Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XII. - A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. IV
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CHAPTER XII. - William Edward Hartpole Lecky, A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. IV 
A History of England in the Eighteenth Century (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1878, 1917). 8 Vols. Vol. IV.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The importance of the American question during the few years that preceded the Declaration of Independence was so transcendently great that I have thought it advisable to devote the preceding chapter exclusively to its development, and have endeavoured to preserve the unity and clearness of my narrative by omitting several matters of domestic policy which I shall now proceed to relate.
From the time of the accession of Lord North to the foremost place the Government had continued steadily to increase in parliamentary authority, and the long period of anarchy and rapid political fluctuation which marked the beginning of the reign had completely ceased. The Court was now closely united with the ministers. The King disposed personally of nearly all the ecclesiastical, and of most of the other departments of patronage. He prescribed in a great measure the policy of his Government. His friends in Parliament steadily supported it; the most important of the old followers of Grenville had joined it; it was strengthened by the personal popularity of North, by the eclipse of Chatham, and by the dissension between his followers and those of Rockingham, and it commanded overwhelming majorities in both Houses. The democratic movement which followed the Middlesex election had gradually subsided. The City opposition was broken into small and hostile fragments, and a great political apathy prevailed in the nation.
But while the course of events appeared thus eminently favourable to the designs of the Court, a long series of disgraces and calamities had cast a dark shadow around the throne. In 1770 the Duke of Cumberland, one of the brothers of the King, had been compelled to appear as defendant in an action for criminal conversation on account of his adultery with Lady Grosvenor, and to pay 10,000l. in damages. He then formed a new and notorious connection with another married woman, and soon after the King learnt with bitter indignation that in October 1771 he had secretly married Mrs. Horton, the widow of an undistinguished Derbyshire gentleman. The new Duchess was daughter of Lord Irnham, and, as Junius and the other satirists of the Court noticed with ferocious pleasure, she was sister to that Colonel Luttrell who had been so lately put forward in opposition to Wilkes as the champion of the Court. Immediately after this marriage had been announced, the Duke of Gloucester, the favourite brother of the King, confessed that he had several years before contracted a secret marriage with the Dowager Countess of Waldegrave, an illegitimate daughter of Sir Edward Walpole, and granddaughter of the great statesman of the last reign. Very soon after, news arrived from Copenhagen of the disgrace of the King's sister, the Queen of Denmark, who had been arrested by the command of her husband on a charge of adultery with Count Struensee, the Prime Minister of Denmark, and had been thrown into prison. Struensee was executed with circumstances of peculiar horror, but the Queen after four months of confinement was suffered to retire to Hanover, where a few years later she died. The Princess Dowager, the mother of the King, was in the mean time slowly dying of cancer, and ten days after the news of her daughter's disgrace arrived in England, she ended her stormy and unhappy life. There is no evidence whatever that for several years before her death she had exercised any political power; but the belief in her influence had never ceased, and neither her sex nor her sorrows nor her munificent charities could screen her from the most brutal insults, which pursued her to the very end of her life. Wilkes, Horne, Junius, and a crowd of nameless libellers and caricaturists, and especially the infamous papers called the ‘Whisperer’ and the ‘Parliamentary Spy,’ vied with each other in insulting her; and in March 1771, when the Princess was stricken down with her mortal illness, Alderman Townshend made a furious attack upon her in the House of Commons, declaring that for ten years England had been governed by a woman, that he considered the Princess Dowager of Wales to be the cause of all the calamities of the country, and that an inquiry should be made into her conduct.1 The Princess died on February 8, 1772, and her body was a few days later carried to the tomb amid the shouts and rejoicings of the mob.2
In the same month, and in consequence of the scandals connected with the Dukes of Cumberland and Gloucester, a King's message was brought to Parliament urging both Houses to take into consideration measures for making more effectual the right which had always, it was stated, belonged to the kings of this nation of approving of all marriages in the royal family, and it was followed by the Royal Marriage Bill, which more than any other measure in 1772 divided opinion both in Parliament and in the country. The object of this Bill was to prevent the great dangers which might arise from clandestine or improper marriages in the royal family. It was possible that in consequence of such marriages the title of the successor to the throne might become a matter of doubt and of dispute, and it was very probable that connections might be formed, and disgraceful elements introduced into the royal family, which would greatly lower the authority of the monarchy in the country. To guard against these dangers, the Marriage Bill prohibited any descendant of the late King, except those who were the issue of princesses married into foreign houses, from contracting marriage before the age of twenty-five without the assent of the King signified under the Great Seal. After that age they might marry without the royal consent, but only if they had given notice of their intention to the Privy Council twelve months before the ceremony was performed, and if the two Houses of Parliament did not signify their disapprobation. All marriages contracted in defiance of this Act were to be null, and all who celebrated them or assisted at them were to be subject to the penalties of præmunire.1
This Bill was fiercely and persistently opposed. Its adversaries emphatically denied that the King possessed either by law or by prerogative any control over the marriages of his family other than that which every parent or guardian possesses over his children or his wards when they are minors. They dilated upon the great number of persons far removed from the throne who would ultimately be brought under the provisions of the law, and deprived during their whole lives c. their natural and inherent right of marrying according to their inclination; and they urged that while no immorality was so pernicious to the community as the immorality of those who occupied an eminent position in the eyes of men, the moral effects of a Bill imposing such formidable restraints upon marriage must be in the highest degree injurious. To treat the whole royal family as a separate caste, and to make intermarriage between its members and subjects almost impossible, was no doubt very congenial to the sentiments of a German court, but it was a slur upon the English nobility, it was utterly inconsistent with English traditions, and it claimed for a German family reigning by a parliamentary title a position which had not been claimed either by the Plantagenets, the Tudors, or the Stuarts. The principle that a marriage which was valid in the eyes of God and of the Church could be pronounced by the civil law to be not only criminal and irregular, but null and void, had indeed been introduced into English legislation in the last reign, but it was a principle which was contrary to religion, and would never be fully recognised by opinion. Nor was the Bill likely to fulfil its objects. It was intended to prevent improper persons from sitting on the throne, but it imposed no restraint on the imprudent or profligate marriage of the reigning prince. It was intended to prevent the possibility of disputed successions; but it would almost certainly multiply clandestine marriages, and call into being two classes of heirs; those who were legitimate in the eyes of God, of the Church, and perhaps of public opinion, and those whose legitimacy depended on an Act of Parliament.
Arguments of this kind made the Bill exceedingly unpopular outside Parliament, and in the House of Commons itself the feeling against it was so strong that an amendment limiting it to the reign of George III. and three years longer was only rejected by a majority of 18.1 The measure was generally understood to emanate especially from the King, and his influence was employed to the utmost to carry it. ‘I do expect,’ he wrote to Lord North, ‘every nerve to be strained to carry the Bill through both Houses with a becoming firmness, for it is not a question that immediately relates to administration, but personally to myself, and therefore I have a right to expect a hearty support from everyone in my service, and shall remember defaulters.’1
The Bill was carried by large majorities; it still remains on the statute book, and, although it may be justly regarded as oppressive by the collateral branches of the House of Brunswick, who are too far from the throne to have any reasonable prospect of succeeding to it, it cannot be said to have hitherto produced any of the public dangers that were foretold. The discussions on the measure are especially interesting as marking the first appearance in opposition to the Government of Charles James Fox, a man whose name during the next thirty years occupies a foremost place in English history, and whose character and early life it will now be necessary to sketch.
He was the third son of the first Lord Holland, the old rival of Pitt. He had entered Parliament irregularly and illegally in November 1768, when he had not yet completed his twentieth year, and in February 1770 he had been made a Lord of the Admiralty in the Government of Lord North. The last political connection of Lord Holland had been with Bute, and his son appears to have accepted the heritage of his Tory principles without inquiry or reluctance. His early life was in the highest degree discreditable, and gave very little promise of greatness. His vehement and passionate temperament threw him speedily into the wildest dissipation, and the almost insane indulgence of his father gratified his every whim. When he was only fourteen Lord Holland had brought him to the gambling table at Spa,1 and, at a time when he had hardly reached manhood, he was one of the most desperate gamblers of his day. Lord Holland died in 1774, but before his death he is said to have paid no less than 140,000l. in extricating his son from gambling debts. The death of his mother and the death of his elder brother in the same year brought him a considerable fortune, including an estate in the Isle of Thanet and the sinecure office of Clerk of the Pells in Ireland, which was worth 2,300l. a year; but in a short time he was obliged to sell or mortgage everything he possessed. He himself nicknamed his antechamber the Jerusalem Chamber from the multitude of Jews who haunted it. Lord Carlisle was at one time security for him to the extent of 15,000l. or 16,000l. During one of the most critical debates in 1781 his house was in the occupation of the sheriffs. He was even debtor for small sums to chairmen and to waiters at Brooks's; and although in the latter part of his life he was partly relieved by a large subscription raised by his friends, he never appears to have wholly emerged from the money difficulties in which his gambling tastes had involved him.
Nor was this his only vice. With some men the passion for gambling is an irresistible moral monomania, the single morbid taint in a nature otherwise faultless and pure. With Fox it was but one of many forms of an insatiable appetite for vicious excitement, which continued with little abatement during many years of his public career. In 1777, during a long visit to Paris, he lived much in the society of Madame du Deffand, and that very acute judge of character formed an opinion of him which was, on the whole, very unfavourable. He has much talent, she said, much goodness of heart and natural truthfulness, but he is absolutely without principle, he has a contempt for everyone who has principle, he lives in a perpetual intoxication of excitement, he never gives a thought to the morrow, he is a man eminently fitted to corrupt youth.1 In 1779, when he was already one of the foremost politicians in England, he was one night drinking at Almack's with Lord Derby, Major Stanley, and a few other young men of rank, when they determined at three in the morning to make a tour through the streets, and amused themselves by instigating a mob to break the windows of the chief members of the Government.2 His profligacy with women during a great part of his life was notorious, though he appears at last to have confined himself to his connection with Mrs. Armitstead, whom he secretly married in September 1795.3 He was the soul of a group of brilliant and profligate spendthrifts, who did much to dazzle and corrupt the fashionable youth of the time; and in judging the intense animosity with which George III. always regarded him, it must not be forgotten that his example and his friendship had probably a considerable influence in encouraging the Prince of Wales in those vicious habits and in that undutiful course of conduct which produced so much misery in the palace and so much evil in the nation.4 One of the friends of Charles Fox summed up his whole career in a few significant sentences. ‘He had three passions—women, play, and politics. Yet he never formed a creditable connection with a woman. He squandered all his means at the gaming table, and, except for eleven months, he was invariably in opposition.’
That a man of whom all this can be truly said should have taken a high and honourable place in English history, and should have won for himself the perennial love and loyalty of some of the best Englishmen of his time, is not a little surprising, for a life such as I have described would with most men have destroyed every fibre of intellectual energy and of moral worth. But in truth there are some characters which nature has so happily compounded that even vice is unable wholly to degrade them, and there is a charm of manner and of temper which sometimes accompanies the excesses of a strong animal nature that wins more popularity in the world than the purest and the most self-denying virtue. Of this truth Fox was an eminent example. With a herculean frame, with iron nerves, with that happy vividness and buoyancy of temperament that can ever throw itself passionately into the pursuits and the impressions of the hour, and can then cast them aside without an effort, he combined one of the sweetest of human tempers, one of the warmest of human hearts. Nothing in his career is more remarkable than the spell which he cast over men who in character and principles were as unlike as possible to himself. ‘He is a man,’ said Burke, ‘made to be loved, of the most artless, candid, open, and benevolent disposition; disinterested in the extreme, of a temper mild and placable to a fault, without one drop of gall in his whole constitution.’ ‘The power of a superior man,’ said Gibbon, ‘was blended in his attractive character with the softness and simplicity of a child. Perhaps no human being was ever more perfectly exempt from the taint of malevolence, vanity, or falsehood.’ ‘He possessed,’ said Erskine, ‘above all men I ever knew, the most gentle, and yet the most ardent spirit.’ He retained amid all his vices a capacity for warm and steady friendship; a capacity for struggling passionately and persistently in opposition, for an unpopular cause; a purity of taste and a love of literature which made him, with the exception of Burke, the foremost scholar among the leading members of the House of Commons; an earnestness, disinterestedness, and simplicity of character which was admitted and admired even by his political opponents.
He resembled Bolingbroke in his power of passing at once from scenes of dissipation into the House of Commons, and in retaining in public affairs during the most disorderly periods of his private life all his soundness of judgment and all his force of eloquence and of decision. Gibbon described how Fox ‘prepared himself’ for one important debate by spending twenty-two previous hours at the hazard table and losing 11,000l. Walpole extols the extraordinary brilliancy of the speech which he made on another occasion, when he had but just arrived from Newmarket and had been sitting up drinking the whole of the preceding night, and he states that Fox, in the early period of his brilliant opposition to the American policy of North, was rarely in bed before five in the morning, or out of it before two in the afternoon.1 Yet, like Bolingbroke, he never lost the taste and passion for study even at the time when he was most immersed in a life of pleasure. At Eton and Oxford he had been a very earnest student, and few of his contemporaries can have had a wider knowledge of the imaginative literatures of Greece, Italy, or France. He was passionately fond of poetry, and a singularly delicate and discriminating critic; but he always looked upon literature chiefly from its ornamental and imaginative side. Incomparably the most important book relating to the art of government which appeared during his lifetime was the ‘Wealth of Nations,’ but Fox once owned that he had never read it, and the history which was his one serious composition added nothing to his reputation. In books, however, he found an unfailing solace in trouble and disappointment. One morning, when one of his friends, having heard that Fox on the previous night had been completely ruined at the gaming table, went to visit and console him, he found him tranquilly reading Herodotus in the original. ‘What,’ he said, ‘would you have a man do who has lost his last shilling?’
His merits as a politician can only be allowed with great deductions and qualifications. But little stress should indeed be laid on the sudden and violent change in his political principles, which was faintly foreshadowed in 1772 and fully accomplished in 1774, though that change did undoubtedly synchronise with his personal quarrel with Lord North. Changes of principle and policy, which at forty or fifty would indicate great instability of character, are very venial at twenty-four or twenty-five, and from the time when Fox joined the Whig party his career through long years of adversity and of trial was singularly consistent. I cannot, however, regard a politician either as a great statesman or a great party leader who left so very little of permanent value behind him, who offended so frequently and so bitterly the national feelings of his countrymen, who on two memorable occasions reduced his party to the lowest stage of depression, and who failed so signally during a long public life in winning the confidence of the nation. His failure is the more remarkable as one of the features most conspicuous both in his speeches and his letters is the general soundness of his judgment, and his opinions during the greater part of his life were singularly free from every kind of violence, exaggeration, and eccentricity. Much of it was due to his private life, much to his divergence from popular opinion on the American question and on the question of the French Revolution, and much also to an extraordinary deficiency in the art of party management, and to the frequent employment of language which, though eminently adapted to the immediate purposes of debate, was certain from its injudicious energy to be afterwards quoted against him. Like more than one great master of words, he was trammelled and injured at every stage of his career by his own speeches. The extreme shock which the disastrous coalition of 1784 gave to the public opinion of England was largely, if not mainly, due to the outrageous violence of the language with which Fox had in the preceding years denounced Lord North, and a similar violence made his breach with the Court irrevocable, and greatly aggravated his difference with the nation on the question of the French Revolution.
But if his rank as a statesman and as a party leader is by no means of the highest order, he stood, by the concurrent testimony of all his contemporaries, in the very first line, if not in the very first place, among English parliamentary debaters. He threw the whole energy of his character into this field, and by continual practice he at last attained a dexterity in debate which to his contemporaries appeared little less than miraculous. ‘During five whole sessions,’ he once said, ‘I spoke every night but one, and I regret only that I did not speak on that night.’ With a delivery that in the beginning of his speeches was somewhat slow and hesitating, with little method, with great repetition, with no grace of gesture, with an utter indifference to the mere oratory of display, thinking of nothing but how to convince and persuade the audience who were immediately before him, never for a moment forgetting the vital issue, never employing an argument which was not completely level with the apprehensions of his audience, he possessed to a supreme degree the debating qualities which an educated political assembly of Englishmen most highly value. The masculine vigour and strong common sense of his arguments, his unfailing lucidity, his power of grasping in a moment the essential issue of a debate, his skill in hitting blots and throwing the arguments on his own side into the most vivid and various lights, his marvellous memory in catching up the scattered threads of a debate, the rare combination in his speeches of the most glowing vehemence of style with the closest and most transparent reasoning, and the air of intense conviction which he threw into every discussion, had never been surpassed. He was one of the fairest of debaters, and it was said that the arguments of his opponents were very rarely stated with such masterly power as by Fox himself before he proceeded to grapple with, and to overthrow them.1 He possessed to the highest degree what Walpole called the power of ‘declaiming argument,’ and that combination of rapidity and soundness of judgment which is the first quality of a debater. ‘Others,’ said Sir George Savile, ‘may have had more stock, but Fox had more ready money about him than any of his party.’ ‘I believe,'said Lord Carlisle, ‘there never was a person yet created who had the faculty of reasoning like him,’ ‘Nature,’ said Horace Walpole, ‘had made him the most powerful reasoner of the age,’ ‘He possessed beyond all moderns,’ wrote Mackintosh, ‘that union of reason, simplicity, and vehemence which formed the prince of orators,’ ‘Had he been bred to the bar,’ wrote Philip Francis, ‘he would in my judgment have made himself in a shorter time, and with much less application than any other man, the most powerful litigant that ever appeared there.’ ‘He rose by slow degrees,’ said Burke,’ to be the most brilliant and accomplished debater the world ever saw.’ His finest speeches were wholly unpremeditated, and the complete subordination in them of all rhetorical and philosophical ambition to the immediate purpose of the debate has greatly impaired their permanent value; but even in the imperfect fragments that remain, the essential qualities of his eloquence may be plainly seen.
At the period, however, we are now examining, his talent was yet far from its maturity, and the statesman who became one of the steadiest and most consistent of Whigs was still one of the most ardent of Tories. Almost the first speech he ever made was in favour of the expulsion of Wilkes, and he was one of the ablest advocates of the election of Luttrell, one of the fiercest vituperators of the City democrats. Very few politicians were so unpopular in the City, and in the great riot of 1771 his chariot was shattered by the mob, he was dragged through the mud, and his life was in some danger.1 He supported the shameful attack on the property of the Duke of Portland which gave rise to the Nullum Tempus Act, and resisted the attempt of Sir W. Meredith in 1771 to defeat it. He opposed the law which punished by disfranchisement the gross corruption of the electors of Shoreham. He opposed the law making the Grenville Election Act perpetual. He opposed the motion for relieving clergymen of their subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles, though he expressed a strong wish that the obligation should be no longer extended to students at the Universities.1 It is curious to find Lord Holland congratulating himself on the close connection of his son with Lord North, and anticipating that the young statesman would infuse a new energy into his chief in the struggle with the Whigs that followed the resignation of Grafton,2 and it is not less curious to read the judgment of the future historian of James II. upon the history of Clarendon. ‘I think the style bad, and that he has a great deal of the old woman in his way of thinking, but hate the opposite party so much that it gives me a kind of partiality for him.’3
The resignation of Fox in February 1772 was not due to any general opposition to the policy of North, but to his opposition to the Royal Marriage Bill, and to his unsuccessful effort to amend that Marriage Act of Lord Hardwicke which his father had so ably and so bitterly opposed. It appears, however, from a letter addressed by Lord Holland to Lord Ossory that Fox considered that he ‘had reason to be dissatisfied,’ and to think that ‘Lord North did not treat him with the confidence and attention he used to do,’ and also that his father considered that he ‘had been too hasty in a step of this consequence.’ Fox himself probably soon adopted a similar view, for he spoke of North in a tone of marked moderation and compliment, expressed in strong terms his general concurrence with his political principles, and clearly intimated his desire not to go into general opposition.4 North met his overtures in the same spirit, and towards the close of 1772 the first quarrel of Fox with the Tory party was ended. A new disposition of places was made expressly to open a place for him, and he became one of the Commissioners of the Treasury.
