Copyright
Goldwin Smith.

The United kingdom; a political history online

. (page 61 of 84)
Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 61 of 84)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


defiance of routine. He infused his own spirit into all.
It was in Hawke, when on a stormy sea and on a danger-
ous coast, he replied to the sailing-master who had warned
him of the peril, " You have done your duty in warning
me ; now lay me alongside of the French admiral." It
was in Wolfe when he scaled the precipice of Quebec.
No one, it was said, ever entered Chatham's closet with-
out coming out a braver man. Promo'tion by merit in the
army and navy was an example for the public service gen-
erally. The most signal and the happiest instance of it
was the bestowal of high command on Wolfe, whose
character, combining tenderness and home affection with
high aspiration, valour, and chivalry, was an assurance
that with much that was unsound there was something
still sound in the nation.

Pitt's character was a strange compound of littleness



V GEORGE I. AND GEORGE II 193

with greatness. His egotism was intense, and by it and
the waywardness that attended it he was more than once
fatally led astray. His arrogance was unbounded ; the
Commons bore it, but the Lords would not. The great
commoner never allowed his under-secretaries to sit down
in his presence. Yet to the king, even to a king who was
a mere boy, his language was almost abject ; a peep into
the royal closet intoxicated him, and it was said that when
he bowed at the levee you could almost see his hooked .
nose between his legs. He was always lofty, even in his
letters, always theatrical ; never so much himself, it was
said, as when he was acting a part. Genius might and
did dwell with such infirmities. It is hard to believe
that wisdom or the clearest sense of duty could.

Pitt's continental ally in the war was Frederick of
Prussia. That philosophic and philanthropic disciple of
Voltaire, having inherited from the military maniac, his
father, an incomparable machine of war, had been tempted,
as he coolly avows, to use it for the purpose of making
himself a name. This he had proceeded to do by a
felonious attack on the dominions of Maria Theresa, the 1756
young queen of Hungary, afterwards the empress-queen,
whose weakness exposed her to aggression. A deadly
struggle was thus opened between him and the injured
empress. The wrath of the Pompadour, who ruled
France, was drawn down on him by the quips of his
Voltairean tongue. In the same way he made the Czarina
his enemy. He thus formed against himself an over-
whelming coalition ; and, without the aid of Pitt, he and
Prussia with him, in spite of his military genius and the
superior drill of his army, must have fallen. In the
dance of European discord there had been a change of

VOL. II вАФ 13



194 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap, v

partners; England had gone over from Austria to Prussia,
and France, swayed by the affronted Pompadour, had
thrown herself into the arms of Austria, her immemorial
foe. The flame of war, thus kindled, enveloped the whole
of Europe and America, and raged over them for seven

1760 years. At Torgau, the last great battle, twenty thousand
Austrians and thirteen thousand Prussians were killed or
wounded, and the wounded were left untended on the
field through a night of frost. Torgau was one of a score
of battles, some of them hardly less murderous, fought to
make Frederick famous, while death and sorrow entered
hundreds of thousands of peasant homes. Of Prussians,
Russians, Austrians, and French together there had been
slain, as Frederick reckoned, six hundred and forty thou-
sand, and worse than the carnage were the desolation of
whole districts, the famine, and the pestilence. An officer,
riding through seven villages of Hesse, found in them one
man, a clergyman, who was boiling horse-beans for his
dinner. Frederick, the idol of those who worship force,
bombarded a city for several days, destroying life and prop-
erty, to mask the fact that a secret treaty had been made.
To act with Frederick, Pitt had to throw over all his
protests against payment of Hanoverian troops, continen-
tal entanglements, and the giving of subsidies to foreign
powers. But he was conquering America, he said, in
Germany. America, Canada at least, he did conquer.
He conquered other French colonies. He destroyed for
a time the maritime power and the commerce of France.

1759 Bells were always ringing for fresh victories, and the
nation was in a delirium of pride and joy. Such was the
niood, at least, of the governing classes. What was said
or felt in the cottage we cannot tell.



