Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

. (page 58 of 84)
Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 58 of 84)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


hold the great seal.

To Pitt was offered, through Shelbume, the Vico-
Treasurership of Ireland, one of the easiest and most
highly paid places in the gift of the Crown ; but the
offer was, without hesitation, declined. The young
statesman had resolved to accept no post which did
not entitle him to a seat in the cabinet : and, a few
days later, he announced that resolution in the House
of Commons. It must be remembered that the caUnet
was then a much smaller and more select body than
at present. We have seen cabinets of sixteen. In the
time of our grandfathers a cabinet of ten or eleven was
thought inconveniently large. Seven was an usual
number. Even Burke, who had taken the lucrative
office of paymaster, was not in the cabinet. Many



Digitized



byGoogk



236 WILLIAM PITT.

therefore thought Pitt's declaration indecent. He him
self was sorry that he had made it. The words, he
said in private, had escaped him in the heat of speak-
ing ; and he had no sooner uttered them than be would
have given the world to recall them. They, however,
^lid him no harm with the public. The second William
Pitt, it was said, had shown that he had inhej-ited the
spirit, as well as the genius, of the first. In the son,
as in the £Either, there might perhaps be too much
pride ; but there was nothing low or sordid. It might
be called arrogance in a young barrister, Uving in
chambers on three hundred a year, to refuse a salary
of five thousand a year, merely because he did not
choose to bind himself to speak or vote for plans
which he had no share in framing ; but surely such
arrogance was not very &r removed fi:om virtue.

Pitt gave a general support to the administration of
Rockingham, but omitted, in the meantime, no oppor-
tunity of courting that Ultra-Whig party which the
persecution of Wilkes and the Middlesex election had
called into existence, and which the disastrous events
of the war, and the triumph of republican principles in
America, had made formidable both in nmnbers and
in temper. He supported a motion for shortening, the
duration of Parliaments. He made a moticm for a com-
mittee to examine into tiie state of the representation,
and, in the speech by which that motion was intro-
duced, avowed himself the enemy of the close boroughs,
the strongholds of that corruption to which he attrib-
uted all the calamities of the nation, and which, as he
phrased it in one of those exact and sonorous sentences
of which he had a boundless command, had grown with
ttie growth of England and strengthened with her
strength, but had not diminished with her diminu-



Digitized



byGoogk



WILLIAM PITT. 287

tion or decayed with her decay. On this occasion he
was supported by Fox. The motion was lost by only
twenty votes in a house of more than three hundred
members. The reformers never again had so good a
division till the year 1881.

The new administration was strong in abilities, and
was more popular than any administration w? ich had
held o£Sce since the first year of Greorge the Third,
but was hated by the King, hesitatingly supported by
the Parliament, and torn by internal dissensions. The
Chancellor was disliked and distrusted by almost all
his colleagues. The two Secretaries of State regarded
each other witfi no friendly feelings The line between
their departments had not been traced with precision ;
and there were consequently jealousies, encroachments,
and complaints. It was all that Rockingham could do
to keep the peace in his cabinet ; and, before the cabi-
net had existed three months, Rockingham died.

In an instant all was confiision. The adherents of
the deceased statesman looked on the Duke of Portland
as their chief. The King placed Shelbume at the
head of the Treasury. Fox, Lord John Cavendish,
and Burke, immediately resigned their offices ; and the
new prime minister was 1^ to constitute a govern-
ment out of very defective materials. His own parh'a-
mentary talents were great; but he could not be
in the place where parliamentary talents were most
needed. It was necessary to find some member of
the House of Commons who could confront the great
orators of the opposition; and Pitt alone had the
eloquence and the courage which were required. He
was ofiered the great place of Chancellor of the Ex-
chequer ; and he accepted it. He had scarcely com-
pleted bis twenty-third year.



