THE COURT AND CABINETS
GEORGE THE THIRD.
COURT AND CABINETS
GEORGE THE THIRD.
FROM ORIGINAL FAMILY DOCUMENTS.
THE DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM AND CHANDOS, K.G.
IN TWO VOLUMES
HURST AND BLACKETT, PUBLISHERS, SUCCESSORS TO HENRY COLBURN, 13, GREAT MARLBOROUGH STREET. 1853.
LONDON: Printed by Schulze and Co., 13, Poland Street.
In the selection and arrangement of the Correspondence contained in these Volumes, the intrusion of unnecessary commentaries and political opinions has been carefully avoided. The letters themselves are so lucid and complete, that the interest of the publication has been left to rest upon their details as far as possible. But as a collection of communications of this confidential nature, written from day to day upon passing events, must necessarily involve numerous allusions which, intelligible at the time, are either obscure or liable to misapprehension now, occasional notices of the principal topics and circumstances referred to have been introduced wherever they appeared to be required. By the help of this illustrative frame-work a certain degree of continuity has been attempted to be preserved, so that the reader will have no difficulty in blending these materials into the history of the period they embrace.
The Close of Lord North's Administration—The Second Rockingham Cabinet—Mr. Thomas Grenville's Mission to Paris—The Shelburne Administration—Lord Temple Appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland—Irish Affairs.
The Renunciation Bill—The Fall of the Shelburne Administration—The Cabinet Interregnum—The Coalition Ministry—Resignation of Lord Temple.
Mr. Pitt's Administration—Lord Temple Created Marquis of Buckingham—His Private Notes on the Coalition.
The Breach Between the Marquis of Buckingham and Mr. Thomas Grenville.
Mr. W. W. Grenville Joins Mr. Pitt's Administration.
The Dawn of Free Trade—The Assembly of Notables—Affairs of Holland—Arthur Wellesley—The Marquis of Buckingham Assumes the Government of Ireland for the Second Time.
Irish Correspondence—The India Declaratory Bill—Trial of Warren Hastings—Contemplated Changes in the Administration—The King's Interference in Military Appointments—The Irish Chancellorship—The King's Illness—Views of the Cabinet Respecting the Regency.
The Close of Lord North's Administration—The Second Rockingham Cabinet—Mr. Thomas Grenville's Mission to Paris—The Shelburne Administration—Lord Temple Appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland—Irish Affairs.
As no inconsiderable portion of the Correspondence contained in these volumes relates to the structure and conduct of Cabinets, throwing light upon public affairs from those secret recesses to which historians rarely have access, it may be useful, by way of introduction, to glance at certain circumstances which, during the period embraced in the work, exercised a special influence over the Government of the country: an influence no less directly felt in the councils of Ministers than in the measures and combinations of the Opposition.
The history of Administration in the reign of George III. presents some peculiarities which distinguish it in a very striking degree from that of most other reigns. The key to these peculiarities will be found in the personal character of the Sovereign. To that character, and its immediate action upon political parties, may be traced, to a greater extent than has been hitherto suspected, the parliamentary agitation and ministerial difficulties which were spread over nearly the whole of that long and eventful period. The means of forming an accurate judgment on matters of this nature exist only in confidential details, such as are disclosed in the collection of letters now for the first time laid before the public. In order, however, to render intelligible the allusions that are scattered through them, and to point out their real value as materials for the political history of the time, it is necessary to offer a few preliminary remarks on the circumstances to which reference has been made.
George III.—whose admirable business habits and inflexible integrity inspired the highest deference and attachment amongst the personal friends he admitted to his confidence—was remarkable in no one particular more than in his jealousy of the prerogatives of the Crown. He carried his zeal in that matter so far as even to draw upon himself the charge of desiring to strain the rights of the Crown beyond constitutional limitations. But as these limitations have never been accurately defined, and as it has always been difficult to prescribe the precise privileges which would relieve the Sovereign, on the one hand, from being a mere state puppet, without giving him, on the other, too great a preponderance of executive power, we need not discuss the justice of an imputation which refers to the general complexion of the King's views rather than to any particular acts of arbitrary authority. That it was the great aim of His Majesty's life to preserve the royal prerogatives from encroachment is undeniable; but it should be remembered that when George III. ascended the throne, the relative powers and responsibilities of the Sovereign and his advisers were not so clearly marked or so well understood as they are at present; and if His Majesty's jealousy of the rights which he believed to be vested in his person led him to trespass upon the independence of his servants, or to resist what he considered the extreme demands of the Parliament, it was an error against the excesses of which our Constitution affords the easiest and simplest means of redress.
Intimately conversant with official routine, and thoroughly master of the details of every department of the Government, he acquired a familiar knowledge of all the appointments in the gift of the Ministry, and reserved to himself the right of controlling them. Nor was this monopoly of patronage confined to offices of importance or considerable emolument; it descended even to commissions in the army, and the disposal of small places which custom as well as expediency had delegated to the heads of those branches of service to which they belonged. His Majesty's pertinacity on these points frequently precipitated painful embarrassments of a personal nature, entailed much disagreeable correspondence, and sometimes produced misunderstandings and alienations of far greater moment than the paltry considerations in which they originated. Amongst the numerous instances in which His Majesty insisted on the preservation of patronage in his own hands, one of the most conspicuous was his stipulation with the Marquis of Rockingham for unconditional power over the nomination of the household, at a moment when the exigency of public affairs compelled him to surrender other points of infinitely greater importance. We shall find in the course of the following letters that His Majesty's desire to advance the interests of particular individuals interfered seriously, on some occasions, with the convenience of the public service.
The same spirit guided His Majesty's conduct, as far as the forms of the Constitution would permit, in his choice of Ministers. He had strong personal likings and antipathies, and rather than consent to have a Ministry imposed upon him consisting of men he disapproved, he would have suffered any amount of difficulty or inconvenience. He prevailed upon Lord North to remain in office three years in the face of sinking majorities, and against his Lordship's own wishes, for the sole purpose of keeping out the Whigs, whom he regarded with a feeling of the bitterest aversion. Good reasons, no doubt, might be suggested for this passionate abhorrence of the Whigs, who, independently of party antecedents, had given His Majesty much cause of uneasiness, by their strenuous opposition to the measures of his favourite Ministers, and by their alliance with his son. So deeply was this feeling rooted in His Majesty's mind, that when a junction with that party seemed to be all but inevitable in March, 1778, he threatened to abdicate rather than be "trampled on by his enemies." Four years afterwards he explicitly repeated the same threat under the excitement of an adverse division; and it was supposed by those who were best acquainted with the firmness of his resolution that, had he been forced to extremities, he would have carried his menace into execution.
His conduct to his Ministers was equally steadfast where he bestowed his confidence, and stubborn where he withheld it. There were certain questions upon which he was known to be inexorable, and upon which it was useless to attempt to move him. Of these the most prominent were the American War, Catholic Emancipation, and Parliamentary Reform. Whether his judgment was right or wrong on these questions, it was fixed and unalterable; and the Ministers who took office under George III. knew beforehand the conditions of their service, so far as these paramount articles of faith were concerned. It was the knowledge of this rigorous trait in His Majesty's character, that made the Marquis of Rockingham insist upon submitting to the King a programme of the policy he intended to pursue before he would consent to enter upon the Government in 1782. His Majesty desired nothing more than a list of the persons Lord Rockingham wished to propose for the Cabinet; but Lord Rockingham thought that something more was necessary to his own security and independence. He considered that when a statesman undertakes the duties of Administration, he assumes a responsibility irrespective of the Sovereign, and that his duty requires of him that he shall lay before His Majesty, in the first instance, as the basis of negotiation, an outline of the measures by which alone he can conduct the affairs of the kingdom with honour and success. In the adoption of this clear and candid line of procedure there was no coercion on the Sovereign, who was free to accept or reject the propositions, while the constitutional principle at stake was acknowledged and vindicated on both sides.
His Majesty's immobility on certain questions had the practical effect of literally placing them in abeyance in the councils of his Ministers. As it was found to be impossible to form a strong Administration that should unanimously agree with His Majesty, and at the same time possess the confidence of the country, no alternative remained but to enter into a tacit arrangement, by which those questions were to be dropped out of the list of what were called Cabinet measures, each Minister being left at liberty to vote upon them as he pleased, without being held to have compromised the opinions of the Government. Had it not been for such an arrangement as this, Pitt, who was pledged to the relief of the Catholics from their disabilities, could never have held office under George III. And thus was introduced into the practice of Administration a principle which is undoubtedly a violation of its theory, and which, taking advantage of a dangerous precedent, has been acted upon since with less justification.