The most engrossing subject of parliamentary discussion in 1772 and the following year was the affairs of the East India Company, and in order to understand them it will be necessary to resume in a few pages the narrative which was broken off in a former volume. The period of Indian history during the five years that followed the return of Clive to England in February 1760, though it is not the most tragical, is perhaps the most shameful in its whole annals. The victories of Clive had filled the natives with an abject terror of the English name, and had given Englishmen an almost absolute ascendency in Bengal. But this power was not in the hands of the responsible government of England. It was not even in the hands of the great commercial Company which nominally ruled the British possessions in Hindostan. It was practically monopolised by a great multitude of isolated officials, scattered over vast and remote districts, dominating in the native Courts, far removed from all control, and commanding great bodies of disciplined Sepoys. Most of them had left England when little more than schoolboys, and at a time when their characters were wholly unformed. Some of them were desperate adventurers of broken fortunes and tarnished honour, and they had gone to the East at a time when very few even of the best Europeans would have considered themselves bound to apply the whole moral law to men of a pagan creed and of a colour differing from their own. The government of the Company was too weak, too divided, and too distant to exercise any real control upon their conduct; and they found themselves wholly beyond the range and influence of European opinion, and in a country where all the traditions, habits, and examples of government were violent and despotic. Salaries had been regulated according to a European scale, and they were utterly insufficient in the East. By the strictest economy the servants of the Company could barely live upon their pay, while they had unlimited opportunities of acquiring by illicit means enormous wealth. Nowhere in Europe, nowhere else, perhaps, in the world, were large fortunes so easily amassed. Clive himself had gone out a penniless clerk; when he returned to England, at thirty-four, he had acquired a fortune of more than 40,000l. a year, besides giving 50,000l. to his relatives;1 and he atterwards declared that when he remembered what he might have obtained he was astonished at his moderation. It was a common thing for young men who had gone out without a penny, to return, in ten or twelve years, with fortunes that enabled them to rival or eclipse the oldest families in their counties.
It needs but little knowledge of human nature to perceive that such a combination of circumstances must have led to the grossest abuses. The English officials began everywhere to trade on their own account, and to exercise their enormous power in order to drive all competitors from the field. A chief part of the native revenues consisted of duties imposed on the transit of goods; but the servants of the Company insisted on exempting themselves from paying them. Sometimes they sold for large sums a similar exemption to native traders. They defied, displaced, or intimidated all native functionaries who attempted to resist them. They refused to permit any other traders to sell the goods in which they dealt. They even descended upon the villages, and forced the inhabitants, by flogging and confinement, to purchase their goods at exorbitant prices, or to sell what they desired to purchase, at prices far below the market value. They exacted heavy sums, as fines, from those who refused to yield; disorganised the whole system of taxation in the native states by the exemptions they claimed; seized, bound, and beat the agents of the native governments; openly defied the commands of the Nabob, and speedily undermined all authority in Bengal except their own. Monopolising the trade in some of the first necessaries of life, to the utter ruin of thousands of native traders, and selling those necessaries at famine prices to a half-starving population, they reduced those who came under their influence to a wretchedness they had never known before. The native rulers had often swept like some fierce monsoon over great districts, spreading devastation and ruin in their path; but the oppression of the English was of a new and wholly different kind. Never before had the natives experienced a tyranny which was at once so skilful, so searching, and so strong. Every Sepoy in the service of the Company felt himself invested with the power of his masters. Whole districts which had once been populous and flourishing were at last utterly depopulated, and it was noticed that on the appearance of a party of English merchants the villages were at once deserted, and the shops shut, and the roads thronged with panic-stricken fugitives.
There were other means by which the vast fortunes of the upper servants of the Company were accumulated. The Company had not adopted the plan of governing the country directly. It ruled mainly by its influence over the native authorities, and its chief servants exercised an almost unlimited power of promoting or degrading. They became the centre of a vast web of intrigue, countless native officials competing for their support, and purchasing it by gifts wrung from an impoverished people. More than one native ruler struggled against the tyranny, and there was much mutiny and disorder among the British; but in critical moments they always displayed a skill, a courage, and a discipline that enabled them to crush all opposition. The Emperor had been murdered in 1760, and his successor, having made the Nabob of Oude his Viceroy, attempted to restore the Imperial ascendency in Bengal; but, after two severe defeats, he was compelled to retreat. Meer Jaffier, whom the English had made Nabob of Bengal after the battle of Plassy, was deposed by them, and his son-in-law, Meer Cossim, was raised to the vacant seat. He proved, however, to be a man of energy and capacity. He resented bitterly the trade privileges of the English, and he attempted to place the English traders on a level with his own subjects. The English, finding him recalcitrant, soon resolved to depose him. The struggle was long and desperate; 150 English were deliberately massacred by the Nabob at Patna. The Nabob of Oude joined his forces with those of Meer Cossim; but the prowess of the English proved again victorious. Meer Jaffier was once more made Nabob of Bengal, and the total defeat of the Nabob of Oude in the battle of Buxar, on September 15, 1764, destroyed the power of the only great Mogul chief remaining, and placed the Emperor himself under the protection of the English. In Madras the English influence was extended by the subjugation of some independent chiefs. Mohammed Ali, the Nabob of that province, was wholly subservient to the English; and the Company obtained the grant of a great part of the revenues of the Carnatic.
In January 1765, Meer Jaffier died, and the succession to his throne lay between his surviving son, who was a youth of twenty, and an infant, who was the son of his eldest deceased son. The choice legally rested with the Emperor; but he was not even consulted. The Company made Nujum-ad-dowla, the son of Meer Jaffier, Nabob; but he purchased the dignity both by large money gifts and by conditions which marked another step in the subjugation of Bengal to the English. The new Nabob was compelled to leave the whole military defence of the province to the English, keeping only as many troops as were necessary for purposes of parade and for the administration of justice and the collection of the revenue. The civil administration was hardly less effectually transferred by a provision placing it in the hands of a vicegerent, who was to be chosen by the Nabob by the advice of the Governor and Council, and who might not be removed without their consent. The large revenues the Company already received from Bengal were confirmed and increased; the Company's servants obtained a formal concession of the privilege of trading within the country without paying the duties exacted from native traders, provided they paid two and a half per cent, on the single article of salt, and the accountants of the revenue were not to be appointed except with their approbation.
At every turn of the wheel, at every change in the system or the personality of the Government, vast sums were drawn from the native treasury, and most steps of promotion were purchased by gifts to the English. A great part of these gifts, going to minor servants for procuring minor promotions, have never been traced; but the Select Committee of 1773 published a detailed account of such sums as had been proved and acknowledged to have been distributed by the princes and other natives of Bengal from the year 1757 to 1766, both included. Omitting the great grant which had been made to Clive after the battle of Plassy, these sums amounted to no less than 5,940,498l.
Rumours of these abuses had begun to come to England. The Indian adventurer, or, as he was popularly called, the Nabob, was now a conspicuous and a very unpopular figure in Parliament, and the feeling of discontent was greatly strengthened by the impoverished and embarrassed condition of the Company. While numbers of its servants were returning to England laden with enormous wealth, the great corporation itself seemed on the verge of bankruptcy. The pay of its troops was in arrears, and the treasury at Calcutta was empty; heavy bills had been drawn in Bengal, and it was with the utmost difficulty they could be met.1 Vansittart, who had succeeded Clive in the government of Bengal, though a man of good intentions and of some ability, was utterly unable to control his servants, and he was often paralysed by resistance in his own Council. Orders were sent out from England, in 1764, forbidding the servants of the Company from engaging on their own account in the inland trade, and enjoining that all presents exceeding 4,000 rupees received by them should be paid to their masters; but these orders were completely disregarded. It was felt by the Directors that if the Company was to be saved, a stronger hand was needed in India. After several stormy debates and much division of opinion, Clive was again made Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Bengal, and was invested with extraordinary powers; and in May 1765 he arrived at Calcutta.
His administration lasted only for eighteen months, but it was one of the most memorable in Indian history. He found, in his own emphatic words, ‘that every spring of the Government was smeared with corruption; that principles of rapacity and oppression universally prevailed, and that every spark of sentiment and public spirit was lost and extinguished in the unbounded lust of unmerited wealth.’ The condition of affairs, he informed the Directors, was ‘nearly desperate,’ and, he added, ‘in a country where money is plenty, where fear is the principle of government, and where your arms are ever victorious, it is no wonder that the lust of riches should readily embrace the proffered means of its gratification, and that the instruments of your power should avail themselves of your authority and proceed even to extortion in those cases where simple corruption could not keep pace with their rapacity. Examples of this sort set by superiors could not fail of being followed in a proportionate degree by inferiors. The evil was contagious, and spread among the civil and military down to the writer, the ensign, and the free merchant.’1
The scheme of policy which he adopted shows clear traces of a powerful and organising mind. Though himself the greatest conqueror in the Indian service, he strongly censured the spirit of aggrandisement and adventure that had passed into the Company, and he declared that they never could expect good finances till they recognised their own position as a purely commercial body, put a check to the incessant military expeditions in which they had engaged, and resolved to restrict their influence and their possessions to Bengal, Orissa, and Behar.2 But the relations of the English with the Emperor and with the Nabob of Bengal were both changed. The Emperor and his Vizier, the Nabob of Oude, were still in a state of hostility to the Company, but they were thoroughly broken and humiliated, and the war had for some time languished. Clive now concluded a definite peace with them. The Nabob of Oude received back all his territory on paying a large sum in compensation, with the exception of Allahabad and Corah, which were reserved for the Emperor. The financial relations between the Emperor and Bengal were much modified, and one change was made which was of capital importance in the future government of India. The ‘Dewannee,’ or right of collecting, receiving, and administering the revenue of Bengal, Orissa, and Behar, was granted to the English. They thus became practically the sovereigns of the country. The Nabob of Bengal received a large pension from the Government, but he was deprived of all real power, though, by the advice of Clive, he was still retained as a nominal ruler, in order that in case of any complication with European Powers the English might be able, under the fiction of a native prince, to preserve a somewhat greater liberty of action in declaring or in declining hostilities.
He at the same time made great efforts to cure the abuses of administration. The difficulties he had here to encounter were enormous, for he had not only to struggle with the opposition of the civil servants in India, but also with very serious obstacles raised by the Directors at home. In spite of the orders of the Directors enormous presents had passed to their chief servants in India on the accession of Nujum-ad-dowla, and on the appointment of his vicegerent the inland trade had been expressly recognised and encouraged by the treaty with the new Nabob. At the same time the Directors positively refused to raise the salaries of their servants, and until such a step was taken, it was impossible that the inland trade could be suppressed. Some compromise was evidently necessary, and that which was adopted by Clive, though it was in direct disobedience to the instructions of his superiors at home, and though he was accused of having in the course of the transaction speculated largely for his own interest,1 was probably one of the best that could have been devised. A peremptory order was issued forbidding the infamous practice of forcing the natives to buy and sell at such prices as the servants of the Company chose to prescribe, and the inland trade and presents from natives were in general terms prohibited. Clive resolved, however, to maintain for the Company a strict monopoly of the salt trade, which was probably the most lucrative in Bengal, and to assign the profits of that trade in specified proportions to the Governor, the Councillors, and the senior civil and military officers. The shares of the trade were granted to the civil servants as low down as factors, and to the military servants as low down as majors, and the chaplains and surgeons were included in the arrangement; 35 per cent, was allowed as a tax to the Company. According to the estimate of Clive, the profits from this source of a councillor or colonel would be at least 7,000l. a year; those of a major or factor, 2,000l.1
These measures and several others of detailed reform were carried amid storms of unpopularity. When some of the Bengal functionaries refused to act under him, he sent to Madras for substitutes. On one day 200 officers resigned, and but for the fidelity of the Sepoys the whole military organisation of the Company might have fallen to the ground. But the iron will of Clive was never diverted from its object. He encountered the animosities of those whose illicit gains he disturbed with the same calm courage which he had displayed at Fort William, at Plassy, and at Chinsurah; and when at last, in January 1767, his broken health obliged him to return to England, he had undoubtedly left the state of India much better than he had found it. Had the lines of his policy been steadily maintained, the affairs of the Company might never have passed under the hostile notice of Parliament.
The Directors, however, refused to confirm the provisions he had made about the salt trade, and on the removal of Clive the old trade abuses grew up again, though in a somewhat mitigated form. The belief in the enormous wealth of India had greatly increased, and the proprietors of the Company began to clamour loudly for an augmented dividend. In spite of the great debts of the Company, in spite of the strong opposition of the Directors, the proprietors insisted on raising the dividend in 1766 from 6 to 10 per cent., and in 1767 to 12 1/2 per cent.
It was about this time that the great question of the justice and propriety of a parliamentary interference with the government of India first came into practical importance. We have seen in a former chapter that Chatham strongly maintained that it was both the right and the duty of the Crown to take the government of India under its direct control; that no subjects could acquire the sovereignty of any territory for themselves, but only for the nation to which they belonged; that while the trading privileges of the Company should be preserved as long as its charter was in force, its territorial revenue belonged of right to the nation; and that the gross corruption and oppression existing in India loudly called for parliamentary interference. These views were maintained with equal emphasis by Shelburne; but in the Cabinet of Chatham himself Charles Townshend strongly urged that the question should not be brought before the House of Commons, and the whole Rockingham section of the Whigs maintained the sole right of the Company under the terms of its charters to the government and revenues of India. As no reservation of territorial revenue to the Crown had been made when these charters were purchased by the Company, granted by the Crown, and confirmed by Parliament, they contended that the claims now put forward on the part of the Government were utterly inconsistent with good faith or respect for property. In November 1766, however, Parliament appointed a committee to inquire into and to publish the state of the Company's revenue and other affairs, its relations to the Indian princes, the expenses the Government had incurred on its account, and even the correspondence of the Company with its servants in India. It was with difficulty that the Company procured an exemption of the confidential portion of that correspondence from the general publicity. In 1767 a law was passed which introduced several new regulations into the manner of voting and declaring dividends in public companies;1 it was immediately followed by an Act which, in defiance of the late resolution of the Court of Proprietors raising the dividend of the East India Company to 12 1/2 percent., limited it till the next Session of Parliament to 10 per cent.;2 and the Company, terrified by the action of the Government, then entered into an agreement, by which it purchased the extension of its territorial revenue, and also a temporary exemption from a duty which had been imposed upon some kinds of tea, by binding itself to pay 400,000l. a year into the public exchequer for two years from February 1, 1767.3
The question of right which was thus raised was a very grave one. The enactment of a law restraining a trading company from granting such dividends as were voted and declared by those who were legally entrusted with the power of doing so was opposed by all sections of the Opposition as a gross violation of the rights of property, and as inconsistent with the security of every commercial corporation in the country. Counsel were heard against the Bill. On the third reading in the House of Lords a minority of forty-four divided against a majority of fifty-nine, and nineteen peers signed a protest against the measure.1 The principle, however, was maintained and extended. In 1768 the restraint on the dividend was continued for another year, and in 1769 a new agreement was made by Parliament with the East India Company for five years, during which time the Company was guaranteed its territorial revenues, but was bound to pay an annuity of 400,000l., and to export a specified quantity of British goods. It was at liberty to increase its dividend during that time to 12 1/2 per cent, providing the increase in any one year did not exceed 1 per cent. If, however, the dividend should fall below 10 per cent, the sum to be paid to the Government was to be proportionately reduced. If it sank to 6 per cent, the payment to the Government was to cease. In case the finances of the Company enabled it to pay off some specified debts, it was to lend some money to the public at 2 per cent.2
It is obvious that this law rested upon the supposition that the Company possessed an enormous surplus revenue, and a large section of politicians regarded the exaction of the annuity as a simple extortion, which was wholly unwarranted by the terms of the charter. It soon became evident that the Company was totally unable to pay it. Its debts were already estimated at more than six millions sterling.3 It supported an army of about 30,000 men. It paid about one million sterling a year in the form of tributes, pensions, or compensations to the Emperor, the Nabob of Bengal, and other great native personages.4 Its incessant wars, though they had hitherto been always successful, were always expensive, and a large proportion of the wealth which should have passed into the general exchequer was still diverted to the private accounts of its servants. At this critical period, too, the Company was engaged in a desperate and calamitous struggle with Hyder Ali, the ruler of Mysore, who was by far the ablest and most daring native enemy the English had yet encountered in Hindostan. The war had begun in 1767, when Hyder Ali succeeded in inducing the Nizam of Deccan to join him against the English; but although it had become evident from the beginning that an enemy had arisen who was widely different in skill and courage from those whom the Company had as yet encountered, it seemed as if English discipline was likely to be as usual completely victorious. After several vicissitudes of fortune Hyder Ali was defeated in a great battle near Amboor. The Nizam fell away from him and made peace with the English. Mangalore, one of Hyder Ali's principal seaports, was captured by a squadron from Bombay. Colonel Smith pursued the defeated chieftain into his own country, and although he was unable to force him to give battle, he penetrated far into Mysore and captured several fortresses. But towards the close of 1768 a great turn took place in the fortunes of the war. Hyder Ali reconquered everything that had been taken. With 14,000 horsemen and a large force of Sepoys, he swept almost without resistance over the southern division of the Carnatic, reducing a once fertile land to utter ruin; and soon after, having by a series of artful manoeuvres succeeded in drawing the English army far from Madras, he, at the head of 6,000 cavalry, traversed 120 miles in three days, and appeared unexpectedly in the immediate neighbourhood of the English capital. He at once proposed a peace; and, as the open town and the rich country round Madras were at his mercy, the English agreed to negotiate. In April 1769 a treaty was signed, providing for a mutual restitution of conquests and an alliance.
It was the first instance in which a victorious native Power had almost dictated terms to the English, and its effects on the fortunes of the Company were immediate. The price of East India Stock fell 60 per cent., the credit of the Company sank, and as the revenues from India began to fail, and the shadow of unpopularity fell more darkly upon the corporation, the old complaints of the abuses that were practised grew louder. Three supervisors were sent out to India by the Directors in 1769, with authority to investigate every department of the service; but the ship in which they sailed never reached its destination. In 1770 Bengal was desolated by perhaps the most terrible of the many terrible famines that have darkened its history, and it was estimated that more than a third part of its inhabitants perished. Yet in spite of all these calamities, in spite of the rapidly accumulating evidence of the inadequacy of the Indian revenues, the rapacity of the proprietors at home prevailed, and dividends of 12 and 12 1/2 per cent., as permitted by the last Act, were declared. The result of all this could hardly be doubtful. In July 1772, the Directors were obliged to confess that the sum required for the necessary payments of the next three months was deficient to the extent of no less than 1,293,000l., and in August the Chairman and Deputy Chairman waited on the minister to inform him that nothing short of a loan of at least one million from the public could save the Company from ruin.
The whole system of Indian government had thus for a time broken down. The division between the Directors and a large part of the proprietors, and between the authorities of the Company in England and those in India, the private and selfish interests of its servants in India, and of its proprietors at home, the continual oscillation between a policy of conquest and a policy of trade, and the great want in the whole organisation of any adequate power of command and of restraint, had fatally weakened the great corporation. In England the conviction was rapidly growing that the whole system of governing a great country by a commercial company was radically and incurably false. The arguments on the subject cannot be better stated than they were a few years later by Adam Smith. The first interest, he said, of the Sovereign of a people is that its wealth should increase as much as possible; and this is especially the case in a country like Bengal, where the revenue is chiefly derived from land rent. But a company of merchants exercising sovereign power will always treat their character of sovereigns as a mere appendix to their character of merchants, will make all government subservient to the maintenance of trade monopoly, and will employ it to stunt or distort the economical development of the people over whom they rule. In the Spice Islands the Dutch were said to burn all spiceries which a fertile season produces beyond what they expected to be able to dispose of in Europe with such profit as they deemed sufficient. In British India Government officials had been known to compel a peasant to plough up a rich field of poppies, for no other reason than that they might be able to sell their own opium at a higher price. As sovereigns it was the plain interest of the Company that their subjects should buy European goods as cheaply, and should sell their own goods as profitably, as possible. As merchants possessing the sole right of trading between India and Europe, it was their interest to compel the Indians to buy what the Company supplied at the dearest rate, and sell what the Company purchased for the European market at the cheapest rate. The first object of sovereign merchant companies is always to exclude competitors from the markets of the country they rule, and consequently to reduce some part at least of the surplus produce of that country to what they themselves require or can dispose of at the profit they consider reasonable. Insensibly but invariably, on all ordinary occasions, they will prefer the little and transitory profit of the monopolist to the great and permanent revenues of a sovereign.
