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CONTINUATION OF THE LIFE OF LORD THURLOW TILL HE WAS
DEPRIVED OF THE GREAT SEAL ON THE FORMATION OF THE
cellor under cabinet.
I am more and more at a loss to account for Lord Rocking- CHAP. ham, Lord Shelburne, and Mr. Fox agreeing to sit in the CLVIII. Cabinet with the man who had so violently denounced their opinions on most important questions of foreign and domestic Blunder policy which were still pending. The great “ Coalition” be- committed tween the two antagonist parties, which soon after so much Thurlow to shocked mankind, in reality did not involve any such incon- be Changruity as this adoption of the most odious member of the late the Rockgovernment, without any renunciation of his principles. ingham adTo do him justice, it should ever be remembered that, instead tion. of saying “ Peccavi,” he continued to glory in all that he had hitherto done and said, while proclaiming the Rockinghams and the Shelburnes as enemies to their country. The proposed measures on which the new administration was founded, were four: 1. An offer to America of unconditional independence as the basis of a negotiation for peace. 2. Economical reform as proposed in Mr. Burke's bill. 3. Repression of the undue influence of the Crown in the House of Commons, by disqualifying contractors to sit there, and by preventing revenue officers from voting at parliamentary elections. 4. The pacification of Ireland by a renunciation of the authority of the British parliament to legislate for that country. The subsequent fusion of Whigs and Tories was plausibly (I think not effectually) defended by the observation that, when it took place, all the questions on which Lord North and Mr. Fox had differed so widely were settled, and that there was nothing to prevent their practical co-operation for the future. But the four great measures which I have specified were still to be brought forward by the government, and Thurlow had often declared,
CHAP and was still ready to declare, that they were all unconCLVIII.
stitutional and pernicious. The King, upon a proper repreA.D. 1782. sentation, could not have insisted (as he is said to have done)
on the retention of Thurlow as the condition of his giving his consent to the introduction of Mr. Fox into the Cabinet ; for although he might have executed his threat of abdicating, and retiring to Hanover, he could not at that hour have remained on the throne of England, indulging personal partialities and antipathies in the choice of his ministers.
Mr. Adolphus, in his History of George III., says, “ Mr. Fox, some time before the overthrow of the late cabinet, acknowledged that his adherents detested Lord Thurlow's sentiments on the constitution ; but added, they did not mean to proscribe him." * Fox, however, was then speaking of the Lord Advocate of Scotland, not of Lord Thurlow; and he declared that “ they would proscribe no man of any principles in the present dreadful moment, but the five or six men who had been the confidential advisers of his Majesty in all the measures that had brought about the present cala
mities." Explana- I can only account for the wishes of the King prevailing by fact.,
supposing the existence of jealousies, rivalries, and bickerings among the Whigs themselves as to the disposal of the Great Seal. It is certainly much to be deplored if the apprehensions of the Rockinghams, that the Shelburnes would be too much aggrandised by the appointment of Dunning, deprived him of the fair reward of his exertions, and the public of the benefit of his services. From the time that he accepted the Duchy of Lancaster and a Peerage, he sunk into insignifi
He had a seat in the cabinet, but that seldom gives much weight without important official functions and a great
department to administer. Thurlow in How Thurlow comported himself when he met his new the Rockingham
colleagues at cabinets to concert their proceedings in parliament, we are left to conjecture. It must now have been very convenient for him to practise the habit he is said to have acquired of going to sleep, or pretending to go to sleep,
tion of this
. Vol. iii. 349.
Chancellor leader of
after dinner, during discussions on which the safety of the state depended. We know that when the measures of Government were brought forward in parliament, he opposed them without any reserve.
During the short existence of the Rockingham adminis- The Lord tration, the Lord Chancellor might truly be considered the leader of “his Majesty's opposition" in the House of Lords. the opposi
tion. He knew the secret, which the King was at no pains to conceal, and which was loudly proclaimed by all the “King's friends," that the administration did not possess his Majesty's confidence. * His object, therefore, was to take every opportunity of disparaging it, and, above all, of sowing dissension between the different sections of the liberal party of which it was composed.
They lost a little popularity by the defeat of the motion Mr. W. for a reform in the representation of the people in parlia- motion for ment, made by their partisan, Mr. W. Pitt, then a young lawyer parliamen
tary reform. going the Western Circuit. This measure was supported by the Shelburne Whigs, but discouraged by the Rockinghams, who, while they were economical reformers, professed great reluctance to touch the constitution of the House of Commons.
