Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George the Third Volume I Part 1
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Memoirs of the Courts and Cabinets of George the Third.
by The Duke of Buckingham and Chandos.
In the selection and arrangement of the Correspondence contained in these Volumes, the intrusion of unnecessary commentaries and political opinions has been carefully avoided. The letters themselves are so lucid and complete, that the interest of the publication has been left to rest upon their details as far as possible. But as a collection of communications of this confidential nature, written from day to day upon passing events, must necessarily involve numerous allusions which, intelligible at the time, are either obscure or liable to misapprehension now, occasional notices of the principal topics and circumstances referred to have been introduced wherever they appeared to be required. By the help of this illustrative frame-work a certain degree of continuity has been attempted to be preserved, so that the reader will have no difficulty in blending these materials into the history of the period they embrace.
The Close of Lord North's Administration--The Second Rockingham Cabinet--Mr. Thomas Grenville's Mission to Paris--The Shelburne Administration--Lord Temple Appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland--Irish Affairs.
As no inconsiderable portion of the Correspondence contained in these volumes relates to the structure and conduct of Cabinets, throwing light upon public affairs from those secret recesses to which historians rarely have access, it may be useful, by way of introduction, to glance at certain circumstances which, during the period embraced in the work, exercised a special influence over the Government of the country: an influence no less directly felt in the councils of Ministers than in the measures and combinations of the Opposition.
The history of Administration in the reign of George III. presents some peculiarities which distinguish it in a very striking degree from that of most other reigns. The key to these peculiarities will be found in the personal character of the Sovereign. To that character, and its immediate action upon political parties, may be traced, to a greater extent than has been hitherto suspected, the parliamentary agitation and ministerial difficulties which were spread over nearly the whole of that long and eventful period. The means of forming an accurate judgment on matters of this nature exist only in confidential details, such as are disclosed in the collection of letters now for the first time laid before the public. In order, however, to render intelligible the allusions that are scattered through them, and to point out their real value as materials for the political history of the time, it is necessary to offer a few preliminary remarks on the circumstances to which reference has been made.
George III.--whose admirable business habits and inflexible integrity inspired the highest deference and attachment amongst the personal friends he admitted to his confidence--was remarkable in no one particular more than in his jealousy of the prerogatives of the Crown.
He carried his zeal in that matter so far as even to draw upon himself the charge of desiring to strain the rights of the Crown beyond constitutional limitations. But as these limitations have never been accurately defined, and as it has always been difficult to prescribe the precise privileges which would relieve the Sovereign, on the one hand, from being a mere state puppet, without giving him, on the other, too great a preponderance of executive power, we need not discuss the justice of an imputation which refers to the general complexion of the King's views rather than to any particular acts of arbitrary authority.
That it was the great aim of His Majesty's life to preserve the royal prerogatives from encroachment is undeniable; but it should be remembered that when George III. ascended the throne, the relative powers and responsibilities of the Sovereign and his advisers were not so clearly marked or so well understood as they are at present; and if His Majesty's jealousy of the rights which he believed to be vested in his person led him to trespass upon the independence of his servants, or to resist what he considered the extreme demands of the Parliament, it was an error against the excesses of which our Constitution affords the easiest and simplest means of redress.
Intimately conversant with official routine, and thoroughly master of the details of every department of the Government, he acquired a familiar knowledge of all the appointments in the gift of the Ministry, and reserved to himself the right of controlling them. Nor was this monopoly of patronage confined to offices of importance or considerable emolument; it descended even to commissions in the army, and the disposal of small places which custom as well as expediency had delegated to the heads of those branches of service to which they belonged. His Majesty's pertinacity on these points frequently precipitated painful embarrassments of a personal nature, entailed much disagreeable correspondence, and sometimes produced misunderstandings and alienations of far greater moment than the paltry considerations in which they originated. Amongst the numerous instances in which His Majesty insisted on the preservation of patronage in his own hands, one of the most conspicuous was his stipulation with the Marquis of Rockingham for unconditional power over the nomination of the household, at a moment when the exigency of public affairs compelled him to surrender other points of infinitely greater importance. We shall find in the course of the following letters that His Majesty's desire to advance the interests of particular individuals interfered seriously, on some occasions, with the convenience of the public service.
