William Wordsworth. (1770-1850).
The very names of political parties have undergone a change since the days of Fox and Pitt. Fox was a Whig; Pitt in his least happy days was a Tory. The term Whig, when it is now applied at all, has quite a different significance from that which it bore when Fox was the Whig leader. Then it meant what we should now call an advanced Radical, a man in the front of every forward movement for popular rights and religious emancipation. Now, when it is used at all, it only means a lukewarm and backward Radical, who is scarcely to be distinguished from the more intelligent sort of Tory. Hardly any one now avows or admits himself to be a Tory, except as a sort of half-defiant joke. The Whigs of our time have become Liberals or Radicals; the Tories have settled down to be respectable Conservatives. We have, indeed, a great Democratic party growing up, which is perhaps destined to absorb both sections of Liberalism into its common denomination. In the preface to his interesting volume, "The Rise of Democracy," lately published, Mr. J. Holland Rose, the author, makes some observations with which this writer cordially agrees. "Throughout my inquiry," says Mr. Rose, "I have used the term Democracy in its strict sense as government by the people, and not in the slipshod way in which it is now too often employed to denote the wage-earning classes;" and he adds that "this misuse of the term is responsible for much slipshod thought on political matters." There has, indeed, been far too common a tendency of late years in England to use the phrase "the people" and "the democracy," as if the classes who work with their own hands at daily labour were alone spoken of when such words were used. The democracy to which the whole intelligence of England is now turning is that political condition in which the majority representing " the common sense of most," will finally decide the destinies of the State without the overruling dictation of any privileged class or order.
The close of the war found England governed by an oligarchy in the strictest sense of the word, and not by any means an enlightened or an unselfish oligarchy. The King, George III., was a man of very moderate abilities and an overweaning amount of obstinacy. Henry Erskine, the great Scottish advocate, political orator, and wit, said, many years ago, that what we call obstinacy in a donkey we call firmness in a king. We have grown, however, less courtly in our ways of late, and the tribute is so much the greater to the really good sovereign in whose praise we all unite. We may, therefore, speak frankly of the obstinacy of a king and say that this quality in George III. had nearly proved more than once the ruin of the country over which he had been appointed to rule. His was the influence which led to the quarrel with the American colonists and the war which ended in the independence of the United States. The King himself found the principle of policy, which, to adopt Johnson's mistaken words, declares "taxation" in that case "no tyranny," especially dear to his heart. His, too, was the influence which again and again prevented the concession of religious freedom to the Roman Catholics. This fact was made painfully evident on one memorable occasion. During the debates on the Act of Union with Ireland, Pitt made an attempt to conciliate some of the opponents of the measure by holding out more than once a hope that the union of the two Parliaments would be followed by some liberal concessions to the Catholic claims. Many of those who were strongly inclined to oppose the Government on this question withdrew their opposition in consequence of the promises held out by Pitt.
But when the Act of Union was passed Pitt found it absolutely impossible to induce the King even to listen to his arguments in favour of the Catholic claims. The King went so far as to declare that any further importunity from Pitt on that subject would drive him back into one of his fits of madness. George insisted that he could not countenance the recognition of the Catholic claims without a violation of his Coronation Oath. It was humourously said at the time that England had now four instead of three estates in her constitutional realm - that whereas up to George's time she had only King, Lords, and Commons, she had now King, Lords, Commons, and Oath. George, in fact, threw his influence into every political question; he put into operation again and again the most momentous and seldom-used prerogatives of the Crown. He dissolved Parliaments and dismissed Ministers on the slightest provocation or pretext. If a majority of the House of Commons decided against the policy of his favourite Minister, the King took not the slightest notice of the decision, but maintained the Minister and the policy just as if nothing had happened. It would be hardly possible to conceive any course of royal action more entirely out of keeping with the constitutional usages of our day than such a stroke of policy as that often carried into effect by George III. The King, on one occasion when he was displeased with some public act or utterance on the part of Charles Fox, called for the Roll of the Privy Councillors, and with his own hand scratched out the name of the great Whig leader from the list.
England, in fact, had in George III. a sort of "benevolent despot," without the supreme attribute of royal intellect which is commonly understood to be a part of the ideal "benevolent despot's" outfit for the enterprise of government. It would have been well worth a revolution, could no other means have accomplished the object, for England to get rid of George III.'s cardinal principle of constitutional government. We shall see in the course of this volume how it fortunately came to pass that the English people were enabled to secure for themselves a constitutional and representative system of government without having recourse to revolution. Let it be remembered that the greatest intellects of the time were, with few exceptions, opposed to George III.'s ideas of principle and of policy. The course of action which led to the war with America was condemned to the end by the elder Pitt, the great Lord Chatham, and by Edmund Burke. The policy of conciliating the Roman Catholics was well known to be the policy of Pitt the younger, and it was only Pitt's unfortunate and almost servile submission to his master's dictatorship which enabled the King to hold his own for the time. If we ask ourselves why the conduct of King George did not bring about a revolution, we have to look for an answer to the conduct of his enemies as well as of his friends. In the first place, he was better served by all political parties at home than the unhappy Louis XVI. had ever been. Fox and Burke and Pitt, however they may have differed in other qualities, were all alike constitutional statesmen, and entirely opposed to any idea of domestic revolution. Then, again, the English people, as a whole, were much more patient in temper than the French, and indeed it must be owned that the English population of the poorer order had never had their patience tried so cruelly and so keenly as the patience of the French working classes had been. Moreover, we have just spoken of the conduct of the King's enemies, and it must be owned that nothing could have been more timely for the stability of George's throne than the wars with France, so long as they lasted. While Napoleon was still at the head of his armies, all thought of a revolution in England was out of the question. The heart and the nerves of the nation were braced up to the one great purpose of victory in that struggle, and the King was free for the time to play what antics he pleased with the constitution. We shall presently see that the more serious domestic difficulties came when the war was over and the return of peace gave sufferers time to ask themselves what they had got by it all, and to feel the full and lonely pressure of their grievances undiminished by the enthusiasm of a struggle with the foreign foe.