CHAPTER VI

GEORGE III

Born 1738; Succeeded 1760; Died 1820

ANCE more the course of victory abroad was arrested
and reversed by a political catastrophe at home. The
old king, who had fought at Dettingen and liked the war
policy, died. Frederick, his eldest son, had closed by 1760
an early death a silly and unfilial career. His grandson, 1761
George III., ascended at the age of twenty-two the throne 1760
which he was destined to fill through fifty-nine years, for
the most part terribly eventful.

The name of George III. cannot be penned without
a pang, can hardly be penned without a curse, such mis-
chief was he fated to do the country. The effect even
of his personal and domestic virtues was evil, in so far
as they sanctified his prejudices and gave him a hold
upon the heart of the people. Whatever good he did by
the example of a moral court was largely cancelled by the
conduct of the sons whom he brought up unwisely, and
by the Royal Marriage Act, depriving members of his
family of their natural freedom of marriage, which was
his personal work. The moral improvement of the
nation, which by this time had begun, was due less to the
influence of the court than to that of Methodism, with
which assuredly the court had little to do, and of the
evangelical movement within the establishment which

195



196 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

Methodism set on foot ; perhaps also to the alarm which
the spread of scepticism had given the clergy, and to a
recoil from the impiety and immorality of the Voltairean
school. But it was no fault of George III. that the part
cast for him by destiny was not that of a ploughman, for
which he had strength and virtue ; or that of a soldier, for
which he had courage ; but that of a ruler of his kind.

George's education had been royal. He was brought
up by courtly tutors of Tory leanings who seem to have
taught him nothing that could open his mind, while they
instilled into him their political sentiments. His mother,
full of the despotic notions of her native Germany, was
always saying to him, " George, be a king ! " It is prob-
able that Bolingbroke's ideal of a patriot king, putting all
parties under his feet and ruling for the good of the whole
people, had found its way into his mind. At all events,
on being a king and not only reigning but governing, he
was bent. The liturgy and the law were on his side. If
he looked into a book of constitutional law, such as
Blackstone's "Commentaries," the manuscript of which
is believed to have been borrowed for his use, he would
have found it clearly laid down that it was the right and
the duty of a youth of twenty-two with an ominously low
forehead and prominent eyes, ignorant, inexperienced,
narrow-minded, and with a taint of insanity in his blood,
himself to govern the country; to make appointments,
civil, ecclesiastical, judicial, military, naval, and colonial;
to grant all honours ; to call and dismiss parliament ;
to exercise a veto on all legislation ; to direct foreign
policy ; and by his fiat to make war and peace. Such
was the legal constitution ; such is the legal constitution
at this day.



Yi GEORGE III 197

The moment was propitious to George's game. The
cause of the Stuarts was dead. The Tory devotees of
divine right were ready to transfer their allegiance to a
throne legitimized by two descents, and the occupant of
which could say he was born a Briton. Jacobites began
to attend the levees. The group of Whig houses which
had overtopped the crown was discredited by its cabals
and its corruption. The country was weary of their rule,
which was no longer needed to keep out the Stuarts.
They were quarrelling among themselves, so that they
could be played off against each other.

George opened the game by having his declaration to
the privy council drawn up without consulting his min-
isters, and by commanding authorities in Ireland to
listen in certain cases to his instructions alone. He did
not revert to the practices of his earlier predecessors by
presiding in council ; but he intended that instead of a
prime minister with a party cabinet there should be
what came to be called government by departments, with-
out a prime minister, the head of each department holding
his place solely of the crown, and all of them being under
the personal but irresponsible control of the king. The
king was to control the treasury boroughs, the pension
list, and the other secret engines of power, to which
George soon learned to add what he called " golden pills "
for elections or the purchase of votes in parliament ; and
on a pretty large scale, as debts on the civil list, heavy
and unaccounted for, showed. In time there was formed
in parliament a set of "king's friends," whose votes were
ever at the beck of the king, ready to trip up any min-
ister who had crossed his will. Thus out of the grave of
government by prerogative, government by influence was



198 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

to rise. To carry this plan into effect and get rid from
time to time of ministers who refused submission, apti-
tude for intrigue was required, and with this as well as
with tenacity of purpose George was by nature endowed.
It unfortunately happened, however, that the part of
patriot king was filled. To enthrone George it was
necessary first to dethrone William, and put an end to
the pursuit of conquest and glory. To get rid of Pitt
the king brought forward and introduced into the gov-
ernment, as an earnest of the preference of merit to party,
his groom of the stole and lord of the bedchamber, the
Scotch Lord Bute, the special favourite of the Princess
Dowager, a courtly and dignified gentleman of high
monarchical principles, with a fine leg and a solemn
elocution. An opportunity for the revolution soon pre-
sented itself. The Spanish Bourbon showed that he was

1761- coming to the aid of the French branch of his family.