In the invention of this escape for the conscience of the King through the side vent of "open questions," the direct influence of the Sovereign upon the councils of the Administration may be clearly traced. There were no other means of reconciling His Majesty to the appointment of a Cabinet, demanded by the voice of the Parliament and the country. The dilemma was obvious. There was no choice between the rejection of Ministers who held certain doctrines adverse to His Majesty's convictions, and compromise upon the points of difference. When it was found impossible to conduct the Government of the kingdom with a Cabinet that did not possess the popular confidence, the Sovereign was reduced to the necessity of treating with men who did possess that confidence, whether he agreed with them in opinion or not. In our own times, and under most of the Sovereigns who have filled the throne since our Constitution may be said to have been settled, there could be no great difficulty in a case of this kind. Ministers undertaking office under such circumstances would be responsible to the country for their policy, and the Sovereign would feel himself at once relieved by that responsibility from all further anxiety. But George III. took that responsibility upon himself in reference to the great measures that occupied the public mind; and when, by the exigency of circumstances, Ministers were pressed upon him from whose views he dissented, he accepted them upon conditions which restrained the action of the Cabinet, as a whole, in certain directions, but left its members individually free and unpledged. Such was the origin of "open questions." It was a compromise on both sides; and of course it must always depend upon the extent to which this compromise is carried, and the necessity under which it is resorted to, whether it should be regarded as a sacrifice of principle on the part of the Minister who submits to it.
Another novelty originating in this reign, out of the same peculiar state of things, and resting upon a similar theory of expediency, was that of the formation of a Coalition Administration, in which party differences were merged in a common agreement upon a general line of policy. As considerable light is thrown upon this memorable incident in the course of these volumes, it is unnecessary to dwell upon it here. It will be abundantly elucidated in the proper place. For the present, it is sufficient to refer to the junction, in a composite Ministry of hostile statesman, as one of the singular results flowing from that necessity of adaptation to circumstances which was rendered unavoidable by the unyielding character of the Sovereign.
There were other circumstances which, combined with the personal dispositions of the King, led to the strenuous assertion in this reign of the prerogatives of the Executive against the interference and control of the aristocracy and the Parliament. From the date of the Revolution up to the accession of George III., the independent authority of the Crown can scarcely be said to have had any practical force—scarcely, indeed, to have had any existence. The Government of the country was essentially Parliamentary. It was part of the compact with William III. A foreign dynasty had been established, and the people naturally looked to the protection of their domestic interests against the possible preponderance of extrinsic sympathies in the reigning power. Under William III., the claim of the United Provinces upon the special regard of the Sovereign was the object of national jealousy; and when the House of Brunswick ascended the throne, popular vigilance was transferred to Hanover. The first two Princes of that House who ruled in England scarcely spoke our language, and were so ignorant of our Constitution and our customs, that they could not be admitted with safety to an active participation in the Government. The Whigs, who had brought about these changes, preserved in their own hands the entire authority of the State. The Sovereign was merely the motionless representative of the monarchical principle. But George III. was not an alien. Born in the country, educated in its language and its usages, and inspired by an ardent devotion to Protestantism, he entered life under auspices that attracted at once towards the Crown an amount of popularity which it had never enjoyed under his predecessors. The qualities and dispositions of the King were favourable to the cultivation of these opportunities. Without being profoundly versed in the philosophy of character, he possessed a remarkable aptitude in the discrimination of persons suited to his purposes. He had considerable skill (to which Lord Shelburne bears special testimony) in extracting the opinions of others, and turning the results to account. If his mind was not vigorous and original, it was active and adaptive, inquisitive and watchful. If his judgment was not always sound, his convictions were strong, and the tenacity of his resolution commanded submission. An accomplished linguist, fond of business, and having some talents as a writer, which enabled him to express his meaning with facility and clearness, he was well qualified to avail himself of the political accidents which contributed to revive and strengthen the royal prerogative.
The Whigs themselves helped mainly to bring about this struggle between the Crown and the Parliament, or rather between the Crown and the "great families," to use Mr. Canning's phrase, who had hitherto absorbed the power and patronage of the State. United in principle, they were divided by personal jealousies. The long possession of office had given a sort of impunity to their pretensions; and believing that they held a perpetual tenure of Administration, they were weak enough, at every new ministerial change, to contend amongst themselves for the prizes. These internal dissensions weakened and scattered them, and prepared the way for those experiments which were made, during the early years of George III., to conduct the Government without their aid.
The effects were felt in an entire change of system. The accession of George III. was followed by a coup-d'etat, which displaced the able Cabinet that had been organized by the elder Pitt, to make room for the Earl of Bute, who had the credit of being the author of the scheme, and who was utterly incapable of carrying it out. Independently of his want of the requisite qualifications as a statesman, there were other objections of a private nature to Lord Bute, which rendered it impossible that he could ostensibly continue to guide the councils of the Ministry, however he might be permitted, or retained, to influence them from behind the curtain. But his short essay at Government had sufficiently disturbed the ancien regime, to leave in the King's hands the power of choosing his Ministers without reference to popular clamour or the will of Parliament. The consequence was, a rapid series of Ministerial mutations, throughout which the contest for power was maintained on both sides with so fierce a spirit, that during the first ten years of the reign of George III., there were no less than seven successive Administrations.
It was not till Lord North was called to the head of the Ministry, in 1770, that the public uneasiness was allayed, and a Cabinet of the King's own choice was founded in security. Lord North was an especial favourite with the King, whose extraordinary regard for him originated in the promptitude with which he responded to His Majesty's appeal, at a moment of serious embarrassment, when the Duke of Grafton unexpectedly threw up the Government, and Lord North consented to undertake it. "I love you as a man of worth, as I esteem you as a Minister," writes the King to him on one occasion; "your conduct at a critical moment I can never forget." The Whigs were readily reconciled to Lord North's appointment, because he was not mixed up in their differences. They preferred a Minister who had no alliances amongst them to one of themselves, whose elevation would have produced discontents in the camp. At first there was a show of dissatisfaction, and some attempts were made to foment the popular passions; but the dignified firmness of the Sovereign, and the moderate bearing of the favourite, speedily tranquillized the public mind, and enabled Lord North to carry on the Government with energy and success.
In his private character, Lord North was irreproachable; as a debater, he displayed some valuable qualities—patience and endurance, facility of resources on occasions of emergency, great calmness and courage, and a playful wit, which never startled by its brilliancy, but seldom failed of its point. He betrayed no ostentation or vainglory in his position; never offended by any undue exhibition of the powers he wielded; and restricted himself severely to the discharge of his duties as an adviser of the Crown, deprecating the title of Prime Minister, which he declared was an office unknown to the Constitution of this country. As a statesman, he never achieved a high or distinguished reputation. The American war was the blot upon his career; nor can even his devotion to the Sovereign entirely excuse him for remaining in office at His Majesty's entreaty to pursue a course of colonial policy which his reason and his conscience disapproved. This was a political fault, which no circumstances can palliate. Others have done worse, no doubt, from meaner motives; but the mere desire of serving the King does not absolve the Minister from censure for having acted contrary to his own convictions on a question of such grave importance.
Lord North continued to retain the royal favour until he entered into the coalition with the Whigs. This was a step the King could not forgive. No extremity could reconcile him to a measure so repulsive to his feelings. Yet the coalition, after all, was more discreditable to the Whigs than to Lord North, who may be pardoned for accepting it as a tribute to his personal weight, and a recantation, in some sort, of all the odium the Whigs had industriously heaped upon him during the whole period of his Administration. If they really believed him to be the base and dangerous person they had all along described him to be, the shame was theirs for consenting to associate themselves with him, and to work under him in the Government.
The Administration of Lord North lasted for twelve years—from 1770 to 1782. The most important consequence it effected, so far as political parties were concerned, was to throw the Whigs into opposition, and to draw the Tories into closer relations with the throne. This complete exchange of position exactly suited the principles of the two great factions; the loyalty and courtly aspirations of the Tories (now that all hope of restoring the Stuarts was at an end) rendering them highly acceptable in the councils of the monarch, while the popular doctrines of the Whigs pointed to the benches of the Opposition as the appropriate place for a party which is always more usefully employed in representing the people than in exercising the functions of Government. Sixty years elapsed before the Whigs recovered the ground which they had lost under the Ministry of Lord North.
