His words gave strength to the hopes of "Catholic Emancipation," or the removal of what remained of the civil disabilities of Catholics, which were held out by the viceroy, Lord Castlereagh, in Ireland itself, as a means of hindering any opposition to the project of Union on the part of the Catholics. It was agreed on all sides that their opposition would have secured its defeat; but no Catholic opposition, showed itself. After the passing of the bill, Pitt prepared to lay before the Cabinet a measure which would have raised the Irish Catholic to perfect equality of civil rights. He proposed to remove all religious tests which limited the exercise of the franchise, or were required for admission to Parliament, the magistracy, the bar, municipal offices, or posts in the army, or the service of the State. An oath of allegiance and of fidelity to the Constitution was substituted for the Sacramental test; while the loyalty of the Catholic and Dissenting clergy was secured by a grant of some provision to both by the State. To win over the Episcopal Church, measures were added for strengthening its means of discipline, and for increasing the stipends of its poorer ministers.
A commutation of tithes was to remove a constant source of quarrel in Ireland between the Protestant clergy and the Irish people. The scheme was too large and statesmanlike to secure the immediate assent of the Cabinet; and before that assent could be won the plan was communicated through the treachery of the Chancellor, Lord Loughborough, to George the Third. "I count any man my personal enemy," the King broke out angrily to Dundas, "who proposes any such measure." Pitt answered this outburst by submitting his whole plan to the King. " The political circumstances under which the exclusive laws originated," he wrote, "arising either from the conflicting powers of hostile and nearly balanced sects, from the apprehension of a Popish Queen as successor, a disputed succession and a foreign pretender, a division in Europe between Catholic and Protestant Powers, are no longer applicable to the present state of things." But argument was wasted upon George the Third. In spite of the decision of the lawyers whom he consulted, the King held himself bound by his Coronation Oath to maintain the tests.
On this point his bigotry was at one with the bigotry of the bulk of his subjects as well as with their political distrust of Catholics and Irishmen; and his obstinacy was strengthened by a knowledge that his refusal must drive Pitt from office. In February 1801, the month of the Peace of Luneville, Pitt resigned, and was succeeded by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Mr. Addington, a weak and narrow-minded man, and as bigoted as the King himself. Of Lord Hawkesbury, who succeeded Lord Grenville in the conduct of foreign affairs, nothing was known outside the House of Commons.
It was with anxiety that England found itself guided by men like these at a time when every hour brought darker news. The scarcity of bread was mounting to a famine. Taxes were raised anew, and yet the loan for the year amounted to five and twenty millions. The country stood utterly alone; while the peace of Luneville secured France from all hostility on the Continent. And it was soon plain that this peace was only the first step in a new policy on the part of the First Consul. What he had done was to free his hands for a decisive conflict with Britain itself, both as a world-power and as a centre of wealth. England was at once the carrier of European commerce, and the workshop of European manufactures. While her mines, her looms, her steam-engines, were giving her almost a monopoly of industrial production, the carrying trade of France and Holland alike had been transferred to the British flag, and the conquest during the war of their richer settlements had thrown into British hands the whole colonial trade of the world. In his gigantic project of a" Continental System "the aim of Buonaparte was to strike at the trade of England by closing the ports of Europe against her ships. By a league of the Northern powers he sought to wrest from her the command of the seas.
Denmark and Sweden, who resented the severity with which Britain enforced that right of search which had brought about their armed neutrality at the close of the American war, were enlisted in a league of neutrals which was in effect a declaration of war against England, and which Prussia was prepared to join. The Czar Paul of Russia on his side saw in the power of Britain the chief obstacle to his designs upon Turkey. A squabble over Malta, which had been taken from the Knights of St. John by Buonaparte on his way to Egypt, and had ever since been blockaded by English ships, but whose possession the Czar claimed as his own on the ground of an alleged election as Grand Master of the Order, served him as a pretext for a quarrel with England, and Paul openly prepared for hostilities. It was plain that as soon as spring opened the Baltic, the fleets of Russia, Sweden, and Denmark would act in practical union with those of France and Spain. But dexterous as the combination was it was shattered at a blow.
In April a British fleet appeared before Copenhagen, and after a desperate struggle silenced the Danish batteries, captured six Danish ships, and forced Denmark to conclude an armistice which enabled English ships to enter the Baltic. The Northern Coalition too was broken up by the death of the Czar. In June a Convention between England and Russia settled the vexed questions of the right of search and contraband of war, and this Convention was accepted by Sweden and Denmark. Meanwhile, at the very moment of the attack on Copenhagen, a stroke as effective had wrecked the projects of Buonaparte in the East. The surrender of Malta to the English fleet left England the mistress of the Mediterranean; and from Malta she now turned to Egypt itself. A force of 15,000 men under General Abercromby anchored in Aboukir Bay. The French troops that Buonaparte had left in Egypt rapidly concentrated, and on the 21st of March their general attacked the English army. After a stubborn battle, in which Abercromby fell mortally wounded, the French drew off with heavy loss; and at the close of June the capitulation of the 13,000 soldiers who remained closed the French rule over Egypt.