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In a letter to his mother on February 25, 1783, he confessed frankly that "the great article to decide by seems that of numbers". Exactly one month from that day he wrote to George III. that it was
utterly impossible for Him after the fullest Consideration of the Situation in which things stand, and of what passed yesterday in the House of Commons, to think of undertaking under such Circumstances the Situation" that the king had proposed to him. Evidently he could not then see his way clear to command a majority in the House of Commons. The following months the young statesman spent plotting with his cousin, Lord Temple, who was seeking to curry royal favor by devising a workable scheme for overthrowing the administration. By August 8 he could write to his mother before leaving for a flying trip to the Continent that things might "possibly go thro' the rest of the summer as they are; tho much longer there is every Reason to believe they will not ". Nevertheless when Fox introduced his India bill at the autumn session it passed the House of Commons by a large majority. On the surface there did not seem to be any reason why Pitt should change the decision he had made in March, yet before the end of December he was prime minister. The obvious explanation of this sudden change of front is that Fox, by his India bill, had aroused the hostility of the proprietors of the gigantic East India Company, and Jenkinson, the leader of the king's friends, and Pitt, with the aid of the money and influence of their new allies, now felt themselves in a position to undertake the fight against the Whigs with fair prospects of success.
But they had no intention of depending entirely on the purses of the nabobs and the members which they controlled. The royal support itself was an item of no mean consideration, carrying with it, as it did, the ability to confer peerages, a species of bribes that was as insidious as it was effective. The control of the public treasury, however, was even more desirable, both because a number of parliamentary constituencies were controlled from that office and because the public coffers were a convenient source of campaign funds, and one which an eighteenth-century politician did not hesitate to use. Accordingly, George III. through Lord Temple interfered to defeat Fox's India bill in the House of Lords and imme
'See Pitt's letters to his mother, ibid., 12; Buckingham, Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George III., I. 303-305; Dropmore Papers (manuscripts of Mr. J. B. Fortescue preserved at Dropmore and calendared by the British Historical Manuscripts Commission), I. 216.
5 Chatham MSS., 12.
diately thereafter sent to Fox and North demanding their seals. Naturally the new ministers were for the time unable to command the support of the Commons, and the government was in a deadlock. But it was not to be so for long. There is not space here to discuss in detail the methods by which the change was wrought. John Robinson, North's old secretary of the treasury and campaign manager, himself a political strategist of no mean ability, was called to the task and did the will of Jenkinson, Pitt, and the king." One by one the Whig majority melted away before their assaults until, by the time of the dissolution in March, there was no longer any room for doubt as to the political complexion of the new Parliament. Indeed it was next to impossible to return a Parliament hostile to an eighteenth-century minister who had the favor of the king, and, as a contemporary pamphleteer pointed out in 1784, it had not been. done for nearly a century previous to that date. It was, therefore, extremely unlikely that the Whigs would be able to make any headway against Pitt with both the king and the East India Company supporting him. Then, too, John Robinson was past-master in the art of conciliating recalcitrant members and electors, while George Rose, his successor in the treasury, had also inherited a share of his ability as a politician. Pitt himself was not the least apt pupil in that art that his time produced, though it is not necessary that we agree with the verdict of the Whig pamphleteer who remarked that, "Sir Robert Walpole himself was a simpleton to this wonderful young man.'
Money was no doubt contributed by all the factions interested. We know from his letter to Wilberforce on April 6, 1784, that Pitt himself was active in raising the funds." But Horace Walpole was probably more nearly correct than he usually was in his views on public questions when he wrote to Sir Horace Mann six days earlier: "The Court struck the blow at the Minister; but it was the gold of the Company that really conjured up the storm, and has diffused it all over England."10 At any rate it is certain that Pitt worked in harmony with the company and that when he introduced his India bill it was submitted to the directors for suggestions and for their approval." But by no means all the money used in the election of 1784 came from private purses. The public funds were
"For Robinson's part in the election of 1784 see, "The Manuscripts of the Marquess of Abergavenny ", Tenth Report of the Historical Manuscripts Commission, appendix, part VI.; Wraxall, Posthumous Memoirs of his own Time, I. 1. A Gleam of Comfort to this Distracted Empire, etc. (January 22, 1785), p. 24. $ Ibid., p. 44.
Wilberforce, Private Papers of William Wilberforce, p. 6.
10 Cunningham, The Letters of Horace Walpole, VIII. 466.
11 Chatham MSS., 102, 169, 196, 353.
levied on also, and that with Pitt's knowledge and approval. Such funds were usually accredited to secret service when issued from the treasury, though George III. had been accustomed to supply Robinson with money from his privy purse and probably accommodated Pitt and Rose in a like manner. Some of the vouchers for that issued from the secret service funds are still preserved and testify as to the use to which the money was put.12 Moreover the king now opened the fountain of promotion into the peerage, which had been closed to the Whigs. So numerous were the resulting creations that a wag wrote in 1790 that whereas France had abolished titles of nobility England "to avoid the pernicious example seems almost to be growing a nation of Lords ".13 Seventeen promotions were announced within six months after the election of 1784. The majority of these new-made lords had influence in one or more parliamentary constituencies, and some of them, like Sir James Lowther who was created Earl of Lonsdale, were borough magnates.14
When Pitt finally dissolved Parliament in March, 1784, therefore, the membership of the new House of Commons was no longer a matter of doubt. Lists of the members as they had been agreed upon were already being handed around in Westminster.15 The Whig papers but stated facts well known to those who were familiar with the conditions when they said:16
The reception of the friends of the Coalition in the country is held out as a proof that the voice of the public is against them. It is not a conclusive proof-it only shows us, that the length of the treasury purse is greater than that of the opposition purse. Examine the facts. Would Sir Richard Hotham have lost the Borough, if he had stood the contest? Would Sir Charles Bunbury have lost Suffolk? Would Colonel Hartley, if he had been a Nabob, have lost Berkshire? Would Mr. Foljambe and Mr. Weddel have lost Yorkshire, or Mr. Coke Norfolk? The men who know these places are convinced that nothing but the want of cash lost the Elections, and the only fact which those
"Chatham MSS., 179, 183, 229; Treasury Order Books, vols. XXVI.-XXVIII. (preserved as "Treasury Miscellanea in the Public Record Office); British Museum Additional MSS. 37,835-37,836; House of Commons, Accounts and Papers, vol. CVI., no. 962. This last document purports to be a statement of the money credited to secret service, 1774-1798, but should be corrected by comparison with the Order Books and the accounts and vouchers in bundle 229 of the Chatham MSS. The New Parliamentary Register; in a Series of Poetical Epistles, p. 17. "The Court and City Register; or, Gentleman's Complete Annual Calendar, pp. 9-15 (1785).
