Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George the Third Volume I Part 7

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Pall Mall, Sunday, Dec. 15th, 1782.

My dear Brother,

I am just returned from Lord Shelburne's. He appointed me yesterday to be with him this morning, and I have had a pretty long conversation with him on the subject of Ireland. But it was for the most part so very general, that it is not easy to reduce it to writing.

I began by stating under two distinct heads the original object of my being sent here, and what had since happened. First, that I had been commissioned to explain the grounds on which you had wished to stand against further concessions, your reasons for imagining it doubtful whether that ground could be maintained, and your certain conviction that it could be done only by an immediate dissolution of Parliament. The second point I said was, that, by what had since happened, you apprehended that something further was made necessary, and this was the more evident from the manner in which every one had taken up the business in Ireland.

These two points, of course, led us into a very wide field of conversation. As to the dissolution, I said you certainly would not press the Ministry for any more on the subject, than that, even with a peace, and a remedy to the business of the King's Bench, it should not be delayed beyond the end of January. The great object, he said, was at all events not to meet till October. My answer was, that to you, who were personally to meet the difficulties of an earlier meeting, they certainly would appear quite as strong as they could to him sitting at a distance and speculating upon them. It was therefore by no means a thing to be wished by you, but an evil which circ.u.mstances might render necessary. This led me to a mention of several causes of discontent which might arise or be sought for, and which could only be prevented by the Irish Parliament; such as an infringement, for instance, of the East India monopoly. We went, at different periods of the conversation, a good deal into this business. He threw out an idea, which he said had been often mentioned, and for which a foundation was certainly laid in the last resolution of the English Houses on Irish affairs, if we chose to pursue it. This was the fixing, by a sort of treaty, a commercial system between the two countries, and a proportionable contribution to be paid by Ireland for the general protection of the empire.

When I mentioned the objection to this, founded on the impossibility that Ireland could in her present situation contribute such a quota as would hereafter be even infinitely too small for her share, he answered it by stating the possibility of having a tax on some particular article or description of articles applicable to this purpose, which might be so fixed as to be small at present, very small if necessary, but which might increase with the wealth and commerce of Ireland. On this idea of a settlement, our conversation dwelt a good deal. I expressed my opinion that it would be, in many points of view, a measure of dignity and weight, and particularly advantageous to both countries, as it would leave no ground of contest unexplained. But at the same time I thought the present moment unfavourable for such a step, because it ought not to be taken till Government in Ireland recovered its energy; otherwise, I stated that the wildest idea that could be broached in a newspaper would be adopted by those in whom the real Government of the country resides at the present moment; that, till the Volunteers have in some degree subsided, your Government could only subsist by expedients, painful as such an idea must be to your feelings. I stated also, that if this was to be held out to the country as the satisfaction and security to which they were to look, it would set all their heads afloat forming systems of trade and government; and that it would make the spring meeting absolutely necessary, from the impatience it would excite and the necessity of its being done by Parliament.

From this we went into the present situation of your Government.

Upon this he desired to explain himself, and that I would state to you that he was _inclined to think_, not that he _thought_, your Government would go on more easily there than you expected.

He alluded to De Retz's maxim: "_Le peuple ne se souleve jamais que quand on l'opprime_." To the truth of this I agreed perfectly, but said that the people there are really oppressed, and miserable to a degree I had not at all conceived till I went into the country. That nothing was more usual than for the people to mistake the cause of grievances which they really feel, and that this I apprehended to be the case there. In that case, he said, the remedy was at hand; for that an extended commerce and the wisdom of internal regulations, would relieve the evil, and be a pleasant task to your Government. I answered that such remedies must be gradual, while the situation of Ireland was pressing at this moment; and that perhaps nothing had contributed more to the discontents now prevalent, than the foolish expectations of wealth to be poured like a torrent into the country by a free trade. To this he agreed, but said that laws might certainly be devised by which such remedies might be brought forward and hastened. Then he went into the nature of absentee laws. Direct absentee taxes were, he said, highly objectionable, but many things might be thought of which would produce the effect so reasonably to be wished, that the money arising from land in Ireland should not be spent elsewhere. All methods to raise the value of that land would operate to that effect; because, when the person residing in England saw the means of getting an equivalent, he would certainly prefer an estate at his own door to one in Ireland. Still, however, this would be gradual.

