The Political History of England - Vol. X.
by William Hunt
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The movement found support in parliament. A few of the minority were among its leaders; and others, though not disposed to go so far, maintained the necessity for constitutional reforms. Whig tactics were changed since the beginning of the reign. Beaten by the king and his friends at the game of corruption, the whigs had become the advocates of purity of election. The fact need not reflect on personal characters. Some of the whigs of 1769 were consistent in their opposition to corruption. As regards others, it must be remembered that abuses seldom shock a man who gains by them; they become intolerable if they are turned against him. Chatham himself once sat for Old Sarum, was elected for Seaford apparently through bribery, and as minister was content that Newcastle should gain him support by corruption. Chief among the abuses which prevented the house of commons from representing the people were the defects in its constitution. While the elections in counties and some large boroughs were comparatively pure, the representation of the smaller boroughs was a matter of nomination or corruption. Out of the 513 members for England and Wales, 254 sat for constituencies which, taken together, numbered only 11,500 voters, and fifty-six boroughs had each less than forty voters. Forty-four members sat for Cornish seats; Middlesex, London and Westminster together only returned eight. Chatham at one time seemed to think that the corrupt boroughs might be got rid of, but finally feared that such a change would cause a "public convulsion," and proposed to counteract their effects by adding one member to each of the county constituencies. After much hesitation he also advocated a return to triennial parliaments.

Burke, on the other hand, and the Rockingham party generally were opposed to any change in the constitutional machinery. The constitution was altogether admirable in Burke's eyes; all that was wanted was the removal of abuses, which hindered it from working well. Shorter parliaments would, he argued, only lead to more frequent disorders and increase the opportunities for corruption; he would have no change in the system of representation, and held that a place bill would lower the character of parliament by excluding from it many men of wealth, weight, and talent. He strongly objected to the growing custom of sending instructions to members, pointing out that members of parliament should not be regarded as mere local delegates, but as representatives of the nation, chosen by various constituent bodies. While he was opposed to changes in the constitution, he laboured to bring parliament into a sound state by reforms which allowed the publication of its proceedings, improved the system of deciding the lawfulness of elections, and checked the multiplication of places and pensions, as well as by other measures of a like tendency. The opposition then differed amongst themselves: Chatham and his followers held that some organic changes in the constitution were necessary, and more or less sympathised with what (though the name was not yet invented) may be called the radical party; Burke and those under his influence railed at the bill of rights men, deprecated organic changes, and advocated conservative reforms.


[76] Lord E. Fitzmaurice, Life of Shelburne, ii., 31-37.

[77] James Grenville to Lady Chatham, Feb. 23, 1767, MS. Pitt Papers, 35.

[78] Chatham Corr., iii., 21, 134, 229-30.

[79] Burke's speeches on Jan. 9 and May 8, 1770, Parl. Hist., xvii., 674, 1004-5.

[80] The ablest advocacy of the Franciscan authorship is in Sir L. Stephen's article on "Francis" in the Dictionary of National Biography; see also English Historical Review, iii. (1888), 233 sq. A claim is advanced for Temple in the Grenville Papers, iii.; his co-operation is suggested by Sir W. Anson, Grafton Memoirs, Introd. xxxi.-xxxiii. It may be noted that Temple's letters in the Pitt Papers show that he had a peculiarly coarse mind.

[81] Annual Register, xiii. (1770), 58.



It was generally thought that North's administration would be short-lived. The opposition was strong and apparently united, and it had a large part of the people at its back. The public expectation was ill-grounded. The king's influence in parliament was not to be overborne; as many as 192 members of the house of commons held office under government.[82] North was a first-rate leader and the king was industrious and determined. Yet the strength of the ministry was largely derived from the conduct of their opponents. The violence of the extreme section of the popular party led to a revulsion of feeling in the country. In parliament Chatham was not effective, for his declamatory speeches and dictatorial manner were out of place in the lords; and in the commons Burke was apt to weary the house, and lost ground through constant breaches of good taste. Above all, the two parties in the opposition, the extreme section, with which Chatham had much sympathy, and the Rockingham whigs, did not work well together. In the spring of 1770 Burke published his Thoughts on the Causes of the Present Discontents, a masterly exposition of the existing political abuses and of the remedies appropriate to them. Its rejection of proposals for organic changes in the constitution annoyed Chatham, who declared that it had done much harm to the cause. He was soon irritated with the whigs generally. "Moderation, moderation," said he, "is the burthen of their song;" he would be "a scarecrow of violence to the gentle warblers of the grove, the moderate whigs and temperate statesmen". He tried to force the whigs to follow his lead, but Rockingham had no mind to court Chatham's loud-voiced supporters in the city, or to adopt violent measures in order to assure the people that he was true to their cause. Chatham thought it possible that it might be expedient to separate himself from "so unorthodox a congregation" as the whig party, and accused Burke and the Rockinghams of a spirit of connexion. So bitter were his feelings, that he and his friends rejoiced when Dowdeswell and Burke, "those positive gentlemen," were defeated in an attempt to vindicate the rights of juries, because they adopted a method of procedure of which he did not approve; they were, his friend Calcraft wrote to him, "completely disgraced," and Chatham styled their bill "a compound of connexion, tyranny and absurdity".[83] While the opposition was in this distracted state the ministerial party was united. In three years' time at most opposition in parliament was practically dead, and the ministry was thoroughly popular in the country.[84]


During the remainder of the session of 1769-70 the opposition made a good fight. In the lords Chatham and Rockingham co-operated in attempts to persuade the house to condemn the action of the commons with reference to the Middlesex election, and in debates on American affairs; but Rockingham refused to join in moving an address to the king to dissolve parliament. Chatham's motion was avowedly made in order to stimulate popularity out of doors, and Rockingham, who disliked his demagogic arts, thought it uncalled for and refused "to be sworn every day to keep his word" to the people. Chatham persevered, and the motion received little support. In the commons George Grenville, Dowdeswell, who as Grenville's health declined became virtually leader of the opposition, Burke, Barre, Wedderburn, an able and ambitious Scottish lawyer, and others, aided by the extreme section of which Beckford and Alderman Sawbridge were conspicuous members, caused the ministry much trouble. North was the chief speaker on the ministerial side. The court party, or king's friends, so far as they may in any degree be regarded as distinct from the rest of his supporters, seem to have been headed by Rigby, who since 1768 had lived in luxury on the vast profits of the paymaster's office. Dowdeswell's motion that in matters of election the house is bound to judge according to the law of the land was so threatening an attack that North met it by tacking to it an amendment to the effect that the declaration of Wilkes's incapacity was agreeable to that law, and the minority reached 180 against 244. The king, anxiously watching all that passed in parliament, felt that even this majority was satisfactory. "A little spirit," he wrote to North, "will soon restore order in my service."

The opposition were encouraged, and proceeded to attack two of the sources from which the crown derived its influence. As the expenses of the customs, amounting to nearly L600,000 a year, gave ministers a large amount of patronage which was used for political purposes, Dowdeswell proposed to disqualify the inferior revenue officers from voting at elections. Again, Grenville urged that parliament had paid the debts of the civil list without receiving any assurance that further demands of the same kind would not be made upon the country, and moved for the accounts of the past year as the only means of preventing the revenues of the crown from being spent on corruption. On both these motions the ministerial majority was substantially larger than on the Middlesex question. Nevertheless, the opposition succeeded in carrying one measure which removed an abuse of the representative system and raised the character of the house of commons. The custom, which had lately become usual, of trying the validity of controverted elections by the whole house, and determining it by vote, placed the rights of electors in the hands of the minister who commanded a majority. During the hearing of an election petition the house would be thin, for the evidence was of little consequence; the decision was a trial of strength between political parties, each side would muster its full force, and a seat would be secured or taken away merely in order to swell a triumphant majority. Grenville proposed to transfer the right of hearing and determining these cases from the whole house to a committee of fifteen members, thirteen of whom were to be chosen by ballot, and the other two nominated by the two candidates. The fifteen were to be sworn to decide impartially, and to have power to examine witnesses on oath. An effort to postpone the bill, though supported by North, was defeated by 185 to 123, the country gentlemen on this occasion voting with the opposition; the bill was carried, passed the lords, and became law on April 12. The measure reflects lustre on the memory of Grenville, who devised it and carried it through when suffering from mortal sickness. The act, which was limited in committee to seven years, was found so useful that it was made perpetual in 1774.


The decision to abandon all the new duties levied in America, except that on tea, was brought before the house of commons by North on March 6, 1770. The idea of making the Americans pay for their own defence was dropped, and the tax, which brought in only a trifling sum, was to be maintained as an assertion of right. Grenville pointed out that a partial repeal would not conciliate the colonists, that the troubles in America had been caused by vacillation, and that what was wanted was a plan of government steadily pursued and enforced. The opposition desired complete repeal, and the ministerial majority was only 62. On the evening before this debate an event took place at Boston which strengthened the spirit of resistance. The cowardly insults to which the soldiers were exposed after the reduction of their number led to various scuffles; but their discipline prevented them from effectually retaliating on their persecutors, and baiting the soldiers became a popular pastime. On the evening of the 5th Captain Preston of the 29th regiment and about a dozen soldiers went to the rescue of a sentinel who was being ill-treated by the mob. After some provocation his men fired without orders, three of the mob were killed on the spot, two others were mortally and several more slightly wounded. The next day the townspeople, led by Samuel Adams, insisted on the removal of the troops. Hutchinson yielded to their demand, and both regiments were withdrawn to Castle William. Preston and his men were brought to trial, and were treated with remarkable fairness. All were acquitted except two soldiers, who were slightly punished. The decision of parliament with reference to the new duties reached the colonies when the temper of the people was excited by this untoward event, the "Boston massacre" as it was called, and was regarded rather as a partial acknowledgment of defeat than as an attempt at conciliation. Disputes, however, arose over the non-importation agreements. Self-interest proved stronger than political feeling: the agreements were constantly broken; indeed, the imports to New England and Pennsylvania increased to one-half more than their usual amount. In October the agreements were everywhere definitely abandoned, and new agreements were made against the importation of tea only. With that exception, commerce with England again revived.