The same spirit guided His Majesty's conduct, as far as the forms of the Constitution would permit, in his choice of Ministers. He had strong personal likings and antipathies, and rather than consent to have a Ministry imposed upon him consisting of men he disapproved, he would have suffered any amount of difficulty or inconvenience. He prevailed upon Lord North to remain in office three years in the face of sinking majorities, and against his Lordship's own wishes, for the sole purpose of keeping out the Whigs, whom he regarded with a feeling of the bitterest aversion. Good reasons, no doubt, might be suggested for this passionate abhorrence of the Whigs, who, independently of party antecedents, had given His Majesty much cause of uneasiness, by their strenuous opposition to the measures of his favourite Ministers, and by their alliance with his son. So deeply was this feeling rooted in His Majesty's mind, that when a junction with that party seemed to be all but inevitable in March, 1778, he threatened to abdicate rather than be "trampled on by his enemies." Four years afterwards he explicitly repeated the same threat under the excitement of an adverse division; and it was supposed by those who were best acquainted with the firmness of his resolution that, had he been forced to extremities, he would have carried his menace into execution.
His conduct to his Ministers was equally steadfast where he bestowed his confidence, and stubborn where he withheld it. There were certain questions upon which he was known to be inexorable, and upon which it was useless to attempt to move him. Of these the most prominent were the American War, Catholic Emancipation, and Parliamentary Reform. Whether his judgment was right or wrong on these questions, it was fixed and unalterable; and the Ministers who took office under George III. knew beforehand the conditions of their service, so far as these paramount articles of faith were concerned. It was the knowledge of this rigorous trait in His Majesty's character, that made the Marquis of Rockingham insist upon submitting to the King a programme of the policy he intended to pursue before he would consent to enter upon the Government in 1782.
His Majesty desired nothing more than a list of the persons Lord Rockingham wished to propose for the Cabinet; but Lord Rockingham thought that something more was necessary to his own security and independence. He considered that when a statesman undertakes the duties of Administration, he assumes a responsibility irrespective of the Sovereign, and that his duty requires of him that he shall lay before His Majesty, in the first instance, as the basis of negotiation, an outline of the measures by which alone he can conduct the affairs of the kingdom with honour and success. In the adoption of this clear and candid line of procedure there was no coercion on the Sovereign, who was free to accept or reject the propositions, while the constitutional principle at stake was acknowledged and vindicated on both sides.
His Majesty's immobility on certain questions had the practical effect of literally placing them in abeyance in the councils of his Ministers.
As it was found to be impossible to form a strong Administration that should unanimously agree with His Majesty, and at the same time possess the confidence of the country, no alternative remained but to enter into a tacit arrangement, by which those questions were to be dropped out of the list of what were called Cabinet measures, each Minister being left at liberty to vote upon them as he pleased, without being held to have compromised the opinions of the Government. Had it not been for such an arrangement as this, Pitt, who was pledged to the relief of the Catholics from their disabilities, could never have held office under George III. And thus was introduced into the practice of Administration a principle which is undoubtedly a violation of its theory, and which, taking advantage of a dangerous precedent, has been acted upon since with less justification.
In the invention of this escape for the conscience of the King through the side vent of "open questions," the direct influence of the Sovereign upon the councils of the Administration may be clearly traced. There were no other means of reconciling His Majesty to the appointment of a Cabinet, demanded by the voice of the Parliament and the country. The dilemma was obvious. There was no choice between the rejection of Ministers who held certain doctrines adverse to His Majesty's convictions, and compromise upon the points of difference. When it was found impossible to conduct the Government of the kingdom with a Cabinet that did not possess the popular confidence, the Sovereign was reduced to the necessity of treating with men who did possess that confidence, whether he agreed with them in opinion or not. In our own times, and under most of the Sovereigns who have filled the throne since our Constitution may be said to have been settled, there could be no great difficulty in a case of this kind. Ministers undertaking office under such circumstances would be responsible to the country for their policy, and the Sovereign would feel himself at once relieved by that responsibility from all further anxiety. But George III. took that responsibility upon himself in reference to the great measures that occupied the public mind; and when, by the exigency of circumstances, Ministers were pressed upon him from whose views he dissented, he accepted them upon conditions which restrained the action of the Cabinet, as a whole, in certain directions, but left its members individually free and unpledged. Such was the origin of "open questions." It was a compromise on both sides; and of course it must always depend upon the extent to which this compromise is carried, and the necessity under which it is resorted to, whether it should be regarded as a sacrifice of principle on the part of the Minister who submits to it.