1/62 p^^^ proposed to strike him before the Spanish treasure
fleet could come into port. He was outvoted by the Bute
section of the cabinet and forced to resign. The king and
Bute were wise enough to disarm him, and at the same
time to allay public wrath, by heaping on him rewards
and honours. With tears of gratitude and in language
of astonishing self-prostration he accepted a pension of
three thousand a year for himself and a peerage for his
wife. Then he ostentatiously sold his carriage horses and
offended taste by turning the cheers from the king to
himself in a procession to the City. The dismissal of
Newcastle soon followed. The old jobber fell honourably
after all, refusing a pension, though he had expended far
the greater part of his estate in the public service. Bute

1762 became, tinder the king, the head of the government.



VI GEORGE m 199

Bute had after all to justify Pitt by declaring war
against Spain, and in his own despite he took Havana. 1762
But, like Bolingbroke, he sued to the vanquished for
peace. Preliminaries of peace were framed. England 1762
kept Canada with consequences presently to be revealed,
Minorca, some sugar* islands, and some settlements in
Africa which drew her more deeply into slavery and the
slave-trade ; as well as her winnings in India, where her
merchant conquerors had meantime been gaining ground.
This was what she got for the expenditure of blood, the
war taxation, eighty millions of additional debt, bringing
the total up to a hundred and fifty millions, and, what
proved to be a heavy item on the wrong side of the account,
a renewal of deadly enmity with France. Pitt, his City
worshippers said, had made commerce flourish by war.
To create a factitious prosperity by the destruction of a
rival marine and by war expenditure was possible. To
create permanent prosperity by the destruction of wealth
was not. England and France were the natural customers
of each other.

The preliminaries had now to be forced through parlia-
ment. For that or any other political operation, Bute had
neither aptitude nor experience. He applied to Henry
Fox, who stood for hire in the political market, and for
very high pay readily undertook the job. Fox bought a 1762
large majority for the court and the treaty by bribery and
by a use of patronage and of official terrorism in the way
of sweeping dismissals unparalleled even in that era of
corruption. Bribery included the allotment of public
loans on scandalously gainful terms to the friends of the
government. Such was the elevation of public spirit
produced by war. War as a cure for internal vices and



200 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

domestic discord is not less futile than immoral. Mean
propensities are not expelled by violent passions. The
contractor is not turned into a hero.

To the general surprise Bute, after securing his major-

1763 ity, resigned. He was breaking down under the burden
of state and under a load of public hatred. As the sup-
planter of Pitt, as the author of a dishonourable peace,
and perhaps still more as a Scotchman, he was so detested
that his life was not safe and he had to go about guarded
by bravoes. That he was the paramour of the Princess
Dowager was the belief of the people, playfully expressed
by burning a petticoat and a jack-boot. His ministry
was weak. His chancellor of the exchequer, Dashwood,
who had supplanted the able Legge, was a jest, a
bad omen for the opening of a reign of merit. Suspi-
cions of Bute's secret influence continued to cast a
shadow over the scene and to form the subject of stipu-
lations and protests somewhat peevishly addressed by
the responsible ministers to the king. But for these
suspicions there seems to have been not much ground.
So ended the first essay of George III. to play the patriot
king. Though baffled, he was not subdued. Neither his
hatred of the Whig oligarchy which had overmastered
the crown nor his struggle to restore personal govern-
ment ceased. He had his golden pills and was enlist-
ing his king's friends.

