British History - he end of George III's 'personal government' - Fox - Burke - Shelburne - Pitt as Peace Minister - India - Slave Trade, Wilberforce, and the Evangelicals - Australia - Canada.
( Originally Published 1922 )
THE machinery of politics and government, the nature of which has been touched upon in the previous chapters, had remained in the hands of the Whig aristocracy from the fall of the Tories at the death of Anne, until the accession of George III. In the earlier part of their long supremacy, the great Whig families who had triumphed at the dynastic crisis, were conscious that they bore rule as the interpreters of the national sentiment against the French and the Pretender, and as the champions of the free elements in our Constitution. Their political henchmen were the Dissenters, whom they had saved from renewed persecution by the High Church Tories ; and the commercial classes, especially in London, who feared the ' little Englandism ' and anti-commercial bias of the small Tory landowners. But the Whigs, as their fifty fat years rolled by, remembered less and less the rock whence they were hewn. They ceased to look to the people, and relied entirely on the manipulation of the machine of parliamentary corruption. Finally, in time of national danger, brought on by their incompetence, they were compelled, without loosening their grasp on the machine, to come to terms with the first Pitt, as popular tribune, because he alone was capable of wielding the might of England in time of war. The victorious conduct of the Seven Years' War seemed to foreshadow a new and more vigorous era of national and imperial unity. But the impulse ended with the danger that had called it forth.
The accession of George III closed the Jacobite question by affording a new object to the loyalty of believers in divine right, like Dr. Johnson. The Tory king ceased to be ` over the water ' ; he appeared as a young Englishman, and the staunchest of Protestants. There was nothing French about ` Farmer George.' But unfortunately, though his habits of life were of the best and simplest English type, his political views were derived, through his mother, from petty German Courts. His fine strength of character and great political ability, unenlightened by large understanding or by generous sympathy with his people, degenerated into the low cunning of a wire-puller and the obstinacy that wrecks empires.
George could see no reason why Parliamentary ` influence ' by which the country was governed, should not be exercised by himself as King, instead of by certain great nobles, distributing the favours of the State in his name but contrary to his wishes. Why should not the taxpayers' money, with which the politicians were bought, be given away by the King himself instead of by the Duke of Newcastle ? He might, indeed, have played the part of Bolingbroke's ' patriot king ' to some purpose, if he had been content to give his confidence to the elder Pitt, and to put himself at the head of some, at least, of the popular elements of the Constitution. Against such a combination the ` great Whig families ' would have struggled in vain. But
George, while he shook off Pitt, who soon declined into the Earl of Chatham, sought out quarrels with the commercial classes and with the mob, with London and the Colonists. He made corruption worse corrupted by systematising the purchase of members of the House of Commons with sinecure places and even with hard cash payments for their votes. On these terms he was able to choose his own Ministers Bute and North and to dictate his own policy for the best part of twenty years.
At the end of those twenty years, the disastrous war against the American colonists was drawing to its close. It had extended itself into a maritime war against France and Spain, backed by the fleets of Holland, Russia and the other powers of the ` armed neutrality of the North.' From the moment the first shot had been fired in America, it had been clear that the attempt to revive the personal rule of the King in England would fail or succeed with the issue of the rebellion over there. The surrender of Yorktown to General Washington was regarded as decisive, and a few months later Lord North's Ministry of ' King's Friends ' fell from office. George III's system had at length collapsed, but for two more years of crisis and confusion it remained highly uncertain what men and methods would replace it.
The party that had overthrown Lord North and that succeeded him for three months in power, was the Whig party, under Lord Rockingham. The Whigs had been sobered and purified by misfortune, and educated by the genius of Edmund Burke and Charles Fox. Even the ` great families ' had had time to reflect in the cold of opposition that the machinery of corruption was not by itself a safe and sufficient instrument for the government of an Empire. Under the benevolent and high-minded Lord Rockingham, the party came back to office, determined to make a drastic reduction in the means by which their own party for half a century, and the King for the last twenty years, had corrupted the members of the House of Commons.
Burke's Economic Reform Bill is the one practical achievement that stands to the account of the most gorgeously eloquent of philosopher statesmen, the greatest publicist, with the possible exception of Cicero, of all ages and all lands. It remains also the one constructive feat for which England is indebted to the Rockingham Whigs, over and above the destruction of Lord North's Ministry. The Bill secured that the King's personal rule should never be revived ; for the number of sinecures, and the amount of secret service money by which the House of Commons had been bribed, was drastically cut down ; while at the same time Government contractors were prohibited from sitting in Parliament; and the Revenue Officers, who constituted more than a tenth of the electorate and were dependent on Government for their places, were one and all disfranchised.
After these reforms, the most degrading period of political corruption passed away, never to return. It was the first step in a hundred years' process of purifying English public life.
But here the course of legislative reform was stayed, until in the year 1832 a new generation of Whigs passed the great Reform Bill. The Rockingham Whigs, though willing to disfranchise the revenue service, were divided on the expediency of disfranchising the rotten boroughs, many of which were their own property. Burke, too, the conscience of the party, was opposed on principle to Reform of Parliament. Himself a man of humble origin, he none the less believed that the ' Whig connection ' should remain ' aristocratic.' He wished to go back to 1689, not forward to any new thing. He still saw nothing in the vista of time to come save the members of a virtuous peerage combining to control the Crown, and indirectly to represent a grateful populace. It is strange that so large a mind, desirous of honest and liberal-minded government of our whole Empire, which he beheld in the eye of his imagination stretching across the oceans and down the ages, should have thought that the main body of the Anglo-Saxon race, the outlying portion of which had just, with his full sympathy, rebelled against the shadow of control, would consent for all time to come to be ruled by an oligarchy posing as a representative government.