Another novelty originating in this reign, out of the same peculiar state of things, and resting upon a similar theory of expediency, was that of the formation of a Coalition Administration, in which party differences were merged in a common agreement upon a general line of policy. As considerable light is thrown upon this memorable incident in the course of these volumes, it is unnecessary to dwell upon it here. It will be abundantly elucidated in the proper place. For the present, it is sufficient to refer to the junction, in a composite Ministry of hostile statesman, as one of the singular results flowing from that necessity of adaptation to circumstances which was rendered unavoidable by the unyielding character of the Sovereign.
There were other circumstances which, combined with the personal dispositions of the King, led to the strenuous assertion in this reign of the prerogatives of the Executive against the interference and control of the aristocracy and the Parliament. From the date of the Revolution up to the accession of George III., the independent authority of the Crown can scarcely be said to have had any practical force--scarcely, indeed, to have had any existence. The Government of the country was essentially Parliamentary. It was part of the compact with William III. A foreign dynasty had been established, and the people naturally looked to the protection of their domestic interests against the possible preponderance of extrinsic sympathies in the reigning power. Under William III., the claim of the United Provinces upon the special regard of the Sovereign was the object of national jealousy; and when the House of Brunswick ascended the throne, popular vigilance was transferred to Hanover. The first two Princes of that House who ruled in England scarcely spoke our language, and were so ignorant of our Constitution and our customs, that they could not be admitted with safety to an active participation in the Government. The Whigs, who had brought about these changes, preserved in their own hands the entire authority of the State. The Sovereign was merely the motionless representative of the monarchical principle. But George III. was not an alien. Born in the country, educated in its language and its usages, and inspired by an ardent devotion to Protestantism, he entered life under auspices that attracted at once towards the Crown an amount of popularity which it had never enjoyed under his predecessors. The qualities and dispositions of the King were favourable to the cultivation of these opportunities. Without being profoundly versed in the philosophy of character, he possessed a remarkable aptitude in the discrimination of persons suited to his purposes. He had considerable skill (to which Lord Shelburne bears special testimony) in extracting the opinions of others, and turning the results to account. If his mind was not vigorous and original, it was active and adaptive, inquisitive and watchful. If his judgment was not always sound, his convictions were strong, and the tenacity of his resolution commanded submission. An accomplished linguist, fond of business, and having some talents as a writer, which enabled him to express his meaning with facility and clearness, he was well qualified to avail himself of the political accidents which contributed to revive and strengthen the royal prerogative.
The Whigs themselves helped mainly to bring about this struggle between the Crown and the Parliament, or rather between the Crown and the "great families," to use Mr. Canning's phrase, who had hitherto absorbed the power and patronage of the State. United in principle, they were divided by personal jealousies. The long possession of office had given a sort of impunity to their pretensions; and believing that they held a perpetual tenure of Administration, they were weak enough, at every new ministerial change, to contend amongst themselves for the prizes. These internal dissensions weakened and scattered them, and prepared the way for those experiments which were made, during the early years of George III., to conduct the Government without their aid.
The effects were felt in an entire change of system. The accession of George III. was followed by a _coup-d'etat_, which displaced the able Cabinet that had been organized by the elder Pitt, to make room for the Earl of Bute, who had the credit of being the author of the scheme, and who was utterly incapable of carrying it out. Independently of his want of the requisite qualifications as a statesman, there were other objections of a private nature to Lord Bute, which rendered it impossible that he could ostensibly continue to guide the councils of the Ministry, however he might be permitted, or retained, to influence them from behind the curtain. But his short essay at Government had sufficiently disturbed the _ancien regime_, to leave in the King's hands the power of choosing his Ministers without reference to popular clamour or the will of Parliament. The consequence was, a rapid series of Ministerial mutations, throughout which the contest for power was maintained on both sides with so fierce a spirit, that during the first ten years of the reign of George III., there were no less than seven successive Administrations.