And the public trade monopoly of the Company is but a small part of the evil. This, at least, extends only to the trade with Europe. But the private trade of the servants of the Company extended to a far greater number of articles, to every article in which they chose to deal, to articles of the first necessity intended for home consumption. It is idle to suppose that the clerks of a great counting-house, 10,000 miles distant from their masters, will abstain from a trade which is at once so lucrative and so easy, and it is no less idle to doubt that this trade will become a ruinous form of oppression. The Company has at least a connection with India, and has, therefore, a strong interest in not ruining it. Its servants have gone out for a few years to make their fortunes, and when they have left the country they are absolutely indifferent to its fate. If their wishes are attended to, they will establish the same legal monopoly for their private trade as the Company possesses for its public trade. If they are not suffered to do so, they will attain the same end by other means, by perverting the authority of Government and the administration of justice, in order to harass and to ruin all rival traders.1
The subject was discussed in Parliament, in 1772, at great length, and with much acrimony. Several propositions were put forward by the Directors, but rejected by the Parliament; and Parliament, under the influence of Lord North, and in spite of the strenuous and passionate opposition of Burke, asserted in unequivocal terms its right to the territorial revenues of the Company. A Select Committee, consisting of thirty-one members, was appointed to make a full inquiry into the affairs of the Company; but it was not till 1773 that decisive measures were taken. The Company was at this time absolutely helpless. Lord North commanded an overwhelming majority in both Houses, and on Indian questions he was supported by a portion of the Opposition. The Company was on the brink of ruin, unable to pay its tribute to the Government, unable to meet the bills which were becoming due in Bengal. The publication, in 1773, of the report of the Select Committee, revealed a scene of maladministration, oppression, and fraud which aroused a wide-spread indignation through England; and the Government was able without difficulty, in spite of the provisions of the charter, to exercise a complete controlling and regulating power over the affairs of the Company. A new Committee—this time sitting in secret—was appointed by the Government to investigate its affairs, and Parliament took the decisive step of preventing by law the Company from sending out to India a Commission of Supervision which it had appointed, on the ground that it would throw a heavy additional expenditure on its tottering finances.1
A very earnest opposition was made to this measure by a few members, among whom Burke was pre-eminent. The part which Burke took in the contest is a curious illustration of the strong natural conservatism of his intellect, and a curious contrast to his later speeches on Indian affairs; and few persons who follow his speeches as they appear in the parliamentary reports will fail to be struck with the ungovernable violence of language, and the glaring faults of taste, temper, and tact which they display.1 His arguments, however, when reduced to their simplest expression, were very forcible. He contended that to violate a royal charter, repeatedly confirmed by Act of Parliament, was to strike at the security of every trading corporation, and, indeed, of all private property, in the kingdom, and that it was a clear violation of the charter of a self-governed Company to prevent it, by Act of Parliament, from managing its own affairs and exercising a supervision and control over its own servants. Every additional proof of the abuses in India was an additional argument for permitting the Company to send out a Committee of Supervision, and the simple postponement of such a step would necessarily aggravate the evils that were complained of. It was true that the financial condition of the Company was deplorable; but its embarrassments were partly due to transient and exceptional causes, and mainly to the conduct of the Government itself. Without a shadow of authority in the terms of the charter or in the letter of the law, the ministers had raised a distinction between the territorial revenue and the trade revenue of the Company. By threatening the former they had extorted, in addition to the legitimate duties which had been paid into the Imperial exchequer, no less than 400,000l. a year, at a time when the finances of the Company were altogether unable to bear the exaction. This tribute, which was the true origin of the bankruptcy of the Company,2 was purely extortionate. In one form or another it was computed that little less than two millions sterling had of late passed annually from the Company to the Government.1 The interference of Parliament with the affairs of the Company had been going on since 1767, and had produced nothing but unmixed disaster. Not a single abuse had been in reality removed. Government had shaken the credit of the Company; had introduced a fatal element of uncertainty into all its calculations; had imposed upon it a tribute which reduced it to bankruptcy; had paralysed its efforts to control the abuses of its own servants. Nor was there the smallest reason to believe that the withdrawal of the chief patronage of India from the Company, and the transfer of an almost boundless fund of corruption to the servants of the Crown, would prove beneficial either to England or to India. In the eyes of the law Parliament may, no doubt, be regarded as omnipotent; but its power does not equitably extend to the violation of compacts and the subversion of privileges which had been duly purchased. Yet this was the course which Parliament was now taking when it virtually cancelled the charter it had granted.
These arguments, however, proved of no avail. A large number of proprietors of the Company supported the Government. Clive himself, who was in violent opposition to the predominating party among the Directors, was usually on their side.2 The public mind was at last keenly sensible of the enormity of the abuses in India, and it was felt that an empire already exceeding in magnitude every European country except France and Russia, with a gross revenue of four millions, and a trade in proportion,3 should not any longer be left uncontrolled by Parliament. The Company was obliged to come to Parliament for assistance, and the ministers resolved to avail themselves of the situation to reorganise its whole constitution. By enormous majorities two measures were passed through Parliament in 1773, which mark the commencement of a new epoch in the history of the East India Company. By one Act, the ministers met its financial embarrassments by a loan of 1,400,000l. at an interest of 4 per cent., and agreed to forego the claim of 400,000l. till this loan had been discharged. The Company was restricted from declaring any dividend above 6 per cent. till the new loan had been discharged, and above 7 per cent. till its bond-debt was reduced to 1,500,000l. It was obliged to submit its accounts every half-year to the Lords of the Treasury; it was restricted from accepting bills drawn by its servants in India for above 300,000l. a year, and it was obliged to export to the British settlements within its limits British goods of a specified value.
By another Act, the whole constitution of the Company was changed, and the great center of authority and power was trnsferred to the Crown. The qualification to vote in the Court of Proprietors was raised from 500l. to 1,000l., and restricted to those who had held their stock for twelve months; and by this measure 1,246 voters were at once disfranchised. The Directors, instead of being, as heretofore, annually elected, were to sit for four years, a quarter of the number being annually renewed. The Mayor's Court at Calcutta was to be restricted to small mercantile cases, and all the more important matters of jurisdiction in India were to be submitted to a new court, consisting of a Chief Justice and three puisne judges appointed by the Crown. A Governor-General of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa, was to be appointed at a salary of 25,000l. a year, with four Councillors, at salaries of 8,000l. a year, and the other presidencies were made subordinate to Bengal. The first Governor-General and Councillors were to be nominated, not by the East India Company, but by Parliament; they were to be named in the Act, and to hold their offices for five years; after that period the appointments reverted to the Directors, but were subject to the approbation of the Crown. Everything in the Company's correspondence with India relating to civil and military affairs was to be laid before the Government. No person in the service of the King or of the Company might receive presents, and the Governor-General, the Councillors, and the judges were excluded from all commercial profits and pursuits.1
By this memorable Act the charter of the East India Company was completely subverted, and the government of India passed mainly into the hands of the ministers of the Crown. The chief management of affairs. was vested in persons in whose appointment or removal the Company had no voice or share, who might govern without its approbation or sanction, but who nevertheless drew, by authority of an Act of Parliament, large salaries from its exchequer. Such a measure could be justified only by extreme necessity and by brilliant success, and it was obviously open to the gravest objections from many sides. The direct appointment by the legis lative body of great executive officers was especially denounced as at once unprecedented and unconstitutional; for it freed ministers from the responsibility, while it left them the advantages, of the patronage, and thus, in the words of the protest of the Rockingham peers, ‘defeated the wise design of the Constitution, which placed the nomination of all officers either immediately or derivatively in the Crown, while it committed the check upon improper nominations to Parliament.’ Some of the names then selected were afterwards very prominent in English and Indian history. Warren Hastings had been appointed by the East India Company Governor and President of Bengal in 1772. He now became by Act of Parliament the first Governor-General: Barwell, Clavering, Monson, and Philip Francis were the four Councillors. In the Governor-General's Council all differences were to be decided by a majority, and it was therefore always possible for the Governor-General to be thwarted by three of the Councillors.
In a future chapter of this history it will be my task to describe the results of this great change and experiment in government which makes the year 1773 so memorable in the history of British administration in India. The overwhelming majorities by which the measure was carried, in spite of the opposition of the Company, of the City of London, and of the Rockingham Whigs, show that it obtained something more than a mere party support; and Lord North, having attained his end, was anxious as much as possible to alleviate the stroke. Seventeen millions of pounds of tea were lying in the warehouses of the Company, and by permitting the direct export of this tea to the colonies, North hoped to grant a great boon to India, and did not foresee that he was taking a great step toward the loss of America.
Another subject which now attracted general attention was the charges that were brought against Clive. He complained bitterly that he had been examined before the Select Committee as if he had been a sheep-stealer. The report of the committee unveiled the many acts of violence and rapacity he had committed during his earlier administration; the great reforms which he had undertaken during his later administration had mortally offended many corrupt interests; he had bitter enemies among the Directors; he was the most prominent and most wealthy representative of a class of men who were very unpopular in the country; and as he had attached himself to the Grenville connection in politics, and bad not after the death of Grenville fully identified himself with North, his position in Parliament was somewhat isolated. General Burgoyne, when presenting one of the reports of the Select Committee, declared that it contained an account of crimes shocking to human nature; and a few days later he brought on a vote of censure directed personally against Clive. Having enumerated the disgraceful circumstances attending the deposition of Surajah Dowlah in 1757, the fictitious treaty drawn up by Clive in order to elude the payment that had been promised to Omichund, the forgery by Clive of the name of Admiral Watson, and the enormous gifts which Clive had received as a reward for the elevation of Meer Jaffier, he moved that Clive did at that time, ‘through the influence of powers with which he was entrusted,’ obtain, under various authorities, sums amounting to 234,000l., and in so doing abused those powers.
The debates that followed were very remarkable for the confusion of parties and persons they displayed. Clive defended himself with great ability and power, and his chief advocate was Wedderburn, the Solicitor-General, while one of his chief assailants was Thurlow, the Attorney-General. Lord North voted with the enemies of Clive. The Court party were divided;1 and the bulk of the Opposition supported Clive. Fox and Barré agreed in attackíng him, while Lord G. Germaine powerfully defended him. Burke was also among his defenders. He always drew a broad distinction between the career of Clive and the career of Hastings, and maintained that though the former had committed great crimes, his serious attempts in his last administration to purify the government of India, and especially his prohibition of presents from the natives, had done much to atone for them.1 The facts that were alleged against him could not, indeed, be disputed; but the danger of the crisis, and the universal habits of Indian life, were strong circumstances of palliation. It was remembered that fifteen years had passed since the incriminated acts were committed; that Clive had performed services of transcendent value to the Empire; that in his last administration, with every opportunity of enormously increasing his fortune, he had refrained from doing so; and that the animosity against him was quite as much due to his merits as to his crimes. The resolution of Burgoyne was divided into two parts. The first part, asserting that Clive had accepted 234,000l., was carried without a division; but the latter part, censuring his conduct, was rejected after a long debate, and, on the motion of Wedderburn, the House unanimously resolved ‘that Robert Clive did at the same time render great and meritorious services to this country.’2
He did not long survive the triumph. The excitement of the conflict and the storm of invective that was directed against him contributed to unhinge his mind, which had always been subject to a dark, constitutional melancholy; and a painful disease, and a dangerous narcotic taken to alleviate it, aggravated the evil. In November 1774 he died by his own hand, when but just forty-nine; and in this manner, about two years before the outbreak of the American war, England lost the greatest general she had produced since the death of Marlborough.1
Another group of measures of considerable importance, which occupied at this time the attention of the public and of Parliament related to religious liberty. The spirit of intolerance, as we have seen in the last volume, had been for a long time steadily declining in England, and there was no disposition in the higher ranks of the Government and among the leaders of either of the great parties in the State to make legislation subservient to religious fanaticism. Prosecutions for religious heterodoxy had almost wholly ceased. The only case, I believe, of the punishment of a freethinker for his writings in the early years of George III. was that of Peter Anet, who was sentenced in 1762 to stand twice in the pillory, and to be imprisoned for a year in Bridewell with hard labour, for a very violent and scurrilous attack upon Christianity.2 The Methodist movement, however, contributed to strengthen a spirit of fanaticism among the classes who were influenced by it, and, on the other hand, as we have already seen, it was encountered by explosions of mob violence which often amounted to a high degree of persecution, and which were sometimes in a very shameful manner connived at, countenanced, or even instigated by local magistrates and by clergymen. Isolated incidents occasionally occurred which seemed to show that the spirit of persecution was rather dormant than dead;3 and the law, though mildly administered, contained many things that were repugnant to true religious liberty.
The Ecclesiastical Courts still retained a jurisdiction which was in many respects oppressive and anomalous, and there were frequent complaints of their expensive, vexatious, and dilatory proceedings. Their conflict with the temporal courts dates from a period long anterior to the Reformation, and the temporal courts had early assumed, and exercised with much severity, a superintending influence over the spiritual ones, defining their sphere of action, and arresting by ‘writs of prohibition’ their attempts to extend their authority. The Ecclesiastical Courts retained, however, a power of taking cognisance of acts of private immorality, heresy, and neglect of religious observances, and some large departments of wrong lay within their jurisdiction. The withholding of tithes and other ecclesiastical dues and fees from the parson or vicar, injuries done by one clergyman to another, questions of spoliation and dilapidation of churches or parsonages, matrimonial cases, and also, by a peculiarity of English law, testamentary cases and cases of intestacy, passed under their control.
The tendency of English law, however, was gradually to abridge their sphere. The strange power they originally possessed of compelling an accused person to criminate himself, by tendering to him what was termed an ex-officio oath relating to the matter in dispute, would probably have been abolished under Elizabeth but for the direct intervention of the Queen.1 It was finally taken away under Charles II.2 and the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Courts in cases of tithes and other pecuniary dues was greatly limited. When a question of disputed right was raised, the trial passed at once from the Ecclesiastical to the Civil Court, and this rule applied to all tithe cases in which the defendant pleaded any custom, modus, or composition. The Ecclesiastical Court had, therefore, only to enforce an undisputed right, and in cases of dues or tithes under the value of 40s. a law of William III. provided a summary process by which they might be recovered before a justice of the peace.1 The discipline the Spiritual Courts exercised in cases of immorality, and especially in cases of non-attendance at church, gradually faded away, from the impossibility of enforcing it. The only place where in the eighteenth century the discipline of the Anglican Church appears to have been habitually and severely enforced was in the Isle of Man under the episcopate of Bishop Wilson.
Already in the seventeenth century it had become customary to commute these penances for a money payment,2 and such payments in cases which were mainly pro salute animi gradually ceased. Archbishop Secker in 1753 complained bitterly of the difficulty of enforcing any kind of ecclesiastical discipline. Yet in remote country parishes, even in the closing years of the eighteenth century, the spectacle might be occasionally seen of some poor woman arrayed in a white sheet doing public penance for her fault.3
In cases, however, of the wrongs which I have enumerated, and also in cases of defamation, the Ecclesiastical Courts retained all their vigour, and there were bitter complaints of their abuses and of the excessive expense of their procedure. They possessed also a peculiar weapon of terrible force. The sentence of excommunication might be imposed by them for many offences; but it was most commonly employed as a punishment for contempt of the Ecclesiastical Court in not appearing before it, or not obeying its decrees, or not paying its fees or costs. An excommunicated person in England was placed almost wholly beyond the protection of the law. He could not be a witness or a juryman. He could not bring an action to secure or recover his property. If he died without the removal of his sentence he had no right to Christian burial.1 Nor was this all. After forty days' contumacy he might be arrested by the writ ‘De excommunicato capiendo,’ issued by the Court of Chancery, and imprisoned till he was reconciled to the Church.
It is a singular fact that such a tremendous power, which in theory at least might extend even to perpetual imprisonment, should during the whole of the eighteenth century have been lodged with an Ecclesiastical Court, and that it might be applied to men who had committed such trivial offences as the non-payment of fees or costs. Nor was it by any means a dead letter. Howard, in the course of his visits to the English gaols, mentions that in Rothwell gaol, in Yorkshire, he found a weaver named William Carr, who, ‘having given a bad name to a woman who was said not to deserve a very good one,’ was cited before the Ecclesiastical Court and imprisoned ‘until he shall have made satisfaction to the Holy Church, as well for the contempt as for the injury by him done unto it.’ He lay in prison from May 1774 to July 1776, when he was released by an Insolvent Act which forgave that class of debtors their fees.1 In 1787 two women were committed to Northampton gaol by virtue of the writ ‘De excommunicato capiendo,’ ‘because they had wickedly contemned the power of the keys.’2 In this year, however, an Act was carried limiting the time of commencing suits in these Courts for different offences to six or eight months.3 But the most serious abuses connected with them continued to the present century. In 1812 Lord Folkestone brought forward the subject when presenting a petition from a young woman who had lain for two years in Bristol gaol as an excommunicated person. She had neglected to perform a penance imposed on her by the Ecclesiastical Court; had been excommunicated and imprisoned in consequence; and, as she was too poor to pay the fees that had been incurred, she was unable to obtain her release. Lord Folkestone related six or seven other cases of a similar kind, and in about half of them the excommunicated person had been at least three years in prison.4 In 1813 an important Act was passed regulating the Ecclesiastical Courts. The power of excommunication for contempt and non-payment of fees was taken away. The penalty was reserved only for certain expressly defined offences, and no civil penalty or disability, except imprisonment not exceeding six months, could any longer attach to excommunication.5
A very scandalous form of persecution, in which, however, religious motives had no part, was practised in the last years of George II. and the early years of George III. by no less a body than the Corporation of the City of London. In 1748 that Corporation made a bye-law imposing a fine of 400l. and 20 marks on any person who, being nominated by the Lord Mayor for the office of Sheriff, refused to stand the election of the Common Hall, and 600l. on anyone who, being elected, refused to serve. The proceeds of these fines were to be employed in building the New Mansion House, which had just been begun. But the office of Sheriff was one of those in which no one could serve who had not previously taken the Sacrament according to the Anglican rite, and it was, therefore, one of those from which Dissenters were excluded. It would appear almost incredible, if the facts were not amply attested, that under these circumstances the City of London systematically elected wealthy Dissenters to the office in order that they should be objected to and fined, and that in this manner it extorted no less than 15,000l.
