Page images

"defection," and inveigh against his "malevolence of "mind." *

These circumstances were not known to the public. But to Lord North they clearly showed that his administration at this period was already unhinged by the impending loss of that member of it next in importance to himself, as mainly charged with the conduct of the American affairs. Herein may have lain a further motive for his own retirement. But I have no doubt that the reason which weighed principally with Lord North, was the public-spirited conviction, such as his enemies had of late expressed, but such as also his own private judgment must have urged, that, considering the bitter resentment felt against him, whether rightly or wrongly, in America, any proposition of peace that he might make would be fraught with new and unnecessary obstacles, and afford a lesser chance of ultimate success. To whom then — might Lord North ask — to whom should the conduct of this negotiation, and the direction of the public councils at this crisis, be entrusted? To whom else than to that great statesman, so much venerated and beloved by the Americans, yet so resolute in his declarations against their independence?

Such was the advice which the Minister was preparing to offer to the King, when, only two days after the Royal Assent to the Conciliatory Bills, there ensued another event still further tending, as Lord North conceived, to the same conclusion. On the 13th of March, the French Ambassador in London, the Marquis de Noailles, delivered to the Secretary of State, Lord Weymouth, a Note, formally announcing the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce, as lately signed between France and the United States. That Note was couched in terms of irony, nay almost of derision. It remarked of the United States that they "are in full possession of independence, as "pronounced by them on the 4th of July, 1776," and it thus proceeded: — "In making this communication to "the Court of London, the King (of France) is firmlypersuaded it will find therein new proofs of His

* To Lord North, March 3. 1778.

"Mnjesty's constant and sincere disposition for peace; "and that his Britannic Majesty, animated by the same "sentiments, will equally avoid every thing that may "alter their good harmony ; and that he will particularly "take effectual measures to prevent the commerce be"tween His Majesty's subjects and the United States of "North America from being interrupted."

So long as the Treaties signed at Paris had been kept concealed, there might remain a hope that they would not be acted on. But such a Declaration, at such a moment, and from such a Power, seemed, in Lord North's opinion, to render more than ever indispensable the formation of a new and strong administration. On the very next day, the 14th of March, he addressed an important letter to the King. That letter has not been preserved, or at least not been produced; it is only known to me by the King's reply, which I shall now for the first time publish; but from that paper we may deduce with certainty the purport of Lord North's; it was to press in urgent terms his own resignation and advise the King to send without delay for Lord Chatham.

The King's reply was not many hours delayed. He declared that on a matter which had for many months engrossed his thoughts he could have no difficulty in answering the letter instantly. He went on to refer with great bitterness to what he termed "Lord Chatham and "his crew,"—great bitterness, but certainly not without great provocation. Let it only be remembered how uniformly frank and kind, how gracious and generous, had been the King's whole conduct to Lord Chatham during his last administration—how keen and sharp notwithstanding had been the invectives which Lord Chatham had since hurled forth against the Throne, and, as he alleged, a secret influence behind the Throne. Under the sting of these impressions the King vehemently declared that he would not consent to send for "that "perfidious man " as the next Prime Minister, but was ready to welcome him and his chief friends with open arms, if they were willing to be placed in office as the allies and auxiliaries of Lord North, and the existing Government. On that basis, and on that basis only, His Majesty desired that overtures to Lord Chatham might be made. *

Lord North's rejoinder appears to have been to the following effect—that he must adhere to his own request of being permitted to resign — but that he could only advise, he could not presume to dictate to His Sovereign as to the choice of the next Prime Minister—and that in compliance with His Majesty's desire he would proceed to ascertain how far Lord Chatham and his friends might be willing to coalesce with (in Lord North's own phrase) "the fundamentals of the present administration."

Meanwhile there were some public measures admitting of no delay. The insulting French Note required some step to be taken, some step to vindicate the offended dignity of England. The King sent orders to his ambassador, Lord Stormont, to return home forthwith ; and in consequence, the Marquis de Noail leslikewise took his departure from London. Thus was a war with the Court of Versailles impending, though not as yet avowed or declared. A Royal Message was read to both Houses, communicating the French Note, and assuring them that His Majesty was firmly determined to maintain and assert the honour of his Crown. Loyal Addresses were moved in reply, and were carried in each House by large majorities, but not without reproachful debates. In these the name of Chatham was more than once mentioned, as the only Minister who might still unite the confidence of all parties, who might deter France and Spain, who might reconcile America. Lord North, without publicly adverting to these hints, by no means concealed his own earnest desire of retirement. f

Measures were likewise taken at this juncture, by means of the Lords Lieutenant, to call out and assemble the

* The King to Lord North, March 13. 1778. Appendix. The expression "that perfidious man," occurs in the letter of the ensuing day.

f Lord North's expressions in Almon's Register, and the Parl. Hist. (vol. xix. p. 950.), declaring himself resolved not to quit the helm during the storm, must be, in a great measure, inaccurately given, as may be gathered from Mr. Aubrey's reply: "Since the "Noble Lord in the blue ribbon had so strongly expressed his desire "of retiring ."

