It must be admitted that the question of breach of privilege was somewhat more complicated than Lord Cochrane considered. His opponents did not think with him that he was still a member of the House of Commons. That membership had been taken from him, formally, though wrongfully, by his expulsion on the 5th of July, and he had himself recognized the expulsion by accepting re-election from the constituents of Westminster on the 16th of the same month. According to precedent, however, that re-election could not be perfected until the customary oaths had been taken; and, through a trick contrived in the clerks' office, he was hindered from taking them before the arrival of the marshal and his consequent arrest. Yet there can be no doubt that, in the special circumstances of the case, this arrest was especially indecorous, and, in the method of effecting it, altogether illegal. If he had no right in the House of Commons, he was a common trespasser, and ought to have been at once removed by the servants of the House, who alone could have power to touch him within the walls. To allow him a seat therein, without molestation, until the arrival of the servants of the King's Bench Prison, and then to allow those servants to enter the House and act upon an authority that could there be no authority, was wholly unwarrantable, a gross insult to Lord Cochrane, and, to the customs of the House of Commons, an insult yet more gross. But to the hardship and the insult alike the House of Commons, servile in its devotion to the Government of the day, was blind.
A miserable farce ensued. While the House was sitting, a few hours after Lord Cochrane's capture, a letter from the Marshal of the King's Bench was read by the Speaker, in which his bold act was formally reported and apologized for. "I humbly hope," he there said, "that I have not committed any breach of privilege by the steps I have taken; and that, if I have done wrong, it will be attributed to error in judgment, and not to any intention of doing anything that might give offence."
The short debate that followed the reading of that letter is very noteworthy. Lord Castlereagh spoke first, and dictated the view to be taken by all loyal members of the House. "From the nature of the arrest and the circumstances attending it, I do not think, sir," he said, "that the House is called upon to interfere. I am not aware, as the House was not actually sitting, with the mace on the table and the Speaker in the chair, when the arrest took place, that any breach of privilege has been committed. It must be quite obvious to every man that the marshal has not acted wilfully in violation of the privileges of the House. No blame can attach to him, since he has submitted himself to the judgment of the House of Commons after having done that which he considered his duty as a civil officer. Having had Lord Cochrane in his custody, from which he escaped, the marshal was bound not to pass over any justifiable means of putting him under arrest whenever a fair opportunity occurred."
Most of the members thought, with Lord Castlereagh, that this was a "fair opportunity." Only one, Mr. Tierney—and he very feebly—ventured to express an opposite opinion. "I consider this," he said, "to be the case of a member regularly elected to serve in Parliament, and coming down to take his seat. Now, sir, the House is regularly adjourned until ten o'clock in the morning; and I recollect occasions when the Speaker did take the chair at that hour. Suppose, then, a member, about to take his seat, came down here at an early hour, with the proper documents in his hand, and desired to be instructed in the mode of proceeding, and, while waiting, an officer entered, arrested him, and took his person away, would not this be a case to call for the interference of the House?" Mr. Tierney admitted that he approved of Lord Cochrane's arrest, but feared it might become a precedent and be put to the "improper purpose" of sanctioning the arrest of members more deserving of consideration.
To please him, and to satisfy the formalities, therefore, the question was referred to a committee of privileges. This committee reported, on the 23rd of March, "that, under the particular circumstances, it did not appear that the privileges of Parliament had been violated, so as to call for the interposition of the House;" and the House of Commons being satisfied with that opinion, no further attention was paid to the subject.
In the meanwhile Lord Cochrane was being punished, with inexcusable severity, for his contempt of the authority of Lord Ellenborough and Mr. Jones. A member of the House, during the discussion of the 21st of March, had said that he had just come from the King's Bench Prison. "I found Lord Cochrane," he had averred, "confined there in a strong room, fourteen feet square, without windows, fireplace, table, or bed. I do not think it can be necessary for the purpose of security to confine him in this manner. According to my own feelings, it is a place unfit for the noble lord, or for any other person whatsoever."
In this Strong Room, however, Lord Cochrane was detained for more than three weeks. It was partly underground, devoid of ventilation or necessary warmth, and, according to the testimony of Dr. Buchan, one of the physicians who visited him in it, "rendered extremely damp and unpleasant by the exudations coming through the wall."
On being taken to this den immediately after his capture, Lord Cochrane was informed by Mr. Jones that he would be detained in it for a short time only, until the apartments over the lobby of the prison were prepared for his reception. That was done in a few days; but no intimation of a change was made until the 1st of April, when a message to that effect was sent to the prisoner. On the following day he received a letter from Mr. Jones informing him that, if he would anticipate the payment of the fine of 1000l. levied against him, and would also pledge himself, and give security for the keeping of the promise, to make no further effort to escape, he might be allowed to occupy the more comfortable quarters. "It is no new thing," said Lord Cochrane, "for a prisoner to escape or to be retaken; but to require of any prisoner a bond and securities not to repeat such escape was, I think, a proposition without precedent, and such as the marshal knew could not be complied with by me without humiliation, and therefore could not be proposed by him without insult. Besides, he had my assurance that if I were again to quit his custody (which I gave him no reason to believe I should attempt, and which, as I observed and believe, it was as easy for me to effect from that room as from any other part of the prison), I should proceed no further than to the House of Commons, and that where he found me before he might find me again; I having had no other object in view than that of expressing, by some peculiar act, the keen sense which I entertained of peculiar injustice, and of endeavouring to bring such additional proofs of that injustice before the House as were not in my possession when I was heard in my defence." Mr. Jones, however, resolved to keep his captive in the Strong Room, unless he would promise to resign himself to captivity in a less obnoxious part of the prison.
Even for that negative favour the marshal took great credit to himself in a document which he issued at the time. "If a humane and kind concern for this unfortunate nobleman," he there averred, "had not softened the solicitude which I naturally felt for my own security, I could have committed him, on my own warrant for the escape, to the new gaol in Horsemonger Lane, for the space of a month; and that power is still within my jurisdiction. Had I thought proper to exercise it, Lord Cochrane would then have been confined in a solitary cell with a stone floor, with windows impenetrably barred and without glass; nor would it have proved half the size of the Strong Room in the King's Bench, which has a boarded floor and glazed lights." That statement reasonably stirred the anger of Lord Cochrane. "Though the solitary cell in Horsemonger Lane," he answered, "may be half the size of the Strong Room, it could not, I apprehend, have been more gloomy, damp, filthy, or injurious to health than the last-mentioned dungeon. And since Mr. Jones could only have confined me in the former place for a month, and did confine me in the latter for twenty-six days, I can scarcely see that degree of difference which should entitle him to those 'grateful sentiments for his mode of acting on the occasion' which, he submits to the public, it is my duty to entertain. The 'glazed lights' mentioned by Mr. Jones were not put up till I had been thirty hours in the place, and I have always understood that I was indebted for them to the good offices of Mr. Bennet and Mr. Lambton, who happened [as part of a Parliamentary Committee] to be prosecuting their inquiry into the state of the prison at the time of my return. For these and all other mercies of the said marshal, my gratitude is due to their friendship and sense of duty, and to his dread of their discoveries and proceedings."
It is clear that nothing but fear of the consequences induced Mr. Jones to remove Lord Cochrane from the Strong Room, after twenty-six days of confinement therein. On the 12th of April the prisoner issued an address to the electors of Westminster, detailing some of the hardships to which he was being subjected; and its publication immediately roused so much popular interest that the authorities of King's Bench Prison deemed it necessary to make at any rate a show of amelioration in his treatment. On the 13th, his physician, Dr. Buchan, was allowed to visit him, and his report was such that another medical man of eminence, Mr. Saumarez, was sent to examine into the state of the prisoner's health. Part of Dr. Buchan's certificate has already been quoted. The rest was as follows: "This is to certify that I have this day visited Lord Cochrane, who is affected with severe pain of the breast. His pulse is low, his hands cold, and he has many symptoms of a person about to have typhus or putrid fever. These symptoms are, in my opinion, produced by the stagnant air of the Strong Room in which he is now confined." "I hereby certify," wrote Mr. Saumarez, "that I have visited Lord Cochrane, and am of opinion, from the state of his health at this time, that it is essentially necessary that he should be removed from the room which he now inhabits to one which is better ventilated, and in which there is a fireplace. His lordship complains of pain in the chest, with difficulty of respiration, accompanied with great coldness of the hands; and, from the general state of his health, there is great reason to fear that a low typhus may come on."
The only result of those medical opinions was a renewal of the offer to remove Lord Cochrane to the rooms prepared for him, on the conditions previously specified by Mr. Jones. Lord Cochrane answered that he would rather die than submit to such an insulting arrangement. He published the doctors' certificates, however, on the 15th of April, and their effect upon the public was so great that the authorities were forced on the following day to take him out of his dungeon. Mr. Jones's account of this step is worth quoting. "I again tried," he reported, "to induce Lord Cochrane's friends and relations to give me any kind of undertaking against another escape. On their refusal, I determined myself to become his friend, and, at my own risk, to remove him to the rooms which have been already mentioned, and where, I am confident, he can have no cause of complaint. These rooms not being altogether safe against such a person as Lord Cochrane, should he determine to risk another escape, I must look to the laws of my country as a safeguard, in the hope that the terrors of them will discourage him from attempting a repetition of his offence, and prevent him from incurring the penalties of another indictment."
