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abuses Clive had partly repressed by the introduction of
something Ijke a regular civil service, the germ of the
most marvellous civil service which the world has ever


seen. But even after Olive's reform, to leave political
dominion in the hands of a company of traders was im-
possible. Not only was such a body unfit to rule, but
there was always the danger of its involving the empire
1783 in war. A Bill was brought in by Fox severing the
commerce of the company from its political dominion,
and transferring the political dominion to seven parlia-
mentary directors elected for four years, while a board
subject to the directorate was to control the commerce.
The framer, most likely, was Burke, who held a subordi-
nate place in the ministry, and whose imagination had been
at once fascinated by the East. The appointment of the
members of the board of political control was given for
the first turn to parliament, that is, to the masters of
the parliamentary majority ; in effect to Fox and North.
At once a great storm arose. The East India Company
protested against the violation of its charter, which it was
true the Bill set aside, but which its own acquisition of
political dominion had practically cancelled. With more
reason it might have complained that the business man-
agement of a commercial company was being taken out of
its hands. It appealed loudly and not in vain to the fears
of other chartered corporations. The unlucky language of
a law officer, who had spoken in debate of a charter as a
piece of parchment with a seal dangling on it, provoked a
general commotion among holders not only of charters but
of title-deeds and showed how much mischief a phrase may
do. The cry was raised throughout the country against
the attempt of the coalition to make itself supreme alike
over the crown and the nation by grasping the enormous
patronage of Hindostan. Fox was depicted i;i caricatures
as riding triumphant on his elephant into Leadenhall


Street, where the India House then stood. People were
ready to believe anything of the profligate and hated
coalition. Through the Commons the Bill passed by a 1783
large majority ; but when it reached the upper House,
Lord Temple, a true kinsman of the intriguer who was
Chatham's brother-in-law and evil genius, crept to the
open ear of the king and received from him a card to
be handed about among the Lords, saying that whoever
voted for the Bill would be regarded by the king as his
enemy. The obsequious Lords threw out the Bill, and
the king at once, in a most insulting manner, dismissed 1783
his ministry. It is needless to comment on this trans-
action. If it was constitutional and honourable, why,
instead of handing about a clandestine card, did not Tem-
ple deliver the king's message openly from his place in
the House of Lords? The king might feel that, as the
sequel showed, public feeling was with him against the
coalition; but this did not warrant perfidy towards his
constitutional advisers or disloyalty to the constitution.
Temple seems to have been conscious of the character
of his act ; when nominated for office, as the reward of
his e:5^ploit, the schemer fled.

The king turned again to William Pitt, and the youth 1783
who had before shown his discretion by declining the
prime ministership, now showed his courage and his
aspiring genius by accepting it. He was a prodigy if
ever there was one. He had spent eight years as a
student at Cambridge, reading widely it is true, above
all reading the newly published work of Adam Smith,
but not seeing much of any other than student life;
though his father, whose hope he was, carefully trained
him in oratory, taught him the arts of elocution, and


fostered the hereditary aspirations which sprang up in the
stripling's breast. Yet he came forth at once, not only
an accomplished speaker, but a first-rate debater, a ripe
politician, a skilful manager of the House of Commons.
He owed the prize to an unconstitutional intrigue, of
which it is vain to contend that he was guiltless, since
he not only accepted its fruits, but threw his shield over
it in the House of. Commons, not in the most ingenuous
way. Nor was this fact without influence on his subse-
quent career. But he was not, like Bute, the mere off-
spring of intrigue, and the king, who probably hoped to
find in him a servant, was destined to find generally a
master. His darling object, the overthrow of the Whig
aristocracy, George III. had at last achieved; but in
compassing it he in some degree realized the fable of the
horse and the stag.

