1902 Encyclopedia > England > [English History] 18th Century Britain, 1715-1815: George -III.

England
(Part 30)




SECTION II: HISTORY (cont.)

Part 30: 18th Century Britain, 1715-1815: George I; George II; George III.


The accession of George I. brought with it the predominance of the Whigs. They had on their side the royal power, the greater part of the aristocracy, the dissenters, and the higher trading and commercial classes. The Tories appealed to the dislike of dissenters prevalent amongst the country gentlemen and the country clergy, and to the jealousy felt by the agricultural classes towards those who enriched themselves by trade. Such a feeling, if it was aroused by irritating legislation, might very probably turn to the advantage of the exiled house, especially as the majority of Englishmen were to be found on the Tory side. It was therefore advisable that Government should content itself with as little action as possible, in order to give time for old habits to wear themselves out. The landing of the Pretender in Scotland (1715), and the defeat of a portion of his army which had advanced to Preston,—a defeat which was the consequence of the apathy of his English supporters, and which was followed by the complete suppression of the rebellion,—gave increased strength to the Whig Government. But they were reluctant to face an immediate dissolution, and the Septennial Act was passed (1716) to extend to seven years the duration of parliaments, which had been fixed at three years by the Triennial Act of William and Mary. Under General Stanhope an effort was made to draw legislation in a more liberal direction. The Occasional Conformity Act and the Schism Act were repealed (1719); but the majorities on the side of the Government were unusually small, and Stanhope, who would willingly have repealed the Test Act so far as it related to dissenters, was compelled to abandon the project as entirely impracticable. The Peerage Bill, introduced at the same time to limit the royal power of creating peers, was happily thrown our in the Commons. It was proposed partly from a desire to guard the Lords against such a sudden increase of their numbers as had been forced on them when the treaty of Utrecht was under discussion, and partly to secure the Whigs on office against any change in the royal councils in a succeeding reign. It was in fact conceived by men who valued the immediate victory their principles more than they trusted to the general good sense of the nation. The Lords were at this time, as a matter of fact, not merely wealthier but wiser than the Commons; and it is no wonder that, in days when the Commons, by passing the Septennial Act, had shown their distrust of their own constituents, the peers should show, by the Peerage Bill, their distrust of that House which was elected by those constituencies. Nevertheless the remedy was worse than the disease. A close oligarchy would not only have held a dominant position for some twenty or thirty years, during which it would really be fit to exercise authority, but would have been impenetrable to the force of public opinion when the time came that a public opinion worthy of the name was formed. It is essential to the permanence of an Upper House that it should be unable to set at defiance the will of the nation expressed by its representatives; and without the power of creation the House of Lords might easily have attempted to do this till there was no alternative to a violent alternation of the constitution.

The excitement following on the bursting of the South Sea Bubble, and the death or ruin of the leading ministers, brought Walpole to the front (1721). As a man of business when men of business were few in the House of Commons, he was eminently fit to manage the affairs of the country. But he owed his long continuance in office especially to his sagacity. He clearly saw, what Stanhope had failed to see that he mass of the nation was not fitted as yet to interest itself wisely in affairs of government, and that therefore the rule must be kept in the hands of the upper classes. But he was too sensible to adopt the coarse expedient which had commended itself to Stanhope, and he preferred humouring the masses to contradicting them.

The struggle of the preceding century had left its mark in every direction on the national development. Out of the reaction against Puritanism had come a widely-spread relaxation of morals, and also, as far as the educated class was concerned, an eagerness for the discussion of all social and religious problems. The fierce excitement of political life has stirred up the fountains of thought, and the most anciently received doctrines were held of little worth until they were brought to the test of reason. It was a time when the pen was more powerful than the sword, when a secretary of state would treat with condescension a witty pamphleteer, and when such a pamphleteer might hope, not in vain, to become a secretary of state.

It was in this world of reason and literature that the Whigs of the Peerage Bill moved. Walpole perceived that there was another world which understood none of these things. With cynical insight be discovered that a great Government cannot rest on a clique, however distinguished. If the mass of the nation was not conscious of political wants, it was conscious of material wants. The merchant needed protection for his trade; the voters gladly welcomed election day as bringing guineas to their pockets. Members of Parliament were ready to sell their votes for places, for pensions, for actual money. The system was not new, as Danby is credited with the discovery that a vote in the House of Commons might be purchased. But with Walpole it reached its height.

Such a system was possible because the House of Commons was not really accountable to its constituents. The votes of its members were not published, and still less were their speeches made known. Such a silence could only be maintained around the House when there was little interest in its proceedings. The great questions of religion and taxation which had agitated the country under the Stuarts were now fairly settled. To reawaken those questions in any shape would be dangerous. Walpole took good care never to repeat the mistake of the Sacheverel trial. When on one occasion he was led into the proposal of an unpopular excise he at once drew back. England in his days was growing rich. Englishmen were bluff and independent, in their ways often coarse and unmannerly. Their life was the life depicted on the canvas of Hogarth and the pages of Fielding. All high imagination, all devotion to the public weal, seemed laid asleep. But the political instinct was not dead and it would one day express itself for better ends than an agitation against an excise bill or an outcry for a popular war. A Government could no longer employ its powers for direct oppression. In his known house and in his own conscience, every Englishman, as far as the Government was concerned, was the master of his destiny. By and by the idea would dawn on the nation that anarchy is as productive of evil as tyranny, and that an Government which omits to regulate or control allows the strong to oppress the weak, and the rich to oppress the poor.

Walpole’s administration lasted long enough to give room for some feeble expression of this feeling. When George I. was succeeded by George II. (1727), Walpole remained in power. His eagerness for the possession of that power which he desired to use for his country’s good, together with the incapacity of two kings born and bred in a foreign country to take a leading part in English affairs, completed the change which had been effected when William for the first time entrusted the conduct of government to a united Cabinet. There was now for the first time a prime minister in England, a persons who was himself a subject imposing harmonious action on the Cabinet. The change was so gradually and silently effected that it is difficult to realize its full importance. So far, indeed, as it only came about through the incapacity of the first two kings of the house of Hanover, it might be obliterated, and was in fact to a great extent obliterated by a more active successor. But so far as it was the result of general tendencies, it could never be obliterated. In the ministries in which Somers and Montagu on the one hand Harley and St John on the other had taken part, there was no prime minister except so far as one member of the administration dominated over his collegues by the force of character and intelligence. In the reign of George III. even North and Addington were universally acknowledged by that title, though they ah little claim to the independence of action of a Walpole or a Pitt.

The change was, in fact, one of the most important of those by which the English constitution has been altered from an hereditary monarchy with a parliamentary regulative agency to a parliamentary government with an hereditary regulative agency. In Walpole’s time the forms of the constitution had become, in all essential particulars, what they are now. What was wanting was a national force behind them to give them their proper work.

The growing opposition which finally drove Walpole from power was not entirely without a noble element than could be furnished by personal rivalry or ignorant distrust of commercial and financial success. It was well that complaints that a great country ought not be governed by patronage and bribery should be raised, although, as subsequent experience showed, the caused which rendered corruption inevitable were not to be removed by the expulsion of Walpole from office. But for one error, indeed, it is probably that Walpole’s rule would have been further prolonged than it was. In 1739 a popular excitement arose for a declaration of war against Spain. Walpole believed that war to be certainly unjust, and likely to be disastrous. He had, however, been so accustomed to give way to popular pressure that he did not perceive the difference between a wise and timely determination to leave a right action undone in the face of insuperable difficulties, and an unwise and cowardly determination to do that which he believed to be wrong and imprudent. If he had now resigned rather than demean himself by acting against his conscience, it is by no means unlikely that he would have been recalled to power before many years were over. As it was, the failures of the war recoiled on his own head, and in 1742 his long ministry came to an end.