With respect to the Volunteer force, he apprehended less embarra.s.sment from them, because he could not believe that five thousand of them would ever bring themselves to march ten miles together. I said, perhaps not, but that they had each the means of resisting the execution of any law they disliked in their own places of residence; whilst your whole army did not amount, without the Provincials, to six thousand men. And in time of peace, the Provincials were to be disbanded, and only twelve thousand men could be brought back upon the establishment. He asked whether the Provincials could not be made permanent. I said, I apprehended not, and that possibly the attempt would not be wise; for that, although you had, by the most determined perseverance and by an unremitted firmness, carried the point with respect to their being raised, yet I thought that would be sufficient to show the steadiness of Government, without seeking unnecessary grounds of discontent.

There were many other general heads of Irish Government touched upon in the course of the conversation, which I do not now remember. He spoke to the reports about the situation of English Government. I never heard any man, in the whole course of my life, affirm any one thing more distinctly, positively, and unequivocally, than he did, when he told me that Government were upon a sure foundation here. He said that I was too wise to expect him to explain to me upon what grounds he said this, but that it was upon sure grounds; that there was a moral certainty, and as a rational man he proceeded upon it. This language is the more extraordinary, because the opinion of the world in general, I might say of almost every man in London, is directly the reverse. Either, therefore, Lord Shelburne is (not a dissembler, but) the most abandoned and direct liar upon the face of the earth, or he is deceived himself, too grossly to be imagined, or the whole world besides is deceived. Which of these is the case, time will show, and that only; but I cannot bring myself to imagine that the first is. That he wishes you should believe him secure, I can easily imagine, and that he wishes it very strongly; but that he should therefore be induced to pledge himself to so direct a falsehood, which he must know it was my business to repeat to you, and yours to act upon, and which the event of a few weeks must demonstrate to be false if it is so, exceeds my utmost power of belief. That the Duke of Richmond thinks as Lord Shelburne has expressed himself to me, is, I apprehend, most probable, from the very strong compliments he paid him and the flattering language he held to him in the House of Lords on Friday. But this is mere conjecture. What is certain, on the other hand, is that the explanation given by him in the House of Lords of the American treaty does not tally with that of Pitt, Townshend and Conway in the House of Commons, to which nevertheless the three last have positively pledged their faith and honour, that the Cabinet has been postponed because Lord Shelburne was afraid to meet them, and that the report of the day is that Lord Shelburne was outvoted there upon the question of Gibraltar.

After we had gone over a great deal of conversation on these subjects for above an hour and a half, he said that we seemed to agree about all the points on which we had touched. I then mentioned the two main objects--the Dissolution, and the Bill of Satisfaction. To the dissolution, he said he imagined no difficulty would be made to-day in the Cabinet which was to be held; as to the other point, he saw much more objection. It cut up the principle on which our stand had been made. People were not ripe in England to go into the whole question again. The moment a bill of that sort was proposed in the House of Commons, every man would have to give his opinion on the effect of the repeal, on the legal question, and on the right of internal and external legislation. There never was a debate on Irish questions in England that was not misrepresented; and this, together with the acknowledgment of the principle of the insufficiency of what was done last year, would put Mr. Flood on excellent ground. To many of these objections I could not but subscribe, for they strike me very strongly. I wished to know from him his idea on the external legislation. He said he had understood you, when you left England, that you was determined never to cede that. I said, that as his Lords.h.i.+p referred to conversations to which I was no party, I could only say that I had understood you very differently. The distinction between external and internal, he said, was a bad one, as applied to Ireland. It was applied by Fox, who took it from Lord Chatham, by whom it had been adopted, for want of a better expression, in the case of America. I said, the distinction I made was a clear one--that England could, in her own ports, restrain as she pleased the commerce of Ireland; but that it was not in the power of Government, after what had been done (whether wisely or not), to enforce any English Act which was to be executed in Ireland. He said, that this brought us back to the idea of a settlement; and that he should be curious, and indeed it was necessary to the subject, to know what questions about English Acts concerning trade, and what other commercial points would come into discussion in such a settlement. At the same time, he said, the subject was one of those which required conversing with people of information, and which, nevertheless, if any one was consulted upon it, would set the heads of every one afloat.