There ensued a desperate struggle in the House of
Commons between an overwhelming majority at first com-
manded by the coalition, and the young prime minister
with a minority and single-handed, for he was the only
inember of his own cabinet in the lower House. Pitt,
by his conduct of the battle, earned the praise of preco-
cious skill, resolution, and self-control. But his victory
was assured from the beginning. What could the coali-
tion do? It could only in the last resort appeal to the
country, and the country was evidently against it. By
struggling to prevent a dissolution it doubly ensured its
own condemnation. At last its majority melted away.
1784 At the general election which followed, currents of
opinion and sentiment usually opposed to each other set
together in favour of Pitt. Reformers voted for the heir
of Chatham's principles and the advocate of parliamentary


reform ; Tories voted for the choice of the king and the
asserter of the royal authority against oligarchical domi-
nation. The coalition was deservedly odious, while the
heart of the nation turned to the son of Chatham. At
the critical moment Pitt had the opportunity of display-
ing his disinterestedness by refusing a rich sinecure which
he might have taken as a perquisite of his office. The
result was the total defeat of the opposition, which lost no
less than a hundred and forty seats, and the elevation
of William Pitt, in his twenty-fifth year, to a suprem- 1784
acy which he retained, with an accidental break, to the
end of his life. Yorkshire, the greatest of the county
constituencies, led the way, electing Pitt's young friend,
Wilberforce, against the candidate of a great Whig
House. It thus appears that in spite of all the defects
of the representation, public opinion, when vehemently
aroused, could find expression in a general election. Pitt
had now an independent support in the nation which put
him above subserviency to the court.

So immense was the victory that for a moment it
turned the usually strong head of the youthful prodigy
who had won it. Fox had been elected for Westminster
after a desperate contest, with the usual saturnalia of
beer, bribery, and riot, in which the Whig Duchess of
Devonshire bought a coalheaver's vote with a kiss. But
a partisan high bailiff instead of returning him kept him
out of the seat, and put him to ruinous expense by a
tricky scrutiny. Pitt so far forgot himself as to sup-
port the high bailiff in his iniquity and speak of Fox
in language verging on insolence. This was too much
for English gentlemen, and Pitt brought on himself a 1785
damaging defeat. In that immense and mixed majority


there was, as appeared on this and on after occasions, a
good deal of independence.

Of the remnant of the opposition. North being disabled
by growing infirmity and blindness, which he bore as
cheerfully as he had borne the storm of party denun-
ciation. Fox henceforth was the leader. Among Fox's
followers the most illustrious was Burke, of whom, nev-
ertheless, his party never thought as a possible holder
of cabinet office. Upon this alleged proof of aristocratic
exclusiveness and ingratitude much rhetoric has been
expended. Burke was the greatest political philosopher
as well as the most magnificent writer of his time,
though his philosophy could give way to the Celtic strain
which, as his physiognomy showed, contended in his char-
acter with the Saxon. But his gifts were not those of a
statesman ; they were those of a superb pamphleteer. In
the House of Commons he was apt to speak pamphlets,
which wearied his hearers. Not only so, but his breaches
of good taste, and even of decency, were sometimes out-
rageous and drew upon him contemptuous disgust. His
temper was unregulated, and his practical judgment often
failed him. He had shown its weakness by a bad depart-
mental scrape into which he got when he was in office
under the coalition. To entrust to him a great office of
state might well be deemed unsafe. Fox and Burke by
this time had with them Sheridan, who, though his name
is linked with bacchanalian wit and careless improvidence,
seems to have been not only a brilliant speaker but a vig-
orous and generous if not a high-principled politician.

Pitt set out a Liberal, like his father, in home politics ;
otherwise he was his father's opposite. His teacher was
Adam Smith. He was a peace minister. Economy and


GEORGE m 239

commerce were his field. In that field his happier years
were spent and his real triumphs were won. His com-
mand of it enabled him, like Walpole, to combine the
confidence and support of the commercial classes with
those of the landed gentry. His great rival, Fox, was
too much the gentleman, too classical, and too lazy to
attend to finance. Fox used to say that he liked to
see the funds fall because it vexed Pitt.

