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The American war brought into the City a tribe of interlopers whose presence there was viewed with moral repugnance by the worthiest portion of the community, and who inflicted very serious damage upon the material interests of established traders and financiers. Sometimes it was a man of rank and pleasure, and sometimes an impudent and voluble upstart of doubtful antecedents, who came eastward through Temple Bar armed with a contract for rum, or beef, or army-cloth, which replaced to him, many times over, the three or four thousand pounds that he had sunk in the purchase of his seat for a Cornish borough. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer had recourse to one of his frequent borrowings, he passed over the hereditary bankers whom investors trusted, and who would have been satisfied with a fair and reasonable commission for their risk and trouble. The money was largely raised through the agency of a great number of members of Parliament, — who, for the most part, had never lent anything before in their lives, but had borrowed much, - on terms of scandalous laxity which had been arranged for the express purpose of rewarding them for their votes. Lord North himself admitted that, on a single loan of twelve millions, upwards of a million had gone in clear profit among the individuals to whom it had been allotted; and half of them were politicians who sate behind him in the House of Commons. “I agree with you,” (Lord Abingdon wrote to Lord Rockingham,) "in thinking the loan to be a very abominable transaction.” That was how cleanhanded senators viewed the disgraceful proceedings; but harder things still were said in bank-parlours. The spectacle of fine gentlemen, and of some gentlemen who were anything but fine, masquerading about Threadneedle Street and Birchin Lane with the air of partners in Glyn's or Child's, and talking a financial jargon which they supposed to resemble the conversation of the capitalists whose gains they intercepted, inspired in genuine City men a disgust which, (since they were neither more nor less than human,) pointed and sharp
ened their disapprobation of the Government policy in America.
That disapprobation was grounded upon large knowledge and long observation. The City had been firmly persuaded that the knot of colonial discontent could never be cut by the sword. The Funds always fell after British defeats, and never very visibly recovered themselves in consequence of a British victory. In August 1774, before the Revolution began, the Three per Cent. Consols stood at 89. A month before the news of Long Island arrived in London they were at 84; a fortnight after that news they were at 82; and that was all the effect produced by a complete rout of the Americans, which was hailed by courtiers at home, and English diplomatists abroad, as a most reassuring, and almost a conclusive, success. By October 1777 Consols had fallen to 78. The tidings of the capture of Burgoyne brought them down to 70. They fell, and fell, until the capitulation of Lord Cornwallis reduced them to 54; and they could hardly have gone lower if they were to retain any value at all. Then Lord North made way for a Ministry pledged to recognise the independence of America, and to abandon the right of taxing her wealth and controlling her commerce; a right which Lord North and his adherents had always insisted to be absolutely essential for maintaining the prosperity of British trade and British manufactures. And yet Consols, when the situation came to be understood, rose six points on the mere prospect of a peaceful settlement with our former colonies; although England was still at war, all the world over, with France, Spain, and Holland. The silent testimony of the Stocks, those authentic witnesses who never boast and never flatter, unanswerably proves that the City of London at no period shared with the Court and the Cabinet in the delusion that the colonies could be subdued by arms.
The state of opinion in London was evident on the surface; but it is more difficult to collect indications of the feeling which prevailed elsewhere. The sentiments,
however, which were current in one famous region of industry and enterprise have been recorded by a witness whose evidence on this point is above suspicion. Samuel Curwen, a prominent Massachusetts Loyalist, -- who had been a high official in his native province, and who now was an exile in England, made a tour in the Midland counties, and spent a week at Birmingham. Walking there on the Lichfield road, Curwen was invited indoors by a Quaker, and found him “a warm American, as most of the middle classes are through the Kingdom." He passed an agreeable day with a merchant, who had been in America, and who was “her steady and ardent advocate.” He stepped into the shop of a gunmaker. The British Ministry, with foresight which, for the War Office, might almost be called inspiration, — had given the man an order to construct six hundred rifles for the use of General Howe's army: and yet, (said Curwen,) “he is an antiministerialist, as is the whole town." 1 If such was the case in a district where Government orders for military supplies had been freely placed, it may well be believed that political discontent and disgust were not less acute in those commercial centres which greatly suffered, and in no way profited, by the existence of hostilities. Yorkshire manufacturers, especially, had no part in the war except to pay increased taxes; to borrow from their banker on terms, that every month grew worse, money that every month they needed more; and to see their warehouses glutted with goods which they were forbidden to sell to those New Englanders, and Pennsylvanians, who had formerly been their very best customers. “In the West Riding," wrote John Wesley, “a tenant of Lord Dartmouth was telling me, 'Sir, our tradesmen are breaking all round me, so that I know not what the end will be. Even in Leeds I had appointed to dine at a merchant's; but, before I came, the bailiffs were in possession of the house.