Militia in the several counties. Another matter requiring prompt despatch was the appointment of Commissioners under the new Conciliatory Bills. The intended names had been in great measure known and commented upon even before the Bills had passed. Lord Howe and Sir William were included in the Letters-Patent, on the chance of their still being in America when their col- ,leagues should arrive. Of the new Commissioners, the first was to be Lord Carlisle; with him William Eden and George Johnstone. It could not be alleged that the selection of these gentlemen had been made in any narrow spirit of party.—George Johnstone, who retained the title of Governor from having filled that post in Florida, was a member of the House of Commons, and as such a keen opponent of Lord North.—The brother of William Eden had been the last Colonial Governor of Maryland. William Eden himself was a man of rising ability on the Government side; in after years, under Mr. Pitt, ambassador in succession to several foreign Courts, and at last a Peer, with the title of Lord Auckland. —Frederick Howard, the fifth Earl of Carlisle, was then only known to the public as a young and not very thrifty man of fashion and of pleasure. Against his appointment, therefore, there were many cavils heard both in and out of Parliament. Thus in one debate the Duke of Richmond said, " I have lately been told that one of the "Governors in America made objection to the Congress "because some of them sat in Council with woollen "caps on. Congress were highly offended at this, and "persisted in doing so. How inadequate, then, must "this embassy be, where a noble Lord, bred up in all the "softness that European manners make fashionable to "rank,—I say, how inadequate must such an embassy "be to men in woollen night-caps!"* It was through one of these Commissioners, namely

* Debate in the Lords, March 9. 1778. In the same spirit Wilkes exclaimed of Lord Carlisle: "The Muses and the Graces, with "a group of little laughing loves, were in his train, and for the first "time crossed the Atlantic!" (Debate in the Commons, November 26. 1778.) See also an amusing jeu cTesprit which appeared in a London paper of that day, and which has been reprinted in the Appendix to the Life of Eeed (voL i. p. 423.).

Mr. Eden, that Lord North opened his communications to Lord Chatham. Mr. Eden could not see the great Earl, who was still at Hayes, but had several conversations with his trusted friend, Lord Shelburne.* It was soon apparent, as Lord North must have foreseen, that Lord Chatham had not the smallest inclination to make common cause with the party in power. If he came into office at all, it must be on the call of his Sovereign, and as planning a new administration; it must be as what the King in high displeasure terms him—a Dictator. In Lord Chatham's own papers, as subsequently published, there appears no trace whatever of these overtures, which may probably have passed by messages and word of mouth. We only find that his family and friends, in common with the public, expected at this juncture a summons from St. James's. Thus writes William Pitt to his mother from his studies at Cambridge:—"I am "not sure whether I can find in the history of antiquity "any instance of a nation so miserably sacrificed as this "has been; but I believe almost every page will furnish "an example of the only method left to revive it,—re"curring in the extremity of danger to those whose "superiority is unhappily as much proved by the failure "of others as by their own success." Mr. Thomas Coutts, already rising into eminence as a banker in the Strand, transmits an offer of public service from Lord Rochford, and adds, to Lady Chatham: "I do not meet with any "one who does not lament and wonder that His Majesty "has not yet publicly desired the only help that can have "a chance to extricate the country from the difficulties "which every day grow greater."

If called upon, Lord Chatham was ready to obey the call. His blood was roused, as of yore, against the House of Bourbon, and he deemed that the war with France, if it could not be averted, should be most vigorously waged. We may gather, that it was his intention to propose, as

* A full account of these conversations was drawn up by Mr. Eden at the time, and, after remaining in MS. for three quarters of a century, has at length appeared in Lord John Russell's Memorials of Fox (vol. i. p. 180—187.). Lord Shelburne said that, as he had often already declared, "Lord Chatham must be the Dictator." (1853.)

« PreviousContinue »