After a short interval a successor was found in Henry Pelham. All the ordinary arts of corruption which Walpole had practised were continued, and to them were added arts of corruption which Walpole had disdained to practise. He at least understood that there were certain principles in accordance with which he wished to conduct public affairs, and he had driven colleague out of office rather than allow them to distract his method of government. Pelham and his brother, the cowardly intriguing duke of Newcastle, had no principles of government whatever. They offered place to every man of parliamentary skill or influence. There was no opposition, because the ministers never attempted to do anything which would arouse opposition, and because they were ready to do anything called for by any one who had power enough to make himself dangerous; and in 1743 they embarked on a useless war with France in order to please the king, who saw in every commotion on the Continent some danger to his beloved Hanoverian possessions.

At most times in the history of England such a ministry would have been driven from office by the roused outcry of an offended people. In the days of the Pelhams, government was regarded as lying too far outside the all-important private interests of the community to make it worth while to make any effort to rescue it from the degradation into which it had fallen; yet the Pelhams had not been long in power before this serene belief that the country could get on very well without a government in any real sense of the word was put to the test. In 1745 Charles Edward, the son of the Pretender, landed in Scotland. He was followed by many of the Highland clans, always ready to draw the sword against the constituted authorities of the Lowlands; and even in the Lowlands, and especially in Edinburgh, he found adherents, who still felt the sting inflicted by the suppression of the national independence of Scotland. The English army was in as chaotic a condition as its Government, and Charles Edward inflicted a complete defeat on a force which met him at Prestonpans. Before the end of the year the victor, at the head of 5000 men, had advanced to Derby. But he found no support in England, and the mere numbers brought against him compelled him to retreat, to find defeat at Culloden in the following year (1746). The war on the Continent had been waged with indifferent success. The victory of Dettingen (1743) and the glorious defeat of Fontenoy (1745) had achieved no objects worthy of English intervention, and the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle put an end in 1748 to hostilities which should never have been commenced. The Government pursued its inglorious career as long as Henry Pelham lived. He had at least some share in the financial ability of Walpole, and it was not till he died in 1754 that the real difficulties of a system which was based on the avoidance of difficulties had fairly to be faced.

The change which was needed was not such as was to be expected from any mere re-adjustment of the political machine. Those who cared for religion or morality had forgotten that man was an imaginative and emotional being. Defenders of Christianity and of deism alike appealed to the reason alone. Enthusiasm was treated as a folly or a crime, and earnestness of every kind was branded with the name of enthusiasm. The higher order of minds dwelt with preference upon the beneficent wisdom of the Creator. The lower order of minds treated religion as a kind of life-assurance against the inconvenience of eternal death.

Upon such a system as this human nature was certain to revenge itself. The preaching of Wesley and Whitfield appealed direct to the emotions. They preached the old Puritan doctrine of conversion, and called upon each individual not to understand, or to admire, or to act, but vividly to realize the love and mercy of God. In all this there was nothing new. What was new was that Wesley added an organization, in which each of his followers unfolded to one another the secrets of their heart, and became accountable to his fellows. Large as the members of the Wesleyans ultimately became, their influence is not to be measured by their numbers. The double want of the age, the want of spiritual earnestness and the want of organized coherence, would find satisfaction in many ways which would have seemed strange of Wesley, but which were, nevertheless, a continuance of the work which he began.

As far as Government was concerned, when Henry Pelham died (1754) the lowest depth of baseness seemed to have reached. The duke of Newcastle, who succeeded his brother, looked on the work of corruption with absolute pleasure, and regarded genius and ability as an awkward interruption of that happy arrangement which made even subservient to flattery and money. Whilst he was in the very act of trying to drive from office all men who were possessed of any sort of ideas, he was surprised by a great war. In America, the French settlers in Canada and the English settlers on the Atlantic coast were falling were falling to blows for the possession of the vast territories drained by the Ohio and its tributaries. In India, Frenchmen and Englishmen had striven during the last war for authority over the native states round Pondicherry and Madras, and the conflict threatened to break out anew. When war commenced in earnest, and the reality of danger came home to Englishmen by the capture of Minorca (1756), there arose a demand for a more capable Government than any which Newcastle could offer. Terrified by the storm of obloquy which he aroused, he fled from office. A Government was formed, of which the soul was William Pitt. Pitt was, in some sort, to the political life of Englishmen what Wesley was to their religious life. He brought no new political ideas into their minds, but he ruled them by the force of his character and the example of his purity. His weapons were trust and confidence. He appalled to the patriotism of his fellow-countrymen, to their imaginative love for the national greatness, and he did not appeal in vain. He perceived instinctively that a large number, even of those who took greedily the bribes of Walpole and the Pelhams, took them, not because they loved money better than their country, but because they had no conception that their country had any need of them at all. It was a truth, but it was not the whole truth. The great Whig families rallied under Newcastle and drove Pitt from office (1757). But if Pitt could not govern without Newcastle’s corruption, neither could Newcastle govern without Pitt’s energy. At last a compromise was effected, and Newcastle undertook the work of bribing, whilst Pitt undertook the work of governing.

The war which had already broken out, the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), was not confined to England alone. By the side of the duel between France and England, a war was going on upon the Continent, in which Austria—with its allies, France, Russia, and the German princes—had fallen upon the new kingdom of Prussia and its sovereign Frederick II. England and Prussia, therefore, necessarily formed an alliance. Different as the two Governments were, they were both alike in recognizing, in part at least, the conditions of progress. The generations which have succeeded the generation of Pitt and Frederick have learned gradually the necessity of seeking strength from the embodiment of popular feeling in a representative assembly, and of seeking order from the organization of scientific knowledge. Even in Pitt’s day England, however imperfectly, rested its strength on the popular will. Even in Frederick’s day Prussia was ruled by administrators selected for their special knowledge. Neither France nor Austria had any conception of the necessity of fulfilling these requirements. Hence the strength of England and of Prussia. The war seems to be a mere struggle for territory. There is no feeling in either Pitt or Frederick, such as there was in the men who contended half a century later against Napoleon, that they were fighting the battles of the civilized world. There is something repulsive as well in the enthusiastic nationality of Pitt as in the cynical nationality of Frederick. Pitt’s sole object was to exalt England to a position in which she might fear no rival, and might scarcely look upon a second. But in so doing he exalted that which, in spite of all that had happened, best deserved to be exalted. The habits of individual energy fused together by the inspiration of patriotism conquered Canada. The unintelligent overregulation of the French Government could not maintain the colonies which had been founded in happier times. In 1758 Louisburg was taken, and the mouth of the St Lawrence guarded against France. In 1759 Quebec fell before Wolfe, who died at the moment of victory. In the same year the naval victories of Lagos and Quiberon Bay established the supremacy of the British at sea. The battle of Plassey (1757) had laid Bengal at the feet of Clive; and Coote’s victory at Wandewash (1760) led to the final ruin of the relics of French authority in southern India. When George II. died (1760), England was the first maritime and colonial power in the world.