Upon my saying, 'I thought Mr. — had been in good circum
1 Samuel Curwen's Journal for August 1776.
stances,' I was answered, 'He was so, but the American war has ruined him.'”1
One considerable provincial town had an opportunity of showing, at a critical conjuncture, that within the circuit of its walls there existed no very general predilection for Lord North's American policy. The opponents of a war are never so weak and helpless for the purposes of an election as at a time when, towards the commencement of hostilities, the country has met with a military reverse. While the resources of the people are still abundant, and their eagerness unimpaired, they hotly resent the circumstance of having been foiled by an enemy, and especially by an enemy whom their rulers have encouraged them to despise; and any candidate who advocates concession and conciliation is almost sure to receive a disagreeable lesson at the polls. That was precisely the military situation in the second month of 1777, when the news of Trenton, of Princeton, and of Howe's retirement to New York, were published in the English journals. It was a moment when, (if only the country had been in favour of the war,) no advocate of peace would have ventured to face a parliamentary contest unless he could afford to lose at least thirty per cent. of the votes which in quieter times would have been cast for his party.
In that very month died Sir Walter Blackett of Northumberland, who, like many other faithful supporters of the Ministry, had begun public life as a mild Jacobite. His friends claimed that he was the father of the House of Commons. He had sate forty-three years for Newcastle-on-Tyne; and his family had represented that city, with hardly any break, for over a century. Whoever held the Corporation was supposed to hold the seat in Parliament; and never was so wealthy and powerful a municipality so loyally devoted to one man as the Corporation of Newcastle to Sir Walter
1 John Wesley to Lord Dartmouth: Historical Manuscripts Commission; Fifteenth Report, Appendix, Part I.
Blackett. He derived an enormous income from leadmines and coal-mines, lands and shipping; and he always spent every farthing of it before the year was out. Inexhaustibly charitable; affable and accessible to all; a lavish patron of the church, and a splendid benefactor to the town, — he had most of the virtues that cause a man to be beloved, and a large assortment of frailties which, in those far from Puritanical days, told rather for than against his personal popularity. His hospitality was once a proverb in the North of England, and is still a tradition. The town residence of the Blacketts had formerly lodged Charles the First during the eight months which that monarch spent at Newcastle in custody of the Scotch army. It was described by local historians and antiquaries as a princely house, surrounded by spacious pleasure-grounds, "very stately and magnificent; supposed to be most so of any house in the whole kingdom within a walled town;" 1 and Newcastle still preserved the gates and towers which in 1745 had baffled the Highlanders. That mansion was the scene of frequent and profuse feasting; and, when Sir Walter was at his country home, any Aldermen or Common Councillors, who cared to ride twenty miles on a summer morning over the northern moors and pastures, might have their fill of venison from the deer-park which their host kept up for the sake of his political influence, and of the famous Tokay which was consigned to him direct from Hungary. There were few fellow-townsmen of Sir Walter Blackett who took exception to the inscription on an engraving from one among those pictures of him by Sir Joshua Reynolds which adorn the public buildings of Newcastle. “All our whole city,” (so the quotation ran,) " is much bound to him.” 2
1 Brand's History and Antiquities of the Town, and County of the Town, of Newcastle upon Tyne; London, 1789: note to page 341 of Vol. I.
2 A curious, and to the epicure a very tantalising, document, illustrative of Sir Walter Blackett's hospitality, is given in the Second Appendix at the end of the volume.