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the cardinal virtue of the Whigs. As respects the practical questions then pending,' writes Macaulay, in his Essay on the Earl of Chatham, “the Tory was a reformer, and indeed an intemperate and indiscreet reformer, while the Whig was conservative even to bigotry. The Whig was sneered at for maintaining a standing army to be the bulwark of liberty, septennial parliaments a protection against corruption, the electoral dominions an important accession to the wealth and strength of the country, and the public debt a blessing to the nation. The army, the national debt, and the septennial parliament were indeed important protections to the settlement of the crown made on the Revolution, and they gradually grew so firmly into the framework of the state that these sneers in time lost their place among the commonplaces of Toryism. As the Tories became reconciled to the Hanoverian succession, they took up a more practicable line. The influence enjoyed by Whig ministers was
The first and second Georges were mere puppets in their hands. Within the limits of their court, these sovereigns were encouraged to do as they pleased, but they were never suffered to take part in the actual conduct of the state. Bolingbroke, in his celebrated 'Patriot King,' had cleverly shown how this state of things might be reversed, and during the last twenty years of the reign of George II, the blow was being prepared which paralysed the Whig party for a whole generation, and from which they only recovered when they had identified themselves seriously and thoroughly with the interest of the mass of the nation. Frederick, Prince of Wales, had resolved to destroy the Whigs, and his plans were inherited by his son George III, with the commencement of whose reign Burke's political career begins. If the old phalanx of Whigs had held together, they might have despised their assailants. But when Burke entered political life, the great Whig party, which included most of the great territorial families, had split into sections. What may be called the legitimate section of the party, that which had for several years been under the leadership of a member of the house of Pelham, had degenerated into a remnant, or as it was called in coarse old political English, a Rump. There was a section of 'Bedfords," headed by the Duke of Bedford, and another of 'Grenvilles,' under Earl Temple. A fourth section, that which could have lent overwhelming weight to either of the others, and had from
1757 to 1763 constituted the strength of the legitimate section, but which, standing by itself, was the weakest, was composed of the followers of the popular war minister, Lord Chatham. Such divisions were naturally the one thing needful to give effect to a policy of aggression on the part of the court. It was the first, which we have called the legitimate section of the party, then headed by the Marquis of Rockingham, into which Burke happened to be thrown. The sympathies of readers of the present day will probably be divided, as the sympathies of the mass of the people at the time were probably divided, between this party and that which lay under the influence of Chatham. Chatham, with the legitimate Whigs at his back, had been a brilliant, a popular, and a successful minister. But Chatham was no Whig at heart. His powerful influence was of a personal nature, and he despised Whiggism. The best men, by this system, were excluded from the highest offices. The chief arts which recommended to these were private deceit and public corruption. The whipper-in of an old premier, being an influential peer or near relative of an influential peer, had a right to expect the premiership in his turn. His business was to study the temper of the House of Commons, and to lead it by the nose; to cajole or intimidate the monarch, and to drain the Treasury to enrich his friends, supporters and parasites. It was not likely that under such a system statesmanship could rise to a very high level. Chatham became gradually weary of the supremacy of men whose title to power lay outside their personal capabilities. His own following was small; but he refused to coalesce with either of the parties, and, with childish vanity, never rested until he had constructed an administration in which he himself took the place of a Whig potentate by becoming a mere fainéant minister, whose name was necessary to enable government to proceed. It was a signal failure, and was probably the most miserable administration that England has ever seen. The consequences were disastrous. Chatham's influence with his own cabinet speedily waned, and all that he had accomplished was to pave the way for a ministry in which the King's will was supreme. The Whigs went over to it in bodies, America was lost, and England was brought to the verge of Revolution.
The principal historical thread which runs through the present volume is that of this contest between the King and the Whigs.