Fox, on the other hand, though born an aristocrat, was already a convinced supporter of Parliamentary Reform. But he could only carry with him half the Whigs on that question. Meanwhile, the Government broke up on another issue, which caused the utmost confusion of principles and parties, and paved the way for the astonishing career of the younger Pitt.
As so often happens in the history of parties, the rock on which the Whigs split was not a principle but a person. Lord Shelburne was a philosopher-statesman of less genius; but perhaps of greater insight, than Burke. The patron of Bentham, he was an advocate of Parliamentary Reform. But in practice he was the worst of Cabinet colleagues, universally distrusted, and nicknamed ' the Jesuit of Berkeley Square.' Politically, he inherited the traditions of Chatham, distrusting the aristocratic ` Whig connection,' desiring the dissolution of all party ties and the formation of a patriot: ministry on Liberal principles. Like Chatham and his son after him, Shelburne, while regarding the King's personal rule as a disastrous aberration, was not so jealous of the power of the Crown as were Burke and Fox, who vainly strove to reduce the Royal part in politics to such limits as were eventually set in the reign of Queen Victoria.
The King, on the look-out for a chance to intrigue against his own Ministers, saw his opportunity to divide the Rocking-ham Cabinet by ostentatiously granting his favour and- confidence to Shelburne alone, to the exclusion of Fox and the nobles of the stricter Whig connection. Shelburne's peculiarities led him to accept and encourage this dangerous partiality. Fox was far too hot to put up with the revival of a Royal party in the bosom of a Whig Cabinet, or even to consider coolly what was the best way of meeting the situation. When Rockingham died and the King chose Shelburne as Prime Minister, Fox, Burke and most of the Whig connection refused to serve under him, and left the Government.
If the seceding Whigs had been dealing, as they supposed, with George and Shelburne alone, they would soon have had things their own way. Their calculations were defeated by a boy of twenty-three. The King called in the young William Pitt, Chatham's second son, to be Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. Pitt thus stepped suddenly to the front rank of statesmen in the character of frustrator of Fox and the Whigs, and saviour of George III. Yet at this time he agreed with Fox and the more Liberal Whigs on Parliamentary Reform and on almost everything else, except on the exact degree of opposition to be offered to the influence of the Crown. That, however, was the issue of the moment. The chances and personalities of these confused years, 1782-3, for ever prevented the co-operation of Fox and Pitt who, in talents and temper, were the complement one of the other, and who, if they had worked in union, might have passed a measure of Parliamentary Reform before the storm of the French Revolution broke over England, and have averted many disasters that fell on these islands. But Pitt, having taken office in alliance with the Tories and the King, was gradually moulded to their likeness, while Fox grew old and factious in opposition.
In the decisive struggle between the two men, Fox made one mistake after another, while Pitt displayed skill, patience, solitary courage and Parliamentary ability such as no British statesman of mature years has ever shown before or since. Pitt, in a minority in the Commons, was in imminent danger of appearing as the tool and nominee of George III, while Fox's strength was to stand as the champion of the people against the Crown. Fox threw away these advantages by his disastrous coalition with North, the genial old man who had done the King's dirty work year after year till America was lost. With the help of North's votes in the Commons, the Whigs forced their way back to office, at the price of losing the people's confidence. They sold their birthright for a hasty spoonful of pottage, when the whole mess would have been theirs if they had waited.
George, trusting to the unpopularity of the Coalition, strained his prerogative and violated the spirit of the Constitution, to get rid of the men whom he detested. He used his personal influence against his own Ministers, to induce the Lords to throw out Fox's India Bill; and on the strength of the Lords' vote, which he himself had engineered, at once dismissed Fox and North and installed Pitt as Premier, in the face of a hostile majority of the Commons. After this outrage, Fox might have gained the upper hand once more, if he had, even now, thrown himself frankly on the people. But he strove to prevent the General Election which, above all things, he should have demanded. Pitt's magnificent courage and ability won the popular sympathy, which the Coalition did everything it could to alienate. At length, at the decisive General Election of April 1784, Pitt had the Liberal as well as the Royalist feeling on his side. The Yorkshire Reformers chose his friend Wilberforce for their great county, till then a preserve of the Whig families ; it was to Pitt that they looked for Parliamentary Reform.
If ever there was a national party it was Pitt's in 1784. But the nation was ill-represented in Parliament. Owing to the electoral system, it was the Royalist and Tory borough owners on whom he must mainly rely for his support in the House of Commons, and since he had quarrelled with Fox, he had every year more and more to depend on these retrograde elements. In 1785, for the third time, his proposals for a mild Parliamentary Reform were rejected by the House of Commons. After that he made no further effort to improve the system by which he held power. Considering himself essential to the country as a Minister, he would not risk the loss of office for any cause. His good angel, Wilberforce, lamented that after 1785 he was content to govern by ` influence' instead of by ' principle.' He learnt only too well to maintain himself in power by the distribution of peerages and patronage among the owners of rotten boroughs. In the Army and Navy, in the Church and in the State, to be the relation or client of a borough-owner was the path to preferment. This was the system that became known to the Radicals of a later day as ` Old Corruption.' But though the brightness of Pitt's sun was gradually overcast, he continued until the French Revolution to give the country a sound and liberal-minded administration such as no one else could then have given it.
