even at the cost of
some sacrifices was necessary. " On an entire view of our
affairs," he said summing up his argument, " is there any
sensible man in the kingdom that will not say that the
powerful confederacy with which we had to contend had
not the most decided superiority over us ? Had we one
taxable article that was not already taxed to the utmost
extent ? Were we not 197 millions in debt ? and had we


not the enormous sum of 25 millions unfunded ? Our
Navy bills bearing an enormous discount ; our public
credit beginning to totter ; our commerce day by day
becoming worse ; our army reduced, and in want of
30,000 men to make up its establishments ; our navy,
which has been made so much the boast of some men, in
such a condition, that the noble Viscount, now at the
head of the profession, in giving a description of it, strove to
conceal its weakness by speaking low, as if he wished to keep
it from going abroad into the world. But in such a day as
this it must be told ; your Lordships must be told what were
the difficulties which the King's Ministers had to encounter
in the course of the last campaign. Your Lordships must
be told how many sleepless nights I have spent ; how many
weary hours of watching and distress. What have been
my anxieties for New York ? What have I suffered from
the apprehension of an attack on that garrison, which, if
attacked, must have fallen ! What have I suffered from
the apprehension of an attack on Nova Scotia or New-
foundland ! The folly, or the want of enterprise of our
enemies, alone protected those places ; for had they gone
there instead of to Hudson's Bay, they must have fallen.
What have I suffered for the West Indies, where, with all
our superiority of navy, we were not able to take one
active or offensive measure for want of troops ; and where,
if an attack had been made where it was meditated, we
were liable to lose our most valuable possessions ! How
many sleepless nights have 1 not suffered for our pos-
sessions in the East Indies, where our distresses were
indescribable ! How many sleepless nights did I not
suffer on account of our campaign in Europe, where, with
all our boasted navy, we had only one fleet with which to
accomplish various objects ! That navy the noble Viscount
was fair to own, was well conducted. Its detachment to
the North Seas, to intimidate the Dutch, was a happy and
a seasonable stroke ; but the salvation of the Baltic fleet
was not at all to be ascribed to ability ; accident contri-
buted to that event ; accident contributed to more than one
article of our naval triumphs. How many of our shipswere

i 7 8 3 THE COALITION 241

unclean ? The noble Viscount has told us the case of
the fleet with which he was sent to the relief of Gibraltar.
He could hardly venture to swim home in the Victory.
How many of our ships were in fact undermanned ? Did
the House know this ? Did they know that our naval
stores were exhausted, that our cordage was rotten, that
our magazines were in a very low condition, and that we
had no prospect of our navy being much better in the
next campaign than it was in the present ? Does the
House know all this? The noble Lord is offended at
my directing myself to him. 1 I have no idea of imputing
blame to the noble Lord. His abilities are unquestioned ;
but when the greatness of the navy is made not only a
boast, but an argument, it is fair to examine the fact.
Are not these things so, and are not these things to be
taken into the account, before Ministers are condemned for
giving peace to the country ? Let the man who will
answer me these questions fairly, tell me how, in such
circumstances, he would make a peace, before he lets his
tongue loose against those treaties, the ratification of which
has caused so many anxious days and sleepless nights. It
is easy for any bungler to pull down the fairest fabric, but
is that a reason, my Lords, he should censure the skill of
the architect who reared it ? But I fear I trespass, my
Lords, on your patience too long. The subject was near
my heart and you will pardon me, if I have been earnest
in laying before your Lordships, our embarrassments, our
difficulties, our views and our reasons for what we have
done. I submit them to you with confidence, and rely on
the nobleness of your natures, that in judging of men who
have hazarded so much for their country, you will not be
guided by prejudice, nor influenced by party." 2

The debate concluded with a legal battle between
Loughborough and Thurlow, on the right of the Crown
to sign a treaty ceding national territory without the

1 Lord Keppel. It is to be remembered that Lord Keppel had just resigned, and
been succeeded at the Admiralty by Viscount Howe.

2 The Debate in the House of Lords on the Address on the Preliminary Articles
of Peace is to be found in the Parliamentary History, xxiii. 373-435 ; that in the
Commons, xxiii. 436-498.



previous consent of Parliament. The speech of Thurlow
upon this occasion is generally considered to have settled
the question in the affirmative.