It was not till Lord North was called to the head of the Ministry, in 1770, that the public uneasiness was allayed, and a Cabinet of the King's own choice was founded in security. Lord North was an especial favourite with the King, whose extraordinary regard for him originated in the promptitude with which he responded to His Majesty's appeal, at a moment of serious embarrassment, when the Duke of Grafton unexpectedly threw up the Government, and Lord North consented to undertake it. "I love you as a man of worth, as I esteem you as a Minister," writes the King to him on one occasion; "your conduct at a critical moment I can never forget." The Whigs were readily reconciled to Lord North's appointment, because he was not mixed up in their differences. They preferred a Minister who had no alliances amongst them to one of themselves, whose elevation would have produced discontents in the camp.
At first there was a show of dissatisfaction, and some attempts were made to foment the popular passions; but the dignified firmness of the Sovereign, and the moderate bearing of the favourite, speedily tranquillized the public mind, and enabled Lord North to carry on the Government with energy and success.
In his private character, Lord North was irreproachable; as a debater, he displayed some valuable qualities--patience and endurance, facility of resources on occasions of emergency, great calmness and courage, and a playful wit, which never startled by its brilliancy, but seldom failed of its point. He betrayed no ostentation or vainglory in his position; never offended by any undue exhibition of the powers he wielded; and restricted himself severely to the discharge of his duties as an adviser of the Crown, deprecating the title of Prime Minister, which he declared was an office unknown to the Constitution of this country. As a statesman, he never achieved a high or distinguished reputation. The American war was the blot upon his career; nor can even his devotion to the Sovereign entirely excuse him for remaining in office at His Majesty's entreaty to pursue a course of colonial policy which his reason and his conscience disapproved. This was a political fault, which no circumstances can palliate. Others have done worse, no doubt, from meaner motives; but the mere desire of serving the King does not absolve the Minister from censure for having acted contrary to his own convictions on a question of such grave importance.
Lord North continued to retain the royal favour until he entered into the coalition with the Whigs. This was a step the King could not forgive. No extremity could reconcile him to a measure so repulsive to his feelings. Yet the coalition, after all, was more discreditable to the Whigs than to Lord North, who may be pardoned for accepting it as a tribute to his personal weight, and a recantation, in some sort, of all the odium the Whigs had industriously heaped upon him during the whole period of his Administration. If they really believed him to be the base and dangerous person they had all along described him to be, the shame was theirs for consenting to associate themselves with him, and to work under him in the Government.
The Administration of Lord North lasted for twelve years--from 1770 to 1782. The most important consequence it effected, so far as political parties were concerned, was to throw the Whigs into opposition, and to draw the Tories into closer relations with the throne. This complete exchange of position exactly suited the principles of the two great factions; the loyalty and courtly aspirations of the Tories (now that all hope of restoring the Stuarts was at an end) rendering them highly acceptable in the councils of the monarch, while the popular doctrines of the Whigs pointed to the benches of the Opposition as the appropriate place for a party which is always more usefully employed in representing the people than in exercising the functions of Government. Sixty years elapsed before the Whigs recovered the ground which they had lost under the Ministry of Lord North.
The American war--for the management of which the severest reproaches were cast upon the Government--the state of Ireland, and Parliamentary Reform, were the principal public questions that agitated the term of Lord North's Administration. Amongst the Whigs who took a prominent part in these proceedings were the Grenvilles. Connected by marriage with the Pitt family, and distinguished by their own hereditary claims and high talents, they exerted as conspicuous an influence out of office as they had previously done when they had the reins of Government in their hands. It will be necessary to retrace briefly the political heraldry of the Grenvilles for the purpose of bringing the reader acquainted with the character of the three brothers whose intimate correspondence forms the substance of these volumes.