The net result of the complicated crisis of 1782–4 was the Pittite settlement of the Constitution, which remained as the unwritten law of the land for the next fifty years. The basis of power was Ministers' ' influence ' over Parliament, through the distribution of patronage, somewhat less corrupt than in the heyday of eighteenth-century public spoliation ; but of real representation of the people, there was no more than before. A new set of ruling Tory families, mostly risen by their wits from the professional and mercantile classes and from the smaller gentry Rose, Dundas, Eldon, Liverpool and Castlereagh, the Peels and Canning took the place of the great Whig families, some of whom, however, came over to join the new regime.
As to the power of the Crown, there was a compromise. The King could no longer choose puppet Ministers like Bute and North ; he could no longer force a policy, like the quarrel with America, on a recalcitrant country by means of a Parliament lost to any argument save gold. On the other hand, the Crown retained, until after the death of George IV, the power of selecting the Prime Minister and thereby influencing the combination of the numerous groups into which the House of Commons was divided. Irrespective of party, the Government of the day could, as such, obtain the support of over a hundred members, so that when the Crown chose a man as Prime Minister, it went far to supply him with a working majority. Thus all parties were agreed that if George III died, or was declared officially mad, the Prince of Wales could at once bring Fox and the Whigs into office, instead of Pitt and the Tories. The King also retained, as in the famous case of Catholic Emancipation, the power of forbidding the ministerial introduction of measures to which he had a strong objection. But for some years after 1784, George was still very much in the hands of Pitt.
Installed in power on these conditions, Pitt could not reform the internal polity of the British Islands, but he could re-establish their financial and diplomatic credit, while France, the apparent victor in the late war, went down through bankruptcy to revolution.
Our sea-power, though challenged by all the navies of the world, had not been overthrown. Our Empire had lost little beyond the one terrible mutilation which had divided in two the English-speaking race. In the darkest hour of danger and disgrace, great men had not been wanting to our need. Carleton had saved us Canada. Warren Hastings had saved us India. Rodney's sea victory over De Grasse (1782) and old Eliott's defence of the Gibraltar rock had, in the last years of the war, put a check that proved final to the long aspirations of the House of Bourbon after world supremacy.
The first Pitt had excelled as a War Minister; his son ex-celled as a Minister of peace and recovery. A self-acknowledged pupil of Adam Smith, in an age when most Parliamentarians thought the art of Latin quotation more important than political economy, Pitt re-established our shaken finances and encouraged our trade and manufacture by a systematic reduction of the chaos of indirect taxes. He thereby threw out of work many smugglers and excisemen.
In pursuance of the policy of Free Trade and peace, Pitt consented to treat with the French Ministers when they proposed a Commercial Treaty. He secured from them arrangements decidedly more advantageous to the manufacturers of England than to those of France. Our staple industries obtained easy access to French markets, while French silks were still prohibited over here. Claret, however, at last shared the advantages which Whig foreign policy, since Anne's reign, had reserved for the heavy wines of our Portuguese ally, with such disastrous results to the gouty legs of our ancestors.
Pitt's French treaty, though approved by the commercial community, was attacked by the party of Fox and Burke. The arguments of the Opposition were directed, not so much against the economic principles involved, on which the Whigs who fore-gathered at Brooks's Club had the most hazy ideas, but against the political issue of improved relations with France. In so far as this criticism was more than factious, it: was out of date. In the age of Voltaire, the French monarchy, already staggering to its doom, was very different from the formidable embodiment of autocratic insolence against which William III and Marl-borough had made head in the era of the Dragonnades. The son of Chatham generously declared that ` to suppose that any nation can be unalterably the enemy of another, is weak and childish. It has its foundation neither in the experience of nations, nor in the history of man.'
But these just and liberal sentiments did not prevent him from standing up very effectively against both the French and the Spanish branch of the House of Bourbon, whenever he held that British interests were really endangered.
Then, as in the days of William III and George V, it was held to be vital to the safety of Britain that no power likely at any time to challenge our naval supremacy should gain a paramount influence in any part of the Netherlands. The Dutch Republican party, aided by the diplomacy and gold of the French monarchy, was on the point of overthrowing the hereditary Stadtholderate of the House of Orange. If this revolution occurred, French influence would be supreme in Holland. Pitt joined with Prussia to prevent it, and the Prussian armies overawed the Republicans without France daring to intervene. A severe and public defeat was thereby inflicted on French influence in a part of the world where we could not afford to let it triumph.
So, too, when Spain attempted to exclude our settlers from Nootka Sound in Vancouver Island,2 on the ground that the whole Pacific Coast was her own by right of discovery up to the borders of Alaska, Pitt instantly put a stop to these pretensions, at the risk of war with the House of Bourbon. Neither the United States nor Canada had yet become interested parties to disputes on the Pacific Coast ; but their future development would have been imperilled by an admission of the Spanish claims.
With less good fortune, Pitt tried to take equally strong measures in the Black Sea. Side by side with his new ally, Prussia, he threatened the Empress Catherine with war if she annexed the district of Oczakoff from the Turks. The Opposition for once had the country on its side, when it protested against fighting about other people's boundaries in unknown and barbarous lands. Pitt had to give way, because this feeling was shared by members of his own Cabinet and of his own majority in Parliament.
The Oczakoff episode, the last independent action of the old diplomatic world before it was sucked into the maelstrom of French Revolution politics, presented the Eastern question in the form in which we were to know it throughout the nineteenth century, the apparent choice between supporting Turkish misrule or acquiescing in the ambitions of the Russian autocracy over its neighbours. Burke, in Gladstonian phrase, denounced Pitt's policy as ` an anti-Crusade, for favouring barbarians and oppressing Christians.' The Foxite tradition, afterwards handed down through Grey and Lord Holland to the Whigs of the Byronic era, became definitely anti-Turk over the Oczakoff question, not without important consequences for Greece forty years later. The subsequent Crimean policy represented a veering round of the later Whigs to the policy initiated by Pitt.