Morning Post, March 26, 1784.
1 History of the Westminster Election containing every Material Occurrence from its Commencement . . . to the Close, p. 320. This work is a documentary history of the election containing, in addition to official documents, reprints of the various hand-bills and newspaper paragraphs that pertained to the election. The compilation seems to have been done without much partizan bias though by a supporter of Fox.
Elections have proved is, that the ability of private gentlemen is not equal to the ability of the nation, and it always must be so.
Great as was the influence of the Whig families they had no chance when pitted against the king's friends and the East India Company with the public treasury to furnish them the sinews of war. That the Whigs were unable to overcome the odds against them affords little evidence one way or the other as to the state of public opinion.
But it was certainly a noteworthy fact that George III., even in appearance, should use his prerogative to effect a change in administration merely in order to secure ministers who could command the support of a majority of the English people. We naturally view such an action on his part with some skepticism. Had Pitt advised a dissolution and referred his claims to the electors immediately after his appointment there might be more grounds for accepting his majority in the new House as evidence of a popular verdict in his favor. Instead he delayed till his henchmen had won over almost a majority in the old Parliament and till the necessary agreements could be made with borough-mongers and men of influence for securing a majority in the new one. To be sure, the Whigs, knowing how well-nigh impossible it would be for them under the circumstances to outbid the government for members of the new House, fought against dissolution and did their best to overthrow Pitt with the following they had in the Parliament elected while North was minister. Nevertheless, it throws no light on the question under discussion to say that either Pitt or Fox violated the code of political etiquette which would now be observed under similar circumstances. Both parties knew that the popular will would have little to do with the decision of the question at issue. While the Whigs apparently played into Pitt's hands by giving him time to put his house in order before the election, they were at the same time using the only means of defeating him that were at all likely to succeed. The truth is, then, that the views of the members of the House of Commons are not a dependable index to popular opinion on public questions in the England of Pitt and Fox.
There were, however, a few constituencies in which the electors were approximately representative of all classes of the population and in which there was a possibility that the popular view might find expression in a parliamentary election. It would seem to be noteworthy, therefore, that in the largest and most democratic of these constituencies, which was also the only one in which the Whigs offered serious resistance to the victorious Pittites, the ministerial party was defeated. If we could assume that the householders in
Westminster gave free expression of their opinions by their votes we should have in the result of the election in that city the most pertinent testimony concerning the political views of the average Englishman in 1784 that it is possible to obtain. There, at least, all classes had an opportunity to voice their sentiments. We certainly ought not to assume that all the English people agreed with those who chanced to live in Westminster. Nevertheless, since it was difficult for the popular will to find expression in any other constituency at that time the result in the capital city has a peculiar significance. That Pitt himself was cognizant of this fact is evident from the strenuous efforts he made to defeat Fox, from the almost unscrupulous methods he used in his attempts to deprive the Whig leader of the fruits of his victory, and from his attempt at a later time to prove that the result in Westminster was not, as Fox claimed, evidence that a majority of the people were opposed to the methods and policies of the administration.
Even in Westminster the Whigs permitted Lord Hood, the customary representative from the navy and supposedly not an extreme partizan, to stand unopposed and devoted all their energy and money to the re-election of Fox. The party leader was opposed by Sir Cecil Wray, who was actively supported by Pitt and whose campaign was managed by Lord Mahon, Pitt's brother-in-law.17 And Wray stood in sore need of such help, since he is said to have announced at the outset of the campaign that he did not expect to spend a cent from his own pocket.18 For if Westminster was the most democratic of eighteenth-century English parliamentary constituencies its elections were certainly not conducted in a manner calculated to increase respect for democracy in the minds of conservative men. Hustings were erected in Covent Garden whither the high bailiff and his deputies repaired to record the votes for the respective candidates. The qualifications for the suffrage depended upon no statutory prescriptions but were matters of long-standing custom handed down from each bailiff to his successor. There was no registration, and the right of each elector to poll was determined after he appeared and offered himself as a voter.19 Throughout the period of polling, the supporters of Hood and Wray employed gangs of ruffians disguised as sailors, ostensibly to keep a way to the hustings clear so that voters for their candidates might have easy access, but really to intimidate those who offered to poll for Fox. The Whigs, on the other hand, employed Irish chairmen to serve. "A Full and Authentic Account of the whole Proceedings in Westminster Hall... 14th February, 1784, p. 20; History Westminster Election, p. 129. 18 Ibid., p. 147.
19 Chatham MSS., 237.