The American war—for the management of which the severest reproaches were cast upon the Government—the state of Ireland, and Parliamentary Reform, were the principal public questions that agitated the term of Lord North's Administration. Amongst the Whigs who took a prominent part in these proceedings were the Grenvilles. Connected by marriage with the Pitt family, and distinguished by their own hereditary claims and high talents, they exerted as conspicuous an influence out of office as they had previously done when they had the reins of Government in their hands. It will be necessary to retrace briefly the political heraldry of the Grenvilles for the purpose of bringing the reader acquainted with the character of the three brothers whose intimate correspondence forms the substance of these volumes.
Richard Grenville succeeded his brother in the Earldom of Temple in 1752, and took an active part in the Administration of the elder Pitt (Lord Chatham), who was married to his sister, Lady Hesther, the mother of the "Great Commoner." He resigned office with Pitt in 1761, on the question of the war with Spain. This circumstance estranged him from his political connection with his only brother, George Grenville, who remained in office under Lord Bute, as Treasurer of the Navy. Lord Temple, espousing the cause of Wilkes (for which he was dismissed from his Lieutenancy of the county of Bucks) continued in opposition till he was finally reconciled to his brother in 1765. He afterwards had a serious difference with Pitt on the formation of the Cabinet in 1766; but a reconciliation having been effected between them in 1768, they subsequently acted in concert except upon the taxation of America, Lord Temple invariably supporting the policy of his brother and the Stamp Act.
George Grenville had been educated for the bar, and entered Parliament for the borough of Buckingham at the instance of his uncle, Lord Cobham; joined the Administration in 1744, as a Lord of the Admiralty, afterwards as a Lord of the Treasury, then as Treasurer of the Navy, and continued in office at intervals till 1762, when, separating himself from Lord Temple and Mr. Pitt, he joined Lord Bute as Secretary of State. On the resignation of Lord Bute in 1763, he became First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer, remaining at the head of the Cabinet till his dismissal in 1765, after which he never again accepted office.
He left three sons, George, Thomas, and William Wyndham, who variously distinguished themselves in the public service, and whose letters, chiefly those of the last, in all respects the ablest and most celebrated, constitute the bulk of the following pages.
George Grenville succeeded to the title of Earl Temple on the death of his uncle, and was afterwards created Marquis of Buckingham, and was father of the late Duke of Buckingham. He twice filled the office of Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland.
Thomas Grenville, who died recently at an advanced age, filled several high offices in the State, and accumulated one of the most splendid libraries in the kingdom.
William Wyndham Grenville, afterwards Lord Grenville, was one of the most eminent statesmen of the reign of George III., and, surviving all his great contemporaries, died in 1834. "The endowments of his mind," observes Lord Brougham, "were all of a useful and commanding sort—sound sense, steady memory, vast industry. His acquirements were in the same proportion valuable and lasting—a thorough acquaintance with business in its principles and in its details; a complete mastery of the science of politics as well theoretical as practical; of late years a perfect familiarity with political economy, and a just appreciation of its importance; an early and most extensive knowledge of classical literature, which he improved instead of abandoning, down to the close of his life; a taste formed upon these chaste models, and of which his lighter compositions, his Greek and Latin verses, bore testimony to the last. His eloquence was of a plain, masculine, authoritative cast, which neglected if it did not despise ornament, and partook in the least possible degree of fancy, while its declamation was often equally powerful with its reasoning and its statement. He was in this greatest quality of a statesman pre-eminently distinguished, that, as he neither would yield up his judgment to the clamour of the people, nor suffer himself to be seduced by the influence of the Court, so would he never submit his reason to the empire of prejudice, or own the supremacy of authority or tradition." The character is accurately and justly discriminated; but, however fully this searching panegyric is sustained and justified by the public acts and recorded labours of Lord Grenville, we must turn to his correspondence with Lord Temple for the complete development of that sagacity and sound judgment, that intimate knowledge of public affairs, and that remarkable comprehensiveness of view and lucidity of statement, by which he was distinguished above his contemporaries in an age of great political characters. This correspondence, extending over a long period of years, is not less remarkable for the constancy with which it was carried on than for the minuteness of its details, and the freedom of its revelations. Written with the ease of familiar intercourse, and in that confidential spirit which was the exponent of one of the most touching attachments that ever bound one man to another, it is no less valuable as a close, running commentary on the events of the day, lighting up in its course the hidden springs of parliamentary action and the policy of cabinets, than it is fascinating from the teeming evidences with which it abounds of a warm heart and a highly disciplined and accomplished mind.
The Correspondence commences in 1782, when Lord North, sinking under the odium of the American war, found his small majorities rapidly diminishing from 22 to 19, then to the vanishing point of 1, and finally to a minority of 16. Every incident connected with the war, the taxes, parliamentary reform, and all other questions upon which it was possible to raise a discussion, were seized upon by the opposition to harass the Ministry. The total surrender of York Town by Lord Cornwallis, with the whole army under his command, to Washington, and of the British vessels in the harbour to the French Admiral de Grasse in the October of 1781, awakened universal indignation; and, when Parliament met in November, it became evident that, however resolved the King or the Government might be to persevere in their policy, the doom of the Administration was near at hand. Amendments to the Address, pointing ominously to a change of counsels, were moved in both houses by Lord Shelburne and Mr. Fox; but nothing further was done till after the Christmas recess, with the exception of an announcement that Ministers had resolved not to send a fresh army to replace that surrendered by Lord Cornwallis.
About this time, very early in the session, a motion was contemplated on the subject, the object of which, as may be gathered from the following notes of the Marquis of Rockingham, was to relieve Lord Cornwallis from the disgrace that impended over him, and to throw the real responsibility upon Ministers. The Marquis of Rockingham, desirous of proceeding upon more certain information than had at that time been received, appears to have advised a little delay, and to have been of opinion that if any motion were to be brought forward at that moment it ought to have taken the shape of a motion for inquiry. It is evident that the Marquis of Rockingham was already collecting his friends about him. The name of Lord Rockingham's correspondent does not appear, but, from a subsequent allusion, it may be presumed that these notes were addressed to the Duke of Chandos.
THE MARQUIS OF ROCKINGHAM TO THE DUKE OF CHANDOS.
Your Grace does me much honour in the communication of the thoughts you entertain of bringing forward some matters of business in the House of Lords.
I shall be very happy to concur in opinion with your Grace, but I must say that I cannot at present think that there is anything come to our knowledge in regard to the actual conduct of Lord Cornwallis, as commander of a British army in America, which calls for the honour of a vote of thanks from the House of Lords.
The fatal event of the army under his Lordship's command, having been reduced to the situation of being obliged to lay down their arms and surrender prisoners of war, naturally requires that an explanation or justification should precede anything that could be declaratory of approbation.
As I understand your Grace's proposition, I conceive your intentions would be, that in thanking Lord Cornwallis for his general conduct, you would at the same time state, that the plans he was directed to pursue and which had been so fatal, were highly censurable.
An inquiry into the causes of the loss of that army might certainly be a very proper and becoming measure; and I have very little, or rather no doubt that the blame and censure would fall heavy on many of His Majesty's Ministers, if such an inquiry was taken up, and tried by an uninfluenced or undeluded jury.
There is a particular circumstance, which possibly, as your Grace has been out of town, may not have come to your knowledge. I understand that Lord Cornwallis and all the officers of the army captured at York Town and Gloucester, are under a parole of honour, and on their faith neither to say or do anything injurious to the interests of the United States or armies of America, or their allies, until exchanged.
Your Grace will recollect, that in the Articles of Capitulation, much doubt has been held in regard to the propriety of one of the articles, whereby Lord Cornwallis had left some Americans (who had been in or had joined our army) to be at the mercy of the civil authority in America.
Many Lords will think that some explanation of that conduct in Lord Cornwallis is necessary; and I do not conceive that any explanation could at present be got from Lord Cornwallis.
The Duke of Richmond having called upon me this morning, I had the honour to go with his Grace to your Grace's house, hoping that you were arrived in London. The Duke of Richmond will be early at the House of Lords to-morrow, and intends to desire the House to be summoned for Monday next, in order to make some inquiry in regard to the execution of Colonel Harris, at Charlestown, in America. I will also be early at the House of Lords to-morrow, and I shall then hope to have the opportunity, along with the Duke of Richmond, of having the honour of some more discourse upon the subject matter of your Grace's letter, and that it will not impede your Grace's intentions of some conversation in the House, on the loss of a great army.
I have the honour to be, with great regard,
Your Grace's most obedient and most humble servant,
Grosvenor Square, Wednesday, P.M. near Five o'clock, Jan. 30th, 1782.
