« PreviousContinue »
of 6,000,0001., which was contracted on advantageous terms. Thus were funds provided to pursue the war, should that be requisite. Thus was an opening made for negotiations, should they be practicable. In either case the path was cleared for a new administration. Here then was the moment which Lord North had for some time past desired — the moment when most with honour to himself, and most with advantage to his country, he could fulfil his intention of resigning. Several subordinate circumstances — several lesser causes of weakness or necessities for change in his government —. might tend to confirm him in his purpose. He must have felt that the events of the last month had greatly shaken and loosened his hold over his majority in Parliament. In the House of Lords he had no supporter adequate to such troubled times. It would be necessary, should his government continue, to replace Lord Chancellor Bathurst by some more eloquent orator and more energetic statesman. In the Commons he was on the point of losing his principal colleague, Lord George Germaine. That nobleman, ever prompt and able, and in the Cabinet at least courageous, but hasty and violent, had embroiled himself in quarrels with the chief officers under his direction. Sir Guy Carleton had been provoked to write to him with expressions of so much asperity that Sir Guy was in consequence removed from the Government of Canada. Sir William Howe, at the same juncture, was not less offended. He complained that while he had pressed for larger reinforcements, while he had been led to hope for them, while he had been allowed to frame his plans in consequence, none, or next to none, had in point of fact been sent him. At last, early in the winter, he had written to Lord George as follows: — "From "the little attention, my Lord, given to my recommenda"tions since the commencement of my command, I am led "to hope that I maybe relieved from this very painful ser"vice, wherein I have not the good fortune to enjoy the "necessary confidence and support of my superiors, but "which I conclude will be extended to Sir Henry Clinton,
"my presumptive successor, or to such other servant as the "King may be pleased to appoint. By the return, therefore, of the packet I humbly request I may have His Majesty's permission to resign the command." * His request, perhaps on other grounds not undesirable, was soon granted, although, as was foreseen, involving probably the retirement also of his brother, Lord Howe. On the 4th of February we find Lord George write to Sir William announcing the desired permission from His Majesty, and at the same time directing him to deliver his orders and instructions to Sir Henry Clinton, as his successor. Yet, within a month of that 4th of February, Lord George, in a sally of anger, had himself resigned. The ground of his displeasure was, that the King, anxious to reward the past services of a most deserving officer, bestowed on Sir Guy Carleton the sinecure government of Charlemont, which Lord George chose to construe as an insult to himself. His retirement appears to have been agreed to and resolved upon, since we find the King, in his secret letters of this period, allude to his "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 obstacle^, and afford a lesser chance of ultimate success.
* To Lord George Germaine, October 22. 1777. MS. State Paper Office, and Note of Mr. Sparks to Washington's Writings, vol. v. p. 160, ^ To Lord North, March 3. 1778.
1778. NOTE FROM THE FRENCH AMBASSADOR. 23J.
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 Koyal 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 firmly persuaded it will find therein new proofs "of HisMajesty's constant and sincere disposition for peace; "and that his BritannicMajesty, animated by the same senti"ments, will equally avoid every thing that may alter their "good harmony; and that he will particularly take effectual . "measures to prevent the commerce between His Majesty's "subjects and the United States of North America from be"ing interrupted."
So long as the Treaties signed at Paris had been kept concealed, there might remain1 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, whichI 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
* The King to Lord North, March 13. 1778. Appendix. The expression "that perfidious man," occurs io the letter of the ensuing day.
1770. COMMISSIONERS TO AMERICA APPOINTED. 233
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 Noailles likewise 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. *
Measures were likewise taken at this juncture, by means of the Lords Lieutenant, to call out and assemble the 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 colleagues 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
* Lord North's expressions in Almon's Register, and the Pari. 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 bad so strongly expressed his desire of retiring —,"