Imatges de pÓgina


Great political transactions, to be duly estimated, require the illustrative comment of time, experience, and posterity. It may, however, be safely anticipated that the era of Reform will be referred to as one of the lights-perhaps as the chief light and landmark in the history of the British Constitution.

The Reformers manifest a silly squeamishness in shrinking from the avowal of the fact that it will be a Revolution-a great one-a greater than that of 1688, which it will eclipse.

The question in 1688 was essentially religious, and the guarantees theu obtained were based upon disfranchisement and exclusion. At present the ques. tion is wholly political, and the guarantees are based upon enfranchisement and the destruction of monopoly. The elements of revolution in 1831 are of a nature more permanent than those of 1688. Religious animosities, oppressions, and disputes, are transient, like most other calamitous visitations of extreine malignity; but the elements of strife between liberty and oligarchy are universal and enduring as political society itself. They worked in the Republics of Athens and Lacedæmon, Carthage and Rome, as in the British monarchy. It may be affirmed, then, that 1831 will be the more important epoch.

A politico-moral sketch, drawn with fairness and freedom, though only in iscorcio, of the Minister who has identified himself with this momentous transaction, may not be without interest at the present moment.

Lord Grey has been more consistent in his character than in his opinions. Personal in his ambition, but still more proud, he has diverged, but vever stooped. He advocated Reform—then renounced it, -and is now a relapsed Reformer. But in changing his opinions he did not compromise his principles. He forfeited the favour of the people without incurring the lightest suspicion of having sacrificed it to that of the Court; and he has been under the ban of the Court during the Regency and reign of the late King, without indemnifying his ambition as a party-chief by what courtiers call faction. With the most popular opinions Lord Grey could not be a democrat; with high breeding, and a jealous respect for the conventional superiorities of birth, rank, and title, he could not be an aristocrat; and with public spirit, application to business, and the genius of statesmanship, he has disqualifications as the minister of a free people. To understand his character it is necessary to cast a retrospective glance over his public career.

Mr. Grey, the son of Sir Charles afterwards Earl Grey, entered Parliament on coming of age, under the especial auspices of Mr. Fox. His brilliant debut and the prediction of Mr. Pitt, marked him out as the rising hope of the Whigs. The fashionable éclat of his youth, rank, and personal accomplishments, made him one of the private as well as political friends of the Prince of Wales. But there was that even in his youth which rendered him unfit to be the courtier even of a popular heir-apparent, the avowed patron of a Whig opposition. His relations with the Prince of Wales, after dwindling to politics and party, ended at last in ill-disguised alienation at Carlton-house.

Some have ascribed the first coolness to a mortifying preference over the Prince in the good graces of a lady celebrated for wit and beauty. Others jave referred it to the following incident, which first discovered the peculiar and uniform character of Lord Grey.

In 1787 the Prince of Wales found it necessary to apply to Parliament for the payment of his debts. One serious and somewhat curious obstacle stood in the way of his application-the belief of his having passed through a ceremonial marriage with Mrs. Fitzherbert. The country gentlemen apprehended ruin to the Church and State from this heterodox attachment of the heir-apparent to a lady who appears to have had little taste for politics or theology, but who had faith in purgatory and the invocation of Saints. There appeared two ways of removing their fears, quieting their consciences, and loosening their purse-strings, viz. either denying the heterodoxy of the lady's faith, or denying the nuptial ceremony. The Prince chose the latter, and instructed Mr. Fox to declare in the House of Commons from authority, that no such ceremony had

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ever taken place. But he thought all this time only of the country gentlemen and the grant, and not at all of the lady. Mrs. Fitzherbert, on reading in the newspaper next morning what had passed in the House of Commons, indignantly declared that her connexion with the Royal offender was terminated for ever. She was appeased only by the Prince's assurance that Mr. Fox had transgressed his authority, and that the denial should be as formally retracted as it was made. It was not easy even for a Prince to extricate himself from so rash a pledge. Mr. Fox not only would not retract what he had been authorized to say, but made no secret of his resentment on finding that his good faith had been trifled with. The Prince resorted to Mr. Grey, whose youth and companionship in fashionable gaieties rendered his compliance probable. His request was that Mr. Grey would, without directly contradicting Mr. Fox, use such ingeniously ambiguous phrases as should throw doubt upon Mr. Fox's authority, and restore the veil of mystery and vagueness which had hitherto hung over the Prince's intimacy with Mrs. Fitzherbert. Mr. Grey not only declined, but disdained becoming the vehicle of a pitiful equivocation, and was henceforth regarded by the late King as too intractable and stately for either his partisan as a Prince, or his minister as a Sovereign.