THE MARQUIS OF ROCKINGHAM TO THE DUKE DE CHANDOS.
Having not gone to dinner till rather late, and my company having staid with me till just now, I have not been able to return an answer to your Grace's very obliging letter as soon as I otherwise should have done. It also prevented my being able to profit of the honour you proposed to me of calling here this evening.
I will call at the Duke of Richmond's before two o'clock to-morrow, and I hope that his Grace and I shall have the honour of meeting your Grace at the House of Lords, between two and three o'clock; I should imagine, any time before three o'clock will afford us time for the honour of some conversation together.
I have the honour to be, with great regard,
Your Grace's most obedient and most humble servant,
Grosvenor Square. Wednesday night, past Nine o'clock, Jan. 30th. 1782
THE MARQUIS OF ROCKINGHAM TO LORD TEMPLE.
My dear Lord,
I felt myself much honoured by the very kind intimation which you sent to me by Mr. T. Grenville, that your Lordship would not be unwilling to come to town, to attend in the House of Lords, in case any matter was likely to come on, which might appear to me to be of importance in the present miserable state of the affairs of this country.
I should have wrote to your Lordship to have apprized you of the motions intended by the Duke of Richmond on the subject of the execution of Colonel Harris in Charlestown in North America, and of the proclamation which had in consequence been issued by General Green. I was very doubtful in regard to the probable day on which the business might come to be discussed.
On the Duke of Richmond's first mentioning the subject, it came out that the Ministers at last acknowledged that they had no official information; but as a vessel had arrived from New York, and some officers had also arrived from Charlestown on Friday or Saturday last, I thought it probable that on Monday or yesterday we might have heard that they had got official information, and that possibly some papers would be to be laid before the House, and the discussion of the matter would then have been fixed for some day, and regularly proceeded upon.
The event was different: they continued to say that they had no official information, but chose to enter into a justification of the whole proceeding, in part urging some accounts which they said had been in a Pennsylvanian Gazette.
I am now to inform your Lordship, that the Duke of Chandos, who had thrown out an idea of inquiring into the causes of the loss and capture of Earl Cornwallis and his army, has been wished and desired to move it on Thursday next.
The Duke of Richmond, the Duke of Chandos, and Duke of Manchester, and some friends, have been here this morning, and have prepared the enclosed motion for the inquiry, and also motions for papers which would be necessary. Lord Shelburne and Lord Camden have been acquainted with the intention; the Duke of Grafton is also in town; so that I should imagine the business will be well supported. I have no expectation of any success in the House of Lords; but upon such a calamity and national disgrace, it surely will become us to propose to bring on an inquiry. Perhaps we may learn whether the Ministers intend to throw the blame either on their Commander-in-Chief, General H. Clinton, or on Earl Cornwallis, or (what some suppose), on Lord Greaves. The public at large have a right to know whether the real cause has not arose from the neglect, inability, or some other cause, in His Majesty's Ministers.
As the business is now fixed for Thursday next, I have taken the liberty of apprizing your Lordship by a messenger, who I hope will arrive before your Lordship goes to bed to-night.
I wish I could have wrote earlier. I shall be very happy in the honour of seeing your Lordship, which I hope may be soon, even if your Lordship could not at this time come to London.
I have the honour to be, with great truth and regard,
Your Lordship's most obedient and obliged humble servant,
Grosvenor Square, Tuesday, Four o'clock, Feb. 5th, 1782.
On the 22nd of February, General Conway moved an Address to the King, imploring His Majesty to abandon the war. After a protracted debate, which lasted till two o'clock in the morning, the Ministers found themselves in an alarming majority of 1. But they persevered in the face of these disasters, and, sustained in office by the tenacity of the King, refused to submit to the constitutional warning of Parliament. Three months before, the Duke of Richmond, writing to Lord Rockingham, anticipated the obstinacy of the Cabinet, expressing his conviction, that "no essential change of measures was meant, and none of men if it could be avoided. When I say the Ministry," he added, "I mean the King; for his servants are the merest servants that ever were."
Nor was it only by protecting an unpopular Ministry that His Majesty showed his resolution to exercise his prerogative in direct opposition to public opinion. It was in the midst of these accumulating defeats and strong expressions of popular feeling, that His Majesty raised Lord George Germain to the peerage with the title of Viscount Sackville, in open indifference to the fact that his Lordship had been dismissed from the army by the sentence of a court-martial, and declared incapable of serving His Majesty in any military capacity, in consequence of his conduct at the battle of Minden. To such proceedings as these Walpole refers, when he observes at this time that "the power of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished; and it is diminished a good deal indeed." The diminution of its power, however, was visible only in the spirited resistance of Parliament, in the motion of Lord Carmarthen in the Upper House, that it was derogatory to the honour of the House of the Lords, that any person labouring under so heavy a sentence of a court-martial should be recommended to the Crown as worthy of a peerage, and in the successive motions which were brought forward in the Commons to force the Ministry to resign.
General Conway renewed his motion on the war on the 27th, and achieved a complete triumph, his minority of 1 being converted in five days into a majority of 19. But Lord North still clung to office, and it was not till the 6th of March, when he was beaten by a majority of 16 on the subject of the taxes, that he began to betray symptoms of a retreat. On the 8th the motion on the war was renewed, when Ministers, collecting the whole force of placemen and contractors, obtained a majority of 10, which was reduced afterwards to 9 on a vote of confidence. The crisis had now arrived. The Earl of Surrey had given notice in the Lords of a motion to the effect that Ministers no longer possessed the confidence of the country, when Lord North entered the House, and informed their Lordships that His Majesty had come to a determination to make an entire change of Administration.
This was on the 19th of March. But so far back as the 11th His Majesty had been in negotiation with the Marquis of Rockingham, through the agency of Lord Chancellor Thurlow, who detained his Lordship in the House for an hour and a half after it had adjourned to converse with him, by His Majesty's desire, upon the practicability of forming an Administration "on a broad bottom." The negotiation with Thurlow spread over an entire week, and entirely failed on the plan proposed by His Majesty, who wished to limit Lord Rockingham in the first instance to the nomination of a Cabinet whose policy should lie over for future consideration. "I must confess," observes Lord Rockingham, in one of his letters to the Lord Chancellor, "that I do not think it an advisable measure, first to attempt to form a Ministry by arrangement of office—afterwards to decide upon what principles or measures they are to act."
The day this letter was written Lord North resigned; and in two days afterwards His Majesty renewed the negotiation with Lord Rockingham, finally agreeing to the whole of his propositions, and reserving only the household in his own hands. While these negotiations were in progress, Lord Temple wrote to Lord Rockingham, expressing his earnest hope that the "cards should be dealt only into those hands where he so much wished them, from every motive of public and private regard." Before the end of the month the cards were dealt into the hands in which Lord Temple wished to see them, and the new Ministry was completed, with Lord Rockingham as First Lord of the Treasury; Lord Shelburne and Mr. Fox as Secretaries of State; Lord John Cavendish, Chancellor of the Exchequer; Admiral Keppel, at the head of the Admiralty; General Conway (much to the King's dissatisfaction), at the Horse Guards; with the additional strength of the Dukes of Richmond and Grafton, and Lords Camden and Ashburton, Burke, Sheridan, and Colonel Barre, in other offices; Thurlow (the only Tory in the Cabinet) still continuing as Lord Chancellor.
One of the earliest measures of the new Government was to negotiate a peace with America; and Mr. Thomas Grenville was appointed upon a mission for that purpose to Paris, to meet Dr. Franklin. The history of that mission is contained in a series of deeply interesting letters, which, independently of the flood of light they throw upon the American business, possess a permanent value as illustrations of the personal characters of the writers (especially those of Sheridan, to whose rashness Mr. Grenville makes express allusion), and as showing that, even in office, the Whigs were not united amongst themselves. The materials of which the Cabinet was formed, being composed of the Rockingham, and the Chatham, or Shelburne Whigs—two sections of that party which had never cordially coalesced—was not calculated to work together; but it could not have been anticipated that their personal jealousies would have taken a shape so dangerous as these letters disclose.
