« PreviousContinue »
Mr. SHERIDAN said, the noble lord had laid down a principle some days ago, which prevented him from being surprised at any thing the noble lord should advance. He stated, that in the appointment of ministers, the crown ought not to consider beforehand whether they should be able to obtain the support of the house of commons. It has frequently been said, that when there was a good understanding between the ministers of the crown and the house of commons, there was ground for apprehending that they were under the influence of corruption; but at present the noble lord might rejoice, for there was not now the least room for apprehending that the house was in danger of being corrupted by keeping up too good an understanding with the ministers of the crown, who were now at open variance with the house. If the ministers and the house of commons were closely united, the noble lord might possibly call their union adultery; but when the ministers and the house of lords were united in the same bands, his lordship would probably call that union a legal marriage. As to what the noble lord had quoted about Lord Somers, it was not at all applicable to the present case; for Lord Somers, on the occasion alluded to, stood upon very different ground from that of the present ministers: there was an impeachment in one case, and none in the other. The right honorable gentleman at the head of His Majesty's councils had on a former day said, that he stood firm in the fortress of the constitution; but could any fortress be called the fortress of the constitution, which was not garrisoned by the house of commons? They were the natural defenders of the fort. There might possibly be indeed a lieutenant-governor of the fort, who, though he did not mix in the battle, was not less the commander, though his orders were not publicly delivered. The house of commons ought to inspect the works, and see that no sap was carrying on
which might dismantle it. The present ministers were laboring to erect a fabric, that might shieldthem against every attack; but they were erecting it on ground that was already undermined; and however strong the pillars might be-however solid and firm the buttresses-however well turned the arches; yet as the foundation must be weak, when the ground was undermined, not only the building could not stand, but the very weight of it would precipitate its fall. Secret influence was what undermined the whole;--it constituted a fourth estate in the constitution; for it did not belong to the king, it did not belong to the lords, it did not belong to the commons. The lords disclaimed it, and the commons found themselves thwarted by it in all their operations. An honorable member had asked if the coalition of the right honorable gentleman with the noble lord had not lessened the confidence of his friends in the former. He would endeavor to give as satisfactory an answer as he could to this question. When the idea of a coalition with the noble lord was first started, he confessed that he had advised his right honorable friend not to accept of it; and his reason was this :—his right honorable friend had great popularity, which he might lose by a coalition; respectable friends, whom he might disgust; and prejudices of the strongest nature to combat. He made no doubt but similar objections occurred to the friends of the noble lord; and that they were urged to him, in order to dissuade him from coalescing with his right honorable friend. Mutual diffidence between men long accustomed to oppose one another, might naturally be expected. The prejudices of the public all concurred to prevent this coalition. The middling class of people, for whom he had the highest respect, and to whom the house of commons must look for support in every emergency, sooner than to the great, were not certainly the best qualified to judge of nice and refined points of politics. Accustomed to judge of
measures by men, he apprehended that they would give themselves no time to examine the principles, motives, and grounds of a coalition: but condemn it on its first appearance, merely because it was composed of men who had long been political enemies. On these grounds, full of apprehension for the character of his right honorable friend, he most certainly gave him his advice against a coalition. But when the necessities of the times at last pointed it out as the only means of salvation to this country; when, from the opportunities he had had of seeing the noble lord and his friends, and proving the honor, fairness, openness, and steadiness of their conduct, not only he did not condemn the coalition, but he rejoiced that it had taken place in spite of even his own advice; diffidence soon gave way to the most perfect reliance on the honor of the noble lord, and on that of his friends; and their steady adherence to those principles which had been laid down as the basis of the coalition. It was unnecessary, therefore, after saying this, that he should tell the house his confidence in his right honorable friend had not felt the smallest diminution. Fully acquainted with his character, he knew that he looked down with indifference, if not with contempt, on riches, places, and dignities, as things by no means necessary to his happiness. It was his right honourable friend's ambition to deserve and preserve the esteem and confidence of his friends; and he was sure that he would sacrifice neither, for all that place and emolument could bestow upon him. Having said so much in defence of the coalition, he could not help expressing his surprise that he heard so much about it from the other side of the house; and the more he looked at the treasury bench, the more his astonishment grew upon him ;-for there the gentlemen who were actually sitting upon it, were divided into parts; each of whom was composed of a member who had supported the noble lord in the blue riband, and of
another who had opposed him. Those gentlemen, speaking to each other, might thus address each other one might say, "I supported Lord North through the whole of his administration, but left him at last, when I found he had formed a coalition with that abominable man Charles Fox." The other might reply, "And I joined Mr. Fox for many years in his opposition to government; till at last I found it necessary to abandon him, when he disgraced himself by a coalition with that abominable man Lord North." If the state of the public credit, and the funds, should become the subject of discussion in that house, one of the members of the treasury bench may very probably say, "It was the cursed American war of Lord North that brought this ruin upon our funds;"-this would instantly call up his friend on the same bench; who would immediately reply, "No;-the American war was a just and constitutional war; it was the opposition given to it by the rebel-encourager Charles Fox, who caused the failure of it; and this brought ruin on the country." Thus a treasury, formed on anti-coalition principles, was itself a chain of coalitions. The grand coalition, which was the butt of every man's invective, had begot other coalitions; but there was this difference between the parent and the offspring; that, with the former, all was harmony, concord, and union; while the latter retained the heterogeneous principles of their original opposition, which made them still a prey to discord and confusion. An honorable gentleman had said that the majority in the coalition was formed of persons who represented the rotten treasury boroughs; and who were brought in by the noble lord in the blue riband, when he was at the head of the treasury. But that reproach was ill founded;-for the coalition had been purged of such members; some of whom having spurned the hand that made them, and turned their backs on their friend and benefactor, had found a happy asylum in the bosom of
administration. From this subject turning to another, Mr. Sheridan observed, that if it was improper to interfere by any means with the exercise of the prerogative, the house was to blame for having agreed to the resolution which passed yesterday unanimously; which stated that a firm, efficient, extended, and united administration was necessary in the present state of affairs. For supposing such an administration was now formed, what might not the advocates for the prerogative of the crown infer from it? That nothing could be more dangerous or more unconstitutional than such an administration; for being composed of all the heads of parties in both houses, they would of course be supported by majorities in both; and then the King would have forced upon him an administration which he could not dismiss.
The Solicitor-General accused a member of having some few days ago, used harsh and indecent language to Mr. Pitt, and which might justify retaliation.
Mr. SHERIDAN said, that if the honorable gentleman, in stating that harsh and indecent words had been used by him, some time ago, to the right honorable gentleman, meant any allusion to any thing that had fallen from him, he wished he had quoted his words; the honorable gentleman had a convenient, if not an accurate memory. What he said in allusion to the. great Duke of Buckingham was, that those persons who owed their promotion to the personal favors of the crown, and stood on the principle of favorisism, were minions of the erown. The right honorable gentleman appearing to him to stand on that principle, he had, in very proper parliamentary language, called him one of the minions of the crown.
The Solicitor-General said he did not allude to Mr. Sheridan, but to another member. On a division there appeared for the motion 211; against it 187; majority against the minister 24.