The electors appointed these Dissenters with a clear knowledge that they would not serve, and with the sole purpose of extorting money. One of those whom they selected was blind; another was bedridden. Sometimes the victims appealed against the sentence, but the case was brought in the first instance before a City court, which always gave verdicts for the Corporation, and the cost of appeals against the whole weight of the City influence was so great that few men were rich enough or determined enough to encounter it. At last a gentleman named Evans, who had been elected Sheriff, determined to fight the battle to the end. For no less than ten years the case was before the Courts. It was contended on the part of the Corporation that the Toleration Act did nothing more than suspend the penalties for attending the Nonconformist, and neglecting the Anglican, service; that it left the Dissenters liable to every other penalty and inconvenience to which they had been previously subject, and that they might, therefore, be legally fined for refusing to serve in an office which they could not legally fill without going through a ceremony repugnant to their conscience. This doctrine was finally overthrown in 1767 by a judgment of the House of Lords. After consultation with the judges, and after one of the most admirable of the many admirable speeches of Lord Mansfield, the House decided that the Toleration Act took away the crime as well as the penalty of Nonconformity, and that no fine could be legally imposed on Nonconformists who refused to serve in offices to which conscientious Dissenters were ineligible by law.1
The next important question relating to religious liberty was one to which I have already adverted in another connection. The movement for abolishing the subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles was defended mainly on the principles of Locke and of Hoadly. Though not absolutely coextensive, it was at least closely connected with the growth of the Arian school of which Clarke, Sykes, Clayton, and Lindsey were prominent representatives, and it received a great impulse in 1766 from the publication and the popularity of the ‘Confessional’ of Archdeacon Blackburne. In 1771 a society called the Feathers Tavern Association was formed for the purpose of applying to the Legislature for relief. Blackburne and Lindsey were its most active members, and in February 1772 a petition, drawn up by Blackburne and signed by 250 persons, was presented to the House of Commons by Sir W. Meredith. Of those who signed it about 200 were clergymen, and the remainder were lawyers and doctors, who protested especially against the custom which prevailed at the universities of obliging students who came up for matriculation, at the age of sixteen or even earlier,1 and who were not intended for the Church, to subscribe their consent to the Articles. It was remarked that Oxford was strongly opposed to the movement, while a powerful party at Cambridge supported it. Watson, who was afterwards Bishop of Llandaff, and who was at this time Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, published, under the signature of ‘A Christian Whig,’ two letters in favour of it, which were presented to every Member of Parliament the day before the petition was taken into consideration.2 Paley, who was then rising to prominence as a lecturer at Cambridge, refused to sign the petition on the characteristic ground that he was ‘too poor to keep a conscience,’ but he fully concurred in it, and he wrote anonymously in its support.3 It was signed by Jebb and John Law, who were prominent tutors at Cambridge, and it was countenanced by the Bishop of Carlisle, who was father of John Law, and also, it is said, in some degree by Bishop Lowth.4
Lord North was anxious that the petition should be received and silently laid aside; but Sir Roger Newdigate, who was violently opposed to it, insisted upon moving its rejection, and a very interesting debate ensued. On the side of the petitioners the chief topics were the obscurities, the absurdities, and inconsistencies of the Articles, the manifest severity with which they pressed upon many clerical consciences, the folly of asking schoolboys of sixteen to declare their assent to a long series of complicated dogmatic assertions, the individual right and duty of every Protestant to interpret Scripture freely for himself, the essentially Popish character of all attempts to prescribe religious opinions by human formularies, the danger and the immorality of holding out temptations to dissimulation and prevarication by annexing rewards or punishments to particular opinions, the duty of opening the Church as wide as possible to all conscientious men. The petitioners were quite ready to assent to Scripture as the inspired Word of God, and to abjure all Popish tendencies, but they refused to be bound by any merely human formularies.
Among the arguments on the other side may be mentioned the appearance, perhaps for the first time, of two political doctrines which were afterwards destined, in connection with Irish politics, and with the Roman Catholic question, to attain a great importance. It was contended that the Coronation Oath made it unlawful for the Sovereign to give his assent to any law which changed the form or character of the Established Church, and that a similar incapacity was imposed upon Parliament by the articles of the Scotch Union, which enacted the permanent maintenance of the then existing Church establishments in the two countries.1 It is remarkable that Burke, while strongly opposing the petition, took great pains to disclaim all sympathy with these arguments, and asserted that the Coronation Oath only bound the Sovereign to respect the religion which his Parliament had sanctioned, and that the Act of Union was no bar to the right of the united Parliament to revise and modify the ecclesiastical conditions of the country.1
The King was very strongly opposed to the prayer of the petitioners,2 and Lord North, in a temperate speech, opposed it as disturbing what was now quiet, and as likely to introduce anarchy, confusion, and dissension into the Church. The petition was supported among others by Lord George Germaine, Sir George Savile, and Thomas Pitt, the nephew of Chatham, who belonged to different political connections, and its advocates appear to have been chiefly Whigs. Dowdeswell, however, and Burke on this question severed themselves from their friends,3 and the speech of Burke was by far the ablest in the debate. He urged the great danger of religious alterations, which usually pave the way to religious tumults and shake one of the capital pillars of the State. He dwelt upon the complete indifference of the great majority of the people to the subject, and he laid down very emphatically the principle which always governed his own attitude and that of the section of the Whig party which he inspired, towards proposed reforms. ‘The ground for a legislative alteration of a legal establishment is this and this only: that you find the inclinations of the majority of the people, concurring with your own sense of the intolerable nature of the abuse, are in favour of a change.’ No such desire existed in the present case. While strongly asserting the right of every man to follow his own convictions in religion, he as strongly maintained the undoubted right of the Legislature ‘to annex its own conditions to benefits artificially created,’ and ‘to take a security that a tax raised on the people shall be applied only to those who profess such doctrines and follow such a mode of worship as the Legislature representing the people has thought most agreeable to their general sense, binding as usual the minority not to an assent to the doctrines, but to a payment of the tax.’ The present question, he said, is not a question of the rights of private conscience, but of the title to public emoluments. He drew a vivid picture of the utter unsuitability of the Bible to be treated as a bond of union or a summary of faith,1 and he dilated upon the impossibility of maintaining a religious organisation without any fixed code of belief, and the confusion and anarchy which an abolition of subscription would probably produce. By a majority of 217 to 71 the House refused to receive the petition.2
The question was again introduced in 1773 and 1774, but it made no progress either in the House or in the country, though the subscription of students at Cambridge was soon after modified. Several of the leaders of the movement seceded from the Church of England to Unitarianism; the school of Hoadly was in its decadence, and a new spirit was arising in the Church. It was a significant fact that the Methodists, and the section of the Anglican clergy who were most imbued with their principles, were the most ardent opponents of the relaxation of subscription,1 and the strongly dogmatic character of the Evangelical school, and the Calvinistic theology which soon became dominant within it, tended to attach its members to the Articles. The opposition to them soon died away, and when it was next revived it was by the school which was beyond all others the most opposed to that of Hoadly, by members of the school of Newman, who justly looked upon the Articles as the stronghold of that Protestant faith which they desired to extirpate from the Church.
In the course of the debates on the subscription, Lord North said that if the application for relief had come from Dissenting ministers, who received no emoluments from the Establishment, he could see no objection to it, and this remark encouraged the Dissenters to apply for a relief from their subscription. As we have seen, their ministers, schoolmasters, and tutors were compelled by the Toleration Act to assent to thirty-five and a half of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England. No such subscription had been exacted in the Irish Toleration Act of 1719, which legalised the position of the Irish Protestant Dissenters, and it was on various grounds unpopular among the Dissenters in England. Many had drifted far from the orthodoxy of their fathers; many had adopted the views of Hoadly, that all subscriptions to human formularies were wrong, and many others who cordially believed the doctrinal articles regarded the subscription to them as a humiliating act of homage to a rival Church. The law, indeed, appears to have been very rarely enforced, and there was a party among the more orthodox Dissenters who desired its maintenance, and even petitioned against the abolition of the subscription to the Anglican Articles as tending to encourage the growth of Arianism.1 The prevailing Dissenting opinion, however, was on the other side, and the relief Bill was extremely well received in the House of Commons. The ministers, though they did not take it under their own charge, appear to have favoured it, or at least to have been divided on the subject. On the side of the Opposition, Burke spoke strongly in its favour, and the great body of the Whigs supported it. It was carried through the House of Commons by large majorities in 1772 and 1773, but the bishops—strongly countenanced by the King, and, apparently at his orders, by the ministry2 —opposed it in the Lords, and in spite of the warm support of Chatham it was defeated in that House. In 1779, however, it was brought in with more success, and by the concurrence of both parties Dissenting ministers and tutors were admitted to the benefits of the Toleration Act without a subscription to the Articles, provided they declared themselves Christians and Protestants, and believers in the Old and New Testaments.3 In the same year the Irish Parliament relieved the Irish Nonconformists from the Test Act.
On these questions the tendency of the Whigs was somewhat more decidedly towards religious liberty than that of the Tories. This was, however, in some degree due to the greater freedom of an Opposition, and in some degree to the old alliance of the Dissenters with the Whigs; each party was much divided, and Lord North's own disposition was far removed from intolerance. In one most important measure, which marks an epoch in the history of religious liberty, the Government, as we have already seen, represented the liberal, and the Opposition the intolerant side. The Quebec Act of 1774, establishing Catholicism in Canada, would a generation earlier have been impossible, and it was justly considered a remarkable sign of the altered condition of opinion that such a law should be enacted by a British Parliament, and should have created no serious disturbances in the country. The Church party was at this time closely allied with the Court against the Americans. The bishops were on nearly all questions steady supporters of Lord North, and only one of them actively opposed the Quebec Bill.
The Whig party and the City politicians were fiercely hostile to the measure. Chatham denounced it as ‘a breach of the Reformation, of the Revolution, and of the King's Coronation Oath,’ ‘a gross violation of the Protestant religion.’ The City of London presented an address to the King petitioning him not to give his assent to a Bill which was inconsistent with his Coronation Oath and with his position as protector of the Protestant religion. When the King went down to the House of Lords to give his assent to the Bill, he was met by cries of ‘No Popery!’ from an angry mob,1 and the Sovereign who in his later years was justly regarded as the bitterest enemy of his Catholic subjects in Ireland was now described as leaning more strongly to Popery than any English monarch since the Stuarts. It was customary to compare George III. in this respect to Charles I.1 When Burke, in 1775, moved his famous scheme for conciliating America, Horace Walpole commented upon it in these terms: ‘It is remarkable that in his proposed repeal he did not mention the Quebec Bill—another symptom of his old Popery.’2
The success of the Quebec Act led Parliament, a few years later, to undertake the relief of the Catholics at home from some part of the atrocious penal laws to which they were still subject. The absurdity of maintaining such laws suspended over the heads of a small and peaceful fraction of the nation, in an age of general enlightenment and toleration, was now keenly felt, and it was the more conspicuous on account of the marked change which had passed over the spirit of the chief Catholic Governments of Europe. Religion had everywhere ceased to be a guiding motive in politics. Nearly all the Catholic governments of Europe were animated by a purely secular spirit, and were completely emancipated from clerical influence. Pombal in Portugal; Choiseul, Malesherbes, and Turgot in France; Aranda and Grimaldi in Spain, however much they may have differed on other points, were in this perfectly agreed. If Austria, under Maria Theresa, formed a partial exception, the accession to the empire of Joseph II. in 1764 had already given a new bias to its policy. The Jesuits, who represented especially the intolerance and aggressiveness of Catholicism, had, for many years, lost all credit and almost all power. They had been expelled from Portugal in 1759, from France in 1764, from Bohemia and Denmark in 1766, from Spain, the Spanish colonies in America, Venice, and Genoa in 1767, from Malta, Naples, and Parma in 1768, and, at last, in 1773, Clement XIV. had been induced to issue his famous bull suppressing the order. In nearly all Catholic countries, the tendency was to enlarge the bounds of religious liberty, to secularise the Government, and to restrict the power of the Church. Charles III. had almost completely fettered the Inquisition of Spain. In the course of a few years, stringent laws were made reducing the power of the clergy in Venice, Austrian Lombardy, Piedmont, Parma, and the two Sicilies. An imperial edict in 1776 had abolished some of the worst forms of persecution in Austria and Hungary, and in the same year Necker, though an austere Calvinist, obtained a foremost place among the ministers of France.
All these things made the legal position of the English Catholics appear especially shameful, and the laws against them manifestly reflected the passions and the intolerance of another age. In considering, however, the real working of these laws, we must remember the curious conservatism of English legislators, who have continually preferred to allow a bad or an unpopular law to become dormant rather than repeal it. The statute book is by no means a true reflex of contemporary opinion and practice, for it is full of strange survivals of other ages. Thus a law of Henry V. which provided that all members of counties and boroughs must be residents in the constituencies they represented, and that no non-resident could be a voter, was suffered to be completely obsolete for centuries, and was at last removed from the statute book in 1774.1 I have already referred to the law for slowly pressing to death prisoners who refused to plead, which was only repealed in 1772,2 and to the law for punishing Irish witches with death, wich was only repealed in 1821,3 and several other almost equally striking instances may be adduced. Shortly before the Restoration, thirteen gipsies were executed at one Suffolk assize, under a law of Elizabeth, which made all gipsies found in England liable to death,4 and this law, though censured by a committee of the House of Commons in 1772,5 was not repealed till 1783.6 The mediæval ‘appeal of murder,’ which enabled the heir of the deceased person to challenge the alleged murderer to battle, after his acquittal by a jury, and which took away from the Crown all power of pardoning the accused if he were defeated, was recognised by English law during the whole of the eighteenth century. It was eulogised in Parliament by Dunning in 1774,7 and it was only abolished in 1819 on account of an appellee having, in the previous year, thrown down his glove in the Court of King's Bench and demanded his legal right of trial by battle.8 The ‘wager of law,’ according to which a man who was charged with a debt was released from it if he denied the obligation, and obtained eleven neighbours to swear, from a general knowledge of his character, that they believed him, existed in English law till 1833.9
From time to time an ingenious man exhumed some obsolete and forgotten law for the purpose of extorting money or gratifying revenge. Thus, in 1761, we find a lady tried at Westminster to recover a penalty of 20l., under a law of Elizabeth, because she had not attended any authorised place of worship for a month previously, and acquitted by the jury on the ground of her ill health.1 In 1772, a vicar was fined 10l. and his curate 5l. for not having read in church an old Act against cursing and swearing. The vicar, it appears, had dismissed his curate, and the sons of the latter, having discovered the existence of this long-forgotten law, brought the action in revenge, not knowing that their father would be involved in the condemnation.2 In 1774, a gentleman was indicted at the Chester Assizes for having broken the law of Elizabeth, which, in order to prevent the increase of the poor, made it penal to erect any detached cottage without accompanying it with four acres of freehold land.3 The judges expressed great indignation at the proceeding, and at their representation the statute was repealed in the following session.4 Two statutes of Charles II. requiring that the dead should be buried in woollen, and imposing a penalty of 5l. on clergymen who neglected to certify to the churchwarden any instances in which the Act was not complied with, were only repealed in 1814, on account of a number of actions being brought by a common informer to recover the penalties.5
In all, or nearly all, of these cases, the prosecutions were due to private motives of revenge or avarice, and similar motives, no doubt, inspired most of those directed against Catholics. The Act still subsisted which gave a reward of 100l. to any informer who procured the conviction of a Catholic priest performing his functions in England, and there were occasional prosecutions, though the judges strained the law to the utmost in order to defeat them, and insisted upon a rigour and fulness of proof that would not have been exacted in any other case. In 1767, a priest named John Baptist Malony was tried at Croydon on the charge of having administered the sacrament to a sick person, was found guilty and was condemned to perpetual imprisonment. He lay for some years1 in confinement, and was then banished from England. In the same year, a mass-house in Southwark was suppressed, but the priest succeeded in escaping by a back-door. Two priests, named Webb and Talbot—the latter a brother of Lord Shrewsbury—were prosecuted in 1768 and 1769, but were acquitted through a defect in the evidence establishing their orders. Malony was, I believe, the only priest actually convicted during the reign of George III., but prosecutions were sufficiently frequent to make the position of all priests exceedingly precarious. Mrs. Lingard, the mother of the historian, who died in 1824 at the age of ninety-two, is said to have remembered the time when her family had to go in a cart at night to hear mass, the priest wearing a round frock to resemble a poor man.1
Mansfield and Camden, who differed on most questions, agreed cordially in discountenancing legal measures against Catholics. One priest appears to have escaped conviction mainly through the extraordinary ingenuity with which Mansfield from the bench suggested doubts and difficulties in the evidence of a very clear case, and thus gave the jury a pretext for acquitting the prisoner.2 Sir William Stanley, of Hooton, was indicted in 1770 for refusing to part with his four coach-horses when a 20l. note was tendered to him, but he was acquitted upon the ground that a bank-note was not legal tender.3 In another case, the owner of an estate in the north of England endeavoured to reduce a lady, who was a near relative of his own, to utter poverty by depriving her of her jointure, which was in the form of a rent-charge on his estate, on the plea that being a Catholic she could take no estate or interest in land. Lord Camden took up her case with great zeal, and finding that there was no remedy in the existing law, he took the extreme step of bringing in and carrying a special Act of Parliament for her relief.1 The position of Catholics, however, and especially of Catholic landowners, was always one of extreme precariousness. They were still subject to a double landtax. They were at the mercy of their Protestant relatives, who might easily deprive them of their land; at the mercy of common informers; at the mercy of any two justices who might at any time tender to them the oath of supremacy. They were virtually outlaws in their own country, doomed to a life of secrecy and retirement, and sometimes obliged to purchase by regular contributions an exemption from prosecution.
Several of their largest landowners had recently taken the oath, and the English Catholics were a small body with no power in the State. A Catholic writer, in 1781, estimated that in that year they counted 7 peers, 22 baronets, and about 150 other gentlemen of landed property. Several of the peers and three or four of the baronets were men of great estates, but the landed properties of the remaining commoners did not average more than 1,000l. a year, and not more than two or three Catholics held prominent positions in the mercantile world.2
The worst part of the persecution of Catholics was based upon a law of William III., and in 1778 Sir George Savile introduced a Bill to repeal those portions of this Act which related to the apprehending of Popish bishops, priests, and Jesuits, which subjected these and also Papists keeping a school to perpetual imprisonment, and which disabled all Papists from inheriting or purchasing land. In order to obtain the benefits of the law, it was necessary that the Catholics should take a special oath abjuring the Pretender, the temporal jurisdiction and deposing power of the Pope, and the doctrine that faith should not be kept with heretics, and that heretics, as such, may be lawfully put to death.1
It is an honourable fact that this Relief Bill was carried without a division in either House, without any serious opposition from the bench of bishops, and with the concurrence of both parties in the State. The law applied to England only, but the Lord Advocate promised, in the ensuing session, to introduce a similar measure for Scotland.
It was hoped that a measure which was so manifestly moderate and equitable, and which was carried with such unanimity through Parliament, would have passed almost unnoticed in the country; but fiercer elements of fanaticism than politicians perceived were still smouldering in the nation. The first signs of the coming storm were seen among the Presbyterians of Scotland. The General Assembly of the Scotch Established Church was sitting when the English Relief Bill was pending, and it rejected by a large majority a motion for a remonstrance to Parliament against it. But in a few months an agitation of the most dangerous description spread swiftly through the Lowlands. It was stimulated by many incendiary resolutions of provincial synods, by pamphlets, handbills, newspapers, and sermons, and a ‘Committee for the Protestant Interests’ was formed at Edinburgh to direct it. The Scotch Catholics were exceedingly alarmed, and they endeavoured to avert the danger which they feared by signing and publishing, in the beginning of 1779, a letter to Lord North, entreating him to forego his intention of putting them in the same position as their brethren in England, as any such attempt would arouse a spirit of fanaticism in Scotland that would endanger their lives and property. But it was now too late. Furious riots broke out in January 1779, both in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Several houses in which Catholics lived, or the Catholic worship was celebrated, were burnt to the ground. The shops of Catholic tradesmen were wrecked, and their goods scattered, plundered, or destroyed. Catholic ladies were compelled to take refuge in Edinburgh Castle. The houses of many Protestants who were believed to sympathise with the Relief Bill were attacked, and among the number was that of Robertson the historian. The troops were called out to suppress the riot, but they were resisted and pelted, and not suffered to fire in their defence; and the fears or sympathies of the Edinburgh magistrates were clearly shown in the almost grotesque servility of the proclamation which they issued to the rioters. ‘To remove the fears and apprehensions,’ they wrote, ‘which had distressed the minds of many well-meaning people in the metropolis, with regard to the repeal of the penal statutes against Papists, the public are informed that the Act of Parliament passed for that purpose was totally laid aside, and therefore it was expected that all peaceable subjects would carefully avoid connecting themselves with any tumultuous assembly for the future.’1
The flame soon spread southwards. For some years letters on the increase of Popery had been frequently appearing in the London newspapers.2 Many murmurs had been heard at the enactment of the Quebec Act, and many striking instances in the last ten years had shown how easily the spirit of riot could be aroused, and how impotent the ordinary watchmen were to cope with it. Great discontent had undoubtedly been produced in large sections of the population by the Relief Act of 1778; the success of the Scotch riots in preventing the introduction of a similar measure for Scotland encouraged the hopes of procuring its repeal; and the fanatical party had unfortunately acquired an unscrupulous leader in the person of Lord George Gordon, whose name now attained a melancholy celebrity. He was a young man of thirty, of very ordinary talents, and with nothing to recommend him but his connection with the ducal house of Gordon, and his position as a member of Parliament, and he had for some time distinguished himself by coarse, violent, and eminently absurd speeches on the enormities of Popery, which only excited ridicule in the House of Commons, but which found admirers beyond its walls. He was a Scotchman, and appears to have been honestly fanatical, but his fanaticism was mixed with something of the vanity and ambition of a demagogue, and with a vein of recklessness and eccentricity closely akin to insanity. A ‘Protestant Association,’ consisting of the worst agitators and fanatics, was formed, and at a great meeting. held on May 29, 1780, and presided over by Lord George Gordon, it was determined that 20,000 men should march to the Parliament House to present a petition for the repeal of the Relief Act.
