824 | To Thomas Hutchinson

    No 16


    Pall Mall feb 3 1770

    Dear Sir

    Among my Letters by the Packet which went from hence Jan 20th, there was a long Letter giving an Account of the proceedings in the Parliament on the first day, cheifly of the House of Lords, where I was present.1 My Account including the P.S. came to the 16th; Since which there has happened a Series of Events in the political World more extraordinary than perhaps the like Time, about a fortnight ever produced.

    On Tuesday last Jan 16 Mr York positively refused the Seal. On Wednesday the King sent for him & took him into the Closet, & talked with him in such a Manner, that, as he himself said, It was impossible for him to refuse it. It is supposed that his Refusal was under the Influence of some of the Opposition, & that his Acceptance might be contrary to some Assurances he had given them: however the whole had a fatal End. On Wednesday night he was sworn into his Office; On thursday at Dinner he was obliged to rise from Table by a Disorder which proved to be the breaking an inward Blood Vessel; On Fryday his Physicians endeavoured in vain to releive him; and on Saturday at 6 in the Evening he died. He was naturally of a sanguine Habit, & for some Years past, it is said, he has lived too freely both in eating & drinking. And therefore it is no Wonder, that in a Man very full of Blood, an extraordinary Agitation of Mind, such as his must be, should add such force to the Blood as to make it break its Vessels.2 He is universally lamented, by different People on different Accounts; but by none more than by the true Friends of the King, upon whom His Loss falls very hard as [at] this Time. The Seal was immediately put into Commission to J. Bathurst B. Smith & J. Aston, C J Wilmot declining being in the Commission; and Lord Mansfield was appointed Speaker of the House of Lords.3

    While this was passing we were at the same time losing the Speaker of the House of Commons. Sr John Cust had had a severe fit of Illness some Weeks before the Parliament met; but at the same time seemed to be pretty well: but it is supposed that the first days sitting, which lasted to near 3 the next Morning, gave him his Death’s Stroke. Two or three days after this he fell down in a fit before his Chair, but recovered immediately. After this he went to the House once or twice, but could not go on with Business; & at last was obliged to resign. Sir Fletcher Norton was chosen Speaker not without Division in which the Numbers were 238 to 121: this was the same day; on which Lord Mansfield was appointed Speaker of the House of Lords.4

    On Thursday Jan 25 the House pursuant to a Order resolved itself into a Committee of the whole House to consider the State of the Nation. It was moved by the Opposition, that it be resolved “that the Proceedings of the House of Commons should be governed by the Laws of the Land & the Usage of Parliament”. Lord North asked to what Purpose it was to put a Question to which no one Man would answer in the Negative; and desired to know what other questions were to follow this. This being refused, he then said he would make an Addition to the former Question to make it a real one; & moved that it be added “and that the Proceedings in the last Session in Regard to Mr Wilkes were according to the Laws of the Land and the Usage of Parliament”. This brought the Matter on at once & the Debate began in which Lord North showed great Ability in the Opinion of his Opponents as well as his Friends. Between 2 & 3 the Question was put, when they were pro 224 con 180. This is coming very near a Ministry: but then it must be considered how trying a Question it was, which contradicted the Addresses lately sent up by near half the Counties in England. For my Part I think that the putting the Question in that Manner was a bold Act, & the carrying it with 44 Majority great Success.5

    And now comes a more extraordinary Event than any yet: On Monday Janry 29th the Duke of Grafton resigned his Place. The Account at Court is that he represented to the King that as the Law was without a Head & the Army also, the Business of a Minster would become too weighty for him, especially as he had no Lawyer in the Cabinet to assist him. He was therefore obliged to withdraw from a Post of so great Responsibility; but he & his Friends should support Administration in the same Manner as if he continued in Office. This I beleive is the best Account: there are others of less Credit. The D of G has been allways looking back at the Lord who brought him into Office & has seemed to stand in Awe of him. Hence he has kept in the Cabinet & had constantly at his Ear the intimate Friend of that Lord. This has made two Parties in the Cabinet on two Sets of Principles; & this accounts for the Unsteadiness irresolution & sometimes Inconsistency which has appeared in Administration for a year past & more particularly in the American Affairs of the last Session.6

    The rest of the Ministry determined to keep their Offices in which they were encouraged by the King who immediately appointed Lord North first Lord of the Treasury to hold the Chancellorship with it as Mr Greenville & other Commoners have done.7 This was scarce done before another Trial of Strength was at hand in the House of Commons upon the report of the resolution of the House on Thursday the 25th, which was before a Committee of the whole House. This was appointed for Wednesday Jan 31st: when the Opposition instead of rearguing the former Question, produced a new one, “That, if a Man is eligible by Law to a Seat in the House of Commons, he cannot be rendered incapable by a Vote of the House of Commons alone”. You will observe that the Question is equivocal; for either Side might vote for the Affirmative consistently with their Principles. For they who support the Rejection of Wilkes might assent to the Terms of the Vote, & add that Mr Wilkes was not eligible by Law, the Usage of Parliament, upon which he was rejected upon his Reelection, being Part of the Law of the Land. In this Debate Lord North again made a great Figure, & shone particularily in a reply to Col Barre, in which, it is said, he gave that Gentleman a proper & full Reprehension.8 About one o’clock the Ministry put the Question that the Chairman should leave the Chair, which it seems is the only Way of putting the previous Question in a Committee. The Numbers were 226, 186; no contemptible Majority, considering how the Ministerial Party laboured at that Time, under the Resignation of the premier made publick only the day before & no time to explain the Motives of it.

