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CHAPTER II. THE REIGN OF GEORGE III. (continued).

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The Spaniards had at length made Lord Wellington Commander-in-Chief of the Spanish armies,[56] but this appointment was little more than nominal, for the Spanish generals continued as froward and insubordinate as ever; and the Spanish Government was poorer than ever, its remittances from the South American colonies, which were asserting their independence, being stopped. Wellington's dependence, therefore, continued to rest on his army of British and Portuguesesixty-three thousand infantry and six thousand cavalry.

The war in Afghanistan was alluded to in the Royal Speech, at the opening of the Session of 1843, in terms of congratulation at the complete success that had attended the recent military operations in that country, owing to the high ability with which they had been directed, as well as the constancy and valour of the European and native forces, which had established, by decisive victories on the scenes of former disasters, the superiority of her Majesty's arms, and had effected the liberation of the British subjects that had been held in captivity. This, therefore, is the proper time to relate briefly the incidents of that war, some of which are full of romantic interest. About the year 1837 the attention of the British[494] Government in India was attracted by the conduct of certain supposed agents of Russia, in the countries to the west of the Indus. The Russian ambassador, Simonitch, was urging the Shah to lay siege to Herat, "the key to India," and the place was soon closely invested. It was saved by the fortuitous presence in the town of a gallant young officer of engineers, Eldred Pottinger, who rallied the inhabitants and beat off the enemy. Meanwhile, another Russian agent, Vicovitch by name, had been sent to Cabul. In order to counteract his designs, it was thought desirable to establish an alliance with the rulers of Afghanistan. With this view overtures were made to Dost Mahomed Khan through a mission headed by Alexander Burnes. These having failed, chiefly from the ill-advised interference with Burnes of the Governor-General, Lord Auckland, the British Government sought to establish a friendly power in Afghanistan by aiding the exiled prince, Shah Sujah, in another attempt to regain his throne. The step, which was condemned by numerous clear-sighted people in India, was probably forced upon Lord Auckland by the Melbourne Ministry, to whom it was recommended by the military authorities at home, among them the Duke of Wellington. The chief of Cabul had an army of 14,000 men, including 6,000 cavalry, with 40 field-pieces. His brothers held Candahar and the surrounding country, with a military force of 4,000 men and 50 guns. The British force assembled to support the claims of his opponent amounted to 28,000 men, aided by a contingent force of 6,000 Sikhs, furnished by the ruler of the Panjab, and about 5,000 troops raised by the Shah's eldest son. This combined force was called "the Army of the Indus." Under the chief command of Sir John Keane, it advanced to the town of Quetta, and thence to Candahar, which was occupied without opposition; and there, on the 8th of May, 1839, Shah Sujah was solemnly enthroned. After this the march was resumed towards Cabul. The fortress of Ghuznee, believed by the Afghans to be impregnable, was blown up and taken by storm. The invading army reached Cabul, and on the 7th of August the restored sovereign made his public entry into his capital. Having thus accomplished its mission, the Army of the Indus returned home, leaving behind a detachment of 8,000 men. For two years Shah Sujah and his allies remained in possession of Cabul and Candahar, Dost Mahomed having surrendered after having won a partial success over the British on the 2nd of November, 1840. There were not wanting, however, those who strove to disturb the joy of Ireland, and the peace of England thus acquired, by sowing suspicions of the sincerity of England, and representing that the independence granted was spurious rather than real. Amongst these, Flood, the rival of Grattan in political and Parliamentary life, took the lead. He seized on every little circumstance to create doubts of the English carrying out the concession faithfully. He caught at an imprudent motion of the Earl of Abingdon, in the Peers, and still more vivaciously at the decision of an appeal from Ireland, in the Court of King's Bench, by Lord Mansfield. The case had remained over, and it was deemed impracticable to send it back to Ireland, though nearly finished before the Act of Repeal. Fox explained the case, and made the most explicit declaration of the "full, complete, absolute, and perpetual surrender of the British legislative and judicial supremacy over Ireland." But the suspicions had been too adroitly infused to be removed without a fresh and still more positive Act, which was passed in the next Session.