In George III. the king once more became an important factor in English politics. From his childhood he had been trained by his mother and his instructors to regard the breaking down of the power of the great families as the task of his life. In this he was walking in the same direction as Pitt was walking. If the two men could have worked together in the same direction, England might have been spared many misfortunes. Unhappily, the king could not understand Pitt’s higher qualities, his bold confidence in the popular feeling, and his contempt for corruption and intrigue. And yet the king’s authority was indispensable to Pitt, if he was to carry on his conflict against the great families with success. When the war came to an end, as it must come to an end sooner or later, Pitt’s special predominance, derived as it was from his power of breathing a martial spirit into the fleets and armies of England, would come to an end too. Only the king, with his hold upon the traditional instincts of loyalty and the force of his still unimpaired prerogative, could, in ordinary times, hold head against the wealthy and influential aristocracy. Unfortunately George III. was not wise enough to deal with the difficulty in a high0minded fashion. With a well-intentioned but narrow mind, he had nothing in him to strike the imagination of his subjects. He met influence with influence, corruption with corruption, intrigue, with intrigue. Unhappily, too, his earliest relations with Pitt involved a dispute on a point on which he was right and Pitt was wrong. In 1761 Pitt resigned office, because neither the king nor the cabinet were willing to declare war against Spain in the midst of the war with France. As the war with Spain was inevitable, and as, when it broke out in the following year (1762), it was followed by triumphs for which Pitt had prepared the way, the prescience of the great war-minister appeared to be fully established. But it was his love of war, not his skill in carrying it on, which was really in question. He would be satisfied with nothing short of the absolute ruin of France. He would have given England that dangerous position of supremacy which was gained for France by Lewis XIV. in the 17th century, and by Napoleon in the 19th century. He would have made his country still more haughty and arrogant than it was, till other nations rose against it, as they have three times risen against France, rather than submit to the intolerable yoke. It was a happy thing for England that peace was signed (1763).

Even as it was, a spirit of contemptuous disregard of the rights of other had been roused, which would not be easily allayed. The king’s premature attempt to secure a prime minister of his own choosing in Lord Bute (1761) came to an end through the minister’s incapacity (1763). George Grenville, who followed him, kept the king in leading-strings in reliance upon his parliamentary majority. Something, no doubt, had been accomplished by the incorruptibility of Pitt. The practice of bribing members of parliament by actual presents in money came to an end, though the practice of bribing them by place and pension long continued. The arrogance which Pitt displayed towards foreign nations was displayed of Grenville towards classes of the population of the British dominions. It was enough for him to establish a right. He never put himself in the position of those who were to suffer by its being put in force.

The first to suffer from Grenville’s conception of his duty were the American colonies. The mercantile system which had sprung up in Spain in the 16th century held that colonies were to be entirely prohibited from trading, except with the mother country. Every European country had adopted this view, and the acquisition of fresh colonial dominions by England, at the peace of 1763, had been made not so much through lust of empire as through love of trade. Of all English colonies, the American were the most populous and important. Their proximity to the Spanish colonies in the West Indies had naturally led to a contrabrand trade. To this trade Grenville put a stop, as far as lay in his power.

Obnoxious as this measure was in America, the colonists had acknowledged the principle on which it was founded too long to make it easy to resist it. Another step of Grenville’s met with more open opposition. Even with all the experience of the country and her colonies are not easy to arrange. If the burthen of defence is to be borne in common, it can hardly be left to the mother country to declare war, and to exact the necessary taxation, without the consent of the colonies. If, on the other hand, it is to be borne by the mother country alone, she may well complain that she is left to bear more than her due share of the weight. The latter alternative forced itself upon the attention of Grenville. The British parliament, he held, was the supreme legislature, and, as such, was entitled to raise taxes in America to support the military forces needed for the defence of America. The Act (1765) imposing a stamp tax on the American colonies was the result.

As might have been expected, the Americans resisted. For them the question was precisely that which Hampden had fought out in the case of ship-money. As far as they were concerned the British parliament had stepped into the position of Charles I. If Grenville had remained in office he would probably have persisted in his resolution. He was driven from his post by the king’s resolution no longer to submit to his insolence.

A new ministry was formed under the marquis of Rockingham, composed of some of those leaders of the Whig aristocracy who had not followed the Grenville ministry. They were well-intentioned, but weak, and without political ability; and the king regarded them with distrust, only qualified by his adhorrence of the ministry which they superseded.

As soon as the bad news came from America, the ministry was placed between two recommendations. Grenville, on the one hand, advised that the tax should be enforced. Pitt on the other, declared that the British parliament had absolutely no right to tax America though he held that it had the right to regulate, or in other words to tax, the commerce of America for the benefit of the British merchant and manufacturer. Between the two the Government took a middle course. It obtained from parliament a total repeal of the Stamp Act, but it also passed a Declaratory Act, claiming fort he British parliament the supreme power over the colonies in matters of taxation, as well as in matters of legislation.

It is possible that the course thus adopted was chosen simply because it was a middle course. But it was probably suggested by Edmund Burke, who was then Lord Rockingham’s private secretary, but who for some time to come was to furnish thinking to the party to which he attached himself. Burke carried into the world of theory those politics of expediency of which Walpole had been the practical originator. He held that questions of abstract right had no place in politics. It was therefore as absurd to argue with Pitt that England had a right to regulate commerce, as it was to argue with Grenville that England had a right to levy taxes. All that could be said was that it was expedient in a wide spread be lodged somewhere, and that it was also expedient not to use that power in such a way as to irritate those whom it was the truest wisdom to conciliate.

The weak side of this view was the weak side of all Burke’s political philosophy. Like all great innovators, he was intensely conservative where he was not an advocate of change. With new views on every subject relating to the exercise of power, he shrunk even from entertaining the slightest question relating to the distribution of power. He recommended to the British parliament the most self-denying wisdom, but he could not see that in its relation to the colonies the British parliament was so constituted as to make it entirely unprepared to be either wise or self-denying. It is true that if he had thought our the matter in this direction he would have been led further than he or any other man in England or America was at that time prepared to go. If the British parliament was unfit to legislate for America, and if, as was undoubtedly the case, it was impossible to create a representative body which was fit to legislate, it would follow that the American colonies could only be fairly governed as practically independent states, though they might possibly remain, like the great colonies of our own day, in a position of alliance rather than of dependence. It was because the issued opened led to changes so far greater than the wisest statesman then perceived, that Pitt’s solution, logically untenable as it was, was preferable to Burke’s Pitt would have given bad reasons for going a step in the right direction. Burke have excellent reasons why those who were certain to go wrong should have the power to god right.

Scarcely were the measures relating to America passed when the king turned out the ministry. The new ministry was formed by Pitt, who was created Lord Chatham (1766), on the principles of bringing together men who had shaken themselves loose from any of the different Whig cliques. Whatever chance the plan had of succeeding was at an end when Chatham’s mind temporarily gave way under stress of disease (1767). Charles Townshend, a brilliant headstrong man, led parliament in the way which had been prepared by the Declaratory Act, and laid duties on tea and other articles of commerce entering the ports of America.





