Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

ever, evident that the King did not meditate any fundamental

Opposition. He was ready to engraft men of ability into the Ministry, but merely with a view of strengthening it, not of altering its measures.. This appears clearly from a curious passage in Mr. Eden's account of his interview with Lord Shelburne. In the course of a discussion on certain changes of office, Lord Shelburne had made the remark, that 'surely there * would be some mode of doing everything right, without doing anything harsh.'

* This,' says Mr. Eden, 'gave me the opening I wished, to enter fully, and in the plainest language, into the narrowness, nonsense, and harshness of the whole proposition, so far as implied a wish and expectation in his lordship's friend at Hayes [Lord Chatham) to avail himself of the pressure of a moment in order to dictate terms to the closet, every part of which would imply a desertion and disarowal of servants who for many years had fought the cause of their master, of the Parliament, and of the whole nation, with the most cordial fidelity and zeal; and this, too, upon principles of the purest kind, the truth of which remains unimpaired, though mischances and circumstances may make it more difficult to enforce them. I added, that though uninformed and unauthorised as to any specific resolutions taken, I could argue safely from the sentiments of honour which I knew to be firmly rooted, and could at once say that no arrangement could or would ever be listened to one moment except on the ground of mere accession of capacity and business, in a moment which would require great exertions, and that even such accessions could not be taken, unless made in a plan consistent with the honour of all that had passed heretofore.' (Vol. i. p. 185.)*

The limited extent of the King's views in consenting to these negotiations, and his resolution to continue the anti-American policy, so long as he could find Ministers who would support him, are fully displayed in his letters to Lord North at this period. In a letter of the 16th of March, 1778, he thus expresses himself: 'I will only add, to put before your eyes my

* Concerning this negotiation through Lord Shelburne with Lord Chatham, see Lord Mahon's History,' c. 57. vol. vi. p. 223-226. Lord Mahon remarks :- It is certain that the object of the King

was at this juncture wholly unattainable, that if Lord North ' retired as not willing or not able to carry his system further, no

other administration on the same system could be formed.' This opinion seems to us perfectly correct, but the plan of a coalition can hardly be called “the King's object. It was the King's aversion; and he was only willing to consent to it on terms which rendered it impossible.

* most inward thoughts, that no advantage to this country, nor 6 personal danger to myself, can ever make me address myself to • Lord Chatham, or any other branch of Opposition. Honestly,

I would rather lose the crown I now wear than bear the ignominy of possessing it under their shackles. On the following day he writes thus : “My dear Lord, no consisleration in • life shall make me stoop to Opposition. I am still ready to • accept any part of them that will come to the assistance of my

present efficient Ministers; but whilst any ten men in the • kingdom will stand by me, I will not give myself up to bondSage. My dear Lord, I will rather risk my crown than do what • I think personally disgraceful. It is impossible this nation

should not stand by me. If they will not, they shall have • another king; for I never will put my hand to what will make

me miserable to the last hour of my life. On the 22nd, the King says: “I will never consent to removing the members of • the present Cabinet from my service;' and on the 29th he puts this question to Lord North: • Do you think it possible to ! strengthen the present Administration by an accession of

some men of talents from the Opposition ?' He then adds : “If that cannot be effected, will you consent to continue, and * try to exert yourself, and co-operate with me in putting vigour

and activity to every department.' Again, on the 29th of January, 1779, the King addresses Lord North in the sanie strain : 'I perceive, as I expected, that Opposition, when they talk of conditions, mean to dictate. I thank God, whatever difficulties may surround me, I am not made of materials to stoop to that.' And on the 4th February: - My conduct will show that I never am deaf to any apparent proposals of general union, though no circumstances shall ever compel me « to be dictated to by Opposition.'

If George III. had understood his position as a constitutional king, he would at this time have consented to form a new Ministry from the leaders of Opposition, and have acquiesced, without querulous and undignified protestations, in a policy which in a few years was forced upon his acceptance by the general feeling of the country, and at the point of the Parliamentary bayonet.

Lord Holland remarks upon these declarations, that the • King was willing to employ any one who would concur with • him in his efforts to reduce the revolted colonies to obedience, • but would not accept the services of Opposition, because the • Opposition thought that object unattainable, and were ready • to acknowledge the independence of the United States. The • result is, that it was the King at that period, and the King only, who prevented a coalition of parties, and peace with • America.' 'From this view Lord J. Russell justly, as we think, dissents: 'I cannot,' he says, concur in this last remark. • The King's determination to carry on the war in all quarters of the globe could have had no practical influence had not Lord North consented to remain Minister, to carry on a war of which he disapproved, and had not a majority of the House of Commons supported a system which they believed in their hearts to be fraught with danger to the country. The power of a single will was indeed conspicuous; but the Constitution afforded ample means of overruling that will, had the Minister

obeyed his own convictions, or had the House of Commons • been true to the people they represented.