Digitized



by Google



238 WILLIAM PITT.

The Parliament was speedily prorogued. During
the recess, a negotiation f(n* peace which had been
commenced under Rockingham was brought to a suc-
cessful termination. England acknowledged the in-
dependence of her revolted colonies ; and she ceded to
her European enemies some places in the Mediterra-
nean and in the Gulf of Mexico. But the terms which
she obtained were quite as advantageous and honour-
able as the events of the war entitled her to expect, or
as she was likely to obtain by persevering in a contest
against immense odds. All her vital parts, all the real
sources of her power, remained uninjured. She pre-
served even her dignity ; for she ceded to the House
of Bourbon only part of what she had won firom that
House in previous wars. She retained her Indian em-
pire undioiiiiished ; and, in spite of the mightiest efforts
of two great monarchies, her flag still waved on tlie
rock of Gibraltar. There is not the slightest reason
to believe tliat Fox, if he had remained in office, would
have hesitated one moment about concluding a treaty on
such conditions. Unhappily that gr^^t and most amia-
ble man was, at this crisis, hurried by his passions into
an error which made his genius and his virtues, during
a long course of years, almost useless to his country.

He saw that the great body of the House of Com-
mons was divided into three parties, his own, that of
Noith, and that of Shelbume; that none of those
three parties was large enongh to stand alone ; that,
therefore, unless two of them united, there must be a
miaerably feeble administration, or^ more probably, a
rapid succession of miserably feeble administrations,
and this at a time when a strong government was es«
sential to the prosperity and respectability of tlie nation.
It was then necessary and right that tliere should be a



Digitized



by Google



WILLIAM PITT. 239

coalition. To every possible coalittan there were ob*
jections. But, of all possible coalitiona, that to which
tliere were the fewest objections was undoubtedly a
coalition between Shelbume and Fox. It would liave
been generally applauded by the followers of both. It
might have been made without any sacrifice of public
principle on the part of either. Unhappily, recent
bickerings had left in the mind of Fox a {urofound dii*
like and distrust of Shelbume. Pitt attempted to me-
diate, and was authorised to invite Fox to return to the
service of the Crown. " Is Lord Shelbume," said
Fox, " to remain prime minister? " Pitt answered in
the affirmative. ^^ It is impossible that I can act under
him," said Fox. " Then negotiation is at an end,"
said Pitt ; " for I cannot betray him." Thus the two
statesmen parted. They were never again in a private
room togeth^.

As Fox and his friends would not treat with Shel*
bume, nothing i*emained to them but to treat with
North. That fatal coalition which is emphatically
called ^^ The Coalition " was formed. Not three quar-
ters of a year had elapsed sinee Fox and Burke had
threatened North with impeachment, and had described
him, night after night, as the most arbitrary, the most
cormpt, die most incapable of ministers. They now
alUed themselves with him for the purpose of driving
from office a statesman with whom tliey cannot be said
to have differed as to any important question. Nor
had they even the prudence and the patience to wait
for some occasion on which they might, without incon-
sistency, have combined with their old enemies in op-
|X)sition to the government. That nothing might be
wanting to the scandal, the great oi'ators, who luul,
dtti'ing seven yeai's, thundered against the war, d«'ei^



Digitized



byGoogk



240 WILLIAM PITT.

mined to join with the authors of that war in passing
a vote of censure on the peace.

The Parliament met before Christmas 1782. But
it was not till January 1788 that the preliminary trea-
ties were signed. On the 17th of February Uiey were
taken into consideration by the House of (Commons.
There had been, during some days, floating rumours
that Fox and North had coalesced ; and the debate in-
dicated but too clearly that those rumours were not
unfounded. Pitt was suffering from indisposition : he
did not rise till his own strength and that of his hear-
ers were exhausted ; and he was consequently less sue-
cessfol than on any former occasion. His admirers
owned that his speech was feeble and petulant. He
80 far forgot himself as to advise Sheridan to confine
himself to amusing theatrical audiences. This ignoble
sarcasm gave Sheridan an opportunity of retorting with
great felicity. ** After what I have seen and heard to-
night," he said, " I really feel strongly tempted to ven-
ture on a competition with so great an artist as Ben
Jonson, and to bring on the stage a second Angry
Boy. ' On a division, the address proposed by the
supporters of the government was rejected 1^ a major-
ity of sixteen.

But Pitt was not a man to be disheartened by a sin-
gle failure, or to be put down by the most lively rep-
artee. When, a few days later, the opposition pro-
posed a resolution directly censuring the treaties, he
spoke with an eloquence, energy, and dignity, whidi
ratsod his fame and popularity higher than ever. To
the coalition of Fox and North he alluded in language
which drew forth tumultuous applause from his follow-
ers. "If," he said, "this ill-omened and unnatural
marriage be not yet consummated, I know of a just



Digitized



byGoogk



WILLIAM PITT. 341

rikI lawful impediment ; and, in the name of the public
weal, I forbid the banns."

