The Political History of England - Vol. X.
by William Hunt
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Foreign travel, which earlier was almost confined to the "grand tour" made by rich young men as part of their education, increased greatly before the revolutionary war, and travelling in England became more general as the means of communication were improved. In 1760 English roads were little better than they were a century before, mere trackways, which in parts were sloughs in winter and scored with deep ruts in summer. Travelling over them was slow and often dangerous. The "flying-machine," or coach, between London and Sheffield was fully three days on its journey. During the first fourteen years of the reign 452 acts were passed for repairing roads, but for some time little progress was made. Many and bitter are the complaints made by Arthur Young, the eminent agriculturist, of the roads on which he travelled in 1769-70. One turnpike road was a bog with a few flints scattered on top, another full of holes and deep ruts, while "of all the cursed roads which ever disgraced this kingdom" that between Tilbury and Billericay was, he says, the worst, and so narrow that when he met a waggon, the waggoner had to crawl between the wheels to come to help him lift his chaise over a hedge. During the last quarter of the century a vast change was effected; good roads became general, and coaches with springs and otherwise well appointed ran between London and most considerable towns, and between one large town and another. From 1784 many of these coaches carried the mails, and letters posted in Bath were delivered in London seventeen hours later.

[Sidenote: POETRY.]

The wider outlook acquired by travel contributed to an increase of intellectual activity, and improved means of internal communication assisted the dissemination of books. People read more; many instructive books met with a large sale, and circulating libraries were established in the larger towns. In literature the period is marked by an advance in the transition from artificiality of thought, and still more of expression, to what was natural and spontaneous. Antiquity began to attract, and romanticism gradually gained ground. Thomson, who led the flight of poetry from the gilded house of bondage, wrote at an earlier time than ours. For us the new feeling is illustrated by the popularity of Ossian, Bishop Percy's Reliques, Gray's romantic lyrics, and the pseudo-antique poems of Chatterton, a Bristol lad who killed himself in 1770. Goldsmith's poetry belongs to the old school, for he was a follower of Johnson, a strenuous opponent of the new romanticism. The poetry of Cowper, an ardent lover of nature, whose first volume appeared in 1781, though usually conventional in expression, is always sincere and sometimes exquisite. Crabbe, a story-teller and preacher, wrote some true poetry, along with much that is prosaic: rarely moved by an inspiration drawn from nature to desert the conventional couplet, he nevertheless had something of the spirit of the new movement. In 1783 the artist-poet Blake began to write verse which is absolutely untrammelled by convention, mystical, strange, and unequal. Three years later a volume by Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, contained the outpouring of a passionate soul in musical verse, and in 1798, two years after his death, the victory of the romantic school was secured by the publication of the Lyrical Ballads of Wordsworth and Coleridge, though its triumph was not confirmed until a few years later.

By 1760 Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett had established the English novel, though Smollett's master-piece, Humphrey Clinker, did not appear until 1771, the year of his death. Fiction developed in various directions. In The Vicar of Wakefield Goldsmith, in spite of his literary conservatism, portrayed manners and character with a perfectly natural grace, and with a delightful delicacy of touch. Laurence Sterne, the humorous and indecent prebendary of York, illustrates the prevalence of sensibility in contemporary society in his Tristram Shandy and the Sentimental Journey. It is a curious characteristic of the time that displays of emotion by men and women alike were reckoned as proofs of genuine fineness of feeling. Sterne's sentiment and discursiveness found several feeble imitators. The taste for antiquity was strong in Horace Walpole, and his admiration for "the gothick," expressed in the pointed windows and sham battlements of his house at Strawberry hill, inspired his romance, The Castle of Otranto (1764), which began the romantic movement in fiction. To this movement, destined to be adorned by the genius of Scott, belong Beckford's Vathek, Clara Reeve's Old English Baron, and the once widely popular tales of mystery of Mrs. Radcliffe and "Monk" Lewis, as he was called after his best-known romance (1795). The novel of manners was developed by Fanny Burney's (Madame d'Arblay) Evelina (1778), founded on acute observation, dealing almost wholly with every-day life, replete with satire, and written with extraordinary freshness and vivacity. Castle Rackrent, the first of Maria Edgeworth's Irish tales, appeared in the last year of the century. Before its close, too, Jane Austen was writing novels which as yet could find no publisher, though in their faultless execution, their delicate humour, and their life-like representation of the society with which their author was familiar they remain unrivalled.


Of the writers of serious prose works, Johnson, as critic, moralist and author, enjoyed until his death in 1784 a kind of literary dictatorship. His greatest achievement, The Lives of the English Poets, belongs to his later days. This delightful work pronounces with unfaltering dogmatism judgments founded on canons of criticism which were accepted in the then expiring age of Augustan literature. His Life by his satellite Boswell holds the first place among biographies as a triumph of portraiture. The new interest in antiquity was fostered by the rise of English historical writing. In the earliest years of the reign Hume completed his History of England, which, though no longer regarded as of scientific importance, is a fine example of literary treatment as applied to history. A little later came Robertson's works, more scholarly in their design, and written in a philosophic spirit and in highly polished language. The work of one historian of the time is great alike as a monument of learning and of literary faculty. The first instalment of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire appeared in 1766, the last in 1788. The grandeur of its conception, the orderly method of its construction, the learning it displays, and the unflagging pomp with which the historian presents his narrative, invest this book with a pre-eminence in English historical literature which remains beyond dispute. Other famous books of the time are Paley's theological works, Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, and Adam Smith's Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Smith, while laying the foundations of political economy as a distinct science, treated theories in relation to actual facts; his book was at once accepted as a guide by statesmen, and largely inspired Pitt's economic policy. As a political writer Burke carried rhetoric to the sublimest heights in his Reflections on the French Revolution and some later works. Lord Chesterfield's Letters, many of them belonging to the early years of the reign, are admirable for their wit and elegance, but lack the special quality of the inimitable Letters of Horace Walpole, written on a countless number of topics, and treating them in a manner which, though somewhat affected, is easy and singularly appropriate to the writer's cast of mind. Of the Junius Letters enough has been said; they are political articles, not parts of a correspondence. Lastly, it would be unbecoming to omit here a notice, however cursory, of Walpole's valuable though not always trustworthy historical Memoirs.

The ecclesiastical architecture of the time was deplorable. Towards the end of the century it was affected by the revolt from classicism in literature; and a desire was manifested to desert the corrupt following of classical models for Gothic art, but it was unaccompanied by taste or knowledge, and the elder Wyatt's sins of destruction at Salisbury and elsewhere have made his name a by-word. In secular architecture things were better; Chambers, the architect of Somerset House, Robert Adam and his brothers, architects of the Adelphi buildings, and the younger Wood at Bath have left us works of considerable merit. In art, however, our period is chiefly memorable as that of the development of the English school of painting. Sir Joshua Reynolds, one of the great portrait painters of the world, was in high repute in 1760, was the first president of the Royal Academy, founded in 1768, and independently of his work did much to raise the appreciation of art, for he was universally respected. He started the famous literary club of which his friends, Johnson, Burke, Goldsmith, and other distinguished men, were members. Scarcely inferior to Reynolds as a portrait-painter, Gainsborough invested his subjects with wonderful grace, and Romney, though not attaining to the height of these two, may be reckoned with them as a master of his art. Before the end of our period Hoppner and Lawrence were working in London and Raeburn in Edinburgh. The heavy debt which English landscape painting owes to Wilson, who lived neglected, has been acknowledged since his death. In that line Gainsborough was unsurpassed; he was wholly free from classical tradition and, as in his portrait work, interpreted nature as it presented itself to his own artistic sense. By 1800 Girtin had laid the foundation of genuine painting in water-colours, and Turner was entering on his earlier style, working under the influence of old masters. Humble life and animals were depicted by Morland, who was true to nature and a fine colourist. In the treatment of historical subjects classical tradition long held an undisputed sway; and the chief claim of West, once a fashionable artist, on our remembrance is that he broke away from it in his best picture, "The Death of Wolfe," painted in 1771, which represents his figures in the uniforms they wore instead of dressed as Romans, a revolt which caused no small stir.

Engraving on copper flourished, aided by the enterprise of Boydell, and wood-engraving was brought to perfection by the brothers Bewick. In sculpture, Flaxman, Nollekens, and Bacon did first-rate work. Music alone of the arts really interested the king. The public taste was stimulated by the establishment of Handel commemoration concerts; the opera was well attended, and church music was enriched by some distinguished composers. People of the upper and middle classes cared far more for art of all kinds than in the earlier half of the century: the rich bought the works of old Italian and French masters; exhibitions of art were thronged, and articles of virtu found a ready sale.


