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Much more fatal to the ministry was the news that Pitt was resolved to abandon the House of Commons, and, as Farl of Chatham, to take his seat among the Lords. His promotion to the peerage was the necessary consequence of his acceptance of the post of Privy Seal, as that office was always held by a peer,' and it was probably due to a well-founded conviction that his health was so broken and his nervous system so shattered that it was simply impossible for him to conduct public business in the House of Commons. But he soon found, as Pulteney had found before, how ruinous such an honon may be to a popular statesman. The main secret of his unrivalled influence over the people was the conviction that he owed his power to their favour; that in the midst of the corruption of an essentially aristocratic Government he was the great representative of the democracy of England. His pension had for a time obscured his popularity ; but it soon returned, and his unrivalled influence in the House of Commons was unshaken. But now, at last, the spell was broken. The revulsion of feeling was immediate and irrevocable. The City, where he had lately been idolised, refused to present an address. The lamps which had already been placed around the Monument, for an illumination in honour of his return to office, were at once removed. Shorn of the popularity which had been the chief element of his power, he passed into an assembly which was eminently uncongenial to his eloquence, while in the House of Commons Charles Townshend alone was able to encounter Grenville and Burke ; and Townshend, in spite of his extraordinary abilities, had all the vanity of a woman and all the levity of a child. “The City,' wrote Sir Rober Wilmot, • have brought in their verdict of felo de se against William, Earl of Chatham.'?' I wish,' wrote Chesterfield to his son, I could send you all the pamphlets and half-sherts that swarm here upon the occasion; but that is impossible, for every week would make a ship's cargo. It is certain that Mr. Pitt has by his dignity of Earl lost the greater part of his popularity, especially in the City; and I believe the Opposition will be very strong, and perhaps prevail next session in the House of Commons, there being now nobody there
| Thackeray's Life of Chatham, ii. 84. ? Chatham Correspondence, iii. 26
who has the authority and ascendency over them that Pitt had.'1
At every step the difficulties of Chatham increased. He had at all times remarkably few personal adherents. In one of his conversations in 1762 he represented himself as so isolated in Parliament that he had no one except the Clerk to speak to; and just before his second ministry he described himself, with the gross bad taste into which he occasionally fell, as standing like our first parents, naked, but not ashamed. The politicians whose opinions in general agreed the best with his own were those who were attached to Rockingham, and he wished, while breaking up the Rockingham organisation, to retain the services of the chief members of the party. Rockingham appears to have acted with great moderation. He advised those of his followers who were not removed by Chatham to remain in office, and many great noblemen of the connection accordingly remained in posts which were chiefly honorary. But after the conduct of Chatham during the late ministry cordial co-operation was impossible. Chatham visited Rockingham ; but the latter positively refused to see him. Dowdeswell, whose financial capacity was very considerable, and who was much respected in the House of Commons, was strongly pressed to join the Government, either as President of the Board of Trade or as Joint Paymaster, but he absolutely refused. Edmund Burke, whose splendid genius was rising rapidly above the horizon, might have had a seat at the Board of Trade ; but he remained faithful to his leader and to his party.
It was unfortunate, too, that the ministry was formed at a period of great and general distress. The harvest had been unusually bad; the price of corn rose with ominous rapidity. In every part of England bread riots took place. Flour mills were destroyed; corn, bread, and other necessaries were in many places seized by the populace and sold at low prices, and several lives were lost in the western counties in collisions between the soldiers and the mob. The jails were filled with prisoners, and discontent was wide and bitter. The Government, according to the unwise custom of the time, issued a proclamation in September 1766 for putting in force an old statute against forestallers, regraters, and engrossers of corn; and this measure proving ineffectual, they thought it necessary to prohibit the export of corn. By an Act of Charles II. corn might be legally exported from England as long as the home price was under 538. 4d. a quarter, and this limit had not yet been attained; but as the price was rapidly rising, and as famine was approaching, the ministers thought it necessary to anticipate the legal period of prohibition. The proper machinery for effecting this was, of course, an Act of Parliament. But Parliament was not sitting, and there were serious objections to summoning it as quickly as might be required. Under these circumstances, an order of Council was issued laying an embargo on corn. The act was obviously beyond the law; but under ordinary circumstances it would probably have excited no comment, for it was called forth by a grave, pressing, and acknowledged necessity, and Parliament was perfectly ready to ratify what was done. Chatham, in a very reasonable and moderate speech, and in language which was perfectly constitutional, defended it as an act of power justifiable before Parliament on the ground of necessity;' but Northington contended that under such circumstances the proclamation was legally as well as morally justifiable, and Camden added that, at worst, the measure was but a forty days' tyranny.' Mansfield at once saw his advantage, and, assuming the position of the champion of law against prerogative, he answered with crushing force.