It was about half-past two on the afternoon of Friday, June 2, that three great bodies, consisting of many thousands of men, wearing blue cockades, and carrying a petition which was said to have been signed by near 120,000 persons, arrived by different roads at the Parliament House. Their first design appears to have been only to intimidate, but they very soon proceeded to actual violence. The two Houses were just meeting, and a scene ensued which has scarcely been paralleled in England, though it resembled on a large scale and in an aggravated form the great riot around the Parliament House in Dublin, which took place during the administration of the Duke of Bedford. The members were seized, insulted, compelled to put blue cockades in their hats, to shout ‘No Popery!’ and to swear that they would vote for the repeal; and many of them, but especially the members of the House of Lords, were exposed to the grossest indignities. Lord Mansfield, who was now in his seventy-sixth year, was particularly obnoxious to the mob on account of the recent acquittal of a Popish priest by his influence. The windows of his carriage were broken, the panels were forced in, and he was in great danger of being torn to pieces, when the Archbishop of York succeeded with much courage in extricating him from the grasp of his assailants. The Chancellor, Lord Thurlow, who was equally unpopular, was not present, but the mob speedily recognised his brother, the Bishop of Lincoln. In a few moments a wheel of his carriage was wrenched off, and the bishop was for a time in extreme danger, when a law student succeeded in dragging him, half fainting, into a neighbouring house, where he disguised himself and then escaped over the roofs. The carriage of Lord Stormont was shattered to pieces, and he was for half an hour in the hands of the mob. Bathurst, Boston, Townshend, Hillsborough, and many other peers underwent the grossest ill-usage.
The Duke of Richmond was that day bringing in a motion—to which the insensate proceedings of the mob furnished a ghastly commentary—in favour of putting all power in the hands of the populace by granting them universal suffrage and annual parliaments. But no serious discussion was possible. Pale, bruised, and agitated, with their wigs torn off, their hair dishevelled, their clothes torn and bespattered with mud, the peers of England sat listening to the frantic yells of the multitude who already thronged the lobbies.
In the Commons Lord George Gordon presented the petition, and demanded its instant consideration. The House behaved with much courage, and after a hurried debate it was decided by 192 to 7 to adjourn its consideration till the 6th. Lord George Gordon several times appeared on the stairs of the gallery, and addressed the crowd, denouncing by name those who opposed him, and especially Burke and North; but Conway rebuked him in the sight and hearing of the mob, and Colonel Gordon, one of his own relatives, declared that the moment the first man of the mob entered the House he would plunge his sword into the body of Lord George. The doors were locked. The strangers' gallery was empty, but only a few doorkeepers and a few other ordinary officials protected the House, while the mob is said at first to have numbered not less than 60,000 men. Lord North succeeded in sending a messenger for the Guards, but many anxious hours passed before they arrived. Twice attempts were made to force the doors. At one time the danger seemed so imminent that Colonel Luttrell proposed that they should be thrown open, and that the members should, with their drawn swords, endeavour to cut their way through the mob. Happily, however, the crowd, though it contained some desperate fanatics, and some desperate criminals, consisted chiefly of idle, purposeless ruffians of the lowest class, bent only on mischief and amusement, but animated by no very bitter animosity, and they were content with having kept the two Houses of Parliament for several hours blockaded and imprisoned. The stifling heat of the day caused many to drop away. Lord Mahon harangued the crowd with some effect from the window of a neighbouring coffee-house; Alderman Sawbridge and the Assistant Chaplain expostulated with them, but without much success, and at last about nine o'clock the troops appeared, and the crowd, without resisting, agreed to disperse.
A great part of them, however, were bent on further outrages. They attacked the Sardinian Minister's chapel in Duke Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields. They broke it open, carried away the silver lamps and other furniture, burnt the benches in the street, and flung the burning brands into the chapel. The Bavarian Minister's chapel in Warwick Street, Golden Square, was next attacked, plundered, and burnt before the soldiers could intervene. They at last appeared upon the scene, and some slight scuffling ensued, and thirteen of the rioters were captured.
It was hoped that the riot had expended its force, for Saturday and the greater part of Sunday passed with little disturbance, but on Sunday afternoon new outrages began in Moorfields, where a considerable Catholic population resided. Several houses were attacked and plundered, and the chapels utterly ruined. The mob tore up altars, pulpits, pews and benches, and made large fires of them. Nothing but the bare walls remained, and even these sometimes fell before the heat. The soldiers were called in, but only when it was too late, and they were not suffered to fire. Authority seemed completely paralysed. The impunity that had hitherto attended the outrages, the hope of gigantic plunder, the madness which every hour became stronger and more contagious, the desperation of men who had already compromised themselves beyond return, all added to the flame. The mob were fast finding their leaders; and as their confidence in themselves increased, they loudly boasted that they would root out Popery from the land, release the prisoners who had been confined in Newgate for the outrages on Friday, and take signal vengeance on the magistrates who had committed them, and on all who had given evidence against them.
Monday, June 5, was the anniversary of the King's birthday, and the signs of official rejoicing contrasted strangely with the panic that was abroad. The military preparations were still miserably inadequate. A proclamation was issued promising a reward of 500l. for the detection of those who were concerned in plundering the Sardinian and Bavarian chapels, but the rioters were as far as possible from being intimidated. One party, carrying spoils of the chapels they had plundered, marched in triumph to Lord George Gordon's house in Welbeck Street, and then burnt them in the adjoining fields. Another party went to Virginia Lane, Wapping, and a third to Nightingale Lane, and in each of these places a Catholic chapel was soon in a blaze. A Catholic school at Hoxton was next destroyed. They then attacked the houses and shops of those who had given evidence against the rioters, burnt them, and plundered their contents. Sir George Savile's house in Leicester Square underwent the same fate. As the proposer of the Relief Bill, he was especially obnoxious to the fanatical portion of the rioters, and he had prudently taken the precaution of secretly removing his plate and some other valuables. The house, however, was completely wrecked, and when the evening closed in, it was little more than a ruin. The iron rails that surrounded it were torn up, and became formidable weapons in the hands of the mob.
All this was done with complete impunity, and as a natural consequence the spirits of the rioters rose higher and higher. On Tuesday, June 6, more daring enterprises were attempted. All the troops in London were concentrated on a few points, such as the Tower, the Houses of Parliament, St. James's Palace, and St. George's-in-the-Fields, and great districts were almost wholly unprotected. No Catholic house was any longer secure. No one knew how many were implicated in or sympathised with the rioters, for the most peaceful subjects now wore blue cockades as a protection from the mob. The two Houses met under strong military protection, but, in spite of that protection, Lord Sandwich, on his way to Parliament, was torn out of his carriage, which was broken in pieces, his face was cut, and he was rescued with difficulty by the Horse-guards. An attack was made on the house of Lord North, but it was successfully defended by a party of light horse, who with drawn swords charged the mob and trampled several men under their horses' hoofs. At six in the evening a party went to the house of Justice Hyde, near Leicester Fields, which in less than half an hour was utterly wrecked; while another party, consisting of many thousands of desperate men, passed rapidly through Long Acre, and down Holborn, till they arrived at Newgate. They summoned Mr. Akerman, the keeper, to release their comrades, and on his refusal they at once besieged the gaol.
It had been lately built at an expense of 40,000l., and was esteemed the strongest in England. The mob, however, were under the direction of men who well knew what they had undertaken, and they had provided themselves with sledge-hammers and pickaxes to batter down the door, and long ladders to scale the walls. For a time the great iron gate resisted their efforts, and no gunpowder appears to have been employed. But another and not less formidable means of assault was speedily discovered. The house of the chief keeper, which adjoined the gaol, was easily broken open, and great masses of furniture were flung down through the windows, piled against the prison door, and then ignited. New combustibles were brought in from all sides, and a furious blaze was kindled, till the door was red-hot and tottering upon its hinges. In the meantime the keeper's house was set on fire, and the prison chapel caught the flames, while men, climbing on high ladders, flung burning brands through the grated orifices, and soon ignited the woodwork of the prison. The fire spread far and fast, casting its red and fluctuating glare upon the dense and savage crowd half-mad with drink and with excitement. One hundred constables endeavoured to disperse them, but the rioters closed around them and overpowered them, and flung their staves into the flames, and sentinels kept watch at every street to guard the depredators against surprise. About 300 prisoners, four of whom were under sentence of death, were confined in Newgate. They were divided between the hope of escape and the still more pressing fear of being burnt alive or smothered by the dense volumes of smoke that already rolled through the prison, and their piercing cries were clearly heard above the tumult. At length the iron door gave way beneath the heat and the repeated blows. The crowd rushed in; some climbed to the roof, and made a hole through the rafters; others penetrated through a gap made by the burning chapel. The cells were broken open, and the prisoners dragged out. All seem to have been saved except some intoxicated rioters, who sank down stupefied with drink, and perished in the fall of the burning rafters. In a short time little but blackened walls remained of the greatest prison in London, and a new contingent of desperate malefactors was added to the rioters.
The mob had triumphed, but they did not pause in their career of crime. Parties were at once told off for different enterprises. One party attacked the Catholics in Devonshire Street, Red Lion Square; another destroyed the house of Justice Cox, in Great Queen Street; a third broke open the new prison in Clerken-well, and released all the prisoners; a fourth attacked and wrecked the house of Sir John Fielding, who, as the most active magistrate in London, was especially obnoxious to them; a fifth, shortly after midnight, attacked the great house of Lord Mansfield in Blooms bury Square. Lord and Lady Mansfield had but just time to escape through the back when it was broken open, and in a few minutes the furniture was thrown out of the windows, and kindled into a blaze before the door. A collection of precious pictures, a noble law library, many priceless manuscripts from the pen of Mansfield himself, many important legal papers which were in his care, were thrown in to feed the flames. The wine cellars were broken open, and the crowd was soon mad with drink. A party of guards arrived when the ruin was almost accomplished, and, the Riot Act having been read, the magistrates ordered them to fire, and six men and a woman were killed, and several wounded; but the passions of the mob had risen too high for fear. It was remembered that Lord Mansfield possessed a country house between Highgate and Hampstead, and a party was sent to burn it; but they were anticipated and repelled by a party of horse. Eleven or twelve private houses were, however, that night in a blaze, and the conflagration mingled with the splendour of a general illumination; for the mob compelled every householder to illuminate in honour of their triumph.
Wednesday, June 7, long known in London by the name of ‘Black Wednesday,’ witnessed a spectacle such as London had never before seen. The long tension, the succession of sleepless nights, the complete triumph of the mob during four days, the proved incapacity of the City authorities to keep the peace, the knowledge that the worst criminals from the gaols were at large, the threatening warnings sent out by the mob that they would destroy the Bank, the prisons, and the palaces, had utterly cowed the people. A camp was formed and cannon were drawn out in Hyde Park. The Berkshire Militia, and soon after the Northumberland Militia, arrived to reinforce the regular troops. Strong guards were stationed at the chief public buildings, at the houses of the ministers, at Devonshire House and Rockingham House, and every important dwelling was barricaded as in a siege, and guarded by armed men. But a great section of London was completely in the hands of the mob. The Lord Mayor and the City magistrates seemed paralysed with fear. Many magistrates had fled from London; the houses of the few who were really active had been plundered or burnt, and all spirit of self-reliance and resistance appeared for the moment to have been extinguished. Fanaticism had but little part in the proceedings of this day; it was outrage and plunder in their most naked forms. Richard Burke, in a letter dated from ‘What was London,’ gives us a vivid picture of the abject terror that was prevailing. ‘This is the fourth day,’ he writes, ‘that the metropolis of England (once of the world) is possessed by an enraged, furious, and numerous enemy. Their outrages are beyond description, and meet with no resistance. … What this night will produce is known only to the Great Disposer of things. … If one could in decency laugh, must one not laugh to see what I saw : a single boy, of fifteen years at most, in Queen Street, mounted on a pent-house demolishing a house with great zeal, but much at his ease, and throwing the pieces to two boys still younger, who burnt them for their amusement, no one daring to obstruct them? Children are plundering at noonday the City of London.’1 Three boys, armed with iron bars torn up from Lord Mansfield's house, went down Holborn in the middle of the day shouting ‘No Popery!’ and extorting money from every shop, and they met with no opposition. Small parties of the same kind levied contributions in almost every district, no one daring to resist them, lest the mob should be called down upon their houses. One man on horseback was especially noticed who refused to take anything but gold. Dr. Johnson walked on that day to visit the ruins of Newgate, and he passed a party plundering the sessions house of Old Bailey. They consisted, as he observed, of less than 100 men, and ‘they did their work at leisure, in full security, without sentinels, without trepidation, as men lawfully employed in full day.’2
In the afternoon the shops were shut. ‘No Popery!’ was chalked upon the shutters, and bits of blue silk were hung out from almost every house. Rumours of the most terrible kind were circulated through the town. It was reported that the mob had threatened to let loose the lunatics from Bedlam and the lions from the Tower; that the French had organised the whole movement in order that the destruction of London, and especially of the Bank, might produce a national bankruptcy; that the soldiers had been tampered with, and would refuse to fire on the people. The Duke of Grafton gives a curious illustration of the universality of the alarm, in the fact that even the servants of the Secretary of State wore blue cockades to conciliate the mob.
In the evening, scenes more terrible than any that had yet been witnessed took place. The King's Bench Prison, the Fleet Prison, the new Bridewell, the watch-houses in Kent Street near St. George's Church, the toll-gates on Blackfriars Bridge, and a great number of private houses, were simultaneously in flames. From a single point thirty-six distinct conflagrations were counted. The tall pinnacles of fire rising like volcanoes in the air, the shouts of the populace, the blaze reflected in the waters of the Thames, the shrieks of women, mingling with the crackling of the flames, with the crash of falling buildings, and, from time to time, with the sound of musketry as the troops fired in platoons into the crowd, all combined to form, in the words of an eye-witness, a perfect ‘picture of a city sacked and abandoned to a ferocious enemy.’ The rioters had seized large supplies of arms in the artillery grounds, and the great number of felons who were now in their ranks gave an additional desperation to the conflict. It was noticed that a brewer's boy, riding on a horse strangely decorated with chains from Newgate, led the most daring party. Under his guidance they attempted to capture and burn the Bank of England; but a strong body of soldiers, under the command of Colonel Holroyd, repelled them with the loss of many lives, and they were in like manner defeated in an attempt upon the Pay Office.
The riots were fortunately localised. The worst conflagrations were in Queen Street, Little Russell Street, Bloomsbury, and Holborn. Chains drawn across the Strand and Holborn, and protected by lines of soldiers, prevented the mob from passing westwards; but Charing Cross, the Haymarket, and Piccadilly were illuminated through fear. Strange to say, in the unmolested parts of the town the ordinary amusements still went on, and Horace Walpole notices that on this dreadful night Lady Ailesbury was at the play in the Haymarket, and that his four nieces were with the Duke of Gloucester at Ranelagh.1 The night was fortunately very calm, and the sky was clear, and glowing with the reflected flames, save where dark volumes of ascending smoke from time to time overspread it. The streets in the quarters where the riot was at its height were thronged with idle spectators—many of them women with infants in their arms—gazing on the scene, and mixing with terror-stricken fugitives who were endeavouring to save some portion of their property. Spectators were, in most places, in little danger; for the rioters were busily engaged, and they might be distinctly seen by the glare of the flames pursuing their work of plunder and demolition, for the most part entirely undisturbed, in the midst of the burning houses. Wraxall went through a great part of the disturbed district on foot, without the smallest hindrance, and he noticed that as he stood with his companions by the wall of St. Andrew's churchyard, near the spot where the fiercest conflagration was raging, a watchman with a lantern in his hand passed by, calling the hour as in a time of profound tranquillity.
The resistance was confined to a few points. Some attempts were made to extinguish the flames, but they were baffled by the mob. A large engine was brought to play upon the Fleet Prison; but, in spite of the presence of soldiers, the rioters cut off its pipes and flung it into the flames. At Blackfriars Bridge, when the toll-gates were plundered, the soldiers fired with considerable effect. Many rioters were killed; one man was noticed to run thirty or forty yards, when pierced by a bullet, before he dropped dead; and several, when dead or dying, are said to have been thrown by their comrades into the Thames. Others were killed in the attack on the King's Bench Prison; but the greater number fell in the unsuccessful attacks on the Bank and on the Pay Office. The most terrible scene, however, took place near the decline of Holborn Hill, in front of St. Andrew's Church, where the buildings of a great Catholic distiller, named Langdale, were attacked and burnt. Immense casks of unrectified spirits, still wholly unfit for human consumption, were staved in, and the spirits flowed in great streams along the road, while men, women, and children gathered it up in pails or lapped it with their hands. Such a scene of drunken madness had perhaps never before been exhibited in England. Numbers, both of men and women, killed themselves by drinking the poisonous draught. Women with infants in their arms were seen lying insensible along the road. Soon the fire reached the spirits, and it leapt forth, with a tenfold fury, in the midst of the reeling and dizzy crowd who were plundering the house. Numbers fell into the burning ruins, or into the midst of the liquid fire. Eight or nine wretched creatures were dragged out when half-burnt, but most of those who fell perished by one of the most horrible of deaths.
The night of June 7 was the end of all that was serious in the Gordon riots. The defeat of the attacks upon the Bank and the Pay Office, and the terrible scene on Holborn Hill, had broken the spirits and power of the rioters, while the introduction into London of large bodies of regular troops and of militia had made further resistance impossible. In addition to the permanent debility and indeed impotence of the London police force, and to the incompetence of the Lord Mayor and of several of the City magistrates, other causes combined to paralyse the civil power. The military forces at the disposal of the Crown were diminished by the exigencies of the great war which was raging in America. The ministry of Lord North was already tottering to its fall, and its weakness enfeebled every branch of the Executive, while the recollection of the furious outbursts of popular indignation which had been aroused against those who employed soldiers in suppressing the Wilkes riots in 1769 made both magistrates and ministers extremely timid.1 As Lord Mansfield once said with profound truth, ‘It is the highest humanity to check the infancy of tumults,’ and a well-directed volley on the first day of the riots, though it would have exposed the Government to much foolish declamation, would probably have prevented all the horrible scenes that ensued. It is a curious fact that Wilkes, who had been the instigator or the pretext of the last great riots in London, took, as alderman, a distinguished and courageous part in suppressing the Gordon riots, in defending the Bank, and in protecting the Catholics, and he received the special thanks of the Privy Council for his services.