During the earlier years of the reign much interest in natural science was aroused, probably through French influence. England soon came to the front in scientific investigation. Among the principal contributors to this movement were Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen, and Black, of latent heat; Cavendish, the investigator of air and water; Sir William Herschel, the astronomer, who spent most of his life in England; Hutton, the father of British geological science; Sir Joseph Banks, the naturalist; Hunter, the "founder of scientific surgery"; and Jenner, who in 1798 announced the protective power of vaccination against small-pox. Science was aided by voyages of discovery, some of them of the highest future importance in the history of the world, and in the extension of the British empire. Between 1764 and 1768 come Commodore Byron's fruitless voyage round the world, and the discovery of a large number of islands in the South Pacific by Captains Wallis and Carteret. Cook's three great voyages were made between 1768 and 1779. In the course of them he sailed round New Zealand, explored the east coast of Australia and the new Hebrides, discovered New Caledonia and the Sandwich islands, and attempted to find a passage from the North Pacific round the north of the American continent. In 1780 an expedition under Captain Bligh, sent to transport bread-fruit trees from Otaheite to the West Indies for acclimatisation, ended in the famous mutiny on board his ship, the Bounty. To the last years of the century belong the voyages of Bass and Flinders in Australian waters. Meanwhile Mackenzie descended the river which bears his name to the Arctic ocean, and in 1770 Bruce, the Abyssinian traveller, reached the sources of the Blue Nile.

Between 1760 and 1801 the national Church, the proper instrument of national reformation, was passing through a period of transition. Its vitality was somewhat injured by its controversy with the deists, and still more by the action of the state. It was a powerful political engine and as such it was used by statesmen. Convocations remained silenced, and Church preferments were made to serve political ends and were regarded both by clergy and laity as little more than desirable offices. Clergymen begged bishoprics and deaneries of Newcastle with unblushing importunity, sometimes even before the men they aspired to succeed had breathed their last. Neither they, nor the ministers who treated Church patronage as a means of strengthening their party, were necessarily careless about religion. Newcastle and Hardwicke, for example, were religious men, and the personal piety of some preferment-seeking bishops is unquestioned. It was a matter in which the Church was neither better nor worse than the age. The ecclesiastical system was disorganised by plurality and non-residence; the dignified clergy as a whole were worldly minded, and the greater number of the rest were wretchedly poor. The Church was roused to a sense of its duty to society by methodism and evangelicalism, two movements for a time closely connected, though after 1784 methodism became a force outside the church. By 1760 the persecution to which John Wesley and his fellow-workers had sometimes been exposed was over, and methodism was gaining ground. It very slightly touched aristocratic society, chiefly through the efforts of the Countess of Huntingdon, who, in spite of her quarrel with Wesley's party, must be regarded as one of the leaders of the movement; its influence on the labouring class, specially in large towns and in the mining districts, was strong, and it gained a considerable hold on people of the middle class.


Within the Church rapid progress was made by the evangelical movement. Many of the earlier evangelical clergy were methodists, some workers with Wesley, others preachers of Lady Huntingdon's "connexion" before her secession in 1781. During the last two decades of the century the evangelicals became distinct from the methodists and formed an increasing body inside the Church. Among its clerical chiefs were Romaine, Venn, Cecil, and Newton of Olney, the spiritual guide of many of its leading adherents; it owed much to Lord Dartmouth's patronage, Cowper's poetry presented its doctrine in a pleasing form, Hannah More furthered its cause by her writings, and Wilberforce brought it into connexion with political life. Only one of the avowed evangelical clergy, Isaac Milner, Dean of Carlisle, received dignified preferment before 1800, for the king was averse from "enthusiasm," and though Pitt's Church appointments were eminently respectable, he does not seem to have been guided in making them by any exalted consideration. Whatever the failings of the evangelical party may have been, it certainly exercised a strong and wholesome influence on the national life, which was aided by the effects of the war with France. Not only did the discipline of war sober the nation, but it also extended the revolt against unreality which took place in the domains of literature and art, to that of religion, and brought people to accept a teaching which appealed more strongly to the heart than that of the older school of clergy. While most of the work of the evangelicals lies outside our subject, the character of its influence on society may be gathered from their efforts for the suppression of the slave trade; from the stricter observance of Sunday which became general towards the end of our period; from their plans for bettering the condition, and their care for the education of the poor. The institution of Sunday schools was largely due to Robert Raikes, of Gloucester, who began his work in 1780. Six years later some 200,000 children attended these schools, and in many cases gained in them their only education. The work was encouraged by the king and queen, and along with other efforts for the education of the poor was helped forward by Hannah More, Wilberforce, and other evangelicals.

Apart from any religious movement, many laymen, among whom Burke holds a high place, strove to soften the hardness and cruelty of the age. There was need of their efforts. The criminal law was fearfully severe. Early in the reign as many as 160 crimes were capital felonies, and the number was constantly augmented. A theft of more than the value of twelve pence by picking a pocket was punishable by death. This severity led to an increase of crime. The injured would not prosecute, juries would not convict on clear evidence, judges recommended to mercy, and criminals were emboldened by the chances of escape. The heavy punishments attached to light offences tended to multiply serious crimes; for a thief who knew that he might be hanged was tempted to commit murder rather than be caught. Though only about a fifth of the capital sentences were carried out, executions were terribly numerous, especially between 1781 and 1787. In 1783, at two consecutive executions, twenty persons were hanged together. Ninety-six were hanged at the Old Bailey in ten months in 1785, and at the Lent assizes of that year there were twenty-one capital sentences at Kingston, twelve at Lincoln and sixteen at Gloucester, and in each town nine persons were hanged. Executions were popular spectacles; 80,000 persons are said to have been present at one at Moorfields in 1767, and over 20,000 assembled at Tyburn in 1773 to see a woman burnt—she was previously strangled at the stake—for the murder of her husband. The ghastly procession to Tyburn was stopped in 1783, and executions were ordered to be carried out in front of the prison; and in 1790 the burning of women was abolished. Otherwise, in spite of Burke's efforts, the criminal law was not materially ameliorated till the next century. The punishment of the pillory was one of its worst abuses. When inflicted for some popular act, such as libelling a minister, the offender was treated as a hero, but if a man's crime outraged the moral sense of the mob, he was exposed to horrible barbarity. Two men were pelted to death, in 1763 and 1780, on the pillory in London. After the second of these murders Burke brought the matter before parliament; he was supported by Sir Charles Bunbury, who quoted a similar case at Bury, but the punishment was not abolished. Whipping was constantly inflicted, not merely on men but on women, and in public as well as privately. The poor were brutalised by cruel and indecent punishments, and were far too much under the power of magistrates, some of them vicious and ignorant men, who had summary jurisdiction in a large number of criminal cases.


The prisons were horrible dens in which felons and debtors, men and women, old and young, were crowded together. Many of them had no water-supply and very little air; some had no sewers, and where sewers existed they were generally choked up. Great numbers died of gaol-fever and small-pox. In about half the county gaols debtors had no allowance of bread. Everywhere prisoners were exposed to extortion, and were sometimes detained in gaol after acquittal for non-payment of the gaolers' fees. Such was the state of things in 1773 when John Howard began to inquire into the condition of the prisons. He roused the attention of parliament and of the public to these abuses, and by 1779 some of the more flagrant of them were removed. He spent the remainder of his life in efforts to reform the prisons, and accomplished much, though much still remained to be done. After 1776 convicts could no more be transported to America, and male convicts were kept in hulks on the Thames and elsewhere. These hulks soon became overcrowded, and in 1784 the old system of assigning convicts to employers in different parts of the British dominions oversea was again adopted. The evils of this system were recognised, and it was decided to send criminals sentenced to transportation to New South Wales. A government was established; Captain Phillip, of the navy, was appointed governor, and in 1787 took out the "first fleet" with convicts. He established a settlement at Port Jackson, and founded a city which he called Sydney, after the then secretary for home affairs. Such was the unworthy beginning of the present magnificent colony of New South Wales.