    Fryday febry 2nd was appointed in the House of Lords to consider the State of the Nation: it had been postponed to that late day on Account of Lord Chathams Want of Health. The Question proposed by Lord Chatham was “that the Proceedings of the House of Commons in disqualifying Mr Wilkes were illegal & unconstitutional, & contrary to the Law of the Land & the usage of Parliament” Observe I dont pretend in any of the Questions to give you the very Words, but only the Substance of them, preserving the disputable Points. I shan’t enter into the Arguments upon the Question, as they must be similar to those of the former Debate which I have given you an Account of from my own hearing; whereas I have these only from a reporter. But I will mention a Digression in the Course of the Argument, which was much attended to.9

    My Lord Denby charged Ld Camden with a Breach of his Duty in suffering the Kings Ministers to proceed in the Affair of Wilkes in a Manner which he now said was illegal, tho he was continually in the Kings Councils at that time & should have warned them of the Illegality of what they were about. He reminded him that he had said he was the Keeper of the King’s Conscience; if so, He should not have stood by & seen that Conscience misled & then turned the Accuser of it. Lord Cambden admitted that he was the Keeper of the King’s Conscience, by which he understood that he was obliged to inform the King of the Law, which was to be the Rule of his Actions. That He had been allways ready to give his Opinion in law in all Matters that were referred to him. In the Case in Question, he had declared against that Measure in such strong Terms, that it might have been inferred from thence that he had no Opinion of the Legality of it. The Duke of Grafton rose & said, that he had heard it had been reported that he had resigned his Office, because he had changed his Opinion upon the Matter in Question & now disapproved of the Measures of the Ministry he had lately been joined with. He now rose to falsify that report: He was of the same Opinion upon the Subject Matter which he had declared when it was last debated, that the Proceedings against Mr Wilkes were legal & Right. And as for the Ministry he declared that in his Opinion the King had got a very good Set of Ministers; he knew not where he could get a better; & for his Part he should support them with all his Power. He remembered very well that the noble Lord did declare against ^the Expediency of^ the Proceedings of ^against^ Mr Wilkes; but he stopt there, not one Word of the Illegality. And he never imagined that that Lord did think those Proceedings illegal, till he pronounced them so in the House. Lord Weymouth confirmed this, & said that he knew that that Lord did not approve of the Proceedings against Wilkes in View of Expediency, & observed that he kept out of the Way whenever that Matter came under Consideration. But he had no Suspicion of his having any Doubts of the Illegality of what was there doing. Lord Chatham to vindicate his Friend said that about that time Lord Cambden used to visit him as he lay in a sick Bed, & that he frequently declared to him that in his Opinion the proceedings against Wilkes were illegal. To this Lord Weymouth observed that if the learned Lord had been as attentive to the Service of the King as he was to that of the noble Earl, He would have given the same Testimony in the Kings Council as he did at his Lordships Bedside. And now he recollected, that, having observed that when, after a particular Business was over, Wilkes was mentioned that Lord took his Hat, he asked him one day to stay & talk a little upon that Subject, He answered that he had Nothing to do with it. He then should have had Nothing to do with it in this House; & not let a Business pass by him unnoticed in the Kings lesser Council in Order to impeach it in the greater Council.

    I have thought proper to give you this Account of a particular Debate which is not uninteresting. You must consider it to be the Substance only & not the forms, as it passes thro’ two Hands to you; and the first did not pretend to repeat Sentences. When the Question was put the Numbers were pro. 47. con. 96.

    The Question is whether Lord North will be able to support himself in the high Station he is now in. This will depend upon these Questions 1. Whether he is really designed as a permanent Minster. 2. Whether he is to stand upon his own Bottom & be under no Influence from Persons out of Sight; 3 Whether the King is resolved to support him as [a]10 permanent & independent Minster. If these Questions shall be determined in the Affirmative, He will soon see enough under his Banners to enable him to go on with Business. His acknowledged Ability & unexceptionable Character make it very probable that he will gain a firm Establishment; & he appears to be the very fittest Man for such an Appointment at this very critical Time.

    I am &c.

    Lt Govr Hutchinson

    L, LbC      BP, 8: 47–55.