On the 21st of March Lord John Russell moved the second reading of this great Reform Bill. Sir Richard Vivian moved, as an amendment, that it be read a second time that day six months. There was nothing new in the debate that followed, though it lasted two nights. On the 22nd the division occurred. The second reading was carried by a majority of one. This was hailed with exultation by the Conservatives, as equivalent to a defeat. But there were prophets who saw something ominous in this majority of one. They remembered that the first triumph of the Tiers Etat in the National Assembly, in 1789, when they constituted themselves a separate Chamber, was carried by one. The House was the fullest on record up to that time, the numbers being 302 to 301, the Speaker and the four tellers not included. A remarkable circumstance connected with the division was, that about two to one of the county members in England and Ireland were in favour of the Bill. No less than sixty votes on the same side were for places to be disfranchised or reduced. Although in the House it was felt that the division was equivalent to a defeat, the Reformers out of doors were not in the least disheartened; on the contrary, they became, if possible, more determined. The political unions redoubled their exertions, and the country assumed an attitude of defiance to the oligarchical classes which excited serious alarm, from which the king himself was[332] not exempt. The pressure from without accumulated in force till it became something terrific, and it was evident to all reflecting men that the only alternative was Reform or Revolution.


The discussion of the question, though it was so summarily dismissed as it regarded the Church, did not prevent a certain number of the Dissenters from coming forward to endeavour to relieve themselves of the yoke of these Articles. In the Toleration Act, passed after the Revolution, it had been stated that this toleration was conceded to those only who were willing to subscribe these Articles, with the exception of the first clause of the 20th, which asserts that the Church has power to decree rites and ceremonies, and to settle controversies of faith; the 34th, which relates to the traditions of the Church; the 35th, relating to the homilies; and the 36th, relating to the consecration of bishops and ministers. With these exceptions, the Articles had been little objected to by the Dissenters till the Presbyterians of England had, for the most part, embraced Unitarianism. It was chiefly from this class that the movement against these Articles now took its rise; but not altogether, for the subscription to the Articles included in the Toleration Act having for some time been little insisted on, some Dissenters, who had not subscribed them, were menaced with trouble on that account by officious clergymen. Amongst these Dr. Doddridge was mentioned as one who had been so disturbed. It was now thought fit to press the question on Parliament, and in April, 1772, Sir Henry Houghton moved for leave to bring in a Bill for that object, under the title of "A Bill for the further Relief of Dissenters." Sir Roger Newdigate, destined for so many years to be the champion of Church Toryism, led the way in opposition, as one of the members of the University of Oxford; and he was supported by two or three men of the same stamp. In this case, however, Burke voted for the Bill as only reasonable, and it passed by a majority of seventy against nine. But in the Lords, the Bishops came forward in full strength against it, and Barrington, Bishop of Llandaff, pointed it out as a Socinian movement, and quoted, with telling effect, some of the most objectionable passages from the writings of Dr. Priestley. There were cries of "Monstrous! Horrible! Shocking!" and, amongst the utterers of these, the loudest was Lord Chatham. The Bishop of London said that, so far from the Dissenters generally advocating this measure, he had been waited on by some of their ministers to inform him that they regarded it, not as a measure to relieve Dissenters from the Articles of the Church, but certain persons from the obligations of Christianity. It was thrown out by a hundred and two against twenty-nine.

Again, on the 22nd of March, Burke made another earnest effort to induce the infatuated Ministers and their adherents in Parliament to listen to reason. In one of the finest speeches that he ever made, he introduced a series of thirteen resolutions, which went to abolish the obnoxious Acts of Parliament, and admit the principle of the colonial Assemblies exercising the power of taxation. In the course of his speech he drew a striking picture of the rapid growth and the inevitable future importance of these colonies. He reminded the House that the people of New England and other colonies had quitted Great Britain because they would not submit to arbitrary measures; that in America they had cultivated this extreme independence of character, both in their religion and their daily life; that almost[216] every man there studied law, and that nearly as many copies of Blackstone's "Commentaries" had been sold there as in England; that they were the Protestants of Protestants, the Dissenters of Dissenters; that the Church of England there was a mere sect; that the foreigners who had settled there, disgusted with tyranny at home, had adopted the extremest principles of liberty flourishing there; that all men there were accustomed to discuss the principles of law and government, and that almost every man sent to the Congress was a lawyer; that the very existence of slavery in the southern States made white inhabitants hate slavery the more in their own persons. "You cannot," he said, "content such men at such a distanceNature fights against you. Who are you that you should fret, rage, and bite the chains of Nature? Nothing worse happens to you than does to all nations who have extensive empires. In all such extended empires authority grows feeble at the extremities. The Turk and the Spaniard find it so, and are compelled to comply with this condition of Nature, and derive vigour in the centre from the relaxation of authority on the borders." His resolutions were negatived by large majorities.

