Page images
PDF

1770. CHATHAM IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS. 257

After this mention of the Horned Cattle the King's Speech touched generally on foreign affairs; recommended to attention to North American Colonies, to some proceedings in which the epithet of “highly unwarrantable” was applied; and concluded with an earnest exhortation to both Houses to avoid all heats and animosities among themselves. The Address in reply was moved by the Duke of Ancaster, and seconded by the Earl of Dunmore. No sooner had Dunmore sat down than Chatham rose. He began with some expressions of his loyalty and duty to the King, and proceeded to bewail the unsatisfactory state of our foreign affairs, which he ascribed to the manner in which the treaty of Paris was concluded. Having then, he said, deserted our allies we were left without alliances, and during a peace of seven years had been every moment on the verge of a war; while, on the contrary, France had carefully cherished her alliances, especially with Spain. But important as foreign affairs might be at this juncture, he felt that they sunk to nothing when compared to the distractions and divisions within our own empire. Here he lamented the unhappy measures which had estranged the Colonies from the mother country, and which he feared had drawn them into excesses that he could not justify. He owned his natural partiality to America, and was inclined to make allowance even for those excesses. They ought to be treated with tenderness, for in his judgment they were ebullitions of liberty which broke out upon the skin, and were a sign, if not of perfect health, at least of vigorous constitution, and must not be driven in too suddenly lest they should strike to the heart. With such feelings he objected to the word “unwarrantable” in the proposed Address. The Americans, he cried, had purchased their liberty at a dear rate; they had left their native country and gone in search of freedom to a desert! — Passing from these topics, Lord Chatham inveighed in the strongest terms against the votes of the House of Commons seating Luttrell in the place of Wilkes, which he pronounced to be a flagrant outrage against the common right of the subject,

Mahon, History. W. 17

and the real root of the public discontents; and he coneluded by moving an Amendment that the House would with all convenient speed take into their most serious consideration “the late proceedings in the House of Commons touching the “incapacity of John Wilkes, Esquire.” It is truly astonishing, even on the fullest admission of Chatham's weight and abilities, how great was the effect of this his return to public life, and declaration of his sentiments. It immediately produced a Ministerial crisis as keen and strange as any in our party annals. It stirred at that very hour Lord Chancellor Camden to cast aside his recent reserve, or acquiescence in measures that he disapproved, and to take henceforward a firmer and a nobler course. Rising with much emotion from the Woolsack he spoke nearly as follows: “I accepted the Great Seal without eon“ditions: I meant not therefore to be trammelled by His “Majesty, — I beg pardon, by His Majesty's Ministers, “but I have suffered myself to be so too long. For some “time I have beheld with silent indignation the arbitrary “measures of the Minister; I have often drooped and hung “down my head in Council, and disapproved by my looks “those steps which I knew my avowed opposition could not “prevent. I will do so no longer, but openly and boldly “speak my sentiments. I now proclaim to the world that “I entirely coincide in the opinion expressed by my Noble “Friend, whose presence again reanimates us, touching “this unconstitutional and illegal vote of the House of “Commons. If in giving my opinion as a Judge I were to “pay any respect to that vote I should look upon myself “as a traitor to my trust and an enemy to my country. “By their violent and tyrannical conduct Ministers have “alienated the minds of the people from His Majesty's “government, — I had almost said from His Majesty's “person!” The Earl of Marchmont, Lord Lyttleton, and perhaps other Peers also, took part in this debate. Lord Mansfield especially referring to Lord Chatham's amendment con

