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“with any such men. It is true I have friendships and warm “ones; I have obligations and great ones; but no friend“ships, no obligations, could induce me to approve what “my conscience condemns. It may be supposed that I allude “to my Noble Relative Lord Temple. I know nothing of “any connection between him and the writer of the libel. “If there exists any I am totally unacquainted with it. I am “proud to call him my Relative; he is my friend, my bosom “friend, whose fidelity is as unshaken as his virtue. We “went into office together, and we wentoutofoffice together; “we have lived together and we will dietogether!”—These words were not forgotten some time afterwards, but were quoted with a kind of malignant pleasure when the friendship thus vaunted as eternal came to be dissolved. It was noticed that in some of these divisions the only two Scots Members of Parliament who were them in Opposition forsook their party and voted with the Minister for the most stringent measures against Wilkes, – so much had their national wrath been kindled by the jests of the North Briton! It was also observed, and condemned as a shallow artifice, that the House of Lords, to counterbalance their condemnation of Wilkes's violent democracy, took similar measures against a book of exactly opposite principles. This was a treatise or collection of precedents lately published under the title of DRoit LE Ro1, to uphold the prerogative of the Crown against the rights of the people. The Peers, on the motion of Lord Lyttleton, seconded by the Duke of Grafton, voted this book “a false, malicious, and traitorous “libel, inconsistent with the principles of the Revolution to “which we owe the present happy establishment;” they ordered that it should be burned by the hands of the common
* Parl. Hist., vol. xv. p. 1363. Wilkes afterwards accused the great orator of having expressed warm admiration for the “Essay on Woman” when shown to him in manuscript. But this charge, besides being utterly repugnant to the tenor of Pitt's acknowledged moral character, does not well accord, with Wilkes's own previous statement that “he never read it “but to two persons, Lord Sandwich and Lord Le Despencer." (See Horace Walpole's letter to Mann, Nov. 17, 1763.)
1764. QUESTION OF GENERAL WARRANTS. 53
hangman, and that the author should be taken into custody. The latter part of the sentence, however, no one took any pains to execute. The author was one Timothy Brecknock, a hackscribbler, who twenty years afterwards was hanged for being accessory to an atrocious murder in Ireland. Another question of far greater importance, but springing from the same fertile source of discord — Wilkes's case, — arose on the legality of General Warrants, such as that by which Wilkes had been arrested. There had been many precedents of that kind in former years, and two even under Pitt's administration, the one for apprehending a suspected foreigner, who proved to be the Count de St. Germain, the other for seizing a number of persons on board a ship that was outward bound; both, however, in a time of war with France. Such former instances had passed by unquestioned and almost unnoticed, but the case of Wilkes stirred up inquiry, and then it appeared that the most eminent lawyers of the day, headed by Chief Justice Pratt, on consideration, held this form of warrant to be utterly illegal. It was argued that a Warrant to apprehend all persons guilty of a crime therein specified is in truth no warrant at all, since the point upon which its authority rests, namely, whether the person apprehended thereupon be really guilty or not, — is a fact to be decided on a subsequent trial.” Several warm debates upon the subject took place in the course of the Session, Once the House of Commons sat for above seventeen hours, that is, until past seven in the morning, without intermission, the longest sitting yet on record. The eloquence of Charles Townshend and the readiness of Colonel Barré were justly admired on the side of Opposition.** Pitt, as usual the foremost, spoke with great spirit on the same side, avowing the precedents in his own administration, but vindicating them on the ground of national necessity in time of war. Several of the most honest and steady friends of Government found themselves unable to support it here, and thus on one occasion when the House was fullest the Ministerial majority dwindled to fourteen. Still, however, that majority remained, and enabled Grenville to postpone indefinitely the Resolution which was sought to be carried, declaring General Warrants illegal. In this debate Charles Yorke, though a party to the use of General Warrants in the case of Wilkes, argued strongly against the course of postponing a decision upon them, as not consistent with either the dignity of the House, or the importance of the subject. Pitt, as usual, adopted a most lofty tone: “I am no Judge,” he cried, “but sit here to “judge Judges! There has not been a violation of the Con“stitution but has been sanctified by the greatest Judges.” Sir Fletcher Norton, stung, perhaps, by this attack, declared, on the other hand, that were he a Judge he should regard a Resolution of the House of Commons no more than the oaths of so many drunken porters in Covent Gardens For these words Norton was often afterwards taunted and reviled. Yet, though the words might be rough and coarse, the sentiment was in its substance just and true. It expressed the immense Constitutional interval between an enactment concurred in by both branches of the Legislature and a Resolution voted by only one, – an interval which the House of Commons in later years has been far too prone to overlook and overleap. On reviewing in its present aspect the whole question of General Warrants, it must, I think, be acknowledged that the precedents for them are so numerous as fully to vindicate the Government for having had recourse to them. No Ministry, no Minister, is bound to make discoveries in Con
* See Blackstone's Commentaries, vol. iv. p. 291. ed. 1825.