However, he wished I would turn my thoughts to it, and let him see the points. I then pressed him again upon the head of your Bill; I thought it right to say that I was satisfied on every other head, but that this pressed strongly on my mind. All I wished was, that he would allow me to state to you the difficulties, such as he had mentioned them; but at the same time, to say, that they were overbalanced by an absolute necessity. He said, that he would not suppose that they could be overbalanced.

While I write this, I receive your despatches of the 12th instant. I have immediately enclosed your letter to Townshend, with one from myself, of which I send you a copy, and wait his answer with impatience. I was going on, when I was interrupted by your letters, to state to you, that my conversation with Lord Shelburne closed with his saying that the difficulties were capital, and that he could not believe that they could be overbalanced. I then observed, that a Cabinet was, I understood, to be held to-day. He said yes, and at eleven, and that it was then half-past ten, and therefore I must excuse him. As I had been there above an hour and a half, I could not with any propriety stay any longer.

According to Townshend's directions to me last night, I staid at home the whole morning, under the idea that I was to be sent for, as it was so directed in the King's approbation for the Cabinet being held, which Townshend showed me. Why this was not done, whether the Cabinet has not been held, or whether Lord Shelburne thought he had received information enough for all, I cannot pretend to say. It is certainly unnecessary for me to observe, that the whole of this magnificent idea about a settlement was most probably intended to draw your attention off from the Bill you have proposed. I could do no otherwise than acquiesce in sending it over to you, as I had already stated my belief, confirmed so fully by your authority, that your proposal was necessary, and to the adoption of it, on this ground, I meant, if I could, to have pledged him by my last question; and although he did not accede to what I then asked, yet I think I should not have been justified in not agreeing to state to you his objections--which certainly have their weight, especially as he proposed an expedient in the room of yours, though insufficient and improper for the reasons which, as I told you above, I mentioned to him. I forgot to state in its proper place that I reminded him of the danger which was almost inevitable, that some enemy to Government would take the business up, if not immediately done by Ministry themselves.

Half-past Eleven, P.M.

I have just received the enclosed answer from Townshend; and though it contains nothing, yet I cannot but feel too much for your impatience to delay till Wednesday night the acknowledging your despatches, and the a.s.suring you that there shall be no remissness whatever on my part to follow up this business as much as possible, and to press it forward in this strange scene of procrastination. Nothing can make me happier than your approbation of my conduct, and your kind disposition to trust so much to that most unfeigned affection with which I am,

My dearest brother, Ever yours, W. W. Grenville.

P.S.--I mean to-morrow to write to Lord Shelburne, stating that you have sent over a fresh despatch to Mr. Townshend, and referring him to that for the absolute necessity of adopting your proposal, which still leaves room for his settlement, if it is thought proper and expedient. The one will remove the present difficulty, the other prevent the rise of any fresh source of discord. But how far the latter can or ought at this time to be taken up, is with me very doubtful. If I get on Wednesday such an answer as I wish, you shall see me very soon.


Pall Mall, Dec. 20th, 1782.

My dear Brother,

I am still unable to send you any final answer, although I must confess that I think we approach much nearer to it than we have done yet.

The Cabinet met yesterday. As I was not quite satisfied with what I had said the day before on the subject of recognition, and of the preamble, I thought it better to put a few words to paper, and to send them to Townshend. I enclose a copy of that paper and the letter which went with it. They were delivered to Townshend during the Cabinet. I heard nothing at all from him last night.

This morning I was surprised and shocked--and I cannot say which I was most--by seeing in the papers the conversation which had pa.s.sed in the House on the subject of Ireland, of which Fitzpatrick, though it was evidently a concerted thing, had not thought proper to give me any notice whatever. I immediately resolved to say something about it in the House to-day.

