صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

tual powers: the minister obtained a majority; yet found it prudent to obviate any re-agitation of the subject, by procuring a dissolution of the Parliament. The crisis of his sway was come, however, and no art could evade a fall. Pitt's eloquence had overpowered the man and his measures with indelible odium. In the new session several questions were pushed to a division, which were in no other respects consequential than as mere trials of strength between the two parties : these the minister lost, and was therefore necessitated to resign all his employments, with the title of Earl of Orford. Still his interest with the King was unaffected, and although he could not act under him, he was not precluded from influencing his measures: as he had experienced the power and passion of his adversaries, he dreaded their resentment, and therefore made the greatest exertions to divide their strength, and compound an administration out of the most greedy of their party, and the least obnoxious of his own. In this project he succeeded to perfection : Lord Carteret, Mr. Pulteney, and a few others, were drawn into a negociation without consulting their late friends; satisfactory proposals were tendered to them, and they accordingly entered upon office without hesitation.

While this coalition was in a course of adjustment, the Parliament had been prorogued. On the very day the members assembled again, it became manifest that the nation was highly discontented with the recent changes: the new ministry were openly accused of

having bartered for their places, by insuring the safety of Walpole, - and two motions for an enquiry into his conduct were immediately

brought forward. Both were ably advocated by Pitt :- the first failed by a majority of two; but the second, though carried in the Commons through all the stages of a bill, was thrown out by the Lords: the proceedings were never again revived. The usual course of parliamentary opposition was all that was now left to Pitt, and in that he was indefatigable. He denounced the war, corrected the policy, and exposed the imperfect measures of the ministry with an amplitude of talent and tenacious gallantry, such as the country had never before witnessed. Latterly respected as an orator, he now grew reverenced as a patriot, and was looked up to with the most enthusiastic admiration. The indications of this feeling were numerous and strong, but all yielded to the ge

nerosity of Sarah, Duchess Dowager of Marlborough, who in 1744 bequeathed him 10,0001. “in consideration of his public merit, and the noble defence he made to support the cause, and prevent the ruin of his country." Great as this tribute certainly was, it was soon after emulated and exceeded; for in 1764 he received, with a similar declaration, a legacy of 10001. from Ralph Allen, Esquire, and in 1765, Sir William Pynsent, of Burton Pynsent, in Somersetshire, left him an unincumbered estate of 30001. a year, upon the same principles.

While he was thus exalted in popular estimation, his rise to place was gradually prepared by the jealousies which began to prevail among the ministers. Lord Carteret, now Viscount Granville, insinuated himself so adroitly into the favour of the mo'narch, that his colleagues took alarm at the ascendancy, and lest such another exclusive sway as Sir Robert Walpole had enjoyed, should again obtain, took private means to undermine his power. Lord Cobham, as the leader of the opposition, was the principal person to be secured; he was allowed to dictate his terms, and as soon as they were ratified, Lord Granville was outvoted in the cabinet, and forced to retire. Pitt's introduction to office was one of the stipulated conditions of this change ; but there were some difficulties to be surmounted before the promise could be reduced to performance. Ġeorge the IId. had all along turned from his person and politics with the most unmitigated aversion; he considered him the responsible agent of all those acts by which the cabinet had lately been convulsed, and the favourite interests of his German politics contravened :-Lord Cobham, therefore, held it a matter of delicacy, as well as prudence, to take the Duke of Newcastle's undertaking that these prejudices should be removed, and the object of them honourably provided for.

In consequence of this arrangement, Pitt became a ministerial advocate in the Parliamentary session of 1745 ; and here it is to be observed, that in the very first speech he made in his new capacity he retreated from principles which he had long and brilliantly professed. As soon as assistance was claimed by the crown for the suppression of the Scotch rebellion, Sir Francis Dashwood took occasion to submit a motion, by the terms which the House was required to pledge itself, that care should be speedily taken to frame such bills, as would secure the people from

the corrupt and undue influence so notoriously exercised during a late administration. This had been a standard proposition with Pitt; but he now opposed it; and as this was the first time he gave his enemies ground to grapple with him on, the circumstance should not be passed over without notice. He objected to the vote upon two reasons ; first, because as he asserted, it was only brought forward to involve the existing ministry in the acts of their predecessors, and thus make them disreputable to the nation; and secondly, because he held it to be ill-seasoned and dangerous for them to waste their time in guarding our liberties from corruption, when an enemy was at hand to snatch in arms all that was valuable from our grasp. This was an ingenious defence from the charge of tergiversation, and yet it may be remarked, that nothing has been more common in our history, than for one body of ministers to atone for the misconduct of those who ruled before them, and by a just provision remove the engines of oppression from the hands of future statesmen. Experience proves that the season of political adversity is the most auspicious to political virtue. The noblest bulwarks of the British Constitution have been won in moments of national difficulty and danger; and it is far too much to pretend, that on the present occasion, the Parliament had not ample time to vote the necessary supplies, and also to redress the stated grievances. To affirm that the support which was afforded to the Government in the distress of 1745, would have been in any degree enervated by such a course, is absurd; for the ministry could only have been strengthened by a manly renunciation of abuses, the notoriety of which was a gross provocation to rebellion. '