Pitt's defence of his abortive proceedings in 1791 is not without some power of appeal to posterity. It was his object to confirm the alliance of England and Prussia, begun four years before over the Dutch affair, so as to use Prussia to protect Poland and Sweden, which then included Finland, from the encroachments of Russia. Only by the help of Prussia as well as of Austria could the Poles get enough protection from the hostility of Russia to enable them to consolidate their hopeful new Constitution, now taking the place of the oligarchic anarchy that had led to the First Partition of their country in 1772. Pitt's failure in 1791 to carry England with him in his stand against Russia over Oczakoff was good for the Christians oppressed by Turkey, but bad for the chances of Poland's survival. Prussia, seeing that she could not depend on British support, had the more reason for seeking friendship with Russia and taking her share in the Second and Third Partitions of Poland. When that policy was at length unashamedly revealed, British opinion was already so much pre-occupied by the later aspects of the French Revolution, and by the Jacobin threat to the Netherlands, that we had no ears for the outcries of murdered Poland, which in that last hour appealed only to the Foxite Whigs.
Thanks in no small degree to the sober genius of Pitt, the decade between the American war and the war of the French Revolution saw the British Empire rise, in prosperity and prestige, from the degradation to which George III had reduced it. The wits of Brooks's Club jested at Pitt's youth, and celebrated in their Rolliad pasquinades
A sight to make surrounding nations stare,
Yet, in fact, it was Fox who was always the schoolboy, and Pitt the schoolmaster. Pitt, as we all rejoice to know, was not incapable of pillow-fighting and having his face blacked in the strict privacy of a few familiar friends ; but he never ventured, among colleagues and followers who, when he first took office, were all his seniors, to lay aside for an instant the armour of a haughty reserve before which he could make the greatest quail. By long use, the armour he had adopted as a defence to his youth became a part of his political nature in middle age. Prematurely old in spirit, cautious, dignified, formidable, experienced, laborious, wise, but with a mind that, after a splendid springtime, too soon became closed to generous enthusiasms and new ideas, he ceased to understand human nature save as it is known to a shrewd and cynical Government Whip. He cannot be said to have come too young to power, for he proved equal to the occasion of his call. But if the fates had allowed him, before it was too late, a few years in which to lay aside the awful burden of his country's cares, his nature might have shot up once again, as marvellously as in his boyhood, till it had reached a true perfection, adaptable, comprehensive and generous, as it was always prudent and strong.
But before the era of the Revolutionary wars, Pitt's limitations were still in the background, and his magnificent talents and virtues were apparent to all save a factious Opposition. And never was Opposition more factious than during the Regency debates. The one principle that united the whole Whig party, both the Whig Conservatives under Burke and Portland, and the Whig Reformers under Fox and Sheridan, was the strict limitation of the powers of the Crown. Yet when in the winter of 1788, George III's periodic madness first became so acute as to hold out to them the prospect of returning to power by the favour of the Prince of Wales as Regent, they were tempted and fell. They proclaimed a doctrine worthy of the Tories of a century before, that the Regency was vested in the Prince of Wales as of right, whatever Parliament might do. This mistake enabled Pitt, in his own phrase, to ' un-Whig ' Fox, and to rally round himself, for the last time, Reformers like Wyvill and Cartwright. The Liberal, the Royalist, the Protestant and the moral feelings of the nation were enlisted on the same side. Pity for the afflicted King and detestation for his dissolute son, were enhanced by renewed rumours that the latter was secretly married to a Papist. And in spite of the Whig denials, the Prince's marriage with Mrs. Fitz Herbert was a fact.
The tone of the Opposition was as bad as its case. Burke's violence on behalf of the Prince was shocking, and already on both sides of the House men whispered that his noble mind was becoming unhinged. But such was then the practice of the Constitution that no one doubted that the Prince, if he became Regent, even on the terms of Pitt's Bill, could call in the Whigs and supply them with Government supporters enough to make up a Parliamentary majority against the will of the nation. Pitt, who had, contrary to all precedent except his own family traditions, scorned to enrich himself out of the public funds, was preparing to resume practice at the Bar, when, by an event resembling an act of retributive justice on the part of Providence, the King unexpectedly recovered, and the gates of Paradise were closed in the very faces of the expectant Whigs. These happenings, on the eve of the French Revolution, obliterated the recollection of George III's twenty years of misrule, prepared for the ' good old King ' in his long decline a warm place in his people's heart, and renewed the popularity of the Tory party under the leadership of Pitt.
Perhaps the most successful and enduring part of the life's work of Pitt was his establishment and regulation of the British power in the East. No other man without leaving Europe ever had so great and good an influence on the destinies of India. At the beginning of his twenty years of power, Anglo-Indian affairs were in dire scandal and confusion ; before he died, the rule of Britain in the East stood essentially where it remained until the period of change and crisis in our own day itself due to the very success of what was then begun. The relations of the Anglo-Indian Government to the Indians and to the home country were then decided. The moral obligations implied by our presence in Bengal were recognised both in theory and in practice. And the methods by which the new system would perforce have to be extended over all India, were so clearly marked out by Pitt's great Governor-General, Wellesley, that his successors had only to resume and carry through his political testament.
