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remained nearly at rest during several months. A division of the British army under General Clinton had been sent some time before to winter in Rhode Island. As Clinton approached, the enemy retired from the island, of which, therefore, he took peaceable possession, while the ships that brought him blockaded an American squadron under Commodore Hopkins, in the Providence river. It was, however, on the whole, an ill-judged expedition, which answered little purpose but to keep a large body of troops unemployed during three years. In February Washington took measures for inoculating, systematically, and by successive detachments, his whole force, the small-pox having proved a dreadful scourge to the Americans in their previous warfare. In March a detachment from New York destroyed the American barracks and stores at Peek's Hill. In April another detachment did similar service on a larger scale, and with a greater resistance, at Danbury. On the other hand, the Americans succeeded in burning some brigs and sloops belonging to the British at Sagg's Harbour in Long Island. But, until the return of summer, nothing of more importance was achieved on either side.
THE SESSION OF PARLIAMENT.
The Session of Parliament, which had commenced on the last day of October, 1776, continued tilljune 1777. In it, as in the previous. ones, America formed the principal topic of discussion. Even at the outset, an amendment to the Address upon this ground was moved by Lord Rockingham in one House, by Lord John Cavendish in the other. So small were then the minorities, — no more than 46 of the Peers, no more than 87 of the Commons, and even these 87 on a subsequent motion dwindling to one-half, — that the members, especially of the Rockingham section, lost heart and hope. Without any formal secession, they began to relax in their Parliamentary attendance, declaring that there was no such thing as saving a people against its will. One of their warmest partisans and defenders — in all probability no other than Burke himself — declares of them at this juncture that they appeared in their places, "only upon "such matters of private Bills in which they had some particular concern or interest." * In other words, they neglected the public business, but applied themselves to their personal affairs. And such conduct was called patriotism!
It is worthy of remark throughout these debates how greatly Fox had risen in importance. A report being spread at Arthur's Club that he intended to go for a few weeks to Paris, and that report being carried to the King, His Majesty wrote forthwith to Lord North, advising the Minister to bring forward his measures as quickly as he could during the absence of so much "noisy declamation."** So keen — we may also note in passing — was Fox at this time, against the success of his King and country's arms, that in his con
* Annual Register, 1777, p. 48. ** Letter, November 15. 1776. .Mahon, History. VI. 10 fidential letters we find him refer to our victory at Brooklyn as " the terrible news from Long Island." *
Later in the Session, there was certainly no point on which Fox and his friends had greater scope for their abilities, than when Lord North found himself under the necessity of announcing the new debts which had accrued upon the Civil List, and which amounted to more than 600,000/. Some part of this expense, as Lord North explained it, might, like other evils, be ascribed to the struggle in America, since there so many loyalists had been stripped of their property, and driven from their homes, without any means of sustenance beyond the bounty of the Crown* But another, and, probably, still more effective cause, as in an earlier Chapter I have shown, was the ill-regulated state of several departments in the Royal Household. The profusion and extortion which there prevailed were wholly independent of the will and example of the Sovereign, and for their amendment needed no less than Burke's great measure of Economical Reform. Notwithstanding all the efforts of Opposition, the House of Commons agreed, not only to discharge these arrears, but with the view of guarding against such arrears for the future, to grant to the Crown, by Bill, a further yearly sum of 100,000/.
This Bill, entitled "For the better Support of the Royal "Household," was of itself invidious, and unhappily became the more so from the circumstances of its passing. The Speaker, Sir Fletcher Norton, having now some private grudges against the Government, had determined to indulge them. It became his duty to present this Bill to the King, seated on the throne, and surrounded by the chief officers of State. It became his privilege, if he pleased, on that occasion to address his Sovereign. "Sir," said Mr. Speaker, "in a time of public distress, full of difficulty and "danger, their constituents labouring under burdens al"most too heavy to be borne, your faithful Commons post
* To Lord Rockingham, Oct. 13. 1776. Memoirs by Lord Albemarle, vol. U. p. 297. (1863.)
PUBLIC MONE? ILL APPLIED.
"poned all other business, and with as much despatch as "the nature of their proceeding would admit, have not only "granted to your Majesty a large present supply, but also a "very great additional revenue — great beyond example — "great beyond your Majesty's highest wants!" Afterwards, in printing, the last word was corrected by the Speaker to "expenses." It may easily be imagined how much gratification this speech afforded to one side of the House, and how much resentment it called forth on the other. A vote approving it was proposed by the Opposition, and of course much disrelished by the Ministry; but, being most consistent with form and quiet, was, after some debate, allowed to pass.
It was certainly felt on all hands, as the Speaker had, with no great respect, implied, that the appeal in behalf of the Civil List, however unavoidable, was most ill-timed. It was made in a year when the charges for the navy rose to upwards of four millions, and the charges for the army nearly approached the same sum; when it was deemed requisite to impose a tax on male servants, a further stamp on deeds, and an auction duty; and when, notwithstanding these aids, it became necessary to add five millions to the funded debt. *
The public would no doubt have borne this increase of its burdens with still more dissatisfaction, had the public known how rotten at this period was our whole system of commissaries and contractors — how ill, in fact, the money raised in England was applied abroad. To this charge I will summon as my witness Lord North's own Solicitor-General. Thus, in 1777, did Mr. Wedderburn write respecting our army in America to a confidential friend: — "The peculation in every profitable branch of the service is represented to be enormous, and, as usual, it is attended with "a shocking neglect of every comfort to the troops. The
* Pari. Hist. vol. xix. pp. 241. 271. In the debate on the Budget, Lord North observed that there were some persons who kept thirty or more male servants.
"hospitals are pest-houses, and the provisions served out "are poison; those that are to be bought are sold at the "highest prices of a monopoly." *
Another measure, which was met by considerable opposition, and not carried without some amendments, was a partial suspension of the Habeas Corpus — a Bill empowering His Majesty to secure and detain persons charged with or suspected of the crime of high treason committed in North America, or on the high seas, or the crime of piracy. "The thing is this," said Lord North; "there have been "during the present war in America many prisoners made "who were in actual commission of the crime of high "treason; and there are persons guilty of that crime who "might be taken, but from want of evidence could not be "kept in gaol." Our own liberties are in danger! — such was the reply of Dunning, Wilkes, and Fox. "Who knows," cried Fox, "but the Ministers, in the fulness of their malice, "may take it into their heads that I have served on Long "Island, under General Washington? What would it avail "me in such an event to plead an Alibi; to assure my old "friends that I was during the whole of the autumn Ame"rican campaign in England; that I was never in America, "nor on any other sea but between Dover and Calais, and "that all my acts of piracy were committed on the mute "creation? All this may be very true, says a Minister or a "Minister's understrapper, but you are for the present "suspected; that is sufficient; this is no time for proofs. "Iknow you are fond of Scotland; I will send you under "this Sign Manual to study the Erse language in the Isle of "Bute. As soon as the operation of the Bill is spent, you "will be at liberty to return whither you please; and then "you may, if you like, call on your accusers to prove their "charges of treason in America, or on the high seas, or of "piracy. But they will laugh in your face, and tell you "they never charged you, they only suspected you!"
* Letter to William Eden, printed from the MS. 'in Lord Campbell's Lives of the Chancellors, vol. vi. p. 118.