The population outgrew the police system. Riots were frequent in times of scarcity or popular excitement, and often could only be quelled by soldiers. Throughout the whole of our period highwaymen infested the roads; in 1774 Horace Walpole at Twickenham declared that it was scarcely safe to venture out by day; Lady Hertford had been attacked on Hounslow Heath at three in the afternoon. Some daring robberies, two of them of mails, were effected in 1791. In the earlier years of the reign smuggling was carried on with amazing audacity, specially on the south and east coasts. It was calculated that 40,000 persons were engaged in it by sea and land, and that two-thirds of the tea and half the brandy consumed in England paid no duty. Bands of armed smugglers rode up to London with their goods, and attempts to interfere with their trade were fiercely and often successfully resisted. Smuggling, however, was checked, as we shall see, by the wise policy of Pitt. The weakness of the police caused an alarming increase of crimes against property; footpads stopped carriages even in Grosvenor Square and Piccadilly, and in 1792 the streets are said on good authority to have been unsafe by night. With the exception of a few Bow street officers and some mounted patrols, the only police in London were parish constables and the watchmen, many of them old and decrepit. The magistracy of Middlesex had largely fallen into the hands of men described by Burke as "the scum of the earth," who used their office as a means of getting gain, and frightful abuses were common.[179] In 1792 parliament established stipendiary magistrates appointed by the crown for the London police courts, and a few police officers were attached to each court. This important reform would have been more effective if a larger number of police had been placed under the orders of the new magistrates, for after that date the police of London and its immediate neighbourhood consisted of not more than 2,044 watchmen and patrols and 1,000 constables and other officers, of whom only 147 received pay and gave their whole time to police work.[180]

The general belief that the trade of Great Britain would be ruined by the loss of the American colonies was not justified. Between 1783 and 1800 her foreign trade and manufactures were developed at an extraordinary rate. The official value of English exports in 1760 was L14,694,970, and of imports L9,832,802; in 1783, of exports L13,896,415, and of imports L11,651,281; in 1800 the exports of Great Britain were officially valued at L34,381,617, and the imports at L28,257,781.[181] Her foreign trade, which provided her with an extended market, was maintained through her naval supremacy. Before 1780 the war with the colonies had little effect on her trade; the declaration of the armed neutrality decreased its profits by increasing risks and raising the rate of insurance, but does not appear to have inflicted special injury on any particular branch of it. The American shipping was destroyed and Dutch commerce suffered severely. At the end of the war England was far stronger by sea than she was before it began; her manufactures, specially of iron and cotton, began to develop rapidly, and she kept the American trade. During the revolutionary war the French believed that they could reduce England to impotence by ruining her commerce. They failed to understand the consequences of her power at sea and the firmness of the foundation on which her wealth rested. The ports of France and her allies were blockaded; England may be said to have carried the greatest part of the trade of Europe, her manufactures flourished exceedingly, and foreign nations could not afford to abstain from purchasing them.

[Sidenote: LAISSEZ-FAIRE.]

Before entering on the expansion of manufactures and the industrial revolution which accompanied it, a word may be said as to the attitude of the state towards these changes. For some two centuries it had been held that it was the duty of the state to order trade with the object of increasing the wealth and power of the nation, and a policy was followed of interference with trade and its conditions by regulations, bounties, and restrictions, which is called the mercantile system. To this policy belong the navigation acts and the regulation of colonial trade and manufactures for the benefit of the mother-country. The American revolution dealt it a mortal blow. About the same time Adam Smith's work led to the idea that national wealth would increase if men were left to seek their own wealth without interference. While trade outgrew the old regulations which ordered its conditions, the system of state interference became discredited, a new economic policy of non-interference, called laissez-faire, took its place, and questions of trade, manufacture, wages, and other conditions of labour were increasingly left to settle themselves. This reversed the policy long and successfully pursued by the whigs, who fostered trade as the basis of national prosperity. The tories on the other hand held that national prosperity was based on land, and desired to lighten its burdens by taxing personal property, and we shall find Pitt distributing his taxation widely and so as to fall mainly on the moneyed class.[182] Laissez-faire reached its full development in the establishment of free trade; it has already been modified in many respects, and may hereafter be subjected to further modification to suit altered circumstances.

The expansion of trade during our period was due to improved processes of manufacture and increased facilities of transport, and in a far higher degree to the substitution of machinery moved by the power of water or steam for manual labour. The north, hitherto the most backward part of England, became the chief seat of industrial life and commercial enterprise. Wealth was increased, industry became more dependent on capital, and changes were effected in its conditions which for a time pressed heavily on the poor. In 1760 there was no Black Country. Charcoal was employed in the manufacture of hardware, and the Sussex iron works produced a small quantity of pig-iron at a great cost. Fuel was giving out, and England, rich in iron, imported over 49,000 tons of iron a year from Russia and Sweden. The discovery that coal and coke could be used for smelting was made about 1750, and in 1760 a new era in the manufacture was ushered in by the foundation of the Carron ironworks, which had blast furnaces for coal. The improvements in Newcomen's steam engine, effected by Watt between 1765 and 1782, facilitated smelting by coal by providing the furnaces with a stronger blast. In 1783-4 Cort of Gosport invented processes for converting pig-iron into malleable by the use of coal, and for converting malleable iron into bars by rollers, instead of sledge-hammers. Iron became cheap and was used for purposes never dreamt of a few years before; the first iron bridge crossed the Severn at Coalbrookdale in 1779. By 1796 the use of charcoal had almost ceased, and the produce of blast furnaces had risen from 68,300 tons in 1788 to over 125,000 tons. Vast iron works were established in the coal districts, which soon ceased to be agricultural. Among the many other manufactures expanded by new processes was that of pottery. In 1760 Staffordshire stoneware was rough and badly glazed, and much ware was imported from France. A few years later Wedgwood succeeded in producing a ware at his works at Etruria which was superior to any brought from abroad; it was largely used in England, and five-sixths of the produce of his works was exported.


The increasing call for coal both for manufacture and for fuel and the needs consequent on the growth of trade and the expansion of agriculture were met by greater facilities of transport. Roads, though they were gradually improved, could not have answered the demands for the conveyance of the ever-increasing bulk of heavy goods. A better method was found in the introduction of canals by the third Duke of Bridgewater. The canal between Worsley and Manchester, made by him and his engineer, Brindley, and opened in 1761, enabled the Manchester people to buy the duke's coal at 3-1/2d. instead of 7d. a cwt.; its extension to Runcorn reduced the cost of carriage by water between Liverpool and Manchester from 12s. to 6s. a ton, while by road it was 40s.; and the Grand Trunk canal from Runcorn to the Trent brought the pottery of Etruria to Liverpool and carried other goods at a quarter of the old cost of transport. The success of these undertakings was so great that people went wild about canal-making, and between 1790 and 1794 eighty-one canal acts were obtained, many of them, of course, for superfluous projects.

The principal factor in the industrial revolution which began during the period under review was the substitution of machinery for hand labour in textile manufactures. In 1760 spinning and weaving were domestic industries, carried on, that is, in the homes of the workers. The women and children in farm-houses and cottages spent their spare time in spinning. The implements used in the cotton manufacture remained nearly as simple as those of the Homeric age, save that weaving had been facilitated by the use of the fly-shuttle. Since that invention the weaver found it difficult to obtain enough yarn for his loom, until, about 1767, a weaver named Hargreaves invented the spinning-jenny by which a child could work many spindles at once. Two years later Arkwright, who introduced many inventions into the textile manufacture, brought out a spinning machine worked by water-power. His water-frame spun automatically and produced a yarn strong enough for warp, so that for the first time pure cotton goods were manufactured in England, for until then the cotton weft was woven on a warp of linen. This machine was improved on by Crompton's mule, a cross between the jenny and the water-frame, which spun a finer yarn, and so started the manufacture of muslin in England; it was invented in 1775 and came into general use about ten years later. The supply of cotton from India, the Bahamas, and later from the southern states of America, was large, and the effect of the new machinery on the manufacture can be gauged by the increase in the import of cotton-wool from an average of 4,764,589 lbs. between 1771 and 1775 to 56,010,732 lbs. in 1800. The new labour-saving inventions were at first regarded with jealousy by the workmen. Hargreaves had his house gutted and his loom destroyed, and in 1799 a violent riot broke out about Blackburn; Arkwright's works were burnt, and many machines in the neighbourhood were broken to pieces. In and around Lancashire, where the manufacture was chiefly carried on, the carding and spinning of wool ceased to be domestic industries. Capitalists set up factories where water-power was available, in which children were largely employed, and factory villages grew up round them. From about 1790 steam-power began gradually to take the place of water-power; the change was slow, and as it went on the manufacture became increasingly centred in populous towns.

Cotton weaving remained a domestic industry, for Cartwright's power-loom did not come into general use until after 1800. The output of yarn was enormous, and for a time the weavers' earnings were very large, but the money which could be earned at the loom and the failure of domestic spinning caused so many to take to weaving that by 1800 wages had begun to decline, and gradually a period of distress set in. A machine for calico-printing further increased the profits of the capitalist and had a bad effect on labour, for it threw the calico-printer out of employment. Wool spinning was far more generally carried on in rural districts than cotton spinning, and more widely spread misery was caused by changes in the manufacture. It came under the dominion of machinery somewhat later. Machines for carding and combing took the place of manual labour after 1790, and enabled one man and a few children to do the work of many men. Spinning with the wheel lasted longer than in the cotton manufacture. From 1785 jennies were used, and wool spinning was gradually transferred to factories and became a separate business, instead of a by-employment which helped the small farmer to pay his rent and eked out the scanty wages of the labourer. The change was accelerated by the scarcity of wool during the revolutionary war, for by that time the trade had become largely dependent on importation from Spain, and it was not until about 1800 that sheep began to be bred for their wool in Australia. As in the cotton trade, the wages of weavers were high during the war, but the scarcity of material prevented all but the best workmen from finding employment and there was much distress among the rest. The failure of domestic spinning deeply affected all the rural districts of England.