The King fought his battle manfully, held each position, as it yielded to him, tenaciously, and gained his victory--though ingloriously. It would have been otherwise had America been compelled to submission. But America and Reform were the sacrifices made to secure his success. A dispassionate critic might possibly sympathise with him in this struggle. for what many would regard as his natural rights. "There is something,' says Thackeray,'grand about his courage. ...He bribed; he bullied; , he darkly dissembled on occasion ; he exercised a slippery perseverance, which one almost admires, as one thinks his character over. His courage was never to be beat. It trampled North under foot; it beat the stiff neck of the younger Pitt; even his illness never conquered that indomitable spirit. It is impossible not to feel a certain satisfaction on seeing the engineer hoist with his own petard,' and the poisoned chalice returned in its just circulation to the lips of those who mingled it. Corruption, in fact, was the only weapon with which to combat corruption. The King's plan was to take the packed cards out of the hands of the Whigs, and play off their tricks upon themselves. The chief point for the student to observe is, that all his measures were innovations, attacks on existing interests, and reforms more or less impolitic and mischievous. The setting up of Lord Bute was intended as a reform. The whole system of the double cabinet, exposed in the ‘Present Discontents,' was intended to effect what Bute had failed in. The sham Chatham cabinet, however, was at bottom the boldest innovation, and if Townshend had carried out, as he probably would had he lived, the idea of parcelling out America into Royal Governments, the foundation would have been laid of a reform which, supposing a little less public spirit than actually existed among the upper classes, might have ended in reducing England to the model of contemporary continental governments. The taxation of America was the thin end of the wedge, and it was a happy thing for England and the world that it was so heroically resisted. The experiment of a ministry headed by a favourite was a conspicuous failure: but the succeeding administrations were an apprenticeship in kingcraft, and with Lord North as an instrument, the King appears, if not a finished master, at least as something better than a bungler. Like most monarchs by hereditary title, he was totally unfitted to direct the policy
of his country. He was wanting in that knowledge of the mass of social and political facts which forms the first requisite of the statesman, and in the philosopher's familiarity with the general laws of human nature and of history. He was, however, a fair specimen of the active and popular monarch. Modelling himself, not on those who preceded him, but on the noblemen by whom he was surrounded, he devoted such talents as he had the duties which he conceived to claim them, and he was rewarded by a full measure of popularity. The impression he left on the hearts of the nation, an index not without its value, comes nearer than any other we could mention to that left by the great Queen Elizabeth. Much of the policy of his reign was false, but historians have laid too much of the blame upon the King's own shoulders. He was certainly not more ignorant or prejudiced than the bulk of his subjects. Where he erred, he erred with the nation. The reaction against the Whigs, which ended in their practical extinction, was a national reaction. The American War was favoured by pampered national pride, and its great failure was a national lesson.
The ‘Present Discontents' is chiefly interesting on account of the admirable method which it exhibits, the skilful alternation of the arguments, and the force and purity of the style. The topics of Whiggism in 1770 do not in themselves greatly stir the reader of history. Some of them were stale, others worn to rags. Years before the terrible spectre of a Double Cabinet arose to confound the Whigs and alarm the susceptibilities of a free nation, statesmen were pretty well agreed as to the meaning of Parliamentary independence. The whole nation, writes Pulteney to Swift, is so abandoned and corrupt, that the Crown can never fail of a majority in both Houses of Parliament. convinced,' he says, “that our constitution is already gone; and we are idly struggling to maintain what in truth has been long lost. The conclusion which he drew was to desist from an useless struggle against corruption. The precarious nature of the Whig domination, for which Burke contends as earnestly as for some elementary principle of morals, had long been known. Their fall, under changed circumstances, was imminent. Bolingbroke had found a plan for bringing it about, which he embodied in his famous tract 'The Idea of a Patriot King'-a work important equally as a historical document, and as a model of style.
Chesterfield said that until he read that tract he did not know what the English language was capable of. The seed of the
Patriot King' was intended for the mind of Frederick, Prince of Wales, the King's father, but it sprang up and bore its fruits in the son. It contains nothing specially of a Tory nature in its arguments, and is in fact a piece of the purest Whiggism? But it was an attack on existing interests in the guise of Reform; suggested an ideal Whiggism, purified from corruption and faction; and teemed with the common Whig claptrap of liberty and patriotism. The ‘Present Discontents,' which is intended as its refutation, has been considered the * text-book' of Whiggism, and Burke intended it to be the creed of his party. But the student must bear the 'Patriot King'in mind, and be cautious of accepting the former as expounding the ultimate form which Whiggism was capable of assuming. Modern liberalism has a creed which differs widely from either. Bolingbroke had no hopes except from a liberal monarch. Burke rested his system upon an oligarchy of liberal noblemen and landowners. We can now, thanks to the diffusion of wealth and education, appeal securely to a liberal people.
How shall we reconcile all this with the reputation which Burke justly enjoys of being himself a great reformer, and the father of the present generation of reformers? The fact is, that liberalism has always rested upon the positions which it has won, and that the same man may often be fairly regarded in two aspects. Burke's liberalism may seem moderate in quantity, but it had the merit of consistency. An early employment of his pen was to ridicule, by imitation, the Irish democrat Lucas. Another was to expose in a similar way the all-unsettling speculations of Bolingbroke. Indeed, the · Vindication of Natural Society' contains neither more nor less than the germs of the “Reflections on the French Revolution. Very early in his career he declared in the House of Commons that being warned by the ill effect of a contrary procedure in great examples, he had taken his ideas of liberty very low; in order that they should stick to him, and that he might stick to them, to the end of his life. Johnson bore a remarkable testimony
1 A friendly critic has called this (which is borrowed from Hallam) a “hard saying. What can be more of the essence of Whiggism than the fundamental doctrine of the pamphlet that the title of Kings merely descends, and is not in any way strengthened by its descent ? VOL. I.