Outside parliament a strong party in the city, led by Beckford and supported by Chatham, was clamorous against the government. In spite of the disapproval of nearly all the aldermen, Beckford held a meeting of the livery to complain that the petition of the city with reference to the Middlesex election had not been answered. The meeting adopted an arrogantly worded remonstrance to the king, declaring that "a secret and malign influence" deprived the people of their dearest rights, and desiring the dissolution of parliament and the removal of evil ministers. In accordance with a prescriptive right, this remonstrance was received by the king in person on March 14. George replied to it with a severe rebuke; the remonstrance was, he said, disrespectful to himself, injurious to his parliament, and irreconcilable with the principles of the constitution. The court party was much excited, and at the Cocoa-tree Tavern, the meeting-place or club of the supporters of the ministry, talked loudly of impeachments. North wisely held them back.[85] The house of commons could not allow the insult to itself to pass unnoticed, and a copy of the remonstrance was moved for. Beckford and his friends in the house defended it, and Burke passionately urged the folly and injustice of quarrelling with the city for exercising the right of petition and remonstrance. North calmed down the heat of the debate, and pointed out the unconstitutional character of the remonstrance, which virtually denied the authority of the existing parliament. The motion was carried, and further debates took place. The whigs, though firm in asserting the right of petition, disliked the tone that had been adopted by the city, and an address to the king condemning the remonstrance was carried by 248 to 94. Chatham was furious. With his warm approval a remonstrance to the king was sent from Westminster, and Middlesex and Kent followed suit; but Rockingham's refusal to support his motion in favour of a dissolution plainly showed him that he could not force the whigs to adopt violent measures.


The city would not endure the king's rebuke in silence, and another remonstrance was adopted to the same effect as the former, though it addressed the king in more dutiful language. George received it on May 23, and replied that his sentiments on the subject of the first address were unchanged. As soon as he ceased speaking, Beckford made a harangue to which the king returned no answer. The words attributed to Beckford, and afterwards inscribed in gilt letters in the Guildhall, were that whoever alienated the king's mind from his people in general and the city of London in particular was his majesty's enemy and "a betrayer of our happy constitution as it was established at the glorious and necessary revolution". Brave words which, as there is reason to believe, were invented for him and never spoken.[86] Beckford's friends believed that he had got the better of the king, and Chatham in a grandiose letter to him declared that "the spirit of old England spoke that never-to-be-forgotten day". Nevertheless, Beckford's conduct was highly indecorous. The sovereign never performs a public act on his own responsibility, and accordingly all addresses on public affairs which are to be answered in person are sent beforehand to the proper officer that the king may receive the advice of his ministers as to his reply. Beckford tried to entrap the king into entering into a personal altercation and replying without consultation with his constitutional advisers. George, who in public never fell short of his kingly part, defeated his purpose by silence and afterwards ordered that his unexpected speech was not to be looked upon as precedent.

He prorogued parliament a few days before this incident. For some months his mind had been tried severely. His power, which he loved so well and conscientiously believed himself bound to maintain, was at stake in the political conflict. His letters to North prove how eagerly and anxiously he watched the progress of that conflict in which he was really, though not ostensibly, engaged in person. If Chatham and the city had succeeded in forcing him to dissolve parliament on the ground that its authority was vitiated by the nomination of Luttrell as a member for Middlesex, he would have suffered a defeat which even his dogged perseverance would have failed to retrieve. Rather than that, "I will," he said to Conway, "have recourse to this," and he laid his hand on his sword. The opposition had a good cause, but, as we have seen, they played their part badly. Among the reasons of their failure a conspicuous place must be assigned to the displeasure excited by the attacks made on the king by the more violent section, the vile letter of Junius, the rudeness of the city, and the like. The constant references which were made to some secret influence, presumably that of his mother or Bute, which was supposed to guide him were as foolish as they were rude, for George's policy was his own. His anxieties and troubles were almost more than he could bear. "At the [royal] gardening (sic) party" on June 2 he burst into tears and talked somewhat strangely; he had, it was believed, "for some time been much agitated and lived (as usual when he is so) on vegetables and fruit".[87] The symptoms happily passed away. He had, indeed, cause for cheerfulness, for the ministry was in a far stronger position at the end of the session than when North took office.


The next session began early, on November 13, for a war with Spain seemed imminent. Choiseul was anxious to make the Family Compact the means of humbling England and of regaining for France the territories she had lost. He patiently built up a new navy, until France had afloat sixty-four ships of the line and fifty frigates; and he organised the naval artillery. Grimaldi, the foreign minister of Spain, shared his hopes and followed his example; the Spanish navy was increased, and the dockyards well stocked, though as usual the seamen were few. For some time both powers showed an inclination to treat England with contempt; they believed her to be enfeebled by domestic discord, and her conduct with reference to the Manila ransom, the annexation of Corsica, and some other matters, strengthened this opinion. In 1770 the ministers of the two Bourbon courts went a step too far. The Falkland islands, to the east of the straits of Magellan, though in reality only fit for sheep-farming, were generally believed to be fertile. Acting on this belief, France took possession of the eastern island in 1764, and shortly afterwards handed it over to Spain. Meanwhile, in 1765, England took possession of the western island and formed a settlement on it, which was named Port Egmont, after the first lord of the admiralty. In November, 1769, Captain Hunt of the Tamar, sloop of war, observed a Spanish schooner hovering off this settlement and warned her to depart. The Spanish captain asserted that the island belonged to his master, and two Spanish frigates arrived soon afterwards and repeated the claim. Hunt gave them a decided answer, and as it was agreed that both parties should refer the claim of right to their governments, sailed for England leaving a small garrison in Port Egmont. During his absence Buccarelli, the governor of Buenos Ayres, took forcible possession of the island, and, in order to ensure being the first to send the news to Spain, had the impudence to remove the rudder of a British ship of war, and detained her for twenty days.

Harris, afterwards first Earl of Malmesbury, the British charge d'affaires at Madrid, at once made a suitable remonstrance, but, as Grimaldi expected support from France, received no satisfaction. The British government, which had not bestirred itself on receiving Hunt's report in June, at once prepared for war, and the king's speech declared that proper reparation would be required. The navy in that year numbered 337 ships, only forty-two less than in 1763, of which three were first-rates, fifteen second-rates, and 100 third-rates, besides forty-four sloops.[88] Some of these, however, were thoroughly rotten, and many more in bad repair, and the dockyards were short of seasoned timber. For some years the navy had been neglected, and, though the votes for the service had been large, much money had been eaten up by abuses. Hawke, however, had done something in breaking-up worn-out vessels, repairing, and building. Forty ships of the line besides frigates were soon nearly ready for sea. There was some difficulty in manning them, for the peace establishment was only 16,000 men. North said that 9,000 additional seamen were wanted at once, and raised the land tax to four shillings. Bounties were offered and press-gangs were busy. The new lord mayor, Trecothick, one of the violent party in the city, refused to sign the press-warrants. Chatham praised his "firmness," but disapproved his action, for impressment was, he said, constitutional and in times of emergency necessary. Grimaldi looked to France in vain. Louis, who was then under the influence of Madame du Barri, was determined not to go to war; "my minister," he wrote to Charles of Spain, "would have war, but I will not". Choiseul was dismissed in disgrace, and was succeeded by the Duc d'Aiguillon. Spain had no choice but to yield to the demands of Great Britain, and on January 22, 1771, disowned Buccarelli's action, and agreed to deliver up Port Egmont as it was before it was seized. Throughout the whole progress of the affair the opposition attacked the government, alleging that it was careless of the honour of England, had exhibited a lack of promptitude, and had made a secret agreement with Spain to abandon the island; they even insinuated that the minister had truckled to France in order to prevent her from taking part with Spain. Their attacks were factious. The government had no desire to rush needlessly into war, but it acted with vigour and decision, and carried the matter through with a sufficiently high hand. The islands were soon afterwards deserted as unprofitable, but the British right to them was not abandoned.

