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as he was superior in disinterestedness to the jobbers and intriguers whom his advent had expelled from power. But having these enlightened views and these disinterested sentiments, the more is it to be regretted that he consented to retain office without the power of giving full effect to his own convictions, and that he lent his great authority to the cause of intolerance and obstruction, more especially in the later years of his life.
The story of his attempt at Parliamentary Reform is soon told. After the General Election of 1784 Mr. Pitt stood supreme in power. He was,' says Lord Macaulay, the *greatest subject that England had seen for many genera'tions. His father had never been so powerful, nor Walpole,
nor Marlborough. Yet the third division on the Westminster Scrutiny was a defeat on a minor question at the very outset. On the 18th April, two months after the meeting of Parliament in 1785, Pitt brought forward his measure of Parliamentary Reform. He had sedulously devoted himself to the preparation of it. He was urgent with his friends Dundas and Wilberforce to support it, and they did so. He proposed to disfranchise thirty-six rotten boroughs, with a pecuniary compensation to the proprietors, and to transfer the seats so gained to the largest counties and to the metropolis. He proposed to extend the franchise from freeholders to copyholders. Mr. Massey remarks in his . History of the Reign of George III., probably with reason, that a more absurd measure of reform was never invented - none certainly was ever less successful, for it was at once defeated by 248 votes to 174, in Mr. Pitt's own House of Commons. The wonder is that he should ever have thought it possible to carry such a bill in a house in which the boroughmongering interest was so largely represented; and where a large proportion of his own supporters had within a few months paid an ample consideration for the very seats he proposed to annihilate. The King, moreover, was secretly opposed to it, and, though he could not openly resist the Minister who had just rescued him from the Coalition, he had given a reluctant, and probably an insincere assent to the scheme. Lord Stanhope says : Pitt considered the * result as final for that Parliament at least. He saw that not even ministerial power and earnest zeal, and that nothing but the pressure of the strongest popular feeling, such as did not then exist, could induce many members to vote against their own tenure of Parliament, or in fact against themselves.' Eight years later Mr. Pitt had become the most decided opponent of Reform, and when Mr. Grey moved in 1793 for a Committee on that question which he was destined in 1832 to bring to a successful termination, Mr. Pitt declared :
'I had myself on different occasions proposed a reform, in situations which seemed favourable to my object, and supported by persons of the highest respectability, and had even then failed. Several gentlemen (from a dread of the consequences of innovation, and from a doubt whether the advantage to be obtained was such as would compensate for the risk incurred) opposed my views. I saw therefore that while none of the good of which a moderate reform might be productive was to be obtained, much danger might be incurred, and an opening afforded to wicked persons to subvert that very Constitution which we were desirous to improve, only in order that we might preserve: as though the attempt to reform might not be attended with the total subversion of the Constitution, yet it might lead to a state of confusion and distraction, which, at least, would disturb the enjoyment of those blessings of which we were in possession. I thus found the probability of good but little, while the mischief was of a size so gigantic as to defy calculation.' (Pitt's Speeches, vol. i. p. 438.)
Such was the judgment of Mr. Pitt in 1793 on Mr. Pitt the Reformer of 1785. The French Revolution, it is true, had broken out in the interval, had shaken the firmest nerves, and perplexed the clearest judgments. For it has been the effect of that great commotion of society, from 1789 to the present hour, to perplex the nations with fear of change, and to throw back the best hopes of rational liberty. But, it may be answered (and the remark does not apply to this point alone), how different would have been the condition of England during the tremendous contest which ensued from 1793 to 1815, if in the preceding years of peace effectual measures had been taken to place the Constitution on a broader and more secure basis ! If in those eight years of peace Parliament had been reformed, Ireland pacified and conciliated, the finances really regenerated, and the military and naval establishments reconstructed, this country would have engaged with irresistible power in its contest with revolutionary France, if that contest was unavoidable. Instead of intemperate faction and ferocious repression, we should have had loyalty; instead of Irish rebellions and invasions, union; instead of a suspension of cash payments, a far more solid and enlarged credit; instead of an army unfit to take the field, a force capable, perhaps, of deciding the fate of Europe. It is not too much to say, that if Mr. Pitt had carried in the earlier years of his administration the great and liberal measures he once designed, the aspect of affairs would have changed, and the war which it was his fate to wage with doubtful success, might possibly have been gloriously terminated at a much earlier period, and at a far less cost to the country.
The second great measure of the Session of 1785 was that known as the Irish Resolutions. Mr. Pitt described his own large and generous views to the Duke of Rutland in the letters already published in part by Lord Stanhope in a contemporary journal", from which we borrow the following passage :
• October 7. 1784. "I own to you the line to which my mind at present inclines (open to whatever new observations or arguments may be suggested to me) is to give Ireland an almost unlimited communication of commercial advantages, if we can receive in return some security that her strength and riches will be our benefit, and that she will contribute, from time to time, in their increasing proportions, to the common exigencies of the empire: and having, by holding out this, removed, I trust, every temptation to Ireland to consider her interest as separate from England, to be ready, while we discountenance wild and unconstitutional attempts which strike at the root of all authority, to give real efficacy and popularity to Government by acceding (if such a line can be found) to a prudent and temperate reform in Parliament, which may guard against or gradually cure real defects and mischiefs, may show à sufficient regard to the interests and even prejudices of individuals who are averse, and may unite the Protestant interest in excluding Catholics from any share in the representation or the government of the country.' (Lord Mahon's Essays, p. 253.)
