Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George the Third Volume I Part 27
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Stowe, Dec. 29th, Half-past One.
I am sorry that you should have had the trouble of acknowledging at so late a period a letter which was indeed very interesting to me, but to which I have not even expected any answer for the last eight weeks; and I perfectly agree with you, "that it would be of little use to enter in[to] particulars" respecting the considerations so immediately affecting my credit, a[nd?]
honour, which we certainly view so differently. If any communication had been wished for from me upon these points, upon which it was known by Mr. Grenville and by you that I was not indifferent, I should have thought it my duty of friendship to have stated my reasons for being confident that the new Irish arrangements cannot be useful, upon the same principles as have been thought (by you) sufficient to bury former distinctions of party in this country: I have already stated to you my reasons for considering the recal of Mr. Ponsonby and of his friends to power and confidence in Ireland as a most dangerous measure, and as a departure from a system to which His Majesty's Government was pledged, not only with your approbation, but with your strong and decided opinion. I have likewise stated the reasons why I consider such a measure, unaccompanied with any mark to me of the King's approbation of my conduct, as the strongest disavowal of my Government in Ireland, and (not to use harsh expressions) as the most personal offence to me. In that point of view I know that it has been almost universally considered in Ireland; because the natural intemperance of those to whom I feel myself sacrificed has not been controlled by any proof of the interest which it had been supposed you would have felt naturally in whatever so nearly concerned me. And with these impressions, I felt strongly the kindness of my brother, Mr.
Grenville, who endeavoured to calm those feelings, and to suggest various marks of favour (if you should approve them) which did not appear to him precluded by any difficulties of which he was aware.
And by that kindness I was induced to acquiesce in his wish to be permitted to open to you an idea which I find that Mr.
Grenville and you consider (in part of it) as strongly objectionable, as hazardous to Government, and as unwise on my part. As I cannot think of accepting the peerage for my second son under such circumstances, I have only to express my regrets that the idea ever has been opened to you. I was never very particularly attached to it, and certainly feel the full force of your arguments against it; but I likewise feel as fully that the arrangements which you have taken, with your eyes open to the consequences (as far as I am concerned in the question), leave me without alternative. I need not add that the consequences of this must be most painful to me from reflections embittered by the warm affection I bore to those who view all this so differently from me.
I have, from attention to you, sent back your messenger immediately. I have, therefore, hardly had time to consider the expressions of this letter. I shall, therefore, thank you if (notwithstanding your press of business) you will, from recollection of former habits, be kind enough to give me one line, to tell me whether I have made myself understood or not; and you will likewise think it necessary to give me some answer respecting your _engagement_ to Mr. Gamon, in August last, to include him in the _first list_ of Baronets. If you wish for a copy of your letter on that subject, you shall have it, but an immediate explanation to him from you, as well as me, is absolutely necessary.
I am, with very sincere regrets, and with the deepest sensations of pain for what has passed, and for what is yet to come,
Dear Sir, Your very obedient and humble servant, N. T.
Mr. Pitt's Administration--Lord Temple Created Marquis of Buckingham--His Private Notes on the Coalition.
The relative position of parties at the opening of 1784 was singular and unprecedented. The exultation of the public on the dismissal of the late Ministers, and the accession of Mr. Pitt to power, afforded the undeniable proof that the people were with the Sovereign and his advisers. Addresses of thanks and congratulation poured in from the municipal and corporate bodies in all parts of the kingdom, who felt their privileges endangered by the East India Bills, expressing the gratitude of the country to His Majesty for the vigour and resolution with which he had acted. The Coalition, nevertheless, still wielded a powerful majority in the Commons, with which they continued to harass the Cabinet, in spite of those demonstrations of public opinion which plainly warned them that, long as they might succeed in protracting the struggle, it could end only in disaster and defeat. The King and the Cabinet were, in short, brought into open hostility with the Commons by the persevering resistance of that unnatural and unprincipled combination which, stung by recent failure and disgrace, now manifested greater virulence than ever. Two days after the reassembling of Parliament, in January, Mr. Pitt introduced his India Bill. It was immediately rejected by the Commons. This was his first defeat. Every subsequent movement of the Government was frustrated in the same way.
All the resources of parliamentary tactics were resorted to for the purpose of dislodging the Minister. Resolutions were passed declaring that the late changes were not calculated to conciliate the House, and that the continuance in office of the new Ministers was injurious to the interests of both King and people; and, finding that these resolutions failed of the desired effect, more violent measures were adopted. The Mutiny Bill was postponed, and the appropriation of the supplies was suspended.