It is clear, from the singular facts revealed in this Correspondence, that, while an ostensible Minister was dispatched to Paris by the general action of the Government, with the sanction of the King, to negotiate terms with the American Minister, Lord Shelburne had taken upon himself to appoint another negotiator, who was not only not to act in concert with Mr. Grenville, but whose clandestine mission seems to have been expressly intended to thwart and embarrass him, and whose appointment was without the approval, or even the knowledge, of the Cabinet. How far the King may have secretly supported Lord Shelburne in this breach of faith with his colleagues, we are left to conjecture; but the intriguing character ascribed to His Majesty by Lord Shelburne himself, justifies, to some extent, the suspicion that a proceeding so bold and so full of hazard to the Whig Administration, was not adopted upon the sole responsibility of the Minister. Lord Shelburne said of the King, that he "possessed one art beyond any man he had ever known; for that by the familiarity of his intercourse he obtained your confidence, procured from you your opinion of different public characters, and then availed himself of this knowledge to sow dissensions." (Nicholl's Recollections and Reflections during the reign of George III.) This opinion, just or unjust (and there is no great reason to doubt its justice), was founded upon extensive personal experiences, of which this sinister attempt to break up the union of the Cabinet may have been one.
MR. SHERIDAN TO MR. THOMAS GRENVILLE.
St. James's, May 21st, 1782.
You are certainly one of the best negotiators that ever negotiated; and so says the King, your royal master, who is going to send you the fine silver box which you receive with this, and which, with great envy, I learn is your property; and which, if the serious modesty of your former despatch could have been seriously construed, you would not have been entitled to. Though I have not written before, have not my punctuality and remembrance appeared conspicuous in the newspapers you receive? These tell you all the private news, and all that is important of public you will have heard before you receive this; so this must be a very short letter, and indeed the messenger is almost going; and Charles has been writing to you, which is another reason for my saying very little. Mr. Oswald talks very sanguinely about Franklin, and says he is more open to you than he has been to any one; but he is a Scotsman, and belonging to Lord Shelburne. If the business of an American treaty seemed likely to prosper in your hands, I should not think it improbable that Lord Shelburne would try to thwart it. Oswald had not yet seen Lord Shelburne; and by his cajoling manner to our secretary and eagerness to come to him, I do not feel much prejudiced in his favour; but probably I judge wrongly whenever the other secretary is concerned, for I grow suspicious of him in every respect, the more I see of every transaction of his.
I am just told that the messenger is ready, so more in my next. There is no particular news. The Dutch are got back to the Texel. Lord Howe still off there, but nothing likely to come of it. Sir G. Rodney, notwithstanding his victory, is to be recalled, and Pigott is sailed. This I think very magnanimous in the Ministers or very impolitic; events must justify, but it is putting themselves too much in their power.
We had a good illumination for this news. You see how we go on in Parliament by the papers; we were bullied outrageously about our poor Parliamentary Reform; but it will do at last, in spite of you all.
Yours ever sincerely,
MR. FOX TO MR. THOMAS GRENVILLE
If your letter of the 10th a little damped me in my hopes of good effects from your journey, that of the 19th, which I have just received, together with Mr. Oswald's conversation, has very much revived me. I send away the messenger, for fear of the delays which Cabinets are so apt to cause; but I hope you will hear from us again very soon, with authority to offer the Independence as unconditionally as you can wish. Mr. Oswald says that Dr. Franklin is much inclined to confide in you; if so, ask him at once in what manner we can act so as to gain a substantial, if not a nominal, peace with America; and you may depend upon all my influence in support of his advice.
I hope you will not be disappointed at our adhering to our first ideas for the proposition we are to make, rather than offering concessions. If we are to offer, we think it is not for us to throw concessions at their head; but if they do not like our proposals, it is for them to ask such as may be reasonable. If what they propose is really so, there is no doubt of our complying; and if it is not, or they should refuse to make any offer at all, it will surely be clear who was most in earnest in his wishes for peace; and we must make the best advantage we can of our situation, about which I begin to be more sanguine than I used to do.
From your letter, there are surely great hopes of detaching America; and from those we have just received from Petersburg, there appears the most favourable disposition in that quarter to enforce a peace with Holland; or if that cannot be, to take a decisive part. And I know how much this disposition will be increased, if we can fully convince His Imperial Majesty that the failure of your negotiation is not our fault.
With regard to all your diffidence of yourself, we laugh at it. If, in order to save yourself bodily labour, you want a secretary, write, and you shall have one; but for any other purpose, you want no assistance, but are allowed by everybody, and the King in particular, to be the best writer of despatches that is known in this office.
Adieu. I envy you the pleasure of announcing the news from the West Indies, with all the modest insolence which belongs to the occasion.
Yours most affectionately,
Pray make my best respects to Dr. Franklin, whose letter to me contained some very promising expressions. Assure him that, in spite of all that has happened, he and I are still of the same country.
St. James's, Tuesday night,
May 21st, 1782.
MR. SHERIDAN TO MR. THOMAS GRENVILLE.
St. James's, May 26th, 1782.
My dear Grenville,
Charles not being well, I write to you at his desire, that you may not be surprized at having no private letter from him with the despatch which Mr. Oswald brings you. There is not room, I believe, for much communication of any very private nature on the subject of your instructions and situation, as his public letter, you will see, is very sincerely to the purpose. If anything in it admits of modification, or is not to be very literally taken, I should conceive it to be the recommendation of explicitness with Oswald; on which subject I own I have suggested doubts; and Charles wishes you to have a caution for your own discretion to make use of.
I perceive uniformly (from our intercepted information) that all these city negotiators—Mr. Wentworths, Bourdeaux, &c.—insinuate themselves into these sort of affairs merely for private advantages, and make their trust principally subservient to stock-jobbing views, on which subject there appears to be a surprising communication with Paris. Mr. Oswald's officiousness in bringing over your despatch and other things I have been told since by those who know him, lead me to form this kind of opinion of him; but you will judge where this will apply to any confidence that should be placed in him.
Surely, whatever the preliminaries of a treaty for peace with France may be, it would be our interest, if we could, to drop even mentioning the Americans in them; at least the seeming to grant anything to them as at the requisition of France. France now denies our ceding Independence to America to be anything given to them, and declines to allow anything for it. In my opinion it would be wiser in them to insist ostentatiously (and even to make a point of allowing something for it) on the Independence of America being as the first article of their treating; and this would for ever furnish them with a claim on the friendship and confidence of the Americans after the peace. But since they do not do this, surely it would not be bad policy, even if we gave up more to France in other respects, to prevent her appearing in the treaty as in any respect the champion of America, or as having made any claims for her; we giving her up everything she wants equally, and her future confidence and alliance being such an object to us. Were I the Minister, I would give France an island or two to choose, if it would expose her selfishness, sooner than let her gain the esteem of the Americans by claiming anything essential for them in apparent preference to her own interest and ambition. All people, of all descriptions, in America, will read the treaty of peace, whenever it comes, which France shall make with this country; and if they should see there that she has claimed and got a good deal for herself, but has not appeared to have thought of them, however they may have profited in fact, it would certainly give us a great advantage in those sort of arguments and competitions which will arise after a peace; whereas if it appears as a stipulated demand on the part of France that America should be independent, it will for ever be a most handy record and argument for the French party in that country to work with; and this, as things stand now, and as far as my poor judgment goes, appears not to be a very difficult thing to have either way. And so these are my politics on that subject for you.
You will find Rodney has taken some more ships. The unluckiness of his recal, I think, appears to increase in its ill effect; and people don't seem to fancy Pigott. Rolle has given notice that he will move on Thursday to know who advised His Majesty to recal Rodney; and out of doors the talk is the same. Charles gave Johnson, who had been very violent on this subject the other day, an excellent trimming; but there was a good deal of coy with the other.
The arming plan don't seem to take at all. We have not yet heard from Ireland since Burgoyne took them over a constitution.
There is nothing odd or new to tell you, but that here is a most untimely strange sort of an influenza which every creature catches. You must not mind the badness of my scrawl: and let me hear from you. Does Lafayette join your consultation dinners with Franklin, as some of our Roupell intelligence sets forth? I take it for granted the French Ministers will think it a point of spirit to seem rather less desirous of peace since your defeat in the West?
Howe is still off the Texel, and the Dutch safe within.
What mere politics I write to you! One might as well be a newspaper editor at once, I believe, as anything that politics can make one: but all other pursuits are as idle and unsatisfactory, and that's a comfort.
R. B. Sheridan.
[Footnote 1: The Duke of Rutland had been appointed by the new Ministry Lord-Lieutenant in Ireland and General Burgoyne Commander-in-Chief there.]
MR. FOX TO MR. THOMAS GRENVILLE.
I have only time to write a line to tell you that I have received your letter by Gregson, and also that by the post containing the letters that passed between M. de Vergennes and you. I do not choose to tell you anything more of my opinion by this conveyance, than that all you have done is perfectly and exactly right, and that His Majesty is of the same opinion.