Accordingly I sent a note to Townshend, desiring to be allowed to wait upon him in the morning. I told him my intention, and questioned him upon the subject of the Cabinet. He showed me, what (he said) was not properly a minute, but a memorandum taken there. I could not copy that, but as soon as I came home I endeavoured to recollect it, and believe the enclosed is very near the words. This I said immediately was only losing time, and that it was very useless for him to trouble himself with writing such a despatch, as I would take upon myself to make your answer to the two points it contained: First, that the bill you had sent over was drawn expressly to avoid the question of what _had been_ the right, as it declared only what _is_ now the right; and that if there was to be any reservation as to its being now the right, I would only say that this would be the most disgraced country in Europe. As to the other point, I knew perfectly that every step you had taken was with a full knowledge of the circ.u.mstances of the case, because I had sent them over to you myself a few days after my arrival in London.

That being the case, Townshend said he would not write, but state these things to the Cabinet, which was to meet again either to-morrow or the next day; I do not positively remember which. I then stated to him what I meant to say to-day, in which he acquiesced. He told me General Conway wished to see me, as he thought that he had struck out an idea which might answer effectually; and he showed me a few words which were to explain this idea. They were in the form of a resolution, and went only to say, that Great Britain had, by the repeal, renounced all thoughts of exercising any right to make laws to bind Ireland.

You may easily guess the answer which I made to this.

From Townshend I went to Conway. Him I found very strongly impressed with Lord B.'s ideas about renunciation, complete satisfaction, and the effect of a declaratory law, and of the repeal of it, which, he said, left things as they were before. I combated all this very strongly, and at last got him to acquiesce in the idea of a recognition, provided that the words were such as not to imply that England _never had_ the right. I said that I conceived, as this was merely a point of honour, and not a reservation of anything to be exercised in future, that all that Government could desire was to use such words as should not _necessarily_ imply that the right never existed; that this was expressly the description of the words in your bill, which were so drawn as to go only to present right, and yet so as to be very satisfactory to Ireland. In all this he acquiesced, and then wished that some notice might be given in the "Dublin Gazette;" that the cause had only been heard because it was pending before; and that after the holidays, something satisfactory would be done. I answered as to the first, that after the opinion delivered privately by the Chancellor, and in the House of Commons, as I had understood, by the Attorney-General, that even a new cause could not be rejected by the Judges, such a ground would be a very bad one to take. To this he agreed. As to the other point, I said that it was my intention to state it in the House of Commons, which I apprehended would answer nearly the same purpose. He a.s.sented to this also, and so I left him. I then went to the House of Commons; there I saw Townshend, and asked him what day the Parliament was to meet after Christmas, because I thought it would give more solemnity if I gave notice for a particular day, and moved for a call on that day; and that the earlier it was, the better it would be. He said they met on the 21st. I proposed that day, and he agreed. Hartley rose at the same time with me, and being called to, moved for a call on the 22nd. I then got up and said, that if I had not been prevented, I was going to have moved it for the 21st; but I would now trouble the House only to give notice that on that day a very important business would be brought before them on the subject of Ireland; that I had understood that a conversation had taken place the day before on that subject; that I lamented exceedingly that I had been so unfortunate as to be absent at that time, because if I had been there I should have thought it my duty to have stated to the House, in justice to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, that the business in question had been submitted by you to the consideration of Government, and had been in the contemplation of the King's servants a considerable time before any notice had been given of a motion to be made upon it by a n.o.ble Lord in the House; that I wished further, in justice to you, to say, that "there was no man in either kingdom more decidedly of opinion that the good faith of Great Britain was solemnly pledged to Ireland, by the repeal of the 6th Geo. I., in the last sessions, upon the avowed and explained principle of putting an end to every idea of legislation and jurisdiction over that kingdom; and that there was no man more eagerly desirous than you, that that faith so pledged, and upon that principle so explained, should be religiously adhered to and maintained, as the national honour and national interest required it should be maintained, sacred and inviolable."