It is true that Mr. Grey shared the councils of Carlton-House during the Regency question in 1788-9, and would have been a minister had the Regency taken place; but the matter of deliberation was a great constitutional and party question; the Prince's alienation had not yet fully pronounced itself; and he was at the time more dependent upon the Whigs than the Whigs upon bim.

It was not till 1795 that George IV. appears to have put upon Lord Grey the same mark of political or ministerial reprobation which George III. bad put upon Mr. Fox. The Prince's pecuniary embarrassments were again the occasion. He had formally abandoned the Whigs in 1792, and they, in requital, gave but a cold and qualified assent to the application for the payment of his debts on his ill-starred marriage in 1795. Mr. Grey went farther than his party : he proposed a reduction of the grant in terms which appear never to have been forgotten or forgiven by the late King, and which are too remarkable and obvious in their application at present not to be repeated. It was part of the tactics of the Court party and the Minister of that day, as of the present day, to represent as enemies of the dignity and prerogatives of the Crown, all who defended the rights or pleaded the sufferings of the people. “ I profess myself,” said Mr. Grey, “as ready to support the real splendor of the Royal family as any slippery sycophant of a Court; but I conceive that there is more true dignity in manifesting a heart alive to the distresses of millions, than in all those trappings which encumber royalty without adorning it. Is it proper, I ask, that the legislature should give the example of encouraging extravagance, at a moment when the prevailing fashion of prodigality among people of fortune is rapidly destroying their independence, and making them the tools of the Court and the contempt of the people? I am well aware that the refusal to pay his debts will be a privation to the Prince of Wales; but it will be a just penalty for the past, a useful lesson for the future, and a proper deference to the severe privations endured, and the painful sacrifices made by the nation."

It is a remarkable testimony to Lord Grey's public principles, and to his strong permanent conviction, that after a lapse of thirty-six years, and doubtless without any thought of the observation which had then fallen from him, he has stripped the ceremony of the King's coronation of those trappings, which not only

encumbered royalty without adorning it,” but presented, in the gorgeous absurdities of feudal barbarism, a spectacle of childish prodigality at once revolting and ridiculous in an age of freedom, economy, and good sense. Only imagine William IV. confirming his authority by the coronation services of basins, napkins, drinking-cups, and a grotesque personage roaring the grave mummery of a defiance, mounted in armour upon a white horse! Sir Walter Scott has, with some heedlessness as a courtier, exposed these mummeries with humorous satire, where he introduces the poor Baron of Bradwardine performing the liegeservice of pulling off the Pretender's boots. As for the man in armour and the white horse, they may be safely surrendered to the annual installations and sole use of my Lord Mayor.

This period, from 1792 to 1800, has been the most brilliant in the political life of Lord Grey. He stood by the side of Mr. Fox, the most active and eminent member of the Whig party, and the recognised chief and organ of the Reformers. It was in 1792 that, in concert with Lord Lauderdale, Erskine, Whitbread, Sheridan, and several other men distinguished for public spirit and political talents, both in and out of Parliament, he formed the society called “The Friends of the People.” The existence of that society, though brief, is, next to the present, the most important era in the history of Reform. Without making any impression upon the divisions of the House of Commons, it gave an incurable blow to Borough oligarchy, by the individual character and authority of the leading members, and by the palpable manner in which it placed the vices of the representation before the public eye. Its formation had the double object of protecting Reform on the one side from a set of (for the most part) ignorant, conceited, and insignificant visionaries and Charlatans, who formed themselves into clubs on the French model, and imitated the French Clubbists in the extravagance of their principles and fustian of their style; on the other, from Mr. Pitt, who now hated Reform with the rancour, and attacked it with the insidiousness, of an apostate politician.

Mr. Fox supported in Parliament the principles of the Society, but did not enroll himself a member. He thought by this compromise to avert the convulsion which then threatened the Whigs. Mr. Grey was its constituted and avowed organ. The Society made a brief public declaration of its principles in 1792, but restricted itself in Parliament to a notice by Mr. Grey of a motion for Parliamentary Reform to be made in the following year. Mr. Pitt attacked “ The Friends of the People” by a side wind, in a proclamation and in Parliament. He was answered by Mr. Grey, with an exposure of his bad faith and apostacy so severe and overwhelming, that the Minister, with all his arrogance and ability, quailed under it.