Rolle moved yesterday, and Rosewarne seconded, a sort of censure on the recal of Rodney, and Lord North made such a figure as made even his enemies pity him; he showed such a desire to support the motion, without daring to do it, as was perfectly ridiculous. Adieu!
Yours, ever affectionately,
C. J. F.
We are all surprised at your not knowing the great news on the 24th, which was the date of your letter by Gregson.
Every account from Ireland is pleasant to the greatest degree.
St. James's, May 31st, 1782
MR. THOMAS GRENVILLE TO MR. FOX.
Paris, June 4th, 1782.
The public letter which I send to you by Lauzun, is, as you will see, of no other use than that of accounting for his journey, and enabling him to carry to you this private one, of which I had once almost determined to be myself the bearer; an apprehension, however, that so sudden an arrival might be embarrassing to you, has decided me not to take that step, till I had explained to you my reasons for wishing to do so, though I should not care to write them, except in the full confidence that they will be seen by no person whatever but yourself. Recollect always that this letter is written in that confidence, and I am sure I never can repent of having sent it.
You will easily see, from the tenor of the correspondence we have hitherto had, that what little use I could be of to you here, appeared to me to be in the communication that I had with Franklin; I considered the rest of the negotiation as dependent upon that, and the only possible immediate advantages which were to be expected, seemed to me to rest in the jealousy which the French Court would entertain of not being thoroughly supported in everything by America. The degree of confidence which Franklin seemed inclined to place in me, and which he expressed to me more than once in the strongest terms, very much favoured this idea, and encouraged me in wishing to learn from him what might be in future ground for a partial connection between England and America; I say in future, because I have hitherto never much believed in any treaty of the year 1782; and my expectation, even from the strongest of Franklin's expressions, was not of an immediate turn in our favour, or any positive advantage from the Commissioners in Europe, till the people in America should cry out to them, from seeing that England was meeting their wishes. It was in this light, too, that I saw room to hope for some good effects from a voluntary offer of unconditional independence to America, a chance which looked the more tempting as I own I considered the sacrifice as but a small one, and such as, had I been an American, I had thought myself little obliged to Great Britain in this moment for granting, except from an idea that if it was an article of treaty, it would have been as much given by France as by England. I repeat this only to remind you that, from these considerations, the whole of my attention has been given to Franklin, and that I should have considered myself as losing my time here, if it had not been directed to that subject.
I believe I told you in my last, that I had very sanguine expectations of Franklin's being inclined to speak out when I should see him next; indeed, he expressly told me, that he would think over all the points likely to establish a solid reconciliation between England and America, and that he would write his mind upon them, in order that we might examine them together more in order; confiding, as he said, in me, that I would not state them as propositions from him, but as being my own ideas of what would be useful to both countries. (I interrupt myself here to remind you of the obligation I must put you under not to mention this). For this very interesting communication, which I had long laboured to get, he fixed the fourth day, which was last Saturday; but on Friday morning, Mr. Oswald came, and having given me your letters, he went immediately to Franklin, to carry some to him. I kept my appointment at Passy the next morning, and in order to give Franklin the greatest confidence, and at the same time, too, not knowing how much Mr. Oswald might have told him, I began with saying, that though under the difficulty which M. de Ve. and he himself had made to my full power, it was not the moment as a politician, perhaps, to make farther explanations till that difficulty should be relieved; yet, to show him the confidence I put in him, I would begin by telling him that I was authorized to offer the independence in the first instance, instead of making it an article of general treaty. He expressed great satisfaction at this, especially, he said, because, by having done otherwise, we should have seemed to have considered America as in the same degree of connection with France which she had been under with us; whereas, America wished to be considered as a power, free and clear to all the world. But when I came to lead the discourse to the subject which he had promised four days before, I was a good deal mortified to find him put it off altogether till he should be more ready; and notwithstanding my reminding him of his promise, he only answered that it should be in some days. What passed between Mr. Oswald and me will explain to you the reason of this disappointment.
Mr. Oswald told me that Lord Shelburne had proposed to him, when last in England, to take a commission to treat with the American Ministers; that upon his mentioning it to Franklin now, it seemed perfectly agreeable to him, and even to be what he had very much wished; Mr. Oswald adding that he wished only to assist the business, and had no other view; he mixed with this a few regrets that there should be any difference between the two offices; and when I asked upon what subject, he said, owing to the Buckingham party being too ready to give up everything.
You will observe though, for it is on that account that I give you this narrative, that this intended appointment has effectually stopped Franklin's mouth to me; and that when he is told that Mr. Oswald is to be the Commissioner to treat with him, it is but natural that he should reserve his confidence for the quarter so pointed out to him; nor does this secret seem only known to Franklin; as Lafayette said, laughing, yesterday, that he had just left Lord Shelburne's ambassador at Passy. Indeed, this is not the first moment of a separate and private negotiation; for Mr. Oswald, suspecting, by something that I dropped, that Franklin had talked to me about Canada, (though, by the bye, he never had), told me this circumstance as follows. When he was in England, the last time but one, he carried with him a paper, entrusted to him by Franklin, under condition that it should be shown only to Lord Shelburne, and returned into his own hands at Passy; this paper, under the title of "Notes of a Conversation," contained an idea of Canada being spontaneously ceded by England to the Thirteen Provinces, in order that Congress might sell the unappropriated lands, and make a fund thereby, in order to compensate the damages done by the English army, and even those sustained too by the royalists. This paper, given with many precautions, for fear of its being known to the French Court, to whom it was supposed not to be agreeable, Mr. Oswald showed to Lord Shelburne, who, after keeping it a day, as Mr. Oswald supposes to show to the King, returned it to him, and it was by him brought back to Franklin.
I say nothing to the proposition itself, to the impolicy of bringing a strange neighbourhood to the Newfoundland Fishery, or to the little reason that England would naturally see in having lost thirteen provinces to give away a fourteenth; but I mention it to show you an early trace of separate negotiation, which perhaps you did not before know. Under these circumstances, I felt very much tempted to go over and explain them to you viva voce rather than by letter, and I must say, with the farther intention of suggesting to you the only idea that seems likely to answer your purpose, and it is this: the Spanish Ambassador will in a day or two have the powers from his Court; the Americans are here, so are the French; why should you not consider this then as a Congress in full form, and send here a person of rank, such as Lord Fitzwilliam, if he would come, so as to have the whole negotiation in the hands of one person; you would by that means recover within your compass the essential part which is now out of it; nor do I see how Lord Shelburne could object to such an appointment, which would in every respect very much facilitate the business. Let me press this a little strongly to you, for another reason: you may depend upon it, people here have already got an idea of a difference between the two offices, and consider how much that idea will be assisted by the embarrassments arising from two people negotiating to the same purpose, but under different and differing authorities, concealing and disguising from each other what with the best intentions they could hardly make known, and common enough to each. I am almost afraid of pressing this as strongly as I should, for fear you should think me writing peevishly; but if I did not state the thing to you in the situation in which I see it, I should think I was betraying your interests instead of giving attention to them. I must entreat you very earnestly to consider this, to see the impossibility of my assisting you under this contrariety, to see how much the business itself will suffer if carried on with the jealousy of these clashing interests, and to see whether it may not all be prevented by some such single appointment in high rank as that I mentioned; au reste, I cannot but say that I feel much easier with the hope of making over what remains of this business. I begin to feel it weighty, and you know how much I dislike the publicity you packed off to me in that confounded silver box; I could not bring myself to say anything civil about it in my last letter, and you ought to give me credit for great self-denial in not taking this opportunity of telling you my own story at the Secretary's office, as nothing but the embarrassment it might give you upon the sudden, prevented me. Once more, I tell you I cannot fight a daily battle with Mr. Oswald and his secretary; it would be neither for the advantage of the business, for your interest, or your credit or mine; and even if it was, I could not do it.
Concluding then the American business as out of the question, which personally I cannot be sorry for, you surely have but one of two things to do: either to adopt the proposition of a new dignified peer's appointment, which being single, may bring back the business to you by comprehending it all in one; or Lord Shelburne must have his minister here, and Mr. Fox his; by doing which, Mr. Fox will be pretty near as much out of the secret, at least of what is most essential, as if he had nobody here; and the only real gainers by it will be the other Ministers, who cannot fail to profit of such a jumble. Besides which, upon this latter part of the subject, I must very seriously entreat you not to ask me to keep a situation here, in no circumstances pleasant, and in none less so than those I have described. The grievance is a very essential one, the remedy is Lord Fitzwilliam.