Lord Cochrane never really intended to attempt a second escape. Had it been otherwise, the illness induced by his confinement in the Strong Room would have restrained him. Being placed in healthier apartments on the 16th of April, he quietly remained there for the remainder of his term of imprisonment. On the 20th of June he was informed that, the term being now at an end, he was at liberty to depart on payment of the fine of 1000l. levied against him. This he at first refused to do, and accordingly he was detained in prison for a fortnight more; but at length the entreaties of his friends prevailed. On the 3rd of July he tendered to the Marshal of the King's Bench a 1000l. note, with this memorable endorsement: "My health having suffered by long and close confinement, and my oppressors being resolved to deprive me of property or life, I submit to robbery to protect myself from murder, in the hope that I shall live to bring the delinquents to justice." Upon that the prison doors were opened for him, and he was able once more to fight for the justice so cruelly withheld from him, and to make his innocence entirely clear to all whose selfish interests did not force them to be blind to the truth.
LORD COCHRANE'S RETURN TO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.—HIS SHARE IN THE REFUSAL OF THE DUKE OF CUMBERLAND'S MARRIAGE PENSION.—HIS CHARGES AGAINST LORD ELLENBOROUGH, AND THEIR REJECTION BY THE HOUSE.—HIS POPULARITY.—THE PART TAKEN BY HIM IN PUBLIC MEETINGS FOR THE RELIEF OF THE PEOPLE.—THE LONDON TAVERN MEETING.—HIS FURTHER PROSECUTION, TRIAL AT GUILDFORD, AND SUBSEQUENT IMPRISONMENT.—THE PAYMENT OF HIS FINES BY A PENNY SUBSCRIPTION.—THE CONGRATULATIONS OF HIS WESTMINSTER CONSTITUENTS.
Released from imprisonment on Monday, the 3rd of July, Lord Cochrane resumed his seat in the House of Commons on the evening of the same day, just in time to secure the defeat of a measure which was especially obnoxious to his Radical friends. The Duke of Cumberland having lately married a daughter of the Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, it was proposed to augment his income of about 20,000l. a year by a further pension of 6000l. A bill to that effect was brought in by Lord Castlereagh, and, after much sullen opposition from independent members, allowed a first reading by a majority of seventeen. On the second division the majority was reduced to twelve. The bill was brought on for the third reading on the 3rd of July, and would have been passed through the House of Commons by the Speaker's casting vote but for Lord Cochrane's sudden appearance. His vote secured a majority against it, and thereby it was finally overthrown. Great, on the morrow, were the rejoicings of his supporters. "What a triumph," it was said in a friendly newspaper, "is this to innocence! After being sentenced to the scandalous and disgraceful punishment of the pillory, after being confined in a loathsome dungeon, fined 1000l. in money to the king, disgracefully removed from that service in which he had attained such high honours and rendered to his country such essential service, his escutcheon kicked out of Westminster Abbey, his order of knighthood taken from him; in short, after having every possible indignity which the most malignant imagination could invent heaped upon him in every way, his single vote, on the very first day of his returning to his parliamentary duties, has been the means of obtaining a signal victory over those under whose persecution he had been so long suffering."
The one victory upon which Lord Cochrane set his heart, however—the reversal of the unjust sentence passed upon him, and the consequent restoration of the honours and offices that were now doubly dear to him—he was not able to obtain. On the 6th of July, just before the prorogation of Parliament, he gave notice that, early in the next session, he should move for the appointment of a committee to inquire into the conduct of Lord Ellenborough and others towards him during the Stock Exchange trial. In arranging for this new effort at self-justification, he was partly occupied during the ensuing autumn and winter, and the question was brought prominently before the House of Commons in the spring of 1816; only to issue, however, in further injustice and disappointment.
His purpose from the first was, of course, virtually the impeachment of Lord Ellenborough; and that object was yet more apparent from the altered shape which the question assumed when introduced in the new session. During the recess, Lord Cochrane, with the help of advisers, some of whom were more zealous than wise, William Cobbett being the chief, had prepared an elaborate series of "charges of partiality, misrepresentation, injustice, and oppression against the Lord Chief Justice;" and these were formally introduced to the House of Commons on the 5th of March. "When I recollect," said Lord Cochrane on that occasion, "the imputations cast upon my character, and circulated industriously previous to any legal proceedings, the conduct pursued at my trial, the verdict obtained, the ineffectual endeavours; to procure a revision of my case in the Court of King's Bench, and the infamous sentence there pronounced, together with my expulsion from this House without being suffered to expose its injustice—when I call to mind my dismissal from a service in which I have spent the fairest portion of my life, at least without reproach, and my illegal and unmerited deprivation of the order of the Bath—it is impossible to speak without emotion. I have but one course now left to pursue, namely, to show that the charge of the Lord Chief Justice, on which he directed the jury to decide, was not only unsupported by, but was in direct contradiction to, the evidence on which it professed to be founded. This is the best course to pursue both in justice to the learned judge and to myself. Either I am unfit to sit in this House, or the judge has no right to his place on the bench. I have courted investigation in every shape; and I trust that the learned lord will not shrink from it or suffer his friends on the opposite side to evade the consideration of these charges by 'the previous question.'"
Lord Cochrane thereupon tendered to the House thirteen charges against Lord Ellenborough, in which every point of importance in the Stock Exchange trial was minutely detailed and discussed; and these charges being read, therein occupying nearly three hours, were ordered to be printed. A fourteenth charge, bearing upon Lord Ellenborough's conduct subsequent to the trial, was introduced on the 29th of March; but this, as it included aspersions upon the character of another judge, Sir Simon Le Blanc, was objected to and withdrawn. There was further discussion on the subject on the 1st and the 29th of April; but not much was done until the 30th of April.
On that evening, Lord Cochrane formally moved that his charges against Lord Ellenborough should be referred to a Committee of the whole House, and that evidence in support of them should be heard at the bar. A lengthy discussion then ensued, the most notable speeches being made by the Solicitor-General, Sir Francis Burdett, and the Attorney-General.
The Solicitor-General of course opposed the motion. "As the House, on the one hand," he said, "should jealously watch over the conduct of judges, so, on the other, it should protect them when deserving of protection, not only as a debt of justice due to the judges, but as a debt due to justice herself, in order that the public confidence in the purity of the administration of our laws may not be disappointed, and that the course of that administration may continue the admiration of the world; for, unless the judges are protected in the exercise of their functions, the public opinion of the excellence of our laws will be inevitably weakened,—and to weaken public opinion is to weaken justice herself."
That sort of argument, too frivolous and faulty, it might be supposed, to influence any one, had weight with the House of Commons to which it was addressed; and the Solicitor-General adduced much more of it. To him the spotless character of Lord Ellenborough appeared to be an ample defence against Lord Cochrane's charges. "Never," he said, with a truthfulness that posterity can appreciate, "never was there an individual at the bar or on the bench less liable to the imputation of corrupt motives; never was there one more remarkable for independence—I will say, sturdy independence—of character, than the noble and learned lord. For twelve years he has presided on the bench with unsullied honour, displaying a perfect knowledge of the law; evincing as much legal knowledge as was ever amassed by any individual; and now, in the latter part of his life, when he has arrived at the highest dignity to which a man can arrive, by a promotion well-earned at the bar, and doubly well-earned at the bench, we are told that he has sacrificed all his honours by acting from corrupt motives!"
Sir Francis Burdett replied effectively to the speeches of the Solicitor-General and others who sided with him, and nobly defended his friend. He showed that the proposal to refuse investigation of this case because it might weaken the cause of justice, by making the conduct of the administrators of justice contemptible, was worse than frivolous. "Such language," he averred, "would operate against the investigation of any charges whatever against any judge; would indeed form a barrier against the exercise of the best privilege of this House—the privilege of inquiring into the conduct of courts of justice. It would serve equally well to shelter even those judges who have been dragged from the bench for their misconduct." He then reviewed the incidents of the Stock Exchange trial, and urged that Lord Cochrane had good reason for bringing forward his charges. "The question for the House to consider is, 'Do these charges, if admitted, contain criminal matter for the consideration of the House?' I conceive that they do. No doubt the judges who condemned Russell and Sidney were, at the time, spoken of as men of high character, who could not be supposed to suffer any base motives to influence their conduct. Such arguments as those ought to be banished from this House. It is our duty to look, with constitutional suspicion on jealousy, on the proceedings of the judges; and, when a grave charge is solemnly brought forward, justice to the country, as well as to the judge, demands an inquiry into it."
That, however, was refused. After a long speech from the Attorney-General, and an eloquent reply by Lord Cochrane, the House divided on the motion. Eighty-nine members voted against it. Its only supporters were Sir Francis Burdett and Lord Cochrane himself. Not only did the House refuse to listen to the allegations against Lord Ellenborough; in the excess of its devotion to such law and such order as the Government of the day appointed, it even resolved that all the entries in its record of proceedings which referred to this subject should be expunged from the journals. Lord Cochrane made no resistance to this further insult thrown upon him. "It gives me great satisfaction," he said, in the brief and dignified speech with which he closed the discussion, "to think that the vote which has been come to has been come to without any of my charges having been disproved. Whatever may be done with them now, they will find their way to posterity, and posterity will form a different judgment concerning them than that which has been adopted by this House. So long as I have a seat in this House, however, I will continue to bring them forward, year by year and time after time, until I am allowed the opportunity of establishing the truth of my allegations."