At half-past four in the morning the House divided
on the question, " that the words proposed to be omitted
stand part of the address." The Contents and proxies
were 72, the not Contents and proxies were 59. There
was consequently a majority for the Address of 13. It
was observed that of the Bench of Bishops only thirteen
were present, and only seven voted with the Ministry.
Their consistency may however be admired in not desiring
to associate their names with the conclusion of a war which
they had done so much to excite and embitter.

The event in the House of Commons was different.
There Lord John Cavendish's amendment was carried by
224 to 208, and the Coalition triumphed.

"Blessed are the Peacemakers," Caleb Whitefoord wrote
from Paris ; " so it is written, and so it might have been
in ancient times, but in those of modern date on a chang&
tout cela, and changed too with a vengeance ; for of all
mankind none are so apt to be traduced, vilified and misre-
presented as your Peacemakers. Is it not amazing that one
man who plunges a nation into all the horrors of a ruinous
war should be universally applauded, and another man who
extricates them out of it should be cursed and abused."

Next day there were reports that Shelburne was about
instantly to resign, and men began at once to write the
epitaph of the fallen Minister. " Lord Shelburne," said
Johnson, " is a man of coarse manners, but a man of
abilities and information. I don't say he is a man I would
set at the head of a nation, though perhaps he may be as
good as the next Prime Minister that comes ; but he is a
man to be at the head of a club I don't say our Club
for there's no such Club." " But," said Boswell, " was he
not a factious man ? " " O yes Sir," replied Johnson,
" as factious a fellow as could be found ; one who was for
sinking us all into the mob." " How then Sir," said
Boswell, "did he get into favour with the King?"

1 Whitefiord Paptn, 180.

i 7 8 3 THE COALITION 243

" Because Sir," replied Johnson, " I suppose he promised
the King to do whatever the King pleased." 1

Some said he intended to dissolve Parliament ; nor
were there wanting numerous advisers of such a course. 2
Considering the great success which attended the dissolu-
tion of the same Parliament by Pitt in the following year,
it might seem as if a dissolution would have been the best
policy. The circumstances were not however exactly the
same, as however unpopular the Coalition already was, it
had not yet had full time to show that the genius of
violence and faction which had presided over its birth
was also to inspire and direct its maturer counsels. Nor
was Shelburne Pitt. The popularity of the latter was in
no small degree owing to the fact that he stood totally
unconnected with the quarrels of the past twenty years :
quarrels of which the country was grown weary and dis-
gusted. The nation in 1784 was inclined to throw itself
into the arms of any man of sufficient ability and purity
of character who it was believed would open a new era.
The feeling was akin to that which in other countries has
led to a Dictatorship and the loss of parliamentary insti-
tutions, when they have been made the instruments of
sordid intrigues and personal ambitions. The history of
England from 1760 to 1782 had been the record of the
struggle between the Court and the great Whig Houses,
and of the internal jealousies of the latter. Of all this the
nation was weary, and although Shelburne following the
example of Chatham, had attempted to form an Adminis-
tration which was to be the slave neither of the King nor
of the Whigs, he had been too much personally identified
with the turmoil, the strife, and the political anarchy of
the past twenty years to have the same hold on the public
as Pitt. There was yet another reason why a dissolution
in 1783 would have been a dangerous experiment. The

1 Boswell's jf'Jifison, iv. 174. A writer in the European Magazine, xxx, 160, says that
Johnson visited Lord Shelburne at Bovvood. At dinner he repeated part of his famous
letter to Lord Chesterfield. A gentleman arrived late. Shelburne telling what he had
missed, went on : "I dare say the Doctor will be kind enough to give it us again."
" Indeed, my Lord, I will not. I told the circumstance first for my own amusement ;
but I will not be dragged in as a story teller to a company."