In April 1793 Mr. Grey drew up and presented the memorable petition of “ The Friends of the People," and moved that the state of the representation in the Commons House of Parliament should be taken into consideration by a Committee of the whole House. The motion was rejected by a sweeping majority-only forty-one members supported it. There are few instances in which fact and reason have been so recklessly trampled down by the brute force of numbers. But the petition put the case so ably, clearly, and conclusively in a brief compass, that it became a classic document in the archives of Reform.

The petitioners complained “ that the number of members assigned to the different counties was grossly disproportioned to their comparative extent, population, and trade; that the elective franchise was so partially and unequally distributed, and in so many instances committed to bodies of men of such very limited numbers, that the majority of the Honourable House was elected by less than 15,000 electors, which, even if the male adults of the kingdom be estimated at so low a number as three millions, was not more than the two-hundredth part of the people to be represented.

They begged leave to call the attention of the Honourable House to the greatest evil produced by these defects in the representation, namely the extent of private parliamentary patronage ; an abuse which obviously tended to exclude the great mass of the people from any substantial influence in the election of the House of Commons, and which in its progress threatened to usurp the sovereignty of the country," &c.

The petitioners offered to substantiate every allegation at the bar, and the undeniable fact which they set forth that three hundred and nine members, constituting a great majority of the house, were returned for England and Wales, (inde pendently of the forty-five Scotch members) by seventy-one Peers and ninetyone Commoners, not only startled the public, but continued to be the text of all future Reformers. This deadly shaft, prepared and directed by Lord Grey, has ever since stuck and festered in the side of Borough oligarchy, and is at last on the eve of proving fatal to it.

Mr. Grey next brought the question of Reform before the House of Commons in 1797, and proposed a specific plan, in conformity with the above principles. According to his proposition, the number of county members would be increased,

the franchise extended to copy and leaseholders, and the rotten and nomination boroughs disfranchised. This plan, it will be perceived, is in its substance identical with the present bill. It was rejected by a majority of 258 to 93. His last effort for Reform was in 1800, when he moved an instruction to the Committee on the Royal message recommending the Union,“ to strike off certain decayed boroughs, in order to preserve the independence of Parliament."

But at this period Lord Grey's ardour had begun to cool. From the want of energy and sympathy in the great mass of the people, his zeal for Reform first gave way to languor, and then to disgust. A feeling of despondency and discontent manifested itself early in an address of “The Friends of the People" to the people of Great Britain. This document also is ascribed to him :

“ If,” said the address," it should appear, after a fair and sufficient trial of the disposition of the country, that the measure has utterly lost its popularity, and that the nation, whether adverse or indifferent, will not take an active part in support of it, then, indeed, it will become us to abandon all thoughts of an useless and vexatious perseverance in so deserted a cause; and having appealed to the highest tribunal by which a national question can be determined that of the people themselves—we must submit with patience to their ultimate decision."

Mr. Grey, upon the elevation of his father to an earldom in 1806, became Lord Howick, and was a cabinet minister, first at the head of the Admiralty, then at the head of the Foreign Department, as successor of Mr. Fox, during the short Whig Administration of 1806-7. In the latter year, on the death of his father, he became Earl Grey, and a member of the Upper House.

A proud man soon becomes disgusted with a cause in which he is supported only by a small, and not very reputable, minority. The Reformers had, it should be observed, not only decreased in numbers, but in respectability. Another leader, with the advantages of youth, novelty, and more sweeping principles, had at the same time become lord of the ascendant-and Lord Grey, before he yet left the House of Commons, abandoned the field of Reform, rather than divide or dispute empire with Sir F. Burdett. His junction with the Grenvilles, and his translation to the House of Lords, completed, and sealed for a time, his dissociation from Reformers. Had his ambition been less personal and his character less proud, instead of abandoning the cause, because it was abandoned by the people, he would, with his talents, eloquence, and high character, have rallied opinion in its support, and instead of disdaining a rival, he would have adopted a comrade.

Lord Grey, from the period of his junction with Lord Grenville, no longer identified himself with any great popular cause. Their enlightened support of the question of religious liberty, it is true, does honour to both ; but on this subject they were in advance of public opinion, and alienated, at the same time, both the people and the crown. It broke up the Administration of 1807 without exciting public regret.