Other occupations prevented the full realization of that purpose. But to the end of his life Lord Cochrane used every occasion of asserting his innocence and courting a full investigation of all the incidents on which his assertion was based. Posterity, as he truly prophesied, has learnt to endorse his judgment; and therefore, in the ensuing pages, it will not be necessary to adduce from his letters and actions more than occasional illustrations of the temper which animated him throughout with reference to this heaviest of all his heavy troubles.
By these troubles, however, even in the time of their greatest pressure, he was not overcome; and in the midst of them he found time and heart for active labour in the good work of various sorts that was always dear to him. He used the advantages of his liberty in striving to perfect the invention of improved street lamps and lighting material that had occupied him while in prison, and to procure their general adoption. His place in Parliament, moreover, all through the session of 1816, was employed not only in seeking justice for himself, but also in furthering every project advanced for benefiting the community and checking the pernicious action of the Government. A zealous, honest Whig before, he was now as zealous and as honest as ever in all his political conduct. And his devotion to the best interests of the people was yet more apparent in his unflagging labours, out of Parliament, for the public good. His great abilities, rendered all the more prominent by the cruel persecution to which he had been and still was subjected, made him a leading champion of the people during the turmoil to which misgovernment at home, and the distracted state of foreign politics, gave a special stimulus in 1816.
A long list might be made of the great meetings which he attended, and took part in, both among his own constituents of Westminster and elsewhere, for the consideration of popular grievances and their remedies. One such meeting, attended by Henry Brougham and Sir Francis Burdett among others, was held in Palace Yard, Westminster, on the 1st of March, for the purpose of petitioning Parliament against the renewal of the property-tax and the maintenance of a standing army in time of peace. Lord Cochrane, the hero of the day, on account of "the spirit of opposition which he had shown to the infringement of the constitution and the grievances of the people," won for himself new favour by the boldness with which he denounced the policy of the Government, which, boasting that it was ruining the French nation, was at the same time bringing misery also upon Englishmen by the excessive taxation and the reckless extravagance to which it resorted.
A smaller, but much more momentous meeting assembled at the City of London Tavern on the 29th of July, under the auspices of the Association for the Relief of the Manufacturing and Labouring Poor. Instigated in a spirit of praiseworthy charity by many of the most influential persons of the day, it was used by Lord Cochrane for the enforcement of the views as to public right and public duty, and the mutual relations of the rich and the poor, which were forced upon him by his recent troubles, and the relations in which he was at this time placed with some over-zealous champions of popular reform, and some unreasonable exponents of popular grievances. That his conduct on this occasion was extravagant and even factious, he afterwards heartily regretted. Yet as a memorable illustration of the power and earnestness with which he fought for what seemed to him to be right, as well with word as with sword, its details, as reported at the time, may be here set forth at length.
About half-past one o'clock the Duke of York entered and took the chair, supported on his right by the Duke of Kent, and on his left by the Duke of Cambridge. He was accompanied on his entrance by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, the Duke of Rutland, Lord Manvers, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Wilberforce, and other distinguished individuals.
His Royal Highness the Duke of York immediately proceeded to open the business of the day, by observing that the present meeting had been called to consider and, as far as possible, to alleviate the present distress and sufferings of the labouring classes of the community. These distresses were, he feared, too well known to all who heard him to require any description; and all he had to add to the bare statement of them was the expression of his confidence that the liberality which had been so signally manifested in the course of foreign distress would not be found wanting when the direction of it was to be towards the comfort and relief of our own countrymen at home.
THE DUKE OF KENT, after alluding to the exertions of the Committee of 1812, observed that the immediate object was to raise a fund, in the subsequent accumulation and management of which many ulterior arrangements might be projected, and from which charity might soon emanate in a thousand directions. He doubted not that every county and every town would be quick to imitate the example of the metropolis. The association of 1812 had at least the merit of producing this effect, and had spread through the whole land that spirit of active benevolence which he was feebly invoking on this occasion. He trusted that it was necessary for him to say but little more to insure the adoption of the resolution which he should have the honour to propose. He confessed he felt gratified when he saw so great a concourse of his countrymen assembled together for such a purpose, and additional gratification at seeing by whom they were supported. He was sure, then, that he should not plead in vain to the national liberality; but that the remedy would be promptly afforded to an evil which he trusted would be found but temporary. If they should be so happy as but to succeed in discovering new sources of employment to supply the place of those channels which had been suddenly shut up, he should indeed despond if we did not soon restore the country to that same flourishing condition which had long made her the envy of the world. The royal Duke then moved the first resolution, as follows:—"That the transition from a state of extensive warfare to a system of peace has occasioned a stagnation of employment and a revulsion of trade, deeply affecting the situation of many parts of the community, and producing many instances of great local distress."
The resolution was seconded by Mr. Harman.
Lord Cochrane offered himself to the attention of the meeting, but was for some time unable to proceed, his voice being lost in the huzzas and hisses which his presence called forth. Silence being at length in some measure obtained, his lordship said he would not have addressed the meeting but that, having received a circular letter from the committee, and feeling the importance of the subject, he would have thought it a dereliction of his duty if he refrained from attending. He rose thus early because the observations he had to submit would not be suitable if made when the other resolutions were put. The first resolution was, in his opinion, founded on a gross fallacy; and this was his reason for saying so. The existing distresses could not be truly ascribed to any sudden transition from war to peace. Could it be pretended that it was peace which had occasioned the fall in the value of all agricultural produce? Or could any man venture to assert that the difficulties and sufferings of the manufacturing classes had any other cause than a prodigious and enormous burthen of taxation? He was much gratified at seeing the royal Dukes so active in promoting a generous and laudable undertaking, and he hoped he should not be understood as treating them with disrespect when he repeated that the resolution was founded on an entire fallacy. But, not to content himself with a mere assertion of his own belief, he had brought official documents to prove the correctness of his statements; and if he should be wrong, he saw the Chancellor of the Exchequer near him, who would have the opportunity of correcting his misrepresentation. This brief statement, he believed, would be quite sufficient to show that the financial situation of the country was such as to render any attempts of that meeting for the purpose of extending general relief utterly ineffectual. The whole revenue of the kingdom was 62,267,450l., deducting the property-tax, and the revenue was thus expended. The interest of the national debt, including the interest of unfunded exchequer bills, was upwards of 40,300,000l., leaving to support the expenses of Government only about 22,000,000l. It was this enormous sum which now hung round our necks—it was this, which unnecessary extravagance had caused to increase from year to year to its present terrible amount, which was the cause of all the evils of the country at this moment. This taxation, and extravagance, for which the country was now suffering, was supported and sanctioned by those who had derived and still derived large emoluments from them. These were truths that the people ought to know; for they were the source of their burthens, and the origin of all the mischief. It was this profuse expenditure of the public money, to say no worse of it, that occasioned the present calamities. It was the lavish expenditure to meet a compliant list of placemen that brought the country to its present state. The deficiency in the revenue occasioned by the enormous interest of the national debt, which ministers would have to supply, would, according to the present disbursements and receipts, amount to 11,578,000l. unless that expenditure were reduced, every such attempt as they were at present making would, he was convinced, prove abortive: it was a mere topical application while a mortal distemper was raging within. He had taken no notice in his estimate of the charges for sinecures or the bounties on exports and imports: and yet the returns upon which he went, exclusive of these charges, showed a deficit for the ensuing year of 3,500,000l. Were those who heard him prepared to make this good? It was, he believed, undeniable that nothing could equalize our revenue with our expenditure, but the putting down entirely the army and navy, or the extinction of one half of the national debt; but when he looked to the actual receipt of the last quarter and found a falling off of 2,400,000l., which, with a corresponding decrease in the three succeeding quarters, must create a new deficit of 10,000,000l., and, added to the 3,500,000l. to which he had alluded, would form a sum equal to the whole amount of the boasted sinking-fund, he felt that it was worse than trifling to suppose we could go on upon the present system. Were they prepared to make up this enormous deficiency? [A voice from the crowd cried "Yes."] He was happy to hear it: he supposed it was some fund-holder who answered, and if any class could do so, it was the fund-holders. They alone had the ability, they alone now derived any returns from their property; but even if they should be both able and willing, still it would only remain a positive deficit made good, and no new facility would be derived for alleviating the existing burthens. The burthens and distresses must still remain what they were before. He spoke not now upon conjecture, or loose calculation, he had brought his authority with him. These were the records from which he derived his statements—the official returns of the Treasury; and if false, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was present to contradict them. He was glad, he confessed, to see him, for those who heard him were, no doubt, aware that it was not always in the House of Commons that a minister could discover the genuine sentiments of the people. If, therefore, no other person should move an amendment, he should feel it his duty to propose an omission of that part of the resolution which ascribed the distressed state of the country to the transition from a state of war to a state of peace, and to state the cause to be an enormous debt, and a lavish expenditure. He had come there with the expectation of seeing the Duke of Rutland in the chair; and with some hopes, as he took the lead upon this occasion, that it was his intention to surrender that sinecure of 9,000l. a-year which he was now in the habit of putting in his pocket. He still trusted that all who were present and were also holders of sinecures had it in their intention to sacrifice them to their liberality and their justice; and that they did not come there to aid the distresses of their country by paying half-a-crown per cent, out of the hundreds which they took from it. If they did not, all he could say was, that to him their pretended charity was little better than a fraud. Without, however, taking up more of their time, he should move his amendment, with this one additional observation, that it would be a disgrace to an enlightened meeting, and particularly to a meeting which might be considered as comprising an aggregate mass of the property and intellect of the country, to place a fallacy upon the record of their proceedings, and to build all their following resolutions upon an assertion which had no foundation in truth. He concluded by moving the following amendment to the first resolution:—"That the enormous load of the national debt, together with the large military establishment and the profuse expenditure of public money, was the real cause of the present public distress."
