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After a debate of four nights the second[251] reading was carried by the large majority of one hundred and fifty-five, the numbers being two hundred and seventy-eight to one hundred and twenty-three. In the House of Lords the numbers were nearly four to one in favour of the measure, which was quickly passed into law. As soon as this fact was made known in Ireland, Mr. O'Connell moved that the society be dissolved. This was no sooner done than a new society was formed; and when the Attorney-General returned to Ireland he found it in active operation. It was in reference to this proceeding O'Connell boasted that he could drive a coach-and-four through an Act of Parliament. It was declared that the new Catholic Association should not assume, or in any manner exercise, the power of acting for the purpose of obtaining redress of grievances in Church or State, or any alteration in the law, or for the purpose of carrying on or assisting in the prosecution or defence of causes civil or criminal. Nothing could be more inoffensive or agreeable than its objects, which were to promote peace, harmony, and tranquillity; to encourage a liberal and enlightened system of education; to ascertain the population of Ireland, and the comparative numbers of different persuasions; to devise means of erecting suitable Catholic places of worship; to encourage Irish agriculture and manufactures, and to publish refutations of the charges against the Catholics. Such was the new platform; but the speeches were of the same defiant and belligerent strain as before. The speakers still prayed that God Almighty would increase the dissensions and differences of the Government, and rejoiced in the inspiring prospect of a cloud bursting on England from the North, where Russia had 1,300,000 men in arms.

The feeling of humanity that gained ground among the masses powerfully affected the middle classes. The consequence was that the state of public feeling produced by the practical inculcation of Christianity and the diffusion of knowledge compelled our legislature to change its system, despite the obstinate resistance of Lords Eldon and Ellenborough, hardened by a long official familiarity with the destructive operation of legal cruelty. How fearful the amount of that destruction was we may infer from the calculation of Mr. Redgrave, of the Home Office, who stated that had the offences tried in 1841 been tried under the laws of 1831, the eighty capital sentences would have been increased to 2,172. Mr. Redgrave gave the following succinct history of the mitigation of the criminal code during the reigns of George IV. and William IV., in a series of enactments which were extorted from a reluctant Legislature by society, humanised through the education of the masses:—In 1826, 1827, and 1828 Sir Robert Peel carried several very important Bills for the consolidation and amendment of the criminal laws, but these Bills did not abolish capital punishments. That statesman, indeed, made it a matter of boast that he did not constitute any new capital felonies, and pointed out an instance in which he had abated the capital punishment by increasing from 40s. to £5, the sum of which the theft in a dwelling-house constituted a capital offence, and by widening the technical description of a dwelling. In 1830 Sir Robert Peel brought in his Forgery Bill, and petitions were poured into the House from all quarters against the re-enactment of the severe penalties for this offence. Sir James Mackintosh again took up the subject, and moved that the capital punishment be struck out from the Bill. He was unsuccessful; but in the last stage of the measure Mr. Spring-Rice was enabled to defeat the Ministry by a majority of 151 to 138, and to remove the sentence of death from the Bill. It was, however, restored by the Lords, and the Bill, as altered, was suffered to pass the House of Commons at the end of the Session. In 1832 two most important Bills for abolishing capital punishments were passed. Mr. Ewart, assisted by the Government, was able to carry a Bill abolishing the punishment of death in cases of horse, sheep, and cattle stealing, and larceny in a dwelling-house. He was opposed by Sir Robert Peel, and an amendment was made in the Lords, subjecting these offences to the fixed penalty of transportation for life. At the same time, Ministers brought in a Bill for abolishing capital punishment in cases of forgery. The Bill was introduced into the Commons by the Attorney-General, and into the House of Lords by the Lord Chancellor. It passed into law, but an amendment was made in the House of Lords, under protest of the Lord Chancellor, exempting the forgery of wills and powers of attorney to transfer stock, which offences were left capital. In 1833 Mr. Leonard carried his Bill for abolishing capital punishment for housebreaking, executions for which offence were continued down to 1830. In 1834 Mr. Ewart carried a Bill for abolishing capital punishment for returning from transportation, and in the following year for sacrilege and letter-stealing. This was the state of the criminal law when Lord John Russell brought in Bills for its mitigation, founded on the report of a committee which Government had appointed. The little progress which Sir S. Romilly and Sir J. Mackintosh had made in opposition to the Governments of their day will be seen by the foregoing sketch, as well as the extensive and salutary changes which followed. Lord John Russell's Bills effected an extensive abolition of the sentence of death, and a mitigation of the secondary punishments. He was enabled to abolish capital punishments in all cases but murder and attempts to murder where dangerous bodily injuries were effected; burglary and robbery when attended with violence or wounds; arson of dwelling-houses where life was endangered; and six other offences of[427] very rare occurrence. The number of capital convictions in 1829 was 1,385; and in 1834, three years after the extensive abolition of capital punishments, the number was reduced to 480.

