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The year 1756 opened with menaces to England of the most serious nature. The imbecility of the Ministry was beginning to tell in the neglect of its colonies and its defences. France threatened to invade us, and a navy of fifty thousand men was suddenly voted, and an army of thirty-four thousand two hundred and sixty-three of native troops; but as these were not ready, it was agreed to bring over eight thousand Hessians and Hanoverians. To pay for all this it was necessary to grant excessive supplies, and lay on new duties and taxes. In presenting the money bills in the month of May, Speaker Onslow could not avoid remarking that there were two circumstances which tended to create alarmforeign subsidies and foreign troops introduced, and nothing but their confidence in his Majesty could allay their fears, or give them confidence that their burdens would be soon reduced. There was, in fact, no chance for any such reduction, for wars, troubles, and disgraces were gathering around from various quarters. The first reverse came from the Mediterranean.
The Bill having passed, amidst the enthusiastic cheers of the Reformers, Lord John Russell and Lord Althorp were ordered to carry it in to the Lords, and "to request the concurrence of their Lordships in the same." They did so on Monday, the 26th, followed by a large number of members. It was read by the Lords the first time, and the debate on the second reading commenced on the 9th of April. On that day the Duke of Buckingham gave notice thatin the event of the Bill being rejected, a result which he fully anticipatedhe would bring in a Reform Bill, of which the principal provisions would be to give members to large and important towns, to unite and consolidate certain boroughs, and to extend the elective franchise. Lord Grey then rose to move the second reading of the Reform Bill. The principle of the Bill, he remarked, was now universally conceded. It was admitted in the Duke of Buckingham's motion. Even the Duke of Wellington did not declare against all reform. They differed with the Opposition then only as to the extent to which reform should be carried. He adverted to the modifications that had been made in the Bill, and to the unmistakable determination of the people. At this moment the public mind was tranquil, clamour had ceasedall was anxious suspense and silent expectation. Lord Grey disclaimed any wish to intimidate their lordships, but he cautioned them not to misapprehend the awful silence of the people. "Though the people are silent," he said, "they are looking at our proceedings this night no less intently than they have looked ever since the question was first agitated. I know it is pretended by many that the nation has no confidence in the Peers, because there is an opinion out of doors that the interests of the aristocracy are separated from those of the people. On the part of this House, however, I disclaim all such separation of interests; and therefore I am willing to believe that the silence of which I have spoken is the fruit of a latent hope still existing in their bosoms." The Duke was severe upon the "waverers," Lords Wharncliffe and Harrowby, who defended themselves on the ground that the Bill must be carried, if not by the consent of the Opposition, against their will, by a creation of peers that would swamp them. The Earl of Winchilsea, on the third day, expressed unbounded indignation at the proposed peer-making. If such a measure were adopted he would no longer sit in the House thus insulted and outraged; but would bide his time till the return of those good days which would enable him to vindicate the insulted laws of his country by bringing an unconstitutional Minister before the bar of his peers. The Duke of Buckingham would prefer cholera to the pestilence with which this Bill would contaminate the Constitution. This day the Bill found two defenders on the episcopal bench, the Bishops of London and Llandaff. The Bishop of Exeter, in the course of the debate, made remarks which called forth a powerful and scathing oration from Lord Durham. The Bill was defended by Lord Goderich, and Lord Grey rose to reply at five o'clock on Friday morning. Referring to the attack of the Bishop of Exeter, he said, "The right reverend prelate threw out insinuations about my ambition: let me tell him calmly that the pulses of ambition may beat as strongly under sleeves of lawn as under an ordinary habit." He concluded by referring to the proposed creation of peers, which he contended was justified by the best constitutional writers, in extraordinary circumstances, and was in accordance with the acknowledged principles of the Constitution. The House at length divided at seven o'clock on the morning of the 13th, when the second reading was carried by a majority of nine; the numbers beingcontents present, 128; proxies, 56-184; non-contents present, 126; proxies, 49-175. The Duke of Wellington entered an elaborate protest on the journals of the House against the Bill, to which protest 73 peers attached their signatures.
During these transactions there was naturally an earnestly-inquiring eye kept open towards Hanover, whence the king appeared in no hurry to issue forth and assume the throne of these three fair kingdoms. The coolness with which George of Hanover appeared to contemplate the splendid prize which had fallen to him, seemed to the English little less than unnatural. Thrones and crowns are generally seized upon with avidity; but the new king seemed to feel more regret in quitting his petty Electorate than eagerness to enter on his splendid kingdom. But George was a man of phlegmatic disposition, and of the most exact habits, and went through his duties like an automaton or a piece of machinery. He took, therefore, much time in settling his affairs in Hanover before he turned his face towards England, and it was not till the 18th of September, or nearly seven weeks after the decease of the late queen, that he landed at Greenwich with his son George. "His views and affections were," as Lord Chesterfield properly observed, "singly confined to the narrow compass of his Electorate. England was too big for him."
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Lord North soon found himself briskly assailed in both Lords and Commons. In the former, Chatham was not so happy in amalgamating the parties of Rockingham and Grenville as he hoped; but he had staunch friends and oppositionists in Lords Camden, Shelburne, and Stanhope, and in the Commons he was as warmly supported by Barr, Beckford, Calcraft, and Dunning. On the 2nd of March a motion was also made in the Lords for an Address to the king, praying him to increase the number of seamen in the navy; and it was made to introduce strong censures on the dismissal of able officers for their votes in Parliament. On this occasion Chatham loudly reiterated the old charge of the royal councils being influenced by favourites. "A long train of these practices," he said, "has convinced me that there is something behind the throne greater than the throne itself." He referred to Mazarin, of France; and as Bute was just at this period gone to Turin, he added, "Mazarin abroad is Mazarin still!" It is not to be supposed that Bute had any secret influence whatever at this period; but the people still believed that he had, and that two men especially were his agents with the kingBradshaw, commonly called "the cream-coloured parasite," and Dyson, both placemen and members of the Commons. Probably, Chatham had a secondary objectto punish these men, who with Rigby, the parasite of the Duke of Bedford, were continually running about endeavouring to depreciate the efforts of the more competent, to whom they were pigmies, saying, "Only another mad motion by the mad Earl of Chatham." Grafton, though now out of office, repelled the insinuation of secret influence with indignation. This charge of Chatham's was followed up, four days after, by a most outspoken remonstrance from the Corporation of London. It was carried up to St. James's on the 14th of March by Beckford, the Lord Mayor, and two hundred and twenty Common Councilmen and other officers. Beckford read the Address, which charged secret counsellors, and a corrupt majority of the House of Commons, with depriving the people of their rights. It declared that the House of Commons did not represent the people, and called upon the king to dissolve it. His Majesty received the Address with manifest signs of displeasure, and the courtiers, who stood round, with actual murmurs and gesticulations of anger.