Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 50.djvu/97

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


shire ‘without spending a penny’ upon the freeholders. A day or two afterwards Sacheverell dined with Shaftesbury in Aldersgate Street, and expressed his high regard for Russell.

The new parliament opened with a contest between the commons and the king over the election of Seymour as speaker. In this Sacheverell took the lead, and did not give way until a short prorogation had removed the danger that a new precedent would be created to the disadvantage of the house. On 30 April the lord chancellor laid before both houses a carefully considered scheme to limit the powers of a catholic king, and Sacheverell greatly influenced the debate in the commons by his arguments that the proposed safeguards amounted to nothing at all, and that no securities could be of any value unless they came into operation in the lifetime of Charles. On 11 May the debate was resumed, and, in spite of the opposition of Cavendish, Littleton, Coventry, and Powle, and the disapproval of Lord Russell, it was decided to bring in a bill to exclude the Duke of York from the imperial crown of the realm. It is probable that Sacheverell had the chief hand in drawing up the bill; and he advocated the withholding of supplies until the bill became law. He was one of the managers of the impeachment of Danby, and of the several conferences with the lords concerning it; and in May he was elected chairman of a committee to draw up reasons ‘why the house cannot proceed to trial of the lords before judgment given upon the Earl of Danby's plea of pardon.’ This able state paper, written chiefly, if not entirely, by Sacheverell, was published in several forms as a pamphlet or broadside, and had a large circulation in the country. Sacheverell continued to lead the attack upon Danby, and opened six other debates on the subject, expressing a belief that, if the house confirmed the pardon, they made the king absolute, and surrendered their lives, liberties, and all. He drew attention also to the fact, discovered by the committee of secrecy, that enormous sums of public money had been paid by ministers to various members of parliament; and, being determined to unmask the offenders, at last compelled the cofferer, Sir Stephen Fox, to disclose their names. A list of these pensioners was printed, and proved of special advantage to the whigs in later elections.

On 27 May, before the Exclusion Bill could be read a third time, Charles prorogued and dissolved parliament; and the newly elected House of Commons was not allowed to meet until 21 Oct. 1680. On the 27th Sacheverell brought forward a motion affirming the subject's right to petition, and in the same month he spoke in favour of impeaching Chief-justice North. He warmly urged the punishment of the judges who had foiled the intended presentment of the Duke of York as a popish recusant, and acted on behalf of the commons as a manager of Lord Stafford's trial in Westminster Hall. After the trial, Sacheverell ceased for a long time to take an active part in public affairs. His belief in the plot may perhaps have been shaken by Stafford's defence, or it may be that he was one of those of whom Ferguson speaks, who proposed to abandon the Exclusion Bill until they had secured themselves against the power of the court by impeaching several of the judges. At the election of February 1680–1 he and Lord Cavendish were not required even to put in an appearance at the show of hands at Derby, though ‘the popish party’ had been ‘very industrious’ in sending emissaries to that place ‘to disparage and scandalise the late House of Commons.’ In the autumn of 1682 Sacheverell led the opposition to the new charter at Nottingham, and for his share in this popular movement, which was described by the crown lawyers as ‘not so much a riot as an insurrection,’ he was tried at the king's bench and fined five hundred marks by Chief-justice Jeffreys. At the election of 1685 the court interest proved too strong for him, and he seems to have retired into private life until the revolution of 1688. He was returned to the Convention parliament for the borough of Heytesbury, and was the second person named to serve upon the committee which drew up the new constitution in the form of a declaration of right. He was appointed also a manager for the commons in the conference concerning the vacancy of the throne; and in the first administration of King William was persuaded to accept office as a lord of the admiralty.

The year brought little but disasters and disappointments, and in December 1689 Sacheverell resigned his post owing to the impending removal of his chief, Lord Torrington. This action seems, however, to have increased rather than diminished the ‘great authority’ he possessed with his party. It was just at this moment that the whigs, who had greatly offended the king by their backwardness in granting supplies for the war, found themselves compelled to face the possibility of a dissolution. The Corporation Bill had not yet passed. No change had been made in the electoral bodies since Charles and James had remodelled them in