The long reign and Tory principles of George III., the political apostacy and personal alienation of the Prince of Wales, should have convinced Lord Grey that the only hope of a Whig ministry was in the support of the nation ; yet did he look to the aristocracy and the crown as the dispensers of office. But though Lord Grey was attached to “his order," he could not crouch to the borough oligarchs, like Lord Liverpool, Mr. Perceval, the Duke of Portland, and even Pitt himself, and therefore was not the man to be promoted to the state-helin by what is called in England“ the aristocracy." The elements of repulsion between him and the Court, during the latter part of the reign of George III. and the whole regency and reign of George IV., were still more active and envenomed. He not only disdained to capitulate with them, but gave fresh provocation. He not merely refused to give George IJI. in 1807, the secret pledge against the Catholics, demanded by that bigoted, despotic-tempered, and plausible Sovereign, but recorded his opposition by a minute of council, and brought death to the Administration of which he was a member.

In 1809, when the deplorable expedition to Walcheren, the duel and resignations of Lord Castlereagh and Mr. Canning, and the death of the Duke of Port

land, left the country without a Government, Mr. Perceval, with the express authority of the King, addressed a duplicate letter to Lords Grey and Grenville, desiring their immediate presence in London, for the purpose of forming, as the letter expressed it, “an extended and combined Administration." Lords Grey and Grenville were at the time, the former in Northumberland, the latter in Cornwall. Lord Grenville came to town, conferred with Mr. Perceval and Lord Liverpool, and after an interchange of compliments, rejected their overtures. Lord Grey declined at once, not only the proposed coalition, but the invitation to a personal conference in town. Both Lords doubtless saw the hollowness of the overture, but Lord Grey's pride took the alarm lest his sagacity should be for a moment suspected, and he marked his sense of a mere court maneuvre by his stately, if not contemptuous, rejection. This contrast of Lord Grey's intractable pride with the more accommodating and courtly character of Lord Grenville, was taken advantage of by Mr. Perceval, and not lost upon the Prince of Wales, when he soon after became Regent of the kingdom.

The public did not conclude, from the Regent's continuing his father's Ministers, that he had renounced the Whigs. It was supposed that he regarded himself, under the restrictions of the first year, as only the ceremonial head of the Government, and would consult his inclinations upon becoming unrestricted sovereign. The restrictions no sooner expired than the scales, it may be said, dropped from the eyes of the Whigs and the public. The Regent, in his well-known letter to the Duke of York, after declaring that “ he had no predilections to indulge,” expressed the wish that Lords Grey and Grenville would accede to the Ministry of Mr. Perceval ! This overture was a mere mockery, and of course declined. The ascendant of Mr. Perceval and the Tories appeared secure, when that Minister died by the hand of an assassin.

The Ministry was now disorganized, and the game of Court cabal and party negotiation more strenuously renewed. The frank conduct of Lord Wellesley'; the equivocal part performed by Lord Moira; the failure of both; the intrigues of Sheridan; the affair of the Household,-are too well known to be more than adverted to. It proved that the Government of the Regent, like that of his father, was actuated by an inner-working secret influence. The dominion of the Marchioness of Hertford was not merely notorious, but avowed. “If,” said the demi-official gazette of Carlton-House, “ we are to consider the conduct of affairs as the result of the Marchioness of Hertford's advice, we shall most sincerely pray for her as Britain's guardian angel. If it be that lady who has persuaded the Regent to continue in power the servants of his father's choice, and to conduct himself so dutifully as a son, so patriotically as a prince, we hope to hear of his Royal Highness's visits to Manchester-square every day in the week!”

The Regent's household was wholly composed of members and dependents of her family. Lords Grey and Grenville required that the great offices of the household should be placed at their disposal. They were censured not only by neutrals, but by Whigs, for insisting on this stipulation, and the chief responsibility charged upon Lord Grey. All the leading Whigs concurred in demanding the removal of a hostile secret cabal, exercising the influence and opportunities of unobserved communication and social companionship which those offices afforded. But Lord Grey went far beyond his friends and destined colleagues in the debates to which the Ministerial negotiations gave rise; he denounced the secret influence which hemmed in the Regent, “ nothing loth,” and absolutely ruled his councils. “Bat,” said he, in concluding a remarkable speech, “ the objections to the Ministerial system hitherto stated, sink into insignificance compared with one to which I allude with reluctance-I mean the dependence of the Ministry for its very existence upon an unseen influence which lurks behind the throne-a power alien to the Constitution, but now become, unhappily, too familiar to the country; a disastrous and disgusting influence, which has consolidated abuses into a system, and which prevents either public complaint or honest counsel from reaching the royal ear; an influence which it is the duty of Parliament to brand with signal reprobation, and for the destruction of which it is my rooted, unalterable principle, and that of my friends who act with me, to have an understanding with Parliament before we take office under the crown."

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