Richard Grenville succeeded his brother in the Earldom of Temple in 1752, and took an active part in the Administration of the elder Pitt (Lord Chatham), who was married to his sister, Lady Hesther, the mother of the "Great Commoner." He resigned office with Pitt in 1761, on the question of the war with Spain. This circumstance estranged him from his political connection with his only brother, George Grenville, who remained in office under Lord Bute, as Treasurer of the Navy. Lord Temple, espousing the cause of Wilkes (for which he was dismissed from his Lieutenancy of the county of Bucks) continued in opposition till he was finally reconciled to his brother in 1765. He afterwards had a serious difference with Pitt on the formation of the Cabinet in 1766; but a reconciliation having been effected between them in 1768, they subsequently acted in concert except upon the taxation of America, Lord Temple invariably supporting the policy of his brother and the Stamp Act.
George Grenville had been educated for the bar, and entered Parliament for the borough of Buckingham at the instance of his uncle, Lord Cobham; joined the Administration in 1744, as a Lord of the Admiralty, afterwards as a Lord of the Treasury, then as Treasurer of the Navy, and continued in office at intervals till 1762, when, separating himself from Lord Temple and Mr. Pitt, he joined Lord Bute as Secretary of State. On the resignation of Lord Bute in 1763, he became First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer, remaining at the head of the Cabinet till his dismissal in 1765, after which he never again accepted office.
He left three sons, George, Thomas, and William Wyndham, who variously distinguished themselves in the public service, and whose letters, chiefly those of the last, in all respects the ablest and most celebrated, constitute the bulk of the following pages.
George Grenville succeeded to the title of Earl Temple on the death of his uncle, and was afterwards created Marquis of Buckingham, and was father of the late Duke of Buckingham. He twice filled the office of Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland.
Thomas Grenville, who died recently at an advanced age, filled several high offices in the State, and accumulated one of the most splendid libraries in the kingdom.
William Wyndham Grenville, afterwards Lord Grenville, was one of the most eminent statesmen of the reign of George III., and, surviving all his great contemporaries, died in 1834. "The endowments of his mind,"
observes Lord Brougham, "were all of a useful and commanding sort--sound sense, steady memory, vast industry. His acquirements were in the same proportion valuable and lasting--a thorough acquaintance with business in its principles and in its details; a complete mastery of the science of politics as well theoretical as practical; of late years a perfect familiarity with political economy, and a just appreciation of its importance; an early and most extensive knowledge of classical literature, which he improved instead of abandoning, down to the close of his life; a taste formed upon these chaste models, and of which his lighter compositions, his Greek and Latin verses, bore testimony to the last. His eloquence was of a plain, masculine, authoritative cast, which neglected if it did not despise ornament, and partook in the least possible degree of fancy, while its declamation was often equally powerful with its reasoning and its statement. He was in this greatest quality of a statesman pre-eminently distinguished, that, as he neither would yield up his judgment to the clamour of the people, nor suffer himself to be seduced by the influence of the Court, so would he never submit his reason to the empire of prejudice, or own the supremacy of authority or tradition." The character is accurately and justly discriminated; but, however fully this searching panegyric is sustained and justified by the public acts and recorded labours of Lord Grenville, we must turn to his correspondence with Lord Temple for the complete development of that sagacity and sound judgment, that intimate knowledge of public affairs, and that remarkable comprehensiveness of view and lucidity of statement, by which he was distinguished above his contemporaries in an age of great political characters. This correspondence, extending over a long period of years, is not less remarkable for the constancy with which it was carried on than for the minuteness of its details, and the freedom of its revelations. Written with the ease of familiar intercourse, and in that confidential spirit which was the exponent of one of the most touching attachments that ever bound one man to another, it is no less valuable as a close, running commentary on the events of the day, lighting up in its course the hidden springs of parliamentary action and the policy of cabinets, than it is fascinating from the teeming evidences with which it abounds of a warm heart and a highly disciplined and accomplished mind.