Mr. Wilberforce said he was himself too much of an Englishman, and had been too long engaged in political discussions to feel any surprise that those who felt warmly on such a subject as the present should be anxious to give expression to their sentiments: but he could not help thinking that, upon cool reflection, the noble lord would be of opinion that his own object would be better attained if he confined himself, on this occasion, to the distinct question under consideration. The noble lord said the country was in a crisis, and would they apply a mere topical remedy? but he might ask the noble lord if he would refuse to assuage the pain of a temporary distemper because he had it not in his power at once to cure it radically? To him the existing distress appeared to be a distemper which rather called for immediate alleviation, than for the speculative discussion of its cause. He thought the most charitable and manly course to be pursued—and that which must be most congenial to what he knew to be the noble lord's own charitable and manly disposition—was not to call upon the meeting to give any opinion upon a political question not under consideration, so as to divert them from pursuing it with diligence and confidence, but to postpone to a better opportunity a discussion of this nature, and to unite cordially in the general cause of finding employment and encouragement for our suffering fellow-citizens. If the noble lord would reflect upon the best mode of relieving the distresses of the people, he would find his amendment not likely to have that tendency. Let him reserve all discussion on the question it involved until he could do it without interrupting the stream of charity, and until he could enter upon it under fair and proper circumstances. He (Mr. Wilberforce), in a proper place, would not shrink from meeting the noble lord on that inquiry; he was twice as old in public life as the noble lord could pretend to be, and fully as independent; yet he would not have easily supposed any man, however young in politics, could have started such topics there. For his part, he should be sorry to take advantage of any credit which might be to supposed to belong to him upon such an occasion as this to cast reproaches upon those who were concurring with him in a benevolent design. The meeting must on the present occasion feel how much indebted it stood to the royal personages for their attendance. They had come to listen to a discussion which had for its avowed and direct object the relief of the people, and they were in the room suddenly called upon to lay aside the practical part of their inquiry and to enter upon a distinct pursuit. Was such a course fair towards those illustrious individuals? Was it that which was likely to induce them to listen to proposals for their personal co-operation on occasions of benevolence, if they had no security against the occupation of their time for discussions of a different character? In conclusion, he entreated the noble lord, of whose real disposition to relieve the people of England he had no doubt, and whose motives he could justly appreciate, to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Cochrane thanked the honourable gentleman for his personal civilities towards him, and said that he would feel no hesitation in withdrawing his amendment if the honourable gentleman would state to the meeting, on his own personal veracity and honour, that he believed that the original resolution contained the true cause of the public distress, and the amendment the false one. If the honourable gentleman would say that—if any respectable man present would say it—he would be satisfied.
Mr. Cotes said he was entirely unconnected with the noble lord, and had never even had the honour of speaking, to him. He agreed, however, with him in thinking that this was a moment when the eyes of the public ought to be open to their real situation. The amendment harmonized entirely with all the opinions which he had been able to form upon subject. Mr. Wilberforce, to whose humane and benevolent Mr. character he was happy to pay his acknowledgments, had attempted to get rid of the noble lord's amendment by a sort of side-wind; but to his judgment there was no incompatibility between the object of the meeting and the amendment. There was nothing irrelevant in it; it naturally grew out of the course adopted by the chair, and in which a cause of the prevailing distress was distinctly specified. The question was, then, ought their resolutions to go forth to the public with a falsehood upon the face of them? Ought they not to state the true cause, since His Royal Highness by mistake had assigned a fallacious one? Mr. Wilberforce, with his usual ability, but in a manner that still marked its duplicity—he meant the word in no offensive sense—had asked, would he enter into a political discussion when we were called upon to extend relief? He begged to state this was not the true question: it was whether they would found all the future proceedings upon error and misstatement, or upon incontrovertible facts. Another question was, would they be satisfied to patch up the wounds of the country for a short period or seek to remedy the disease in its spring and in its sources before it became still more alarming and incurable? The Duke of Kent said he had offered the resolution as it had been put into his hand; and if he had conceived there had been any mention of a course upon which difference of opinion could exist, he hoped they knew him sufficiently to believe that he should have been incapable of requiring their assent to it. He now, therefore, proposed an omission of all that part of the resolution which had any reference whatever to the cause of the present distress. He knew the noble lord well enough—and he had known him in early life—to be assured that he would agree with him, at least in a declaration as to the fact. Their common object, he believed, was to afford relief and to admit its necessity without assigning either one cause or another. For his own part, it had not been his intention to attend a political discussion. He would never enter the arena of politics with the noble lord; but he begged leave to say, he considered himself as competent to plead the cause of humanity, to advocate the interests of the weather-beaten sufferer, as the noble lord could be. There were, however, other times and other places for men to engage in discussion of party politics, and he therefore implored the noble lord not to distract the attention of the meeting by the introduction of these; and to keep solely in view that they had met as the friends of benevolence, not as the advocates of a party. His Royal Highness then proposed to alter the motion as follows:—
"Resolved that there do at this moment exist a stagnation of employment and a revulsion of trade, deeply affecting the situation of many parts of the community, and producing many instances of great local distress."
Lord Cochrane, in reply, stated that he had no wish to excite a difference of opinion on such an occasion, and that, after the alteration in the resolution, nothing gave him more pleasure than the opportunity of withdrawing his amendment; but, in justification of what he had done, it became necessary for him to say that he never would have thought of his amendment if it had not been for the assertion as to the cause of existing distress—he had no doubt in his mind as to the nature of that cause, and he held it but just and honourable that if a cause must be assigned, it should be the true one. After returning thanks to Mr. Wilberforce and the Duke of Kent for their expressions of personal civility, the noble lord consented to withdraw his motion so far as he was personally concerned in it.
Considerable opposition, however, from various parts of the hall was manifested to this mode of withdrawing the amendment, and a great deal of disturbance took place. At last the resolution, as altered by the Duke of Kent, was put and carried.
The Duke of Cambridge, in his speech, which followed, returned his warm thanks to the noble lord for the handsome manner in which he had withdrawn his amendment. He moved the following resolution, which was unanimously agreed to:—
"From the experienced generosity of the British nation it may be confidently expected that those who are able to afford the means of relief to their fellow-subjects will contribute their utmost endeavours to remedy or alleviate the sufferings of those who are particularly distressed."
The Archbishop of Canterbury moved the following resolution, which was seconded and carried unanimously: "That although it is obviously impossible for any association of individuals to attempt a general relief of difficulties affecting so large a proportion of the public, yet that it has been proved by the experience of this association that most important and extensive benefits may be derived from the co-operation and correspondence of a society in the metropolis encouraging the efforts of those benevolent individuals who may be disposed to associate themselves in the different districts for the relief of their several neighbourhoods."
The Duke of Rutland afterwards addressed the meeting, and moved that a subscription be immediately opened, and contributions generally solicited for carrying into effect the objects of this association; which was seconded, and agreed to.
The Earl of Manvers, after stating that he had opposed the amendment of the noble lord (Lord Cochrane) solely from his anxiety to preserve the unanimity of the meeting, as it was only by becoming unanimous they could gain their object, moved: "That subscribers of 100l. and upwards be added to the committee of the Association for the Relief of the Manufacturing and Labouring Poor; that the committee have full power to dispose of the funds to be collected, and to name sub-committees for correspondence."
The motion was seconded by Sir T. Bell, and unanimously carried.
The Bishop of London proposed a vote of thanks to the Duke of York, which Mr. C. Barclay was about to second, but—
Lord Cochrane again stepped forward and gained the attention of the meeting. He repeated the explanation of the motives for withdrawing his proposed amendment, adding, that he had no wish again to press that amendment upon the consideration of the meeting. But he could not forbear from observing what would have been the fate of such a proposition, if brought forward in another place, which he need not name. For there, instead of being requested to withdraw the proposition, it would have been met by a direct negative or by 'the previous question,' in support of which, no doubt, a majority of that assembly, miscalled the representatives of the people, would have voted. Yet the manner in which this, a meeting of the people, would have decided, was pretty obvious; and hence it might be inferred how far the people concurred in sentiment and feeling with the House of Commons. That the proposed, or any charitable subscription, must be inadequate to relieve the actual distress of the country was a proposition which could not be disputed, but yet he did not intend to oppose that subscription; on the contrary, he should give it every possible support in his power; and it was, he felt, a consolation to them that there were still some persons in this country who could afford something to relieve the poor; but he was afraid that neither the landowner nor the mercantile interest had the means of doing so; for the former could obtain no rent, and the latter no trade—the only persons, in fact, who were able to assist the poor under present circumstances were the placemen, the sinecurists, and the fund-holders, who must give up at least half of their ill-gotten gains in order to effect the object. With this impression fixed upon his mind, he felt it his duty to propose an additional resolution, that the ministers of the crown, that the Government of the country, who wielded the power of Parliament, were alone competent to remove and to alleviate the national distress. This, indeed, was evident from the statement of our financial situation which he had already made. He had called upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was present, to contradict that statement if he could; but the right honourable gentleman had felt it expedient not to utter one word, as the meeting had witnessed. Yet from that statement it must be obvious, as he had already observed, that the military and naval situation of the country must be abandoned, or at least half the national debt must be extinguished, for the resources of the empire could not endure such burthens. The noble lord concluded with expressing his intention when the present resolutions were got over, to move another, stating the real cause of the present distress, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his majesty's ministers were alone capable of affording serious relief to the present distress.