The Empire which had been founded by the military and political genius of Clive had been saved by the scarcely less extraordinary powers of Warren Hastings. During the gloomy period when we were losing an Empire in the West, when our prestige was shaken and our power challenged on the waters of every ocean, and along the shores of every continent, Hastings saved British power in the East. By his vigour as a War Minister, he foiled the native States and the Maratha hordes who, with French help, sought to reverse the decision of Plassey. At the same time, he developed the ' subsidiary alliances' of the paramount power with protected native States, that Clive had begun and that Wellesley was destined to erect into a system for the whole peninsula.
By force of his solitary will, Hastings saved India, in the face of his own Council led by his bitter enemy, Philip Francis. Lord North's Regulating Act of 1773 had indeed set up a Governor-General at Calcutta, with authority over the East India Company's three Presidencies of Madras, Bombay and Bengal, but had saddled him with a Council on the spot, em-powered, if it wished, to thwart his action. Perhaps no other English statesman, except Cromwell, could have worked under the conditions over which Hastings triumphed. Hastings was hampered, not only by the veto of his own Council in India, but by the orders of his masters at home the Directors of the Trading Company. They clamoured for dividends and did not stop to consider that the establishment and maintenance of a vast empire, so far from being, as they thought, a source of revenue, implied in periods of crisis a series of heavy war budgets. It was partly these clamours from the London merchants whom he served that led Hastings into extortionate courses at Benares and in Oudh. But, like Clive, he stood in his general policy for the defence of the Indian, and for the establishment of the great traditions of British justice, in place of the pitiless scramble of greedy, broken adventurers that had been the first result of our conquest of Bengal.
The more terrible of the accusations that were made against Hastings in the case of the Rohillas and Nuncomar have long ago been disproved. He was far from blameless, and there will always be a margin of dispute as to each of his several actions, but on the whole few men who have done so much good, have done so little wrong.
On his return home, his accusers combined in strange alliance the venomous personal malignancy of Francis and the generous prophetic fury of Burke. Burke's imaginative grasp of the moral obligations of Empire did a great work in instructing the statesmen and public at home that they had become, before God and man, the trustees of helpless millions. This new and vital idea, the basis of our Empire in Africa as well as in India, first made headway in public opinion during the era of Burke and Wilberforce. But the gift of prophecy in a hot Irish heart is liable to strange aberrations, and Burke allowed himself to be almost totally misled as to what Hastings stood for in the East. The awakening moral consciousness of England about India, which eventually saved our rule out there, and the more ephemeral social hatred of the ' Nabobs ' as the returned Anglo-Indians were called, found, under Whig direction, a channel in exaggerated attacks on Hastings and led to his long but unsuccessful impeachment before the Peers. Pitt first acquiesced in the impeachment on some of the counts, but turned against it after a while. Fox, who had taken it up with all his rash ardour and eloquence, soon wished to have the proceedings against Hastings abandoned, but was held to the hopeless and ungrateful task by the inveterate zeal of Burke.
More important, though less dramatic than the trial of Warren Hastings in Westminster Hall. were the India Bills that took up these tangled matters which his administration had, for good and for evil, brought to the very forefront of English party politics. Serious statesmen were agreed that the government of our new Empire in the East could no longer be left to a Trading Company. During the brief Coalition Minis-try of 1783, Fox's chief measure was his India Bill, which proposed boldly to transfer the whole political powers of the East India Company to the Crown, very much as was done after the Mutiny. The proposal was not so much wrong in itself, as impolitic in the extent of its defiance of vested interests, on the part of a Ministry that had as enemies, King, People and Pitt, all watching for an opportunity of revenge. The proposed transference of all Indian patronage to a body of seven Commissioners, all of whom were certain to be Ministerialists, was denounced as a design to give the Coalition the means of corrupting Parliament. The consequent defeat of the Fox-North Ministry has already been described.
So it fell to Pitt next year to solve the Indian problem. His India Bill was a compromise between Company and Crown, well suited to work quietly for the next seventy-four years, till times were ripe for the complete transference desired by Fox and Burke. Patronage, for all except the greatest posts, was nominally left to the Company. But in practice it was notorious that Henry Dundas, on behalf of Pitt's party interests, so manipulated Indian patronage as to purchase the Parliamentary support of Scotland for his friend, and at the same time to form that connection between India and many able Scottish families which helped to mould the great Anglo-Indian traditions. The plain truth was that until English party government ceased to be carried on by the barter of seats and votes, and until the principle of competitive examination was introduced for the Indian Civil Service, neither Fox nor Pitt, nor anyone else, could have devised a method of governing India efficiently which would not have increased the governmental power of corrupting Parliament.
Under Pitt's Bill the commercial monopolies and functions of the Company were left intact. But its political authority was ` controlled' by a ` Board of Control ' appointed by the Crown, and representing the British Cabinet of the day, with the power of supervising the correspondence between the Company and its servants in India. In effect, the members of the Board of Control, and more particularly Dundas, the Secretary of State, became all-powerful, and the Company a mere mouthpiece of their will an antiquated cog in the new State machine. The cry against Fox's Bill had been very largely factious, for Pitt's methods indirectly obtained Fox's object.
The new arrangements in India itself were even better, because more thorough. It was Pitt's great merit to make the Governor-General despotic in the East where despotism was understood and needed, yet subordinate to the British Parliamentary Cabinet at home. By Pitt's Amending Act, the Governor-General was freed from the control of his Council, which became purely advisory. No one would ever again be asked to govern India on the terms of Warren Hastings, subordinated to mercantile Directors at home, and thwarted by his own Council in Calcutta. Pitt tacked an efficient despotism in India on to a free constitution in England, without either suffering harm. He administered most skilfully the laws he had passed, and initiated the new era. He appointed first-rate men as Governors-General, and gave to each of them the attention, advice and support for which Britain's servants overseas have a right to look from the home government. By the time that Cornwallis and Wellesley, backed by Pitt and Dundas, had completed their work, the modern Anglo-Indian system was a working part of the British Constitution, and a normal activity of the British race. The main outlines of our policy, internal and external, in the Indian peninsula had been securely laid.
