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of breaking the chain. Its apostle was Samuel Adams,
who, finding himself unfitted for trade, had turned his
mind to political agitation. Thus Pitt's glorious con-
quest brought in its train calamity, poorly compensated
by the acquisition of a French colony which England
failed to assimilate, and which added nothing to her
wealth or to her real power.

The war being over and the day for payment having
come, George Grenville, then minister, resolved to do that
which the prudence of Walpole had shrunk from doing.
He resolved to tax the colonies. He wanted to lay on
them a part of the burden contracted partly for their
behoof, and to make them maintain for their common
defence a standing force, independent of local parsimony
or caprice. It did not occur to him that they were
already being heavily taxed by commercial restriction



VI GEORGE III 207

and the navigation laws. The pressure of the commercial
restrictions he, just at the wrong moment, aggravated by
issuing orders for stricter enforcement and the suppression
of smuggling, thus closing the safety-valve of the most
dangerous discontent. Grenville's object was purely fiscal
or military. He was constitutional, though a political
martinet ; he intended no aggression on colonial liberties,
nor is there good reason to suppose that he was originally
inspired by the king. In fact, he was not on the best
terms with the king, whom he bored with his tedious
homilies in the closet. But he was a parliamentary pedant
who took the statute book for policy as well as law. He
pitched upon a stamp tax, after consulting the agents of 1765
the colonies, as the least odious form of taxation. He tried
to gild the pill with commercial boons. But Massachusetts
was ripe for revolt. Samuel Adams and his circle had
leavened her with his doctrines ; lawyers were her politi-
cal pastors ; her taverns were full of political debate and
agitation. She rose at once in angry protest, forcibly
resisted the execution of the Act, levelled the stamp office,
wrecked the house of the stamp distributor, compelled
him to resign his office and swear never to resume it,
burnt the records of the admiralty court, rifled the houses
of its officials, and gutted the mansion of the Lieutenant-
Governor, who barely escaped with his life. Her lips
continued to speak the language of loyalty, but her hand
had raised the standard of rebellion. Pitt, now out of
office, applauded her in his unmeasured way, saying that
three millions of people, if they allowed themselves to be
made slaves, would be fitted to make slaves of the rest.
He drew a distinction between internal taxation and
external taxation or anything which could be described



208 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

as regulation of trade, asserting the right of parliament
to lay any impost or restriction it pleased on colonial
commerce, to prevent the colonists, if it chose, from
making a nail for a horseshoe, but denying its right to
levy internal taxes such as the Stamp Act. The difference
between one mode of taxation and the other was, accord-
ing to him, the difference between freedom and slavery.
It was clear enough that the supreme power of legislation
must carry the power of taxation with it. Whether the
power of taxation could be justly or prudently exercised
was another question. The colonies were unrepresented
in parliament. So it was said, and with bitter truth, was
a great part of the people of England. But then the
people of England were on the spot ; without having
votes they might influence parliament ; in the last resort
they might reform their representation. The general
interests of all Englishmen, enfranchised or unenfran-
chised, were the same. Adam Smith, indeed, had pro-
posed that the colonies should be represented in parliament.
But diversity of interest and character as well as a six
weeks' voyage stood fatally in the way of that solution.
Wisest were they who, like Dean Tucker, said, " If the
colonies refuse to contribute to the burdens of the empire,
let them go ; we have nothing to gain by keeping them
against their will." The fact was that the colonial system
was fundamentally unsound ; it had its source in the
feudal idea of personal allegiance ; there was no reason
why countries on the other side of the Atlantic and
capable of self-government should be dependencies of a
European power at all ; they ought to have been free and
followed their own destinies from the beginning. The
only sound reason at least for the retention of the tie



VI GEORGE III 209

was the danger to which these colonies, unshielded by
the mother-country, might have been exposed from the
aggressive ambition of France ; while, if left to them-
selves, they would with greater readiness have combined "
for their own defence and they would have enjoyed
exemption from imperial wars.