Mr. Barclay seconded the motion of the Right Reverend the Bishop of London, to which Lord Cochrane assured the meeting he entertained no objection.
Great confusion prevailed in the meeting, some crying out for Lord Cochrane's motion, while others were equally loud in testifying their anxiety for the vote of thanks.
The Duke of Kent then put the motion.
Lord Cochrane said that his sole object was to have an opportunity of moving his resolution after the present was disposed of.
A person from a distant part of the room exclaimed: "That resolution shall not be put, for it is a libel on the Parliament." Several other remarks were made, but they were generally unintelligible from the violent uproar and confusion that prevailed. Loud cries of "Put Lord Cochrane's motion first" were mixed with the cry of "Chair, chair."
The Duke of Kent said that he had attended this meeting with a view to assist in promoting an object of charity, and he had no doubt that such was the intention of the noble lord (Cochrane). Of this he was sure from the noble lord's own declaration, as well as from his knowledge of the noble lord's feelings. The noble lord had, indeed, himself stated that he had no wish to introduce any political, or to press any, measure likely to interfere with the object of the meeting. Therefore, he called upon the noble lord, in consistency, in politeness and urbanity, not to urge any political principle; and the noble lord must be aware that his proposition had a strong political tendency. The proposition was indeed such, that the noble lord must be aware that it was calculated to injure the subscription, for those who were not of the noble lord's opinion in politics were but too likely to leave the room if that proposition were pressed to a vote, and thus a material object of charity would suffer through a desire to urge a declaration of a mere political opinion.
Lord Cochrane disclaimed any wish to provoke political discussion. He expressed his desire merely to declare a truth which no man could venture to dispute in any popular assembly, in order that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and others present, might have an opportunity of reporting to Government the decided sentiment and real feeling of the people.
The Archbishop of Canterbury begged leave to call back the attention of the meeting to the motion before it, and which, he had no doubt, would be unanimously adopted. This motion, the most reverend prelate added, was not intended in any degree to interfere with the motion of the noble lord.
Amid loud cries of "Put Lord Cochrane's motion first, for if the motion of thanks be disposed of, the Duke of York will leave the chair, and the noble lord's motion will not be put at all," the Duke of Kent declared that there could be no intention to get rid of the noble lord's motion by any side-wind.
The motion of thanks was then passed while Lord Cochrane was engaged in writing his motion, and the Duke of York, having bowed to the meeting, immediately withdrew, amidst loud hissings, and cries of "Shame! shame! a trick! a trick!"
The Duke of Kent, whose head was turned towards Lord Cochrane, was much surprised and disappointed at discovering the absence of the chairman.
The general cry was then raised: "The Duke of Kent to the chair."
His Royal Highness addressed the meeting. Having, he said, pledged himself on proposing the last resolution that there was no intention of getting rid of Lord Cochrane's motion by any side-wind, he felt himself in a very awkward predicament. "But," he added, "I hope that, as liberal Englishmen, you will consider my situation and who I am; and that after my illustrious relatives have retired from the meeting, you will not insist upon my taking the chair for the purpose of pressing the declaration of a political opinion; but that you will commend my motives, and do justice to those feelings which determine the propriety of my immediate departure." His Royal Highness accordingly withdrew.
The majority of the meeting still remained, calling for the nomination of another chairman, and pressing the adoption of Lord Cochrane's motion; but the noble lord also withdrew, and the meeting separated.
That meeting was memorable. If Lord Cochrane's bearing at it was factious, it must be remembered how greatly he had suffered and how earnestly he desired to save the people at large from the sufferings entailed upon them by the Government which he and they had learnt to regard with a common dislike. By exposing what appeared to him and many others to be the hypocrisy of seeming philanthropists, and showing what he deemed the only real cause and the only real remedy of the national distress, he only acted as a brave and honest man, and his work was appreciated by the masses in whose interest it was done. A thrill of satisfaction ran through the land. During the ensuing weeks and months congratulations were heaped upon him from all quarters, and from nearly every class of society. If he had lessened the resources of the Association for the Belief of the Manufacturing and Labouring Poor, he was thanked even for this, since it was believed to be a good thing for shallow charity to be stayed, in order that the cause of real justice might be promoted.
The thanks were all the heartier because of the fresh persecution to which Lord Cochrane was subjected on account of his patriotism. This persecution was in the shape of legal proceedings instituted against him by the Marshal of the King's Bench Prison for his escape therefrom on the 10th of March, 1815. The action had been formally commenced almost immediately after the alleged offence, but on technical grounds, and perhaps from the consciousness that he was already punished enough, it was delayed for more than a year. As the previous punishment, however, had not been enough to silence him, the Government determined to revive the old charge as a further act of vengeance. At the special instigation of Lord Ellenborough, as it was averred, the prosecution had been renewed in May, 1816, almost immediately after the rejection by the House of Commons of Lord Cochrane's charges against the vindictive and unprincipled judge; but the time was too far gone for trial to take place during the summer term. It was again renewed, and at length successfully, directly after Lord Cochrane's fresh exhibition of his hostility to the Government at the London Tavern meeting.
The trial was at Guildford, on the 17th of August. Its history and issue may best be told in the words of an autobiographical fragment, written by Lord Dundonald shortly before his death. "I was accompanied to Guildford," he said, "by Sir Francis Burdett and several other leading inhabitants of Westminster, whose names are forgotten by me. I took neither counsel nor witnesses, having determined to rest my case on the point of law that 'no Member of Parliament can be imprisoned, either for non-payment of a fine to the king, or for any other cause than treason or felony, or refusing to give security to keep the peace,' my inference being that as I was illegally imprisoned, I had committed no illegality in escaping. I read to the jury a general statement, on which they unequivocally expressed their conviction that the trial had better not have been instituted, for that the punishment already sustained was more than adequate to the offence alleged to have been committed. The judge, however, interfered, and told the jury that, as I had admitted the escape in my statement, they had no alternative but to bring in a verdict of guilty, which was reluctantly done, and judgment was deferred.
"After the trial I returned to my house in Hampshire, and not hearing anything more of the affair, naturally concluded that, in the face of the opinion expressed by the jury, the Government would be ashamed to prosecute the matter further. Not liking, however, to trust to their mercy, whilst their malevolence might be exercised at an inconvenient season, or made to depend upon my political conduct, I directed my attorney to inquire whether it was intended to put in execution the sentence at Guildford. The reply was that no steps had been taken, and the impression was, that Government would be against further proceedings, lest they should tend to increase my popularity. Considering that this might be a feint to put me off my guard, I went to London for the purpose of attending a large political meeting, in the conduct of which I participated. Shortly afterwards I received a summons to appear at Westminster Hall and receive judgment on the verdict; the judgment being that I was condemned to pay a fine of 100l. to the Crown.
"On my refusal to pay the fine, on the 21st of November, I was again taken into custody, I alleging that the sentence would amount to perpetual imprisonment, for that I would never pay a fine imposed for escaping from an illegal detention.
"On my being taken back to prison, however, a meeting of the electors of Westminster was held, at which it was determined that the amount of the fine should be paid by a penny subscription, no person being allowed to subscribe more. This plan was adopted in order that the public throughout the kingdom might have an opportunity of manifesting their disapprobation of the oppressive way in which I was being treated. Though I knew nothing of the intentions of the committee at the time, it was expected that the subscription would amount to a much larger sum than the fine, and resolved that the surplus should be devoted to the re-imbursement of the former fine of 1000l. and of the expenses to which I had been put at the trial. Receiving-houses were accordingly opened in the metropolis and in various other large towns, and the amount of the fine of 100l. was speedily collected in London alone.
"Meanwhile meetings were constantly being held to petition Parliament for reform, and at these my name and sufferings formed a prominent topic, so that the Government would have been glad to be rid of me. After one of these meetings in Spafields, for the purpose of requesting Sir Francis Burdett and myself to present a petition to Parliament, a serious riot took place in the city of London, in which a gentleman was shot by the military. The Government, in alarm lest the people should proceed to the King's Bench and liberate me, did me the honour to send a company of infantry to guard me, the officers of the prison being ordered to admit no strangers whatever. The troops were further ordered to continue their attendance till I was released from custody.
"The subscription having been completed in pence, sent from all parts of the kingdom, my secretary, Mr. Jackson, applied to the Master of the Crown Office to receive the amount of the fine in coppers. This was refused, as not being a legal tender. The Master, however, in token of the suffering to which I had so unworthily been subjected, said that, as payment of the fine in such a manner marked the sense of the people on my case, he would not oppose himself to the expression of public sentiment, but would take 10l. of the sum in coppers. This was accordingly paid, and the remainder in notes and silver, which were given by various tradesmen in exchange for the coppers of the people, whose money was thus literally appropriated to the payment of the fine.