This brought up Lord Beauchamp, who began by a.s.suring and protesting that the part he had taken was upon the best motives, &c., &c. He then went into the question of the writ of error, how far it could have been rejected, and how useless it was in Ireland, &c., &c. He then said that it was a point of parliamentary fairness, that when one person had given notice of a motion, it should be left to him, and not taken up in the meantime by any other person.

I answered, that as to the n.o.ble Lord's motives, he must do me the justice to say that _I_ had been perfectly silent on that head. That with respect to the question about the writ of error, neither did I conceive this to be a proper time for that discussion. But that with regard to parliamentary fairness, I did not imagine that His Majesty's Government would think themselves justified in postponing so important a question, and which would have been brought on before the recess if there had been time, merely because the n.o.ble Lord meant to move something about it at a distant day.

This ended the conversation on the subject; except that I added that the n.o.ble Lord had misunderstood me when he imagined that _I_ was to move the business on the 21st, as I _apprehended_ that it was the intention of Government to do it.

I cannot help thinking that by this, which has been done entirely without the concurrence or even knowledge of Lord Shelburne, we have gained a great point. By giving such a notice, speaking from the Treasury bench in the hearing of, and backed by Townshend and Pitt, I have most undoubtedly pledged Government to do something on that day. If that is short of your wishes, see in what a situation they stand; if not, you are landed. In the meantime the notice and the explicit declaration made in your name must surely be infinitely useful to you in Ireland.

I wait with great impatience the final decision of the Cabinet.

Conway's expression was, that he conceived there was no objection to any preamble which had not a retrospect. If we can convince them that ours has none, or frame one not quite so strong, but very near it, think what ground we stand upon, in having obtained something stronger and more advantageous to the interests of Ireland than any renunciation whatever. "For this we must thank" Mansfield, who has certainly extricated us from a scene of considerable difficulty.

If it could be done without great inconvenience to you in Ireland, I should be very desirous either of coming back here, in case I get away soon enough, or if not, of staying here till the 21st; because I am convinced my presence here is of infinite moment, to prevent their being frightened at the time into any weakening of the preamble, and to goad them on to do something.

For you see, even in this case, the objection was not so much to the taking any particular step, as to the doing anything at all; and when forced to that, and driven from their intrenchments of indolence and delay, you see how much they are inclined to take the measures you wish. But this shall be decided by your wishes on the subject, unless I should set out before I receive them.

I say nothing of the dissolution; I have not, however, lost sight of that, and will press it to-morrow; but I thought the other the more important point, having so fine an opening, which I trust you will think I have not neglected.

D'Ivernois is come. He was with me this morning, and comes again to-morrow. He says the business goes on at Geneva far better than he could have expected, owing to the Const.i.tution which the mediating powers have given them, which appears truly, what he states it, worse than that of Venice.

Believe me, my dear brother, Ever most affectionately yours, W. W. G.


Pall Mall, Dec. 23rd, 1782.

My dear Brother,

When I wrote last to you, I expressed considerable hopes that this tedious business was drawing near to a conclusion, and that Government here would at last consent to grant the happiness and peace of Great Britain and Ireland, to solicitations that I should have been ashamed to have employed for any private object, however near to me. These hopes are, I must confess, weakened by my conversation of this morning with Townshend. I can plainly see that he is himself personally disposed to comply with your wishes. I can as plainly see that a greater and more powerful minister sets himself against them.

Dec. 24th, 1782.

So far I had written yesterday, when I resolved to delay writing further to you till to-day, on account of the promise which Townshend gave me that he would see Lord Shelburne last night, and press him upon the subject.

I have been with Townshend again this morning, and yet have nothing like a decided answer to give you. He told me that Thurlow made the most difficulty, but that Dunning seems to be entirely with us. Yesterday he said that Shelburne talked much of the advantages of holding high language. What the tenor of Conway's language was, I have stated to you before. Of the rest I know nothing. I own I am rather in doubt whether Lord Shelburne acts upon a system of resuming, or only of gaining time; neither of them is very pleasant or flattering to you.

