Page images


Spain would declare war and protect the malcontents. – Thus early was the final result foreseen! Grenville, never wanting in ability or financial skill, and on this occasion inflamed by mortification and resentment, answered Conway well and warmly. On the other side the eloquence of Pitt shone supreme, as it had on almost every point in these transactions since the commencement of the Session. Some of his bursts of oratory we may still admire in the scattered fragments which alone remain to us. Others, as it seems, must have been indebted for the applause which they received to the charms of his voice or manner. Thus, for example, one night, alluding to his small number of adherents on the Declaratory Bill, he said that he appeared in the House of Commons, as Eve in the garden of God, single and naked, yet not ashamed !” At an hour then unusually late, at half-past one in the morning, the House divided, and Conway's motion was carried by a triumphant majority; the votes against being 167 but for it 275. As the chiefs of the contending parties issued out each of them was greeted, though in very different terms, by the anxious multitude which had lately filled their galleries. Conway was welcomed by three loud cheers, by thanks and congratulations and pressing of hands. His own countenance was brightened by the joyful thought of a public duty performed and a civil war averted. But when Burke, who stood near him, declares in the words of Scripture, which he misapplies, that “we saw his face as it had “been the face of an angel,”**—his metaphor is so far overstrained that it borders on the ludicrous, and might fairly. pair off with Pitt's mother of mankind. As the Great Com: moner stepped forth that night the huzzas that had greeted Conway were renewed; every head was uncovered; and many persons, in token of their respect and gratitude, followed his chair home. On the other hand hisses and revilings assailed, but did not daunt, the haughty and resolute Grenville.* So decisive had been the majority, and the public feeling on which it was founded, that Grenville's best friends besought him to forbear from further opposition. But, as Horace Walpole remarks, it was too much for him to give up his favourite measure, the Stamp Act, and his favourite occupation, talking, both at once. Thus on the third reading another fierce debate ensued. Pitt began by referring to a letter, which had been read, from Sir William Meredith to the Mayor of Bristol, and having for a postscript: “Mr. Pitt will soon be at the head of affairs.”— “How could that pro“phet,” cried Pitt, “imagine a thing so improbable as that I “should be at the head of affairs, when I am so extremely at “the tail of them? I with five friends in the other House and “four in this!”— Next he declared the heartfelt satisfaction with which he gave his vote for this repeal. “I have my “doubts,” he added, “if any Minister could have been found “who would have dared to dip the Royal Ermines in the “blood of the American people. That people like a fine “horse, to use a beautiful expression of Job, whose neck is “clothed in thunder, if you soothe and stroke it you may do “anything, — but beware of an unskilful rider!” Still undaunted, Grenville replied with a firmness and spirit which — the cause apart — is deserving of high admiration: “I am one who declare that if the tax were still to “be laid on I would lay it on. The enormous expense of the “German war, an expense which I always disapproved, “made it necessary. The eloquence which the author of that “profusion now points against the Constitutional powers “of the Parliament makes it doubly necessary. I do not 1766.weAksTATE of LoRD RocKINGHAM's Govel:NMENT. 149

* Letter from Mr. Moffatt of Rhode Island, Feb. 1766, MS. His report is confirmed by Lord Orford's Memoirs (vol. ii. p. 283.). " ** Acts, ch. vi. ver, 13., and Burke's Works, vol. ii. p. 408. ed. 1815. * *


* “The crowd pressed on Grenville with scorn and hisses. He, swell**ing with rage and mortification, seized the nearest man to him by the ** collar. Providentially, the fellow had more humour than spleen: — “‘Well, if I may not hiss," said he , “at least I may laugh," — and laughed “in Grenville's face. The jest caught; – had the fellow been surly and “resisted, a tragedy had probably ensued." (Lord Orford's Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 299.)