"Finding, on my liberation, whole chests filled with penny pieces, I wrote to the committee, stating that sufficient had been collected. The reply was that the subscription should go on till the amount of the fine of 1000l. was paid in addition. The whole of the amount of the fine was thus realized, with something beyond—I do not recollect how much—towards my law expenses, which had necessarily been excessive. Taking, however, the 1100l. paid in pence, this alone showed that two million six hundred and forty thousand persons—composing a very large portion of the adult population of the kingdom—sympathised with me. Not one of my persecutors could have elicited such an expression of public sympathy."
The fine being thus paid, Lord Cochrane was released from the King's Bench Prison on the 7th of December, after a confinement of sixteen days, which was attended by all the wanton severity shown to him during his previous incarceration. Having been apprehended on a Thursday, he was, on his arrival at the King's Bench, placed in an unhealthy room protected by an iron grating. In the evening, having complained of such unusual treatment, he was informed that it was under the express directions of the Marshal. Next day, being seriously unwell, a physician was sent to him, who reported that he was suffering from palpitation of the heart and other symptoms of dangerous excitement, which made it necessary that he should be removed to better quarters. Accordingly, worse quarters were found for him, in a damp, dark, and very imperfectly-ventilated room, entirely devoid of furniture, in the middle of the building. Stedfastly refusing to go there, he was allowed to remain for that night in the room, first assigned to him. On Saturday morning, just as he was sitting down to breakfast, he was ordered to proceed to his new dungeon. Again refusing, his untasted breakfast was forcibly taken from him until he consented to eat it in the appointed place. Thither he accordingly went, and there he was detained for the fortnight that passed before his liberation.
On the 17th of December an enthusiastic meeting of the citizens of Westminster was held to congratulate Lord Cochrane upon his release. "We, your lordship's constituents," it was stated in an address adopted by that meeting, "beg leave, on the present occasion, to declare that, after having had long and ample means for inquiry and reflection, we remain in the full and entire conviction of the perfect innocence of your lordship of every part of the offence laid to your charge at the outset of that series of persecutions by which, during the last three years of your life, you have been incessantly harassed. But, indeed, those persons must have very little knowledge of public affairs, and particularly of your distinguished naval and political career, who do not clearly perceive that all those persecutions have arisen from your public virtues, and who are not well convinced that, if you had not served the people by your exposure of the abuses in the prize courts, by your endeavours to restore to the right owners the immense sums unjustly alienated under the names of Droits of Admiralty, by your honest explanation of the causes which prevented the naval renown of your country being complete at Basque Roads, and by having caused to be produced in Parliament, and published to the nation, that memorable account of sinecures, pensions, and grants which so usefully enlightened the public, you never would have been prosecuted for a pretended fraud on the funds. Your lordship's constituents, being thus fully sensible that you have suffered and are still suffering solely for their and their country's sake, would deem themselves amongst the most ungrateful of mankind were they to neglect this occasion to tender you the most solemn assurances of their unabated attachment and their most resolute support, and, whilst they are endeavouring to discharge their duty towards your lordship, they entertain the consoling reflection that the day is not distant when you will mainly assist in carrying forward that measure of radical parliamentary reform which alone can be a safeguard against all sorts of oppressions, and especially oppressions under which your lordship has so long and so severely suffered."
To that honourable address an honourable reply was penned by Lord Cochrane on the 24th of December, and presented to the electors of Westminster at another meeting assembled for the purpose on the 1st of January ensuing.
The direct persecution which began with the Stock Exchange trial and its antecedents was now at an end, after three years of gross and untiring vindictiveness. Indirect persecution was to continue for more than thirty years.
THE STATE OF POLITICS IN ENGLAND IN 1817 AND 1818, AND LORD COCHRANE's SHARE IN THEM.—HIS WORK AS A RADICAL IN AND OUT OF PARLIAMENT.—HIS FUTILE ATTEMPTS TO OBTAIN THE PRIZE MONEY DUE FOR HIS SERVICES AT BASQUE ROADS.—THE HOLLY HILL BATTLE.—THE PREPARATIONS FOR HIS ENTERPRISE IN SOUTH AMERICA.—HIS LAST SPEECH IN PARLIAMENT.
The years 1817 and 1818 were years of great political turmoil. The English people, weary of the European wars, which in two-and-twenty years had raised the national debt from 230,000,000l. to 860,000,000l., thus causing a taxation which amounted, in the average, to 25l. a year upon every family of five persons, were in no mood to be made happy even by the restitution of peace. Partly by necessity, partly by the bad management of the Government and its officials, the war-burdens were continued, and to the starving multitudes they were more burdensome than ever. Angry complaints were uttered openly, and repeated again and again with steadily-increasing vehemence, in all parts of the country. That the ministers and agents of the Crown were grievously at fault was patent to all; and it is not strange that, in the excitement and the misery that prevailed, they should be blamed even more than was their due. But the men in power did not choose to be blamed at all; they denied that any fault attached to them, and fiercely reprobated every complaint as sedition, every opponent as a lawless and unpatriotic demagogue. Hence the Government and the people came to be at deadly feud. Most right was with the people, and their bold assertion of that right, albeit sometimes in wrong ways, has secured memorable benefits in later times; but power was still with the Government, and it was used even more roughly than in former years.
That Lord Cochrane, having suffered so much from the vindictive persecution of the Tories, should have thrown in his lot with its most extreme opponents, is not to be wondered at. During 1817 he was intimately associated with the popular party in all its efforts for the redress of grievances and in all the assertions of its real and fancied rights. In and out of Parliament he was alike active and outspoken. The history of his public conduct at this time forms no small section of the history of the Radical movement during the period. It resulted naturally from the circumstances in which he had lately been placed. Energetic in thought and action, a ready writer and an able speaker, his recent sufferings helped to place him in the foremost rank of patriots, as they were called by friends—demagogues, as they were called by enemies. With the exception of Sir Francis Burdett, than whom he even went further, the people had, outside their own ranks, no sturdier champion.
If there had been any doubt before as to his line of action, there could be no doubt after the re-assembling of Parliament in January, 1817. During the recess, monster meetings had been held in all parts of the country to consider the popular troubles and to insist upon popular reforms. Lord Cochrane agreed to present to the House of Commons many of the petitions that resulted from these meetings, and this he did on the 29th of January, the very day of the re-opening of Parliament.
In anticipation of this measure, there was a great assembling of reform delegates from all parts of England, and of others favourable to their purpose, in front of Lord Cochrane's residence at No. 7, Palace Yard, Westminster. Shortly before two o'clock Lord Cochrane showed himself at the window, and announced that he was now on his way to the House, there to watch over the rights and liberties of the people, and that he would shortly return and let them know what was passing. This he did at four o'clock, part of the interval being occupied with a fervid address from Henry Hunt. On his reappearance, Lord Cochrane stated that the speech with which the Prince Regent had opened Parliament had not disappointed his expectations, for it was wholly disappointing to the people. The Regent had complained of the disaffection pervading the country, and had announced his intention of using all the power given him by the Constitution for its suppression. Lord Cochrane expressed his confident hope that the people, having the right on their side, would so demean themselves as to give their enemies no ground of charge against them; for those enemies desired nothing so much as riot and disorder.
Thereupon an immense bundle of petitions was handed him, and he himself was placed in a chair, and so conveyed on men's shoulders to the door of Westminster Hall, where the crowd dispersed in an orderly way.
In the House, before the motion for an address in answer to the Prince Regent's speech, Lord Cochrane rose to present a petition, signed by more than twenty thousand inhabitants of Bristol, setting forth the present distress of the country, the increase of paupers and beggars, the grievous lack of employment for industrious persons, and the misery that resulted from this state of things. In these circumstances, the petitioners urged, it was in vain to pretend to relieve the sufferers by giving them soup, while, for the support of sinecure placemen, pensioners without number, and an insatiable civil list, half their earnings were taken from them by the enormous taxation under which the country groaned. After considerable opposition, the petition was allowed to lie on the table.
Lord Cochrane then presented a smaller but much more outspoken petition from the inhabitants of Quirk, in Yorkshire. "The petitioners," it was there urged, "have a full and immovable conviction—a conviction which they believe to be universal throughout the kingdom—that the House does not, in any constitutional or rational sense, represent the nation; that, when the people have ceased to be represented, the Constitution is subverted; that taxation without representation is a state of slavery; that the scourge of taxation without representation has now reached a severity too harassing and vexatious, too intolerable and degrading, to be longer endured without resistance by all possible means warranted by the Constitution; that such a condition of affairs has now been reached that contending factions are alike guilty of their country's wrongs, alike forgetful of her rights, mocking the public patience with repeated, protracted, and disgusting debates on questions of refinement in the complicated and abstruse science of taxation, as if in such refinement, and not in a reformed representation, as if in a consolidated corruption, and not in a renovated Constitution, relief were to be found; that thus there are left no human means of redressing the people's wrongs or composing their distracted minds, or of preventing the subversion of liberty and the establishment of despotism, unless by calling the collected wisdom and virtue of the community into counsel by the election of a free Parliament; and therefore, considering that, through the usurpation of borough factions and other causes, the people have been put even out of a condition to consent to taxes; and considering also that, until their sacred right of election shall be restored, no free Parliament can have existence, it is necessary that the House shall, without delay, pass a law for putting the aggrieved and much-aroused people in possession of their undoubted right to representation co-extensive with taxation, to an equal distribution of such representation throughout the community, and to Parliaments of a continuance according to the Constitution, namely, not exceeding one year."