On the 12th of October General Howe, who would have been better employed in driving the enemy before him than in waiting for his brother's useless negotiations, sent a considerable part of his forces, with flat-bottomed boats, through Hell Gate into the Sound, and landed them at Frog's Neck, about nine miles in the rear of Washington's position, thus cutting off all his supplies from the country. The ships ascended higher up the North River, cutting off the retreat into the Jerseys. Had Howe, instead of landing at Frog's Neck, done so at Pell's Point, he would have rendered Washington's retreat nearly impossible. But this was neglected till the 18th of October, by which time Washington, finding that he was getting gradually hemmed in, and Lee, who had now joined him from Sullivan's Island and the Carolinas, insisting that nothing but instant retreat could save them, they therefore made a rapid retreat into the open country called the White Plains. They had much difficulty in carrying away their artillery; and the whole of it must have been taken, had Howe shown any ordinary activity. Between this date and the 21st there was considerable skirmishing, which compelled Washington to retire farther into the White Plains, and from thence towards the Delaware.

The repulse of the French in their attack on Holland, and their repeated defeats in Belgium, which will be mentioned in the next chapter, induced the French Government to make overtures for peace with Britain, but in a secret and most singular way. Instead of an open proposal through some duly-accredited envoy, the proposals came through a Mr. John Salter, a public notary of Poplar. This notary delivered to Lord Grenville two letters from Lebrun the French Foreign Minister, dated the 2nd of April, stating that France was desirous to accommodate its differences with Britain, and, provided the idea was accepted, M. Marat should be sent over with full powers, on passports being duly forwarded. A Mr. John Matthews, of Biggin House, Surrey, attested that these notes were perfectly genuine, and had been signed in the presence of himself and Mr. John Salter. Lord Grenville, suspecting a correspondence coming through so extraordinary a medium, and believing that the design of the French was only to gain time, in order to recover their losses, took no notice of the letters. Moreover, as the Jacobins were then following up their attacks on the Girondists from day to day, he saw no prospect of any permanence of this party in power. In fact, they were expelled by the 2nd of June, and on the 22nd of that month Lebrun was in flight to avoid arrest. Marat arrived, but held no communications with Grenville, and very shortly returned to France. Soon afterwards came indirect overtures through Dumouriez to our ambassador, Lord Auckland, but they were too late. War had been declared.

Gradually, however, a more refined tone was diffusing itself. The example of the head of the nation had not been without its effect. The higher classes abandoned Ranelagh and Vauxhall to the middle and lower classes, if they did not abandon their theatre, opera, and rout. But the theatres, too, became more decorous, and the spread of what had been called Methodism began to reach the higher classes through such men as Wilberforce, and such women as the Countess of Huntingdon and Hannah More. The most palpable drawback to this better state of sentiment and manners was the profligacy of the Prince of Wales and his associates. But towards the end of the reign a decided improvement in both manners and morals had taken place. The momentous events passing over the world, and in which Great Britain had the principal agency, seemed to have rooted out much frivolity, and given a soberer and higher tone to the public mind. The spread of a purer and more humane literature baptised the community with a new and better spirit; art added its refinements, and religion its restraints. The efforts to introduce education amongst the people had begun, and the lowest amusements of dog-fighting, cock-fighting, and bull-baiting were discouraged and put down. The new birth of science, art, literature, and manufactures was accompanied by a new birth of morals, taste, and sentiment, and this, happily, was a true birth; and the growth of what was then born has been proceeding ever since.