“参政议政我先行”2015全国大学生模拟E提案征集

CHAPTER XI. REIGN OF GEORGE III. (continued).

[See larger version] It was during the year 1838 that the Chartists became an organised body. The working classes had strenuously supported the middle classes in obtaining their political rights during the agitation for the Reform Bill, and they expected to receive help in their turn to obtain political franchises for themselves, but they found Parliament indifferent or hostile to any further changes in the representation, while the middle class, satisfied with their own acquisitions, were not inclined to exert themselves much for the extension of political rights among the masses. The discontent and disappointment of the latter were aggravated by a succession of bad harvests, setting in about 1835. The hardships of their condition, with scanty employment and dear provisions, the people ascribed to their want of direct influence upon the[456] Government. This gave rise to a vigorous agitation for the extension of the franchise, which was carried on for ten years. In 1838 a committee of six members of Parliament and six working men prepared a Bill embodying their demands. This was called the "People's Charter." Its points were six in number:First, the extension of the right of voting to every male native of the United Kingdom, and every naturalised foreigner resident in the kingdom for more than two years, who should be twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and unconvicted of crime; second, equal electoral districts; third, vote by ballot; fourth, annual Parliaments; fifth, no property qualification for members; sixth, payment of members of Parliament for their services.

But this was not the only chastisement which the Americans had received. On the 27th Captain Gordon, of the Seahorse, accompanied by other vessels, attacked Alexandria, situated lower on the Potomac. They found no resistance from Fort Washington, built to protect the river at that point; and the authorities of Alexandria delivered up all public property, on condition that the private property should be spared. The British carried off the naval and ordnance stores, as well as twenty-one vessels, of different freights. On the 12th of September General Ross made an[111] assault on the city of Baltimore. This was a strongly fortified place, and the Americans can always fight well under cover; and, on that account, the attempt should have been made with due military approaches. But General Ross had so readily dispersed the army that defended Washington, and another which had been drawn up in front of Baltimore, that he made a rash endeavour to carry the place at once, but was killed in the attempt, as well as a considerable number of his men. He had inflicted a loss of six or eight hundred men, in killed and wounded, on the Americans; but this was little satisfaction for his own loss.

And, in truth, everything now seemed to run counter to Walpole, and to tend towards war. His colleague, the Duke of Newcastle, who had been one of the most obsequious of subordinates both under Stanhope and Walpole, now thought he should serve himself decidedly by advocating war. The king was naturally of a martial turn; he had won some military repute in his youth, and he was no longer under the exceedingly sensible guidance of the queen. Newcastle, therefore, probably in the hope of supplanting Walpole, fostered this spirit in the king, and took advantage of it to recommend warlike measures in the Cabinet, and to send despatches to the British ambassadors in Spain, which but for the energy and wisdom of Walpole might have done irreparable mischief, and which rendered the negotiations extremely difficult. Lord Chancellor Hardwicke and Lord Harrington arrayed themselves on the same side, and blew the war-note in the House of Lords with unrestrained zeal. There was a time when Walpole would have had[71] these antagonistic colleagues dismissed; but both he and they saw too well that there was such a strong war spirit in both king and people, that no such thing was possible. He therefore pursued his efforts with the Court of Spain for peaceable conclusions, at the same time that he fell in so far with the belligerent spirit as to make active preparations as if for an encounter. This, however, was his last and most powerful argument for peacean argument meant to tell on the fears, as he could not reach a spirit of conciliation in the Spaniards. At length, after much mischievous delay, the Government ventured to lay hands upon the disseminators of sedition and the organisers of rebellion. On the 13th of May John Mitchel was arrested and committed to Newgate. On the 15th, Mr. Smith O'Brien, who had been previously arrested and was out on bail, was brought to trial in the Queen's Bench, and arraigned on ex officio information as being a wicked, seditious, and turbulent person, and having delivered a speech for the purpose of exciting hatred and contempt against the Queen in Ireland, and inducing the people to rise in rebellion. He was defended by Mr. Butt, a Conservative barrister, who spoke of the ancient lineage and estimable character of the prisoner, concluding thus:"Believe me, gentlemen, all cannot be right in a country in which such a man as William Smith O'Brien is guilty, if guilty you pronounce him, of sedition." At the conclusion of this sentence the majority of the bar, and of the people in court, rose from their seats and loudly cheered, the ladies in the galleries waving their handkerchiefs. The jury were locked up all night without refreshments, but they could not agree. The next day Meagher was tried, with a similar result, and was hailed by a cheering multitude outside, whom he addressed from a window in the Nation office. Mitchel, however, was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to transportation for fourteen years; he was immediately conveyed in the police prison van to a small steamer which waited in the bay, and then to a man-of-war which conveyed him to Bermuda.

These proceedings called forth an opposite class of Associations, in which the clergy of the Establishment took the lead. The bishop and clergy of Worcester, and Dr. Watson, the bishop, and the clergy of Llandaff, met and presented addresses to the king, expressing their abhorrence of the doctrines of these Associations, which made no secret of their demand for "the rights of manliberty and equality, no king, no Parliament;" and they expressed their conviction that this country already possessed more genuine liberty than any other nation whatever. They asserted that the Constitution, the Church, and State had received more improvements since the Revolution in 1688 than in all previous ages; that the Dissenters and Catholics had been greatly relieved, the judges had been rendered independent, and the laws in various ways more liberalised since the accession of his present Majesty than for several reigns previously. They asserted boldly that in no country could men rise from the lowest positions to affluence and honour, by trade, by the practice of the law, by other arts and professions, so well as in this; that the wealth everywhere visible, the general and increasing prosperity, testified to this fact, in happy contrast to the miserable condition of France. They concluded by recommending the formation of counter-associations in all parts of the country, to diffuse such constitutional sentiments and to expose the mischievous fallacies of the Democratic societies. This advice was speedily followed, and every neighbourhood became the arena of conflicting politics. The Democrats, inoculated by the wild views of French licence, injured the cause of real liberty and progress by their advocacy of the mob dominion of Paris; and the Constitutionalists, urged by the alarm and the zeal inspired by opposition, grew intolerant and persecuting. The eyes of thousands who had at first hailed the French Revolution as the happy dawn of a new era of liberty and brotherhood, were now opened by the horrors of the massacres of the French clergy in September of this year, and by the sight of swarms of priests, who had fled for security to London and were everywhere to be seen in the streets, destitute and dejected. A public meeting was called at the London Tavern towards the close of 1792, and a subscription entered into for their relief.