The financial situation, after Chatham's glorious prodi-
gality. North's American war, and a long reign of
jobbery, corruption, and chancellors of the exchequer
such as Dashwood, afforded abundant scope for re-
form. There were two hundred and sixty-six millions
of national debt for a total population of ten millions.
Exchequer bills were at twenty discount. Consols were
down to fifty-seven. There was a large deficit. Customs
duties were so laid on and so collected that as much went
to the smuggler as to the exchequer ; the smuggling trade
in tea was double the lawful trade. Pitt, with the gospel
of Adam Smith in his hand, entered on a bold revision
of the system. He successfully applied the principle, 1785
applied after him by Peel, but which he was the first to
grasp, that reduction of duties might by increasing con-
sumption increase the revenue ; and he transferred to the
exchequer the gains of the smuggler. He was enabled at
the same time to do away with a number of useless places
in customs and excise. He thus, in spite of some waste
of money in paying the debts of the Prince of Wales,
and of the civil list, turned a deficit into surplus. He
reformed the system of placing loans, putting them up to
public tender instead of dividing them among the friends
of the government, who reaped thereby corrupt gains.


• He did the same with contracts. He also reformed a
vicious system of keeping public accounts.

He was not so happy in his attempt to conjure away
J 786 the debt by establishing a sinking fund. Only out
of surplus revenue can a public debt be paid. When
there ceases to be a surplus the sinking fund must be
kept up by borrowing, perhaps at a higher rate of inter-
est than that paid on the debt. Upon the first pressing
emergency the savings box is broken open and hands are
laid upon the sacred store. The magical operation of
compound interest is an illusion into which it is strange
that Pitt should have fallen. Compound interest is not
a vegetable growth ; it is an accumulation of interest
re-invested. In the case of a sinking fund the nation
which receives the interest on one hand pays it with the
other, and gains nothing by the transmission from hand
to hand. For an indebted nation there are only three
courses : to bear the debt ; to repudiate it ; to remain at
peace, save, and pay.

Pitt, however, saw in national debt a burden of which
it is desirable to be rid. That sucli a nation as Great
Britain has prospered in spite of a heavy debt is no proof
that a debt is no evik Is a severe taxation no evil?
Is it no evil to have so much dronage quartered on
national labour ? If, as the optimists allege, in the case
of a public debt, debtor and creditor are the same, why
not apply the sponge at once ? By facility of borrowing,
the strongest check is taken from war, as Pitt, in the
latter part of his career, was destined most unhappily to
show. The day was to come when it would be said
Pitt's memory needs no statues ; six hundred millions
of irredeemable debt are the eternal record of his fame^


Another economical achievement of Pitt, and the glory
of his brighter hour, was a commercial treaty with 1787
France, carried by him against protectionism and against
the national prejudice, to which faction, by the lips of
Fox, appealed. His success was a triumph not only
of free trade, but of good will among nations. In de-
fending the measure, Pitt combated the doctrine that
France must be the unalterable enemy of Great Britain.
To say that any nation must be the unalterable enemy
of any other nation would, he maintained, be a monstrous
libel on human nature. The son of Chatham thus ab-
jured the creed and the policy of his sire.

With Ireland also Pitt tried to inaugurate free trade. 1785
North had given her free trade with foreign countries and
the dependencies, Pitt desired to give her free trade with
England. He would thereby have removed her most
trying grievance, and paved the way for union. But
here he had to encounter not only the malignant avarice
of British protectionism, which sent up from Lancashire
a petition with eighty thousand signatures, but Irish jeal-
ousy of British legislation, on which Fox and the opposi-
tion, including Burke, to their great discredit, played.
In vain did Pitt conjure parliament to adopt that system
of trade with Ireland which would enrich one part of the
empire without impoverishing the other, while it would
give strength to both. In vain did he liken free trade to
mercy, that attribute of heaven which was twice blessed,
blessing him that gave and him that took alike. In vain
did he implore his hearers to save from further dismem-
berment the remains of the shattered empire. In vain
did he declare with impassioned vehemence that of all th6
objects pf his political life, this was the most important,

VOL. II — 16


and that he never expected to meet with another which
would so strongly rouse every emotion of his heart. His
scheme, accepted at first by the Irish parliament, was

1785 mangled by the parliament of Great Britain, and rejected
on account of the alterations by the parliament of Ireland,
which was led to look upon them as derogatory to its
independence. Dearly both parliaments paid for its re-

The son of Chatham, on his entrance into public life,
had declared, as Chatham did, for parliamentary reform.