In the summer of 1779, fresh overtures to the leaders of Opposition were made for the formation of a Coalition Government, in which Lord Weymouth was to be First Lord of the Treasury, and Thurlow Chancellor ; Lords North, G. Ger

retire, and their places were to be filled up by Lord Rockingham and his friends, or they were to take in the Duke of Grafton, and Lords Camden and Shelburne. This overture was rejected by Lord Rockingham's party, somewhat too hastily and peremptorily, in Mr. Fox's judgment: 'You think,' wrote, Mr. Fox to Lord Rockingham, shortly afterwards, you can

best serve the country by continuing a fruitless opposition ; I think it impossible to serve it at all but by coming into power ; and go even so far as to think it irreconcilable with the duty of a public man to refuse it, if offered to him in a manner 'consistent with his private honour, and so as to enable him to 'form fair hopes of doing essential service. The wisdom of this refusal is most ably vindicated in an admirable letter from the Duke of Richmond to Mr. Fox, which its length prevents us from extracting, but which we strongly commend to the reader's attentive perusal. (Vol. i. p. 213.) The Duke of Richmond shows that the offer was too vague for acceptance ; and that the Whigs, who might have joined the Government, would have had no security that their principles would be acted on. If,' he says, 'we are not to make the arrangement, and.

are yet to be supposed to have the management of affairs, it ' becomes surely not only fair, but necessary, that we should ' have a specific description of that share of Government pro

posed for us, which is to give us the means, weight, and ' authority to carry our measures; or if it is not intended that 'we are to direct the measures, it is necessary we should have a precise idea of those to which we are called to accede.

have immend personal honnon terms inconhat th

sameter for the inte Government. Whig lea

to the eral of nt, which at tha

babes; and

. Without one of these, it is merely an offer of places without

power, under a bargain to screen those whom we have been so long condemning. Such an offer I am sure you will approve

of our rejecting with indignation. It is evident, from what we now know of the King's feelings, that if Lord Rockingham and his friends had met this overture with a less decided refusal at the threshold, and had shown a willingness to entertain the proposal, they would speedily have found that the King was only willing to admit them on terms inconsistent with their principles and personal honour, and that the negotiation would have immediately come to an end. Thus far we assent to the view so well enforced in the Duke of Richmond's letter; at the same time we think, with Fox, that it was a most important matter for the interests of the country at that moment to break up Lord North's Government, which object would have been accomplished, if several of the Whig leaders could have been introduced into the Cabinet without compromising their principles; and although we do not believe that the King would have allowed an Administration so constituted to remain in power for six months, we deem it highly improbable that, in the existing state of public affairs, he would have been able to resuscitate as bad a Government as that which continued in Office until 1782.

In the summer of 1780, soon after Lord G. Gordon's riots, overtures for a junction were again made to Lord Rockingham through Mr. Frederic Montague. * In a memorandum of instructions for this negotiation, found among Lord North's papers, it is stated: “No difficulty about Dukes of Portland

and Manchester, Mr. Townshend, Mr. Burke, and Mr. Fox; • but Lord (North) advises that Mr. Fox should at first be proposed for an office that would not lead immediately to the

closet.' The leaders of Opposition entertained this proposal, and offered to treat upon certain conditions, of which the two following were the most important.

1. The American war requires no discussion, as they did not see how the troops could be recalled from thence, and the • dependence of America need not at present be taken into consideration.

2. That some public measures must be admitted to enable • them to coalesce with reputation, such as Mr. Crewe's Bill,

and offered The leaders that wou

* Mr. Frederic Montague, of Papplewick Hall, in Nottinghamshire, sat for Northampton, and afterwards for Higham Ferrers. He was a prominent member of the Rockingham party, and was one of the seven commissioners namned in Fox's India Bill.

• the Contractors' Bill, and a part, if not the whole, of Mr. • Burke's Bill.'

As soon, however, as the King was made aware of these conditions, the negotiation received its quietus from the following remarks addressed by His Majesty, in his own royal style of composition, to Lord North:

• The evasive answer about America will by no means answer. Indeed, upon all constitutional points, the Opposition have run so wild, that it is absolutely necessary for those who come into office to give assurances that they do not mean to be hampered by the tenets they have held during their opposition. The second proposition is therefore quite inadmissible.

"The Duke of Richmond and Mr. Fox have, more avowedly than any others of the Rockingham party, dipped themselves, for they have added, shortening the duration of Parliaments, and the former, by a strange conceit of changing the whole mode and right of election, would materially alter the Constitution. This, added to his unremitted personal ill conduct to me, it cannot be expected that I should express any wish of seeing him in my service. Persons must atone for their faults before I can attempt to forgive them. The Duke of Richmond has not put his foot into my apartments for seven years, but not content with this, sent me a message by Lord Weymouth, that though he never came near to me, he, as a Lieutenant-General, asked my leave to go to France. As to Mr. Fox, if any lucrative, not ministerial office, can be pointed out for him, provided he will support the Ministry, I shall have no objection to the proposition. He never had any principle, and can therefore act as his interest may guide him.

• The Duke of Portland I should with pleasure see in my service. Ireland, or any great Court office, would, I hope, suit him. The Duke of Manchester, in a lucrative office, I should not object to. Messrs. Townshend and Burke would be real acquisitions. (Vol. i. p. 252.)

During all this time, Lord North was secretly disinclined to the policy on which his Government had been acting; he was desirous of resigning his post of Prime Minister, and only retained it in deference to the King's wishes. Ample evidence of this fact is furnished in the work before us. The following extract, from a letter of Lord North to the King, contains a most extraordinary confession of the state of his mind on the subject. The conversation took place in October 1779; and Lord North remained in office more than two years longer.

· Lord Gower [President of the Council] came to Lord North to inform him that he had long felt the utmost uneasiness at the situation of his Majesty's affairs; that nothing can be so weak as the Government; that nothing is done; that there was no discipline in the state, the army, or the navy; and that impending ruin must be

« НазадПродовжити »