It was specially disastrous because it was accompanied by times of scarceness and by changes connected with a revolution in agriculture which pressed heavily on many of the poorer classes. A rapid increase in population during the latter part of the century was consequent on the stimulus given to manufacture; in 1760 the population of England and Wales is estimated at 6,479,700, and of Scotland in 1755 at about 1,265,300; in 1800 the estimate for England and Wales is 9,187,176, and for Scotland about 1,599,000. This increase implies a demand for a larger supply of food. Early in the reign wages were low except near great towns, and the law of settlement prevented the labourer from moving freely from one parish to another in order to better himself. While in 1769-70 labourers in Surrey earned on an average from 8s. to 10s. a week, in Wiltshire they received only 6s. 2d. to 5s. 3d., and in one district in Lancashire as little as 4s. 11d.[183] Wages, however, were then eked out by home industries and commonable rights. Yet the margin between income and expenditure was so small that a rise in the price of bread soon caused distress, and was often followed by riots. Bread made from rye or barley was still eaten in poor districts, but wheaten bread was more generally used than earlier in the century, which proves that the condition of the poor was bettered. In 1769 it cost 2d. a pound near London, and at a distance of 150 miles 1-1/2d. Meat was about 3d. to 4d. a pound, rent and clothing were cheap, firing and candles very dear.

In 1760 England was still a corn-exporting country; importation was restrained, exportation encouraged by a bounty, and in times of scarcity the trade was regulated by temporary enactments. After some bad harvests an act was made in 1773 with the object of keeping the price steady at about 48s. the quarter; virtually free importation was allowed when it reached that limit, and exportation was forbidden when it reached 44s. Landowners and farmers were dissatisfied, and a general fear lest the country should become dependent on foreign corn led parliament in 1791 to adopt a policy of encouraging home production; it was enacted that for the future a bounty should be paid on exportation when the price was at 44s., that prohibitive duties should be placed on importation when it was below 50s., and virtually free importation only allowed above 54s. Nevertheless from about that date England definitely ceased to be able to feed her own people, except in good seasons. Her naval superiority during the revolutionary war prevented a stoppage in the supply of wheat from abroad; but it became uncertain, prices fluctuated violently with good or bad harvests; war acted as a protection to the corn-grower and bad harvests were followed by famine prices; in 1795 wheat averaged 81s. 6d. in Windsor market, and in 1800 reached 127s. Wages rose with the expansion of manufactures, but not in anything like proportion to the rise in prices.


Meanwhile efforts were made to meet the increased demand for food by improved agriculture. In 1760 about half the parishes in England were still in open fields; and the primitive two-field and three-field systems by which land was refreshed by lying fallow were, with some modifications, still in vogue. A new husbandry, however, had begun, and soon made rapid progress; it was promoted by many large landowners, such as Lord Townshend, the Dukes of Bedford and Grafton, and Lord Rockingham, and the king took a lively and practical interest in the movement. Its advantages were urged by Arthur Young, who did most valuable work as its apostle. Its leading feature was the introduction of a scientific rotation of crops founded on the use of clover and rye-grass and the more careful cultivation of turnips, which kept the land at once employed and in good heart, and afforded a supply of excellent fodder. Farmers, too, began to learn the profit to be derived from marling, manuring, and subsoil drainage, and to use better implements which did their work more thoroughly and with less labour of man and beast. The increased demand for meat caused sheep no longer to be valued chiefly for their wool, or oxen as beasts of draught. Improvements in the breeding and rearing of sheep and cattle were introduced by Bakewell, a Lincolnshire grazier, and carried on by others. The scraggy animals of earlier days disappeared; the average weight of beeves sold at Smithfield in 1710 was 370 lbs., in 1795 it was 800 lbs., and that of sheep had risen from 28 lbs. to 80 lbs. Capital was freely invested in land; open fields were increasingly enclosed, and commons and wastes along with them, and land until then beyond the margin of cultivation was taken in and ploughed. From 1760 to 1797 as many as 1,539 private enclosure acts were passed, and a general act was passed in 1801.

The new agriculture vastly increased the produce of the land. During the first half of our period rents were low, and the farmers who carried out the new system as a rule made enormous profits. Arthur Young tells us of one Norfolk farmer who, on a farm of 1,500 acres, made enough in thirty years to buy an estate of L1,700 a year. The improved agriculture, however, could not be carried out without enclosure and, unless an award was made by agreement, that meant a large initial expense, which was followed by the expense of actually enclosing the land. These expenses were often borne by the landlords. The small squires and yeomen who farmed their own land had neither the intelligence of the large farmers nor the money to spend on improvements, and both classes virtually disappeared. Nor could the small farmer either keep his place or take advantage of the new system. If his holding was unaffected by enclosure, the loss of domestic industries rendered him less able to pay his rent: if it was to be enclosed, he found himself with a diminished income at the very time when he most needed money; and if he managed to keep his land for a while, he was ruined by some violent fluctuation in the price of corn. Sooner or later he sank into the labouring class. The enormous profits of the large farmers did not continue, for about 1780 rents began to rise. Still the cultivation of good arable land remained highly profitable, if the farmer had capital enough to meet fluctuations of price. But war prices and parliamentary encouragement led farmers to cultivate inferior land; their profits diminished in proportion to the cost of cultivation, and though the supply of food was increased, its price was kept up. A sudden fall in prices would send the land back to its original wild state and was likely enough to ruin the farmer.

Although enclosure was encouraged by parliament with the view of benefiting the mass of the people by making bread cheaper, it was far more often than not injurious to the labourer. In many cases commons were enclosed without adequate compensation to the poorer commoners, who were deprived of the means of keeping a cow or geese or of the right of cutting turf for fuel. Some received no allotment because they failed to prove their claims, and others sold their allotments to wealthy farmers, either because they were too small to keep a cow or because they could not enclose them. Young, who strongly advocated enclosure, says that out of thirty-seven parishes he found only twelve in which the position of the poor had not been injured by the enclosure of commons, and laments the disastrous effect of the change on the general condition of the labouring class. The change was coincident with the decay not only of domestic spinning, but also of other industries practised in villages, for the large new-fashioned farmers had their implements, harness, and household utensils made and mended in towns rather than by rural workmen. Deprived of the profits of by-employments, and in many cases of their accustomed rights of common, labourers became solely dependent on farm wages at a time when prices were enormously high and a living-wage was not to be gained by agricultural work. They either migrated to seek work in a factory or came on the rates. In many districts villages presented a picture of desolation. Wiston and Foston in Leicestershire each before enclosure contained some thirty-five houses; in Wiston every house disappeared except that of the squire, and Foston was reduced to the parsonage and two herdsmen's cottages.[184]


The old system of regulating wages by statute was not wholly extinct in 1760. A few years later a statute made in the masters' interests fixed the maximum for the wages of the London journeymen tailors at 2s. 7-1/2d. a day, except at a time of general mourning. On the other hand parliament, in 1773, under the pressure of a riot, passed an act empowering justices to fix the wages of the Spitalfields silk weavers and to enforce their ordinance. By 1776, however, Adam Smith declared that the custom of fixing wages "had gone entirely into disuse". England was adopting laissez-faire. The change of policy is illustrated by the case of the framework knitters of Nottinghamshire. The employment of children and apprentices enabled the masters to oppress them; they were unable to earn more than 8s. to 9s. a week and their wages were diminished by shameful exactions. They formed a combination, petitioned the house of commons to regulate their wages in 1778, and were heard before a committee. A bill was brought in the next year to regulate the trade and prevent abuses, but was thrown out on the third reading. Wages were to be settled between the master and the men. Some rioting followed on the rejection of the bill, and the masters promised redress, but soon broke their word. Combinations of workmen to set aside statutory arrangements of wages were of course illegal, but when formed to secure their fulfilment do not seem to have been so regarded.[185] In 1799, however, when parliament was anxious to prevent seditious assemblies, a statute, amended in 1800, rendered it unlawful for workmen to combine for the purpose of obtaining higher wages. This grossly unjust law made the workmen powerless to protect themselves against the oppression of the capitalist employer. Parliament was more than once pressed to meet the high price of bread and the distress of the agricultural poor by fixing a minimum for wages. Pitt, a disciple of Adam Smith, would not consent to such a measure, and his opposition was fatal to it. He was deeply sensible of the distress of the poor, and, in 1795, brought in a bill for the amendment of the poor law. It contained some startling provisions of a socialistic character, was adversely criticised by Bentham and others, and was quietly dropped.