No one, however, in this trying period appeared in a more honourable light than the King. The calm courage which he never failed to show, and his extreme tenacity of purpose, which in civil affairs often proved very mischievous, were in the moments of crisis peculiarly valuable. Many lives and a vast amount of property had been sacrificed because no officer dared to allow his soldiers to fire except by the direction of a magistrate, and after the Riot Act had been read, and a whole hour had elapsed. Such an interpretation of the law made the display of soldiers in the midst of burning houses and in the agonies of a great struggle little more than a mockery, and the King strongly contested it. On the 7th he called of his own accord a meeting of the Privy Council, and obtained from Wedderburn, the Attorney-General, an opinion that, if a mob were committing a felony, such as burning down a house, and could not be prevented by any other means, the military might and ought to fire on them at once, and that the reading of the Riot Act under such circumstances was wholly unnecessary. Much hesitation appears to have been shown in the Council, but the King, declaring that at least one magistrate would do his duty, announced his intention of acting on his own responsibility, on the opinion of Wedderburn, and his readiness, if any difficulty were shown, to lead his guards in person. The Council at length agreed with the opinion, and a discretionary power was given to the soldiers, which, though it was much complained of by some constitutional pedants, was manifestly necessary, and was the chief means of suppressing the riots.1
In the course of the four days during which the riots were at their height no less than seventy-two private houses and four gaols were destroyed.2 Of the number of the rioters who were killed it is impossible to speak with accuracy. No account was made of those who died of drink, who perished in the ruins or in the burning spirits, who were thrown into the Thames, or who were carried away when wounded and concealed in their own homes. Excluding these, it appears from a report issued by Amherst shortly after the suppression of the riots, that 285 had been killed or had died of their wounds, and that 173 wounded prisoners were still in his hands. In the opinion of the most competent judges the whole city had been in imminent danger of destruction, and owed its escape mainly to the fact that the mob at the time when it would have been impossible to have resisted them, wasted their strength upon chapels and private buildings, instead of at once attacking the Bank and the public offices, and also to the happy accident that on the night of the 7th there was scarcely a breath of wind to spread the flames. 135 prisoners were soon after brought to trial, and 59 were capitally convicted, of whom 21 were executed. Lord George Gordon was thrown into the Tower, and was tried before Lord Mansfield on the charge of high treason for levying war upon the Crown. The charge was what is termed by lawyers ‘constructive treason.’ It rested upon the assertion that the agitation which he had created and led was the originating cause of the outrages that had taken place. As there was no evidence that Lord George Gordon had anticipated these outrages, as he had taken no part in them, and had even offered his services to the Government to assist in their suppression, the accusation was one which, if it had been maintained, would have had consequences very dangerous to public liberty. After one of the greatest speeches of Erskine, Lord George Gordon was acquitted, and he still retained such a hold over large classes that thanksgivings were publicly offered up in several churches and chapels. He was many years after thrown into prison for a libel upon Marie Antoinette, and he died in Newgate in 1793. Before the close of his life he startled his theological admirers by his conversion to Judaism.1
In the House of Commons a series of resolutions were introduced by Burke with the concurrence of the Government, vindicating the recent Relief Bill, and condemning the misrepresentations which had led to the tumults. An attempt was made to allay the fears of the more fanatical Protestants by a Bill introduced by Sir George Savile forbidding Catholics from taking any part in the education of Protestants; but though it passed the Commons, it miscarried in the Lords.
The riots of 1780 do not properly belong to the period of time with which the present chapter is occupied; but it is the plan of this book to prefer the order of subjects to the order of chronology, and these disturbances were the immediate consequence of the religious legislation under Lord North. Making every allowance for the amount of ordinary crime which entered into them, and considering how slight was the provocation that produced them, they display a depth and intensity of fanaticism we should scarcely have expected in the eighteenth century; and similar disturbances, though on a much smaller scale, took place at Hull, Bristol, and Bath. The disgrace was keenly felt both at home and abroad.1 Secret negotiations for peace were at this time going on with Spain, and it was noticed that the reports of the riots in London greatly interfered with them, for the no-Popery fanaticism in London irritated the public opinion of Spain, while the success of the rioters was thought clearly to prove the weakness of the Government.1 ‘Our danger,’ wrote Gibbon shortly after the suppression, ‘is at an end, but our disgrace will be lasting, and the month of June 1780 will ever be marked by a dark and diabolical fanaticism which I had supposed to be extinct.’2 To a writer of the nineteenth century, however, the lesson to be derived from the narrative is not altogether a gloomy one. Whatever judgment may be formed in other respects in the old controversy between those who regard the history of modern England as a history of unqualified progress, and those who regard it in its most essential features as a history of decay, there is at least one fact which no serious student of the eighteenth century will dispute. It is, that the immense changes which have taken place in the past century in the enlargement of personal and political liberty, and in the mitigation of the penal code, have been accompanied by an at least equal progress in the maintenance of public order and in the security of private property in England.
The Government of Lord North during the period preceding the great outbreak of the American war was almost wholly occupied with domestic, Indian, and colonial questions, and neither exercised nor aspired to exercise any considerable influence on the affairs of other nations. The Revolution, which in 1772 changed the Constitution of Sweden, breaking the power of the aristocracy and aggrandising that of the Crown, was effected, in a great measure, under French instigation, and England had no voice in the infamous treaty which in the same year sanctioned the first partition of Poland, or in the treaty of Kainardji in 1774, by which Russia made the Crimea a separate khanate, and greatly extended both her own frontier and her influence in Turkey.
In 1772 the Government had to contend with a keen commercial crisis and a period of acute and general distress. In many parts of England there were desperate food riots. Several banks broke, and a widespread panic prevailed.1 But in Parliament the Government continued for some years invincibly strong, and its Indian policy and the earlier parts of its American policy appear to have been generally regarded either with approval or with indifference. In 1774 Parliament was dissolved shortly before the natural period of its existence had expired; and the American measures of the Government, if they had been seriously unpopular in the constituencies, would certainly have affected the elections. The election, however, fully confirmed the ministerial majority.2 In the first important party division on an American question that followed the dissolution the ministers counted 264 votes to 73.1 The Reform spirit appeared to have almost died away. Grenville's Act for the trial of disputed elections was, it is true, renewed and made perpetual in 1774, in spite of the opposition of Lord North; but different motions for shortening the duration of Parliament, and for making its constitution more popular, were rejected without difficulty, and appear to have excited no interest. The city of Westminster supported the ministers, and the democratic fervour of the City of London had greatly subsided. Wilkes found rivals and bitter enemies in Horne and Townshend; but at last, after two disappointments, he became Lord Mayor of London in 1774, and in the election of the same year he without opposition regained his seat as member for Middlesex. He made some good speeches against the policy of the Government in America, but his position in Parliament was never a distinguished one, and he soon abandoned the character and the practices of an agitator.
All the measures of American coercion that preceded the Declaration of Independence were carried by enormous majorities in Parliament. The Act for closing Boston harbour passed its chief stages without even a division. The Act for subverting the charter of Massachusetts was finally carried in the House of Commons by 239 to 64, in the House of Lords by 92 to 20. The Act for enabling the Governor of Massachusetts to send colonists accused on capital charges to be tried in England, was ultimately carried in the Commons by 127 to 24, in the Lords by 43 to 12. The motion for repealing the tea duty, which was supported by one of the greatest speeches of Burke, was rejected by 182 to 49. In February 1775 the address moved by Lord North, pledging Parliament to support the Government in crushing the resistance in America, was carried by 296 to 106, and an amendment of Fox, censuring the American policy of the ministers, was rejected by 304 to 105. In March the conciliatory propositions of Burke were defeated by the previous question, which was carried by 270 to 78. In May the very respectful remonstrance of the General Assembly of New York, which was one of the last efforts of conciliation by the moderate party in America, was censured by the House of Commons as ‘inconsistent with the legislative authority of Parliament,’ by 186 to 67. The Duke of Grafton had urged in the Cabinet the repeal of the tea duty, but had been outvoted. He still remained for some time in the ministry, trying in vain to modify its policy in the direction of conciliation. In August 1775 he wrote a strong remonstrance to Lord North on the subject. Seven weeks later he resigned the Privy Seal and went into opposition, declaring in Parliament that he had hitherto ‘concurred when he could not approve, from a hope that in proportion to the strength of the Government would be the probability of amicable adjustment,’ and recommending the repeal of all Acts relating to America which had been carried since 1763. But although Grafton had very lately been Prime Minister of England, he did not, according to Walpole, carry six votes with him in his secession.1 The resignation of Conway, which immediately followed, proved even less important. Dartmouth, who had hitherto directed American affairs, obtained the Privy Seal, and he was replaced by Lord George Germaine, better known under the name of Lord George Sackville, who had never overcome the stigma which his conduct at Minden had left upon his reputation, but who was an able administrator, and a still more able debater. He speedily infused a new energy into the direction of American affairs, and the enlistment of the German troops appears to have been principally due to him. The Opposition in the beginning of 1776 was almost contemptible in numbers, and at the same time divided and discredited. The Duke of Richmond in one House, and Burke in the other, were the steadiest and most powerful opponents of the American policy of the Government, and they had been recently joined by Charles Fox, who had been dismissed from the ministry in February 1774, and had at once thrown himself with a passionate vehemence into opposition.
His secession, like most acts of his early life, was very discreditable in its circumstances. A libel on the Speaker, written by Horne, had been brought under the notice of the House of Commons. Lord North, with his usual moderation, would gladly have suffered the matter to drop; but one of the members insisted on Woodfall, the printer, appearing before the House, and it was moved, upon his apology, that he should be committed to the Sergeant-at-Arms. North, after some hesitation, agreed to this course; but Charles Fox, who was at this time a Commissioner of the Treasury, in opposition to the known wishes of his chief moved that Woodfall should be committed to Newgate, declared that he selected this gaol in defiance of the City and Sheriffs, in whose jurisdiction it lay, and insisted on carrying his motion to a division. Lord North, perplexed, irresolute, and embarrassed by a previous speech in which he had leaned towards severity, voted with his turbulent subordinate; but most of the ministerial party were on the other side, and the motion of Fox was rejected by 152 to 68. Such an act of glaring insubordination could not be passed over. The King wrote next day, with much indignation, ‘I am greatly incensed at the presumption of Charles Fox in obliging you to vote with him last night, but approve much of your making your friends vote in the majority; indeed, that young man has so thoroughly cast off every principle of common honour and honesty that he must become as contemptible as he is odious, and I hope you will let him know that you are not insensible of his conduct towards you.’1 About ten days later Lord North curtly dismissed Fox, who thus, at the age of twenty-five, was finally severed from the Tories.
He did not for some years formally attach himself to any section of the Whigs;2 but he passed at once from an extreme Tory into virulent and unqualified opposition to his former chief, and he was conspicuous beyond all other speakers for his attacks upon the American policy of the Government. It must be acknowledged, however, that he never appears when in office to have taken any active part in defending the American policy of the Government, that this policy only attained its full distinctness and prominence after his dismissal, and that his father had from the first disapproved of the taxation of America.3 From an early period of his life, Fox seems to have had some intimacy with Burke,4 and the conversation of that extraordinary man profoundly influenced his opinions. The sincerity of his opposition to the American war never appears to have been seriously questioned, and it is confirmed by the great sacrifices of popularity he made in the cause, and by the strong internal evidence of his speeches and letters. The circumstances of his secession, his extreme youth, and the extravagant dissipation in which he at this time indulged,1 deprived him of all the weight that attaches to character; but his extraordinary debating skill developed rapidly in opposition, and Grattan, who had heard him speak in many periods of his career, considered his speeches during the American war the most brilliant he ever delivered.2
The division of opinion in the country upon the American question was probably much more equal than in Parliament, and it is also much more difficult to estimate with accuracy; but it appears to me evident that in 1775 and in 1776 the preponderating opinion, or at least the opinion of the most powerful and most intelligent classes in the community, on American questions was with the King and with his ministers. In February 1775, Lord Camden wrote, ‘I am grieved to observe that the landed interest is almost altogether anti-American, though the common people hold the war in abhorrence, and the merchants and tradesmen, for obvious reasons, are likewise against it.’3 The Established Church was strenuously anti-American, and the Bishops voted steadily for the measures of coercion.4 The two Universities presented addresses on the same side, and the addresses from the great towns in favour of the Government were both more numerous and more largely signed than those which opposed it. Manchester, which was still, as in 1745, a great centre of English Toryism, led the way;1 while on the other hand, ‘the majority of the inhabitants of the great trading cities of London and Bristol still wished and struggled to have matters restored to their ancient state.’2 It was said, however, with some truth, that the opposition of the merchants was mainly an opposition of interest, and the opposition of the City an opposition of faction, and it was acknowledged by the warmest advocates of the Americans that the trading classes on this question were greatly divided, and the bulk of them exceedingly languid in their opposition. The cessation of the Turkish war and of the troubles in Poland had revived trade, and the loss of American commerce was not yet sensibly felt, while the supply of the army in America and the equipment of new ships of war had given a sudden stimulus to the transport trade and to many branches of English industry.3 The stress of legal opinion in every stage of the controversy appears to have been hostile to the Americans, and, in 1776, Horace Walpole emphatically declared that ‘the Court have now at their devotion the three great bodies of the clergy, army, and law.’4 The general English opinion, which at the time of the repeal of the Stamp Act had been very favourable to the colonists, appears to have turned. There was a strong feeling of indignation at the recent proceedings in America; a general belief that, as a matter of patriotism, Government ought now to be supported, even though some of its past acts had been culpable; a widespread anticipation that by a little decision all resistance might be overcome, that the civil war might still be averted, or that at least it might be terminated in a single campaign.
The great strength of the Opposition lay in the Nonconformist bodies, who were in general earnestly and steadily in favour of the Americans. The ‘Essay on Liberty,’ by Dr. Price, which was published in 1775, was a powerful defence of their cause, and it identified it very skilfully with the cause of constitutional liberty and of parliamentary reform at home. In two years it passed through eight editions, and in the judgment of Walpole it was ‘the first publication on that side that made any impression.’1 But though the majority of the old Dissenters were staunch supporters of the Americans, even in their ranks there was some languor and division,2 while a large section of the Methodists, as we have already seen, took the other side. The tract of John Wesley against the American pretensions had an enormous circulation. Lord Dartmouth was one of the most conspicuous laymen in the Evangelical religious world; and Cowper, the great poet of the movement, believed that the King would be committing a sin if he acknowledged the independence of America. Literary opinion was, on the whole, anti-American. The views of Junius, of Adam Smith, and of Dean Tucker have been already given. Dr. Johnson was a leading pamphleteer in support of the Government. Gibbon in Parliament steadily supported Lord North, and Robertson, though somewhat timidly, leaned to the same side. Hume, however, though in most of his sympathies a decided Tory, was one of the very few men who as early as 1775 agreed cordially with Burke that the attempt to coerce America could lead to nothing but disaster and ruin.1
The confidential letters of Burke throw much valuable light on the condition of English opinion on the American question, and they are full of bitter complaints of the languor or alienation even of the natural supporters of the Whig party. In January 1775, describing the failure of his friends to arrest the American measures of the ministry, he says: ‘The mercantile interest, which ought to have supported with efficacy and power the opposition to the fatal cause of all this mischief, was pleaded against us, and we were obliged to stoop under the accumulated weight of all the interests in this kingdom. I never remember the opposition so totally abandoned as on that occasion.’2 In the August of the same year, he writes with great bitterness to Rockingham: ‘As to the good people of England, they seem to partake every day more and more of the character of that Administration which they have been induced to tolerate. I am satisfied that within a few years there has been a great change in the national character. We seem no longer that eager, inquisitive, jealous, fiery people which we have been formerly. … No man commends the measures which have been pursued, or expects any good from those which are in preparation, but it is a cold, languid opinion, like what men discover in affairs that do not concern them. … The merchants are gone from us and from themselves. … The leading men among them are kept full fed with contracts and remittances and jobs of all descriptions, and are indefatigable in their endeavours to keep the others quiet. … They all, or the greatest number of them, begin to snuff the cadaverous haut goût of lucrative war. War is indeed become a sort of substitute for commerce. The freighting business never was so lively, on account of the prodigious taking up for transport service. Great orders for provisions and stores of all kinds … keep up the spirits of the mercantile world, and induce them to consider the American war not so much their calamity as their resource in an inevitable distress.’1 ‘The real fact,’ he wrote a month later, ‘is that the generality of the people of England are now led away by the misrepresentations and arts of the Ministry, the Court and their abettors, so that the violent measures towards America are fairly adopted and countenanced by a majority of individuals of all ranks, professions, or occupations in this country,’ and he complains that the Opposition were compelled ‘to face a torrent not merely of ministerial and Court power, but also of almost general opinion.’2
The party in England, however, that favoured the Americans, though it could not shatter the Government, was quite sufficiently strong to encourage the colonists, and many of its members threw themselves into their cause with the most passionate ardour. It is easy to imagine the effect that must have been produced on the excited minds beyond the Atlantic by the language of Chatham in his great speech in January 1775. The spirit which resists your taxation in America.’ he said, ‘is the same that formerly opposed loans, benevolences, and ship-money in England. … This glorious spirit of Whiggism animates three millions in America who prefer poverty with liberty to gilded chains and sordid affluence, and who will die in defence of their rights as freemen. … For myself, I must declare that in all my reading and observation—and history has been my favourite study: I have read Thucydides, and have studied and admired the master states of the world—that for solidity of reasoning, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion under such a complication of difficult circumstances, no nation or body of men can stand in preference to the General Congress at Philadelphia. … All attempts to impose servitude upon such men, to establish despotism over such a mighty continental nation, must be vain, must be fatal. We shall be forced ultimately to retract. Let us retract while we can, not when we must.’
In accordance with these sentiments Chatham withdrew his eldest son from the army rather than suffer him to be engaged in the war.1 Lord Effingham for the same reason threw up his commission, and Amherst is said to have refused the command against the Americans.2 In 1776 the question was openly debated in Parliament whether British officers ought to serve their sovereign against the Americans, and no less a person than General Conway leaned decidedly to the negative, and compared the case to that of French officers who were employed in the Massacre of St. Bartholomew.3 The Duke of Richmond, after the battle of Bunker's Hill, declared in Parliament that ‘he did not think that the Americans were in rebellion, but that they were resisting acts of the most unexampled cruelty and oppression.’1 The Corporation of London in 1775 drew up an address strongly approving of their resistance,2 and the addresses of several other towns expressed similar views. A great meeting in London, and also the guild of merchants in Dublin, returned thanks to Lord Effingham for his recent conduct, and in 1776 the freedom of the City was conferred on Dr. Price, on account of his defence of the Americans.3 An English subscription—though a very small one—was raised for the relief of the Americans who were wounded at Lexington, and for the relatives of those who had been killed,4 and in 1777 Horne was sentenced to a year's imprisonment and to a fine of 200l. for publishing an advertisement of the Constitutional Society, accusing the English troops in that battle of murder.5 When Montgomery fell at the head of the American troops in the invasion of Canada, he was eulogised in the British Parliament as if he had been the most devoted servant of the Crown.6
With scarcely an exception the whole political representation of Scotland in both Houses of Parliament supported Lord North, and was bitterly hostile to the Americans. Scotland, however, is one of the very few instances in history, of a nation whose political representation was so grossly defective as not merely to distort but absolutely to conceal its opinions. It was habitually looked upon as the most servile and corrupt portion of the British Empire; and the eminent liberalism and the very superior political qualities of its people seem to have been scarcely suspected to the very eve of the Reform Bill of 1832. That something of that liberalism existed at the outbreak of the American war, may, I think, be inferred from the very significant fact that the Government were unable to obtain addresses in their favour either from Edinburgh or Glasgow.1 The country, however, was judged mainly by its representatives, and it was regarded as far more hostile to the American cause than either England or Ireland. A very able observer, when complaining of the apathy and lassitude with which the American policy of the Government was generally regarded, adds, ‘We must except from all these observations the people of North Britain, who almost to a man, so far as they could be described or distinguished under any particular denomination, not only applauded, but proffered life and fortune in support of the present measures.’2
‘In Ireland,’ says the same writer, ‘though those in office and the principal nobility and gentry declared against America, by far the majority of the Protestant inhabitants there, who are strenuous and declared Whigs, strongly leaned to the cause of the colonies.’3 ‘There are three million Whigs in America,’ said Chatham, in 1775, ‘and all Ireland is Whig, and many in England.’1 Protestant Ireland was indeed far more earnestly enlisted on the side of the Americans than any other portion of the Empire. Emigrants from Ulster formed a great part of the American army, and the constitutional question of the independence of the Irish Parliament was closely connected with the American question. The movement of opinion, however, was confined to the Protestants. The Catholic gentry, on this as on all other occasions of national danger, presented addresses to the King attesting in strong terms their loyalty, but the mass of the Catholic population were politically dead, and can hardly be said to have contributed anything to the public opinion of the country.