The dispute with Spain caused a temporary increase in the manning of the navy, and in 1771 the number mustered was 25,836. Though the condition of the navy was unsatisfactory, the sea-power of Great Britain was an important factor in European politics. With regard to them the guiding principle of England was the maintenance of a good understanding with Russia. Commercially this was of first-rate importance, while politically it counterbalanced the alliance of the Bourbon courts. During the war between Catherine of Russia and the Turks which began in 1769, Russia owed much to the good-will of England; a Russian fleet was allowed to refit at Spithead and soldiers to land for refreshment, an English admiral and other officers were employed by the empress, and one of her ships of war was docked and altered at Portsmouth. A Russian fleet for the first time appeared in the Levant and inflicted a severe defeat on the Turks. France was anxious to interfere on the side of the Turks, but was held back by the declaration that the appearance of French ships in the Archipelago would bring British ships thither also. A revolution effected in Sweden by Gustavus III. in 1772 opened the way for the increase of French influence in that kingdom. This displeased Russia, and D'Aiguillon made naval preparations for the defence of Sweden against any attack from Russia and Denmark. Lord Stormont, the nephew and afterwards successor of the Earl of Mansfield, who was then ambassador at Paris, insisted that if a French fleet sailed for the Baltic, so too would a British fleet. The government was ready to support his words. In view of the increasing signs of the desire of France to push her interests in Europe, North in December, 1772, obtained a vote for 20,000 men for the navy. In the end France discontinued her preparations. Her attitude was closely connected with the arrangement by which, in 1772, Austria, Russia, and Prussia divided a large part of Poland between themselves. This act of spoliation, the first partition of Poland, drew forth no remonstrance from England; in itself it did not concern us, and its effect on the balance of power in Europe was regarded with complacency as lowering to France and as an aggrandisement of powers which would act as a counterpoise to the Bourbon alliance.


During the winter of 1770-71 some changes took place in the ministry. Weymouth, finding himself unequal to meet the Spanish crisis, resigned the seals, and Rochford took the southern and Halifax the northern department. Hawke was succeeded at the admiralty by Sandwich, who worked hard, though he appears to have applied his industry and abilities too largely to personal arrangements. Bathurst, an insignificant person, became lord chancellor, Thurlow attorney-general, and Wedderburn, hitherto a bitter opponent of the ministry, solicitor-general; he ratted disgracefully, and was perhaps insincere from the first. Determined to attain the chancellorship, he may have intended to force North to give him office, by showing himself dangerous in opposition. George Grenville died in November, 1770, and several of his friends, headed by the Earl of Suffolk, a man of small ability, went over to the ministerial side. Suffolk was made privy seal and, on the death of Halifax in the following June, became secretary of state. He was succeeded as privy seal by Grafton, who, in accepting the office, showed his lack of confidence in his colleagues by stipulating that he should not be summoned to cabinet meetings. Besides the serious blow which the opposition at large sustained in the death of Grenville, Beckford's death, soon after his egregious performance at St. James's, deprived Chatham of an eager follower and the city party of its leader. Later in the year, too, died Granby, who a few months before repented of the support he had given to the ministry and had joined the opposition.

The violent language employed by the newspapers on the opposition side laid them open to reprisals. Constant resort to indictments by the attorney-general, and the exception of seditious libels from privilege of parliament, indicate the desire of the king's party to treat press offences in a special way. They were gratified by a ruling of Chief-justice Mansfield in the case of Almon, a bookseller, who was tried on an ex officio indictment for selling Junius's Letter to the King. Mansfield laid down that in cases of libel the jury could only deal with the facts of printing and publishing; it belonged to the judge to decide the character of the statement. This was not a new doctrine; it had been declared and acted upon by many earlier judges. The newspaper press, however, had by this time become important, and Mansfield's ruling infringed on the liberties of those engaged upon it, for, while that was the law, a man after being indicted by the attorney-general, who held office by, and at the pleasure of the crown, was deprived of his right to be judged by his peers on the substantial point at issue. Indignant juries refused to convict in libel cases, and Mansfield's ruling was attacked by the opposition in parliament. Chatham and Camden denied its legality. In the commons, though a proposal to abolish ex officio informations received little support, a motion for a committee of inquiry into the rights of juries was only defeated by 184 to 176. Dowdeswell and Burke believed that the question of law was likely to hinder a satisfactory settlement, and in March, 1771, Dowdeswell moved for an act to give juries the powers denied to them. A section of the opposition, however, held with Chatham and Camden that the matter should be settled by a bill declaring that the law gave them these powers. They would not support the motion, which was lost by an overwhelming majority; and Mansfield's ruling was received as law until 1792.


Another matter connected with the press engaged the house of commons for the most part of the remainder of the session of 1771. Parliament, as we have seen, was so constituted that occasions might and did arise on which the will of the people was not fairly represented. This constitutional difficulty was increased by the secrecy in which parliament shrouded its proceedings. Once useful as a means of securing freedom of debate, this secrecy was maintained as a matter of privilege after it had become useless and, indeed, pernicious. It was carried to an extreme point by the present parliament, the "unreported parliament" as it was called. Strangers were constantly made to withdraw from both houses, specially when a popular member of the opposition rose to speak. This caused a silly quarrel between the two houses in 1770, and either shut its doors against the members of the other. The publication of reports, forbidden by a standing order of 1762, had for some time been carried on under various disguises, and the reports, which were founded on scanty information, were often unfair and scurrilous. In February, 1771, Colonel Onslow complained of two newspapers which misrepresented his conduct in the house, and held him up to contempt by describing him as "little cocking George". Disregarding a warning from Burke as to the folly of entering into a quarrel with the press and attempting to keep its proceedings from the public, the house ordered the printers, Wheble and Thompson, to attend at the bar. The serjeant-at-arms failed to find them, and was jeered at by their workmen. A proclamation was then issued for their arrest. While this affair was pending several newspapers commented on the proceedings of the house, and attacked various members, and specially Onslow, describing him as "a paltry insignificant insect" and so on. On March 12 he moved to proceed against six other printers. The opposition, led by Dowdeswell, Burke, and Barre, made a determined stand. They divided the house twenty-three times, and it sat till 5 A.M. "Posterity," said Burke, "will bless the pertinaciousness of that day." Onslow's motion was carried; some of the printers were reprimanded, one, Miller, refused to attend.

The city reformers seized the opportunity of renewing their quarrel with the house. Wheble and Thompson were collusively arrested and were discharged, Wheble by alderman Wilkes and Thompson by alderman Oliver, as not being accused of any crime. Worse was to come. Miller was arrested by a messenger of the house, and gave the messenger in charge for assaulting him. Both were brought before Brass Crosby, the lord mayor, Wilkes, and Oliver; Miller was discharged, the messenger held to bail. The house ordered Crosby and Oliver, who were both members of it, to attend in their places, and Wilkes, who was at the bottom of the affair, at the bar. Wilkes refused to attend unless as member for Middlesex, and the house, with more discretion than valour, shrank from another conflict with him. The king, who was deeply interested in the quarrel, approved; he would, he said, "have nothing more to do with that devil Wilkes". Crosby and Oliver defended their conduct, and were committed to the Tower. During the proceedings an angry crowd interrupted the business of the house, pelted several members, roughly handled North and Charles Fox, who was conspicuous as a defender of privilege, and broke their carriages. The lord mayor and Oliver were visited in the Tower by Rockingham, Burke, and other members of the opposition. On their release, at the end of the session, on May 8, they were saluted by the cannon of the artillery company and by vociferous applause, and the city was illuminated. Proceedings against the messenger were stopped by the attorney-general. Though the house was victorious, its dignity suffered so greatly in the conflict that it forbore to follow up its victory. Burke's words proved true; for though the publication of debates was still held to be a breach of privilege, no further attempt was made to punish it. Soon after this dispute with the house of commons the city reformers quarrelled amongst themselves, and the party was split up.


Though political disputes dulled the interest excited by theological questions in the earlier half of the century, the house of commons was invited on February 6, 1772, to abolish the subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles which was demanded of all clergymen and of all students matriculating at Oxford and Cambridge. The movement was connected with a tendency towards unitarianism, which, besides attracting many dissenters, exercised an influence within the Church. Some churchmen seceded; others, less decided, sought to be relieved of an unwelcome obligation. An association which met at the Feathers Tavern, in the Strand, sent a petition to the house signed by about two hundred and fifty men, clergy, doctors, and lawyers, praying to be relieved of subscription. The king was hostile to the petition, and North opposed it in moderate terms. Burke spoke against it with remarkable ability, pointing out that a standard of faith was necessary to insure order in the Church, and that subscription to the Bible would not, as the petitioners maintained, afford any criterion of belief. The petition was rejected by a large majority, though several members on both sides expressed a dislike to requiring subscription at the universities from youths who were not of an age to judge of such matters. The house, though it refused to allow clergymen to evade the formularies of their Church, was not averse from toleration. A bill to relieve dissenting ministers and teachers from subscription to certain of the articles, which was indeed rarely exacted, was carried in the commons with little opposition, but the king and the bishops were strongly opposed to it; the royal influence was used against it in the house of lords, which threw out the bill both in 1772 and 1773, and it did not become law until six years later.