On the 18th of June a public dinner, to commemorate the abolition of the Sacramental Test, was given at Freemasons' Hall, when the Duke of Sussex occupied the chair. The friends of the cause felt that to secure a meeting of the most opulent, talented, and influential Dissenters from all parts of the empire was a measure of no common policy, and it was evident that the illustrious and noble guests felt at once surprised and gratified to witness the high respectability and generous enthusiasm of that great company. Mr. William Smith, as deputy chairman, proposed, in an interesting and appropriate speech, "the health of the Duke of Sussex, and the universal prevalence of those principles which placed his family upon the throne." The health of the archbishops, bishops, and other members of the Established Church who had advocated the rights of the Dissenters was proposed by a Baptist minister, the Rev. Dr. Cox. The health of "the Protestant Dissenting ministers, the worthy successors of the ever memorable two thousand who sacrificed interest to conscience," having been proposed by the royal chairman, the Rev. Robert Aspland returned thanks. Another commemoration of the full admission of Nonconformists to the privileges of the Constitution was a medal struck by order of the united committee. The obverse side exhibits Britannia, seated on the right, presenting to a graceful figure of Liberty the Act of Repeal, while Religion in the centre raises her eyes to heaven with the expression of thankfulness for the boon. The inscription on this side is "Sacramental Test Abolished, May 9th, 1828." The reverse side presents an open wreath, enclosing the words, "Truth, Freedom, Peace, and Charity."

In connection with this reform an Act was passed which supplied a great wantnamely, the uniform registration of marriages, births, and deaths. The state of the law on these matters had been very unsatisfactory, notwithstanding a long series of enactments upon the subject. Although the law required the registration of births and deaths, it made no provision for recording the date at which either occurred, and so it was essentially defective. It only provided records of the performance of the religious ceremonies of baptism, marriage, and burial, according to the rites of the Established Church, affording, therefore, an insufficient register even for the members of that Church; while for those who dissented from it, and consequently did not avail themselves of its services for baptism and burial, it afforded no register at all. Even this inadequate system was not fully and regularly carried out, and the loud and long-continued complaints on the subject led to an inquiry by a select Committee of the House of Commons in 1833. In order, therefore, to secure a complete and trustworthy record of vital statistics, the committee recommended "a national civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths, including all ranks of society, and religionists of every class." In pursuance of these recommendations, a General Registration Bill was brought into Parliament; and in August, 1836, the Act for registering marriages, births, and deaths in England became law, as a companion to the Marriage Act, which passed at the same time. Their operation, however, was suspended for a limited time by the Act of 7 William IV., c. 1, and they were amended by the Act of 1 Victoria, c. 22, and came into operation on the 1st of July, 1837. One of the most important and useful provisions of this measure was that which required the cause of death to be recorded, with the time, locality, sex, age, and occupation, thus affording data of the highest importance to medical science, and to all who were charged with the preservation of the public health. In order that fatal diseases might be recorded in a uniform manner, the Registrar-General furnished qualified medical practitioners with books of printed forms"certificates of cause of death"to be filled up and given to registrars of births and deaths; and he caused to be circulated a nosological table of diseases, for the purpose of securing, as far as possible, uniformity of nomenclature in the medical certificates. In order to carry out this measure, a central office was established at Somerset House, London, presided over by an officer named the Registrar-General, appointed under the Great Seal, under whom was a chief clerk, who acted as his secretary and assistant registrar-general, six superintendents, and a staff of clerks, who were appointed by the Lords of the Treasury. From this office emanated instructions to all the local officers charged with the duties of registration under the Actsuperintendent registrars, registrars of births and deaths, and registrars of marriages, any of whom might be dismissed by the Registrar-General, on whom devolved the entire control and responsibility of the operations.

Chatham, on rising, severely blamed Ministers for the course which they had pursued, and which had driven the colonies to the verge of rebellion. "Resistance to your Acts," he said, "was necessary as it was just; and your vain declarations of the omnipotence of Parliament, and your imperious doctrines of the necessity of submission, will be found equally incompetent to convince or to enslave your fellow-subjects in America, who feel that tyranny, whether attempted by an individual part of the Legislature, or the bodies who compose it, is equally intolerable to British subjects." He eulogised the conduct of the Congress, and remarked that it was obvious that all attempts to impose servitude on such men, to establish despotism over such a mighty continental nation, must be vain, must be fatal. "We shall be forced," he said, "ultimately, to retract; let us retract while we cannot when we must. I say we must necessarily undo these violently oppressive Acts; they must be repealed. You will repeal them; I pledge myself for it that you will, in the end, repeal them. I stake my reputation on it. I will consent to be taken for an idiot if they are not finally repealed. Avoid, then, this humiliating, this disgraceful necessity." He declared that the cause of America and England was one; that it was the glorious spirit of Whiggism which animated the colonists. "It is liberty to liberty engaged. In this great cause they are immovably allied; it is the alliance of God and natureimmutable, eternalfixed as the firmament of heaven. You cannot force them, united as they are, to your unworthy terms of submission. It is impossible." Lords Shelburne, Camden, and Rockingham, and the Duke of Richmond, zealously supported the views of Chatham, but the Ministerial party opposed the motion as obstinately as ever; and it was rejected by sixty-eight votes against eighteen.