1770. CHAT HAM's REPLY. 250

demned it as an encroachment on the privileges of the other House, and adverting to the measures of the Government in the case of Wilkes offered for them an apology, - for so qualified was his language that it could scarcely be called a defence. The Government, however, had no reason to rejoice in his advocacy, able as it was, since it immediately called forth from Lord Chatham a reply, or rather a second speech. In that second speech occurs his celebrated burst of eloquence on the old Magna Charta Barons. “They did “not,” cried Chatham, “confine to themselves alone that “great acknowledgment of national rights which they had “wrested from their Sovereign, but delivered it as a common “blessing to the whole people. They did not say, these are “the rights of the great Barons, or these are the rights of the “great Prelates. No, my Lords, they said in the simple Latin “of the times: NULLUS LIBER Homo, - uncouth words, and “sounding but poorly in the ears of scholars, but they have “a meaning which interests us all; these three words are “worth all the classics. Those Iron Barons, for so I may “call them when compared with the Silken Barons of “modern days, were the guardians of the people; yet their “virtues, my Lords, were never engaged in a question of “such importance as the present. A breach has been made “in the Constitution, — the battlements are dismantled, “the citadel is open to the first invader, — the walls totter, “— the Constitution is not tenable. What remains then “but for us to stand foremost in the breach to repair it or “perish in it?” The amendment of Lord Chatham was negatived by a large majority of the Peers, but Lord Rockingham desired that their Lordships might be summoned for the morrow, as he intended to bring forward a motion of great importance on the state of the nation. The Ministers pleaded, as they reasonably might, for further delay, and this was granted, though not without demur. Lord Temple said: “It is clear to the House for what purpose an adjournment “is sought, — to dismiss the virtuous and independent Lord “who sits on the woolsack, and to supply his place with “some obsequious lawyer who would do as he was com“manded!” And Lord Shelburne added: “The Seals it “seems are to go a-begging; but I hope there will not be “found in the kingdom a wretch so base and mean-spirited “as to accept of them on the conditions on which they must “be offered l’” In the other House that day the scene was far less interesting and important. There also, however, an amendment was brought forward, being moved by Mr. Dowdeswell, and supported by a large minority. For that amendment the Marquis of Granby both spoke and voted, though still Commander in Chief and a Member of the Cabinet. His Lordship took this occasion to express his sorrow for the vote which he had rashly given last Session declaring the incapacity of Wilkes. Notwithstanding the course thus publicly taken by Lord Granby, both the King and the Duke of Grafton were earnest with him to continue in office. But he resisted all their entreaties, and after a few days resigned all his employments. Lord Camden, on the other hand, determined by the advice of his personal friends to forbear from resignation, and to leave the invidious task of removing him to his recent colleagues and present adversaries. Under these circumstances the Duke of Grafton applied to Charles Yorke. The Great Seal, the darling object of his life, was now at last within the reach of that accomplished and amiable man. Yet though within his reach, his hand was not free to grasp it. The offer found him closely bound and pledged to Lord Rockingham's party. He took a day for deliberation, during which he consulted both his brother, Lord Hardwicke, and his chief, Lord Rockingham, and yielding to their influence he reluctantly declined the glittering prize. Three days afterwards there was a Levee at St. James's, which Mr. Yorke thought it his duty to attend. To his surprise the Lord in Waiting came up and whispered that

1770. DEATH OF CHARLES YORKE. 261

His Majesty desired to see him in his Closet as soon as the Levee was over. There and then the offer of the Great Seal was renewed. The King declared it a point most essential to his service, and earnestly besought Mr. Yorke to rescue his Sovereign from the factious combination by which the throne was now besieged. The pleader was too powerful and the temptation too strong. In an evil hour for himself Mr. Yorke consented; he sank down on his knee; and the King giving him his hand to kiss hailed him as Lord Chancellor. Next day accordingly Lord Camden was summoned to the palace to surrender the Great Seal into the King's own hands; and a Privy Council being then convened, Mr. Yorke was sworn into office, and carried away with him the Great Seal in his carriage. A patent also was ordered, raising him to the peerage by the title of Lord Morden. But how different his reception when he left his Sovereign and his colleagues in the Council Chamber, and drove to see his Opposition friends assembled at Lord Rockingham's! He was stung to the very heart by their angry reproaches or their indignant silence. Returning home, the first frenzy of his anguish wrought so far on his sensitive mind that he turned a rash hand against himself, and three days afterwards expired. His family endeavoured to assign some natural causes for his death; and such were the respect and sympathy felt for him that even those who might know the truth were unwilling to divulge it.* Another death at this crisis, but marked by no uncommon circumstance, was that of the Speaker, Sir John Cust. It became necessary to proceed without delay to fill the vacant Chair. Sir Fletcher Norton was proposed and carried by Lord North; an excellent choice so far as ability and

* The various testimonies on this subject are drawn out in array by Lord Campbell, but he shrinks from expressing any opinion of his own upon them. (Lives of the Chancellors, vol. v. p. 415.) It seems to me that the statements of Lord Orford and of the Duke of Grafton in their respective Memoirs can leave no reasonable doubt as to the truth.

« PreviousContinue »