The Correspondence commences in 1782, when Lord North, sinking under the odium of the American war, found his small majorities rapidly diminishing from 22 to 19, then to the vanishing point of 1, and finally to a minority of 16. Every incident connected with the war, the taxes, parliamentary reform, and all other questions upon which it was possible to raise a discussion, were seized upon by the opposition to harass the Ministry. The total surrender of York Town by Lord Cornwallis, with the whole army under his command, to Washington, and of the British vessels in the harbour to the French Admiral de Grasse in the October of 1781, awakened universal indignation; and, when Parliament met in November, it became evident that, however resolved the King or the Government might be to persevere in their policy, the doom of the Administration was near at hand. Amendments to the Address, pointing ominously to a change of counsels, were moved in both houses by Lord Shelburne and Mr. Fox; but nothing further was done till after the Christmas recess, with the exception of an announcement that Ministers had resolved not to send a fresh army to replace that surrendered by Lord Cornwallis.
About this time, very early in the session, a motion was contemplated on the subject, the object of which, as may be gathered from the following notes of the Marquis of Rockingham, was to relieve Lord Cornwallis from the disgrace that impended over him, and to throw the real responsibility upon Ministers. The Marquis of Rockingham, desirous of proceeding upon more certain information than had at that time been received, appears to have advised a little delay, and to have been of opinion that if any motion were to be brought forward at that moment it ought to have taken the shape of a motion for inquiry. It is evident that the Marquis of Rockingham was already collecting his friends about him. The name of Lord Rockingham's correspondent does not appear, but, from a subsequent allusion, it may be presumed that these notes were addressed to the Duke of Chandos.
THE MARQUIS OF ROCKINGHAM TO THE DUKE OF CHANDOS.
Your Grace does me much honour in the communication of the thoughts you entertain of bringing forward some matters of business in the House of Lords.
I shall be very happy to concur in opinion with your Grace, but I must say that I cannot at present think that there is anything come to our knowledge in regard to the actual conduct of Lord Cornwallis, as commander of a British army in America, which calls for the honour of a vote of thanks from the House of Lords.
The fatal event of the army under his Lordship's command, having been reduced to the situation of being obliged to lay down their arms and surrender prisoners of war, naturally requires that an explanation or justification should precede anything that could be declaratory of approbation.
As I understand your Grace's proposition, I conceive your intentions would be, that in thanking Lord Cornwallis for his general conduct, you would at the same time state, that the plans he _was directed_ to pursue and which had been so fatal, were _highly censurable_.
An inquiry into _the causes_ of the loss of that army might certainly be a very proper and becoming measure; and I have very little, or rather no doubt that the blame and censure would fall heavy on many of His Majesty's Ministers, if such an inquiry was taken up, and tried by an uninfluenced or _undeluded_ jury.
There is a particular circumstance, which possibly, as your Grace has been out of town, may not have come to your knowledge.
I understand that Lord Cornwallis and all the officers of the army captured at York Town and Gloucester, _are under a parole of honour, and on their faith neither to say or do anything injurious to the interests of the United States or armies of America, or their allies, until exchanged_.
Your Grace will recollect, that in the Articles of Capitulation, much doubt has been held in regard to _the propriety_ of one of the articles, whereby Lord Cornwallis had left some Americans (who had been in or had joined our army) to be at the mercy of the civil authority in America.
Many Lords will think that some explanation of that conduct in Lord Cornwallis is necessary; and I do not conceive that any explanation could at present be got from Lord Cornwallis.
The Duke of Richmond having called upon me this morning, I had the honour to go with his Grace to your Grace's house, hoping that you were arrived in London. The Duke of Richmond will be early at the House of Lords to-morrow, and intends to desire the House to be summoned for Monday next, in order to make some inquiry in regard to the execution of Colonel Harris, at Charlestown, in America. I will also be early at the House of Lords to-morrow, and I shall then hope to have the opportunity, along with the Duke of Richmond, of having the honour of some more discourse upon the subject matter of your Grace's letter, and that it will not impede your Grace's intentions of some conversation in the House, on the loss of a great army.
I have the honour to be, with great regard,
Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George the Third Volume I Part 1
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