In this desperate state of affairs, it appeared to be absolutely impossible to carry on the business of the country; and, driven to the last extremity, negotiations were opened with the Duke of Portland, in the hope of appeasing the Opposition, and strengthening the hands of Government. But the Duke of Portland made demands which were incompatible with the dignity of the Minister, and which only tended to increase the difficulty of the situation. It is believed that he went so far as to stipulate for Mr. Pitt's resignation. Mr. Pitt, however, refused to resign, and the negotiation was broken off. Throughout the whole of this contest, Mr. Pitt maintained an attitude of firmness, and displayed an amount of ability which greatly increased his popularity.
The Opposition, powerful as it was, finally gave way under his undaunted spirit, their numbers daily diminishing as the inutility of perseverance became more and more evident, until at length he reduced the majority against him to one on a vote of confidence. At this point the Coalition vanished. It was not, however, till the month of March that he succeeded in crushing his formidable opponents; and having thus demonstrated the real strength of his Government by the most constitutional means, he dissolved the Parliament--an alternative which a less confident and conscientious Minister might have justifiably availed himself of long before. The appeal to the people was enthusiastically responded to; and when the next Parliament met, an amendment on the Address, moved by Lord Surrey, was rejected by a majority of 76. Mr. Pitt's Government was now established on the firmest basis.
Throughout these proceedings, Lord Temple maintained a strict reserve.
Except when his opinions were solicited on the subject of Ireland, he does not appear to have tendered his advice, or in any form to have identified himself with the Government. His regard for Mr. Pitt isolated him from a prominent participation in public affairs at this crisis; for as he would not act against the Administration, and was precluded from the opportunity of serving it as he desired to do, no choice was left to him but that of a friendly neutrality. He still continued, notwithstanding, to feel a deep interest in Irish affairs; but it was limited almost exclusively to his private letters, and even in this shape he abstained from all direct interference. Lord Northington, who is said to have been invited by Mr. Pitt to retain the Lord-Lieutenancy, remained in office till February, when he was displaced by the Duke of Rutland. In the interval, Lord Temple's silence on all matters relating to the government of that country, has left scarcely any traces of his feelings or opinions in the scanty correspondence of this period.
On the 8th of January, writing to General Cuninghame, whom he had formerly recommended to the command in Ireland for his "superior fitness," and who had recently applied for it on the resignation of General Burgoyne, he intimates his position very clearly:
Variety of circumstances have placed me in a situation wholly divested of power or of official information; so that in the present moment I do not even know whether General Burgoyne is still in command or not; still less do I know the ideas of Government upon it.
General Cuninghame, in reply, expresses the regret which he felt, in common with others, that his Lordship, who had occupied so conspicuous a place in the favour of the King during the late ministerial crisis, had relinquished the power which His Majesty had invested him with.
For a thousand reasons, public and private, I am sorry you found yourself under the necessity of resigning the Seals, and for the same thousand reasons I hope your Lordship will soon again accept of office.
The resignation of the Seals, here alluded to, was a step Lord Temple felt himself called upon to take by a nice and punctilious sense of honour; but which, upon a broader view of the exigencies of the public service, and the peculiar demands of the occasion, could not have been considered imperative. It had reference to the resolution of the Commons, impugning as a high crime and misdemeanour the circulation of the opinions of the King, with a view to influence the decision of Parliament. That resolution was avowedly pointed at Lord Temple; and in order that he might be enabled, without embarrassing the Sovereign or the Government, to meet any subsequent action which the Commons might think fit to found upon it, Lord Temple resigned. His chivalry, however, was a mere waste of that generous self-abnegation which characterized his whole public life. The Commons never proceeded any farther in the matter.
In another letter to General Cuninghame, dated 1st of March, Lord Temple expresses his regret that his recommendation of that officer to His Majesty had not the effect he desired, and again assures him that he possesses no power or influence with the Administration.
I am favoured with your letter upon General Pitt's appointment.
I need not repeat that if I had continued in Ireland, I should have shown every attention to your wishes. In my present situation I neither have been nor can be consulted in official arrangements. My warm affection and near relationship towards the Duke of Rutland and Mr. Pitt have disposed me to give them the best advice which my experience in Ireland could suggest to me; and in the course of these communications, your pretensions to the command were stated with every advantage.
General Cuninghame replies by declaring that he considers himself very ill-used, after having supported the British Government in Ireland for thirty-three years in Parliament; but adds: "Why should I complain to my benefactor, who has it not in his power to relieve me?"
Amongst the Irish correspondents who continued to look up to Lord Temple as the statesman who best understood the circumstances and wants of the country, was Colonel Martin, the owner of the vast estates of Connemara, who afterwards acquired a special reputation in the Imperial Parliament, by his Bill for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. At the period when he was in correspondence with Lord Temple, the humanity for which he was subsequently distinguished did not, it is said, extend to his own species; for no man, in a land notorious for feudal violence, enjoyed a wider celebrity as a duellist. From a letter written in the July of this year, the following extract may be inserted, as being strikingly characteristic both of the writer and the state of society over which, in those belligerent days, men of such grave temperaments as the Grenvilles were called upon to preside.