For the present the storm was laid. Grenville went out
in consequence of a misunderstanding with his master
about a Regency Bill which had been rendered necessary 1765
by the first appearance of mental malady in the king. He
was succeeded, after the usual round of intrigue and cabal
among the different aristocratic connections, and the usual
struggles for the emancipation of the royal power on the
part of the court, by Lord Rockingham, a sporting grandee
of second-rate ability, and so bad a speaker that one who
attacked him in debate was upbraided for worrying a
dumb animal, but sensible, liberal, and a man of honour.
Pitt unfortunately refused to join. He was too much
under the sinister influence of his brother-in-law. Lord
Temple, an arch-intriguer, who wanted a Grenville
ministry. But Pitt himself was wayward, and hated
the connections. His ideal, like that of George III., was
a patriot king, putting faction and oligarchy under his
feet, only that Pitt's king was to be William and
not George. At his side Rockingham had a man far
more memorable than himself, Edmund Burke, the Irish
adventurer, as members of aristocratic connections called
him, without a landed estate, or any capital but genius
and learning, who had done Rockingham the honour to
select him as his political patron. By Rockingham's
ministry the Stamp Act was repealed, to the delight not 1766
more of the loyal colonists than of British merchants,

VOL. II вАФ 14



210 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

who, having suffered by colonial boycotting of their goods
and the withholding of colonial debts, thronged the portals
of the House of Commons on the eventful night, and,
'says Burke, beheld the face of General Conway, who had
moved the repeal of the Act, as it had been the face of an
angel. At the same time, to salve the wounded honour
of parliament and satisfy the arbitrary temper of the king,
an Act was passed declaring that the British legislature
had power to bind the colonies in all cases. Such a
settlement, theoretically inconsistent, but in appearance
at least practically wise, savours of Burke, who in this as
on all occasions maintained that government was a matter
not of abstract principle, but of practical wisdom. He
would be willing to waive any question about principle
so long as the practical grievance was removed. The
sequel showed, however, that abstract principles sometimes
require attention. Burke might have found it difficult to
say what a legislative supremacy was worth when it was
not to be exercised, and, generally, what was the meaning
and value of the connection. Had he not been a free
trader, he might have pointed to the imperial monopoly of
trade as a warrant for the colonial system ; an argument
which is wanting to the maintainers of the system at the
present day, when a colony if it pleases can treat the
mother-country as a commercial enemy and lay protective
duties on her goods. The colonies, however, glad to be
rid of the tax, acquiesced in the theoretic declaration, and
peace for a time returned.

Not for a long time. The Rockingham ministry, weak

in itself, and frowned upon in waywardness if not in

1766 selfishness by Pitt, soon fell. The king had to go back

to Pitt, who formed a ministry after his own pattern with-



VI GEORGE III 211

out regard to connection or party ; a mosaic, as Burke, a
liegeman of the Rockingham connection, called it, of pieces
taken from all political quarters, diverse in their colour,
and totally strange to each other. The nominal head was
not Pitt, but the Duke of Grafton, a somewhat indolent
grandee, who spoke of the affairs of the turf as more
important than those of state, and shocked public decency
by his open immorality; yet honourable and sensible, as
well as devoted to Pitt. Pitt himself sank into the office
of Privy Seal. More than that, he sank into a peerage,
leaving his oratorio throne in the House of Commons and
passing into the limbo of the upper House as the Earl of 1766
Chatham, not without loss of his hold upon the people.
His health was failing. Presently suppressed gout, not un-
mingled, perhaps, with the influence of that uncontrolled
egoism which is the source of moral insanity, reduced him
to a condition in which he could not be approached by
his vicegerent Grafton, or even by the king, but lay, as
scoffers said, on his back at Hayes talking fustian, while
the ship of state was left to drift without a helmsman. It
drifted into the maelstrom. Chatham being out of the
way, the strongest, or at least the most aspiring and
active, member of the government was Charles Townshend,
a reputed man of genius, the leading wit of the day, the
author of the famous champagne speech, and light and
frothy as the beverage by which that speech was inspired.
Partly, it seems, to redeem a reckless pledge, Townshend
determined to repeat Grenville's experiment in another
and, as he thought, a safer form. He laid duties on tea 1767
and some other articles imported by the colonies. This,
he thought, would be external, not internal, taxation,
while none of the duties were heavy, or, for the revenue