Another dishonourable characteristic of the Ministers of Queen Anne at this period was that they were in secret zealous partisans of the Pretender, and whilst openly professing a sacred maintenance of the Protestant succession, were doing all in their power to undermine it. They had given mortal offence to the Elector George of Hanover, the heir to the Throne, by their treachery to the Allies; and, as the health of the queen was most precarious from her excessive corpulence and gout, which was continually menacing a retreat to her stomach, this was equally a cause for their hastening the peace, however disgracefully, and for paving the way, if possible, for the return of the Pretender at the queen's death. Bolingbroke was the great correspondent with St. Germains, as his letters in the Stuart Papers abundantly show. But Oxford, although always more cunning and mysterious, was equally concerned in it; nor was the queen, if we may believe these remarkable papers, by any means averse from the succession of the Pretender, in spite of his stubborn adhesion to Popery. The Jacobite party was numerous, powerful, and indefatigable. They were in the Ministry and in both Houses of Parliament. At this moment a public appointment was made which filled the Whigs with consternation and rage. This was no other than that of the Duke of Hamilton—a supposed partisan of the Pretender—to be Ambassador to the Court of Versailles. Prior was still there, and had all the requisites of a clever and painstaking Envoy; but, being only a commoner and a poet, it did not suit the aristocratic notions of England that he should be accredited Ambassador. Hamilton was appointed, and would thus have had the amplest opportunity of concerting the return of the Stuarts with the base ministers at home. But he was not destined to see Versailles,[9] for, as readers of Thackeray's "Esmond" will remember, he was killed in a duel by Lord Mohun.The Home Secretary thus refers to a letter of Lord Eldon, written to his daughter soon after the event, as follows:—"After observing, 'Nothing is talked of now which interests anybody the least in the world, except the election of Mr. O'Connell,' he makes these memorable remarks:—'As Mr. O'Connell will not, though elected, be allowed to take his seat in the House of Commons unless he will take the oaths, etc. (and that he won't do unless he can get absolution), his rejection from the Commons may excite rebellion in Ireland. At all events, this business must bring the Roman Catholic question, which has been so often discussed, to a crisis and a conclusion. The nature of that conclusion I do not think likely to be favourable to Protestantism.' It is clear, therefore," continues Mr. Peel, "that Lord Eldon was fully alive to the real character and magnitude of the event."

Whilst these changes had been passing at home, the effervescence in America had grown most riotous and alarming. Boston took the lead in tumultuous fury. In August, the house of Mr. Oliver, the newly appointed stamp-distributor, was attacked and ransacked; his effigy was hanged on a tree, thenceforward honoured by the name of the Liberty Tree. It was then taken down, paraded about the streets, and committed to the flames. The colonel of the militia was applied to, but sent an evasive answer, showing that there were others above the mob who enjoyed what the mob were doing. With this encouragement they broke out afresh, crying, "Liberty and Property!" which, said a colonial authority, "was their cry when they meant to plunder and pull down a house." This time they gutted and partly demolished the houses of the registrar-deputy of the Admiralty, the comptroller of the customs, and the lieutenant-governor, destroying a great quantity of important papers. In New York, delegates assembled from nine different colonial Assemblies. The governor forbade them to gather, declaring their meetings unprecedented and unlawful, but he took no active measures to prevent their deliberations. The Congress met in October, and sat for three weeks. They appointed Mr. Timothy Ruggles, from Massachusetts, their chairman, and passed fourteen resolutions denying the right of the mother country to tax them without their own consent; and they drew up petitions to the king and Parliament. Everywhere associations were established to resist the importation of British manufactures after the 1st of January next,[188] and it was agreed that they should dissolve themselves as soon as the stamp tax was abolished. But it is well known, from letters addressed to Franklin, that the Republican element was already widely spread through the colonies, and this very first opportunity was seized on by its advocates to encourage the idea of throwing off the allegiance to England without further delay.