The British Empire in Africa had not yet come into existence. The interior of the Dark Continent was still unmapped and unexplored.' Along the coast, the European forts and settlements were principally Portuguese and Dutch, though French and English disputed the ownership of the slave and gold depots of Guinea. The chief connection of England with Africa was the slave-trade, of which the largest share was naturally carried on by the most energetic of the seafaring peoples. Bristol and Liverpool were the centres of a vested interest that throve in supplying North and South America and the West Indies with slaves crimped along the African coast.
When the eighteenth century opened, the slave-trade was looked on as perfectly respectable, and only a few stray voices were raised against it. The right of supplying Spanish South America with African slaves was one of the most valued prizes that our statesmen carried off from Utrecht, when the world was resettled after the Marlborough wars. But during the middle part of the ` Century of Enlightenment,' our poets, philosophers and religious enthusiasts, including John Wesley himself, and the Quaker body as a whole, initiated the attack on the slave-trade. Religion and humanitarianism began to renew a connection that had not been obvious during the Middle Ages or the wars of religion. The initiation of the anti-slavery movement is the greatest debt that the world owes to the Society of Friends.
During the years of Pitt's peace Ministry, began the formation of Anti-Slave Trade Committees, not exclusively composed of Quakers, for the purpose of agitating the question politically among the British public. Granville Sharp and Clarkson founded the first of these Committees. The cause, at the same time, recruited William Wilberforce, as a result of his ' conversion ' to Evangelicalism, while Pitt and Fox, with-out that incentive, both became strong adherents.
The success of this agitation, then unique in the character of its aims and methods, is one of the turning events in the history of the world. It led to the abolition first of the slave- trade and then of slavery itself under the British flag, and thereby secured abolition by all those European nations who, in the course of the nineteenth century, divided between them the helpless bulk of Africa. It was only just in time. If slavery had not been abolished before the great commercial exploitation of the tropics began, Africa would have been turned by the world's capitalists into a slave-farm so enormous that it must have eventually corrupted and destroyed Europe herself, as surely as the world-conquest under the conditions of slavery destroyed the Roman Empire.
It is good to think that a movement of such immense and beneficent import to the whole world should have been begun and mainly carried through by the humanity and enlightenment of the British people as a whole, under the guidance of an entirely unselfish agitation, using new methods invented by Englishmen to suit English conditions. These methods of voluntary organisation and open propaganda were directed first to persuade the public, and then to bring the pressure of public opinion to bear on the Government. The result proved that, in spite of the terrible corruption of our public institutions, the spirit of the British body politic was free and healthy as compared to any other then existing in the world. The systematic propaganda begun by Sharp and Wilberforce, just before the French Revolution, was stultified for some years by the anti-Jacobin reaction, but achieved its first great triumph early in the following century, long before other reforms could come to fruition. Its methods became the model for the con-duct of hundreds and even thousands of other movements political, humanitarian, social, educational which have been and still are the chief arteries of the life-blood of modern Britain, where every man and woman with a little money, or a little public spirit, is constantly joining Leagues, Unions or Committees formed to agitate some question, or to finance some object, local or national. In the eighteenth century this was not so. The habits engendered by the anti-slavery movement were a main cause of the change.
The life of William Wilberforce is, therefore, a fact of importance in the general history of the world, and in the social history of our island. He was not a man of genius, like Wesley; and his friends Sharp, Clarkson and Zachary Macaulay bore, perhaps, most of the burden and heat of the movement which made his fame. But it was he who adapted it to its surroundings in the religious, political and social England of that day. Having been, before his conversion, a man of the world and a favourite member of the best society, he retained his influence over the governing class, even after he had become its critic from the standpoint of an exacting religious code. In the strength of his personal charm, his virtues and his very limitations, he seemed raised up to impress the Evangelical influence on English life during the halt-century of his cease-less and varied activities.
The French Revolution, as we shall see in the next chapter, inevitably caused among the well-to-do over here a horrified recoil from a considerable freedom of thought in religion and politics, to the hard and narrow timidity of a class alarmed for its privileges and possessions. There was a concurrent change in manners from license or gaiety to hypocrisy or to virtue. Family prayers spread from the middle to the upper class. ` Sun-day observance ' was revived and enforced. ` It was a wonder to the lower orders,' wrote the Annual Register for 1798, ` throughout all parts of England, to see the avenues to the Churches filled with carriages. This novel appearance prompted the simple country people to enquire what was the matter ?
This mood of sudden sobriety, and the conservative call for more discipline, found satisfaction in the Evangelicalism of Wilberforce and his friends of the so-called ` Clapham Sect.' These men were striving to adapt the Church of England to a Puritanism of ordered and analysed emotions, closely allied to the Methodism that had recently been expelled from the established fold. Average Churchmen of the ` high-and-dry ' school of that day were indeed strong Protestants ; but they hated Dissenters, especially during the anti-Jacobin panic, and disliked the Evangelicals for showing friendship to Methodists and Quakers, and for their busy zeal about salvation, the slave-trade, and a thousand other matters best left alone. Between these two schools of Churchmen the Tories who governed England for forty years were divided. This division is the key to much of the history of the period, for religious thought and observance then had a profound influence on all social and political action.