To evince the sincerity of their professions while in opposition, and to recover their character, Ministers re-introduced, and both their sections eagerly supported, the two bills which Thurlow had formerly thrown out in the Lords, for the disqualification of contractors as representatives, and of revenue officers as electors. The bills passed the Commons with acclamation, but when they came before the upper House, although the existence of the Government was declared to depend upon them, he attacked them with unabated violence. The second reading of the “Contractors' Bill” hav- May, 1782. ing taken place without discussion, the Lord Chancellor left Thurlow the woolsack, and observed, that “ he had expected that, “Contracbefore the bill reached that stage, some noble Lord would tors' Bill."
* “ The King declared that, in the whole course of his reign, this was the only administration which had not possessed his confidence." - Adolph. iii. 373. This statement is said to be from “ private information,” and his Majesty often praised the accuracy of this historian. The' avowal is supposed to have been made by his Majesty after the administration was dissolved; but from its formation, the fact had been notorious to all the world.
have had the goodness to explain to the House the principles
on which it rested, and the necessity for introducing it at A.D. 1782. this particular juncture. The bill trenching on the ancient
constitution of this realm, he considered it highly exceptionable in itself; and it was still more exceptionable in its form, from the very singular, imperfect, careless, and inexplicable style and phrase in which it was worded. He would not, by applying strong epithets to the bill, give it a worse character than it really deserved; but after having perused it with all the attention he was capable of, he could find no milder words in the English language to describe the impression his perusal of it had left upon his mind, than terming it an attempt to deceive and betray the people.” *
Having denied that there ever had been any instances of Members of Parliament being corrupted by Ministers through the means of contracts, he asked if no such instance had ever occurred in the worst of times, why pay so bad a compliment to succeeding Ministers as to presume that they will be so much more depraved, so much more abandoned, so lost to all sense of shame, as to be guilty of what their predecessors would have shunned with abhorrence? Why have his Majesty's present Ministers so little confidence in themselves? Why do they believe that they are more corrupt than those they have succeeded? [A noble Lord said, “ No Ministers could be more corrupt than the last."] — Lord Chancellor. “ Then, my Lords, I am relieved from farther arguing the question; for if there was perfect purity in such matters (as I know there was) with the last Ministers, supposing them to have been corruptly inclined (as I know they were not), the bill is confessedly unnecessary, and it is a mis
This reminds me of a Westminster Hall anecdote of Mr. Clarke, leader of the Midland Circuit - a very worthy lawyer of the old school. His client long refusing to agree to refer to arbitration a cause which judge, jury, and counsel wished to get rid of, he at last said to him, “ You d-d infernal fool, if you do not immediately follow my Lord's recommendation, I shall be obliged to use strong language to you."- Once, in a council of the benchers of Lincoln's Inn, he very conscientiously opposed our calling a Jew to the bar. I tried to point out the hardship to be imposed upon the young gentleman, who had been allowed to keep his terms, and whose prospects in life would thus be suddenly blasted. “Hardship!” said the zealous churchman _“no hardship at all! Let him become a Christian, and be d—d to bim !!!"
A. D. 1782.
chievous remedy for an imaginary and impossible evil. It holds out nothing like a reform either in point of economy or influence. I must likewise, in the discharge of my duty, remind your Lordships that two years ago you rejected this very measure when it was proposed in a less exceptionable form. You are bound to act consistently. If you should now, to please the Minister, suddenly wheel round, how are you to surmount the abusive attacks and scurrilous insinuations of anonymous libellers ? Such illiberal assassins and scribbling garreteers may now have some colour for their attacks upon your dignity. It behoves your Lordships to act so that you may be able to laugh libellers to scorn, and to defy their malice.” He actually divided the House ; but this was not yet the time to break up the administration, and he had on his side only 45 against 67 —a larger minority, however, than had been ever mustered in the upper House against any measure of Lord North's government.
Thurlow continued a most vexatious opposition to the bill in the committee — where, going through it clause by clause, he denounced it as “a jumble of contradictions.” It was there defended by the two new law Lords, Lord Ashburton and Lord Grantley. They both gallantly fleshed their maiden swords in various rencounters with the “ blatant beast," who tried to tread them down.
On some of the divisions in the Committee the Ministerial majority was reduced to two votes. The bill was carried. But thenceforth the “ King's friends” in both Houses openly declared themselves against the existing government.
The Chancellor got up a similar opposition to the other And opgovernment bill for disqualifying revenue officers from voting Revenue at parliamentary elections, although Lord Rockingham, in Officers?
Disqualifi. what may be considered a dying speech, deprecated oppo- cation sition to it, and stated the striking fact that there were no less than seventy boroughs in England in which the return of Members depended chiefly on revenue officers appointed and removable by the Government. On the last division on this Bill, the Chancellor had the mortification to announce
* 22 Parl, Hist. 1356-1382.