The excitement, both at Court and in the country, was far beyond the then apparent value of the islands; but there had been an insult to the British flag, and both Government and Opposition demanded expiation. Lord North displayed a bold and determined tone on the occasion. Orders were sent over to the British ambassador, at Madrid, to demand an immediate disavowal of Buccarelli's act, and instant measures were taken for war, in case of refusal. Ships were refitted, their commanders named, stores were put on board, and orders for pressing men, according to the custom of the time, were issued. But in London these preparations met with resistance from the opposition spirit of the Corporation. Things, however, seemed tending strongly towards war. Our Chargé d'affaires at Madrid, in absence of the ambassador, was Mr. Harris, the son of the author of "Hermes." He was but a youth of four-and-twenty, but already displayed much of the talent which raised him to the title of Malmesbury. He wrote home that the King of Spain and some of his Ministers were averse from the idea of war, and unprepared for it; but that others were influenced by Choiseul, the French Premier, and demanded a vigorous attack on England.

Various inquiries had been instituted from time to time by royal commissions and Parliamentary committees into the state of education in Ireland. One commission, appointed in 1806, laboured for six years, and published fourteen reports. It included the Primate, two bishops, the Provost of Trinity College, and Mr. R. Lovell Edgeworth. They recommended a system in which the children of all denominations should be educated together, without interfering with the peculiar tenets of any; and that there should be a Board of Commissioners, with extensive powers, to carry out the plan. Subsequent commissions and committees adopted the same principle of united secular education, particularly a select committee of the House of Commons appointed in 1824. These important reports prepared the way for Mr. Stanley's plan, which he announced in the House of Commons in July, 1832. His speech on that occasion showed that he had thoroughly mastered the difficult question which he undertook to elucidate. It was remarkable for the clearness of its statements, the power of its arguments, and for the eloquence with which it enforced sound and comprehensive principles. Mr. Spring-Rice having moved that a sum of £30,000 be granted for enabling the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland to assist in the education of the people, and the House having agreed to the motion without a division, Mr. Stanley, in the following month, wrote a letter to the Duke of Leinster, in which he explained "the plan of national education," which afterwards bore his name. The first Commissioners were the Duke of Leinster, Archbishop Whately, Archbishop Murray, the Rev. Dr. Sadleir, Rev. James Carlile (Presbyterian), A. R. Blake (Chief Remembrancer, a Roman Catholic), and Robert Holmes, a Unitarian barrister. Mr. Carlile, minister of Mary's Abbey congregation in Dublin, was the only paid commissioner, and to him, during seven years, was committed a principal share in working the system. He selected the Scripture lessons, directed the compilation of the schoolbooks, aided in obtaining the recognition of parental rights, apart from clerical authority; in arranging the machinery and putting it in working order.To insure a powerful diversion, the Sultan had engaged the military co-operation of Sweden. Sweden had been forcibly deprived of Finland by Peter the Great, and she longed to recover it. She had a brave army, but no money. The Grand Turk, to enable her to commence the enterprise, had sent her a present of about four hundred thousand pounds sterling. Sweden put her fleet in preparation in all haste, and had Pitt merely allowed the Russian fleet to quit the Baltic, there was nothing to prevent the execution of the Swedish design on Finland, nor, indeed, of marching directly on St. Petersburg in the absence of the army.

