« PreviousContinue »
1765. STATE OF ENGLISH PARTIES. 117
ham or the Duke of Portland, or, in our own times, Lord Althorp, men no doubt of irreproachable character, public and private, and of excellent plain sense, but still without one single ray of eloquence or spark of genius. “Thoughts “that breathe and words that burn” have been far less sought in the selection than high-sounding titles and rich acres. Above all, it seemed to be imagined that a certain small cluster of great houses, as the original Whig Junta, should have the first choice of honours and employments. Whether such a system has always wrought injury I will not undertake to say. But sure I am that it must often have inflicted pain. How must, for example, the heart of Sir James Mackintosh have swelled within him when after long time and trials he saw his party at last attain to office, — when only a small nook at the India Board was assigned to that veteran friend and chief of many years, – when the Cabinet-door close shut against himself was opened wide from time to time to men who might have been his children, and who should have been his pupils, — the sons or the sons-in-law, the cousins or the nephews, of the Ruling Families! Reverting to the early years of George the Third, let us rapidly glance at the state of parties as it then appeared. All party-cries had been hushed during the splendid administration of Pitt; at its close they were raised again. The previous names of Whig and Tory re-appeared, but no longer with the previous principles and views. Even the keenest of the Tories had ceased to dream of aforeign Pretender; their loyalty was fixed on the reigning Sovereign; their aim was not, as in bygone years, to subvert, but, on the contrary, to secure against any shock or change, the settled order of things. As a party, however, they were not as yet fully formed; they had then few statesmen in their ranks, and their influence was felt in the division rather than in the debate. — The Whigs of 1763, no longer the Whigs of King William or Queen Anne, may be justly termed the founders of that distinguished party which bears their name at the present day. But they were split into sections, and it was between these sections, rather than between Whigs and Tories, that the battle for office raged. The Rockinghams and the Bedfords, Mr. Pitt and Mr. Grenville, all equally called themselves good Whigs, all would equally have declared that they never had been, that they never could be, Tories. Yet these were the chiefs of warring parties and of rival administrations. Such a schism in the Whig party of those times has sorely grieved the Whig writers of our own. Several of these gentlemen appear to have begun their labours with the pleasant predetermination that any Cavendish, any Russel, any Wentworth, whom they met with, must have been of course a patriot and a sage. Deep is their sorrow, dire their perplexity, when they find, as in 1765, these patriots and sages arrayed on opposite sides, turning each other out of office, and bandying the fiercest invectives and the least complimentary epithets! It was at this period and under such a condition of parties that rival Clubs for politics were formed, and rose into great vogue and importance. Under Lord Bute the Ministerial Club, as it was at first termed, used to meet at the Cocoa Tree Tavern, from which it soon derived its name. Gibbon has given a lively account of it in his Journal for November 1762: “It affords every evening a sight truly English. Twen“ty or thirty perhaps of the first men in the kingdom in point “of fashion and fortune supping at little tables covered with “a napkin, in the middle of a coffee-room, upon a bit of cold “meat or a sandwich, and drinking a glass of punch. At “present we are full of King's Councillors and Lords of the “Bedchamber, who, having jumped into the Ministry, make “a very singular medley of their old principles and language “with their modern ones.”* About a year from that time the Opposition, seeing the advantages of such a combination, established a Club of their own at another tavern, kept by Mr. Wildman in Albemarle Street. “Our Club goes on with new vigour,” writes James Grenville to his sister, Lady
1765. WHIGS AND TORIES. 119
Chatham. “I am infinitely perplexed by the pressing of many “quarters to be of it.”* It is easy and plain to state by what name each of these parties called itself, or at what place it met, but hard is the task of defining by what principles or opinions they were kept asunder. At that period the line between the new divisions of Whig and Tory was very far less distinct than it afterwards became, and the line between the various sections of the Whigs was more shadowy still. Even when the differences were substantial it may be doubted how far they had arisen from clear and settled views on either side. Thus, for example, the Rockinghams warmly supported the American claim of equal rights, which the Bedfords as warmly opposed. Yet it might be rash to leap at once to the conclusion that on all other political questions a more liberal spirit prevailed at Wentworth than at Woburn. The accidents of office or opposition in the first instance, the progress of events, and the eagerness accruing from either course when once adopted, seem sufficient to account for the distinction. Whenever there may rise in view any great public aim or object — as of aggression or defence, to reform or to maintain, – then the great public benefit of party will scarcely be denied by any one who has studied state-affairs in history. Still less will it be denied by any one who has seen them in action. But when no such aim exists, when no foreign danger threatens, when no internal change is contemplated, then the question suggests itself whether party may not grow an evil to the commonwealth, whether it be not, as it has been called, the madness of many for the gain of a few. Was it worth while for statesmen to combine in leagues and factions only for the sake of some subaltern intriguers, – that Rigby might pin himself to the skirts of one of them, - that Wedderburn might sell his eloquence by turns to the best bidder?— So far as we can now discern, considerations such as these had much weight with many minds. Pitt was strong* Chatham Papers, vol. ii. p. 276.
