Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/370

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

to his own reluctance to allow his supporters to be whipped up against their will until it was almost too late. In committee on the reintroduced Reform Bill he was again night after night in close debate with the leading tory lawyers, and distinguished himself by his aptitude for discussing and framing the legal machinery of the bill. His blunt good sense defeated Sheil's motion on 21 Feb. to disfranchise Petersfield, which had been made expressly to increase the opposition of the lords in case it succeeded. With difficulty he kept in check the Irish members, who were irritated at Lord Grey's censure on the Irish tithe agitation, and throughout he was made to feel that he might lose their support at any moment. The session, though hard was, however, something of a personal triumph to him. ‘It was Althorp carried the bill,’ said Sir Henry Hardinge; ‘his fine temper did it.’ Once, in answer to a most able and argumentative speech of Croker, he merely rose and observed ‘that he had made some calculations which he considered entirely conclusive in refutation of his arguments, but unfortunately he had mislaid them, so that he could only say that, if the house would be guided by his advice, they would reject the amendment,’ which they did accordingly. There was no standing against his influence. Such was his value that Lord Grey pressed on him a peerage in March 1832, that he might take charge of the bill in the House of Lords, after it had left the commons. This he refused. He again pressed for a creation of peers before the bill came on for second reading in the upper house, but, after threatening to resign, allowed himself to be overruled. When Lord Lyndhurst carried in the House of Lords against the ministry his motion postponing the consideration of the disfranchisement clauses of the bill, Althorp and his colleagues resigned (7 May 1832).

Althorp prepared characteristically as he said to ‘expiate the great fault of my life, having ever entered into politics;’ he spent some hours in a nursery garden buying plants for Althorp and drawing plans for a new garden there. In a few days, however, the whigs returned to office, and the tory peers, impressed by the failure of the attempt to form a tory administration, at length allowed the bill to pass (4 June). After an uneventful budget parliament was prorogued.

The threat of an opposition to his return for Northamptonshire after the dissolution (January 1833) made Althorp seriously entertain a proposal to stand for the Tower Hamlets, to avoid the extravagant outlay of the county election. At the same time he urged Lord Grey to permit him to retire from public life altogether, but was prevailed upon not to resign, and was ultimately returned unopposed for Northamptonshire. Nevertheless political life became increasingly distasteful to him; the state of Ireland and the tone of the debates upon it in the session of 1833 alike depressed him. He was at variance with Stanley on his Irish policy, and although both measures as originally drawn were modified in order to induce him to continue in office, still, what satisfaction he felt in the Irish Church Bill was destroyed by the fact of having to introduce a Peace Preservation Act. His support of the latter measure was based on the consideration that the more stringent its provisions, the more certain it was to be repealed at an early date; but even so, he introduced it in a manner so lukewarm that only Stanley's brilliant speech late at night on 27 Feb. averted a disaster (Hansard, 3rd ser. xv. 1250). He met with a check in March, when, having, in order to please O'Connell, pressed on the Church Temporalities Bill, in spite of Peel's remonstrances, he was obliged when it came on for the second reading on 14 March to admit that he had overlooked and failed to comply with the rules of the house and to ask to postpone the bill. His own weariness of conflict kept him frequently silent in debate, and while Peel's authority steadily grew, his was visibly waning. His labour as chancellor of the exchequer, too, was very heavy, especially in connection with the bank and East India charters. By his act, 3 and 4 William IV, c. 98, the charter of the Bank of England was renewed till 1855, and the periodical publication of accounts was provided for; and he contributed the part relating to the bank charter to the pamphlet, ‘The Reform Ministry and the Reform Parliament,’ edited by Le Marchant, which was published in 1834, and soon ran through nine editions. The budget of 1833 provided for considerable remission of taxation, but he was obliged to resist the proposal for a reduction of the newspaper duty, and the ministry was beaten, on 26 April, on a motion by Sir William Ingilby for a reduction of the malt duties. The vote was afterwards, on 30 April, indirectly reversed, thanks to a powerful speech from Althorp and the clear determination of the ministry to resign if beaten again. Still the budget was very unpopular; riots took place, and a repeal of the house duty had to be promised, at the cost of imperilling the prospect of a surplus for 1834.

Next year Althorp met with further rebuffs. In the beginning of the session with