Before this, however, the financial statement for the year had been made, and for awhile the Corn Law question was suspended for the country to recover from its astonishment at finding in the Minister of the Conservative party one of the boldest reformers of our tariff who had ever occupied the Ministerial benches. But yesterday his position had appeared one of the greatest difficulty, in which a cautious hold upon the established sources of revenue, with some well-balanced proposals for additional taxes, was all that could be expected. He had not the good fortune of Mr. Goulburn or Lord Althorp in having a surplus to dispose of. The Whig Government had bequeathed to their successors a deficit, which had been increasing from year to year, with a revenue falling off even in the face of new taxes. How[488] was the deficit to be met was the question which filled the mouths of public men; a question which was answered by the famous financial statement of Sir Robert Peel on the 11th of March. After showing that the deficiency for the coming year would be little short of £2,500,000, and that this deficiency might be expected to be considerably augmented by the position of affairs in India and China, the Minister declared that he would not consent to resort to the miserable expedient of continual loans. He declared that he would not attempt to impose burdens upon the labouring classes, and that if he did, recent experience had shown that they would be defeated. In fact, the country had arrived at the limits of taxation upon articles of consumption. After ridiculing the various suggestions of people who were constantly sending him projects for taxes on pianofortes, umbrellas, and other articles, accompanied with claims of very large percentages upon the proceeds, he acknowledged the principle laid down by financiers that increased revenue may be obtained by taking off the taxes which pressed upon industry, but declared that the first effect was always a diminution in revenue, and that time was found necessary to restore the amount. In these circumstances, he stated what the measure was which, under a deep conviction of its necessity, he was prepared to propose, and which, he was persuaded, would benefit the country, not only in her pecuniary interests, but in her security and character. His scheme was this: he proposed, for a period to be limited, an income tax of not more than 3 per cent., from which he would exempt all incomes under £150, and in which he would include not only landed but funded property. Sir Robert Peel calculated that the tax would yield £3,350,000 a year, a sum which, with an addition to the spirit duties in Ireland, and an export duty of 4s. on coals, would not only cover the existing deficiency, but enable him to remit indirect taxes to the amount of £1,200,000. The sliding scale had brought little credit to the Minister, and the income tax was in its nature an unpopular measure; but the proposal to reduce the custom duties on 750 out of the 1,200 articles in the tariff—to remove prohibitions altogether (in itself a vast concession to Free Trade doctrines)—to reduce the duties on raw materials of manufactures to five per cent. or less—to keep the duties on articles partially manufactured under twelve per cent., and on articles wholly manufactured under twenty per cent., was a scheme which excited general admiration. The measure was, indeed, contested by the Whig Opposition at every stage. The preliminary resolutions were debated for eight nights. There were many of Sir Robert Peel's old supporters who looked on the financial plan with distrust, as being founded, in a great measure, avowedly on those principles of political economy which they had been accustomed to sneer at; but, in truth, it was not unfavourable to the interests of their party. We have already seen that the new tax—at least, if a temporary one—was calculated to impose a far greater burden upon the manufacturing and moneyed class than upon the landowners; in fact, by exempting incomes under £150 a year, and assessing land only upon its net rental, the burden was imposed almost entirely upon that middle class which was the especial object of the dislike of Tories of the more advanced kind. At the same time, by cheapening articles of general consumption, the Minister did something towards securing popularity among the working classes, who, as exemplified in the Chartist agitation, were not always disposed to take part against the landowners. The Income Tax Bill passed, after considerable opposition in the Commons. An amendment proposed by Lord John Russell was rejected by a vote of 302 to 202, and another amendment, proposing the reading of the Bill on that day six months, having been thrown out on the 18th of April by a vote of 285 to 188, the third reading was carried by a majority of 130 on the 30th of May. No debate took place in the Lords until the third reading, when the Bill passed by a majority of 71.The king and his war cabinet were now compelled to sue to France for the peace which was so freely offered the year before. Newcastle wrote to Sandwich in April, that the impossibility of arresting the progress of the French army, the discordant pretensions of the Allies, and their gross neglect of their engagements, rendered it absolutely necessary to make peace. Sandwich was to communicate this necessity to the Plenipotentiaries of the Allies, and if they declined to assent to it, to sign the preliminaries without them. The Ministers of the Allies still refused to join; it suited them very well to receive vast subsidies to fight their own battles, and yet to leave England to fight them. On the other hand, Count St. Severin, the Plenipotentiary of France, now felt his vantage-ground, and offered far worse terms than before, and, to force their acceptance, threatened that if they were not agreed to without delay, the French would leave the fortifications of Ypres, Namur, and Bergen-op-Zoom, and march directly into Holland. The treaty was signed by England, France, and Holland on the 18th of April. The general conditions were a mutual restoration of conquests. All the nations were placed very much in statu quo, except that Prussia had got Silesia, and Sardinia had lost Placentia and Finale. As for England, she firmly established her maritime supremacy, which from that date has remained unchallenged. The Young Pretender was compelled to leave France, and thenceforward ceased to be of any political importance.