ly impressed by them, although no doubt his sentiments to that effect were aided by the influence of his secluded habits and his haughty temper. He might, however, be forgiven for remembering how successfully and gloriously he had blended all parties together in his late administration, and how in all his attempts to form a new one he had been thwarted by the party-ties of others, entangled by his own. Thus also George the Third from the very commencement of his reign had found party-ties beset his path. By party-ties in various forms and times all his endeavours had been baffled, all his predilections overborne. He, too, may be pardoned for wishing that there might be no other checks to his power than those which the law and constitution had imposed. It should, therefore, be no ground for either surprise or blame if we find His Majesty in one of his letters during the year 1767 call upon his Ministers “to withstand with redoubled “ardour that evil called connection.” + The most valid plea, perhaps, for the existence of party at such times is, that it kept the machinery and framework ready and in use for other times when party combinations came to be in truth essential to the public good. It might be too late to forge the weapon when the warfare should begin. But it is natural that considerations like these should have little weight with men plunged in all the turmoil of active life, and feeling the present difficulty much more than the prospective advantage. It was then at this period and under such circumstances that there arose another party, or, more exactly speaking, a number of persons, known by the name of “the King's “Friends.” Several of these were men in office, many more were independent Members of Parliament. Of the former class Lord Barrington may be cited as an instance. From Treasurer of the Navy he was transferred to be Secretary-atWar under the Rockingham administration. He tells us that 1765. THE “KING's FRIENDs.” 121
* Chatham Papers, vol. iii. p. 228. See also in the same collection the King's letter of November 28. 1766, in which he expresses his desire “to “receive able and good men, let their private friendships be where they "will."
in his interview with the King shortly before his new appointment he renewed the most solemn assurances of his devotion solely and personally to His Majesty, and of his resolution to support the government, not because some of his oldest and best friends were of it, but because His Majesty had chosen it. He said that the Crown had an undoubted right to choose its Ministers, and that it was the duty of subjects to support them, unless there were some very strong and urgent reasons to the contrary. And he added, “Sir, I beg you will immediately dispose of my place “as shall be most convenient to you, and be assured my con“duct shall be exactly the same when I am only your subject as if I continued your servant.”* Entering Parliament or accepting office with such feelings towards the Throne, it was natural that the King's Friends should on many occasions look rather to the supposed opinions of His Majesty than to the declared wishes of the Minister. The independent Members of Parliament would often shape their course accordingly. The holders of office would sometimes strain to the utmost that latitude on several public measures among the members of the same Government which has more recently obtained the name of “open questions.” It was natural also that the Prime Mimister, above all, if hard pushed in a division, should think that latitude exceeded, and should complain of them to his Royal Master. Nor can it be thought strange if the King had some tenderness to those who thus regarded him, if he pleaded their cause while he could to their angry colleagues, or if, when no longer able to defend them, he was desirous at least to soften or postpone their dismissal from his service. Many and frequent were the shafts of calumny let fly against the King's Friends. It was alleged that their secret chief and mover was no other than the Earl of Bute, whose ascendency over George the Third, it was thought still con
* Life of Lord Barrington, compiled by the Bishop of Durham, p. 96. (Unpublished.)