The ministers were again left in a minority; and
Shelbume consequently tendered his resignation. It
was accepted ; but the King strug^ed long and hard
before he submitted to the terms dictated by Fox,
whose fruits he detested, and whose high spirit and
powerful intellect he detested still more. The first
place at the board of Treasury was repeatedly ofiered
to Pitt; but the offer, though tempting, was steadfastly
declined. The young man, whose judgment was as
precocious as his eloquence, saw that his time was com-
ing, but was not come, and was deaf to royal im-
portunities and reproaches. His Majesty, bitterly
complaining of Pitt's faintheartedness, tried to break
the coalition. Every art of seduction was practised
on North, but in vain. During several weeks the
country remained without a government. It was not
till all devices had foiled, and till the aspect of the
House of Commons became threatening, that the King
gave way. The Duke of Portland was declared First
Lord of the Treasury. Thurlow was dismissed. Fox
and North became Secretaries of State, with power
ostensibly equal. But Fox was the real prime min-
ister.

The year was fer advanced before the aew arrange-
ments were completed ; and nothing very important
was done during the n^mainder of the session, Pitt,
now seated on the opposition bench, brought the ques-
tion of parliamentary reform a second time under the
consideration of the Commons. He proposed to adi
to the House at once a hundred county members and
several members for metropolitan districts, and to en-
act that every borough of which an election commit*

VOI« VI. 11



Digitized



byGoogk



242 «V1LLIAM PITl'.

tee shodJ rep<jrt that the majority of voters appeared
to bo corrupt should lose the franchise. The motion
was rejected by 293 votes to 149.

After the pron^tion^ Pitt visited the Continent for
the first and last time. His travelling companion wa8
one of his most intimate friends, a young man of his
own age, who had already distinguished himself ii:
Parliament by an engaging natural eloquence, set off
by the sweetest and most exquisitely modulated of hu«
man voices, and whose afieotionate heart, caressing
manners, and brilliant wit, made him the most de-
lightful of companions, Wilham Wilberforce. That
was the time of Anglomania in France ; and at Paris
the son of the great Chatham was absolutely hunted
by men of letters and women of fashion, and forced,
much against his will, into political disputation. One
remarkable saying which dropped from him during
this tour has been preserved. A French gentleman
expressed some surprise at the immense influence which
Fox, a man of pleasure, ruined by the dice-box and
the tuff, exercised over the Enghsh nation. " You
have not," said Pitt, " been under the wand of the
magician."

In November 1783 the Parliament met again. The
government had irresistible strength in the House of
Commons, and seemed to be scarcely less strong in the
House of Lords, but was, in truth, surrounded on every
side by dangers. The King was impatiently waiting
for the moment at which he could emancipate himself
from a yoke which galled him so severely that he had
more than once seriously thought of retiring to Han-
over ; and the King was scai'cely more eager for a
diange than the nation. Fox and North had commit-
ted a fatal error. They ought to have known that



Digitized



byGoogk



WILIJAM PITT. 243

coalitions between parties which have long been hostile
can succeed only when tkei wish for coalition pervades
the lower ranks of both. If the leaders unite before
tliere is any disposition to union among the followers,
the probability is that there will be a mutiny in both
camps, and that the two revolted armies will make a
ti*uce with each other, in order to be revenged on those
by whom they think that they have been betrayed.
Thus it was in 1783. At the beginning of tliat event-
ful year, North had been the recognised head of the
old Tory party, which^ though for a moment jjrostrated
by the disastrous issue of the American war, was still
a great power in tlie state. To him the clergy, the
imivei*sities, and that large body of country gentlemen
whose rallying cry was " Church and King," had long
looked up with respect and confidence. Fox had, on
the other band, been the idol of the Whigs, and of the
whole body of Protestant dissenters^ The coalition
at once alienated tlie most zealous Tories from North,
and the most zealous Whigs from Fox. The Univcr^
sity of Oxford, which had marked its approbation of
North's orthodoxy by electing him chancellor, the city
of London, which had been during two and twenty
yeai's at war with the Court, were equally disgusted.
Squires and rectors, who had inherited the principles
of the cavaliers of the preceding century, could not
forgive their old leader for oombining with disloyal
subjects in order to put a force on the sovereign « The
members of the Bill of Rights Society and of the Re-
form Associations were enraged by learning that their
favourite orator now called the great champion of tyr-
anny and corruption his noble friend. Two gi'eat
multitudes were at once left without any head, and
both at once turned their eyes on Pitt. One party