** A most spirited sketch of the debates on General Warrants is given by Horace Walpole in his letter to the Earl of Hertford, February 15, 1764. Colonel Barré had just before, on account of his votes in Parliament, been dismissed from his military posts, and thus when he rose to speak, says Walpole, “Sir Edward Dering, one of our noisy fools, called out “Mr. ** Barré !" The latter seized the thought with admirable quickness, and “said to the Speaker, who in pointing to him had called him “Colonel,' ‘I. “‘beg your pardon, Sir, you have pointed to me by a title I have no right
1760. DISMISSAL OF GENERAL CONWAY. 55
stitutional law. But after public attention had been called to the subject, and when the illegal nature of these Warrants had been established, both on argument and authority, - then Mr. Grenville may be justly blamed for persevering in their palliation or defence. He appears, however, to have acted in perfect good faith. His mind, though well cultivated, had no extensive range, and was ever swayed by form and precedent far more than by argument and reasoning. In his point of view no error could possibly attach to what as yet no House of Commons had condemned. At the close of the Session in April 1764 the Ministers, after all the attacks levelled against them, were not subverted, scarcely shaken. They proceeded to give a proof both of their power and their resentment by turning out General Henry Seymour Conway, only brother of the Earl of Hertford, and connected either in blood or friendship with many of the first houses in the kingdom. He was by confession of all a brave soldier and honourable politician, and had no otherwise offended than by a conscientious vote against the Government on the question of General Warrants. For this crime he was now deprived, not only of his post in the Royal Bedchamber, but also of his regiment. A similar course, and for a similar reason, had a few weeks previously been pursued with respect to another respectable officer, General Acourt, then Member of Parliament for Heytesbury. These arbitrary steps, however, kindled little patriot fury in return. In like manner the flame which had arisen in Wilkes's case, far from becoming strong enough to consume his adversaries, rather languished and declined, now that Wilkes was no longer on the spot to fan it. Thus the Opposition could only descant with slighter effect on their more general topics, r- the illegality of the arrest, — the danger to the Constitution, — and, above all, the continued influence and undiminished ascendency, as they proclaimed it, of the Northern Favourite. There is no doubt that the King at this period continued to look upon Lord Bute in the light of a personal friend. But he was no longer, as the public continued to suppose, wholly or even mainly guided by Lord Bute's counsels. At the outset of his reign, as is owned by himself in one of his letters to Lord North, he had been quite ignorant of public business.” Day by day, however, his steadfast attention to his Royal duties, – the interviews with statesmen, and the reading of state papers, – made him more and more conversant with state affairs, and better able to transact them. He had therefore begun to rely less on any advice, or any adviser, than on his own careful and conscientious deliberation. ** The fixed popular belief in the unbounded favour of the Scottish Earl tended more than any other cause, perhaps, to injure His Majesty in the popular esteem. It must, I fear, be acknowledged, that during the first years of his reign George the Third was not beloved. Yet when we seek the cause, how slight, how trifling, are the reasons assigned How little beyond his continued adherence to his early friend could be laid to his charge! Thus we find as a serious complaint urged by no mean authority,+from the son of a Prime Minister, and himself both a man of letters and a Member of Parliament, — that when the King left his palaces to enjoy a brief summer retirement, and dwell in the shades of Richmond with his youthful Queen, he was guilty of “such an “excess of privacy and economy” that Her Majesty's hairdresser waited on them at dinner, and that they allowed only four pounds of beef daily for their soup.” None but a hired flatterer, I presume, could, on the contrary, discover any topic of praise in this dislike of lavish waste, this preference for simple pleasures and homely fare. More seriously speaking, however, we may well lament that imputations such as these should even for a time have * To Lord North, May 19. 1778. ** A remarkable instance of this, anno 1764, appears in the Bedford Papers, vol. iii. p. 264.