It is true that at this period Mr. Pitt had by no means embraced the cause of Catholic Emancipation, or the principle of equality of religious opinions in civil government. Nor, indeed, had, at that time, Mr. Fox, for he repeatedly declared in the debates that he considered the settlement of 1782 to be final. Mr. Pitt's plan was first to remove the commercial and material disabilities of Ireland—to open to her the whole commerce of Great Britain and the colonies to reduce the duties between the two countries to the lowest rates -- and to charge on the surplus hereditary revenues of Ireland (if any) a contribution towards the support of the naval force of the empire. This was obviously the first step towards that union of the two kingdoms which was accomplished sixteen years later, after torrents of blood had been shed, and under circumstances far less favourable to the success of the measure. The resolutions were slowly, and with great difficulty, carried in the English House of Commons. Mr. Pitt writes on May, 1785, while the measure was still under discussion, Our majority, though a • large one, is composed of men who think, or at least act, so
* Quarterly Review, No. 160.
• much for themselves, that we are hardly sure from day to day • what impression they may receive.' Such was the temper of that House of Commons in which Mr. Pitt was supposed to exercise an unquestioned sway. In the Irish Parliament, however, a different fate awaited the ministerial proposals. They 'were received with furious opposition. The Government was compelled to withdraw the Bill. Dublin was illuminated on the defeat of the first attempt to extend to Ireland an instalment of commercial justice and freedom. Lord Stanhope says we quote the passage as a curious example of the vicissitudes of party connexions and political opinions :
"To Pitt the failure of the Irish commercial measures was a deep disappointment, a bitter mortification. To them, to the framing or to the defence of their details, he had applied himself for almost a twelvemonth, and here was the result—the object of public good not attained, the jealousy of both nations stirred anew, and to himself for a time the decline of public favour, alike, though on exactly opposite grounds, in England and in Ireland. The journal of Wilberforce in the midst of the contest on this subject has this significant entry: “Pitt does not make friends." On the other hand, Fox, as the champion of high protective duties, enjoyed in many quarters the gleam of returning popularity. Being at Knowsley in the course of that autumn on a visit to Lord Derby, the two friends went together to Manchester, and were warmly welcomed by the great metropolis of manufactures. Here is Fox's own account of it: “ Our reception at Manchester was the finest thing imaginable, and handsome in all respects. All the principal people came out to meet us, and attended us into the town with blue and buff cockades, and a procession as fine, and not unlike that upon my chairing in Westminster. We dined with one hundred and fifty people.... The concourse of people to see us was immense, and I never saw more apparent unanimity than seemed to be in our favour.”' (Stanhope, vol. i. p. 275.)
Such was the fate of the two principal measures introduced by the young Minister in the first session of a parliament which had been elected for the express purpose of giving him unqualified support. On two most momentous subjects Mr. Pitt had unfortunately been defeated — in the last instance by the ignorant passions and violence of the people he wished to benefit. Here, again, how deplorable were the consequences of the check which his policy sustained !
All the bad passions which had long raged in Ireland soon broke out with fresh intensity; and upon the declaration of war both in 1793 and in 1804, Ireland became the chief difficulty and the constant weakness of the empire.' It is no consolation to reflect that Mr. Pitt's earlier policy towards Ireland was defeated by no fault of his or of the British Parliament, but by the ignorance and intolerance of that dominant faction which was, and long continued to be, the curse of Ireland. Throughout these volumes, and those of the “ Auckland Correspondence, we find continual evidence of the bigotry and narrow
mindedness of the Beresfords, the Forsters, the Fitzgibbons — Irish politicians on whom the British Government mainly relied for counsel and action, and who attempted to denounce and proscribe the officers of the British Government itself, when, like Lord Cornwallis and Sir Ralph Abercromby, they refused to look at the state of Ireland with the eyes of Protestant-ascendancy men. But we are anticipating a more advanced period of Mr. Pitt's career, to which we shall have to revert. "The Irish Nemesis pursued him to the close of it, and was the chief cause of the dissolution of his government and the dismemberment of his party. The evils which he hoped in 1785 to prevent by the introduction of measures calculated to promote the union of the great interests of the two kingdoms, grew more rank in succeeding years, until they broke out in the rebellion of 1798: and although the Union was at last carried and effected, the means by which that salutary and important change was made were scandalous, and the essential conditions of Catholic emancipation, and the payment of the Roman Catholic clergy, which were alike contemplated in 1799 by Pitt, Cornwallis, and Castlereagh, fell to the ground.
Although in 1785 Mr. Pitt had not adopted the principle of the removal of Roman Catholic disabilities, yet, in 1787, he was evidently disposed to favour the claim of Protestant Dissenters for the repeal of the Test Act. Unhappily this was another instance in which he suffered his own judgment to be overruled by the prejudices of the clerical party. We relate the transaction in Lord Stanhope's words :
'Half a century had now elapsed since the Protestant Dissenters had applied to Parliament for the repeal of the Test Act. In the Session of 1787 their effort was renewed. For the most part they had warmly espoused the cause of Pitt at the last General Election, and they thought themselves entitled to some share of his favour in return. Their first step was to circulate among the Members of the House of Commons a paper entitled “ The Case of the Protestant Dissenters with reference to the. Corporation and Test Acts," in which they more especially laboured to distinguish their case from that of the Roman Catholics. With equal prudence they selected as their spokesman Mr. Beaufoy, a member of the Church of England, and a zealous supporter of the Government.
Pitt appears to have felt a disposition to support their claims, if he could do so with the assent of the Church of England.