It was impossible that the position thus claimed by the British parliament towards America should affect America alone. The habit of obtaining money otherwise than by the consent of those who are required to pay it would be certain to make parliament careless of the feelings and interests of that great majority of the population at home which was unrepresented in parliament. The resistance of America to the taxation imposed was therefore not without benefit to the natives of the mother-country. Already there were signs of a readiness in parliament to treat even the constituencies with contempt. In 1763, in the days of the Grenville ministry, John Wales, a profligate and scurrilous writer, had been arrested on a general warrant—that is to say, a warrant in which the name of no individual was mentioned,—as the author of an alleged libel on the king, contained in No. 45 of The North Briton. He was a member of parliament, and as such was declared by Chief Justice Pratt to be privileged against arrest. In 1768 he was elected member for Middlesex. The House the Commons expelled him. He was again elected, and again expelled. The third time the Commons gave the seat to which Wilkes was a third time chosen to Colonel Lutrell, who was war far down in the poll. Wilkes thus became the representative of a great constitutional principle, the principle that the electros have a right to choose their representatives without restriction saving by the regulations of the law.

For the present the contention of the American colonists and of the defenders of Wilkes at home was confined within the compass of the law. Yet in both cases it might easily pass beyond that compass, and might rest itself upon an appeal to the duty of Governments to modify the law and to enlarge the basis of their authority, when law and authority have become too narrow.

As regards America, though Townshend died, the Government persisted in his policy. As resistance grew stronger in America, the king urged the use of compulsion. If he had not the wisdom of the country on his side, he had its prejudices. The arrogant sprit of Englishmen made them contemptuous towards the colonists, and the desire to thrust taxation upon others than themselves made the new colonial legislation popular. In 1770 the king made Lord North prime minister. He had won the object on which he had set his heart. A new Tory party had sprung up, not distinguished, like the Tories of Queen Anne’ reign, by a special ecclesiastical policy, but by their acceptance of the king’s claim to nominate ministers, and so to predominate in the ministry himself.

Unhappily the Opposition, united in the desire to conciliate America, was divided on questions of home policy. Chatham would have met the new danger by parliamentary reform, giving increased voting power to the freeholders of the counties. Burke from principle, and his noble patrons mainly from lower motives, were opposed to any such charge. As Burke had wished the British parliament to be supreme over the colonies, in confidence that this supremacy would not be abused, so he wished the great land-owning connection resting on the rotten boroughs to rule over the unrepresented people, in confidence that this power would not be abused. Amidst these distractions the king had an easy game to play. He had all the patronage of the Government in his hands, and beyond the circle which was influenced by gifts of patronage he could appeal to the ignorance and self-seeking of the nation, with which, though he knew it not, he was himself in the closest sympathy.

No wonder resistance grew more vigorous in America. In 1773 the inhabitants of Boston threw ship-loads of tea into the harbour rather than pay the obnoxious duty. In 1774 the Boston Port Bill deprived Boston of its commercial rights, whilst the Massachusetts Government Bill took away from that colony the ordinary political liberties of Englishmen. The first skirmish of the inevitable war was fought at Lexington in 1775. In 1776 the thirteen colonies united in the Congress issued their Declaration of Independence. England put forth all its strength to beat down resistance. She increased her armies by hirelings bought from the German princes. But not only did no military genius appear on the English side, but the distances across the Atlantic was so great, and the immense spaces of even the settled part of the American continent were so large, that it was impossible to effect that conquest which seemed to easy at a distance. The difficulties of the Americans, too, were enormous, but they had the advantage of being at home; and in Washington they found a leader worthy of the great cause for which he fought. In 1777 a British army under Burgoyne capitulated at Saratoga; and in the same year France, eager to revenge the disasters of the Seven Year’s War, formed an alliance with the revolted colonies as free and independent states, and was soon joined by Spain.

Chatham, who was ready to make any concession to America short of independence, and especially of independence at the dictation of France, died in 1778. The war was continued for some years with varying results; but in 1781 the capitulation of a second British army under Cornwallis at York Town was a decisive blow, which brought home to the minds of the dullest the assurance that the conquest of America was an impossibility.

Before this event happened there had been a great change in public feeling in England. The increasing weight of taxation gave rise in 1780 to a great meeting of the freeholders of Yorkshire, which in turn gave the signal for a general agitation for the reduction of unnecessary expense in the government. To this desire Burke gave expression in his bill for economic reform, though he was unable to carry it in the teeth of interested opposition. The movement in favour of economy was necessarily also a movement in favour of peace; and when the surrender of York Town was known (1782), Lord North at once resigned office.

The new ministry formed under Lord Rockingham comprised not only his own immediate followers, of whom the most prominent was Charles Fox, but the followers of Chatham, of whom Lord Shelburne was the acknowledged leader. A treaty of peace acknowledging the independence of the United States of America was at once set on foot; and the negotiation with France was rendered easy by the defeat of a French fleet by Rodney, and by the failure of the combined forced of France and Spain to take Gibraltar.

Already the ministry on which such great hopes had been placed has broken up. Rockingham died in July 1782. The two sections of which the Government was composed had different aims. The Rockingham section, which now looked up to Fox, rested on aristocratic connection and influence; the Shelburne section was anxious to gain popular support by active reforms, and to gain over the king to their side. Judging by past experience, the combination might well seem hopeless and honourable men like Fox might easily regard it with suspicion. But Fox’s allies took good care that their name should not be associated with the idea of improvement. They pruned Burke’s Economical Reform Bill till it left as many abuses as it suppressed; and though the bill prohibited the grant of pensions above £300, they hastily gave away pensions of much larger value to their known friends before the bill had received the royal assent. They also opposed a bill for parliamentary reform brought in by young William Pitt. When the king chose Shelburne as prime minister, they refused to follow him, and put forward the incompetent duke of Portland as their candidate for the office. The struggle was thus renewed on the old ground of the king’s right to select his ministers. But while the king now put forward a minister notoriously able and competent to the task, his opponents put forward a man whose only claim to office was the possession of large estates. They forced their way back to power by means as unscrupulous as their claim to it was unjustifiable. They formed a coalition with Lord North whose politics and character they had denounced for years. The coalition, as son as the peace with America and France had been signed (1783), drove Shelburne from office. The duke of Portland became the nominal head of the Government, Fox and North its real leaders.

Such a ministry could not afford to make a single blunder. The king detested it, and the assumption by the Whig houses of a right to nominate the head of the Government without reference to the national interests could never be popular. The blunder was soon committed. Burke, hating wrong and injustice with a bitter hatred, had described in the government of British India by the East India Company a disgrace to the English name. For many of the actions of that Government no honourable man can think of uttering a word of defence. The helpless natives were oppressed and robbed by the Company and its servants in every possible way. Burke drew up a bill, which was adopted by the coalition Government, for taking all authority in India out of the hands of the Company, and even placing the Company’s management of its own commercial affairs under control. The governing and controlling body was naturally to be a council appointed at home. The question of the nomination of this council at once drew the whole question within the domain of party politics. The whole patronage of India would be in its hands, and, as parliament was then constituted, the balance of parties might be more seriously affected by the distribution of that patronage that it would be now. When, therefore, it was understood that he Government bill meant the council to be named in the bill for four years, or, in other words, to be named by the coalition ministry, it was generally regarded as an unblushing attempt to turn a measure for the good government of India into a measure for securing the ministry in office. The bill of course passed the Commons. When it came before the Lords, it was thrown out in consequence of a message from the king that he would regard any one who voted for it as his enemy.

The contest had thus become one between the influence of the crown and the influence of the great houses. Constitutional historians, who treat the question as one of merely theoretical politics, leave out of consideration this essential element of the situation, and forget that, if it was wrong for the king to influence the Lords by his message, it was equally wrong for the ministry to acquire for themselves fresh patronage with which to influence the Commons. But there was now, what there had not been in the time of Walpole and the Pelhams, a public opinion ready to throw its weight on one side or the other. The county members still formed the most independent portion of the representation, and there were many possessors of rotten boroughs who were ready to agree with the county members rather than with the great landowners. In choosing Pitt, the young son of Chatham, for his prime minister, as soon as he had dismissed the coalition, George III. gave assurance that he wished his counsels to be directed by integrity and ability. After a struggle of many weeks, parliament was dissolved (1784), and the new House of Commons was prepared to support the king’s minister by a large majority.