212 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

which they would produce, at all worth a dangerous
experiment. Nevertheless, the winds which had slumbered
in the colonial cave were again let loose. At once Sam-
uel Adams was joyously at work. Again Massachusetts
protested and rebelled. Again there was a reign of riot
and outrage, this time more violent than before, cul-
minating in the burning of the king's revenue-cutter

1773 and the tossing of a cargo of tea into the water. No
government could bear this tamely. But the measures of
repression were violent and unwise. The port of Boston
was closed ; the charter of Massachusetts was forfeited ;
an odious statute of Henry VIII. for transporting persons
accused of treason beyond sea to England for trial was
revived on the motion of the Duke of Bedford; and
though no action was taken on it the wound inflicted by
the insult was deep. Troops were sent to Boston, where
there had before been a collision between the soldiery and
the people, attended by the loss of a few lives, and styled

1770 by popular wrath the Boston Massacre. Sinister events
now marched apace. Attempts at reconciliation were
still made. All the duties except the duty on tea were
repealed, and assurance was given to the colonists that
no more would be imposed. There seems reason to
believe that full satisfaction would have been given had
not Hillsborough, who was for coercion, falsified the
minute of the cabinet. On the colonial side there were
men like Dickinson who desired peace with justice ; but
there were also men like Samuel Adams who, though
they still found it politic to wear the mask of loyalty,
were resolved that there should be no peace. Of the two
men who might have mediated, Chatham was lying on his
back, Franklin, the American Solon, had discredited him-



VI GEORGE III 213

self by the use of stolen letters, a heinous offence in the
eyes of men of honour, however loose their morality might
be, and had been estranged by the abuse showered on him
on account of that misdemeanour before the privy council
by the coarse lips of the sycophant Wedderburn. The
temper of the king had now been fatally awakened, and
he had a great body of opinion on his side. The pride of
the imperial people had taken fire at the insulting violence
of colonists whom their arrogance regarded as subjects.
The clergy preached everywhere against rebellion ; so did
Wesley ; and the Tory squires were all for vigorous
repression. On the American side platform and pulpit
spouted patriotic fire. Burke, in pamphlets pregnant
with undying wisdom, pleaded for reason, moderation,
and peace ; but against the storm of passion he pleaded
in vain.

Soon the colonies unfurled the standard of open rebel-
lion, took arms, united in a continental Congress, and set
up a revolutionary government for the conduct of the
war. The first gun was fired at Lexington, near Boston, 1775
on which the royal troops having marched to destroy
revolutionary stores, suffered heavy loss from the rifles
of the American volunteers ; a presage of the general
character of the conflict and of its destined issue. There
presently followed the famous Declaration of Indepen- 1776
dence, drawn up by the Virginian Jefferson, whom the
Democratic party in the United States revered as its father.
This document, commencing, in the metaphysical spirit
of that age, with abstract propositions of human equality
and inalienable rights, penned by a slave-owner, proceeds
to level charges against the king and his government,
some of which were well founded, while others injure by



214 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

their untruthfulness or exaggeration the cause in which
they are employed. Measures of repression, taken after
insurrection and outrage, are described as normal and
characteristic acts of British government. In Jefferson's
draft there was a virulent clause fixing upon George III.,
who was no monster of inhumanity, the personal respon-
sibility for slavery and the slave-trade. The framer of
that clause never emancipated his own slaves. The
Declaration of Independence, however, is memorable as
closing in politics the era of tradition and opening that of
speculative construction. It was to be followed by the
French declaration of the Rights of Man.

