Day by day George himself scrutinized the voting-list of the two Houses, and distributed rewards and punishments as members voted according to his will or no. Promotion in the civil service, preferment in the Church, rank in the army, was reserved for " the King's friends." Pensions and court places were used to influence debates. Bribery was employed on a scale never known before. Under Bute's ministry an office was opened at the Treasury for the purchase of members, and twenty-five thousand pounds are said to have been spent in a single day.
The result of these measures was soon seen in the tone of the Parliament. Till now it had bowed beneath the greatness of Pitt; but in the teeth of his denunciation the provisions of the Peace of Paris were approved by a majority of five to one. "Now indeed," cried the Princess Dowager, "my son is king." But the victory was hardly won when King and minister found themselves battling with a storm of popular ill-will such as never since the overthrow of the Stuarts assailed the throne. Violent and reckless as it was, the storm only marked a fresh advance in the re-awakening of public opinion. The Parliament indeed had become supreme, and in theory the Parliament was a representative of the whole English people. But in actual fact the bulk of the English people found itself powerless to control the course of English government. For the first and last time in our history Parliament was unpopular and its opponents sure of popularity. The House of Commons was more corrupt than ever, and it was the slave of the King. The King still called himself a Whig, yet he was reviving a system of absolutism which Whiggism had long made impossible. His minister was a mere favourite, and in Englishmen's eyes a foreigner. The masses saw this, but they saw no way of mending it.
They had no means of influencing the Government they hated save by sheer violence. They came therefore to the front with their old national and religious bigotry, their long-nursed dislike of the Hanoverian Court, their long-nursed habits of violence and faction, their long-nursed hatred of Parliament, but with no means of expressing them save riot and uproar. Bute found himself the object of a sudden and universal hatred; and in 1763 he withdrew from office as a means of allaying the storm of popular indignation. But the King was made of more stubborn stuff than his minister. If he suffered his favourite to resign he still regarded him as the real head of administration; for the ministry which Bute left behind him consisted simply of the more courtly of his colleagues. George Grenville was its nominal chief, but its measures were still secretly dictated by the favourite. Charles Townshend and the Duke of Bedford, the two ablest of the Whigs who had remained with Bute after Newcastle's dismissal, refused to join it; and its one man of ability was Lord Shelburne, a young Irishman. It was in fact only the disunion of its opponents which allowed it to hold its ground.
Townshend and Bedford remained apart from the main body of the Whigs, and both sections held aloof from Pitt. George had counted on the divisions of the opposition in forming such a ministry; and he counted on the weakness of the ministry to make it the creature of his will. But Grenville had no mind to be a puppet either of the King or of Bute; and the conflicts between the King and his minister soon became so bitter that George appealed in despair to Pitt to form a ministry. Never had Pitt shown a nobler patriotism or a grander self-command than in the reception he gave to this appeal. He set aside all resentment at his own expulsion from office by Newcastle and the Whigs, and made the return to office of the whole party, with the exception of Bedford, a condition of his own. George however refused to comply with terms which would have defeated his designs. The result left Grenville as powerful as he had been weak. Bute ceased to exercise any political influence. On the other hand, Bedford joined Grenville with his whole party, and the ministry thus became strong and compact.
Grenville's one aim was to enforce the supremacy of Parliament over subject as over King. He therefore struck fiercely at the new force of opinion which had just shown its power in the fall of Bute. The opinion of the country no sooner found itself unrepresented in Parliament than it sought an outlet in the Press. In spite of the removal of the censorship after the Revolution the Press had been slow to attain any political influence. Under the first two Georges its progress had been hindered by the absence of great topics for discussion, the worth-lessness of the writers, and above all the lethargy of the time. It was in fact not till the accession of George the Third that the impulse which Pitt had given to the national spirit, and the rise of a keener interest in politics, raised the Press into a political power. The nation found in it a court of appeal from the Houses of Parliament. The journals became organs for that outburst of popular hatred which drove Lord Bute from office; and in the North Briton John Wilkes led the way by denouncing the Cabinet and the Peace with peculiar bitterness, and venturing to attack the hated minister by name.
Wilkes was a worthless profligate, but he had a remarkable faculty of enlisting popular sympathy on his side, and by a singular irony of fortune he became the chief instrument in bringing about three of the greatest advances which our Constitution has ever made. He woke the nation to a conviction of the need for Parliamentary reform by his defence of the rights of constituencies against the despotism of the House of Commons. He took the lead in the struggle which put an end to the secrecy of Parliamentary proceedings. He was the first to establish the right of the Press to discuss public affairs. In his attack on the ministry of Lord Bute, however, he was simply an organ of the general discontent. It was indeed his attack which more than all else determined Bute to withdraw from office. But Grenville was of stouter stuff than the court favourite, and his administration was hardly reformed when he struck at the growing opposition to Parliament by a blow at its leader. In " Number 45" of the North Briton Wilkes had censured the speech from the throne at the opening of Parliament, and a "general warrant" by the Secretary of State was issued against the "authors, printers, and publishers of this seditious libel." Under this warrant forty-nine persons were seized for a time; and in spite of his privilege as a member of Parliament Wilkes himself was sent to the Tower. The arrest however was so utterly illegal that he was at once released by the Court of Common Pleas; but he was immediately prosecuted for libel.