As far as names go, the change effected placed in office the new Tory party for an almost uninterrupted period of forty-six years. It soon happened, however, that after the first eight years of that period had passed by, circumstances occurred which effected so great a change in the composition and character of that party as to render any statement to this effect entirely illusive. During eight years, however, Pitt’s ministry was not merely a Tory ministry resting on the choice of the king, but a Liberal ministry resting on national support and upon advanced political knowledge.

The nation which Pitt had behind him was very different from the populace which had assailed Walpole’s Excise Bill, or had shouted for Wilkes and liberty. At the beginning of the century the intellect of thoughtful Englishmen had applied itself to speculative problems of religion and philosophy. In the middle of the century it applied itself to practical problems affecting the employment of industry. In 1776 Adam Smith published the Wealth of Nations. Already in 1762 the work of Brindley, the Bridgewater canal, the first joint of a network of inland water communication, was opened. In 1767 Hargreaves produced the spinning-jenny; Arkwright’s spinning machine was exhibited in 1768; Crompton’s mule was finished in 1779; Cartwright hit upon the idea of the power-loom in 1784, though it was not brought into profitable use till 1801. The Staffordshire potteries and been flourishing under Wedgwood since 1763, and the improved stream-engine was brought into shape by Watt in 1768. During these years the duke of Bedford, Coke of Holkham, and Robert Bakewell were busy in the improvement of stock and agriculture.

The increase of wealth and prosperity caused by these changed went far to produce a large class of the population entirely outside the associations of the landowning class, but with sufficient intelligence to appreciate the advantages of a government carried on without regard to the personal interests and rivalries of the aristocracy. The mode in which that increase of wealth was effected was even more decisive on the ultimate destinies of the country. The substitution of the organization of hereditary monarchy for the organization of wealth and station would ultimately have led to evils as great as those which it superseded. It was only tolerable as a stepping-stone to be organization of intelligence. The larger the numbers admitted to influence the affairs of state, the more necessary as it that they respect the powers of intellect. It would be foolish to institute a comparison between an Arkwright or a Crompton and a Locke or a Newton. But it is certain that for one man who could appreciate the importance of the treatise On the Human Understanding or the theory of gravitation, there were thousands who could understand the value of the water-frame or the power-loom. The habit of looking with reverence upon mental power was fostered in no slight measure by the industrial development of the second half of the 18th century.

The supremacy of intelligence in the political worlds was, for the time, represented in Pitt. In 1784 he passed an India Bill, which left the commerce and all except the highest patronage of India in the hands of the East India Company, but which erected a department of the home Government named the Board of Control to compel the Company to carry out such political measures as the Government say fit. A bill for parliamentary reform was, however, thrown out by the opposition of his own supporters in parliament, whilst outside parliament there was no general desire for a change in a system which for the present produced such excellent fruits. Still more excellent fruits. Still more excellent was his plan of legislation for Ireland. Irishmen had taken advantage of the weakness of England during the American war to enforce upon the ministry of the day, in 1780 and 1782, an abandonment of all claim on the part of the English Government and the English judges to interfere in any way with Irish affairs. From 1782, therefore, there were two independent legislatures within the British Isles,—the one sitting at Westminster and the other sitting in Dublin. With these political changes Fox professed himself to be content. Pitt, whose mind was open to wider considerations, proposed to throw open commerce to both nations by removing all the restrictions placed on the trade of Ireland with England and with the rest of the world. The opposition of the English parliament was only removed by concessions continuing some important restrictions upon Irish exports, and by giving the English parliament the right of initiation in all measures relating to the regulating to the regulation of the trade which was to be common to both nations. The Irish parliament took umbrage at the superiority claimed by England, and threw out the measure as an insult, which, even as it stood, was undeniably in favour of Ireland. The lesson of the incompatibility of two co-ordinate legislatures was not thrown away upon Pitt.

In 1786 the commercial treaty with France opened that country to English trade, and was the first result of the theories laid down by Adam Smith ten years previously. The first attack upon the horrors of the slave-trade was made in 1788; and in the same year, in the debates on the Regency Bill caused by the king’s insanity, Pitt defended against Fox the right of parliament to make provision for the exercise of the powers of the crown when the wearer was permanently or temporarily disabled from exercising his authority.

When the king recovered, he went to St Paul’s to return thanks, on the 23rd of April 1789. The enthusiasm with which he was greeted showed how completely he had the nation on his side. All the hopes of liberal reformers were now on his side. All the hopes of moral and religious men were on his side as well. The seed sown by Wesley had grown to be a great tree. A spirit of thoughtfulness in religious matters and of moral energy was growing in the nation, and the king was endeared to his subjects as much by his domestic virtues as by his support of the great minister who acted in his name. The happy prospect was soon to be overclouded. On the 4th of May, eleven days after the appearance of George III. at St Paul’s, the French States General met at Versailles.





By the great mass of intelligent Englishmen the change was greeted with enthusiasm. It is seldom that one nation understands the tendencies and difficulties of another; and the mere fact that power was being transferred from and absolute monarch to a representative assembly led superficial observers to imagine that they were witnessing a mere repetition of the victory pf English parliament over the Stuart kings. In fact, that which was passing in France was of a totally different nature from the English struggle of the 17th century. In England, the conflict had been carried on for the purpose of limiting the power of the king. In France, it was begun in order to sweep away an aristocracy in church and state which had become barbarously oppressive. It was not therefore a conflict touching simply on the political organization of the state. The whole social organization of the country was at stake, and the struggle would be carried on at every point of the territory, and would involve every point of the territory, and would involve every class of society. In such a conflict, therefore, there was nothing necessarily antagonistic to the maintenance of the most absolute royal power. If there had been a king on the throne who had understood the needs of the times, and who could have placed himself without afterthought at the head of the national movement, he would have been stronger for all good purposes than Lewis XIV. had ever been. Unhappily, it was not in Lewis XVI. to do anything of the kind . Well intentioned and desirous to effect the good of his people, he was not clear-headed enough to understand how it was to be done, or strong-willed enough to carry out any good resolutions to which he might be brought. The one thing impossible for a king was to be neutral in the great division which was opening in French society; and Lewis was too much a creature of habit to thrown off the social ties which united him to the aristocracy. It was the knowledge that the king was in heart on the wrong side that made his continuance to rule impossible. Undoubtedly the best thing that he French could have done, after the king’s leanings were known, would have been to dethrone him. But this was not a step which any nation was likely to take in a hurry; and the constitution drawn up by the States General after it passed into the form of the National Aseembly was necessarily grounded on suspicion. The one indispensable requisite for the working of a constitution is that it shall be possible to maintain a certain degree of harmony between the various functionaries who are instructed with the work. Such a harmony was impossible between Lewis and the French nation. Amongst the higher order of minds there might be a desire for liberty, and the word liberty was on the lips of every one. But the thought of liberty was rarely to be found. It was by the passion of equality that the nation was possessed. For the new spirit it was necessary to find new institutions. The old ones had broken down from absolute rottenness, and if they had been other than they were, they were certain to be used on the anti-national side. The force must be given to the nation, not to the aristocracy—not to the king, the ally of the aristocracy. Yet all this had to be done when the mass of the nation was rude and uneducated, ignorant and unversed in political life to the last degree, and when too, it had been taught by the long course of monarchial government to see force placed above right, and was therefore all the more inclined to solve its difficulties by force. What wonder, therefore , if violence took the place of argument, if mob-rule stepped in to enforce the popular over the unpopular reasoning, and the king soon found that he was practically a prisoner in the hands of his subjects.