2 Walpole, Journals, ii. 586 5 and many private letters at Lansdowne House.


peace for the moment was not popular ; a scapegoat was
desired, and Shelburne was the scapegoat. It had been
easy to denounce the war ; it was now equally easy to
denounce the peace, and the passions of the hour had been
worked with the utmost skill by the Whig pamphleteers,
for whom no misrepresentation was too gross, no slander
too base, so long as it served the object of blackening the
character of their former ally in Opposition. The virulence
of their language may be gathered from the fact that a
scurrilous publication by Dennis O'Brien, entitled, A
Defence of Lord Shelburne^ was popularly attributed to
Burke or Sheridan. 1 As Thurlow observed with bitter
irony during the last debate in the House of Lords, " When
the Opposition apprehended that the difficult task of
making peace would fall upon themselves, then our con-
dition was painted in all, and perhaps in more than its real
gloom ; and their Lordships were depressed and tortured
with the accounts which were given of our navy and our
resources. Then any peace, it was declared, would be a
good one. A peace for a year even, nay for a month, for
a day, was coveted. Anything that would just give us
breathing time, and serve to break the dangerous con-
federacy against us, would be a prosperous event. But
when the grievous task was shifted to others, how did the
language differ ! The navy grew as it were by magic.
The resources of the State became immense. The con-
dition of the country flourishing ; and the Ministry were
to be tried by the strictest and most rigid law."

There was yet another reason against dissolution.
Shelburne's extensive ideas of Reform had alarmed many
of his own colleagues and had probably frightened the King
himself. The main object at which he proposed to aim,
and he did not conceal it, was to abolish " the false system
of Government," which had grown up under the circum-
stances described in the Autobiography since the accession
to the throne of the House of Hanover. 2 The Crown and
Parliament were each to be restored to the sphere to

1 Walpole, Journal^ ii. 570. Wraxall's Poithumns Memoirs, i. 230.

2 Morellet, Norei of Converiationi in /7&J, where he quotes the actual words to be
found in the Autobiography. See Vol. I. Ch. I. p. 16 et itq.

i 7 8 3 THE COALITION 245

which it was entitled under the Constitution ; and an
end was to be put to their reciprocal encroachments each
upon the other. The absolute supremacy of the House
of Commons as to finance, which under Lord North had
been flouted, was to be restored and rigidly maintained.
On the other hand, the constant inroads of the House of
Commons on the proper sphere of the Executive and on
the patronage of the Crown were to be terminated,
bearing in mind the disastrous effects which had thereby
been produced under Lord North. There was to be a
real first minister, on whom the King could rely in these
matters for advice and support. Few however of Shel-
burne's principal colleagues Pitt, Ashburton and Con-
way were probably the only exceptions understood
these ideas. Grafton and Richmond openly resented
them as encroachments on their own rights ; or in a
confused way considered that they were a clear proof that
" Shelburne was as fully devoted to the views of the
Court as Lord North ever had been." l

Such were the considerations which probably induced
Shelburne not to dissolve Parliament. The end was now
not far off. On the 2Oth Grafton resigned the Privy
Seal, giving as his reason that he had not been sufficiently
consulted, especially with reference to the recent appoint-
ment of the Duke of Rutland to the office of Lord
Steward with a seat in the Cabinet. 2 The same day
Shelburne had a long interview with Camden, who advised
him to retire at once, " as unfortunately it plainly appeared
that the personal dislike was too strong for him to attempt
to stem it, with any hope of credit to himself, advantage
to the King, or benefit to the country ; that he had it in
his power, to retire now with credit, and the approbation
of the world ; for whatever the arts and powers of the
united parties had expressed by votes in Parliament, still
the nation felt themselves obliged to him for having put
an end to such a war, by a peace which exceeded the
expectations of all moderate, fair judging men." 3 Camden

1 Autobiography of Grafton, 322. 2 Ibid, 357, 359.

3 Ibid. 364.


further advised Shelburne to advise the King to send for
Portland, or if he did not resign himself, to try to coalesce
with North.

Shelburne next saw Pitt. The following day Lord
John Cavendish was to bring forward a second motion,
which, with sublime indifference to the declaration of its
predecessor, that the House had not yet had time to
examine the preliminaries and therefore could not applaud
them, now proposed to censure them in the lump, without
even calling for papers. " Such a gross indecorum," says
Walpole, " was perhaps occasioned by the desire of saving
Lord North from any retrospect the neglect of which
they could not justify if they went into articles against
Lord Shelburne." l The result of the interview between
Shelburne and Pitt seems to have been that they should
await the debate on the Resolutions ; and that if Pitt saw
that the result must be adverse, he should announce the
resignation of Shelburne.