A long discussion ensued as to whether this petition should be accepted by the House or rejected as an insulting libel. Several members of the House denounced it. Other members, while objecting to its terms, urged its acceptance. Among them the most notable was Mr. Brougham. The petition, he said, was rudely worded, and its recommendations were such as no wise lover of the English Constitution could wholly subscribe to; but it pointed to real grievances and recommended improvements which were necessary to the well-being of the State, and therefore it ought to be admitted. Mr. Canning was one of those who insisted upon its rejection, and this was ultimately done by a majority of 87, 48 being in favour of the petition, and 135 against it.
Four other petitions presented by Lord Cochrane, being to the same effect, were also rejected; and two, more moderate in their language, were accepted. Lord Cochrane thus succeeded, at any rate, in forcing the House during several hours to take into consideration the troubled state of the country, and the pressing need, as it seemed to great masses of the people, of thorough parliamentary reform.
"You will see by the 'Debates,'" he wrote next day to a friend, "that I presented a number of petitions last night, and had a hard battle to fight. Today I am quite indisposed, by reason of the corruption of the Honourable House. It is impossible to support a bad cause by honest means. God knows where all these base projects will end." That his own cause was a good one, and that the means used by him were honest, he had no doubt. In the same letter he referred to the opposition offered to him, even by some of his own relatives, on account of his conduct. "Mr. Cochrane has thought proper to disavow, through the public papers, any connection with my politics. The consciousness that I am acting as I ought makes that light which I should otherwise feel as a heavy clog in following that course which I think honour and justice require."
Therefore he persevered in his Herculean task. Having presented and spoken upon others in the interval, he presented another monster petition to the House on the 5th of February. It was signed, he said, by twenty-four thousand inhabitants of London and the neighbourhood. It complained of the unbearable weight of taxation and the distresses of the country, and of the squandering of the money extracted from the pockets of an oppressed and impoverished people to support sinecure placemen and pensioners. "It appears to me," he said, "surprising that there should be any set of men so cruel and unjust as to wallow in wealth at the public expense while poor wretches are starving at every corner of the streets." He represented that the petition was drawn up in temperate, respectful language,—more temperate, indeed, than he should have employed had he dictated its phrases. He urged that the people had good cause for complaint as to the way in which Parliament neglected their interests, and good ground for asserting that the system of parliamentary representation then afforded them was no real representation at all. Members entered the House only in pursuit of their own selfish ends, and the Government encouraged this state of things by fostering a system of wholesale bribery and corruption, degrading in itself and fraught with terrible mischief to the community. What wonder, then, that the people should pray, as they did in this petition, for a thorough reform, and should point to annual Parliaments and universal suffrage as the only efficient remedies?
It is needless to recapitulate all the arguments offered again and again by Lord Cochrane, with ever fresh-force and cogency, in presenting massive petitions to the House, and in introducing into the occasional debates on reform with which the House amused itself a vigour and practicalness in which few other members cared to sympathize. Nor need we enumerate all the meetings, in London and the provinces, in which he took prominent part. It is enough to say that in Parliament he always spoke with exceeding boldness, and that upon the people, notwithstanding the contrary assertions of his detractors, he always enjoined, if not conciliation and forbearance, at any rate such action as was within the strict letter of the law, and most likely, in the end, to obtain the realization of their wishes. On all occasions he defended them from the charges of sedition and conspiracy brought against them by their opponents, and proved, to all who were open to proof, that their objects were patriotic, and were being sought in patriotic ways.
Of this, however, the Government did not choose to be convinced. Taking advantage of some intemperate speeches of demagogues, making much of some violent handbills circulated by police-officers under secret instructions, mightily exaggerating a few lawless acts,—as when a drunken old sailor summoned the keepers of the Tower of London to surrender,—they procured, on the 26th of February, the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. Therefrom resulted, at any rate, some good. The Whigs, who had hitherto mainly supported the Tory Government, were now turned against it, and with them the wiser Radicals, like Lord Cochrane, sought to effect a coalition. "You will perceive by the papers," he said in a letter dated February the 28th, "that I have resolved to steer another political course, seeing that the only means of averting military despotism from the country is to unite the people and the Whigs, so far as they can be induced to co-operate, which they must do if they wish to preserve the remainder of the Constitution. The 'Times' of yesterday contains the fullest account of the late debates on the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and by that report you will perceive that the Whigs really made a good stand."
In that temper, Lord Cochrane spoke at a Westminster meeting, held on the 11th of March, "to take into consideration the propriety of agreeing to an address to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, beseeching that he will, in his well-known solicitude for the freedom and happiness of His Majesty's subjects, remove from his royal councils those ministers who appear resolved to adopt no effectual measures of economy and retrenchment, but, on the contrary, to persevere in measures calculated to drive a suffering people to despair."
There was some flattery or some mockery, or something of both, in that announcement; and both, with much earnest enunciation of popular grievances, were in Lord Cochrane's speech on the subject. He said that the Regent had as much cause as the people to complain of his present ministers, seeing how shamelessly they sought to hide from him the real state of the country. It was to be expected, from the early habits and character of the Regent, that he would anxiously pursue the interests of the nation, if, instead of being in the hands of an odious oligarchy, he could act for himself. This, at any rate, Lord Cochrane maintained should be urged upon him, for if something were not quickly done for the relief of the nation, trade and commerce would soon be utterly ruined, and the whole community would share the misery that had so long oppressed the lower orders. He again dwelt forcibly on the causes of this misery, and again denounced the conduct of the ministers and placemen who, while squandering the hardly-earned pounds of the people, claimed respect for their exemplary charity in doling out a few farthings for "the relief of the poor." In the previous year, he showed, Lord Castlereagh, "the bell-wether of the House of Commons," and thirteen other persons, had drawn from the revenues of the country 309,861l., and out of that amount had given back, in "sinecure soup," only 1505l.
On a hundred other occasions, both outside of the House of Commons and within its walls, Lord Cochrane continued fearlessly to set forth the troubles of the people and the wrong-doing of its governors. In Parliament petitions without number were presented, and, amid all sorts of contumely, defended by him; and he took a no less active part in various important discussions, of which it will suffice, by way of illustration, to name the debates of the 3rd, 14th, and 28th of March, on the famous Seditious Meetings Bill, and that of the 13th of March on the depressed condition of English trade and its causes—a subject which was recurred to by Mr. Brougham in his memorable motion of the 11th of July on the state of the nation.
Six weeks before that, on the 20th of May, Lord Cochrane spoke on another famous motion—that made by his friend Sir Francis Burdett in favour of parliamentary reform. Once more, he complained that the existing House of Commons in no way represented the people, and was entirely regardless of its interests. Nothing better, he alleged, could be hoped for, without a radical change in the system of representation. "But," he continued, "reform we must have, whether we will or no. The state of the country is such that things cannot much longer be conducted as they now are. There is a general call for reform. If the call is not obeyed, thank God the evil will produce its own remedy, the mass of corruption will destroy itself, for the maggots it engenders will eat it up. The members of this House are the maggots of the Constitution. They are the locusts that devour it and cause all the evils that are complained of. There is nothing wicked which does not emanate from this House. In it originate all knavery, perjury, and fraud. You well know all this. You also know that the means by which the great majority of the House is returned is one great cause of the corruption of the whole people. It has been said, 'Let the people reform themselves;' but if sums of money are offered for seats within these walls, there will always be found men ready to receive them. It is impossible to imagine that the profuse expenditure of the late war would have taken place, had it not been for a corrupt majority devoted to their selfish interests. At least it would have had a shorter duration, from being carried on in a more effective manner, had it not been conducive to the views of many to prevent its speedy termination. Much has been said about the glorious result of the war; but has not lavish expenditure loaded us with taxation which is impoverishing the people and annihilating commerce? Are not vessels seen everywhere with brooms at their mastheads? Are not sailors starving? Is not agriculture languishing? Are not our manufactures in the most distressed state?"
Lord Cochrane asserted that the real revolutionists of England were the ministers and their followers. "I am persuaded that no man without doors wishes the subversion of the Constitution; but within it, bribery and corruption stand for the Constitution. Mr. Pitt himself confessed that no honest man could hold the situation of minister for any length of time. There can be no honest minister until measures have been taken to purge and purify the House. If this be not done, it is in vain to hope for a renewal of successful enterprise in this country: the sun of the country is set for ever. It may indeed exist as a petty military German despotism, with horsemen parading up and down, with large whiskers, with sabres ringing by their horses' sides, with fantastically-shaped caps of fantastical colours on their heads; but this country cannot thus be made a great military power. A previous speaker has instanced juries as one of the benefits of the Constitution; but I will affirm, with respect to the manner in which juries are chosen under the present system, that justice is much better administered, in a more summary manner, with less expense, and no chicanery, by the Dey of Algiers. If this country were erected at once into a downright, honest, open despotism, the people would be gainers. If a judge or despot then proved a rogue, he would at once appear in his true character; but now villany can be artfully concealed under the verdict of a packed jury. I am satisfied that the present system of corruption is more detrimental to the country than a despotism."
No other speaker spoke so boldly as Lord Cochrane; but his eloquent words were substantially endorsed by many; by Sir Samuel Romilly and Mr. Brougham in especial; and on a division, though 265 voted against Sir Francis Burdett's motion, it was supported by a minority—unusually large for the time—of 77.