1785 As an independent member he had brought in a Bill, and,
though defeated, had a good division. The case was
strong. Paley said that half, reformers said that more
than half, the members of the House of Commons held
their seats by nomination or purchase. He and other
optimists might contend that this, in spite of the anomaly,
was the best of all possible parliaments, all the lead-
ing men of the nation being there and all great inter-
ests being represented. They might argue, that if the
machine worked satisfactorily, want of symmetry mattered
■ little. But anomaly or want of symmetry so great as to
repel respect from institutions is an evil. Burke, how-
ever, opposed all change, contending that the British
constitution was perfect, or that, if anything, there was
already too much of the democratic element; and he
might at all events plead for cautious dealing with a
constitution which was the only one of importance in
Europe. Pitt redeemed his pledges, bringing in a Bill
which, frankly treating the nomination boroughs as prop-
erty, provided for their extinction by purchase. The
seats were to be transferred to counties or large cities.
The sale was not to be compulsory, but voluntary on the


part of the owners of boroughs. This was mild. But to
a borough-mongering parliament, parliamentary reform,
even the mildest, was too nauseous to be swallowed, how-
ever sugared might be the rim of the cup. Pitt's Bill was
throw^n out, and here he dropped the question. He might
feel that a system which had made him prime minister
with an overwhelming majority practically worked pretty
well. Besides, management rather than coercion was his
line, and he never set himself, perhaps never had the force
of will to set himself, against the House of Commons. It
is to be noted that defeat of the government, even on so
radical a question as parliamentary reform, did not then
entail resignation.

If an attempt to reform the parliament of Great Britain
was hopeless, still more hopeless was it to attempt to
reform the parliament of Ireland. That assembly was
at once the political citadel and the political treasury of
the dominant race and church. The Roman Catholics,
five-sixths of the population, were excluded from seats
in parliament and from the franchise. But even as a
representation of the protestants the parliament was a
mockery. The system of nomination boroughs prevailed
even more than in England. In an assembly of three
hundred, twenty-five great land-owners returned one
hundred and sixteen members. One peer had sixteen
members, another nine, another seven. The great job-
bing family of Ponsonby had fourteen. A combination
of these potentates could dictate to the government.
Two-thirds of the House of Commons, however, were
attached to government by offices, pensions, or promises.
A parliament which the government had bought could
be kept in existence as long as the government pleased.


there being no limit to its life but the demise of the
crown. In the House of Lords, with borough-mongers
craving for Castle patronage, was a phalanx of bishops of
the established church who were tools of the crown.
The system was one of undisguised and almost avowed
corruption. Pitt had before him a chart of the Irish par-
liament confidentially drawn up for his guidance. H. H.,
son-in-law of a peer, who brings him into parliament, wishes
to be a commissioner of barracks, but would go into orders
and take a crown living. H. D., brother of another peer,
described as a silent, gloomy man, easy to be led if thought
expedient, having failed to obtain a specific promise, has
lately voted in opposition. L. M., for his skill in House
of Commons management, expects one thousand pounds a
year. Pitt is warned to be careful of him. J. N., a mili-
tary man on half pay, wants a troop of dragoons on full
pay. His pretensions are fifteen years' service in parlia-
ment. He would prefer office to military promotion, but
already has a pension. His character, especially on the side
of truth, is described as not favourable. F. P. is inde-
pendent, but well disposed to government. His four
sisters have pensions, and his object is a living for his
brother. T. P. is brother to a peer, who brings him into
parliament. He is a captain in the navy and wishes for
some sinecure employment.