“envy him the huzzas. I rejoice in the hiss. If it were to be “done again I would do it.” In this debate, as in the first of the Session, Pitt, as though he were not bound by common rules, usurped the privilege of a reply. “I am charged,” he said, “with the ex“pense of the German war. If the Right Honourable Gentle“man had such strong objections to that war, why did he not “resign his post as Treasurer of the Navy?” — To this troublesome question what answer could be made? The last division in the House of Commons on the repeal of the Stamp Act proved even more decisive than the first. On reaching the Lords the measure had to encounter a most formidable party array. Lord Temple it appeared had forsaken the cause of Pitt, and allied himself with his brother. Lord Lyttleton, Lord Mansfield, and Lord Halifax spoke against the measure. The entire Bedford faction, the entire Bute faction, opposed it. But by far the greater number of independent Peers, though single and scattered, feeling the danger of the crisis, and the necessity for conciliation, came to the rescue; and the Bill was carried through their House by a majority of thirty-four. It is to be observed that through all these transactions Lord Rockingham more than once complained to the King of the King's Friends. in office, who had for the most part voted against the measure of repeal. Yet it is not easy to understand how Lord Rockingham could fairly blame any man's conduct, except his own. It was himself who had sanctioned the licence, — it was himself who, for example, had suffered Lord Barrington to become Secretary-at-War, with the express understanding that he might oppose the course recommended by the Government on such questions as the Stamp Act and General Warrants.” No wonder if under such circumstances the King, both in justice and feeling, shrunk from inflicting on the offenders, as Lord Rockingham now called them, the penalty of dismissal for doing only what Lord Rockingham had allowed their chiefs to do. It is also to be noted that during the whole progress of the Stamp Act, and both before and after it, Lord Rockingham most earnestly applied to Pitt for his accession to the Government. Through Lord Shelburne, through Mr. Nuthall, through the Duke of Grafton, through every avenue, in short, that seemed to promise a favourable hearing, were these applications renewed. It was urged that on many of the chief questions, past or present, — on the terms of the Peace, on the use of General Warrants in the case of Wilkes, on the non-enforcement of the Stamp Act, — their opinions agreed. It was remembered that they sat in different Houses, and that Pitt had more than once declared that he would never under any circumstances be prevailed upon to become First Lord of the Treasury. Why then, Lord Rockingham thought, might not Mr. Pitt join the Ministry, - as before with the office of Secretary of State, and with the rank and honours of Prime Minister, but yet leaving Lord Rockingham and Lord Rockingham's principal friends securely fixed in their places? To all these overtures Pitt made the same reply, — that if the King thought fit to summon him, and require his poor thoughts on the formation of a Government, he would be ready to submit them, but that, unless commanded by His Majesty, he would maintain silence. Such silence was by no means acceptable to Lord Rockingham, since it left as wholly doubtful whom in such a case Pitt might or might not recommend. In the words of Mr. Nuthall's report: “his “Lordship feared if arrangements were not previously “settled it might end in breaking to pieces the present ad“ministration.”* Nothing more, however, could be wrung from Pitt, except indeed a haughty announcement, that he would not suffer the continuation either of office or of influence to the veteran Duke of Newcastle. So far had his Grace's double-dealings alienated that former and illus* Chatham Papers, vol. ii. p. 397.

* See Lord Barrington's Life, p. 119., and a judicious note by Sir Denis Le Marchant to Lord Orford's Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 831.


trious colleague, with whom he had so often sat side by side in Council, or lain bed by bed in secret consultations!” Thus, then, notwithstanding Lord Rockingham's most persevering proposals, — his cries of Help at every fresh token of his weakness, – he could make no advance towards his much desired object, — the accession of Pitt as a head to the already formed administration. In America the repeal of the Stamp Act was received with universal joy and acclamation. Fireworks and festivals celebrated the good news, while Addresses and Thanks to the King were voted by all the Assemblies. It was evident that though a small band of demagogues might already have set their minds on separation, the great body of the people were still firm in their allegiance, — proud of their parent country, and loyal to their prince. Not that the late events could pass away and leave no trace behind. It is beyond human skill or power that at the close of any quarrel the terms between the parties should again become precisely what they were at its commencement. The words of the Declaratory Act indeed gave the Americans slight concern. They fully believed that no practical grievance could arise from it. They looked upon it as merely a salvo to the wounded pride of England, as only that “bridge of gold” which, according to the old French saying, should always be allowed to a retreating assailant.* But they had been taught the secret of their own growing strength, and were emboldened, even though on very slight occasions, to remonstrate or resist. In Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York the Assemblies slowly and unwillingly complied * M. Dutens relates how, in November 1759, the Duke of Newcastle went on important business to Mr. Pitt, whom he found ill in bed, and unable to bear a fire in his room. — “Le Duc ne pouvant resister plus “longtemps a la rigueur de la saison; permettez, dit-il, que je me mette a “l'abri du froid dans ce lit qui est à côté de vous; et sans quitter son man“teau il s'enfonce dans le lit de Lady Hester Pitt, et continue la conversa“tion sur le sujet qui l’avait amené ! . . . . . Le Chevalier Charles Fre* derick du departement de l'artillerie arrivant lå-dessus, les trouva dans “cette posture ridicule.” (Memoires d'un Voyageur, vol. i. p. 143.)

* This was the saying of the Mareschal Anne de Montmorency during the invasion of Provence in 1536. (Robertson's Charles V., book vi.)

« PreviousContinue »