Slowly but surely the better principles of government for which Lord Cochrane fought so persistently were gaining ground, destined ultimately to produce the changes in national temper which made plain the duty and expediency of adopting the changes in political systems in which the years 1832 and 1867 are epochs. In after years, Lord Cochrane himself clearly saw that he had been rash in his advocacy of the sweeping reforms which the excited people deemed necessary for their welfare in the years of trouble and misgovernment consequent on the tedious war-time ending with the battle of Waterloo. But he never had cause to regret the honest zeal and the generous sympathy with which he strove, though in violent ways, to lessen the weight of the popular distresses.
Distresses were not wanting to himself during this period. The weight of his former troubles still hung heavily upon him. He could not forget the terrible disgrace—none the less terrible because it was unmerited—that had befallen him. And in pecuniary ways he was a grievous sufferer by them. In losing his naval employment he lost the income on which he had counted. His resources were thus seriously crippled; and the scientific pursuits, in which he still persevered, failed to bring to him the profit that he anticipated.
In one characteristic way—only one among many—the Government persecution still clung to him. In the distribution of prize-money for the achievement at Basque Roads all the officers and crews of Lord Grambier's fleet had been considered entitled to share. To this arrangement Lord Cochrane objected. He urged that as the whole triumph was due to the Imperieuse and the few ships actually engaged with her, the reward ought to be limited to them. "I am preparing to proceed in the Court of Admiralty on the question of head-money for Basque Roads," he wrote on the 5th of November, 1816; "my affidavit has reluctantly been admitted, though strenuously opposed, on the ground that I was not to be believed on my oath!"
Lord Cochrane's council in this case was Dr. Lushington, afterwards the eminent judge of the Admiralty Court. Dr. Lushington showed plainly that the greater part of the fleet, having taken no share in the action, had no right to head-money, and that therefore all ought to be divided among those who actually shared with Lord Cochrane the danger and the success of the enterprise. But Sir William Scott (afterwards Lord Stowell), the judge at that time, was not disposed to sanction this view. Therefore he thwarted it by delays. The case having been postponed from November, 1816, was brought up again in the first term of 1817. "The judge has again delayed his decision," wrote Lord Cochrane on the 28th of February, the day of the announcement, "and I believe has done so until next session. He gave a curious reason for this, namely, that I took part at the Westminster meeting against the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act!"
At the next session it was again postponed, all the time available for its consideration being taken up with a frivolous discussion as to Lord Cochrane's right to give evidence. "They have gone the length," wrote his secretary, Mr. Jackson, on the 3rd of May, "of denying Lord Cochrane's credibility in a court of justice. They had no other way of answering his affidavit, which would have gained his cause in the Court of Admiralty, as it proved that the French ships in Basque Roads were destroyed by his own exertions in fighting without orders from the Admiral. The denial-of Lord Cochrane's competency to give evidence has excited a great deal of interest, and the Court of Admiralty was quite crowded on Tuesday, when the question came on to be discussed. I thought that our counsel had much the best of the argument, and I believe the judge, Sir William Scott, thought so too, as he put off his sentence to a future day." On the future day the judge admitted as much. "We have gained a bit of a victory in the Admiralty Court," said the same writer in a letter dated the 9th of June, "the judge having been compelled to pronounce in favour of his lordship's right to be believed on his oath." The time taken by him to arrive at this decision, however, was so long that the case had to be adjourned to November term, and thereby Lord Cochrane's enemies so far attained their object, that it was impossible for him, in November term, to renew the suit.
In the interval he had gone to France, preparatory to a much longer and more momentous journey to South America, in anticipation of which he was winding up his affairs and realizing his property during and after the summer of 1817.
In this settlement of accounts there was at any rate one amusing incident. It will be remembered that, on the occasion of his being elected Member of Parliament for Honiton in 1806, Lord Cochrane had refused to follow the almost universal fashion of bribery, but, after the election was over, had thoughtlessly yielded to the proposal of his agent that he should entertain his constituents at a public supper.[A] This entertainment, either through spite or through wanton extravagance, was turned by those to whom the management of it was assigned into a great occasion of feasting for all the inhabitants of the town; and for defrayment of the expenses thus incurred a claim for more than 1200l. was afterwards made upon Lord Cochrane. Through eleven years he bluntly refused to pay the preposterous demand; but his creditors had the law upon their side, and in the spring of 1817 an order was granted for putting an execution into his house at Holly Hill.
[Footnote A: 'The Autobiography of a Seaman,' vol. i. pp. 203, 204.]
Lord Cochrane, however, having resisted the demand thus far, determined to resist to the end. For more than six weeks he prevented the agents of the law from entering the house. "I still hold out," he said in a letter to his secretary, "though the castle has several times been threatened in great force. The trumpeter is now blowing for a parley, but no one appears on the ramparts. Explosion-bags are set in the lower embrasures, and all the garrison is under arms." In the explosion-bags there was nothing more dangerous than powdered charcoal; but, supposing they contained gunpowder or some other combustible, the sheriff of Hampshire and twenty-five officers were held at bay by them, until at length one official, more daring than the rest, jumped in at an open window, to find Lord Cochrane sitting at breakfast and to be complimented by him upon the wonderful bravery which he had shown in coming up to a building defended by charcoal dust.
That battle with the sheriff and bailiffs of Hampshire occupied nearly the whole of April and May, 1817. In the latter month, if not before, Lord Cochrane began to think seriously of proceeding to join in battles of a more serious sort in South America, under inducements and with issues that will presently be detailed. "His lordship has made up his mind to go to South America," wrote his secretary on the 31st of May. "Numbers of gentlemen of great respectability are desirous of accompanying him, and even Sir Francis Burdett has declared that he feels a great temptation to do so; but Lord Cochrane discourages all. They think he is going to immolate the Spaniards by his secret plans; but he is not going to do anything of the kind, having promised the Prince Regent not to divulge or use them otherwise than in the service of his country."
With this expedition in view, and purposing to start upon it nearly a year sooner than he found himself able to do, Lord Cochrane sold Holly Hill and his other property in Hampshire, in July. In August he went for a few months to France, partly for the benefit of Lady Cochrane's health, partly, as it would seem, in the hope of introducing into that country the lamps which he had lately invented, and from which he hoped to derive considerable profit.
To this matter, and to his efforts to obtain some share, at any rate, of his rights from the English Government, the letters written by him from France chiefly refer. But there are in them some notes and illustrations of more general interest. "I am quite astonished at the state of Boulogne," he wrote thence on the 14th of August. "Neither the town nor the heights are fortified; so great was Napoleon's confidence in the terror of his name and the knowledge he possessed of the stupidity and ignorance of our Government." In a letter from Paris, dated the 23rd of August, we read: "Everything is looking much more settled than when I was formerly here, and I do really think that the Government, from the conciliatory measures wisely adopted, will stand their ground against the adherents of Buonaparte. We are to have a great rejoicing to-morrow. All Paris will be dancing, fiddling, and singing. They are a light-hearted people. I wish I could join in their fun. I was hopeful that I should; but the cursed recollection of the injustice that has been done to me is never out of my mind; so that all my pleasures are blasted, from whatever source they might be expected to arise."
That last sentence fairly indicates the state of Lord Cochrane's mind during these painful years. Weighed down by troubles heavy enough to break the heart of an ordinary man, he fought nobly for the thorough justification of his character and for the protection of others from such persecution as had befallen him. In both objects, altogether praise-worthy in themselves, he may have sometimes been intemperate; but ample excuse for far greater intemperance would be found in the troubles that oppressed him. "The cursed recollection of the injustice that has been done to me is never out of my mind; all my pleasures are blasted!"
In the same temper, after a lapse of nine months, about which it is only necessary to say that, like their forerunners, they were employed in private cares, and, especially after the reassembling of Parliament, in zealous action for the public good, he made his last speech in the House of Commons on the 2nd of June, 1818. The occasion was a debate upon a second motion by Sir Francis Burdett in favour of parliamentary reform, more cogent and effective than that of the 20th of May, 1817, to Lord Cochrane's share in which we have already referred. The former speech was wholly of public interest. This has a personal significance, very painful and very memorable. It brings to a pathetic close the saddest epoch in Lord Cochrane's life—so very full of sadness.
"I rise, sir," he said, "to second the motion of my honourable friend. In what I have to say, I do not presume to think that I can add to the able arguments that have just been uttered; but it is my duty distinctly to declare my opinions on the subject. When I recollect all the proceedings of this House, I confess that I do not entertain much hope of a favourable result to the present motion. To me it seems chiefly serviceable as an exhibition of sound principles, and as showing the people for what they ought to petition. I shall perhaps be told that it is unparliamentary to say there are any representatives of the people in this House who have sold themselves to the purposes and views of any set of men in power; but the history of the degenerate senate of that once free people, the Romans, will serve to show how far corruption may make inroads upon public virtue or patriotism. The tyranny inflicted on the Roman people, and on mankind in general, under the form of acts passed by the Roman senate, will ever prove a useful memento to nations which have any freedom to lose. It is not for me to prophesy when our case will be like theirs; but this I will say, that those who are the slaves of a despotic monarch are far less reprehensible for their actions than those who voluntarily sell themselves when they have the means of remaining free.