For the present the king found himself in the hands

1763 of a ministry formed of a coalition. Whig in name
but largely Tory in character, of which George Grenville
was the head and the Duke of Bedford was the patron.
Grenville was an honest, industrious, and capable man of
business, but narrow-minded, a legal and constitutional



VI GEORGE III . 201

formalist, fitter to be speaker of the House of Commons,
his darling sphere, than chief of the state. Bedford was
a Tory in grain, always on the arbitrary side.

Government now became involved in two great con-
tests. Of these contests, the first was half comical.
John Wilkes was a born demagogue. His face was that
of a Thersites, with a horrible squint. Morally he was a
scamp and one of the debauched brotherhood of Med-
menham Abbey. From principle and conviction he was
entirely free, and when all was over he could jauntily
tell the king that he had never been a Wilkite. At the
same time he was extremely clever and daring as well as
restlessly vain, and he possessed in the highest degree the
arts of popularity both political and social. He could
even throw his spell over Johnson, who regarded him
politically as a limb of Satan, by paying skilful homage
to the dictator, and helping him to the brown of the veal.
Wilkes had assailed Bute, the hated Scotchman, in the
forty-fifth number of his North Briton. The secretary 1763
of state issued a general warrant for the apprehension
of the authors and printers of the number, giving no
names. This led to a long battle, with actions and
counter-actions in the courts of law, about the legality
of general warrants, which ended, as it could not fail to
end, in their condemnation. But a second issue was
raised by the expulsion of Wilkes as a libeller from the 1763
House of Commons, of which he was a member. Besides
the libel on Bute the government found among his papers
an obscene parody of Pope's "Essay on Man," entitled
an "Essay on Woman," with mock notes by Bishop
Warburton, the worshipper of Pope. This impudent
squib was read to the horrified House of Lords by Sand-



202 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

wich, who was himself one of Wilkes's fellow-rakes, and
was made a second ground of prosecution. The House
of Commons, obedient to the wishes of the court and the
government, expelled Wilkes as a libeller. That House,
severed as it was from the people by the defects of
the representation, was not less given than kings had
been to assertions of its prerogative and stretches of
arbitrary power. It not only expelled Wilkes, which it
had a right to do, but went on to disqualify him per-
petually for election. The question thus raised as to
the right of constituencies gave birth to a great constitu-
tional fray, in which the thunders of Pitt were heard
on the side of popular right, though he disdained the
demagogue and denounced hatred of the Scotch. Wilkes
was outlawed, returned, underwent a triumphant impris-

r68 onment, presented himself as a candidate for Middlesex,
and was elected by an overwhelming majority after a
tempest of excitement and riot. He was again expelled
from the House of Commons. He was again elected
after another storm of agitation, when the House gave

1769 the seat to Luttrell, the court candidate, who had re-
ceived the smaller number of votes. Like some other
political struggles, this became a combat between the
democratic city of London and the oligarchical House of
Commons. In the end the House of Commons, weakened
by other reverses, succumbed, and erased the proceedings

1782 against Wilkes from its journals. Wilkes meanwhile
became the idol of the hour, was elected to the highest
offices of the city, and touched the civic skies with his
impish head. On this as on all occasions, the king was
for arbitrary measures ; his temper got the better of his
policy and, instead of posing as the guardian of public



VI s GEORGE III 203

right against the encroachments of the House of Com-
mons, he pressed the prosecution of Wilkes, thus spoiling
his own game if his intention was to play the patriot
king. In fact he could play the king but not the patriot.
The other contest, far from being comical, was the most
tragical disaster in English history. The thirteen Ameri-
can colonies of England now stretched in a line of seven-
teen hundred miles along the coast of the Atlantic from
bleak Massachusetts to the sunny South. They were of
different origin, but had for the most part been founded
by religious or political exiles, who carried with them
the spirit of resistance to oppression. In the north was
the descendant of the exiled Puritan ; in the south was the
descendant of the exiled Cavalier ; in Maryland the Roman
Catholic had sought a haven of refuge from the penal
laws ; in Pennsylvania the Quaker had found freedom
from a state church. To these had recently been added
Irish Presbyterians, fugitives at once from the tyranny
of the Irish episcopate and from British restrictions on
Irish industry. The Puritan, though he had lost much
of his religious fire, had kept his political republicanism,
and had added to ^it a spirit of litigation, fostered by
the lawyers, who were his social and political chiefs. The
descendant of the Cavalier was a slave-owner, with the
haughty pride of that character and a Roman love of
liberty for the master class. As in origin, the colonies
differed somewhat in constitution ; some were royal ; some
were proprietary, a remnant of sovereignty remaining in
the heir of the founder ; some were chartered ; but all
had acquired something like a counterpart in miniature
of the parliamentary government of England, and were
instinct with British ideas of liberty, of the Great Charter,



