Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 21.djvu/188

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

it to have been ‘well planned and executed with alacrity,’ which was perhaps rather too high praise (ib. ii. 39). He was now thoroughly embittered against the rebels; he warmly approved of the bill passed in February 1777 for securing and detaining persons suspected of high treason in America, and of the employment of Indians in the war; ‘every means of distressing America must,’ he wrote, ‘meet with my concurrence,’ and he hoped that ‘Howe would turn his thoughts to the mode of war best calculated to end the contest’ (ib. i. 274, ii. 84). At no time probably in the course of the war was the country at large more fully in sympathy with his policy than during this year. The news of Burgoyne's surrender on 17 Oct. deeply affected him; the disaster was, he wrote on 4 Dec., ‘very serious, but not without remedy;’ the cause could not be given up.

On 9 April of this year (1777) the king through North made the commons acquainted with his debts, which on 5 Jan. preceding amounted to 600,000l. Although part of this deficit was no doubt due to relief given to the loyalist refugees, by far the larger part arose from corrupt practices, and from the waste which prevailed in every department of the household; highly paid sinecure offices abounded, the king's turnspit was a member of the house, there had been scandalous mismanagement, and while the ‘lustre of the crown was tarnished’ by the king's economical and almost sordid mode of life, the wages of his menial servants were six quarters in arrear, and his tradesmen were almost ruined. The accounts laid before the house were unsatisfactory, and there were neither vouchers nor audit-books. Enormous sums had been spent in pensions and in various other ways which extended and maintained the influence of the crown. The excess in pensions and annuities during the last eight years, as compared with the last eight years of the reign of George II, amounted to 194,144l., while, although the last years of the last reign included the great period of the seven years' war, the excess in secret service money during the same number of years just past was 63,559l. Indeed it is not unlikely that something like a million had already been spent during the reign on purposes which could not conveniently be avowed. All these matters were freely discussed in parliament (Parl. Hist. xix. 103, 160, 187; Annual Register, 1777, pp. 71–88; Massey, Hist. ii. 230–2). Nevertheless the house granted 618,340l. for discharge of arrears, and an addition of 100,000l. to the annual 800,000l. of the civil list. When at the close of the session the speaker, Sir Fletcher Norton, brought up the bill, he dilated on the magnificence of the gift, ‘great beyond example, great beyond your majesty's highest expense.’ The court party were grievously offended, and an attempt was made to censure the speaker, but Fox brought forward a resolution approving his conduct, which was carried nem. con.

As the king was going to the Haymarket Theatre on 25 July 1777, a mad woman attacked and did some damage to his chair. In September he pressed North to accept from him the payment of his debts, offering, if needful, as much as 20,000l., and expressing his love for him as a man and his esteem for him as minister, adding, ‘I shall never forget your conduct at a critical minute’—on the retirement of Grafton (Letters to North, ii. 83). North had begun to disapprove of the colonial policy forced upon him by the king. War with France, declared in May 1778, was imminent. He felt that he could not conciliate the colonies and that conciliation was necessary, and on 31 Jan. he begged the king to accept his resignation and send for Chatham. He repeated his request in March. Men of every rank and political section looked on Chatham as the only hope of the country, and this was made known to George from various sides. He was immovable—not, as it would seem, so much from motives of public policy as from private feelings. He appealed to North's personal affection and sense of honour not to desert him. With Chatham he would hold no direct communication; but if he liked to serve under North ‘he would receive him with open arms.’ North might address him on this basis, with the distinct understanding that Chatham was not to bring in any member of the opposition. The administration must remain with North at its head, and include Thurlow, Sandwich, Gower, and others of its present members. He ‘would rather lose his crown’ than submit to the opposition, who, he declared, would ‘make me a slave for the remainder of my days.’ His conduct was chiefly governed by this and similar personal considerations; for he did not refuse to allow North to bring in conciliatory measures, and Chatham was as fully convinced as he was of the necessity of preventing American independence. North's negotiations were fruitless. That the king's conduct was culpable admits of no question (ib. ii. 149–56; Memorials of Fox, i. 180–7; Lecky, Hist. iv. 82). George declared on 18 March 1778 that he was ‘fairly worn down,’ but would not change his administration or receive ‘that perfidious man.’ Chatham's fatal illness made him hope that North would be more inclined to retain office. He was ‘rather surprised’ at the vote about the