You have perhaps heard already of my affair at Castlebar with Mr. Fitzgerald. On the 14th I went to Castlebar, where with some difficulty and after the use of language not very consonant to my feelings, I prevailed on Mr. Fitzgerald to meet me in the barrack-yard. When I took my first ground, I was distant about eight yards from him, but on his declaring in a vaunting manner that we were not near enough, I told him he should not have reason to complain on that head, and accordingly I advanced within less than five yards to him, and said he had it in his power to make it much nearer. We both fired about the same time; he missed me, but my shot entered his waistcoat and passed along his breast and grazed his arm. He then called to me not to fire again until he recovered his pistol, on which I declared I would wait any time he chose. When he was ready, we fired as before; my shot hit him just above the waistband of his breeches and got out on the opposite side of his waistcoat. I was wounded in the breast, but very slightly; and I am at present so well as to be able to travel anywhere in my carriage.
Mr. Fitzgerald shows his clothes to every person, but declares he is not wounded; for my part, I will not declare my reasons for believing him to be unhurt. On the ground he declared himself sorry for the offence, and that he was _wounded_. For the last I declared my sorrow, so everything ended.
Although Lord Temple throughout this year, as he observes in one of his letters, "lived too little in the political world" to evince much interest in its vicissitudes, the honours which his official career had so well earned followed him into private life. Towards the close of 1784, he was created Marquis of Buckingham.
In his retirement, however, he was not an inattentive observer of public affairs, and seems to have contemplated the design of drawing up an account of that memorable struggle of parties of which he had been a witness, and especially of the transactions in which he had been directly and personally concerned. That he did not carry this design into execution, and that nothing remains of it but the following fragment, is much to be regretted, as few men were so well qualified by experience, knowledge and ability, to become the historian of these events. The fragment, for it is nothing more, breaking off at the most interesting point of the narrative, which it was evidently the writer's intention to pursue to the close, is printed with the title, and exactly in the form in which it was left by Lord Temple. It is hardly necessary to remark that there is an error in the date, which has reference to the months of November and December, 1783, and not 1784, a mistake which probably arose from the circumstance of these notes having been put together in the latter year.
LORD BUCKINGHAM'S PRIVATE NOTES.
I have much lamented that, during the very interesting period of November and December, of 1784, I did not keep a regular journal of the transactions of those months, in which I am supposed to have borne so principal a share. Many of the minuter springs which guided those operations have slipped my memory, from the multiplicity of them, and from the rapidity with which they crowded upon each other during the latter busy days, ending with the formation of the new Ministry on the 21st of December, 1784.
It will, however, be necessary for me to take this narrative from an earlier period, necessarily connected with it--I mean the formation of the Government known by the name of the Coalition Ministry.
I was in Ireland during that period, and was not uninformed, authentically, of the disposition on the part of Lord North to have supported the Ministry of Lord Shelburne upon terms of provision for his friends, very short of those which he afterwards claimed and extorted from Mr. Fox. It was clearly known to Lord Shelburne, that no official arrangement was proposed by Lord North for himself; and, to say truth, those of his friends for whom he wished provision to be made, were at least as unexceptionable as many, I may even add as most of those whom Lord Shelburne had collected from the two former Administrations. The infatuation, however, which pervaded the whole of his Government, operated most forcibly in this instance. The affectation of holding the ostensible language of Mr. Pitt, in 1759, is only mentioned to show the ridiculous vanity of the Minister who, unsupported by public success, or by the parliamentary knowledge and man[oe]uvre of a Duke of Newcastle, not only held it, but acted upon it, professing, in his own words, to "know nothing of the management of a House of Commons, and to throw himself upon the people alone for support." This farce operated as it might be expected; and although the negotiation between Lord North and Mr. Fox was matter of perfect notoriety for several weeks, those moments were suffered to pass away without any attempt to avail himself of the various difficulties which presented themselves, at the different periods of that discussion, till, at the very eve of the ratification of it, Mr. Pitt was employed by his Lordship to open propositions, through Mr. Fox, to that party. This was rejected _in toto_; and the events which followed the meeting of Parliament, are too well known to make a detail of them necessary.
Before I proceed I wish to add, that although I have treated the vanity and personal arrogance of Lord Shelburne as it deserves, yet I will do him justice in acknowledging his merit, as one of the quickest and most indefatigable Ministers that this country ever saw. Many of his public measures were the result of a great and an informed mind, assisted by a firm and manly vigour. And I must ever think the Peace, attended with all its collateral considerations, the most meritorious and happiest event for a kingdom exhausted of men and of credit. I was not pledged in the slightest degree to the measure; for, by my absence in Ireland, and my little connection with his Lordship, I was enabled to judge of it with coolness and impartiality; and from the knowledge of the various difficulties attending it, I am convinced that better terms could not be obtained, and that the further prosecution of the war was impracticable, even if the combination against us allowed the hope of success. This testimony I have wished to bear, though it is not immediately connected with my purpose.