In 1760 the law of 1723, empowering overseers of the poor to refuse relief to those who would not enter the workhouse, was still in force. It seems to have been administered strictly, and it kept down the rates. As society became more humane, it revolted against so harsh a method of dealing with distress. A permissive act of 1783, called after its promoter, Gilbert's act, contained along with some wholesome provisions others that were foolish and harmful; it enabled parishes to form unions and adopt a system under which able-bodied men were not allowed to enter the workhouse; they were to work in the district and have their wages supplemented from the rates. The administration of the act was committed to the magistrates and guardians in place of the overseers. A considerable relaxation of the law of settlement in 1795 was just and beneficial. In the same year the pernicious principle of supplementing wages from the rates was carried to its full extent. By that time the decay of domestic spinning and the rise in the price of food were causing much distress in Berkshire. At a meeting of justices at Speenhamland in that county it was resolved to grant allowances to all poor men and their families—so much a head according to the price of the gallon loaf. This system was generally adopted, and was strengthened by an act of 1795 abolishing the workhouse test. As a means of tiding over a merely temporary crisis, as indeed it was intended by its authors to be, it would have done no harm. Unfortunately, it lasted for many years and had disastrous consequences; it rapidly raised the rates, and helped to crush the small farmers who, though they employed no labour, were forced to pay towards the maintenance of the labourers employed by their richer neighbours; it kept wages from rising, encouraged thriftless marriages and dissolute living, discouraged industry and efficient work, destroyed self-respect, and pauperised the poor.


While then the last sixteen years of the century, of which the political history still lies before us, were, except at certain crises to be noted hereafter, marked by a rapid expansion of commerce and trade, and an increase in the wealth of the richer landowners, manufacturers, and merchants, they were, as we have seen, a period of change in the conditions of labour and, as such, brought much distress on the working class, which was aggravated by the high prices consequent on bad seasons and the risks of war. Of all the sufferings of the poor during this period none are so painful to remember as those of the children employed in factories, the helpless victims of laissez-faire for whose relief the state did nothing until a later date. The greater number of them were pauper apprentices bound by parochial authorities to mill-owners, others the children of very poor or callous parents. From little more than infancy, sometimes under seven years old, children were condemned to labour for long hours, thirteen or more in a day, at tasks which required unremitting attention, and in rooms badly ventilated and otherwise injurious to health; they were half-starved and cruelly punished when their wearied little arms failed to keep up with the demands of the machinery. The smaller mills were the worst in this respect, and as the supply of water-power was not constant, the children in mills worked by water were often forced to labour far beyond their strength to make up for lost time. Such of them as survived the prolonged misery and torture of their early years often grew up more or less stunted and deformed men and women, physically unfit for parentage, morally debased, ignorant, and brutalised by ill-treatment.


[178] Walpole to Mann, April 29, 1784, Letters, viii., 473; Parl. Hist., xxv., 1434.

[179] Parl. Hist., xxi., 592; xxix., 1034.

[180] Colquhoun, Treatise on the Police, pp. 108, 110, 228, 364, 2nd edit., 1796.

[181] Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce, Modern Times, pt. ii., 931.

[182] Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce, Modern Times, pt. i., 583-608.

[183] Young, Southern Counties, p. 325; Northern Counties, iv., 453.

[184] Howlett, Enquiry into the Influence which Enclosure has had on Population, p. 10.

[185] Webb, History of Trade Unionism, p. 55.



The general election of 1784 which established Pitt in office was the expression of a strong national feeling. Humiliated by the loss of its colonies, irritated by the mismanagement of its affairs, and burdened with the expense of an unsuccessful war, which added L114,500,000 to the public debt, the nation listened with approval to Fox's denunciations and got rid of North. It was with unbounded disgust that it saw Fox enter into an alliance with the statesman whom he had denounced as the prime cause of its misfortunes. During the late conflict in parliament public feeling grew strong against him. The king's dismissal of a ministry which commanded a large majority in the house of commons, and his refusal to dismiss its successor at the request of the house needed no pardon; they were endorsed by the declaration of the national will, and he gained a hold on the affection of his people such as he had never had before. His success must not make us forget the courage and the political insight which he displayed during this critical period. All that made the crown worth wearing was at stake, for if Fox's party had obtained a majority at the general election, George for the rest of his life would have become a mere puppet in their hands. He won the game, but he did not win all that he hoped for. Pitt, whom he chose as his champion, was not a minister after his own heart, content to carry out a royal policy. George freed himself from the danger of whig domination, but he did so at the cost of resigning his hopes of establishing a system of personal government, and accepted an independent prime minister. He never liked Pitt, but he knew that Pitt stood between him and Fox, and so for seventeen years was content that he should retain office. Pitt's power was established by, and rested on, the will of the nation. In 1784 England looked forward with hope to the rule of a young minister, a son of the great Chatham, of stainless private character and unimpeachable integrity, who was free from all responsibility for its misfortunes, and was the victorious opponent of Fox, whom it regarded with aversion. Nor did its hope fail of fulfilment.


What the government did for England during the nine years of peace which succeeded the election of 1784 may be said to have been done by Pitt. His colleagues were not men of great capacity, and he received obedience rather than counsel from them. So it was that the position of prime minister, a title which North refused to accept, became finally established. This unavowed change in the constitution settled the sphere of political action open to the crown. Government by the crown through departmental ministers acting independently of each other was no longer possible. The principle of the homogeneous character of the cabinet and of the prime minister's position in it were, as we shall see, decisively settled in 1791 by the dismissal of the chancellor, who, relying on the king's favour, wore out Pitt's patience by rebellion against his authority. Pitt's strength of character and the king's dependence on him caused the gradual extinction of the "king's friends" as a party distinct from the supporters of the government. The leader of the party Jenkinson, the secretary at war in North's ministry, had great commercial knowledge; Pitt made him president of the new board of trade which was constituted in 1785, and as Lord Hawkesbury and as Earl of Liverpool he gave the prime minister his support. Pitt did not attempt to reduce the crown to a cypher, and George exercised a strong and legitimate influence in politics, as adviser of the cabinet, though Pitt occasionally acted against his wishes.

Another change of lasting importance effected by Pitt was in the character of the house of lords. In 1760 the whole number of peers, including minors and Roman catholics, who were incapable of sitting in the house, was only 174; the house was then the stronghold of the whig oligarchy. During North's administration about thirty peers were created or promoted. Under Pitt the invasion advanced far more rapidly. Economical reform deprived the minister of the power of rewarding his supporters with places and pensions, and Pitt used peerages and minor honours in their stead. George, who did not approve of a large increase in the peerage,[186] was forced to yield to his minister's exigencies. In five years Pitt was responsible for forty-eight creations and promotions, and by 1801 the number reached 140.[187] The house of lords ceased to be a small assembly of territorial magnates, mostly of the whig party; it became less aristocratic, for peerages were bestowed on men simply because they were supporters of the government and were wealthy; it became mainly tory in politics, and its size made it less open to corrupt influence. As a body, however, it was inferior in ability and in devotion to its legislative duties to the small assembly of earlier days.

Under Pitt's leadership, England during the years of peace which succeeded the American war regained her place in the politics of Europe. His attention, however, was chiefly devoted to domestic affairs. He was eminently skilful in finance; he restored the public credit and freed trade from artificial impediments. The corruption of parliament, of which both whigs and tories had been guilty, was brought to an end; many abuses and sinecures were abolished and public life became purer. Though at first Pitt sustained some defeats in parliament, due both to mistakes of his own and to the absence of party consolidation among his usual supporters, his power rapidly increased until it became absolute in both houses. He showed supreme ability in the management of parliament. With much of his father's haughtiness of manner he combined a tactfulness and self-control which his father never exhibited. He had nothing of Fox's winning power, yet he became extremely popular in the house of commons, for he showed himself worthy to lead men and able to lead them successfully. His temper was sweet, his courage, patience, and hopefulness unfailing, and his industry unwearied. That he loved power is surely no reproach to a statesman who used it as he did with single-hearted devotion to his country. For wealth and honours he cared nothing. He was always poor, and soon became deeply in debt, chiefly because he was too much occupied with public affairs to control his household expenditure. While he disdainfully distributed titles and ribbons among a clamouring crowd, he refused all such things for himself. Some measures of reform which he advocated in early days he dropped when he found that the country did not care for them, and in later days altogether abandoned a liberal policy, for he was called on to give England that which is infinitely more important than liberal measures, the preservation of its constitutional and social life from the danger of revolution.