The opposition was moribund. An annual motion was made for shortening the duration of parliaments; but it attracted little attention, and other questions which had lately agitated men's minds fell equally out of date. A momentary revival of political excitement was caused by a bill which affected the king personally. George had family troubles. His sister Caroline, Queen of Denmark, was accused of adultery and imprisoned; she was allowed to retire to Hanover, and remained there until her death. Soon after hearing of her daughter's disgrace the king's mother died of cancer. She had long ceased to have any political influence and was eminently charitable, yet the sufferings of her last days were exulted over by scribblers opposed to the court, and her funeral was hailed with the cheers of the city mob. About the same time one of George's brothers, the Duke of Cumberland, after disgracing him by his flagrant immorality, married Mrs. Horton, the widowed daughter of Lord Irnham, and sister of Luttrell, the Middlesex member; and the private marriage of another brother, the Duke of Gloucester, to the widow of Lord Waldegrave, a bastard daughter of Horace Walpole's brother, was publicly announced. George was deeply annoyed by these marriages and forbade the offenders to appear at court. At his wish the royal marriage bill was laid before parliament. By this act no descendant of George II. under the age of twenty-six can enter into a valid marriage without the sovereign's consent; nor above that age, should the sovereign's consent be withheld, except by giving a year's notice to the privy council, so that parliament may, if it chooses, forbid the marriage. The doctrine implied in this act, that the whole royal family forms a class apart from the rest of the nation, was foreign to English ideas and smacked rather of German than English royalty. Yet, whatever the effects of the act may have been on those most nearly concerned, they have been beneficial to the nation.

The bill excited much disapproval and was vigorously opposed in parliament. In the commons the preamble, which acknowledged the prerogative asserted by the crown, was passed only by a majority of thirty-six, and the bill was finally carried by 165 to 115. Among its opponents were Burke and Charles Fox, by that time a power in the house. No man probably has ever enjoyed greater popularity than Fox. His disposition was amiable and generous, his good nature inexhaustible, his heart full of warm and humane feelings. As a mere lad he had been initiated into vice by his father's folly; he drank, lived loosely, dressed extravagantly, and was an inveterate and most unlucky gambler; his losses were indeed too constant to be wholly due to ill-luck. At twenty-five he owed L140,000, which his father paid for him. He was a keen sportsman, and he cared for higher things than sport. He was accomplished, a lover of learning and art, and found unfailing pleasure in the masterpieces of Greek, Latin, English, French, Italian, and, in later days, Spanish literature. In parliament he had hitherto opposed all popular measures, sometimes with insolent flippancy. He was appointed a lord of the admiralty in 1770. He gradually came under Burke's influence and showed signs of remarkable talents in debate. His speeches were unprepared, his statement of a case was often made confusedly, but he was splendid in reply. His career as a statesman was marred, like his private character, by an utter lack of principle. His opposition to the royal marriage bill seems to have been a matter of private feeling. His father had united the plebeian family of Fox with a house descended from a royal bastard by a runaway marriage with Lady Caroline Lennox; and Charles was hot against a bill which annulled a marriage made without legal consent, and must have derived special satisfaction in opposing the wish to preserve the royal family from derogatory marriages on the part of the faithless lover of his favourite aunt, Lady Sarah. He resigned office, but re-entered the ministry the following December.


The strength of the ministry caused a stagnation in matters of domestic policy, and parliament turned its attention towards a settlement of the government of India. In 1772 the East India Company was on the verge of bankruptcy, owing chiefly to expensive wars, large pensions to native rulers, and the greed of the proprietors. The successes of Haidar in the Karnatic and the famine in Bengal sent down the price of stock, as we have seen, 60 per cent. The company applied to government for a loan of at least L1,000,000. North, with statesmanlike decision, seized the opportunity of asserting the right of the crown to the territorial revenue and of placing the government under the control of its ministers. The king upheld his policy. Select and secret committees were appointed by the commons to inquire into the condition of the company and of the British affairs in India. Acting on the recommendation of the secret committee, North foiled an attempt of the company to keep its affairs in its own hands by carrying a bill to restrain it from appointing supervisors in India. Burke violently opposed this and every step by which the territorial power of the company was brought into subjection to parliament. It was, indeed, with some justice that he urged that the violation of the royal charter held by the company was a dangerous precedent, that the claim to the territorial revenue was arbitrary, and that parliament had increased the company's distress by extorting from it the payment of L400,000 a year, and had done nothing for it in return. The case for the company was supported in both houses by the Rockingham party generally.

North was supreme in both houses, and, in June 1773, carried his regulating bill. The company received from government a loan of L1,400,000 at 4 per cent., its annual payment of L400,000 was remitted until the loan was repaid; its future dividends were restricted in amount, and its authority in accepting bills from India curtailed; it was to submit its accounts to the treasury, and to export British goods to a certain yearly value. In order to assist the company which had a large stock of tea on hand, it was agreed that it might export this tea direct and duty free to America, a decision which proved of momentous import. A court of supreme jurisdiction was created, consisting of a chief justice and three puisne judges, appointed by the crown and with fixed salaries. The governor of Bengal was made governor-general of British India and was to act with a council of four. The first governor-general, Warren Hastings, then governor of Bengal, and his council were appointed by the act; their successors were to be appointed by the directors and approved by the crown. All military and civil matters which came before the directors were to be submitted to the crown. No officer of the crown or of the company was to accept any presents. The act transferred the government of India from a trading company to the crown. Constitutionally, its weakest point was the appointment of executive officers in parliament; for all officers should be appointed by the crown, and its action should be subject to parliamentary check. As regards the arrangement of government, the act should have defined the relations between the supreme court and the council, and between the governor-general, the directors, and the crown, and should not have left the governor-general in a position to be overruled by his council.

During the debates on these measures the publication of the report of the select committee excited public feeling against the "nabobs," and specially against Clive, and a parliamentary inquiry was held into his conduct. Before the select committee he admitted and defended the deceit which he had practised on Omichand in 1757, and declared that he was justified in accepting enormous sums from Mir Jafar. They were as nothing compared to what he might have had; "Mr. Chairman," said he, "at this moment I stand astonished at my own moderation". Resolutions condemning his conduct were moved by Burgoyne. He defended himself with force and dignity. Finally, after many debates, the house voted that he had through the power entrusted to him possessed himself of L234,000, refused to vote that he had abused his power, and voted instead that "he did at the same time render great and meritorious services to this country". The matter was not made a party question, and the decision was worthy of the assembly which pronounced it. The king, while fully acknowledging Clive's services, thought him guilty of "rapine," and disapproved of his virtual acquittal. Thurlow attacked, Wedderburn zealously defended him. The court party voted different ways. Physical suffering together with the strain of these proceedings affected Clive's mind, and he died by his own hand on November 22, 1774.


In 1773 the king's political predominance was firmly established. His will was law to his ministers, and they commanded overwhelming majorities in both houses of parliament. The country was satisfied that it should be so, for the quarrel between the people and parliament had died out. It was a time of political apathy. The balance of power, which during Walpole's administration had shifted from the lords to the commons, was shifting from parliament to the crown. The house of commons was losing its spirit of independence, and the control which it should have exercised on the executive was endangered by the growth of the king's personal authority. So long as George ruled the country successfully this danger was likely to increase. He had so skilfully strengthened his position that he had triumphed over domestic agitation. The just working of the constitution was finally restored through national calamity. American discontents were to lead to a revolt which the enemies of England used as an opportunity for attacking her. Their attacks were formidable in themselves, and had the humiliating result of forcing Great Britain to give up the struggle with her revolted colonies and acknowledge their independence. George had chosen to be his own prime minister, and his policy was to suffer defeat. A period of storm was ahead, and as the ship of state passed through it, the king's personal rule, and much else besides, went overboard. All this was still far off. From 1770 to 1774 the affairs of the American colonies excited little attention in England, though, as we shall see in the next chapter, they were tending towards open revolt.


[82] Annual Register, xiii. (1770), 72.

[83] Life of Shelburne, ii., 221; Calcraft to Chatham, March 8, 1771, MS. Pitt Papers, 25.

[84] Speeches of Barre, March 23, and Burke, April 6, 1773, Parl. Hist., xvii., 826, 836.

[85] Calcraft to Chatham, March 12, 1770, MS. Pitt Papers, 25.

[86] Letters of H. Walpole, v., 238-39 n.; Mitford, Gray and Mason Correspondence, pp. 438-39; Stephens, Memoirs of J. H. Tooke, i., 157.

[87] Calcraft to Chatham, June 10, 1770, MS. Pitt Papers, 25.

[88] The State of the Navy, MS. Admiralty Miscell., 567, R.O.



The failure of the non-importation agreements in 1770 led Englishmen to expect a peaceable end to the quarrel with America, and the colonists were for the most part inclined to let it die out. Samuel Adams had no such inclination, and did all in his power to fan the smouldering embers of strife. For some time longer he and his friends professed loyalty, but he at least was consciously working for separation. A rising in North Carolina, called the regulators' war, because the insurgents claimed to regulate their own police affairs, was smartly quelled by the governor, Tryon, in 1771; it need not detain us, for it had no connexion with the quarrel with England. There was much lawlessness elsewhere. Mobs tyrannised over their more loyal neighbours, tarring and feathering some of those who would not comply with their demands, and using other barbarous modes of advancing the cause of liberty. In Boston the revenue officers were exposed to insult and violence. Hutchinson held the assembly of the province at Cambridge, and further disgusted his opponents by informing them that he was no longer dependent on their votes for his salary; it would thenceforward be paid by the king. The more peaceable Americans were gratified in 1772 by the appointment of the Earl of Dartmouth to succeed Hillsborough as secretary for the colonies, for Dartmouth, a pious and amiable person of no political ability, was known to be anxious for conciliation. Fresh cause of offence, however, was found in a decision of the ministers that the salaries of the Massachusetts judges should be paid by the crown instead of by the colony. This change, which was designed to render the judges independent of popular feeling, was resented as an attempt to make them subservient to the crown, for they held office during the king's pleasure.