In proportion as the French Revolution turned away from the path which English ignorance had marked out for it, Englishmen turned away from it in disgust. As they did not understand the aims of the French Revolutionists, they were unable to make that excuse for even so much of their conduct as admits of excuse. Three men, Fox, Burke, and Pitt, however, represented three varieties of opinion into which the nation was very unequally divided.

Fox, generous and trustful towards the movements of large masses of men, had very little intellectual grasp of the questions at issue in France. He treated the struggle as one simply for the establishment of free institutions; and when at last the crimes of the leaders became patent to the world, he contended himself with lamenting the unfortunate fact, and fell back on the argument that though England could not sympathize with the French tyrants, there was no reason why she should go to war with them.

Burke, on the other hand, while he failed to understand the full tendency of the Revolution for good as well as for evil, understood it far better than any Englishman of that day understood it. He saw that its main aim was equality, not liberty, and that not only would the French nation be ready, in pursuit of equality to welcome any tyranny which would serve its purpose, but would be the more prone to acts of tyranny over individuals from the complete remodeling of institutions with the object of giving immediate effect to the will of the ignorant masses, which was especially liable to be counterfeited by designing and unscrupulous agitators. There is no doubt that in all this Burke was in the right, as he was in his denunciation of the mischief certain to follow when a nation tries to start afresh and to blot out all past progress in the light of simple reason, which is often most fallible when it believes itself to be most infallible. Where he went wrong was in his ignorance of the special circumstances of the French nation, and his consequent blindness to the fact that the historical method of gradual progress was impossible where institutions had become to utterly bad as they were in France, and that consequently the system of starting afresh, to which he reasonably objected, was to the French a matter not of choice but of necessity. Nor did he see that the passion for equality, like every great passion, justified itself, and that the problem was, not how to obtain liberty in defiance of it, but how so to guide it as to obtain liberty by it and through it.

Burke did not content himself with pointing out speculatively the evils which he foreboded for the French. He perceived clearly that the effect of the new French principles could no more be confined to French territory than the principles of Protestantism in the 16th century could be confined to Saxony. He knew well that the appeal to abstract reason and the hatred of aristocracy would spread over Europe like a flood, and, as he was in the habit of considering whatever was most opposed to the object of his dislike to be wholly excellent, he called for a crusade of all established Governments against the anarchical principles of dissolution which had broken loose in France.

Pitt occupied ground apart from either Fox or Burke. He had neither Fox’s sympathy for popular movements nor Burke’s intellectual appreciation of the immediate tendencies of the Revolution. Hence, whilst be pronounced against any active interference with France, he was an advocate of peace, not because he saw more than Fox of Burke, but because he saw less. He fancied that France would be so totally occupied with its own troubles that it would cease for a long time to be dangerous to other nations. A resolution formed on grounds so hopelessly futile was not likely to stand the test of time.

Even if France had been spared the trial of external pressure, it is almost certain that she would have roused resistance by some attempt to maintain her new principles abroad. When the king of Prussia coalesced with the emperor in 1792 to force her re-establish the royal authority, she broke out into a passion of self-asserting defiance. The king was dethroned, and preparations were made to try him for his life as an accomplice of the invaders. A republic was proclaimed, and in its name innocent persons, whose only crime was to belong to the noble class by birth and feeling, were massacred by hundreds. The gain suspicion which clothed itself with cruelty in the capital became patriotic resistance on the frontier. Before the end of the year the invasion was repulsed, Savoy occupied, the Austrian Netherlands overrun, and the Dutch republic threatened.

Very few Governments in France were so rooted in the affections of their people as to be able to look without terror on the challenge thus thrown out to them. The English Government was one of those very few. No mere despotism was here exercised by the king. No broad impassible line her divided the aristocracy from the people. The work of former generations of Englishmen had been too well done to call for that breach of historical continuity which was a dire necessity in France. There was much need of reform. There was no need of a revolution. The whole of the upper and middle classes with few exceptions, clung together in a fierce spirit of resistance; and the mass of the lower classes, especially in the country, were too well off to wish for change. The spirit of resistance to revolution quickly developed into a spirit of resistance to reform, and those who continued to advocate changes more or less after the French model were treated as the enemies of mankind. A fierce became the predominating spirit of the nation.

Such a change in the national mind could not but affect the constitution of the Whig party. The reasoning of Burke would, in itself, have done little to effect its disruption. But the great landowners, who contributed so strong an element in it, composed the very class which had most to fear from the principles of the revolution. The old questions which had divided them from the king and Pitt in 1783 had dwindled into nothing before the appealing question of the immediate present. They made themselves the leaders of the war party, and they knew that that party comprised almost the whole of the parliamentary classes.

What could Pitt do but surrender? The whole of the intellectual basis of his foreign policy was swept away when it became evident that he Continental war would bring with it an accession of French territory. He did not abandon his opinions. His opinions rather abandoned him. A wider intelligence might have held that, let France gain what territorial aggrandizement it might upon the Continent, it was impossible to resist such changes until the opponents of France had so purified themselves as to obtain a hold upon the moral feelings of mankind. Pitt could not take this view; perhaps no man in his day could be fairly expected to take it. He did not indeed declare war against France; but he sought to a set a limit to her conquests in the winter, though he had not sought to set a limit to the conquests of the coalesced sovereigns in the preceding summer. He treated with supercilious contempt the National Convention, which had dethroned the king and proclaimed a republic. Above all, he took up a declaration by the Convention, that hey would give help to all peoples struggling for liberty against their respective Governments, as a challenge to England. The horror caused in England by the trial and execution of Lewis XVI. completed the estrangement between the two countries, and though the declaration of war came from France (1793), it had been in great part brought about by the bearing of England and its Government.

In appearance the great Whig landowners gave their support to Pitt, and in 1794 some of their leaders, the duke of Portland, Lord Fitzwilliam, and Mr Wyndham, entered the cabinet to serve under him. In reality it was Pitt who had surrendered. The ministry and the party by which it was supported might call themselves Tory still. But the great reforming policy of 1784 was entirely at an end. Strong as it was, the Government did not know its own strength. It saw sedition and revolution everywhere. It twisted loose talk into criminal intent. It covered the country with its spies. The slightest attempts to concert measures for obtaining reform were branded as revolutionary violence. Men who would otherwise have been content with declaiming in favour of reform were goaded into actual sedition. The Government sought and obtained additional powers from parliament. Fine, imprisonment, and transportation were dealt out by the law courts in lavish measure. The Reign of Terror in France was answered by a reign of violence in England, modified by the political habits of a nation trained to freedom, but resting on the same spirit of fear and intolerance. In November 1794 an attempt was made actually to shed blood. Hardy, Horne Tooke, and Thelwall, were brought to trial, on a charge of high treason, for issuing invitations to a national convention intended to promote changes of the greatest magnitude in the government. Happily the jury refused to see in this certainly dangerous proceeding a crime worthy of death, and its verdict of not guilty saved the nation from the disgrace of meting out the extreme penalty of high treason to an attempt to hold a public meeting for the redress of grievances.