204 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

and of the Statute against Arbitrary Taxation. The
political connection with the mother-country was main-
tained through governors sent out by the crown or the
Proprietary. The colonies had felt in some measure
the tyrannical aggressions of the later Stuarts, but from
these they had been delivered by the Revolution. They
fully enjoyed the personal liberties of Englishmen ; on
the whole they had been left to develop themselves as
commonwealths in beneficent neglect ; and though there
was a certain amount of chronic friction between their
local assemblies and the governors, who were often cor-
ruptly appointed, they had politically little cause for
complaint, nor did they seriously complain. Governors
were sometimes useful in controlling the indiscretions of
young communities, notably with regard to the issue of
paper currency.

Commercially it was far otherwise. The colonies gen-
erally were treated by the mother-country, according to
the notion universally prevalent in those protectionist
days and accepted by Montesquieu, as existing for her
commercial benefit. They were forbidden to manufacture
articles which she manufactured, to buy of anybody but
her, and to carry their goods to any but her market.
Their shipping industry was also restricted by her navi-
gation laws for the benefit of her carrying trade and her
navy. Colonists could not export their sugar, their
tobacco, their cotton,, their indigo, their ginger, their
dyeing woods, their molasses, their beaver, their peltry,
their copper ore, their pitch, their turpentine, their masts
or yards, their coffee, pimento, cocoanuts, raw silk, hides,
skins, potash and pearlash, or with some exceptions
their rice, to any place but Great Britain, not even



VI GEORGE III 206

to Ireland. Nor might any foreign ship enter a colonial
harbour ; nor, with certain exceptions, of which the prin-
cipal were salt and wines, could the colonists import from
any country but Great Britain. The American colonists
were debarred from the free sale, and thus practically
from the manufacture, of cloth, from the manufacture
of hats, though theirs was the land of the beaver, from
iron manufacture of the higher kinds, though their
country abounded in ores, as well as in wood and coal.
While their free labor was thus discouraged they were
forbidden to put a limit to the slave-trade as, from eco-
nomical motives, though not from motives of humanity,
they desired. Trade, even with British dependencies,
was granted them as a special boon and in sparing meas-
ure. Commercial privileges, it is true, supposed to be^
countervailing, were conceded to them. But these privi-
leges did by no means countervail, and the colonial sys-
tem of England, though liberal compared with the Spanish
system, and practically mitigated by contraband trade,
was still so galling that in spite of the ties of race, history,
and a common flag, there would probably have been a
rupture long before had the colonies not been bound to
the mother-country by a strong tie of another kind.

Such a tie there was in the need felt by the colonists
of Britain for protection against French ambition which
threatened them from its citadel at Quebec. They out-
numbered the French thirty to one, and were certainly
not inferior to them in natural valour. But they were
farmers and traders, while the French-Canadian was as
much of a bushranger as either, and was backed by the
army of France as well as aided by the tomahawk of the
Indian savage, to him a too congenial ally. The French



206 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

iforces were wielded by the single hand of a despotic gov-
ernor, while the English colonies were disunited, and the
most warlike, those of the southern slave-owner, being
farthest from the point of danger, were the least willing
to take arms. Confederation for the common defence
had been essayed, but, owing to mutual jealousies, it had
been essayed in vain. The colonists, therefore, were glad
to be sustained by the mighty arm, and to be united
under the leadership, of the mother-country. After the
conquest of Canada there was an outburst of loyal affec-
tion, and Pitt was as much idolized in British America
as in Great Britain. But, as shrewd observers at the
time foresaw, when the fear of France departed attach-
ment to England cooled. From that time there was among
the republicans in Massachusetts a party which aspired to
independence and was ready to embrace the first occasion



Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 61 of 84)