Meanwhile the contempt with which the authority of the crown was regarded, and the necessity for restraining the provincial judges from political partisanship, were forcibly illustrated. Smuggling was carried on freely, especially in Rhode Island. The duty of preventing it in Narragansett Bay was discharged by Lieutenant Duddingston, in command of the Gaspee schooner. He was zealous, and, according to American accounts, was guilty of illegal and oppressive acts. On June 9, while engaged in a chase, the Gaspee ran aground, and on the night of the 10th was boarded by eight boat-loads of men. Duddingston was treacherously shot at and wounded; he and his men were set on shore, and the schooner was burnt. This destruction of one of the king's ships, an act alike of rebellion and piracy, and, as Thurlow said, "an event five times the magnitude of the stamp act," was unpunished. A law, enacted in the previous April, and evoked by a fire in an English dockyard, provided that the setting on fire of a public dockyard or a king's ship should be felony, and that those accused of such an offence should be tried in England. Commissioners were appointed by the crown to inquire into the destruction of the Gaspee, and send those concerned in it to England for trial. On their applying for warrants to the chief justice of the province, he declared that he would allow no one to be arrested with a view to deportation, and the commission was fruitless. The colonists were angered by this attempt to enforce the law; and in 1773 took an important step towards union and a future congress by establishing committees of correspondence between the provinces.

Samuel Adams unexpectedly found an opportunity of rousing fresh excitement in Massachusetts. A number of private letters written by Hutchinson and Oliver, the deputy governor, to a gentleman of England, named Whately, and stolen after his death, were sent over by Franklin to the committee of correspondence at Boston, were read by Adams to the assembly, and were subsequently published. Hutchinson, a patriotic American, was a faithful servant of the crown and believed in the supremacy of parliament. His letters contained no statements that were not true and no comments discreditable to a man of honour, holding the opinions on which he had consistently acted. They were declared to be evidences of malice and bad faith; he and Oliver were, John Adams said, "cool-thinking, deliberate villains," and the assembly sent a petition to the king for their removal. The letters were industriously circulated throughout the province, and were denounced by preachers in their Sunday sermons. Such was the state of affairs when, in accordance with the act of parliament authorising the East India Company to export its surplus stock of tea direct to America, three ships laden with tea appeared in Boston harbour. Other ships with like cargoes had also been despatched to New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. At Boston, on the night of December 16, a large body of men, disguised as Indians and encouraged by Samuel Adams and his friends, boarded the ships and emptied their cargoes, 340 chests of tea valued at L18,000, into the sea. The ships for Philadelphia and New York returned to London without discharging their cargoes. At Charleston the tea was landed, but the consignees were forced to renounce their engagement, and the tea rotted in the cellars of the custom-house.

In England the Boston riot caused much irritation. The news came when the publication of Hutchinson's letters was exciting strong feelings. Who was responsible for their abstraction from Whately's correspondence was for some time a mystery. Franklin kept his counsel, and a duel took place between Whately's brother and a Bostonian who was suspected of stealing them. Then Franklin declared that he alone had obtained them and sent them to Boston. As agent for Massachusetts he appeared before a committee of the privy council on January 29, 1774, in support of the petition against Hutchinson and Oliver. Both sides were heard by counsel. Wedderburn, who spoke against the petition, made a violent attack on Franklin; he described him as a thief and accused him of acting from the meanest motives. The temper of his audience was irritated by the news from Boston, and his speech was received with manifestations of delight, indecent on the part of men sitting as judges in that august court. The petition was rejected as groundless and scandalous, and men went away "almost ready to throw up their hats for joy," as though a lawyer's bitter tongue had given England a victory. Franklin was at once dismissed from his office of deputy postmaster. Wedderburn's speech and the spirit in which it was received were impolitic as well as discreditable. While strongly opposed to the ministerial policy in America, Franklin had shown himself anxious to maintain the tie between Great Britain and her colonies. This attack upon his character made him one of England's enemies, and, as it proved, one of the most dangerous of them. His conduct is not palliated by the indecency of his opponents. It has been urged in his defence that, as Whately had shown the letters to certain English politicians, it was fair that Boston politicians should also see them, that as agent he was bound to do the best for his province, and that governments did intercept and use correspondence which was believed to contain important political information.[89] Conduct befitting a man of honour needs no defence.


The general opinion in England was that Boston should be punished, and that if the government made an example of that rebellious town, the Americans would learn a wholesome lesson. The king held this opinion, and was delighted when General Gage told him that the Americans "would be lions whilst we are lambs, but if we take the resolute part they will undoubtedly prove very meek". He determined to force Boston to submission, and his ministers were at his command. A junior lord of the treasury was insubordinate, and was promptly dismissed. It seemed a small matter, but it had important consequences, for the rebel was Charles Fox. He had more than one grudge against the king, and he was perhaps growing impatient of serving under a minister who was virtually the king's representative, though his actual revolt may have been an unpremeditated ebullition of youthful vanity. A libel on the speaker, of which the turbulent parson, Horne, was the author, gave him an opportunity for self-display; he usurped the functions of leader of the house, persuaded it to enter on proceedings which might have ended in another awkward quarrel with a printer, and placed North in a most embarrassing position. The king, whom he had already offended by his opposition to the royal marriage bill, heartily disliked him, and urged North to get rid of him. He was curtly dismissed from office on February 24. He at once went into opposition, and acted generally with the Rockingham party, though he did not distinctly join it until a later period. He was already intimate with Burke, who soon gained much influence over him. On almost every question he combated the opinions which he had previously supported, and constantly attacked his former chief with great bitterness. In debate the opposition gained enormously by his alliance, but it was in the end injurious to their cause. His sympathy with the enemies of his country in time of war strengthened the king and his ministers in their efforts to maintain the honour of England by persevering in the struggle, for it revolted the patriotic feelings of the nation and kept it steadfast in its support of the government.

[Sidenote: THE PENAL ACTS.]

On March 14 North began to lay before the commons the measures by which the government hoped to bring the Americans to submission. By the first of these penal laws, as they are called, Boston was to be punished by the transference of the seat of government to Salem, and by the closing of its harbour, which entailed the suspension of its trade, until the town had made good the loss inflicted on the East India Company, and the king was satisfied that the laws would be observed. North spoke with remarkable moderation. Both he and Dartmouth disliked violent measures, and their tone with regard to America was so different from that of their colleagues, that it indicated a division in the cabinet.[90] The bill met with little opposition in the commons, though Dowdeswell and Burke spoke against it. In the lords, Rockingham and Shelburne opposed it, Chatham was absent through ill-health, and Mansfield strongly advocated it, declaring that Boston had committed "the last overt act of treason," and that it was a lucky event, for if the bill passed we should have crossed the Rubicon, the Americans would see that we would temporise no longer, and if it passed unanimously, Boston would submit without bloodshed. The bill passed both houses without a division. The next bill, "for regulating the government of Massachusetts Bay," overthrew the charter of the colony; it increased the power of the governor, vested the nomination of the council in the crown, altered the system by which juries were chosen, and prohibited town meetings, the principal engine of democratic rule, from being held without the consent of the governor. The abrogation of chartered rights excited strong, though ineffectual, opposition; the bill was passed in the commons by 239 to 64, and in the lords by 92 to 20, eleven peers signing a protest against it.

This measure was calculated to alarm and irritate the colonies generally, for the alteration of the charter of one of them would be taken as a menace to the constitutional liberties of all. In the hope of counteracting this effect, the opposition wished the house of commons, before it passed the bill, to conciliate the Americans by repealing the tax on tea.[91] A motion was made for the repeal on April 19, and was supported by Burke in a speech of remarkable power. He maintained that the concession would be well received, and entreated the house to resort to its old principles, to be content to bind the colonies by laws of trade, to disregard the question of its right, and to refrain from taxation. Only forty-nine voted for the motion. A third bill ordered that any one accused of a capital offence should, if the act was done in the execution of the law in Massachusetts, be tried in Nova Scotia or Great Britain; and a fourth provided for the quartering of troops. When the quartering bill was before the lords, Chatham returned to parliament. He opposed the bill, declared his dislike of the Boston port bill, which, he said, punished a whole town for the crime of a few; and while he condemned the turbulence of the Americans, declared that their discontent was due to the irritating treatment they had received, and urged that England should act towards them as a fond and forgiving parent, for the time was at hand when she would "need the help of her most distant friends". On all these bills the numbers of the minority were very low, and the king declared himself "infinitely pleased" with the reception they met with. Meanwhile Hutchinson was recalled, and Gage was appointed governor of Massachusetts as well as commander-in-chief.

[Sidenote: THE QUEBEC ACT.]

Another bill, closely connected with the state of affairs in America, though not devised merely with reference to it, provided for the government of Canada, which had remained as it had been settled temporarily by royal proclamation in 1763. The province of Quebec, as it was called, only extended eastward to the St. John's river on the north of the St. Lawrence, the territory beyond being annexed to the jurisdiction of Newfoundland, while on the south the islands of Cape Breton and St. John (Prince Edward's island) belonged to Nova Scotia. No settlement was made as to the country west of the Appalachian range, which was claimed by the old colonies, nor as to the vast tract between Lake Nipissing and the Mississippi, the boundary of the Spanish land. The government of Canada was in the hands of a military governor-general and a council. In 1764 the English-speaking and protestant population was a mere handful; in 1774 it numbered about 360, while the French Roman catholics were at the least 80,000. In accordance with the treaty of Paris the catholics had full liberty of worship. English was, however, the only official language, and all offices were held by men of British nationality. The administration of the law was confused, and, though the king's proclamation held out a prospect that an assembly might be called, it required oaths and declarations which would have shut Roman catholics out from it. The French disliked the English law with reference to land, and as far as possible evaded it. Constant difficulties arose, and, in 1766, Charles Yorke, then attorney-general, advised that English should cease to be the only official language, and that French law should be recognised in cases which concerned land. On the other hand the British minority, largely consisting of immigrants from New England, pressed for an assembly, which would have strengthened and perpetuated their supremacy over their French neighbours.