One remarkable fact, however, was noticed both in England and Ireland. There was a complete absence of alacrity and enthusiasm in enlisting for the army and navy.2 This was one of the chief reasons why Germans were so largely enlisted, and it is the more remarkable because Irish Catholics were now freely admitted into the service. For a long time the system of enrolling soldiers, and still more the system of enrolling sailors, had excited much discontent, and the legality of press-gangs had very lately been brought into question. The impressing for the navy rested rather on immemorial custom than on positive law, and it was pronounced by lawyers to be a part of the common law.3 The impressing for the army was more rarely resorted to, but a statute of Anne authorised magistrates within their specified limits to impress for the army such able-bodied men as did not follow any lawful calling and had not some other support, and several subsequent Acts continued the system for limited periods. A special clause exempted such as had votes for members of Parliament from liability to impressment.1 In 1757, a gentleman of property having been pressed and confined in the Savoy, his friends applied for an immediate writ of Habeas Corpus, under the well-known Act of Charles II. The question was not determined, as the gentleman was released by order of the Secretary of War; but the judges who were consulted all pronounced that this Act only applied to those who had committed or were accused of committing a criminal offence, and that a man accused of no crime could not claim its protection. A Bill was introduced in the beginning of 1758 to remedy this strange anomaly, but it was thrown out by the instrumentality of Lord Hardwicke,2 and this extension of the Habeas Corpus Act was only granted in 1816.3
The enormous cruelty and injustice of the impressment for the navy, as it was actually carried on, can hardly be exaggerated, and it seemed doubly extraordinary in a country which was so proud of its freedom. ‘Impressment,’ as has been truly said, ‘is the arbitrary and capricious seizure of individuals from the general body of citizens. It differs from conscription as a particular confiscation differs from a general tax.’4 Voltaire was much struck with this feature of English life, and he drew a vivid picture of a boatman on the Thames boasting to him one day of the glories of English freedom and declaring that he would sooner be a sailor in England than an archbishop in France, the next day with irons on his feet, begging money through the gratings of the prison into which he had been thrown without the imputation of any crime, and where he must remain till the ship was ready which was to carry him to the Baltic. In a system so violent and so arbitrary, all kinds of abuses were practised. As we have already seen, the press-gang was often employed to drag Methodist preachers from a work which the magistrates disliked. It was sometimes employed to avenge private grudges. It was thus that Fielding represents Lord Fellamar endeavouring to get rid of his rival by employing a lieutenant to press him. On one occasion in 1770 a marriage ceremony in St. Olave's, Southwark, was interrupted by a press-gang, who burst into the church, struck the clergyman, and tried to carry away the bridegroom.1 As merchant ships came in from America, and the sailors looked forward, after their long voyage, to see once more their wives and children, a danger more terrible than that of the sea awaited them, for it was a common thing for ships of war to lie in wait for the returning vessels, in order to board them and to press their sailors before they landed.2 Often the press-gang went down to some great sea-port and boarded all the merchant ships lying at anchor, in order to collect sailors for the royal navy.3
They were sometimes fiercely resisted. On one occasion in 1770, 110 impressed seamen who were being carried down the Thames in a tender, broke open the hatches, overpowered the officers and crew, ran the tender aground on the coast of Essex, and thus succeeded in escaping.4 On another, when the sailors of a merchant vessel, which was lying off Gravesend, saw the boat of a ship-of-war approaching, they seized all the arms on board and drove off their assailants with a loss of one man killed and of several dangerously wounded.1 In 1779 a man was hanged at Stafford for killing one of those who were endeavouring to press him, and a party of sailors were tried at Ipswich for the murder of a publican in whose house they were impressing sailors, but were acquitted on account of the impossibility of ascertaining who struck the blow.2
Of the vast sum of private misery produced by the system it is difficult to form an adequate estimate. One case—which was probably but one of many—happened to attract considerable attention on account of its being mentioned in Parliament by Sir William Meredith, in 1777. A sailor had been taken in the press that followed the alarm about the Falkland Islands, and carried away, leaving a wife who was then not nineteen, with two infant children. The breadwinner being gone, his goods were seized for an old debt, and his wife was driven into the streets to beg. At last, in despair she stole a piece of coarse linen from a linendraper's shop. Her defence, which was fully corroborated, was that ‘she had lived in credit and wanted for nothing till a press-gang came and stole her husband from her, but since then she had no bed to lie on, nothing to give her children to eat, and they were almost naked. She might have done something wrong, for she hardly knew what she did.’ The lawyers declared that shop-lifting being a common offence, she must be executed, and she was driven to Tyburn with a child still suckling at her breast.3
Even worse than the authorised system was the illicit pressing for the East India Company. Great numbers of young men were inveigled or kidnapped by crimps in its service, confined often for long periods, and with circumstances of the most aggravated cruelty, in secret depôts which existed in the heart of London, and at last, in the dead of night, shipped for Hindostan. Several cases of this kind were detected in the latter part of the eighteenth century by the escape of prisoners, and it was evident that the system was practised on a large scale.1
The regular press-gang was not confined to England, and it formed one of the gravest and most justifiable grievances of the American colonists. As early as 1747, one of the most terrible riots ever known in New England was produced by the seizure of some Boston sailors by the press-gang of Admiral Knowles. An English vessel was burnt. English officers were seized and imprisoned by the crowd. The Governor was obliged to take refuge in the Castle. The sub-sheriff was impounded in the stocks, the militia refused to act against the people, and the Admiral was ultimately obliged to release his captives.2 A similar resistance was shown to many subsequent attempts to impress in New England,3 and one of the first and ablest writers against the system was Benjamin Franklin. In England a great opposition was raised in the City of London in 1770 and 1771, at the time of the great press for seamen which was made when a war with Spain about the Falkland Islands appeared imminent. Press warrants in the City were only legal when backed by an alderman, and Crosby the Lord Mayor, and most of the aldermen refused to back them. Wilkes and Sawbridge, in their capacity of aldermen, dismissed some men who had been pressed in the City. A press-gang, which was beating a drum through the City, was brought before the Lord Mayor and reprimanded; and at a great meeting in Westminster Hall, at which both Wilkes and Sawbridge spoke, impressment was denounced as a violation of the Constitution.1 The agitation, however, did not spread. The attempts which had been made more than once since the Revolution to make impressing unnecessary, by a system of additional bounties and pensions, and by the formation of a reserve,2 had not succeeded, and it is remarkable that the legality and absolute necessity of impressment were at this time strongly asserted by three such different authorities as Chatham, Mansfield, and Junius.3
In the great difficulty of obtaining voluntary recruits for the American war, the press for sailors was very largely resorted to, and in 1776 it was especially fierce. In less than a month 800 men were seized in London alone, and several lives were lost in the scuffles that took place.4
While these means were employed for recruiting the navy, others of an equally questionable kind were found necessary for filling the vacancies in the army. I have noticed in a former chapter that it had been a common thing for press-gangs for the navy to hang about the prison-gates and seize criminals whose sentences had just expired, and this was not the only way in which the gaols were made to furnish their contingent for the defence of the country. Two or three Acts in favour of insolvent debtors had been passed, granting them their liberty on condition of enlisting in the army or navy, and in 1702 a system had begun which continued up to the time of the Peninsular war, of permitting criminals, who were undergoing their sentence, to pass into the army.1 In the beginning of the American war, this system appears to have been much extended. The usual manner of disposing of criminals under sentence of transportation had hitherto been to send them to America, where they were sold as slaves to the planters; but the war that had just broken out rendered this course impossible. For a time the Government was in great perplexity. The gaols were crowded with prisoners whose sentence it was impossible to execute. The governors of the African colonies protested against the introduction of a criminal element among them. An Act was, it is true, passed, authorising the punishment of hard labour in England as a substitute for transportation to ‘any of his Majesty's colonies and plantations,’ and galleys were set up in the Thames where criminals, under sentence of transportation, were employed in hard labour.2 But it soon occurred to the Government that able-bodied criminals might be more usefully employed in the coercion of the revolted colonists,3 and there is reason to believe that large numbers of criminals, of all but the worst category, passed at this time into the English army and navy. In estimating the light in which British soldiers were regarded in America, and in estimating the violence and misconduct of which British soldiers were sometimes guilty, this fact must not be forgotten. It is indeed a curious thing to notice how large a part of the reputation of England in the world rests upon the achievements of a force which was formed mainly out of the very dregs of her population, and to some considerable extent even out of her criminal classes.1
The difficulty of procuring voluntary recruits for the army and navy seems to show that, if the bulk of the poorer population of the country did not actively sympathise with the Americans, a war with a people of their own race and language had at least no popularity among them. In concluding this review of the condition of English opinion in 1776, a few words must be added about the relations of the American contest to English party principles. Chatham, as we have seen, invariably maintained that the American cause was essentially the cause of the Whigs. In his great speech in the beginning of 1775 he asserted that ‘the great fundamental maxim’ of the British Constitution is, ‘that no subject of England shall be taxed but by his own consent,’ and that ‘to maintain this principle is the common cause of the Whigs on the other side of the Atlantic and on this.’ In December 1777, when the war had been long declared, he extolled the Americans as ‘Whigs in principle and heroes in conduct,’ and he openly expressed his wish for their success. Like the Whigs, the Americans made the full development of civil liberty, and especially the defence of the great Whig principle that taxation and representation are inseparably connected, the main object of their policy, and the highly democratic character of their political constitutions lay at the root of their resistance. Public meetings, instructions to members, all the forms of political agitation that had of late years grown up in England, were employed by the popular party in America. On the other hand, all who esteemed licentiousness rather than despotism the great danger of England, all who disliked the development of the popular element in the Constitution, all whose natural leaning was towards authority, repression, and prerogative, gravitated to the anti-American side. In America the supporters of the English Government were invariably called Tories. In England the King, the followers of Bute, and the whole body of Tories, were ultimately enlisted against the Americans, while the support of their cause became more and more the bond of union between the Whigs who followed Chatham and the Whigs who followed Rockingham. By a true political instinct the clergy of the Established Church and the country gentry, who were the natural supporters of Toryism, were generally ranged on one side, and the Dissenters and the commercial class on the other.
So far the party lines of the American question appear very clear; but on the other hand, Grenville, who began the policy of taxing America, always called himself a Whig, he defended his measure by Whig arguments, and he strenuously maintained that the bulk of the party, in supporting the Americans, had deserted the orthodox traditions of their policy. The Whigs were the hereditary champions of the rights of Parliament, and it was the power of Parliament that was in question. The Whigs had made it one of their first objects to make the Sovereign dependent on Parliament for his supplies, and they were therefore bound to look with peculiar jealousy on a theory according to which supplies might be raised by requisition from the Crown, and for other than local purposes, by Assemblies over which Parliament had no control. The Whigs were the natural opponents of all extensions of the royal prerogative, and they could not with any consistency admit that the King could withdraw by charter a portion of his dominions from the full authority of Parliament.
Much of the language and some of the arguments of the Americans were undoubtedly drawn from the Tory arsenal. As Lord North truly said, it was the colonists who appealed to the King's prerogative. It was the ministers who upheld the authority of Parliament. The Americans delighted in contrasting their devotion to the Sovereign with their repudiation of parliamentary control, and they dilated, in language which seemed an echo of that of the early Tories, upon the unconstitutional enlargement of the dominion of Parliament. With the deep-seated conservatism of the English character, the Whigs had always pretended that the Revolution had made no real change in the relative position of the great powers of the State; that it had only arrested encroachments by the Sovereign, and defined, asserted, and protected the ancient liberties of the people. The Americans, on the other hand, maintained with great reason that Parliament, since the Revolution, or at least since the Rebellion, had acquired a wholly new place in the British Empire, and that the arguments of English lawyers about the necessary subordination of all parts of the British Empire to the Supreme Legislature, and about the impossibility of the Sovereign withdrawing British subjects by charter from parliamentary control, were based upon a state of things which at the time when the colonies were founded existed neither in law nor in fact. ‘At present,’ Franklin wrote, ‘the colonies consent and submit to the supremacy of the Legislature for the regulations of general commerce, but a submission to Acts of Parliament was no part of their original Constitution. Our former kings governed their colonies as they had governed their dominions in France, without the participation of British Parliaments. The Parliament of England never presumed to interfere in that prerogative till the time of the great Rebellion, when they usurped the government of all the King's other dominions, Ireland, Scotland, &c.’1
But although the arguments by which the followers of Grenville and Bedford maintained that their policy was a legitimate outcome of the principles of the Whig party were by no means without plausibility, or even without real force, the main current of Whig sentiment flowed irresistibly in the opposite direction. As the conflict deepened, the line of division corresponded closely with the division of parties. The whole body of the Tories, headed by the King, steadily supported a policy of coercion, while the Whigs made the cause of the colonists their own, though they defended it, as we have seen, by different arguments and in different degrees. Chatham could never tolerate the idea of an independent America, though he foresaw the danger at a very early stage of the conflict. He treated the whole question as one of the right of every free people to be taxed only by their own representatives. He strongly asserted the right and policy of the parliamentary restrictions of American commerce, and with Shelburne he emphatically protested against the new American doctrine that the Sovereign could not place his troops in any part of his dominions that he chose.1 The Rockingham Whigs, on the other hand, while they regarded the surrender of the parliamentary power of taxation as a matter not of right but of policy, were prepared to make wide concessions in other directions; and some members of the party, almost from the beginning of the struggle, were willing to consent to a final surrender of English dominion over the colonies. Of this section the Duke of Richmond was the most conspicuous. As early as 1776 he argued that America never could be subdued except at a ruinous expense; that by continuing the war, she would be forced into alliance with our natural enemy France; that if subdued, she would take the first opportunity of revolting, and that this opportunity would probably be when England was engaged in a deadly struggle, and when an American revolt might prove her ruin. If, then, he contended, America can no longer be kept amicably dependent, it is better to acknowledge her independence at once, to save further expenditure, to enter while it is still possible into close alliance with her, and thus to avert the great danger of her alliance with France.1
One other consideration weighed greatly with the Whig statesmen. It was the firm conviction of many, if not of all of them, that the triumph of the English in America would give such an ascendency to the Tory party and to the power of the Crown, that it would be fatal to English, liberty. Such an opinion was more than once implied in the speeches of Chatham. It was the opinion of Fox2 and of Horace Walpole,3 and many years after the struggle had terminated it was deliberately reaffirmed by Burke.4 We have a curious picture of the tone of thought prevailing among some of the Whig leaders in the beginning of the American contest, in a letter which was written by the Duke of Richmond to Burke from Paris in the August of 1776. Richmond had gone to France to prosecute his claim to an old French peerage, and he declares that the political condition of England was one reason why he was anxious to obtain it. England, he believed, was on the verge of despotism, and it would be a despotism more oppressive than that of France, for it would be less tempered by habit and manners. He himself was likely to be among the proscribed, and in that case, ‘if America be not open to receive us, France is some retreat, and a peerage here is something.’1
Under all these circumstances, England entered into the ill-omened conflict in which she was engaged, profoundly divided. A party, small indeed in numbers, but powerful from its traditions, its connections, and its abilities, had identified itself completely with the cause of the insurgents, opposed and embarrassed the Government in every effort to augment its forces and to subsidise allies, openly rejoiced in the victories of the Americans, and exerted all its eloquence to justify and to encourage them. We must now pass to the other side of the Atlantic, and examine the movements of public opinion in America and the measures of the American Congress to organise the war.
Chatham Correspondence, iv. 134, 135. Cavendish Debates, ii. 447. Parl. Hist. xvii. 122.
Walpole's Last Journals, i. 17.
12 Geo. III. c. xi.
Correspondence of George III. with Lord North, i. 99, 100. Parl. Hist. xvii. 423.
Correspondence of George III. with Lord North, i. 91.
Russell's Life of Fox, i. 4.
Mdme. du Deffand to H.Wal-pole. See Correspondence of Fox, i. 149.
Ibid. i. 224, 225. Fox appears, however, to have drunk less, or to have borne drink better, than several of his leading contemporaries. Sir Gilbert Elliot, in a letter to his wife, says: ‘Fox drinks what I should call a great deal, though he is not reckoned to do so by his companions; Sheridan excessively, and Grey more than any of them. … Pitt, I am told, drinks as much as anybody, generally more than any of his company, and that he is a pleasant, convivial man at table.’—Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 189.
Russell's Life of Fox, iii. 78.
See Walpole's Last Journals, ii. 480, 502, 503, 598, 599.
Walpole's Last Journals, ii. 4.
Butler's Reminiscences, i. 159.
See the admirable description of this riot in Sir George Trevelyan's noble volume on the early life of Fox.
Parl. Hist. xvii. 293.
Correspondence of Fox, i. 63, 64.
Jesse's Life of Selwyn, iii. 11.
Correspondence of Fox, i. 70–87, Russell's Life of Fox, i. 33–38.
Malcolm's Life of Clive, ii. 187.
Mill, book iv. ch. v.
Malcolm's Life of Clive, ii. 335–338.
Mill, iv. 7.
Mill, book iv., chap. vii.; see, too, chap. v.
Malcolm's Clive, iii. 101–103
7 Geo. III. c. 48.
Ibid. c. 49.
Ibid. c. 56, 57. See Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, iii. 463–466.
Adolphus, i. 301, 302.
9 Geo. III. c. 24.
Wealth of Nations, bk. v. ch. i. part iii.
Annual Register, 1773, p. 65.
Wealth of Nations, bk. iv. ch. vii.
13 Geo. III. c. 9. Annual Register, 1773, pp. 73–76.
See Parl. Hist. xvii. It is curious to contrast the wild language of these speeches with the admirable summary of the arguments against the Government proposal in the Annual Register and in the protests of the dissentient peers, which were probably all written by Burke.
Parl. Hist. xvii. 567.
Ann. Reg. 1773, p. 76.
Malcolm's Life of Clive, iii. 313–316.
13 Geo. III. c. 63, 64; Parl. Hist. xvii. 928, 929; Annual Register, 1773, pp. 95–105; Mill's History of British India, bk. iv. ch. ix.
The King himself was very hostile to Clive. He wrote to North, May 22, 1773: ‘I own I am amazed that private interest could make so many individuals forget what they owe to their country, and come to a resolution that seems to approve of Lord Clive's rapine.’ Correspondence of George III. with Lord North. See, too, Fox's Correspondence, i. 92.
See Burke's Works, xiii. 141–146.
See Annual Register, 1773, p. 107. Malcolm's Memoirs of Clive, iii. 359, 360. The account in the Parl. Hist. xvii. 881. 882, represents the motion of censure as having been carried, but this appears to be an error. Walpole (Last Journals, i. 243–245) mentions several speeches which are not given in the Parl. Hist.
See Malcolm's Memoirs of Clive. Mill's Hist. of British India, Parl. Debates, vol. xvii., and the admirable account of Indian affairs in the Annual Register.
Annual Register, 1762, p. 113.
Thus in 1769 Abel Proffer was convicted at the Monmouth Assizes for barbarous treatment of a Jew. He had placed him before a large fire with his hands tied behind him, to roast, and then stuffed hot bacon down his throat.—Annual Register, 1769, p. 93. In the same year we read that ‘On Saturday morning a Methodist preacher, who had disturbed the peace of the city of Gloucester with his enthusiastic rant, was flogged through the streets by order of the mayor.’—Ibid. p. 108.
