It was in vain that Pitt enforced his threat of resignation by declaring himself responsible to "the people"; and the resignation of his post in October changed the face of European affairs.
"Pitt disgraced!" wrote a French philosopher, " it is worth two victories to us!" Frederick on the other hand was almost driven to despair. But George saw in the removal of his powerful minister an opening for the realization of his long-cherished plans. Pitt's appeal had been heard by the people at large. When he went to Guildhall the Londoners hung on his carriage wheels, hugged his footmen, and even kissed his horses. Their break with Pitt was in fact the death-blow of the Whigs. Newcastle found he had freed himself from the great statesman only to be driven from office by a series of studied mortifications from his young master; and the more powerful of his Whig colleagues followed him into retirement. George saw himself triumphant over the two great forces which had hampered the free action of the Crown, "the power which arose," in Burke's words, "from popularity, and the power which arose from political connexion;" and the rise of Lord Bute to the post of First Minister marked the triumph of the King. He took office simply as an agent of the King's will; and the King's will was to end the war.
In the spring of 1762
Frederick, who still held his ground stubbornly against fate, was brought to the brink of ruin by a withdrawal of the English subsidies; it was in fact only his dogged resolution and a sudden change in the policy of Russia, which followed on the death of his enemy the Czarina Elizabeth, that enabled him at last to retire from the struggle in the Treaty of Hubertsberg without the loss of an inch of territory. George and Lord Bute had already purchased peace at a very different price. With a shameless indifference to the national honour they not only deserted Frederick, but they offered to negotiate a peace for him on the basis of a cession of Silesia to Maria Theresa and East Prussia to the Czarina. The issue of the strife with Spain saved England from humiliation such as this. Pitt's policy of instant attack had been justified by a Spanish declaration of war three weeks after his fall; and the year 1762 saw triumphs which vindicated his confidence in the issue of the new struggle. Martinico, the strongest and wealthiest of the French West Indian possessions, was conquered at the opening of the year, and its conquest was followed by those of Grenada, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent. In the summer the reduction of Havana brought with it the gain of the rich Spanish colony of Cuba. The Philippines, the wealthiest of the Spanish colonies;in the Pacific, yielded to a British fleet.
It was these losses that brought about the Peace of Paris. So eager was Bute to end the war that he contented himself in Europe with the recovery of Minorca, while he restored Martinico to France, and Cuba and the Philippines to Spain. The real gains of Britain were in India and America. In the first the French abandoned all right to any military settlement. From the second they wholly withdrew. To England they gave up Canada, Nova Scotia, and Louisiana as far as the Mississippi, while they resigned the rest of that province to Spain, in compensation for its surrender of Florida to the British Crown.
The anxiety which the young King showed for peace abroad sprang mainly from his belief that peace was needful for success in the struggle for power at home. So long as the war lasted Pitt's return to office and the union of the Whigs under his guidance was an hourly danger. But with peace the King's hands were free. He could count on the dissensions of the Whigs, on the new-born loyalty of the Tories, on the influence of the Crown patronage which he had taken into his own hands. But what he counted on most of all was the character of the House of Commons. At a time when it had become all-powerful in the State, the House of Commons had ceased in any real and effective sense to be a representative body at all. That changes in the distribution of seats were called for by the natural shiftings of population and wealth since the days of Edward the First had been recognized as early as the Civil Wars; but the reforms of the Long Parliament were cancelled at the Restoration. From the time of Charles the Second to that of George the Third not a single effort had been made to meet the growing abuses of our parliamentary system.
Great towns like Manchester or Birmingham remained without a member, while members still sat for boroughs which, like Old Sarum, had actually vanished from the face of the earth. The effort of the Tudor sovereigns to establish a Court party in the House by a profuse creation of boroughs, most of which were mere villages then in the hands of the Crown, had ended in the appropriation of these seats by the neighbouring landowners, who bought and sold them as they bought and sold their own estates. Even in towns which had a real claim to representation, the narrowing of municipal privileges ever since the fourteenth century to a small part of the inhabitants, and in many cases the restriction of electoral rights to the members of the governing corporation, rendered their representation a mere name. The choice of such places hung simply on the purse or influence of politicians. Some were "the King's boroughs," others obediently returned nominees of the Ministry of the day, others were "close boroughs" in the hands of jobbers like the Duke of Newcastle, who at one time returned a third of all the borough members in the House. The counties and the great commercial towns could alone be said to exercise any real right of suffrage, though the enormous expense of contesting such constituencies practically left their representation in the hands of the great local families.
But even in the counties the suffrage was ridiculously limited and unequal. Out of a population of eight millions, only a hundred and sixty thousand were electors at all. How far such a House was from really representing English opinion we see from the fact that in the height of his popularity Pitt could hardly find a seat in it. Purchase was becoming more and more the means of entering Parliament. Seats were bought and sold in the open market at a price which rose to four thousand pounds, and we can hardly wonder that a reformer could allege without a chance of denial, " This House is not a representative of the people of Great Britain. It is the representative of nominal boroughs, of ruined and exterminated towns, of noble families, of wealthy individuals, of foreign potentates." The meanest motives naturally told on a body returned by such constituencies, cut off from the influence of public opinion by the secrecy of Parliamentary proceedings, and yet invested with almost boundless authority. Walpole and Newcastle had made bribery and borough-jobbing the base of their power. George the Third seized it in his turn as a base of the power he proposed to give to the Crown. The royal revenue was employed to buy seats and to buy votes.