The members of the Irish parliament, it is said, were
gentlemen ; gentlemen they might be, though the social
medium in which they lived was one of reckless expendi-
ture, hard drinking, and duelling, challenges being sent
upon every affront, not only by members of parliament
but by a lord chancellor, by a chief justice, by judges,
by the provost of a university. Eloquent speakers they


had among them, such as Flood and Grattan, albeit the
rhetoric was of a highly full-bodied type and the invec-
tive was vehement, as when Grattan compared Flood to
" an ill-omened bird of night with sepulchral notes, cadav-
erous aspect, and broken beak," the broken beak being an
allusion to a broken nose. Good things they might do in
the way of legislation on subjects outside party or patron-
age. But a representative assembly they were not. The
rejection of parliamentary reform, however, was certain.
Corruption, religious exclusion, and the fears of a privi-
leged minority formed a rampart against all measures
tending in that direction, which nothing but a political
earthquake could overthrow.

Of corruption in England Pitt had cut off some sources
by abolition of useless offices and by purifying the mode
of contracting loans. But the main evil ceased of itself,
at least in its coarser form, on Pitt's elevation to power.
A minister with so immense and so sure a majority had
no need to bribe. It must be remembered, however, that
government still had an enormotis mass of patronage,
civil, military, naval, colonial, and also ecclesiastical ; for
bishoprics, canonries, and crown livings were used as
rewards for political support. It had also the bestowal
of peerages, baronetcies, and orders of knighthood, the
most powerful of bribes to men whose wealth placed them
above the temptation of money. Of these Pitt made a
lavish, not to say an unscrupulous, use. Before he died,
one hundred and forty peers, half the House of Lords,
owed their creations or their promotions in the peerage
to him. Baronetcies and knighthood, the minor bribes of
vanity, were scattered with equal profusion.

That Pitt's own hands were clean need not be said.


Far from increasing his fortune, he, through neglect of
his private affairs and the dishonesty of his servants, ran
deeply into debt. Nor did he stoop to the acceptance of
baubles. He refused the Garter, thinking, perhaps, as
did a prime minister of a later day, that it would be folly
to buy himself with that by which he could buy a grandee.
Pitt was still liberal enough cordially to concur with
1792 Fox in a reform of the law of libel, a deferred outcome
of the Wilkes affair, establishing the right of the Jury to
pronounce upon the character as well as upon the fact of
the publication. His character would have led him to sup-
port measures for emancipation of conscience. Left to him-
self, he would have voted for the repeal of the Test and
Corporation Acts ; but he consulted the bishops, who
deemed the profanation of the sacrament for political pur-
poses still vital to the maintenance of religion. Under
the same influence he refused to grant freedom of con-
science to Unitarians, or to release from subscription to
the Thirty-nine Articles Latitudinarian clergymen of the
church of England. Burke also opposed the concessions
to Unitarians and Latitudinarians. He was more will-
ing to grant concessions to catholics, regarding theirs as
an ancient and conservative religion. By this time, how-
ever, revolution was casting its shadow on the scene,
and Burke deemed protestant dissenters revolutionary.
It did not occur to the great philosopher that the cause
of their revolutionary tendencies was injustice. In legis-
lating for Canada, Pitt recognized Roman Catholicism,
which was thus legally tolerated for the first time.

Again Pitt showed his liberal tendencies on the subject
of the slave-trade. It seems incredible that men should
have gone on talking in high strains of public rights and


liberties while they were consenting to the continuance
of that trade and to the hideous cruelties of the Middle
Passage. The scene of those horrors was distant, but they
were clearly presented to the minds of Englishmen by the
proceedings in their own courts of law. An action relat-
ing to a policy of insurance on the value of certain slaves
had been tried in the King's Bench. The question was
whether the loss of the slaves had been caused by perils
of the sea. A slave-ship with four hundred and forty -two
slaves was bound from the coast of Guinea to Jamaica.
Sixty of the slaves died on the passage from overcrowding,
but in respect of these it was not contended that the under-
writer was liable. The captain, having missed Jamaica,
found himself short of water, and under the apprehension
of scarcity, but before his crew and passengers had been
put on short allowance, he threw ninety-six of the sick-
liest slaves overboard. A fall of rain gave him water for
eleven days, notwithstanding which he drowned twenty-
six more of the slaves. Ten in despair threw themselves
overboard. The ship arrived in port before the water was
exhausted. Ill were the wickedness and cruelty of such a

Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 64 of 84)