Their decision was based to a considerable extent on
an idea that the King had been hitherto playing them false
and now regretted it. The division list of the House of
Commons might consequently in some instances be altered,
and as a few votes would turn the scale, the Resolutions
of Lord John Cavendish might after all be thrown
out. In the previous division Jenkinson, once Secretary
to Lord Bute, who had been a member of Lord North's
Administration after 1778, as Secretary at War, and was
still regarded with Mr. John Robinson as the leader of the
party known as the King's friends in the House of
Commons, had indeed voted for the Address, but he had
not been followed by all the members who were supposed to
know his real mind, and some members of the household,
it was supposed with the consent of the King, had
expressed disapprobation of the peace. 2 The suspicions
of Shelburne were thereby aroused, for he had always
distrusted Jenkinson, and they were increased on re-
ceiving a letter from Mr. Orde, who had succeeded

1 Walpole, Journals, ii. 587. Nicholls, Recollections and Reflection! during the Reign of
George III., 51.

8 Walpole, Journuh, ii. 586. Rutt, Life of Priestley, i. 206.


Strachey as Secretary to the Treasury, running as
follows : l

" I cannot help troubling your Lordship with this
hasty line merely to communicate a conversation I have
just had with Mr. Hatsell, 2 to whom I had gone for in-
formation on the subject of the division of Monday.

" He observed to me, that he would not ask about
your Lordship's intentions, but he would merely in con-
fidential talk with me throw out his own idea and firm
belief, that the question of stability or downfall to your
Administration depends solely (as your Lordship has
always said) upon the Highest. It is not the difference of
the peace. It is his will. Lord Guildford is notoriously
liable to his influence in a complete degree and Lord
North is not less so to Lord Guildford's. That it would
therefore be only necessary to represent to the King that
the matter solely depended upon him ; that if he was
solicitous to continue the Government in the present
hands, he should speak to Lord Guildford and to such
others, as will be moved by the certainty of his interfer-
ence ; such as Sir G. Osborne &c. &c. ; that it would not
answer to take any power yourself to treat, for experience
had formerly shown, that nothing less than the King's
earnest co-operation and immediate address could do. If
he declines this, it should be taken as an infallible evidence
of his indifference^ at least about the event, and of course
your Lordship would consider whether it would be com-
fortable, creditable, or safe, to continue efforts in his
service under such disadvantage.

" I must own, that this opinion, though not meant to
be conveyed to your Lordship, and without the most
distinct intimation from me, that I designed to do so, so
entirely coincides with my own, and which I in part took
the liberty of opening to your Lordship this morning,
that 1 cannot help writing it, as soon as I have got back
to the Treasury.

" I am convinced, that it would be of the first con-

1 Thomas Onle to Lord Shelburnp, February zi?t, I'S^.
' 2 Clerk of the House of Commons.


sequence to know the King's mind upon this, before the
debate of to-morrow, upon which the fate of all must rest.
I am sure your Lordship will excuse my earnestness,
which all arises from anxious attachment to you without
the smallest concern about my office."

The King himself was loud in his protestations ot
friendship, but his Minister remained convinced that he
was playing a double game, and he ever afterwards
declared that the Court had tricked and deserted him.
George III. he said had one art beyond any man he had
ever known ; " for that by the familiarity of his intercourse,
he obtained your confidence, procured from you your
opinion of different public characters, and then availed
himself of this knowledge to sow dissension."

Whatever the conduct of the King himself may have
been, it must be recollected that the position of the King's
friends in Parliament was widely different in 1783 from
what it had previously been. Some had been affected in
purse, others in their future prospects, all in public
estimation, by the recent reforms. Of these they knew
Shelburne to have been the inspiring genius, whatever
his calumniators might say to the contrary. The
opportunity of revenge was now come. They sent to
ask the price of their support, and received the uncom-
promising reply that the peace must obtain the unbought
approbation of Parliament or none at all. 2 After this their
part was taken, and when Lord John Cavendish brought
forward his resolutions, it soon became known what the
result of the division was to be. Late in the evening
Pitt rose to reply, and before he sat down the result of
his recent interview with Shelburne appeared. After
a masterly defence of the treaties, he said, alluding to
Fox :

" The honourable gentleman who spoke last has
declared with that sort of consistency that marks his
conduct, * because he is prevented from prosecuting the
noble Lord in the blue ribbon to the satisfaction of public

1 Nicholli, Recollections and Refectiont, i. 389. Memorials of Fox, i. 479 j ii. 65.

Online LibraryEdmond George Petty-Fitzmaurice FitzmauriceLife of William, earl of Shelburne, afterwards first marquess of Lansdowne; (Volume 2) → online text (page 23 of 49)