Adieu. I recommend to Lauzun to make all the haste he can, as I shall not stir a step till you answer this letter, and my step then will, I hope, be towards you. Sheridan's letter of suspicion was written, as you see, in the spirit of prophecy. I owe him an answer, which, by word of mouth or word of letter, he shall have very soon. The news of the day is, that the Cadiz fleet, twenty-six of the line and five French, are sailed for Brest, but I rather imagine they have no authentic account of it yet.
I enclose to you P. Guemene's offer of some good champagne; if you choose to have any, tell me what number of bottles, and let Brooks or somebody let me know how they are to be sent to England. I don't understand champagne, but this has a good character.
Adieu. Let Lord Fitzwilliam answer my letter.
MR. FOX TO MR. THOMAS GRENVILLE.
St James's, June 10th, 1782.
I received late the night before last your very interesting letter of the 4th, and you will easily conceive am not a little embarrassed by its contents. In the first place, it was not possible to comply with your injunction of perfect secrecy in a case where steps of such importance are necessary to be taken; and therefore I have taken upon me (for which I must trust to your friendship to excuse me) to show your letter to Lord Rockingham, the Duke of Richmond and Lord John, who are all as full of indignation at its contents as one might reasonably expect honest men to be. We are perfectly resolved to come to an explanation upon the business, if it is possible so to do, without betraying any confidence reposed in me by you, or in you by others.
The two principal points which occur are the paper relative to Canada, of which I had never heard till I received your letter, and the intended investment of Mr. Oswald with full powers, which was certainly meant for the purpose of diverting Franklin's confidence from you into another channel. With these two points we wish to charge Shelburne directly; but pressing as the King is, and interesting as it is both to our own situations and to the affairs of the public—which are, I fear, irretrievably injured by this intrigue, and which must be ruined if it is suffered to go on—we are resolved not to stir a step till we hear again from you, and know precisely how far we are at liberty to make use of what you have discovered. If this matter should produce a rupture, and consequently become more or less the subject of public discussion, I am sensible the Canada paper cannot be mentioned by name; but might it not be said that we had discovered that Shelburne had withheld from our knowledge matters of importance to the negotiation? And with respect to the other point, might it not be said, without betraying anybody, that while the King had one avowed and authorized Minister at Paris, measures were taken for lessening his credit and for obstructing his inquiries by announcing a new intended commission, of which the Cabinet here had never been apprized.
Do, pray, my dear Grenville, consider the incredible importance of this business in every view, and write me word precisely how far you can authorize us to make use of your intelligence. It is more than possible that, before this reaches you, many other circumstances may have occurred which may afford further proofs of this duplicity of conduct; and if they have, I am sure they will not have escaped your observation. If this should be the case, you will see the necessity of acquainting me with them as soon as possible. You see what is our object, and you can easily judge what sort of evidence will be most useful to us. When the object is attained—that is, when the duplicity is proved—to what consequences we ought to drive; whether to an absolute rupture, or merely to the recal of Oswald and the simplification of this negotiation, is a point that may be afterwards considered. I own I incline to the more decisive measure, and so I think do those with whom I must act in concert.
I am very happy indeed that you did not come yourself: the mischief that would have happened from it to our affairs are incredible; and I must beg of you, nay, entreat and conjure you, not to think of taking any precipitate step of this nature. As to the idea of replacing you with Lord Fitzwilliam, not only it would be very objectionable on account of the mistaken notion it would convey of things being much riper than they are, but it would, as I conceive, be no remedy to the evil. Whether the King's Minister at Paris be an Ambassador Extraordinary or a Minister Plenipotentiary, can make no difference as to the question. The clandestine manner of carrying on a separate negotiation, which we complain of, would be equally practicable and equally blameable if Lord Fitzwilliam was Ambassador, as it is now that Mr. Grenville is Plenipotentiary. I must therefore again entreat you, as a matter of personal kindness to me, to remain a little longer at Paris; if you were to leave it, all sorts of suspicions would be raised. It is of infinite consequence that we should have it to say that we have done all in our power to make peace, not only with regard to what may be expected from America, but from Europe.
The King of Prussia is certainly inclined to be our friend; but he urges and presses to make peace if possible. If we could once bring the treaty to such a point as that, stating the demands on each side to him, we could have his approbation for breaking it off, I think it not impossible but the best consequences might follow; and with regard to North America, it is surely clear to demonstration, that it is of infinite consequence that it should be publicly understood who is to blame if the war continues. I do hope, therefore, that you will at all events stay long enough to make your propositions, and to call upon them to make others in return. I know your situation cannot be pleasant; but as you first undertook it in a great measure from friendship to me, so let me hope that the same motive will induce you to continue in it at least for some time.
What will be the end of this, God knows; but I am sure you will agree with me, that we cannot suffer a system to go on which is not only dishonourable to us, but evidently ruinous to the affairs of the country. In this instance, the mischief done by intercepting, as it were, the very useful information we expected through you from Franklin, is I fear in a great degree irremediable; but it is our business, and indeed our duty, to prevent such things for the future.
Everything in Ireland goes on very well; and I really think there is good reason to entertain hopes from Prussia and Russia, if your negotiation either goes on or goes off as it ought to do.
I can hardly read Monsieur de Guemene's letter, but wish to have two hundred bottles of the champagne, if there is really reason to think it good. By the way, I beg you will remember me to Monsieur de Guemene, and put him in mind of our former acquaintance in the Rue St. Pierre. If the wine in question is as good as that he used to rob from Monsieur de Soubise, I shall be very well satisfied. I will give Brooks directions to acquaint you with the proper manner of sending it. I am quite ashamed of dwelling so long upon this, after the very serious business of this letter; but you know I cannot help being a friend to the poor abuses; and besides, in a political light, good wine is no mean ingredient in keeping one's friends in good humour and steady to the cause.
My dear Grenville,
Yours most affectionately,
C. J. Fox.
MR. THOMAS GRENVILLE TO MR. FOX.
Paris, June 16th, 1782.
I received your letter of the 10th by Ogg on the night of the 14th, and would have sent him back as immediately as you seemed to wish; but having no other messenger to carry M. de Vergennes's answer, I was obliged to keep him till he could be the bearer of that likewise.
I can easily conceive the embarrassment occasioned to you by my letter, and have so much confidence in the honour of the persons to whom you communicated it, that I am not under the smallest uneasiness on that account; the explanation, however, that you wish to come to, certainly has its difficulties; and amongst them some so sacred, that unless they can be kept altogether clear, you cannot but agree with me in thinking that they must be buried at least in silence, though not in oblivion. In order therefore that you may see into every part of this business, I will, as you desire, state in the most explicit manner the circumstances of it, as far as I think they affect any confidence reposed in me.
In the first place, then, you will have observed, that although Franklin has actually made me no confidence, owing, as I believe, without doubt, to the reasons I stated, yet as the communication he had said he would make to me was of the most confidential nature, and in full trust that the subjects which he should mention should not be given as propositions coming from him, I think it would be a breach of that confidence to make it known even that he had promised to hold such a conversation with me; and therefore to charge Lord Shelburne with having diverted from me that expected communication, would be to proclaim Franklin's promise to me; which promise, though it has not been followed up, I cannot think myself at liberty to quote. The delicacy of Franklin's situation with respect to the French Court was, as he said, the ground of the caution which he observed, and which, nevertheless, he was once inclined to risk in my trust. He would certainly have both to repent and to complain if anything on my part should lead to betray even the confidential disposition he had entertained. These reasons you will, I am sure, agree with me in considering as decisive against any mention being to be made of the expectations I had formed from the conversation I was to have had with Franklin.
The Canada paper is not perhaps quite under the same circumstances. The only knowledge I have of that is from Oswald; and as I before told you, I had it from him at a moment when I fancy he apprehended I had heard or should hear of it from Franklin. No other reason, indeed, can account for his not mentioning it from the end of April till the 31st of May. He told it me under no express limitation of confidence: the words in which he introduced it were, "I think it right you should know;" and I am perfectly sure that he asked from me no engagement of secrecy, nor do I conceive myself under any with regard to him, except that general secrecy which is always attached to business of a confidential nature, such as was the business I related to you. I recollect asking whether he had showed the paper to you: he said No; but did not add any injunction to me not to do so; indeed, if he had, I should have stated to him the impossibility of my keeping from you a circumstance of that importance, or of my becoming, by my silence in it, a separate party to a business which it was my duty fully and entirely to lay before you and to receive from you; nor indeed at this moment is the knowledge of it confined to Lord Shelburne; as I am pretty sure Oswald told me that Lord Ashburton was with Lord Shelburne when he, Oswald, asked if he might give any answer to Franklin about the paper, or rather observed that he supposed he could not then have any answer to it. Under these circumstances, the difficulty with regard to the Canada paper, of which I have no copy, lies more possibly in the indelicacy and perhaps bad policy of bringing forward Franklin where he wished so much not to appear, than in the quoting it from me. I do not wish to be quoted, if there exists the least doubt whether I should. But I cannot more exactly explain to you the whole extent of that doubt, than by showing you that it does not exist in any specific obligation on my part, but only in the nature of what was told to me; the subject itself carrying with it, as you will see, many reasons for secrecy, and every mark of it in the manner of conducting it; but as to positive engagement or obligation upon this subject, I have none.
