Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

lican wrath of Deacon Praise-God Barebones and Captain Smite-them-hip-and-thigh Clapp, and their brother Roundheads--teaching anointed tyrants that, though kings can do no wrong, they can die like common felons.— The succeeding Commonwealth, when a Huntingdonshire farmer swayed with more than regal majesty the scepter which had so often dropped from the feebler hands of the Plantagenets and Tudors. The passage of the Habeas Corpus act, in 1678, in the reign of Charles II, who saved his head by surrendering his veto. The Revolution of 1688, which deposed one line of kings and chose another, prescribing to the elected monarch his coronation oath, and exacting his ratification of the new Declaration of Rights. The American Revolution, with its Declaration of Independence, teaching the House of Hanover the salutary truth, not only that “resistance to tyrants is obodience to God," but it can be successful. These, and cognate epochs in English history, which preceded those Modern Reforms of which I am more particularly to speak, are links in that long chain of events which gradually circumscribed the power of the princes and nobles. Each was a concession to that old AngloSaxon spirit of liberty, which demanded independence for the American Colonies, and is now working out the freedom of the subjects of the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland.

The object of the following chapters will be, to briefly sketch some of these MODERN Reforms, interspersed with notices of some of the prominent actors in each.

CHAPTER II.

British Cabinets from 1770 to 1830-Summary of the Efforts of the

Reformers, from the War of 1793 to the Formation of the Grey Ministry in 1830.

Before specially considering any one prominent Reform in English history, a general summary of events may be profitable. It will be but a summary, preliminary to a more general discussion, and will be mainly confined to the period between the French Revolution and the formation of the Grey Ministry in 1830.

From 1770 to 1830, the Government of Great Britain was, with the exception of a few months, swayed by the enemies of Reform. In the former year, Lord North, a name odious to Americans, who had previously led the Tories in the House of Commons, assumed the premiership. He retained his place, his principles, and his power, twelve years. In 1782, a quasi liberal ministry supplanted him, headed by Rockingham, Fox, and Burke, which was dissolved in three months, by the death of the former, when Fox, Burke, and their friends, refused to unite under Shelburne, the succeeding Tory Premier, who sought new supporters, giving young Pitt the seals of the Exchequer and the lead in the Commons. Stung by mortification at their exclusion from office, Fox and Burke united with North in forming the famous “Coalition,” and in April, 1783, prostrated Shelburne. Thereupon, a new ministry was made up of those disaffected Whig and Tory chiefs, Fox, Burke, the Duke of Portland and Lord North being its leading spirits. This Coalition, which for years damaged the fame of Fox, struggled for its unnatural existence till the following December, when, failing to carry Mr. Fox's India bill, it expired, dishonored and unregretted. Pitt, “the pilot that weathered the storm,” then took the helm of State, which he held eighteen tempestuous years, and was succeeded, not supplanted, in 1801, by the weak but amiable Mr. Addington. Lord Hawkesbury (the subsequent Lord Liverpool) took the pen of Foreign Secretary ; Eldon (Sir John Scott) clutched the great seal of Chancery; and Perceval put on the gown of Solicitor General. This ministry leaned on Pitt for support, and was his puppet, having taken office to do what he was too proud to perform_make peace with France. The war denion smoothed his wrinkled front only for a short period, when his visage suddenly became grim, and the ship of State was, in 1803, again plunged in the waves of a European contest. The helm soon slipped from the feeble hands of Addington, and “the pilot” was recalled to his old station, where he remained till 1806, when his lofty spirit sinking under the shock of the overthrow at Austerlitz of the Continental Coalition against Napoleon, of which he was the animating soul, he hid his mortified heart in a premature grave.