The public feeling, in fact, regained its composure sooner than the ministry. The upper and middle classes became conscious of their own strength; and though reform and reformers were as unpopular as ever, the instruments by which reform might be gained hereafter were left untouched for the use of a future generation. The Sedition and Treason Bills, passed in 1795, were limited in their duration, and were never actually put in force.

In the meanwhile, Pitt’s management of the war was leading, as far as the Continent was concerned, to failure after failure. Nothing else was possible. He had none of the abilities of a war minister, and his system of sending detached expeditions to various points was not calculated to attain success. Nor was it likely that, even if he had been more competent in this respect, he would have accomplished anything worthy of the efforts which he put forth . It has been said that if he had roused the passions of men, and had proclaimed a holy war upon the Continent, he would have had a better chance of gaining his ends. But passions cannot be artificially excited, and a holy war pre-supposed a cause which, if it is not holy in itself, will at least be supposed by men to be so. Except under special circumstances, however, it was impossible to ruse enthusiasm against the French republic. Toulon might be succoured and abandoned in 1793; La Vendée might have fallacious hopes held out to it in 1794. Frenchmen who were shocked at the habitual employment of the guillotine were yet not inclined to rise at the bidding of a foreign invader against a Government which at all events stood manfully up for the integrity of French territory, whilst the long habit of submission to absolute rule had made the nation slow to take the conduct of affairs into its own hands. The middle classes on the Continent too were on the side of the peasants, and looked to French principles if not to French armies as offering an amelioration of their lot. The Austrian Netherlands, regained from France in 1793, were reconquered by France in 1794; and a British force under the duke of York did nothing to avert the misfortune, The land was annexed to the territory of the French republic. Early in 1795 the Dutch Netherlands were revolutionized an constituted into a republic in alliance with France. In the same year Prussia made peace with France. Austria continued the contest alone, receiving large sums of money from England, and doing very little in return.

If England could do little for the Continent, she could do enough to insure her own safety. Howe’s victory of the 1st June (1794) inflicted the first of a long series of defeats on the French navy. An attempt in 1795 to support the French royalists by a landing in Quiberon Bay ended in failure, but Ceylon and the Cape of Good Hope were taken from the Dutch. The war, however, had become so expensive, and its results were evidently so small, that there was a growing feeling in England in favour of peace, especially as the Reign of Terror had come to an end in 1794, and a regular Government, the Directory, had been appointed in 1795. Accordingly, in 1796 Lord Malmesbury was sent to France to treat for peace; but the negotiation was at once broken off by his demand that France should abandon the Netherlands.

The French Government, buoyed up by the successes of General Bonaparte, who was driving the Austrians out of Italy, resolved to attempt an invasion of Ireland. In December a French fleet, with Hoche on board, sailed for Bantry Bay. Only part of it arrived there, and retreated without effecting anything. A smaller force, landing in Pembrokeshire, was reduced to surrender.

The French attempts to renew the enterprise in the following year. Spain was now in alliance with France, and it was proposed that a Spanish fleet should join the French, fleet and the Dutch fleet for a joint invasion. Jervis defeated the Spanish fleet at St Vincent, and Duncan defeated the Dutch fleet at Camperdown (1797). During the same year a mutiny in the fleet at Spithead and St Helens was quieted by concessions to the reasonable complaints of the sailors; whilst an unreasonable mutiny at the Nore was suppressed by firmness in resistance. A renewed attempt to negotiate peace at Lille had ended in failure, because, though the English were this time ready to abandon the Netherlands to France, they were not ready to give back the Cape of Good Hope to the Dutch and Trinidad to Spain. Before the end of the year England had no ally in Europe excepting Portugal. Bonaparte had dictated to Austria the treaty of Campo Formio.

Isolated as Great Britain was, there was less inclination to make peace in England in 1798 than there had been in 1795. In proportion as France fell into the hands of the less violent but more corrupt of the Revolutionists, the enthusiasm which her proclamation of principles had once created amongst the class excluded from political power died away; whilst the antagonism aroused by mere military conquest under the conduct of the rapacious Bonaparte was on the increase. The attempt at invasion had roused the national spirit to stubborn resistance; whilst the Government itself, warned by the failure of the proceedings against Hardy and his associates, and freed from the blind terror which had made it violent during the first years of the war, was able to devote its energies unreservedly to carrying on hostilities.

If, however, a French invasion had ever been anything more than a dream, it was because there was one quarter in which misgovernment had created a state of circumstances by which it was absolutely invited. At the end of 1794 Lord Fitzwilliam had been sent to Ireland as lord-lieutenant, and had set his face against the vile jobbery through which the leaders of the protestant minority governed Ireland, and had thrown himself warmly into the encouragement of Grattan’s scheme for the admission of the Catholics to political power. The aggrieved jobbers gained the ear of the king, and in 1795 Fitzwilliam was recalled. Then ensued a scene which ahs no parallel even in the organized massacres of the French Republic. The Catholic joined in a society called the United Irishmen, to enforce their claims, if need be by an alliance with France, and the establishment of an independent republic. Deeds of violence preluded any actual attempt at insurrection. The Protestants, under the name of Orangemen, gathered to the support of the Government as yeomanry or militiamen. Before long these guardians of the peace had spread terror over all Catholic Ireland. By the lash, by torture, by the defilement of chaste and innocent women, they made their predominance felt. It was in 1796, in the very midst of these abominable horrors, that French ships had appeared but had been unable to land troops in Bantry Bay. Nevertheless, though no assistance was to be had, the United Irishmen rose in rebellion in 1798. The rebellion was suppressed, and again the militiamen and volunteers were let loose to establish order by massacre and violence. Fortunately, the English Government intervened, and a new lord-lieutenant, the marquis of Cornwallis, was sent over to Dublin. The raging Protestant aristocracy was held back from further deeds of cruelty and vengeance, and law and order were established so far as it was possible to establish them in a land so torn by hostile factions.

Pitt rose to the occasion. He planned a great scheme of union between the two nations (1799). There was to be one parliament for Great Britain and Ireland, as there was one parliament for England and Scotland. The jobbers who filled the seats in the Irish House of Commons, and who voted in the name of a people whom they in no sense represented, joined the few members whom from a sense of patriotism refused to vote away so easy a source of wealth and influence. Pitt bought the votes which he could not command, and the Irish parliament, on these ignoble terms, consented to extinguished itself (1800). It depended on the English Government whether this change, by which Ireland lost the semblance of national independence, should be followed by a step in advance for that country in a serious attempt to diminish the evils of Protestant supremacy. That step Pitt had pledges himself to take, and in 1801 he had prepared a measure for admitting the Catholics to political power. The king stood in the way, and Pitt resigned office rather than forfeit his word.

The year which witnesses Pitt’s failure in domestic legislation also witnesses his failure in military effort. In 1798 Bonaparte sailed for Egypt with the intention of setting up a French dominion in the East. The fleet which conveyed him was annihilated after his landing by Nelson at the battle of the Nile. Pitt seized the opportunity of the great general’s absence from Europe to organize a second coalition against France. In the campaign of 1799 Italy was regained from France, and in the East Bonaparte was driven back from Acre by the Turks headed by Sir Sidney Smith. The news of French disasters brought him hurriedly back to Europe, but before he could take part in the war Massena had defeated the collation at Zurich. A coup d’état, however, placed Bonaparte, under the name of first consul, in practical possession of absolute power; and in the following year his great victory at Marengo (1800), followed up by Moreau’s victory of Hohenlinden, enabled him to dictate as a conqueror the treaty of Lunéville, by which France entered once more into possession of the frontier of the Rhine. By this treaty not only was England again isolated, but she found herself exposed to new enemies. Her enforcement of the right of search to enable her ships to take enemies’ goods out of neutral vessels exasperated even friendly powers, and Russia was joined by Sweden and Denmark to enforce resistance to the claim. It was under these circumstances that Pitt’s resignation was announced.