While mentioning his first recantation, it may not prove unsa. tisfactory to point out at the same time, one or two others upon which his adversaries have particularly harped. It liappened soon after, that an incidental subject gave rise to several pointed remarks upon the prerogative so frequently exercised by the crown, of dismissing officers from the army, and reducing men to the ranks, without a court-martial,, or any enquiry into their conduct. Of this occasion Pitt availed himself to uphold the measure in its fullest extent, although it was one of those which he had most delighted to oppugn when in opposition himself. Another and a more signal instance followed; for when, in 1751,

a treaty was closed with Spain recognising her right to seize, detain, and search all British vessels within certain lines of her American dependancies,—be acknowledged he was in error, when he had formerly urged this concession to be an insufferable indignity. On this point, these his second thoughts, were by no means the best, for the right was subsequently revoked, and has not since been allowed.

If this moderation, to use the gentlest phrase, upon the part of Mr. Pitt, was adopted with the view of conciliating the King, it met with that return which all subserviency deserves. He was left to sit unheeded on the ministerial benches, until at last Lord Cobham felt himself bound in deceney to demand the fulfilment of the Duke of Newcastle's promise ; and then it was found that the thing was impracticable - the King would not listen to it. Under such circumstances it was greatly to Mr. Pitt's credit, that his friends adhered to him with unanimity and spirit,—they threw up their places, and Lord Granville was recalled. But the ferment was too high, and the combination too strong for any minister to withstand; and George the IInd. was forced to acknowledge that no king of England can long act upon prejudice, and reign without violence. The Pelham family, Lord Cobham, and his friends were of necessity speedily restored to office, and Mr. Pitt, after being for a short time Vice-treasurer of Ireland, was made Paymaster to the Forces. Of his conduct in this preferment the most honourable mention has been preserved: his actions fully confirmed the upright character of his mind. Before his time it was a custom with the paymasters to retain in their hands a sum of 100,0001., under the pretence of casual emergencies, which they invested in the funds for their own advantage. This mercenary abuse he forth with corrected; he lodged the receipts of his office in the Bank of England, and there the balance of his account was found when he left his place. This integrity greatly chagrined his enemies, and confirmed the virtue of his reputation. But even a higher instance of conscientious rectitude soon after appeared, when a subsidy voted by Parliament to the King of Sardinia and Queen of Hungary was made payable at his office, where a per-centage, by way of perquisite, had hitherto been charged upon all disbursements of the kind. Pitt, however, paid the amount without any deduction, honestly declaring that the House of Commons had awarded a certain sum, and the servants of the crown were bound to give it entire. When this act was reported to the King of Sardinia, he commanded his ambassador to tender to Mr. Pitt a sum of money, upon the terms of a royal present; but this favour was also declined—a pertinaciousness of purity which incited his Majesty to exclaim in the fervour of contitinental panegyric, “ Surely this Englishman must be something more than mortal!"

In 1754, Mr. Pitt married Hester, the daughter of Richard Grenville, Esquire, a lady of congenial education and spirit, with whom he spent a life of harmony, unbroken by one discord. This match cemented a political connection of great influence, and by making Lord Temple his brother-in-law, led to a friendship of distinguished memory. But while his private life was thus happily circumstanced, he was by no means satisfied with his public situation. The King, though obliged to receive him as a servant, was far from inclined to treat him with favour; and for this aversion he condemned his colleagues. He seldom spoke in the House, and is only to be noted about this date for a charitable bill to regulate the payments of the Chelsea Pensioners. It thus became evident there was no cordiality between the men in administration. Little national prosperity could be expected from such a divided state of things, and much distress soon occurred : Lord Anson lost Minorca, and our trade to the Mediterranean grew crippled; the introduction of a body of Hanoverian troops into England, under a fear of French invasion, excited intense murmurs; the ministers became embarrassed ; Pitt refused to co-operate with them, and was at last authorized by the King to fill up the offices of government as he deemed most beneficial. Giving the Admiralty to Lord Temple, he made his friend Mr. Legge, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and became Secretary of State himself. To secure an interest in the House of Commons, he ceded the Treasury to the Duke of Newcastle, and thus entered upon his first administration under the most flattering appearances of general confidence.

The aspect of public affairs soon assumed far happier features ; Pitt was the soul of his party, and he infused his own vigour into every council and every act. It was a rule with him to disregard

« السابقةمتابعة »