The discontent in the American colonies made the ministers specially anxious to conciliate the French Canadians, and with the advice of Sir Guy Carleton, the governor, they brought in a bill for the government of the province. The Quebec act of 1774 included in Canada the territory previously annexed to Newfoundland, and extended its boundaries to the Ohio and the Mississippi. It confirmed freedom of worship to the Roman catholics and secured to their priests, with the exception of the religious orders, their former tithes and dues, so far as concerned their own people only, for protestants were exempted from such payments. Civil cases were to be decided according to the French law, criminal cases according to the English law, by juries. It was declared inexpedient to call an assembly; a legislative council was nominated by the crown, and taxation was reserved to the parliament of Great Britain. The bill was strenuously opposed, Chatham in the lords, and Burke and Barre in the commons speaking strongly against it. The government, it was urged, was setting up a despotism and was depressing the British population to please the French noblesse, and the trial of civil cases without juries and the withholding of the habeas corpus were represented as intolerable grievances.

The conflict was hottest on the religious question. The whigs, who secured the support of the dissenters by posing as the protestant party, had a hereditary claim to the popular cry of No popery. They denounced the bill as establishing popery, while it merely permitted protestantism. It was, Chatham declared, a breach of the reformation, of the revolution, and of the king's coronation oath. The City petitioned against the bill, and when, on June 22, the king went to give his assent to it and to prorogue parliament, he was received in the streets with angry cries of "No popery". The agitation soon died out, for the government was popular. In America the act caused much irritation; New York, Virginia, and other colonies complained that it deprived them of the right to extend their territories; the revolutionary party saw with uneasiness the establishment of the power of the crown over a vast district on their borders, and religious prejudices were aroused by the favour shown to the catholics. Strong protestant as he was, the king was thoroughly in favour of the bill. It was a wise and a just measure. It gave the French Canadians all that they really needed: they thought it absurd that rights to land should be decided by juries; they had no political ambitions, and only desired to enjoy in peace the ministrations of their own priests and the right to deal with their lands according to their ancient customs. They rejoiced that their priests were satisfied, and in the coming struggle between Great Britain and her colonies the priests were mindful of the justice with which they were treated and used their boundless influence with good effect on the British side.

The Rubicon, as Mansfield said, was passed, but the event was to be different from the expectation of the king and the nation at large. When Gage went out to enforce the repressive acts neither he nor those who sent him thought that his task would be hard. Four regiments, he believed, would be enough to settle the business. The Americans, Sandwich said, were cowardly and undisciplined; they would not stand a cannon-shot. That they would not fight was the firm opinion of all but a very few. More than this, it was generally expected that Massachusetts would not be supported by the other colonies, and no special military preparation was thought necessary. On June 1, Boston harbour was closed. The busy little town lay desolate, its wharfs were deserted, its warehouses shut up, its streets silent; its merchants were threatened with ruin, its seamen, shipwrights, and labourers and their families with starvation. The act was enforced to the utmost, and small as Gage's force was, it was sufficient to keep the town in subjection. Its punishment was heavy, but surely not heavier than its offences. Be this as it may, it was worse than ineffectual. The penal acts irritated the Americans and did not intimidate them. Boston was regarded as suffering for the common cause. Supplies poured in from the towns and villages of New England, from the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland; and a continental congress was decided on. Encouraged by the prospect of support, the revolutionary party in Massachusetts defied Gage's authority; gatherings of armed men took place, and warlike preparations were set on foot. Gage began to fortify Boston Neck and brought in some guns which might otherwise have been seized by the people.

On September 5 the continental congress met at Philadelphia. Of the thirteen colonies only Georgia was unrepresented. Yet the delegates came with different instructions and different intentions, and even among delegates from the same province there was much difference of opinion. As a body the congress did not meet with any predetermined revolutionary purpose. Many loyalists and indeed moderate men of both parties believed that it would be a means of arranging a reconciliation with Great Britain, and though the most decided loyalists would have nothing to do with it, even they hoped for a good result:[92] one-third of the delegates, John Adams said, were whigs, one-third tories (loyalists), and the rest mongrel. A proposal for a new constitution with a president over all the colonies to be appointed by the crown, and a grand council to be elected by the several assemblies and to act in connexion with parliament, was only negatived by the votes of six colonies to five. Yet the revolutionists gained a decided preponderance, largely through the skilful management of Samuel Adams, who persuaded the congress to approve the "resolves" passed at a meeting of Suffolk county, Massachusetts. These "resolves" rejected the act for the government of the province, required tax collectors not to pay money into the governor's treasury, and advised towns to appoint their own officers of militia. Besides endorsing a policy of armed resistance to government, congress further demanded the revocation of a series of acts of parliament, including the Quebec act and the late penal legislation, drew up a declaration of rights, agreed on non-exportation and non-importation, sent a petition to the king, and published an address to the English people. It arranged that a new congress should meet the following May, and invited the Canadians to join in it, suggesting grounds of discontent with the English government and pretending a zeal for religious equality. But the Canadians were not to be caught.


Congress separated without having laid down any basis for conciliation save complete surrender on the part of parliament, which was clearly impossible. It professed loyalty to the crown, and it is probable that certain eminent Americans, who, like George Washington, declared that they knew of no wish for independence, really desired to maintain the connexion with England, if they could bring affairs back to their condition before 1763, and actually believed that by cutting off commercial relations with her, they could compel her to assent to their demands without an appeal to arms. Like the vast majority of Englishmen, who did not believe that the Americans would fight, they failed to understand the situation. In the case of others, like Patrick Henry and the Adamses, it is useless to attach any weight to loyal expressions. Too much, indeed, has been made of the American professions of loyalty, for men's loyalty is better judged by their actions than by their words. Thousands of Americans proved their loyalty by tremendous sacrifices. Loyalism on its religious side was connected with the teaching of the English Church; politically it was the outcome of attachment to law, monarchy, and the unity of the empire as against revolution, democracy, and separation.[93] The loyalists, however, included men of various religious persuasions and of different shades of political opinion. As Americans, they felt the British colonial system burdensome, and only the more extreme among them approved of the stamp act and the Townshend duties. Many took the American view of the rights of the colonies; they desired reforms and redress of grievances, and some of them were not averse from the milder forms of resistance. Yet all were loyal to the crown and acknowledged the supremacy of parliament. The hopes of the moderate section were disappointed by the congress of 1774; in common with the more extreme loyalists they held that it exceeded its powers, and their denial of its authority united the loyalist party.

The loyalists, or tories as they were called, comprised, in addition to the royal officers, many of the best and most cultivated people in the colonies, a majority of the larger landowners, by far the greater number of the episcopal clergy together with some other religious teachers, very many physicians, fewer lawyers, though some of the most eminent among them, and many of the wealthier merchants, who disliked the interruption of trade and believed that its prosperity depended on British commerce. Among the lower classes some farmers, mechanics, and labourers were loyalists. They were weakest in New England, though fairly numerous in Connecticut. New York was throughout the loyalist stronghold, and, of the other middle colonies, Pennsylvania was disinclined to revolution and New Jersey contained a strong loyalist minority. In the southern colonies they were about as numerous as the whigs, and in South Carolina and Georgia perhaps outnumbered them. John Adams, who would be inclined to underestimate their number, thought that they were a third of the population of the thirteen colonies. The number on each side fluctuated from time to time; the loyalists claimed to be in a majority, and it is probable that at least half of the most respected part of the population were throughout the struggle either avowedly or secretly averse from revolution.[94] At the lowest computation 20,000 loyalists joined the British army, and some thirty regiments or battalions of them were regularly organised and paid. Most of them were peaceable men, not more inclined for fighting than the mass of their opponents who were forced into war by an active minority. Through the skilful management of this minority the loyalists were disarmed everywhere at the beginning of the struggle. They suffered terrible persecution. A man suspected of loyalism would be summoned to a meeting of the "sons of liberty," and ordered to take an oath to them. If he refused he was tarred and feathered, or set to ride upon a rail, and his house was defiled with filth. Loyalists were declared liable to imprisonment, exile, and confiscation. These men were not less patriotic than the revolutionists; they believed that the welfare of their country depended on its remaining part of the British empire; and holding this belief they suffered, fought, and died for their country's sake.