The remaining circumstance—of the intention mentioned to Mr. Oswald by Lord Shelburne, of giving him a commission if it should be necessary—stands altogether clear of the slightest shade of difficulty upon the point of confidence; indeed, at the time I wrote you word of it, I did not imagine I was informing you of anything new or unknown to you; and only so far meant to dwell upon it, as to regret its happening precisely at the instant when it was most important it should not. I apprehended that Lord Shelburne might have already expressed such an intention to the rest of the King's Ministers, upon the ground of the American share of this business, which ground, in the present stage of it, I thought possibly you had not found it easy to object to. In this idea it was that Lord Fitzwilliam's appointment occurred to me, not to prevent a clandestine negotiation, but to unite a separated one; always imagining that you knew of, but did not resist, the intended commission to Mr. Oswald, and therefore hinting the expediency of superseding it, by giving to another person an appointment of such rank and magnitude as should include a power which it seems neither for the public interest, nor for yours and your friends' interests, to leave separate and distinct.
To return, however, to the point of confidence: upon this last subject there is none; and you are certainly at full liberty to proclaim at Charing Cross that Lord Shelburne told Mr. Oswald he supposed he would not object to a commission if it should be necessary; and that since his last return to Paris, Mr. Oswald has told me he found it very much Franklin's wish likewise. If I may repeat, therefore, in a few words, what I have tried to express to you in a good many, it is that, as to Franklin's first intention of a private and confidential communication with me, I hold myself so engaged in secrecy to him, that I think it would be a breach of confidence in me to have that intention at all spoken of. As to the Canada paper, I leave it, with the comment I have made upon it, altogether to your discretion; and as to the proposed commission, you are certainly at full liberty to say of it what you please. I have it not in my power to give you any additional proofs of sinister management in this business. I seldom see Oswald, though upon good terms with him; and have seen Franklin, since Oswald's coming, but once, when he was as silent as ever, notwithstanding my reminding him of his promise; so that I cannot help thinking that business altogether irretrievable. But neither do I know what you will gain by forcing Oswald's return; indeed I am inclined to think it might be much more prudent to save appearances by leaving him here, till you shall have completed your purpose of receiving the propositions you wish or the refusal you wish from Versailles. Perhaps, politically speaking, you may not think it wise to make the conduct, or rather misconduct, of a foreign negotiation the ground of a domestic rupture, which may betray too much weakness and disunion; but this is too delicate a subject for me to say anything upon, more than to assure you that, whatever is your determination about it, you will not find me shrink from the part I have or may have to take in it.
And one word here about the desire I have expressed to return to England: it is impossible not to say that I feel that desire in the strongest degree. I would not speak peevishly about my disappointment in the unlucky check that I have met with; but I think you will agree that the real service it might have been my good fortune perhaps to have been assisting in, is by that check completely annihilated, nor can any step now taken recover or retrieve it; and that consideration weighs pretty heavily in a situation in itself not agreeable to me. But if I repeat this now, it is to keep you awake to the earnest solicitations I make of returning in the first moment you may think it practicable; till then you need have no apprehension of seeing me, but may trust that no personal motives, however strong, can weigh against the important reasons you state, as well as the desire you express, for my continuing something longer at Paris.
I am writing to you on the 16th, waiting impatiently for M. de Vergennes's answer, which he gave me reason to hope I shall have to-morrow.
MR. THOMAS GRENVILLE TO MR. FOX.
I have been waiting day after day, and have not got my answer till a few hours ago. I am sorry to have kept you so long, but you see it was impossible to avoid it. A report prevails that Bougainville is arrived at St. Domingo with two ships, as likewise are the four that were at Curacao. They add that Rodney had been obliged to burn three of his captured ships. La Motthe Peguet has twice had orders to sail from Brest with his seven ships, and as often been recalled. They expect Guichen soon with the fleet from Cadiz of thirty-two ships: they are said to have sailed on the 4th.
Pray tell Sheridan to be more cautious in what he writes by the post. If I had time I should give him a lecture; but I want to send away the messenger.
Adieu. Oswald affects to consider me now as fully authorized, but I believe expects different news as soon as the Independence Bill is passed; but I cannot help thinking you had better leave him where he is, for his going away will mend nothing. I have bought your wine.
Ever very affectionately yours, T.G.
* * * * *
Within a few days after this letter reached England, the Rockingham Administration had ceased to exist. The Marquis of Rockingham, whose health had been declining for some time, died on the 1st of July, and was succeeded in his title by his nephew, the Earl Fitzwilliam, who is alluded to in these letters by Mr. Thomas Grenville. The first intimation of this event conveyed to the Plenipotentiary at Paris was in a letter from his brother, Lord Temple. The circumstances that immediately followed are detailed in the letters of Lord Temple and Mr. Sheridan, written on the same day, and in a letter from Mr. Fox on the day following. The apprehension expressed by Lord Temple that Fox's resignation would be ascribed by the public to a mean contest for offices was not unfounded; although such a motive cannot be believed to have influenced the mind of that statesman, the conviction of what he felt to be his duty on this occasion being shared by Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Burke, Lord John Cavendish, Lord Althorpe and others, who instantly followed his example. The King's undisguised predilection for Lord Shelburne arose from the nearer agreement of their opinions on the American question, than existed between His Majesty and the Rockingham section of the Cabinet, who were for an unconditional recognition of the independence of America—a proceeding regarded by His Majesty with aversion. The rapidity with which the changes were adopted furnished a sufficient reason for Fox's determination not to act under Lord Shelburne, that nobleman having accepted the appointment to the Treasury immediately on the death of Lord Rockingham, without consultation with his colleagues, and Lord Grantham being appointed in the same unceremonious way to the secretaryship vacated by his Lordship. A remarkable contradiction will be observed in the language held on this occasion by Lord Shelburne, who is reported by Lord Temple to have stated that he looked naturally to the Treasury, and knew no reason why he should forego it, while to Sheridan he declared that he entered upon the office against his wish.
LORD TEMPLE TO MR. THOMAS GRENVILLE.
London, July 4th, Twelve P.M. 1782.
My dear Brother,
My letters by the post have been so unfortunate, and the subject of the present hour is so important, that I have waited all this day for the certainty of a courier, and I am now promised that one shall be dispatched immediately. I was in the country when I received from Mr. Fox an express with the news of Lord Rockingham's death, and an earnest entreaty to come to town; which I did, and found him anxious for the future arrangements. I told him, in the course of our conversation, that I held myself engaged to support the measures of the body of the Whigs, and deprecated any precipitate resolution, unless there was reason to imagine that measures would be changed. He told me that a meeting had been held of the four friends of Lord Rockingham; viz., the Duke of Richmond, Lord J. Cavendish, Keppell and himself; that they had agreed to submit the Duke of Portland's name to the King, for the Treasury, but with little hopes of success; that he had writ to other great peers, &c., to come to town, and wished for their opinions; that he took it for granted that Lord Shelburne would insist upon the Treasury, and that the King would support him in that claim; that his idea was to quit immediately, but that others differed upon this, but that he was to see Lord Shelburne, and should then know more. This interview took place, and the first account I had of it was from Lord Shelburne, who came to me in the House of Lords and desired to tell it to me. He stated general willingness to accommodate, and a fixed determination at all events to adhere to every measure of reform which had been proposed, and to facilitate Cabinet arrangements as far as could be hoped from him; that it was natural that the Treasury should be an object to him, that he knew no reason why he was always to forego, and stated the indisposition of the King's mind to any other person at the head of that board. This was attended with every expression of civility to me, and an earnest wish that I would not decline employment, but would engage in the King's service. To this I made the answer which you can so easily conceive, and told him very fairly my intention to act with the great body of the Whigs; I proceeded to state the inconceivable difficulties attending our situation, the necessity of union, and the certain consequences of a breach between himself and the other great features of the Ministry.