Townshend appears to me to be most heartily and sincerely with you; nothing can be more explicit than his language was to that point. He complained of irresponsible Cabinet Ministers, and seemed to throw it upon that. I then stated your impatience, what you must feel, and asked how you could go on? I took out of my pocket your three letters to me, of the 12th and 14th instant, and read him such extracts as I thought would _express_ your opinion and your impatience, and would pretty strongly _imply_ though not _express_ your determination upon the subject of resigning. He took the hint, and said that he could not wonder at any resolution you might take, and that he had told the Cabinet so. To this I answered, that it was right for me not to conceal from _him_ (though I did not mean it as a _formal_ declaration), that you certainly would not stay a moment there, if you found the proposal of a Bill of recognition either negatived or put off longer. He repeated that he could not wonder at it. He then charged me with a commission to write to you this evening, and to say that although nothing was yet done, he would labour to the utmost of his power that your wishes should be complied with, and that he hoped to bring the business to a conclusion _in a very few days_; that in the meantime he thought that his writing an official despatch, which should not be explicit, would be by no means pleasant to you. In this I agreed most fully.

The difficulty, he told me, lay in bringing them to think of anything but the peace, by which you see that business is still _en train_.

This consideration makes me less eager than I should otherwise be to cut the matter short. I continue to think, that if they are sufficiently pressed, you will carry your point; because I am fully persuaded they will not push you to the wall. In the meantime they feel the situation into which the notice for the House of Commons has thrown them; for Townshend expressed his satisfaction at it to-day, and said it lay a necessity on Government to do something.

While I am writing this, I receive your letters of the 21st. The despatch will, I think, have a good effect in pressing the thing forward, and a.s.sisting the exertions which I sincerely believe Townshend will make. At the same time, as it must now be the 27th at soonest before you can receive this letter, which leaves everything exactly where my last despatches to you did, I should think upon the receipt of it you would do well to write a letter to Townshend, rather demanding than requesting an immediate answer.

What I mean is (if you should approve of the idea), that you should say, "that after having so repeatedly stated the grounds of your proposal, to which you can now add nothing," (because any reasoning of yours brings on more discussion) "except that every day gives fresh force to them, you have nothing left but to request, as your situation ent.i.tles you to do, that you may at last have an immediate and explicit answer, in order that on the one hand you may not disgrace your personal honour and the faith of Great Britain by continuing to pledge them to a.s.surances which are not to be performed, nor on the other hand appear by remaining in your situation without a favourable answer, to countenance a system which your own mind informs you to be at once unjust and impracticable." If you think the expressions too strong, or not sufficiently so, you will weaken or aggravate them; but I am very impatient to receive some such letter, which shall _not_ enter into reasons or discussion on a subject so completely exhausted, but shall manifest your own intention, which I am convinced will operate more strongly than all the argument in the world.

You will perhaps say that I have already in my possession such a paper. But I must own I feel great difficulty in fixing the exact moment when to make use of it, and when to say that I can no longer in justice to you give credit to a.s.surances of an immediate determination so often repeated and so often found fallacious. With you, who have received none such, there is no such difficulty. Besides, the letter in my hands can only operate as an actual resignation on your behalf, and authorized by you; whereas the letter from you, which I propose, would operate as a threat, and by that means prevent, I believe, the event itself; or if not, it would at least convince your feelings, as well as mine, most unequivocally of the absolute necessity for taking such a measure, as the only one by which you could preserve either integrity of character or uprightness of conduct. Such a letter might, if the winds do not prevent it, be here in a week from this day; and before that time I am most thoroughly convinced I shall receive not a single word further than I have already. With such a letter to deliver to Townshend, I should think myself authorized to _demand_ a Cabinet; or if I could not obtain that, to make use of your former letter, and desire from you that I might see the King, to state to him your sense of the impracticability of such a system, and of the certainty that Government will be compelled in October to make concessions without gaining any advantage by them, infinitely greater than what would in January conciliate the affections of all Ireland.

Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George the Third Volume I Part 7

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