Digitized



byGoogk



244 WILLUM PITT.

saw in him the only man who could rescae the King ;
the other saw in him the only man who could purify the
Parliament. He was supported on one side by Arch-
bishop Markham, the preacher of divine rights and by
Jenkinson, the captain of the Prastorian band of the
King's friends ; on the other side by Jebb and Priestley,
Sawbridge and Cartwright, Jack Wilkes and Home
Tooke, On the benches of the House of Commons,
however, the rsmks of the ministerial majority were
unbroken ; and that anv statesman would venture to
brave such a majority was thought impossible. No
prince of the Hanoverian line had ever, under any
provocation, ventured to appeal from the representative
body to the constituent body. The ministers, there-
fore, notwithstanding the snllen looks and muttered
words of displeasure with which their suggestions were
received in the closet, notwithstanding the roar of ob-
loquy which was rising louder and louder every day
from ever}' comer of the island, thought themselves
secure.

Such was their confidence in their strength that, as
soon as the Pariiament had met, they brought forward
a singularly bold and original plan for the government
of the British territories in India. What was proposed
was that the whole authority, which till tlmt time had
been exercised over those territories by the East India
Company, should be transferred to seven Commission-
ers who were to be named by Parliament, and were not
to be removable at the pleasure of the Crown. Eari
Fitzwilliam, the most intimate personal friend of Fox,
was to be chairman of this board ; and the eldest sen
of North was to be one of the members*

As soon as the outlines of the scheme were known,
all the hatred which the coalition had excited burst



Digitized



byGoogk



WILLIAM pirr. 245

forth with an astounding explosion. The question
which ought undoubtedly to have been considered as
paramount to every other was» whether the proposed
change was likely to be beneficial or injurious to the
thirty millions of people who were subject to the Com-
pany. But that question cannot be said to have been
even seriously discussed. Burke, who^ whetlier right
or wrong in the conclusions to which he came, had at
least tlie merit of looking at the subject in the right
|X)int of view, vainly reminded his hearers of that
mighty population whose daily rioe might depend on
a vote of the Bridab Parliament. He spoke, with even
more than his wonted power of thought and language,
about the desolation of Rohilcund, about the spoliation
of Benarea, about the evil policy which had suffered
tlie tanks of the Camatic to go to niija ; but he could
scarcely obtain a hearing. The contending parties, to
their shame it must be said, would listen to none but
English topics. Out of doora the cry against the min-
istry was almost universal. Town and country were
united. Corporations exclaimed against the violation
of the charter of the greatest corporation in the realm.
Tories and democrats joined in pronouncing the pro-
posed board an unconstitutional body. It was to con-
sist of Fox^s nominees. The effect of his bill was to
give, not to the Crown, but to him pei*sonally, whether
in office or in opposition, an enormous power, a patron-
age sufficient to counterbalance the patronage of the
Treasury and of the Admiralty, and to decide the
elections for fifly boroughs. He knew, it was said,
that he was hateful alike to King and people ; and he
had devised a plan which would make him independent
of both. Some nicknamed him Cromwell, and some
Carlo Khan. Wilberforce, with his usual felicity of



Digitized



byGoogk



246 WILLIAM PITT.

expression, and with very unusual bitterness of feeling
described the scheme as the genuine offspring of tlie
coalition, as marked with tlie features of both its par-
ents, the corruption of one and the violence of tho
other. In spite of all opposition, however, the bill
was supported in every stage by great majorities, was
rapidly passed, and was sent up to the Lords. To the
general astonishment, when the second reading was
moved in the Upper House, die opposition propo»*d
an adjournment, and carried it by eighty-seven votes
to seventy-nine. Tlie cause of this strange turn of
fortune was soon known. Pitt's cousin^ Earl Temple,
had been in the royal closet^ and had there been au-
thorised to let it be known that His Majesty would
consider all who voted for the bill as his enemies. The
ignominious commission was performed ; and instantly
a troop of Lords of the Bedchamber, of Bishops who
wished to be translated, and of Scotch peers who
wished to be re-elected, made haste to change sides.
On a later day, the Lords rgected the bill. Fox and
North were immediately directed to send their seals to
the palace by their Under Secretaries ; and Pitt was
appointed First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor
of the Exchequer.