1768 Chatham having at last in a fit of waywardness resigned,
upon a nominal pretext, and afterwards turning against
his own ministry, the ministry fell, and its fall was fol-
lowed by the usual chaos of cabal. But in the absence of
any first-rate or leading man, the king was able to put
at the head of the government a man of his own. Lord

1770 North, whose ministry unexpectedly, and for the country
most unhappily, proved strong. With Bute, a mere favour-
ite, the king failed ; with North, thanks to the selfish dis-
cord of the connections and the decrepitude of Chatham,
he succeeded. Instead of cabinet government, under the
supremacy of the prime minister, there was now what
George desired, government by departments under the
supremacy of the king. The patronage and parliamen-
tary influence of the crown sufficed to secure a majority
for the administration. North, round whose head a his-
toric aureole of infamy has gathered, was neither bad nor
wanting in capacity. With an unwieldy and ungainly
figure, protruding eyes and sputtering utterance, he had
great aptitude for business, great industry, great tact and



VI GEORGE III 215

readiness, as well as imperturbable good humour in de-
bate. Through the storm of invective he tranquilly
dozed between his law officers Thurlow and Wedderburn,
the twin pillars of his administration. So he is depicted
by Gibbon, who was one of his regular supporters, and to
whom, as a Voltairean monarchist, his political character
was congenial. He was very happy in repartee, as when
he complimented a member who presented a petition from
Billingsgate and accompanied it with violent abuse of the
minister, on having spoken not only the sentiments but
the language of his constituents. Nor, though the King's
nominee and a minister of prerogative, was he by any
means himself disposed to violent or tyrannical courses.
His easy good nature was his fault. His crime was com-
pliance with the arbitrary and obstinate temper of the
king, at whose bidding he carried on a struggle to which
he was himself disinclined, and which, had his hands been
free, he would have closed. His infamy shows that
amiable weakness is criminal in a statesman.

The advocates of armed coercion said that the king had
a large party in the colonies on his side, and that the
colonists would not fight. In the first belief they were
right. The loyalists were at least as numerous as the
pronounced revolutionists, and they had amongst them
a large proportion of the wealth and education, though
combined with elements from the other extreme, while
the strength of the revolution lay chiefly in the yeomanry
and middle class. Their number was presently reduced,
and the zeal of many of them was cooled by the arbitrary
violence of the king's officers and the excesses of his hire-
ling troops. Yet to the end of the war it remained large,
and their constancy testified to the comparative mild-



216 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

ness and beneficence of the British rule. The belief that
the Americans would not fight was a mistake. As
riflemen in irregular warfare they fought well. But in
pitched fields the king's troops, though many of them
were hired Germans, and though they were led by such
generals as Gage and Howe, conquered, and an army
which cannot hold its own in the open field must in the
end succumb. Had the lazy or half-hearted Howe pressed
the advantage which, early in the day, fortune threw into
his hands, the revolution would probably have been de-
feated for a time, and Great Britain would have recov-
ered a supremacy which, after the fatal estrangement of
the colonial heart, would have been but her weakness
and her bane. When from patriotic oratory or the tar-
ring and feathering of Tories it came to real war, and
that war opened with reverses, colonial fire began to
cool. Men compared the cost of the conflict with its
cause. Discontent, disunion, defalcation, and cabal set
in. The militiaman would fight for his own homestead
but not for the common cause. Bodies of militia, when
their time was up, marched away from the camp on the
eve of battle. The edicts and requisitions of congress
were disregarded. The purchasing power of the paper
money which it issued in volumes sank to zero. At last
1780 despair begot treason, and Benedict Arnold conceived the
design of playing Monk. The salvation of the colonial
cause was its leader, who by a happy choice had been
taken from Virginia; a wise propitiation of the slave-
owning aristocracy of the South, which would hardly
have accepted a leader from mercantile New England.
Washington's patriotism, constancy, and courage rose
serene, not only over disasters in the field, but over the



VI GEORGE III 217

still more trying embarrassments of his situation, and,
united to his powers of command, held together the
half -clothed and ill-fed army which was the last hope
of the cause in the winter camp of Valley Forge. With
difficulty he persuaded Congress, instead of a local mili-
tia which was always moulting, to set on foot a con-
tinental army under regular discipline. In him, as in
Cromwell, amid the deepest gloom hope burned as a
pillar of fire. Yet at last even Washington almost
despaired.