A liberal ministry, clustering around Lord Grenville and Mr. Fox, took up the reins of power which had dropped from the relaxed hands of Pitt, abolished the slave trade, attempted to ameliorate the condition of the Catholics, encountered the bigotry of George III, failed, resigned, and were succeeded by an ultra Tory administration, of which Perceval, Liverpool, Eldon, Castlereagh, and Canning were the chief members. For six years they followed in the footsteps of Pitt, fighting Napoleon abroad and Reformers at home, propping up the thrones of continental despots, and fortifying the prerogatives of the English crown, till, in 1812, Perceval, who was then Premier, fell before the pistol of a madman in the lobby of the House of Commons. Simultaneously with putting the crazy assassin to death, almost without the forms of a trial, Liverpool, as Premier, and Castlereagh, as Foreign Secretary, came into power, and, pursuing the policy of Pitt and Perceval, the same ministry, with occasional modifications, retained its place until the death of Liverpool, in 1827. Castlereagh, its life and soul, and the evil genius of England, and the truckling tool of the Holy Alliance, perished by his own hand in 1823, and was succeeded in the Foreign Department by Canning, who infused a more liberal spirit into the Cabinet, especially in the attitude of England towards the Alliance.

Such had been the advance of free principles amongst the body of the people during the fifteen years of Liverpool's administration, that George IV had great difficulty in forming

new ministry. Wellington and Peel refused to become members if the friends of Catholic Emancipation were admitted, and Canning refused to join if they were excluded. After a long train of negotiations, the anger of the King exploded at the stubbornness of the Iron Duke, and he gave Canning his royal hand to kiss, with à carte blanche for the enrolment of a ministry. He formed a mixed Government, whose average quality was mollified Toryism. He brought into the compound Robinson and Huskisson, his recent associates in the Liverpool cabinet, whose liberal course on trade and finance, during the last four years, foreshadowed the repeal of the corn laws and the dawning of better days. Wellington and Peel spurned the amalgamation, whilst Eldon, with the shedding of many tears and the tearing of much hair, surrendered the great seal, which his strong hand had grasped for twenty-six years, to the great detriment of suitors with short purses, and the great profit of barristers with long wind. The country expected much from the new administration. But whether well or ill founded, its anticipations were extinguished in a few brief months by the death of the brilliant genius who had inspired its hopes. When the grave closed over Canning, Lord Gooderich (Mr. Robinson) organized a

piebald ministry, of such incongruous materials that it broke in pieces almost in the very act of being set up. Wellington was then summoned to the King's closet, and in January, 1828, became Premier, giving the lead of the Commons to his favorite, Peel, he himself undertaking to control the House of Peers, much according to the tactics of the field of Waterloo. The Iron Duke, who was always adroit at a retreat, and the supple commoner, both of whom had refused to join Canning because he favored Catholic amelioration, now reluctantly granted, because they dared not withhold, the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts, and the emancipation of the Catholics! The Wellington-Peel Government struggled bravely till late in 1830, when the tide of Parliamentary Reform, rising to a resistless hight, overwhelmed them, and the first liberal ministry (excepting a few distracted months) which England had witnessed for sixty-five years, was organized by Earl Grey. Fortunate man! He now saw the seeds of that reform, which, forty years before, in the fervor of youth, he sowed in Parliament, and had steadily cultivated under contumely and reproach from that day till this, about to yield an abundance which his matured and ennobled and was to garner in, whilst the people “shouted the Harvest Home.'

Begging the reader's pardon for introducing this dry detail of names and dates, it may be further noted, that in glancing over the dreary wastes which stretch between the elevation of North and the downfall of Wellington, but few verdant spots rise to relieve the reformer's eye. From the commencement of the French war, in 1793, till the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts, in 1828, not a solitary important reform was carried, except the abolition of the slave trade, and the British empire exhibited a broad sea of rank Conservatism. But, though nothing was perfected in these thirty-five years, no period of British history teems with events more gratifying to a hopeful and progressive humanity. Foul and fetid as were the waters of the Dead Sea, they were constantly lashed by a

« ZurückWeiter »