Hallam's Hist. of England, ch. iv.
13 Car. II. st. i. c. 12.
Blackstone, bk. iii. ch. vii.
Ibid. bk. iv. ch. xv., xix. In the debate about Ecclesiastical Courts in 1813, one of the speakers mentions a case of defamation in which ‘the defendant had been acquitted before the Commissary Court of Surrey, but was afterwards found guilty in the Court of Arches and condemned to do penance, and then came a dispensation from performance, for which he had to pay 95l.’—Annual Register, 1813, p. 56.
Several curious particulars about Church discipline in England in the eighteenth century will be found in Abbey and Overton's very interesting work on The English Church in the Eighteenth Century, ii. 52–54, 506–509.
See Jacob's Law Dictionary, art. ‘Excommunication.’ Tom lin's Law Dict. art. ‘Excommunication.’
Howard on Prisons (3rd ed.), p. 416.
Disney's Life of Sykes, 199, 200, 373, 374.
27 Geo. III. c. 44.
Parl. Debates, xxi. 99, 100, 295–303.
53 Geo. III. c. 127.
See the noble speech of Lord Mansfield, Parl. Hist. xvi. 313–327. Campbell's Chief Justices, ii. 511–514. Stephens on the Constitution, pp. 337, 338.
Parl. Hist. xvii. 250.
Watson's Autobiography, i. 65, 66.
Meadley's Life of Paley, pp. 47–50, Append. 3–46. In his Moral Philosophy, book iii. ch. xxii., Paley justified subscription, but strongly denied that it bound the subscriber to believe every proposition contained in the Articles, or all the theological opinions of their compilers. The Articles, he maintained, were intended by the Legislature to exclude abettors of Popery, Anabaptists, and members of sects hostile to episcopacy, and the intention of the Legislature is the measure of the obligation of the subscriber.
Walpole's Last Journals, i. 7–13.
See both of these arguments in the speech of Sir Roger Newdigate, Parl. Hist. xvii. 255, 256.
Parl. Hist. xvii. 276–279.
Correspondence of George III. with Lord North, i. 89; ii. 378.
Burke, in a letter to Lady Huntingdon, promising to oppose the petition, says: ‘My sentiments in regard to the petition of the clergy praying to be relieved from subscription to the 39 Articles, are in opposition to the opinions of nearly all my own party.’—Life of the Countess of Huntingdon, ii. 287.
‘What is that Scripture to which they are content to subscribe? They do not think that a book becomes of divine authority because it is bound in blue morocco, and is printed by John Basket and his assigns? The Bible is a vast collection of different treatises. A man who holds the divine authority of one may consider the other as merely human. … There are some who reject the Canticles—others six of the Epistles. The Apocalypse has been suspected even as heretical, and was doubted of for many ages. … The Scripture is no one summary of doctrines regularly digested, in which a man could not mistake his way. It is a most venerable but most multifarious collection of the records of the divine economy, a collection of an infinite variety of cosmogony, theology, history, prophecy, psalmody, morality, apologue, allegory, legislation, ethics, carried through different books, by different authors, at different ages, for different ends and purposes.’—Burke's Works, x. 20, 21.
Parl. Hist. xvii. 246–296. Burke's Works, x. 3–21.
Life of the Countess of Huntingdon, ii. 285–288. Walpole's Last Journals, i. 376.
Parl. Hist. xvii. 441, 443, 770–772, 786–790.
Correspondence of George III. with Lord North, i. 101.
19 Geo. III. c. 44. See Belsham's Life of Lindsey, pp. 66, 67.
Walpole's Last Journals, i. 374–379.
‘James II. lost his crown for such enormities. The prince that wears it to the prejudice of that family is authorised by a free Parliament to do what James was expelled for doing ! A prince cried up like Charles I. for his piety is as favourable to Papists as Charles was, and has a bench of bishops as unjust to the Presbyterians, as propitious to Papists, as Charles had. And George III. has an army, which Charles had not.’—Walpole's Last Journals, i. 378. The poet Cowper wrote (Feb. 13, 1780) about the resemblance of the reigns of George III. and of Charles I., ‘especially the suspicion that obtains of a fixed design of Government to favour the growth of Popery.’—See Albemarle's Life of Rockingham, ii. 393.
Walpole's Last Journals, i. 541.
It was repealed by 14 Geo, III. c. 58. See, for much information on this subject, Creasy's Hist, of the Constitution, 257–260.
12 Geo. III. c. 20.
1 & 2 Geo, IV. c, 18.
Blackstone, book iv. c. 18.
Parl. Hist. xvii. 448–450.
23 Geo. III. c. 51.
Parl. Hist. xvii. 1291–1297. See, too, Campbell's Lives of the Chancellors, viii. 22–24.
59 Geo. III. c. 46.
3 & 4 William IV. c. 42.
British Chronicle, Feb. 23, 1761.
Gentleman's Magazine, 1772, p. 339.
31 Eliz. c.7. See Blackstone, book iv. c. 13.
Observations on a Scheme for the Maintenance of the Poor, in a Letter to Thomas Gilbert (Chester 1776), pp. 21, 22. The law was repealed by 15 Geo. III. c.32.
Phillimore's Hist. of Geo. III. p. 68. 54 Geo. III. c. 108.
According to Burke (speech at Bristol in 1780), two or three years. Burke's Works, iii. 389. Oliver says his imprisonment lasted four years. (Collections illustrating the Hist. of the Catholic Religion in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, &c. pp. 14, 15.) Lord Shelburne alluded to this case in a speech in 1778. ‘Mr. Malony, a priest of the Roman Catholie persuasion, had been apprehended and brought to trial by the lowest and most despicable of mankind, a common informing constable of the City of London. He was convicted of being a popish priest, and the Court were reluctantly obliged to condemn him (shocking as the idea was) to perpetual imprisonment. His Lordship was then in office, and though every method was taken by the Privy Council to give a legal discharge to the prisoner, neither the laws then in force would allow of it, nor dared the King himself to grant him a pardon. He, however, with his colleagues in office, was so perfectly persuaded of the impolicy and inhumanity of the law, that they ventured to give him his liberty at every hazard.’—Parl. Hist. xix. 1145.
Oliver's Collections illustrating the History of the Catholic Religion, p. 33. Gentleman's Magazine, 1767, pp. 141, 142. Butler's Memorials of the English Catholics. Butler states (ii. 64) that in 1780 he ascertained that a single house of attorneys in Gray's Inn had defended more than twenty priests under prosecution for their religion, and had defended them in most cases gratuitously. Butler does not say over how long a period these prosecutions were diffused. I suspect the time must have included at least the whole reign of George III., and that the defence of all the Catholic cases must have fallen to this firm.
See his very curious charge in Campbell's Chief Justices, ii. 514–516. In 1776 Dunning moved in the Court of King's Bench for informations against two Middlesex justices of the peace, who had refused to compel two persons charged with being Roman Catholies, to take the oaths. Mansfield refused the injunction, and at the same time expressed his disapproval of the attempt to revive the severities of the penal code.—Annual Register, 1776, p. 191.
Oliver, p. 15.
Burke's Works, iii. 389. Butter's Memorials of the English Catholics, ii. 72, 73.
State and Behaviour of English Catholics from the Reformation to the Year 1781, pp. 121, 122.
18 Geo. III. c. 60.
Campbell's Chief Justices, ii. 516.
Several curious letters on this subject will be found in the St. James's Chronicle for 1765. The alarm at the alleged increase of Popery led the House of Lords in the next year to pass a motion requesting the bishops in their several dioceses to obtain from their clergy an account of the Catholics in each parish. See Gent. Mag. 1767, p. 429.
Burke's Correspondence, ii. 350, 351.
Croker's Boswell, p. 648.
Letters to the Countess of Ossory, June 7, 1780.
In 1776—four years before the Gordon riots—Dr. Johnson had said: ‘The characteristic of our own Government at present is imbecility. The magistrates dare not call the Guards for fear of being hanged. The Guards will not come for fear of being given up to the blind rage of popular juries.’—Croker's Boswell, p. 509.
See Campbell's Chancellors, viii. 41–43. Jesse's Memoirs of Geo. III. ii. 276–279.
See Lord Loughborough's Charge, Ann. Reg. 1780, p. 281.
The three most detailed contemporary accounts of these riots are: the Narrative of the late Disturbances in London and Westminster, by William Vincent, of Gray's Inn (the real writer of this, which is the fullest account of the riots, was Thomas Holcroft); the Annual Register of 1780, which also contains reports of the trials of the chief rioters; and an anonymous Narrative of the Proceedings of Lord George Gordon and the Persons assembled under the Denomination of the Protestant Association (London, 1780). The poet Crabbe witnessed some of the scenes, and especially the capture of Newgate, and he describes them in a letter in his biography, which is unfortunately imperfect. Horace Walpole and Wraxall were both witnesses of the scenes on Black Wednesday. The first has described them very fully in his letters to Lord Strafford and to the Countess of Ossory; and the second in his Memoirs. See also a letter from Dr. Warner in Jesse's Life of Selwyn, iv. 327–335, and the interesting journal of the Moravian, James Hutton.—Benham's Life of Hutton, pp. 530–536. I need scarcely refer to the admirable narrative of Dickens, in Barnaby Rudge, based upon Holcroft, Walpole, and the Annual Register.
See e.g. the two well-known poems of Cowper on the burning of Lord Mansfield's library.
See Cumberland's Memoirs, ii. 35, 36, 48.
Miscellaneous Works, ii. 241. ‘Rien,’ wrote Madame du Deffand, ‘n'est plus affreux que tout ce qui arrive chez vous. Votre liberté ne me séduit point. Cette liberté tant vantée me paraît bien plus onéreuse que notre esclavage.’—Walpole's Letters, vi. 88. In one of the letters of Maria Theresa to Marie Antoinette (June 30, 1780) she speaks with great dislike of a contemplated visit of the Emperor to England: ‘Surtout après la terrible émeute, inouïe entre les puissances civilisées qui vient de se passer. Voilà cette liberté tant prônée—cette législation unique. Sans religion, sans mœurs, rien ne se soutient.’—Arneth, Correspondance secrète de Marie-Therèse et Marie-Antoinette, iii. 444. Hillsborough, in a private letter to Buckinghamshire, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, speaks of ‘the dreadful and unaccountable insurrection which for four days together has made such devastation in this town, and threatened not less than a total destruction of it.’—June 10, 1780. MSS. Record Office.
Walpole's Last Journals, i. 88, 122, 128. Ann. Reg. 1772, 90, 91, 109, 110.
Lord Russell thinks that ‘the abrupt dissolution prevented any influence being exercised by American affairs on the temper of the elections,’ and he quotes a speech of Lord Suffolk, who said he advised the dissolution, foreseeing that if it were delayed the Americans would take steps ‘to influence the general election by creating jealousies, fears, and prejudices among the mercantile and trading part of the nation.’—Russell's Life of Fox, i. 70, 71. According to Walpole, one reason of the premature dissolution was, that ‘the advices from America, though industriously concealed, were so bad that great clamour was feared from the American merchants and trading towns.’—Last Journals, i. 399. At the same time the American Coercion Acts were among the most conspicuous measures of the Government in the late Parliament, and they must necessarily have had a considerable part in determining the votes of the electors.
Walpole's Last Journals, i. 436.
Walpole's Last Journals, iii. 3. Donne's Correspondence of George III. i. 281, 282. Thackeray's Chatham, ii. 307, 308.
Correspondence of George III. and Lord North, i. 170.
See Correspondence of Fox, i. 223.
Ibid. i. 122, 123.
Ibid. p. 26.
Walpole's Last Journals, ii. 4.
Correspondence of Fox, i. 298.
Chatham's Correspondence, iv. 401.
As Franklin wrote: ‘Sixteen Scotch peers and twenty-four bishops, with all the Lords in possession or expectation of places, when they vote together unanimously, as they generally do for ministerial measures, make a dead majority that renders all debating ridiculous.’—Franklin's Works, v. 46.
See a valuable note by Mr. Donne in the Correspondence of George III. and Lord North, i. 267–271.
See the very remarkable and impartial analysis of English opinion (very probably written by Burke) in the Annual Register, 1776, pp. 38, 39.
Ibid. p. 38. See, too, on the apathy of the trading classes at this time, Walpole's Last Journals, ii. 6; Burke's Correspondence, ii. 50; Correspondence of George III. and Lord North, i. 235, 236, 272, 273.
Walpole's Last Journals, ii. 90, 91.
Last Journals, ii. 22, 23.
Walpole in one place even asserts that the Presbyterians and other Dissenters in England ‘were entirely passive,’ being bribed or sold by their leaders, though those in Ireland were active on the American side’ (ibid. 84, 85); and in another place he says, the Dissenters, though on the whole American, ‘were yet kept quiet by pensions to their chiefs.’—Ibid. pp. 323, 324.
See Donne's notes to the Correspondence of George III. and Lord North, i. 279, 280, ii. 401.
Burke's Correspondence, ii. 2.
Burke's Correspondence, ii. 48–50.
Ibid. pp. 68, 69.
Chatham Correspondence, iv. 420.
Walpole's Last Journals, i. 459.
Parl. Hist. xviii. 998. Cart-wright, who in the next generation became so prominent as a parliamentary reformer, refused a naval appointment at this time because it would imply service against the Americans. Life and Correspondence of Major Cart-wright, i. 75, 81.
Parl. Hist. xviii. 1076.
Adolphus, ii. 253. Annual Reg. 1776, p. 41.
Annual Register, 1776, pp. 41–43, 126. Walpole's Last Journals, i. 502, 503, ii. 23.
Franklin's Life, p. 401.
Annual Register, 1777, p. 211.
Ibid. 1776, p. 15. Fox's Correspondence, i. 142. Adolphus, ii. 241.
Correspondence of Geo. III. i. 269.
Annual Register, 1776, p. 39. The same character seems to have extended to the Scotch in America. ‘The Irish in America,’ it was said, ‘with a few exceptions were attached to independence. … The Scotch, on the other hand, though they had formerly sacrificed much to liberty in their own country, were generally disposed to support the claims of Great Britain.’—Ramsay's History of the American Revolution, ii. 311. Ramsay adds, however, that the ‘army and the Congress ranked among their best officers and most valuable members some individuals of that nation.’—Ibid. Adams notices the strong opposition of the Scotch, who were settled in Virginia, to the measures taken by the Congress in 1775.—Adams' Diary, Works, ii. 431.
Annual Register, 1776, p. 39.
Walpole's Last Journals, i. 446. Thackeray's Chatham, ii. 286.
See Annual Register, 1776 p. 39.
Blackstone, book i. c. xiii.
2 & 3 Anne, c. 19. Parl. Hist. xv. 875; Clode's Military Forces of the Crown ii. 15–19. The last Act for impressment for the army appears to have expired in 1780.
Parl. Hist. xv. 875–923.
56 Geo. III. c. 100.
May's Const. History of England. Hume, in his Essay ‘On some remarkable Customs,’ called attention to the great anomaly of impressment in a free country.
Annual Register, 1770, p. 161.
See the Life of Bampfylde Moore Carew (1749), pp. 128–130.
Annual Register, 1770, p. 147.
Annual Register, 1770, p. 149.
Ibid. 1779, pp. 204, 215, 216.
Parl. Hist. xix. 238.
See several instances of the kind in Andrews' XVIII. Cent. p. 209–212. Phillimore's Hist. of Geo. III. pp. 60, 61. Annual Register, 1767, p. 82.
Grahame's History of the United States, iii. 295–300.
Arnold's Hist. of New England, ii. 255, 256. See, too, on the pressing in New England, the very carious Journal of Thomas Chalkley from 1697 to 1741 (ed. 1850), pp. 313, 314, and Hutchinson's Hist. of Massachusetts Bay, p. 231.
Annual Register, 1770, pp. 157, 161, 162, 169, 174; 1771, pp. 16, 67, 68, 70.
See vol. ii. p. 133. In 1770, in order to escape the necessity of pressing, several of the chief towns subscribed additional bounties for sailors who enlisted voluntarily. Annual Register, 1770, pp. 150, 163.
Walpole's Memoirs of Geo. III. iv. 181. Chatham Correspondence, iii. 480, 481; iv. 22, 43. Adolphus, i. 459. Junius' Letters (signature Philo-Junius). Campbell's Chief Justices, ii. 419. Chatham said: ‘I believe every man who knows anything of the British navy will acknowledge that, without impressing, it is impossible to equip a respectable fleet within the time in which such armaments are usually wanted.’—Thackeray's Chatham, ii. 217.
Walpole's Last Journals, ii. 75, 77, 81.
Clode's Military Forces of the Crown, ii. 12–15.
16 Geo. III. c. 43. Walpole's Last Journals, ii. 38. Annual Register, 1776, p. 163.
My knowledge of this subject is derived from the ‘Government Correspondence’ in the Irish State Paper Office. On March 30, 1776, Lord Harcourt, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, wrote to the Secretary of State, Lord Weymouth, complaining that the gaols in Ireland were full of convicts under sentence of transportation, ‘as no merchant will contract to convoy them to America whilst the present rebellion subsists.’ He proposed, therefore, to pardon such of them as were fit and serviceable men, ‘on condition of their entering into his Majesty's land and sea service, as I shall direct.’ Weymouth answered (April 23, 1776): ‘The measure proposed by your Excellency for granting pardons to prisoners who may be found, on proper examination, to be fit for the sea or the land service, has been of late in many instances pursued here, and his Majesty approves of your granting pardons to prisoners in the several gaols of Ireland under these circumstances. But it will occur to your Excellency how necessary it is, that the enlisting officers should, in the strongest manner, be enjoined to examine and report, before the pardon shall be granted, whether the prisoners are really fit for service, as a discharge cannot so properly be granted. It should also be observed that when they are engaged, particular care should be taken to secure this kind of recruits, and that they be considered rather in a different light from those who enter voluntarily.’
It does not appear to have been only the British troops who were recruited from the prisons. Speaking of the Germans in the British service, Goltz wrote to Frederick (March 13, 1777), ‘Les recrues hessoises sont en grande partie des malfaiteurs détachés de la chaîne.’—Circourt, Action Commune de la France et de l'Amérique, iii. 81.
Letter of B. Franklin, Nov. 29, 1769. American Remembrancer, 1775, p. 52. In a speech in 1775 Lord North said: ‘If he understood the meaning of the words Whig and Tory, he conceived that it was the characteristic of Whiggism to gain as much for the people as possible, while the aim of Toryism was to increase the prerogative. In the present case, Administration contended for the right of Parliament, while the Americans talked of their belonging to the Crown. Their language, therefore, was that of Toryism.’—Parl. Hist., xviii. 771.
Adolphus, ii. 309.
These views were privately expressed by the Duke of Richmond to his brother-in-law, Mr. Connolly, in a remarkable letter dated Nov. 1776, in the possession of the late Sir Charles Bunbury, who kindly allowed me to make use of it. In Jan. 1778, Richmond declared in Parliament his readiness to acknowledge American independence. (Walpole's Last Journals, ii. 182.)
Fox's Correspondence, i. 142–147.
In March 1778, he writes: ‘I had as little doubt but if the conquest of America should be achieved, the moment of the victorious army's return would be that of the destruction of our liberty.’—Walpole's Last Journals, ii. 241.
In defending his conduct on the American question, he says: ‘He certainly never could, and never did, wish the colonists to be subdued by arms. He was fully persuaded that if such should be the event, they must be held in that subdued state by a great body of standing forces, and perhaps of foreign forces. He was strongly of opinion that such armies, first victorious over Englishmen, in a conflict for English constitutional rights and privileges, and afterwards habituated (though in America) to keep an English people in a state of abject subjection, would prove fatal in the end to the liberties of England itself.’—‘Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs,’ Burke's Works, vi. 124.
Burke's Correspondence, ii. 112–120.