The turning point was the disaster of Burgoyne, who
had marched from Canada down the Hudson and was
to have met Clinton moving from New York. The com-
bination failed, owing, if tradition is true, to the insolent
carelessness of Lord George Germaine, North's incompe-
tent war minister, who, having been dismissed the army
for misconduct at Minden, had by his rank and interest
forced his way into political office, where his worthless-
ness was still more fatally displayed. Burgoyne, sur-
rounded in a tangled country by swarms of riflemen, was
compelled with his whole army to surrender. France 1777
now grasped her opportunity of revenge for the loss of
Canada and all the humiliations inflicted on her by
Chatham. Already Lafayette, a light-headed young
aristocrat, caught by the revolutionary theories which
were presently to guillotine his order, had gone forth
as a knight-errant to fight for American independence.
For some time it had been apparent that France meant
mischief and that her disclaimers were lies. She now
impudently threw off the mask and sent a fleet and army
to the assistance of the Americans. Chatham would 1777
have dropped the colonists and turned on France. But



218 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

1778 Chatham had passed away after a dramatic death-scene
in the House of Lords, still upholding the American
cause, yet still protesting against the severance of the
imperial tie, and the court had shown the aversion which,
' mingled with fear, it had felt for him by refusing to
take part in his funeral and deprecating the erection of
a monument to his memory. North, after a feeble and
hopeless attempt at reconciliation, went on with the war,
success in which was no longer possible, since by the
accession of the French navy to the American side
England had lost the free command of her sea base.
The nation finding itself disappointed of the speedy
victory which had been promised, was growing weary
of the war, and it was with difficulty that troops were
raised. North, in fact, had long had the good sense to
see the folly of prolonging the struggle. But the king
was still obstinately bent on coercion, and North, instead
of resigning, stayed in office to do his master's will. This
he fancied was loyalty ; it showed the unsettled state
of the constitution. The king and the war party were
practically confirmed and seconded in their policy of
coercion by the violence of the opposition. The leader
of the opposition, Charles Fox, the favourite son of Henry
Fox, the master of corruption, had shown when he was
little more than a boy miraculous facility as well as
astonishing assurance in debate. His mind was highly
cultivated as well as powerful ; while his warmth of
heart, generosity, and joviality, combined with his brill-
iant ability, had attached to him a large circle of devoted
friends. But he was a gambler and a debauchee, losing
enormous sums in play, spending whole nights over the
bottle ; and he carried the gambler's recklessness into



VI GEORGE III 219

public life. He set out as a violent upholder of pre-
rogative and of the arbitrary action of the House of
Commons. No one was more forward in the tyrannical
treatment of Wilkes. Thrown to the other side by
personal resentment, he showed the same violence in his
new camp. Fox had human sympathies, broad and
warm. For his own country he seems to have had no
predilection. He could rejoice in her defeat, and
lament her success if the defeat damaged and the suc-
cess strengthened his political opponents. Not only did
he oppose the war and denounce the ministers in the
most unmeasured terms ; he displayed indecent sympathy
with the enemies of the state, wearing the colours which
they had assumed and openly exulting in their victories.
Burke, who was at his side, if he did not take part in
all this, must have acquiesced. The effect, as a good
observer remarked, was to inflame the spirit of the war
party and goad its pride to persistence in the war.

All the enemies of England now gathered, vulture-like,
round her apparently fainting frame. Spain joined the 1779
league, not from sympathy with the Americans, whom
she had reason to fear as neighbours to her American
dependencies, but from the passionate desire, which never
left her, of recovering her Rock. Holland was drawn in 1780
while she contended against the right of searching neutral
vessels for enemy's goods, asserted by England and of
vital importance to a maritime state in war with conti-
nental powers. Russia and the other Baltic powers formed
a menacing league of armed neutrality with the same
intent. The British waters saw the British fleet flying
before the combined fleets of France and Spain. Never
was England so near her ruin. At last, Cornwallis, the



220 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

one royal general who had shown ability in America,
after a run of victory in the field, was cut off on a tongue
1781 of land at Yorktown by the united armies of France and
America, vastly superior to him in numbers, and a French
fleet, and was compelled to surrender. This was a fatal
blow. North could go on no longer ; the king was com-
pelled to succumb ; and the American colonies were free.



Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 62 of 84)