Upon the resignation of Lord Shelburne, His Majesty was placed in a situation in which, through the various events of his reign, he never had yet found himself. The man[oe]uvres which he tried, at different periods of the six weeks during which this country was left literally without a Government, are well known.
Perhaps nothing can paint the situation of his mind so truly, as a letter which he wrote to me on the 1st of April: this was an answer to one which I thought it necessary to address to him from Ireland, after receiving from him a message and a general detail of his situation, through Mr. W. Grenville, to whom he opened himself very confidentially upon the general state of the kingdom.
Upon my return to England, I was honoured with every public attention from His Majesty, who ostensibly held a language upon my subject, calculated to raise in the strongest degree the jealousy of his servants. In the audience which I asked, as a matter of course, after being presented at his levee, he recapitulated all the transactions of that period, with the strongest encomium upon Mr. Pitt, and with much apparent acrimony hinted at Lord Shelburne, whom he stated to have abandoned a situation which was tenable, and particularly so after the popular resentment had been roused. This was naturally attended with strong expressions of resentment and disgust of his Ministers, and of personal abhorrence of Lord North, whom he charged with treachery and ingratitude of the blackest nature.
He repeated that, to such a Ministry he never would give his confidence, and that he would take the first moment for dismissing them. He then stated the proposition made to him by the Duke of Portland, for the annual allowance of 100,000 to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. I gave to him, very much at length, my opinion of such a measure, and of the certain consequences of it: in all which, as may reasonably be supposed, His Majesty ran before me, and stated with strong disgust the manner in which it was opened to him--as a thing _decided_, and even drawn up in the shape of a message, to which his signature was desired as a matter of course, to be brought before Parliament the next day. His Majesty declared himself to be decided to resist this attempt, and to push the consequences to their full extent, and to try the spirit of the Parliament and of the people upon it. I thought it my duty to offer to him my humble advice to go on with his Ministers, if possible, in order to throw upon them the ratification of the Peace, which they professed to intend to ameliorate, and to give them scope for those mountains of reform, which would inevitably come very short of the expectations of the public. From these public measures, and from their probable dissension, I thought that His Majesty might look forward to a change of his Ministers in the autumn; and that, as the last resource, a dissolution of this Parliament, chosen by Lord North and occasionally filled by Mr.
Fox, might offer him the means of getting rid of the chains which pressed upon him. To all this he assented; but declared his intention to resist, at all events and hazards, the proposition for this enormous allowance to His Royal Highness, of whose conduct he spoke with much dissatisfaction. He asked, what he might look to if upon this refusal the Ministry should resign: and I observed, that, not having had the opportunity of consulting my friends, I could only answer that their resignation was a proposition widely differing from their dismissal, and that I did not see the impossibility of accepting his Administration in such a contingency, provided the supplies and public bills were passed, so as to enable us to prorogue the Parliament. To all this he assented, and declared his intention of endeavouring to gain time, that the business of Parliament might go on; and agreed with me that such a resignation was improbable, and that it would be advisable not to dismiss them, unless some very particular opportunity presented itself.
The Breach Between the Marquis of Buckingham and Mr. Thomas Grenville.
Mr. Pitt's Government was now reaping all the advantages of peace and security. The lull that followed the termination of the American War and the dispersion of the Coalition, enabled the Minister to consolidate his power and develop his plans. Lord North, who had the misfortune not long afterwards to lose his eyesight, was receding from the arena on which he had acted so remarkable a part during the preceding fourteen years; and Mr. Fox and his adherents, returning again to their own natural orbit, were vindicating their integrity and consistency in the maintenance of a constitutional Opposition. Faction, weakened and dismembered, had fallen before the genius of Mr. Pitt.
The principal measure in the Cabinet in 1785 was a Bill for the reform of the representation in Parliament, by which Mr. Pitt proposed to transfer the franchises of thirty-six boroughs to counties and unrepresented towns. A clause in this Bill, for giving pecuniary compensation to the disfranchised boroughs, was fatal to its reception.
Mr. Fox laid down the maxim, that the franchise was not a property, but a trust: the House adopted that view of the question, and the Bill was lost. But Mr. Pitt, nevertheless, discharged his pledge to the public by thus initiating the principle of parliamentary reform.
The Marquis of Buckingham still continued a passive spectator of public events, and the correspondence of this period possesses consequently little political interest. We learn by a letter from his brother, Mr. W.
Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George the Third Volume I Part 27
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