Whilst Napoleon was thus advancing towards Paris, the besotted Bourbons rather rejoiced in it, for they said it would compel the two chambers to invest the king with despotic power—that was what they were still longing for; and Louis himself, addressing the foreign ambassadors, bade them assure their sovereigns that he was well, and that the foolish enterprise of "that man" should as little disturb Europe as it had disturbed him.

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The question of the Canadian boundary had been an open sore for more than half a century. Nominally settled by the treaty of 1783, it had remained in dispute, because that arrangement had been drawn up on defective knowledge. Thus the river St. Croix was fixed as the frontier on the Atlantic sea-board, but there were five or six rivers St. Croix, and at another point a ridge of hills that was not in existence was fixed upon as the dividing line. Numerous diplomatic efforts were made to settle the difficulty; finally it was referred to the King of the Netherlands, who made an award in 1831 which was rejected by the United States. The question became of increasing importance as the population grew thicker. Thus, in 1837, the State of Maine decided on including some of the inhabitants of the disputed territory in its census, but its officer, Mr. Greely, was promptly arrested by the authorities of New Brunswick and thrust into prison. Here was a serious matter, and a still greater source of irritation was the McLeod affair. McLeod was a Canadian who had been a participator in the destruction of the Caroline. Unfortunately his tongue got the better of his prudence during a visit to New York in 1840, and he openly boasted his share in the deed. He was arrested, put into prison, and charged with murder, nor could Lord Palmerston's strenuous representations obtain his release. At one time it seemed as if war was imminent between England and the United States, but, with the acquittal of McLeod, one reason for fighting disappeared.From the Painting by Seymour Lucas, R.A.The war was scarcely begun when it was discovered that we had proclaimed hostilities much before we were prepared to carry them out. Our ships were badly manned, and therefore slow to put to sea, and the more alert Spaniards were busy picking up our merchant vessels. Not they only, but the French, Dutch, and other nations who had hoisted Spanish colours, were making wide devastation amongst our trading vessels. Walpole was compelled to issue letters of marque and licences to swarms of privateers, which issued forth to make reprisals. The Lords of the Admiralty, on the 1st of February, 1740, had ordered an embargo on all shipping except coasters, so as at once to keep them out of reach of the enemy, and to induce seamen to enter the navy; but on the 28th of March a petition from merchants and owners of shipping was presented, complaining of the hardships and the destruction of trade by it. The Lords of the Admiralty contended that such had been the complaints of injuries done at sea to our traders, that they had been compelled to impose the embargo in the absence of sufficient hands for men-of-war. They now took the embargo off foreign ships, and gave notice to English owners that they would take it off altogether, on condition that the owners and masters of vessels would enter into an engagement to furnish a certain number of men to the navy in proportion to the number of hands in each trader. This also was denounced as a most oppressive measure, and the Opposition represented it as intended to make the mercantile community sick of the war. Driven, however, to extremities, Ministers would not listen to these arguments; a motion was carried sanctioning this plan, and then the merchants came into it.

Mr. Jemison, as commissioner for distributing a million and a half of this compensation money! 1,200With the beginning of this year, 1769, there commenced, under the signature of "Junius," the most remarkable series of political letters which ever appeared in our political literature. Time has not yet disclosed who this public censor was, though the most weighty reasons attach the belief to its having been Sir Philip Francis. Whoever he was, his terrible dissections of the conduct and characters of public men—the Duke of Grafton, the Duke of Bedford, Lord Mansfield, and others, not excepting the king himself—caused the most awful consternation amongst the ranks of the Ministry, and raised the highest enthusiasm in the public by the keen and caustic edge of his satire and his censure, by the clear tone of his reasonings, his obvious knowledge of secret Government movements, and the brilliant lustre of his style.

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