Pitt, who loved Wilberforce, but deplored his conversion and detested his Evangelical friends, became every year more and more the idol and the leader of the ` high-and-dry ' in Church and State. Wilberforce, who believed that Christianity must be applied to politics, while he persecuted ` infidels and deists ' with the zeal of an inquisitor, defended Dissenters and continued to desire Parliamentary Reform and to clamour for abolition of the slave-trade ; while Pitt, under the influence of Dundas, Bishop Tomline, and the anti-Jacobin reaction, was becoming indifferent or hostile to one after another of the movements which he had once led, and more and more the tool of vested interests of every kind.
Wilberforce found that the people who stood firm for the negro cause when others quailed, were the Dissenters and the Democrats.1 In 1800, Pitt had drawn up a Bill to permit the persecution of Dissenting ministers by Tory magistrates all over the country, in contravention of the Toleration Act of 1689. He was with difficulty persuaded by Wilberforce not to introduce it. ` That they should think of attacking the Dissenters and Methodists ! ' wrote the good man. ` Pitt has no trust in me on any religious subject. To see this design drawn out in a Bill ! Never so much moved by any public measure.
He was indeed stranded in a position between parties. But from that bank and shoal, he managed to exert, by his extra-ordinary tact, personal charm and utter honesty of purpose, an ever-increasing influence on the changing world of the early nineteenth century. Directly Pitt died, he was able, with Fox's help, to get the slave-trade abolished. Some of Pitt's successors, like Perceval, were members of the 'sect ' of Evangelicals, and the bar against their ecclesiastical promotion was removed. But their strength, like that of the earlier Puritanism, was always among the laity. The strongest type of English gentleman in the new era, whether Whig or Tory, was often Evangelical. The army knew them with respect, and India with fear and gratitude. Their influence on Downing Street and in the permanent Civil Service, through families like the Stephens, gravely affected our Colonial policy on behalf of the natives of Africa and the tropics, sometimes with little wisdom, but oftenest and on the whole for the great good of mankind.
The hold of Wilberforce and the anti-slavery movement on the solid middle class in town and country was a thing entirely beautiful English of the best, and something new in the world. For a whole generation, the anti-slavery champion was returned at every election for the great popular constituency of Yorkshire. He could, if he himself had consented, have sat for it during the rest of his life. In those days, all the free-holders had to come up to the cathedral city to vote. ` Boats are proceeding up the river [from Hull] heavily laden with voters,' says a letter in 1807, ' and hundreds are proceeding on foot.' ' Another large body, chiefly of the middle class, from Wensley Dale, was met on their road by one of the Committee. " For what parties, gentlemen, do you come ? " " Wilberforce, to a man," was their leader's reply.' When on Sunday the vast floor of York Minster was packed with the freeholders of the three ridings, ` I was exactly reminded,' writes Wilber-force, ` of the great Jewish Passover in the Temple, in the reign of Josiah.'
It is right to praise highly the influence of Evangelicalism on our politics, in days when no other even partially enlightened doctrine could get a hearing. Evangelicalism brought rectitude, unselfishness and humanity into high places, and into the appeal to public opinion. But there is one great defect in its political record under Wilberforce which it must share with the spirit of that iron time. Finely alive to the wrongs of the negroes and the corruption of the slave drivers, it was as callous as the ` high-and-dry,' or the employers and landlords themselves, to the sufferings of the English poor under the changes wrought by the industrial revolution. Hannah More and her friends sincerely believed that the inequalities of for-tune in this world did not matter, because they would be re-dressed in the next. They even persuaded themselves, and endeavoured to persuade the starving labourers, that it was a spiritual advantage for them to be abjectly poor, provided they were submissive to their superiors. Wilberforce urged upon the willing Pitt the duty of passing the Combination Laws which rendered Trade Unionism illegal. The attitude of early Evangelicalism to British poverty took the peculiarly nauseous form of charity as a vehicle for tracts and enforced religion. It was only in a later age that Evangelicalism produced Lord Shaftesbury, the Wilberforce of the whites.
During Pitt's peace-ministry, steps were taken which opened the path for the future development of Canada and Australasia as homes of the English-speaking races and as members of the British Empire.
Various parts of Australia (then called New Holland) and of New Zealand had been discovered in the seventeenth century by the sailors of the Dutch East India Company centred at Java ; but the wonderful voyages of Tasman had not been followed up. For more than another century, the Australasian seas and islands were outside the world's political and commercial orbit, and even beyond the range of its scientific curiosity. The charm was at length broken, not by the agents of commercial enterprise, but by Captain Cook, acting for the British
Royal Navy in the interests of science and exploration. The fact that Cook claimed for the British Crown the coasts that he discovered in New Zealand and Australia, was not really as important as the fact that he brought them to the notice and knowledge of our navigators and statesmen. The French discoverers were hard on the same track, and the prize was still for the country that should send the first or the most effective settlers.
The issue was decided by a grotesque event. Lord Sydney, the Home Secretary, persuaded Pitt that the felons whom it had so long been the custom to transport to the American colonies now lost, could be suitably disposed of at Botany Bay, about which Captain Cook had set people talking. There is no evidence that either Pitt or Sydney designed to build a new Britain in the Antipodes. If they had, they would scarcely have wished to lay the foundations in crime. But the colony of convicts, among whom order was kept by the King's troops and officers, afforded, at worst, a leaping-off ground for vast regions otherwise unapproachable, and proved, therefore, to have unexpected attractions to shipload after shipload of free immigrants, in the era of over-population which accompanied the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain. The real history of Australian development began, not with the felons, who were soon swamped, but with the capitalist ` squatters,' who in the first decades of the nineteenth century introduced cattle and sheep farming on a large scale, and opened out an attractive field of enterprise for adventurous spirits.