Notwithstanding the constant wars of this time, British shipping, commerce, colonies, and manufactures made considerable progress. At the commencement of this period the amount of shipping employed in our commerce was altogether 244,788 tons, being 144,264 tons English, and 100,524 foreign; in 1701 the amount of shipping employed was 337,328 tons, of which alone 293,703 were English. In 1702, the end of William's reign, the number of English mercantile vessels was about 3,281, employing 27,196 seamen. The royal navy, at the end of William's reign, amounted to about 159,000 tons, employing some 50,000 sailors, so that the seamen of England must have amounted at that period to nearly 80,000.

In the meantime the Chartists had made their preparations. The members of the National Convention met early in the morning at its hall in John Street, Fitzroy Square, and after this the members took their places in a great car, which had been prepared to convey them to the Common. It was so large that the whole Convention and all the reporters who attended it found easy accommodationMr. Feargus O'Connor and Mr. Ernest Jones sitting in the front rank. It was drawn by six fine horses. Another car drawn by four horses contained the monster petition, with its enormous rolls of signatures. Banners with Chartist mottoes and devices floated over these imposing vehicles. The Convention thus driven in state passed down Holborn, over Blackfriars Bridge, and on to the Common, attended by 1,700 Chartists, marching in procession. This was only one detachment; others had started from Finsbury Square, Russell Square, Clerkenwell Green, and Whitechapel. The largest body had mustered in the East, and passed over London Bridge, numbering about 6,000. They all arrived at the Common about ten o'clock, where considerable numbers had previously assembled; so the Common appeared covered with human beings. In all monster meetings there are the widest possible differences in the estimates of the numbers. In this case they were set down variously at 15,000, 20,000, 50,000, and even 150,000. Perhaps 30,000 was the real number present.

In the House of Commons similar resolutions were moved on the 24th by Mr. Robert Peel, who, on this occasion, made the first of those candid admissions of new views which he afterwards repeated on the question of Catholic Emancipation, and finally on the abolition of the Corn Laws. This eminent statesman, though beginning his career in the ranks of Conservatism, had a mind capable of sacrificing prejudice to truth, though it was certain to procure him much obloquy and opposition from his former colleagues. He now frankly admitted that the evidence produced before the secret committee of the Commons, of which he had been a member, had greatly changed his views regarding the currency since in 1811 he opposed the resolutions of Mr. Horner, the chairman of the Bullion Committee. He now believed the doctrines of Mr. Horner to be mainly sound, and to represent the true nature of our monetary system; and, whilst making this confession, he had only to regret that he was compelled by his convictions to vote in opposition to the opinions of his venerated father. Several modifications were proposed during the debate, but there appeared so much unanimity in the House that no alterations were made, and the resolutions passed without a division. The resolutions were to this effect:That the restrictions on cash payments should continue till the 1st of May, 1822; that, meanwhile, the House should make provision for the gradual payment of ten millions of the fourteen millions due from the Government to the Bank; that, from the 1st of February, 1820, the Bank should take up its notes in gold ingots, stamped and assayed in quantities of not less than sixty ounces, and at a rate of eighty-one shillings per ounce. After the 1st of October of the same year the rate of gold should be reduced to seventy-nine shillings and sixpence per ounce; and again on the 1st of May, 1821, the price should be reduced to seventy-seven shillings and tenpence halfpenny per ounce; and at this rate of gold, on the 1st of May, 1822, the Bank should finally commence paying in the gold coin of the realm. Bills to this effect were introduced into both Houses by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mr. Peel, and were readily[144] passed; and such was the flourishing condition of the Bank that it did not wait for the full operation of the Act, but commenced paying in coin to any amount on the 1st of May, 1821.

The Ministry had, as a matter of course, been much weakened by the retirement of Lord Grey; but, having got through the Session, it might have survived to the next meeting of Parliament but for the death of Earl Spencer, which occurred on the 10th of Novemberan event which removed Lord Althorp to the House of Peers. It was supposed that this would lead only to a fresh modification of the Cabinet, by a redistribution of places. For example, Lord John Russell was to succeed Lord Althorp as the leader of the House of Commons. Lord Melbourne's Administration seemed to be quietly acquiesced in, as sufficient for a time; the nation evidently assuming that, in any case, a Liberal Government was the necessary consequence of a reformed Parliament. The public were therefore startled when it was announced on the 15th that the king had dismissed his Ministers. It appeared that Lord Melbourne had waited upon his Majesty at Brighton, on the 14th, to take his commands as to the new arrangements he was about to make. But the king said he considered that Government dissolved by the removal of Lord Althorp; that he did not approve of the intended construction of the Cabinet; that Lord John Russell would make "a wretched figure" as leader of the House, and that Abercromby and Spring-Rice were worse than Russell; that he[378] did not approve of their intended measure with regard to the Irish Church; and concluded by informing Lord Melbourne that he would not impose upon him the task of completing the Ministerial arrangements, but would send for the Duke of Wellington.