When parliament met on May 19, 1784, the ministry carried the address in the commons by 282 to 114. Pitt, however, soon found that he could not reckon on this majority on every question. In the Westminster election Fox had been opposed by Admiral Lord Hood, created an Irish baron after the battle of the Saints, and Sir Cecil Wray. The poll was kept open for forty days and there was much rioting and irregularity of every kind, for which both sides appear to have been responsible. Fox's friends, and above all the beautiful Duchess of Devonshire and other whig ladies, canvassed eagerly for him, and the duchess is said to have bought a butcher's vote with a kiss. George watched the contest with anxiety, for Fox's attack on the constitutional rights of the crown had deepened his animosity towards him. So strong were his feelings that, on hearing that Fox was gaining votes, he wrote to Pitt that "the advance could only be by bad votes, yet similar means must be adopted against him rather than let him get returned". He had heard with delight that 300 Quackers (sic) would vote for Hood and Wray.[188] At the close of the poll Hood stood first and Fox second. Great was the triumph of the Foxites, and the Prince of Wales, Fox's pupil in debauchery, was pleased to exhibit his opposition to his father by taking a prominent part in it; he wore Fox's colours, was present at banquets in his honour, where he gave the toast of "True Blue and Mrs. Crewe," one of Fox's lady canvassers, and got disgustingly drunk. Nevertheless the victory was disputed, for the high-bailiff granted a scrutiny, and instead of returning Hood and Fox as elected, merely reported the number of the votes. In this he was clearly wrong, for he made no proper return to the writ. If a scrutiny was to be held, it should have been completed before the day fixed for the return. It was his duty to make a return on that day; a decision as to the lawfulness of the election pertained to the house of commons. His action deprived Westminster of representation, and would have shut Fox out of the house had he not already been returned for Kirkwall.

Fox petitioned the house to order the high-bailiff to make a proper return. Pitt opposed the petition, and the house ordered that the scrutiny should proceed, though in two divisions on the question his majority fell to 97 and 78. Eight months later, in February, 1785, the scrutiny was still proceeding and was likely to last two years longer. Against the king's judgment,[189] Pitt persisted in maintaining it; his majority sank to 39, then to 9, and on March 4 he was in a minority of 38. The high-bailiff was ordered to make an immediate return, and Hood and Fox were returned as elected. In this matter Pitt did not display his usual tactfulness. Excusably enough in so young a man, he allowed himself to be swayed by personal feeling, and his feeling was ungenerous. With the exception of a small knot of friends like Dundas, he kept himself aloof from his supporters and was ignorant of the annoyance with which they regarded this attempt to deal harshly with a defeated foe.[190] A bill passed that session ordered that polls were not to last more than fifteen days, and that any scrutiny should be closed six days before the return to the writ was due. Fox sued the high-bailiff for neglecting to return him and obtained L2,000 damages.

[Sidenote: PITT'S FINANCE.]

In spite of this mistake Pitt's position was strengthened by his success in dealing with finance. National credit was low; the public debt of Great Britain had grown from L126,043,057 in 1775 to L240,925,908,[191] and the 3 per cent. consols were at about 57. Heavy expenses entailed by the late war were still to be met, the civil list was in arrear, and the revenue was grievously diminished by smuggling. In order to make smuggling less profitable, Pitt largely reduced the duties on tea and foreign spirits, and made up the loss on the tea duties by a "commutation tax," an increased duty on houses according to the number of their windows. He also made smuggling more difficult by a "hovering act," which subjected to seizure vessels hovering off the coast with any considerable quantity of tea or spirits. A deficit of L6,000,000 he supplied by a loan, and in raising this loan he abandoned the old evil practice of allotment among selected subscribers and opened it to public competition. A second point on which he made a new departure was his declaration that all sound finance should be directed towards extinguishing debt and that consequently "a fund at a high rate of interest was better for the country than those at low rates". The unfunded debts were large, those ascertained amounted to L14,000,000, and as outstanding government bills were at a discount of 15 to 20 per cent., these debts depressed the funds. Pitt at once funded nearly half as an instalment. Lastly the required charges exceeded revenue by over L900,000, an enormous sum for that time, and he proposed to make up the deficiency by taxation.

The number of the new taxes is a third point specially to be noted in his budget. One proposed tax, on coals, he withdrew in deference to general opinion, and substituted others in its place. The rest met with little opposition. As they finally stood they were laid on candles, bricks and tiles, hats, pleasure horses and horses entered for races, British linens and cottons, ribbons and gauzes, ale-licences, shooting licences, paper, hackney coaches, gold and silver plate, exported lead, postage, and imported raw and thrown silk. His speech on the budget, during which he moved 133 resolutions, at once placed his talents as a finance minister beyond dispute; it was admirably lucid and was conciliatory in tone. He also carried some regulations checking the abuse of the privilege of franking letters. In those days a letter which bore on the outside the signature of a member of parliament was carried post-free, and franks were given away with the utmost profusion. It was calculated that the new regulations, without abolishing the privilege, would increase the revenue by L20,000. The next year, 1785, Pitt completed the funding of unfunded debt, choosing according to his principle the 5 per cents. which, though entailing an immediate loss, afforded an easy means of paying off debt. He was able to declare that the revenues were in a flourishing state, and to speak of the institution of a fund for the repayment of the national debt as in the near future. He was, however, still obliged to raise L400,000 by new taxes. Among these were an increased tax on male servants, graduated according to the number kept, and two which excited much hostile criticism, the one a tax on female servants, also graduated, two shillings and sixpence on one, five shillings a head on two, and ten shillings a head on three or more, and the other a tax on shops. Both these taxes were unpopular; the shop tax was repealed in 1789 and the tax on female servants in 1792.

In 1784 the East India company was applying to parliament for help, and as its affairs were under investigation it was unable to declare a dividend. Pitt carried bills authorising a dividend of 8 per cent., and granting the company relief from obligations to the exchequer which the late war made specially onerous. He then brought in his new bill for the government of India. This measure, which was not materially different from his bill of six months before, entirely subordinated the political power exercised by the directors to a board of control consisting of unpaid commissioners, a secretary of state, the chancellor of the exchequer, and other privy councillors, appointed by the crown. The patronage of India was to be retained by the directors, but the governor-general and the presidents and members of councils were to be appointed and to be removable by the crown. In all matters of peace and war the governor-general and his council were to be supreme over the minor presidencies. Regulations were made to prevent extortion by the officers of the company, and a special court was instituted for the trial of those charged with delinquencies. The bill was violently opposed by Fox, Burke, Sheridan, and Hastings's enemy, Francis, chiefly on the grounds that government and patronage ought not to be divided, that the nominal sovereignty of the directors and the extensive power of the board of control would lead to confusion, and that the governor-general ought not to have absolute authority in matters at a distance. After several divisions, Pitt carried the second reading in the commons by a majority of 211; he accepted some amendments in committee, and the bill finally passed both houses without a division. Thus was established that system of double government which lasted until 1858.

The session closed with a motion by Dundas for the restoration of the Scottish estates forfeited for the rebellion of 1745. The bill was unanimously approved by the commons. Thurlow, who for some reason, possibly merely from jealousy of Pitt, adopted a generally malcontent attitude, spoke against it in the lords, but it passed there also without a division. Before the end of the year Pitt's success was declared by the accession to his ministry of old Lord Camden as president of the council in the place of Lord Gower, who took the office of privy seal, vacated by the appointment of the Duke of Rutland as viceroy of Ireland in the previous February. Shelburne, who was deeply offended by his continued exclusion from office, was created Marquis of Lansdowne with the promise that, if the king made any dukes outside his own family, he should be one of the number. He was not appeased by this promotion, and remained hostile to Pitt, who would have been weakened by his alliance and lost nothing by his hostility. Temple, who also aspired to a dukedom, was created Marquis of Buckingham, and was encouraged to hope that his ambition might in the future be fully satisfied. The session closed on August 20. Parliament did not meet again until January 25, 1785, and from that time the custom of beginning the regular session before Christmas has been discontinued.