The successor of the great minister was Addington, whose mind was imbued with all the Protestant prejudices of the king, which were, it must be owned, the Protestant prejudices of the nation. He had neither force of character nor strength of intellect. Nelson’s victory at Copenhagen, which crushed the naval power of Denmark and broke up the Northern Alliance, and the landing of Abercromby in Aboukir Bay, followed by the victory of Alexandria and the consequent evacuation of Egypt by the French, were events prepared by the former administration. Addington’s real work was the peace of Amiens (1802), an experimental peace, as the king called it, to see if the first consul could be contended to restrain himself within the very wide limits by which his authority in Europe was still circumscribed.

In a few months England was made aware that the experiment would not succeed. Interference and annexation became the standing policy of the new French Government. England, discovering how little intention Bonaparte had of carrying out the spirit of the treaty, refused to abandon Malta, as she had engaged to do by the terms of peace.

The war began again, no longer a war against certain principles, and the extension of dominion resulting from the victory of those principles, but against aggressive despotism, wielding military force, conducted by consummate military genius, and setting at naught the rights of populations as well as the claims of rulers. This time the English nation was all but unanimous in resistance. This time its resistance would be sooner or later supported by all that was healthy in Europe.

The spirit of England was fully roused by the news that Bonaparte was preparing invasion. Volunteers were enrolled in defence of the country. There was a general belief that the prime minister was not equal to the crisis. Addington retired, and Pitt again became prime minister (1804). He would gladly have joined Fox, and some of Pitt’s old friends refused to desert the proscribed statesman. Pitt became the head of a ministry of which he was the only efficient member.

England was strong enough to hold her own against Bonaparte, who was now Napoleon, emperor of the French (1805). Nelson crushed the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar, paying with his own life for a victory which put an end to the French naval power for the remainder of the year/ The iron of Napoleon’s tyranny had not yet entered into the Continental nations sufficiently to rouse them to a truly popular resistance. A third coalition ended in as complete a disaster as that in which the first and second had ended. Austria lost a large part of her force in the capitulation of Ulm, and the Austrian and Russian armies were overpowered at Austerlitz. To effect these victories the force which threatened the invasion of England would necessarily have been withdrawn, even if the result of the battle of Trafalgar had not made the enterprise hopeless. Pitt died shortly after receiving the news of the disasters of his allies (1806).

Pitt’s death forced then king to accept a ministry of which Fox was a member. This ministry of All the Talents, as it was called, was not successful in the conduct of the war. Its year of office was the year in which Prussia was crushed at Jena, and it dissipated the strength of the English army in unimportant distant expeditions, instead of throwing it upon one spot to aid Prussia or Russia. Its great title to fame is the abolition of the salve trade. Fox’s death deprived the ministry of its strongest member, and in the following year an attempt on its part to admit Roman Catholics to the naval and military service of the crown drew from the king a demand for an engagement never to propose any concession to the Catholics. They refused to make any such promise, and were summarily ejected form office. The king’s firm stand was popular in England. The reaction against the French Revolution no longer demanded the infliction of penalties upon those who promulgated its doctrines; but a spirit had been produced which was inexorable against all attempted to effect any change for the better. A spirit of blind, unreasoning conservatism had taken the place of the enlightened Toryism of Pitt’s earlier days.

The new ministry (1807), under the nominal leadership of the duke of Portland, had to face Napoleon alone. The battle of Friedland and the peace of Tilsit left him master of the greater part of the Continent. Prussia and Austria were already stripped of territory; and as protector of the Confederation of the Rhine, Napoleon ruled in Germany. Italy was directly subjected to his power. Unable to make war upon England by his fleets and armies, he attempted top subdue her by ruining her commerce. By the Berlin decree (1807), he declared the whole of the British islands to be in a state of blockade, though he had not a single ship at sea to enforce his declaration. He declared all British manufactured goods prohibited wherever his power reached, and excluded from his dominions even neutral ships which had touched at a British port. The British Government, instead of leaving Napoleon to bear the odium of this attack on neutral commerce, retaliated by Orders in Council conceived in the spirit of his own measure. They declared that all vessels trading with France were liable to seizure, and that all such vessels clearing from a hostile port must touch at a British port to pay customs duties. Napoleon answered by the Milan decree, forbidding neutral to trade in any article imported from any part of the British dominions. The Orders in Council cost England a war with America. The Berlin and Milan decrees contributed largely to the overthrow of Napoleon’s power. Every poor man who was debarred from the means of providing sugar or cloth for his family felt the grievance. The French Republic had declared war against the nobles and the higher classes; napoleon decreed an oppression which was bitterly felt in every cottage.

In pursuit of his design of forcing the Continental system, as he termed it, on Portugal, Napoleon sent Junot to occupy Lisbon, and dethroned the king in 1807. In 1808 he seized on the royal family of Spain, and offered the crown to his brother Joseph. When the Spaniards resisted, the English Government sent troops to the Peninsula . Defeated at Vimeira, Jurot was allowed to evacuate Portugal. Napoleon came to the rescue of his lieutenants in Spain, and though he retired without effecting the expulsion of the English, Sir John Moore was slain at Corunna (1809) after inflicting a repulse on the French, and his army was shipped for England. In the summer Wellesley landed in Portugal. Thanks to a fresh aggressive war of Napoleon against Austria, he was able to make his footing sure, though the English ministry sent large forces to perish in the marshes of Walcheren, which might have been better employed in supporting Wellesley at the time when he was driven to retreat before superior numbers after the fruitless victory of Talavera.

In 1810 Wellesley, now known under the name of Wellington, beat back the masses of the French forces under Massena from behind the lines of Torres Vedras. Wellington’s resistance was great as a military exploit. But it was far more than a military exploit. It would have been of little avail to linger, however safely, in a corner of Portugal unless he were sure of better allies than the wretched Spanish soldiers who had looked don whilst he fought for them at Talavera. Wellington saw clearly that there is no ally so strong as the arrogance and injustice of an enemy. His firm hope was that Napoleon would ruin himself, and his hope did not deceive him. In 1812 Napoleon wrecked his finest army on the snows of Russia. Wellington had breathing space to issue forth from Portugal, to seize the frontier fortresses of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajos, and to win the battle of Salamanca. In 1813 Germany rose against its oppressor. The victory of Leipsic drove the despot over the Rhine, and the victory of Vittoria drove his lieutenants over the Pyrenees. The peoples of Europe were against him. In 1814 he was driven into exile at Elba. Wellington’s last victory in this war was won at Toulouse after the abdication of the emperor. In 1815 the emperor returned and seized the throne once more. England and Prussia were the first in the field, and the crushing blow at Waterloo consigned him to a life-long exile at St Helena.

The war with America, begun in 1812, had been caused by the pressure of the English naval force on neutral commerce under the Orders in Council, which the British Government refused to withdraw till it was too late, and by its claim to impress British seamen when serving on board American ships. The war was brought to an end by the treaty of Ghent (1814).


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