Although parliament had not lasted its full term of seven years, it was dissolved on September 30. The king was probably anxious that a new parliament should be elected before any event took place which might suggest doubt as to the success of his American policy. Besides, he was anxious to secure more men of landed property as members, and reckoned that a sudden dissolution would foil "the nabobs, planters, and other volunteers," who would not be ready for the battle.[95] His design was successful, and the election as a whole was marked by the predominance of the country gentlemen, at that period the best element in a house of commons. Much to George's annoyance the Grenville election act had been made perpetual during the last session. Its good effects were apparent in the election of 1774; it made the bribery of borough electors dangerous, and there was far less of it than before. Bargains, however, could still be made with the owners and patrons of boroughs, and the king made himself responsible for the money North expended. North offered Lord Falmouth L2,500 a piece for three Cornish seats and had "to make it guineas". Other bargains of the same kind were made. George, who was great at electioneering manoeuvres, took much interest in the proceedings. He was unable to find a candidate to stand against Wilkes, then lord mayor elect, and Wilkes and Glynn were returned for Middlesex without opposition. Wilkes took his seat without encountering any difficulties and his political importance virtually ended with his exclusion. Bristol returned Burke, who was recommended to that great commercial city by his desire for conciliation with America, and his knowledge of mercantile affairs. At the declaration of the poll he dwelt on the relations which should exist between a member and his constituents: he should, he said, as their representative in all cases prefer their interests to his own, but he should not sacrifice his mature judgment to their opinion, or be subservient to their mandates. As a whole the election satisfied the king, for the ministers had a large and indeed an increased majority.

"I am not sorry," George wrote on hearing of the proceedings of congress, "that the line of conduct seems now chalked out; the New England colonies are in a state of rebellion, blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this country or independent." He expressed the feeling of by far the larger part of his people. Not of all, for his ministers North and Dartmouth and a few of their party, were averse from violent measures; the merchants who traded with America were anxious for conciliation; and the whigs as a body were opposed to the king's policy. Chatham exulted in "the manly wisdom and calm resolution of congress". The experience and sentiments of his great days led him to foresee that, in case of war France and Spain would seize the opportunity of attacking England. Unfortunately his theory that the colonies owed only a limited obedience to the crown, that while parliament had a right to crush disobedience and to pass acts regulating trade, it had no right to impose taxes, his violence, his inveterate habit of "talking fustian,"[96] and his friendship with Franklin, who was commonly regarded as a rebel, deprived his warnings of the weight which they deserved. The Rockingham party did not act cordially with him. It was inspired by Burke who urged that parliament should disregard the question of right, should act in accordance with the spirit rather than the letter of the constitution, should respect a desire for free institutions, and should be guided by what was practicable and what was advisable, specially with reference to England's trade. His influence was somewhat injured by the fact that since 1771 he had been the paid agent of the province of New York. Equally with Chatham, he considered that colonial trade and industry should be restrained in order to bring wealth to the mother-country, nor does either of them seem to have perceived that the root of American discontent lay in these restrictions.


It was not until 1776 that Adam Smith in his famous Wealth of Nations showed that such restrictions were actually injurious to the prosperity of the country which imposed them, and combated the theories on which the relations of England with her colonies had been built up. He desired that the colonies should be represented in parliament, a proposal which found some advocates both here and in America, but was condemned by Burke and did not enter into practical politics. Meanwhile a pamphleteer of originality and genius, Tucker, Dean of Gloucester, maintained that separation was inevitable and advisable, that the Americans were a turbulent and ill-conditioned people, a source of expense to which they would not contribute, and that England would be better off without them. She would not, he contended, lose commercially; for, like Adam Smith, he pointed out that trade goes to the best market, and that so long as England remained superior to other countries in capital and industry, she would keep the American trade, and, as war was destructive of trade, he would have had her separate herself peacefully from her rebellious colonies. His proposal was denounced by Burke and found no acceptance with either party in England.

Numerically weak as the opposition in parliament was, it made a vigorous fight over American affairs. Parliament opened on November 30, and the king's speech took note of the resistance to the law which prevailed in Massachusetts, and the "unwarrantable combinations for the obstruction" of trade. In both houses an amendment to the address was proposed. The divisions illustrate the strength of the two parties; in the lords it was defeated by 63 to 13, and in the commons by 264 to 73. The ministers asserted that the force already in America was sufficient to bring the colonies to obedience; the naval establishment was reduced to a peace footing, and no extra soldiers were voted. Gage, however, who had only some 3,000 troops, asked for a large reinforcement, and wrote that, if matters came to an extremity, 20,000 men would be needed for the conquest of New England, a number which, Dartmouth said, "the nation would not be able to furnish in a twelvemonth".[97] The ministers resolved to send a small reinforcement from Ireland, they were encouraged to believe that the Americans would yield by tidings that the New York assembly had rejected the decisions of congress and by more hopeful news from Gage. After the recess the campaign opened in earnest. On January 20, 1775, Chatham moved for the recall of the troops from Boston, and declared that, if the ministers persisted in their policy, they would mislead the king and the kingdom would be undone. He was defeated by a large majority. Petitions against coercion were presented from London, Liverpool, Bristol, Glasgow, and other trading towns, and were virtually shelved. Meanwhile Lord Howe, encouraged by the dislike of North and Dartmouth to coercive measures, made ineffectual attempts to arrange terms of conciliation through Franklin.


On February 1 Chatham, who was in constant communication with Franklin, brought in a conciliation bill. It was a strange composition, florid in terms, embracing a multiplicity of subjects, and depending for its operation on the good-will of the Americans. He proposed to assert the supremacy of parliament, specially in matters of trade, to confine taxation to the provincial assemblies, and to legalise the coming congress in order that it might make a perpetual free grant to the crown, which was to be appropriated by parliament to the reduction of the national debt. Having obtained this grant, parliament was to reduce the power of the admiralty courts, which checked illicit trading, and to suspend all the acts, including the Quebec act, of which the Americans complained. The bill was not allowed a second reading. Soon after its ignominious rejection the gout laid hold on Chatham, and he did not appear in parliament again for two years. Franklin returned to America about this time; he disclaimed responsibility for Chatham's proposals, which, he considered, would only have been useful as a basis for future arrangement. North at last informed parliament of the threatening state of affairs. Massachusetts was declared in rebellion; votes were passed for 2,000 additional seamen and about 4,400 soldiers; it was resolved to increase the force at Boston to 10,000 men; and a bill was passed confining the commerce of the New England provinces to Great Britain and the West Indies, and shutting them out from the Newfoundland fishery. These restraints, which were evoked by the American non-intercourse agreements, were soon extended to five other provinces.

While George promoted these strong measures, he willingly fell in with North's desire to "hold out the olive-branch"; and on the 20th North moved a resolution to the effect that if any colony provided what parliament considered its fair proportion towards the common defence and the expenses of its civil administration, no duty or tax should be imposed upon it, except for the regulation of trade. His proposal excited the indignation of the high prerogative party, who thought themselves betrayed; his followers rose in revolt; "the treasury bench seemed to totter". The storm was stilled at last, and then Barre, Burke, and Dunning fell upon the bill, describing it as a mean attempt to divide the Americans, and a plan for coercing each province separately. The motion was, however, carried. As the opposition scorned North's plan, which Burke called "a project of ransom by auction," it behoved them to bring forward a plan of their own which would be acceptable to the Americans. Accordingly, on March 22, Burke propounded a series of conciliatory resolutions which he enforced in one of his most famous speeches. He urged the house to return to its old policy, to respect the Americans' love of freedom, to look to the colonial assemblies to supply the expenses of their government and defence, to abandon the futile attempt to impose taxation, and to extend to Americans the privileges of Englishmen. His proposal was defeated. Nevertheless, by accepting North's resolution parliament showed a desire for pacification. The resolution proposed a compromise; while it maintained the authority of parliament, it offered the Americans self-taxation. It was made with a sincere desire to end the quarrel. At one time it might have led to pacification, but it came too late.

Gage found the fortification of Boston Neck no easy matter; the people would not sell him materials, and somehow his barges sank, his waggons were bogged, and their loads caught fire. The work was finished at last, and with his small force he could do little else. In Rhode Island the people seized the cannon mounted for the defence of the harbour, and in New Hampshire they surprised a small fort, and carried off ordnance and stores. Manufactories of arms and powder-mills were set up in different places. In February, 1775, the Massachusetts provincial congress met, and urged the militia, and specially the "minute-men"—militiamen ready to serve on the shortest notice—to perfect their discipline. Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas were astir with warlike preparations; in Massachusetts men were practising the use of arms on every village green, a number of Stockbridge Indians were enlisted as minute-men, and efforts were made to induce the Six Nations to "whet the hatchet" against the English.[98] Express-riders kept the country people well supplied with intelligence, in order that they might anticipate any projected movement of the British troops. On the 26th Gage sent a detachment to Salem to bring in some guns, but the people removed them in time. Some opposition was offered to the troops, but they were kept well in hand and no blood was shed.