If Pitt helped to found Australia in a fit of absence of mind,' his statesmanship was applied consciously and with good effect to the early problems of Canadian nationhood.
For twenty years after Chatham and Wolfe had wrested Canada from the French Crown, the only important element in the population had been the French habitans. They were reconciled to British allegiance by the respect paid to their alien laws and religion. Our policy in conquered Canada was in striking contrast to the folly and violence with which, in the same years, we alienated our brother-Englishmen of New England and Virginia. Canada was kept loyal during the great disruption by Sir Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester, who governed it, with some intervals, from 1766 to 1796. Carleton was the originator of the spirit of liberal government which, formulated for a later age by Lord Durham, has held together the modern British Empire, and has never been neglected without disaster.
In the first part of his career, Carleton had reconciled the French priests and peasants to British rule. In the second half, he had to face, with the help of Pitt, the more complicated problem of fitting into the Canadian system an English-speaking element, as Protestant and progressive as the habitans were stationary and Catholic. He had to devise a policy for the Crown which would retain for it the common loyalty of two mutually antagonistic societies the very problem in which England had so lamentably failed in her dealings with Ireland.
The first large English-speaking immigration into Canada was the direct result of the loss of the other North-American colonies. The American Loyalists, for the crime of having continued faithful to the government de jure, were driven as penniless exiles from their old homes, by an act of democratic tyranny comparable to the worst acts of European despotism. They were men sifted out by a persecution, and therefore, as in the case of the Pilgrim Fathers, or the Huguenots, made good immigrants. About forty thousand of them had been expelled from the United States. They poured in great numbers into Nova Scotia, created there the separate province of New Brunswick, and settled the neighbouring island of Cape Breton. Some ten thousand of them penetrated inland into Canada proper ; of these, some stayed among the French, near Quebec, but more went further up the St. Lawrence, into the primeval forests to the north of the Great Lakes. This district of Upper Canada or Ontario, then in the ` far West,' was English-speaking from the moment of its settlement ; the provinces on the Atlantic coast had also become mainly Anglo-Saxon. But in the centre, Lower Canada or Quebec remained chiefly French. In British North America, taken as a whole, the French still predominated in numbers, because Quebec was the most thickly inhabited district.
The newcomers, known as the United Empire Loyalists, were so far from being slaves and myrmidons of tyranny as they were described by those who expelled them from their homes that the first act of the pioneers on their arrival in the land of promise on the Upper St. Lawrence, was to agitate, after the manner of their race, for popular assemblies, which were a stumbling-block to the French habitans. They wished also for the English land-law instead of the French feudal system, and, in fact, for a society on the Anglo-Saxon model.
It was the task of Carleton and Pitt to satisfy these demands without alienating the French. Pitt and his new Home Secretary, Grenville, decided, in opposition to Carleton who was wrong for once, that it was necessary to divide Upper and Lower Canada into two Provinces the one to enjoy English, the other French law and customs. It was indeed the only way, at that time, in which the Anglo-Saxons, still a small minority, could enjoy free racial self-development, otherwise than by lording it over the French majority as the English settlers were allowed to lord it in Ireland : the division prescribed by Pitt for Canada was the means of concord, in contrast to his unhappy ' union ' of opposites nearer home. Under the provision of the Canada Act of 1791, the English-speaking province which it created grew, in the half-century before the legislation based on Lord Durham's report, from 10,000 to over 400,000 inhabitants.
The institutions set up in the two Canadas by Pitt and Grenville were not those of responsible government, for the executive could not be chosen or removed by the legislature. But representative assemblies were granted to advise the Governor, vote the taxes, and pass the laws, like our Parliaments in Tudor or early Stuart days. The French were thus gradually trained up in the use of electoral methods entirely strange to them, while the infant Anglo-Saxon community in the Upper Province was, for the time, satisfied with a degree of self-government adapted to its still primitive conditions of life in the clearings of the wilderness. During the ensuing period of transition, the French and English province both remained loyal in the main, and only gradually outgrew this provisional system of semi-popular government.
If Pitt has sometimes been overpraised for some aspects of his policy nearer home, he has never received the full meed of credit for his timely dealings with distant Canada. He was, fortunately, in a position to look across the Atlantic, with those wise eyes of his, over the heads of the vested interests that surrounded and dominated him in the affairs of Great Britain and Ireland.
Lord Grenville's proposal, adopted by Pitt, to give hereditary titles to the members of the Governor's Legislative Council, was never carried out in a land that had no feudal background. The clearings of the forests of Ontario were certainly very different, socially, from the English villages in the age of the enclosures and the ' Speenhamland Act.' It is difficult to exaggerate the advantage to the Empire and the race of the creation, at this particular juncture, of the pioneer province of Upper Canada, as a place ready made for the reception of the victims of the economic revolution then going on in Great Britain. The Canadian conditions, like those of Australia and New Zealand shortly afterwards, were almost ideal for rehabilitating the self-respect of the bullied and pauperised labourer of the English shires. ` In Canada,' wrote one of them, ` we can have our liberty, and need not be afraid of speaking of our rights.' ' We have no gamekeepers, and more privileges,' wrote another. The Scots, too, soon discovered the Canadian trail. The forests fell, the log huts rose, and the rich wilderness began its yield of crops and of men.