As Pitt had already twice brought forward motions for parliamentary reform, in 1782 and 1783, the friends of the cause looked to him to promote it as head of the ministry. The question was not at that time exciting much public interest. The king was personally opposed to reform, and it was not until March, 1785, that Pitt obtained his assent to the introduction of a bill. He promised the king that if it was rejected he would not resign, unless "those supposed to be connected with government" voted against it. George took the hint, and while he expressed dislike of the bill to Pitt, assured him that he would not use any influence against it. Pitt did his best to insure the success of his bill, and even persuaded his friend Wilberforce to return from abroad to support it. He brought forward his motion on April 18. After defending himself from the charge of innovation by pointing out that in past ages changes had frequently been made in the representation, he laid down that the representation of boroughs should depend not on locality but on the number of voters. He proposed to disfranchise thirty-six decayed boroughs, and to add their seventy-two members to the representation of counties and of London and Westminster. The boroughs were to be disfranchised at their own request, which was to be obtained by the purchase of their franchise from a fund provided by the state. In the future any other borough which was, or became, so decayed as to fall below a standard fixed by parliament, was to be allowed to surrender its franchise for an adequate payment, and its right would be transferred to populous towns. He further proposed to extend the franchise to copyholders, and in towns to householders.

According to his plan L1,000,000 sterling was to be set aside for compensation; 100 members would eventually be chosen by free and open constituencies instead of by individuals or close corporations, and some 99,000 persons would receive the franchise. North spoke ably against the motion, dwelling on the coldness with which the country regarded the question; only eight petitions for reform were presented, and none came from Birmingham or Manchester. Fox opposed it on the ground that the franchise was a trust, not a property, and that to offer to buy it was contrary to the spirit of the constitution; and Burke objected to the alteration which it would make in the representation of interests by increasing the influence of the country gentlemen. Pitt allowed that the scheme of purchase was a "tender part"; it was, he said, "a necessary evil if any reform was to take place". Leave to bring in the bill was refused by 248 to 174. Pitt had not yet secured an organised majority. Connexion and influence had not wholly given way to a system of parties founded on general agreement on political questions. There is no reason to suppose that the king broke his promise to Pitt, but his dislike of reform must have been well known, and probably had much weight. Pitt made no more attempts at parliamentary reform, and for the next seven years the question was of little importance in English politics.


The chief conflict of the session was fought over Pitt's scheme for establishing free-trade with Ireland. An agitation for parliamentary reform in Ireland brought into prominence a spirit of discontent. The Irish parliament did not represent even the protestant population; the house of lords was composed of a large number of bishops, generally subservient to the crown, and of lay lords, many of them lately ennobled for political service; the house of commons of 300 members, scarcely a third of them elected by the people. Flood urged reform on a strictly protestant basis, and the cause of reform was supported by a convention of volunteers assembled at Dublin under Lord Charlemont. The Bishop of Derry, Lord Bristol, a vain and half-crazy prelate, advocated the admission of catholics to the franchise, and tried to excite the volunteers, who were then no longer exclusively protestant, and were recruited from the rabble, to extort reform from parliament by force. He attended parliament with an escort of volunteers and in regal state, and appeared in a purple coat and volunteer cap fiercely cocked. His seditious behaviour, the claim made for the catholics, and the violence of the democratic party caused a division among the volunteers and among the advocates of reform generally. Charlemont and Flood himself checked the violent party in the convention, which was dissolved peacefully. Flood's motions for reform were rejected, and the volunteer movement lost political importance. Pitt regarded parliamentary reform in Ireland as certain if it were adopted in England, and was prepared to welcome it, but was at that time determined to maintain the exclusion of the catholics from the franchise. The Irish administration was opposed to a change of system, and the Duke of Rutland, the viceroy, a young man of great ability, held that the state of the country would render it dangerous. The defeat of Flood's last attempt at reform, in 1785, left the Irish parliament as before without "the smallest resemblance to representation".[192]

In face of the threatened interference in politics of an armed force, of discontent and disloyalty, and foreseeing difficulties in the future between the independent Irish parliament and the imperial government, Rutland prophesied in 1784 that "without an union Ireland would not be connected with Great Britain in twenty years longer".[193] Pitt hoped to pacify discontent by benefiting Irish trade, and to unite the two countries by a community of interest. His plan, to which he attached more importance than to Irish reform, though commercial in character, was based on a lofty political conception; it was designed to promote "the prosperity of the empire at large".[194] North's concessions to Ireland in 1779 and the subsequent establishment of Irish legislative independence left both countries at liberty to regulate each its own trade. Ireland admitted English goods free or at low duties; and England shut out most Irish manufactures, though admitting linen, the manufacture of which was encouraged by a bounty, and, for her own convenience, woollen yarn free of duty. Ireland, too, though enabled to trade directly with the English colonies, could neither send their products to England nor buy them from England. Pitt designed to establish perpetual free trade between England and Ireland, and as Ireland would be the gainer by the change, he proposed that in return she should contribute a fixed sum to the naval defence of the empire. Rutland, who saw that sending money to England would be violently opposed, suggested that the contribution should be spent on a portion of the navy to be kept on the Irish coasts. In words which it is well to remember, Pitt pointed out that "there can be but one navy for the empire at large, and it must be administered by the executive in this country".[195] The resolutions he sent over to be presented to the Irish parliament provided that the contribution should come from the surplus which the grant of free trade would create in the hereditary revenue of the crown, for, as that revenue was chiefly made up of customs and excise, the payment would be in exact proportion to the benefits conferred by the change.


As, however, Ireland had a heavy debt, which was largely due to the extravagance of government, Grattan insisted that the contribution should depend on the yearly equalisation of the revenue with the expenses. The Irish government yielded to his demand, and with that change the resolutions were carried. Pitt brought them before the English house of commons on February 22 in a speech of remarkable power. Fox, who had long been hoping "to make his harvest from Ireland,"[196] opposed them as injurious to British manufacture. The manufacturers at once took the alarm; a petition with 80,000 signatures was sent up from Lancashire against the resolutions, and a "chamber of manufacturers," with Wedgwood as president, vigorously protested against them. English manufactures, it was asserted, would be undersold and ruined by goods produced by cheap labour in Ireland. After evidence had been heard on the matter for twelve weeks, Pitt saw that he must modify his scheme. On May 12 he brought forward a new set of resolutions less generous to Ireland, and providing that in commercial legislation the Irish parliament should perpetually be bound by the parliament of Great Britain. Fox, North, and Sheridan vehemently opposed them, and Fox denounced the whole plan as an attempt to lure Ireland to surrender her liberty. "I will not," said he, "barter English commerce for Irish slavery; that is not the price I would pay, nor is this the thing I would purchase." Nevertheless after long and warm debates, Pitt triumphantly carried his resolutions. The speeches of Fox and Sheridan found a loud echo in the Irish parliament; Grattan, in an impassioned speech, condemned the new resolutions, and they passed the commons only by 127 to 108. So strong an expression of adverse feeling forced Pitt to abandon his scheme. Thus was his wise and hopeful attempt to encourage Irish trade and strengthen the bond between the two countries wrecked by the factiousness of the opposition, the selfishness of the manufacturers in England, and the susceptibility of the Irish liberal party. Fox's opposition to free trade with Ireland brought him a temporary return of popularity in the manufacturing districts.

Pitt's command of the house of commons was still uncertain. In February, 1786, he was defeated on a bill for fortifying the dockyards at Plymouth and Portsmouth. His defeat was largely due to the unpopularity of the Duke of Richmond, the author of the plan, who had not gained in general esteem by deserting his former party, and to the old prejudice against increasing the military power of the crown. Yet it illustrates Pitt's position at the time. It was a "loose parliament"; the majority voted every man as he had a mind; Pitt had yet to bind his party together, and his cold and repellent manners still hindered him from making friends.[197] His power was strengthened in this session by the general approval elicited by his bill for the reduction of the national debt by means of a sinking fund. In forming his plan he received much help from Price, a nonconformist minister, distinguished as a writer on financial questions. When introducing his bill he was able to show that the public revenue would exceed the expenditure by about L900,000, which he proposed to raise to L1,000,000 by some new taxes not of a burdensome nature, ample resources existing to meet a temporary excess in naval and military expenditure caused by the late war. That the revenue would continue to improve seemed assured by the increase in the customs due to Pitt's measures against smuggling. Government might reckon on at least L1,000,000 surplus, and that sum he proposed to make the foundation of his new sinking fund. Unlike the sinking fund established by Sir Robert Walpole in 1716, which had from time to time been diverted to other purposes, his fund was to be kept inviolate in war as well as in peace, and applied solely to the discharge of debt. To secure this, he proposed that in every quarter of each succeeding year L250,000 should be paid to six commissioners of high position, and should be used by them in the purchase of stock. The interest of such stock, together with the savings effected by the expiration of annuities, was to be invested periodically in the same way. The fund thus created would then accumulate at compound interest and become a sinking fund for the extinction of the national debt.