The general opinion was, that there would bo an im-
mediate dissolution. But Pitt wisely determined to
give the public feeling time to gather strength. On
this point he differed from his kinsman Temple. The
consequence was, that Tcsmple, .who had been appointed
one of the Secretai'ies of State, resigned his office forty-
eight hours after he liad accepted it, and thus relieved
tlie new government from a great load of unpopularity ;
for all men of sense and honour, however strong might
he their dislike of the India Bill, disapproved of the



Digitized



byGoogk



WILLLA.M PITT. 247

manner in wl^icli that bill had been thrown out. Tem-
ple carried away with him the scandal which the best
friends of the new government could not but lament.
The fame of the young prime minister pi'cserved its
whiteness. He could declare with perfect truth thai,
if unconstitutional machinations had been employed, he
had been rto party to them.

He was, however, surrounded by difficulties and dan-
gers. In the House of Lords, indeed, he had a majors-
ity ; nor could any orator of the opposition in that as-
sembly be considered as a match for Thuriow, who was
now again Chancellor, or for Camden, who cordially
supported the son of his old friend Chatham. But in
the other House there was not a single eminent speaker
among the official men who sate round Pitt. His most
useful assistant was Dundas, who, though he had not
eloquence, had s(ense, knowledge, readiness, and bold-
ness. On the opposite benches was a powerful major-
ity, led by Fox, who was supported by Burke, North,
and Sheridan. The heart of the young minister, stout
as it was, almost died within him. He could not onde
close his eyes on the night which followed Temple's
resignation. But, whatever his internal emotions might
be, his language and deportment indicated nothing but
unconquerable firmness and haughty confidence in his
own powers. His contest against the House of Com-
mons lasted from the 17th of December, 1783, to the
8th of March, 1784. In sixteen divisions the oppo-
sition triumphed. Again and again the King was re-
quested to dismiss his ministers. But he was deter-
mined to go to Gei-many rather than yield. Pitt's
resolution never wavered. The cry of the nation in
his ftivour became vehement and almost furious. Ad-
di^esses assuring him of public support came up daily



Digitized



byGoogk



248 WILLIAM PITT.

from every part of the kingdom. The freedom of
the city of London was present^ to him in a gold
box. He went in state to receive this mark of dis-
tinction. He was sumptuously feasted in Grocers*
Hall ; and the shopkeepers of the Strand and Fleet
Street illuminated their houses in his honour. These
things could not but produce an effect within the walls
of Parliament. The ranks of the majority began to
waver ; a few passed over to the enemy ; some skulked
away ; many were for capitulating while it was still
possible to capitulate with the honours of war. Nego-
tiations were opened with the view of forming an ad-
ministraticm on a wide basis; but they had scarcely
been opened when they were closed. The opposition
demanded, as a preliminary article of the treaty, that
Pitt should resign the Treasury ; and with this demand
Pitt steadfastly refused to comply. While the contest
was raging, the Clerkship of the Pells, a sinecure place
for life, worth three thousand a year, and tenable with
a seat in the House of Comudons, became vacant.
The appointment was with the Chancellor of the Ex-
chequer : nobody doubted that he would appoint him-
self; and nobody could have blamed him if he had
done so: for such sinecure offices had always been
defended on the ground that tliey enabled a few men
of eminent abilities and small incomes to live without
any profession, and to devote themselves to the service
of the state. Pitt, in spite of the remonstrances of his
friends, gave the Pells to his fether^s old adherent.
Colonel Barrd, a man distinguished by talent and elo-
quence, but poor and afflicted with blindness. By this
arrangement a pension which the Rockingham admin-
istration had granted to Barr^ was saved to the public.
Never was there a happier stroke of policy. About



Digitized



byGoogk



WILLIAM PITT. 249

treaties, wars, expeditions, tariffs, budgets, there will
always be room for dispute. The policy which is
applauded by half the nation may be condemned by
the other half. But pecuniary disinterestedness every-



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 58 of 84)