Prior's Life of
i Chatham Correspondence, iii. 21. • Ibid. p. 111. 2 Grenville Papers, iii. 283.
Burke, i. 163. • Chatham Correspondence, iii. 22, 23.
In the Commons the debates were even more damaging to the ministry. Beckford, who was one of the most intimate friends of Chatham, and who was sometimes put forward to speak in his name, declared that if the public was in danger, the King has a dispensing power, with the advice of the Council, whenever the salus populi requires it. It is not probable that he meant anything very different from what would now be generally acknowledged, that extreme cases sometimes arise in which it is the duty, and therefore the right, of ministers, at their own peril, and subject to the subsequent judgment of Parliament, to set aside the law; but his.
expressions were plainly inaccurate, and they might be easily construed into a revival of the dispensing doctrine of the Stuarts. Grenville moved that the words should be taken down, and Beckford was ultimately obliged to retract them. A Bill was brought in by Conway to indemnify those who acted under the proclamation ; but Grenville maintained that the act of indemnity must include the ministers who advised as well as the officials who acted under the proclamation. The ministers accepted this correction, and Chatham especially recommended that the Act should be made as strong as possible; ' but the whole transaction raised a great deal of angry and exaggerated outcry against his administration.
It was evidently necessary to strengthen it, but no minister
ever less fitted than Chatham to conciliate opponents or to perform the delicate functions of party management. His colleagues complained that he consulted no one in his nominations, that he took the most important steps without their knowledge, that they were often wholly ignorant of the policy he designed. The letters of his opponents were full of complaints of the hauteur with which Lord Chatham treats all mankind;' of the disgust which extended very wide among the principal families of the kingdom ;' of 'the insolent behaviour of the minister to the first nobility of the kingdom.' Continually harassed by the conflicting pretensions of titled beggars, whose sole merit lay in their properties and their names, he met them with a pride which was beyond the pride of birth or wealth, and he made personal enemies at every step. In the House of Commons the Government was especially weak. When Charles Townshend brought forward his first budget, Grenville and Dowdeswell combined to reduce the land-tax from 48. to 38. in the pound, and by the assistance of the county members they carried their motion by a majority of 18. This is said to have been the first instance since the Revolution of a minister being defeated on a money Bill, and it is a significant illustration of the declining popularity of Chatham, that on this occasion most of those who had county or popular elections were united against him.' 1
17 George II1. cap. vii. See an account of the whole transaction in a letter from Grenville himself, Grencille Papers, iii. 341-343, and in a
letter from Flood to Charlemont (Flood's Letters, ix.). See too Chatham Correspondence, iii. 125–128.
The attempt to withdraw single politicians from their several connections signally failed. Overtures were made to the Bedford faction, but the Duke, whom Chatham had recently endeavoured to drive out of all active politics, would only join if he had the disposal of so many places that he would have become virtually the director of the Government, and the negotiation, to the great delight of the King, accordingly failed. In the course of it, Chatham wished to appoint a partisan of the Duke of Bedford Treasurer of the Council, and Lord Mount Edgcumbe, who held that post, was asked to exchange it for the post of Lord of the Bedchamber. He refused, and was summarily dismissed, and the Government thus lost the support of the patron of four boroughs not long before a general election, and once more mortally affronted the whole Rockingham connection. In November and December 1766, the administration seemed in a state of complete dissolution. The Duke of Portland, the Earls of Besborough and Scarborough, Lord Monson, Sir C. Saunders, Sir W. Meredith, and Admiral Keppel, resigned, and Conway was only prevented with extreme difficulty from following their example. A few scattered politicians—the most remarkable being Sir E. Hawkewere induced to fill the void, but a new negotiation with the Duke of Bedford ended only in a violent altercation. The ministry had neither the strength which grows out of popularity nor the strength which grows out of interest. There is still a little twilight of popularity,' wrote Burke, 'remaining round the great peer, but it fades away every moment.'? One thing," wrote Charlemont to Flood, 'appears very extraordinary, if not indecent—no member of the Opposition speaks without directly abusing Lord Chatham, and no friend ever rises to take his part.
Never was known such disunion, such a want of concert as visibly appears on both sides. How it will end Heaven only knows.'3 "Such a state of affairs,' wrote Chesterfield, after the resignation of the Rockingham section of the ministry, was never before seen in this or any other country.
· Parl. Hist. xvi. 362-364. Chat. ? Burke's Correspondence, i. 106. hum Correspondence, iii. 224.
3 Chatham Correspondence, iii.