The bill passed both houses without a division. The highest expectations were founded upon it, for people generally, in common with Pitt himself and Price, regarded the new fund as an infallible means of discharging the national debt solely by the uninterrupted operation of compound interest. That the application of surplus revenue to the payment of debt is sound finance, and that to treat surpluses designed for that purpose as a separate fund is a convenient arrangement need no demonstration. There is not, however, anything magical or automatic in the operation of compound interest, nor can the separation of a sinking fund from general revenue have any real efficacy. Reduction of national debt, whatever arrangements may be made for it, can only be effected by taxation. During the years of peace, when the revenue was in excess of expenditure, Pitt's sinking fund acted as a convenient mode of reducing the debt. In 1792 a second fund of 1 per cent. on all loans was established, and by 1793 the commissioners had reduced the debt by about L10,000,000. Then came the war with France; the revenue fell short of the expenditure, and Pitt met the deficiency by large loans raised at great expense. Yet in order to preserve the benefit which, it was believed, was derived from the uninterrupted operation of compound interest, the payments to the sinking fund were regularly continued, so that the state was actually borrowing money at a high rate of interest in order to reduce a debt at a low rate of interest. No member of the opposition saw the fallacy involved in Pitt's scheme. He is said, probably with truth, to have himself discovered it later, but he maintained the fund, which was useful as a means of keeping the duty of reduction of debt before the nation and of helping it to face with hopefulness the rapid accumulation of debt during the war with France.


In 1787 Pitt laid before parliament a treaty of navigation and commerce with France. The treaty of Versailles in 1783 provided that commissioners should be appointed to make commercial arrangements between the two countries. The French cabinet invited Shelburne to proceed in the matter, and he was about to do so when he was driven from office. Fox was opposed to a treaty. Pitt appointed a commissioner in April, 1784, but nothing further was done. It was a critical matter, for a commercial treaty with France was certain to give some offence at home, and Pitt may for that reason alone have been willing to delay action until his position was more secure. In 1785 the French council of state, irritated by the large influx of British manufactures which were smuggled into France, issued arrets restraining trade with Great Britain. Pitt was too wise to retaliate. His opportunity had come, and he entrusted the negotiations to Eden, who deserted the opposition and accepted a seat on the new board of trade. Eden had a thorough knowledge of commercial affairs, and carried out his mission as envoy to the French court with great success.[198] The treaty, signed on September 26, 1786, reduced the duties on many of the principal articles of commerce of both countries, and put others not specified on the most-favoured-nation footing. A large and easily accessible market was opened to British commerce, and, as the exports of France were for the most part not produced in England and the French were in want of British products, both countries would, Pitt argued, be gainers by an increase in the freedom of their trade one with the other, and political ill-feeling would be diminished by more intimate and mutually profitable relations. The navigation clauses showed as liberal a spirit as the commercial; an enemy's goods carried in the ships of either country were to be held free by the other, except contraband of war, which was limited to warlike implements and was not to include naval stores.

The treaty favoured the interests of the consumer, and was contrary to the economic principles of the whigs, who maintained that commerce should be regulated so as to promote home industry. Fox strongly objected to it in parliament, mainly on the ground that France was "the natural foe of Great Britain," and that any close connexion with her was dangerous. Sheridan and Charles Grey, afterwards the second Earl Grey, in his maiden speech joined him in condemning the treaty, but it was approved of by large majorities. Though it caused some temporary displeasure among the manufacturers, it was followed by a large increase of trade with France. Among Pitt's achievements as minister in time of peace none deserves to be ranked higher than this treaty, whether regarded in its details, or as a monument of his enlightened commercial policy, or as illustrating his statesmanlike view of the relations which it was desirable to establish between the two countries. His credit was further strengthened in the same session by his bill for the consolidation of the customs and excise. The customs duties, fixed from time to time, some on one system and some on another, were so complex that no one could be sure what he might be required to pay, and merchants often depended on the custom-house officers to tell them the amount due on goods. The excise, though in a less confused state, was also in urgent need of regulation. Pitt abolished the whole mass of existing duties with their percentages and drawbacks, and put a single duty on each article as nearly as possible of the same amount as before. These duties and all other taxes he brought into a consolidated fund on which all public debts were secured. Simple as this change appears, it involved about 3,000 resolutions. While it only slightly increased the revenue, it was a great benefit to merchants, it simplified the work in public offices, prevented officials from abusing their power, and enabled Pitt to get rid of a large number of custom-house sinecures, and so at once to effect an economy and dry up a source of corruption. The bill received a warm welcome from Burke, and was passed without a division.


Pitt's position in the commons was not yet one of command. In 1788 his party, those who recognised him as their leader, was said to number only 52, while Fox's party, the regular opposition, was estimated at 138; the "crown party" which might be reckoned on to uphold the government for the time being "under any minister not peculiarly unpopular," consisted of 185, and the rest were "independent" members, whose votes were uncertain. Pitt then had to walk warily. His practical temperament was in his favour. That the country should be well governed, and that it should be governed by himself, which was the same thing to him, as it is probably to all great ministers, was the object of his life. Compared with that, special questions were of small importance. There was nothing doctrinaire in his turn of mind; the abstract righteousness of a cause did not appeal to him, and could not divert him from the pursuit of his main object. In 1787 a bill for the relief of dissenters by the repeal of the test and corporation acts of the reign of Charles II. was brought in by Beaufoy, a supporter of the government. In reality the dissenters suffered very little from these acts, for they were relieved by annual acts of indemnity. Yet their grievance was not wholly sentimental, and, even had it been so, it would still have been a grievance. The opposition was divided; North opposed the bill, Fox warmly advocated it. Pitt consulted the bishops. All save two were against it. He valued the support of the Church, and declared himself against the bill, which was rejected by a majority of 78. In 1789 the majority against it sank to 22. Yet Pitt was thoroughly high-principled. As we shall see later in the case of Hastings, he would not be false to his convictions, and if he judged that a cause was worth maintaining, even at the cost of weakening his own position, he did not shrink from his duty. This is proved by his conduct with reference to the slave trade.

The cruelties attendant on the trade were forcibly represented by a society for procuring its abolition, founded in 1787, mainly by quakers, of which Granville Sharp and Clarkson were prominent members. Wilberforce's sympathy was already aroused by reports of the sufferings of the negroes in the slave-ships. Pitt advised him to undertake the question in parliament, and as a preliminary agreed to the appointment of a committee to inquire into the methods of the trade. The merchants of London, Lancashire, and Bristol were indignant at the threatened interference, and efforts were made to conceal the truth. Nevertheless the abominable cruelties to which the slaves were subjected during the middle passage were clearly proved. Chained to their places, fettered and fastened together, they were packed so closely on the lower decks and in stifling holds that they could scarcely turn, they were kept short of food and water, and were exercised to keep them alive by being forced under pain of the lash to jump in their fetters. While Wilberforce was ill in 1788, Pitt gave notice of a motion on the trade, and supported a bill moved by Sir William Dolben which mitigated the sufferings of the negroes during the passage. In 1789 Wilberforce in a long and eloquent speech moved resolutions for the abolition of the trade, and Pitt, Fox, who was always quick to feel for human suffering, and Burke joined in supporting him. Pitt's conduct on this question displeased many of his followers. The interests concerned in the trade were powerful, and for a time the question was virtually shelved.


The peace of Versailles left England isolated. The new government was to show that she was able and ready to reassert her right to exercise an influence in Europe. The political situation presented three alliances, of France and Austria, Austria and Russia, France and Spain, and opposed to them two isolated powers, England and Prussia. None of these alliances directly threatened England, yet there were elements of danger in the two first. After the death of Maria Theresa, in 1780, her son Joseph II. changed the general direction of Austria's policy. He was restless and full of great schemes which he looked to Russia rather than France to support. The growth of Russian power under Catherine had changed the political state of Europe. The treaty of Kutchuk Kainardji, in 1774, at the close of a successful war against the Turks, saw Russia strongly established on the Black Sea; the partition of Poland augmented her preponderance in the north: and in 1780 England found that her maritime interests were threatened by a power seated both on the Baltic and close to the Mediterranean. Catherine welcomed the overtures of Joseph, for she contemplated further conquests from the Turks, and the good-will of Austria was important to her. Of these two allied powers Austria was the more dangerous to England and Prussia. Russia had already gained much, Austria was hoping for gain; Catherine was looking mainly to extension in eastern, Joseph's ambitions tended to disturb the balance of power in western and central Europe. France was impoverished; she desired peace and was anxious to restrain the emperor's ambition, and Spain could do nothing without her. A quadruple alliance, then, between the two imperial courts and France and Spain was impossible. The late war had raised the Bourbon influence in Europe. England was unable to detach Austria from France, and to form an alliance, as Carmarthen wished, with the two imperial courts; and she was, as we shall see, led by a conflict in Holland to enter into an agreement with Prussia which had important results.

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