He determined to be beforehand at Concord, where the provincials had gathered a quantity of military stores, and on April 18 sent some companies of grenadiers and light infantry under Colonel Smith and Major Pitcairn to destroy them. They went by night up the Charles river in boats, landed, and began their march. The alarm had been given and the country was aroused. When they arrived at Lexington at 5 in the morning of the 19th they found a body of militia on the green. "Disperse, you rebels!" shouted Pitcairn, and the troops advanced with a cheer. As the militia dispersed some shots were fired. From which side the first shot came is not clear. A soldier was hit and Pitcairn's horse was wounded. The troops fired a volley, a few militiamen were killed and others wounded, and the soldiers marched on. While the grenadiers were destroying the stores at Concord a sharp engagement took place with the militia, and several on both sides were killed and wounded. The troops, having accomplished their purpose as far as was possible, for part of the stores had already been removed, set out to return to Boston. As they marched back, tired and impeded by their wounded, militiamen and volunteers fired upon them from every hedge, and wall, and house, and the shots told heavily on their close ranks. Forced on by the ceaseless fire, like a driven flock of sheep, thick together and helpless, they staggered back to Lexington, where they arrived completely exhausted. There they were met by a large detachment under Lord Percy, which had been sent to their relief. After a rest the whole body marched back, harassed all the way by an incessant fire from cover, which they were for the most part unable to return. The British loss was sixty-five killed, about 157 wounded, and a few missing; the American casualties are stated as ninety-three in all. Not, unhappily, for the last time did our soldiers find that farmers and the like, who know their country, are accustomed to shoot, and understand the importance of taking cover, may be more than a match for brave and disciplined soldiers with no knowledge of war save the drill of a parade ground. It was evident that there was fighting stuff in the Americans, that they had some good marksmen, and that, undisciplined as they were, like the Boers of our own day, they knew how to use such advantages as they possessed.

Thus was the first blood shed in this long quarrel. The revolution was begun. Sooner or later it must have come, though the date of its coming and the violent means by which it was accomplished were decided by individual action. The spirit which underlay it can be traced with growing distinctness since 1690; it was a spirit of independence, puritan in religion and republican in politics, impatient of control, self-assertive, and disposed to opposition. It was irritated by restraints on industry and commerce, and found opportunities for expression in a system which gave the colonies representative assemblies while it withheld rights of self-government. Great Britain has since then adopted a more enlightened colonial policy; yet the statesmen of past times are not to be condemned because they were men of their own days and lacked the experience of a future age. And it is to be remembered that England's colonial policy was then, as it is now, the most liberal in the world. American discontent existed before the reign of George III.; it was kept in check by the fear of French invasion. It was when that fear was removed that England began to enforce the restraints on commerce. This change in policy fell most heavily on the New England provinces, where whig tendencies were strongest, and specially on Massachusetts. A small and violent party in the province fanned the flame of discontent, and the attempts at taxation, which added to the grievances of the colonists, afforded a respectable cry to the fomenters of resistance. Their work was aided by the apprehension aroused in the minds of their fellow-countrymen, by the increase in the part played by the prerogative, and by the predominance of the tories in England. While men in other provinces, as Patrick Henry in Virginia, worked in sympathy with Samuel Adams and his associates, the revolution was at its outset engineered at Boston, and was immediately determined by the quarrel between Great Britain and Massachusetts. In the events which led to the revolution the British government appears to have shown a short-sighted insistence on legal rights and a contemptuous disregard of the sentiments and opinions of the colonists; the revolutionists generally a turbulent, insolent, and unreasonable temper.


[89] Franklin, Works, v., 189-90, 205-7, 305-14, ed. Bigelow.

[90] Chatham Corr., iv. 339.

[91] Parl. Hist., xvii., 1197.

[92] Jones, History of New York, i., 34-35, 449, sq.; Flick, Loyalism in New York, pp. 24-25.

[93] Flick, Loyalism in New York, pp. 9-12.

[94] Sabine, The American Loyalists, pp. 51-55, 65.

[95] Corr. with North, i., 201.

[96] Burke to Flood, May 18, 1765, Works, i., 41.

[97] Dartmouth Papers, America, Hist. MSS. Comm. Rep., xiv., App. x., 251.

[98] The Border Warfare of the Revolution, in Narr. and Crit. Hist., vi., 612-14.



Scarcely had the night passed after the skirmish at Lexington before the whole of Massachusetts was in arms. The provincial assembly voted that an army of 30,000 men should be raised in New England, fixed on Cambridge as its headquarters and sent to their neighbours for support. From New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island the answer was prompt. Numerous bands of volunteers marched to join the forces of Massachusetts, and an army of 16,000 men soon invested Boston from the Mystic river to Roxbury. It was an army without unity, for the troops of each colony acted under their own leaders; and its numbers varied from day to day, the Massachusetts volunteers, who formed its principal part, taking leave of absence whenever they chose. Many of the provincials had seen service against the French, and understood a soldier's work, and many more had received some training in the militia, but the mass of the volunteers had no military experience or discipline. Yet they were men well used to shoot and to handle the spade and axe, implements of first-rate importance in war; they belonged as a whole to a higher class than the privates of the British army, they were more resourceful and intelligent, and were able to obtain provisions and other supplies without difficulty. Such as they were, Gage judged them too formidable in number for him to attack. The neck of land which joins Boston to the continent had been fortified so strongly that the provincials could not hope to storm it, and he decided to remain behind it and await the arrival of the reinforcements which were already on their way. He made no effort to prevent the insurgents from shutting up his army on the landward side, and early in May they began to form entrenchments. At the same time they took measures to distress the beleaguered force by clearing off the live-stock, hay, and other supplies from the islands in the harbour. Gage tried in vain to stop them, and there were several skirmishes in the harbour, in which the British suffered more heavily than the provincials.

The insurgents were not content with fighting on their own ground. The command of the line of the Hudson would prevent the British from cutting off New England from the middle colonies, would secure New York from attack from the north, and would open a way for an invasion of Canada. On the north the approaches to the river were dominated by the forts of Ticonderoga and Crown Point, which had played a conspicuous part in the great war with France; and in them were laid up some 200 cannon, small arms, and other military stores. Important as these forts were, no adequate garrisons were maintained in them. Benedict Arnold, the leader of a band of volunteers from New Haven, Connecticut, a druggist and West India trader, was informed of their defenceless condition, and made an offer to the Massachusetts committee of safety to capture them. His offer was accepted, and he was authorised to raise a force. The same plan had been formed in Connecticut; and Ethan Allen, the leader of an association in Vermont, was sent with his followers to carry it out. Arnold met him on the march; he refused to yield the command, and Arnold joined his force, which included a body of Indians. At dawn on May 10 they surprised the garrison of Ticonderoga, consisting of less than fifty men, and compelled the governor to surrender without striking a blow. A detachment from the force seized Crown Point, and a few days later Arnold sailed down Lake Champlain and captured St. John's, which was recovered by the British in the course of the summer and garrisoned.


In England the news of the fighting at Lexington and Concord was received with astonishment. People were by no means distressed, for they believed that Gage would soon take his revenge. Military men were puzzled and provoked at the state of affairs at Boston. "How often," said a general at the war office to one who had held command in America, "have I heard you American colonels boast that with four battalions you would march through America, and now you think that Gage with 4,000 men and forty pieces of cannon mayn't venture out of Boston."[99] However, things would, it was expected, soon wear a different face, for about 5,500 men were on their way to Boston, and three new generals had embarked on April 21 to serve under Gage. They were Howe, a younger brother of Lord Howe, the admiral, a fine gentleman and a gallant soldier, reputed to be a left-handed cousin of the king through his mother, a daughter of the Countess of Darlington, a mistress of George I., kindly, careless, and frivolous, who had distinguished himself at the taking of Quebec; Clinton, who had served in Germany; and Burgoyne, who had made a successful campaign in Portugal under Lippe Buckeburg, a man of fashion, a dramatist, a politician, and a keen soldier, eager for employment and promotion. North and Dartmouth were vexed at the news of the encounter, for they had entertained strong hopes, expressed by the king in closing parliament on May 26, that the conciliation bill would lead to a pacification. Gage's attempt at Concord was, Dartmouth said, fatal.

The whigs were dismayed, for they did not share the confidence of the nation at large. Though Burke expected that the Americans would suffer "some heavy blows," he did not believe that a war with them would be ended quickly; and Richmond thought it probable that America would be lost and "with it our trade and opulence".[100] In England every war gives an opportunity to some vain and foolish persons for condemning their own country and showing sympathy with its enemies. So it was in 1775. Wilkes, then lord mayor, and the livery of the city tried to force the king to receive on the throne a petition which declared that an attempt was being made to establish arbitrary power in America. They were foiled by the king and adopted an address expressed in more decent terms, to which he returned answer that so long as constitutional authority was resisted he would continue to maintain it by force. The constitutional society, of which Horne was the leading spirit, sent Franklin L100 for, as Horne wrote in the Evening Post, "the widows and orphans of our beloved American fellow-subjects inhumanly murdered by the king's troops at or near Lexington and Concord". Horne was indicted for this libel in 1777, and was sentenced to a year's imprisonment and a fine of L200.

In America the news of the affair at Lexington called forth in every colony a spirit of union, a determination to stand by their New England brethren. No answers were sent to North's conciliatory proposals; all alike agreed in referring them to the continental congress. This was equivalent to a rejection of them, for it was well known that the British government would hold no communication with that body. The congress met for the second time at Philadelphia on May 10. It rejected North's proposals and agreed that garrisons should be maintained at Ticonderoga and Crown Point, a decision which implied an approval of the offensive war levied against the king in the expedition against those forts. As, however, it was expedient to lull the suspicions of the French Canadians, who were not likely to have forgotten the religious bitterness exhibited by the Americans with reference to the Quebec act, it declared that no invasion of Canada would be made. The congress assumed executive powers; in the name of the "United Colonies" it adopted the army of New England then before Boston as the continental army, took measures for its organisation and payment, authorised a loan, and on June 15 chose George Washington, the colonel of the Virginia militia, as commander-in-chief.

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