[时代楷模发布厅]做一个有意义的世间人

It was at the close of 1719, when George I. returned from Hanover, that this Company proposed to Ministers to consolidate all the funds into one. It was strange that both Ministers and merchants could be deluded by the hope of enriching themselves by a share of the trade with the Spanish South American provinces, when Spain herself, in full enjoyment of them, was sunk into indigence and weakness, and presented the most determined resistance to the unfettered intercourse of any other nation with them. Yet Sir John Blunt, a leading director of the South Sea Company, persuaded the Ministers that by granting the Company power to deal with the public funds, and especially to buy up the unredeemable annuities which had been granted in the two preceding reigns, chiefly on terms of ninety-nine years, and which now amounted to about eight hundred thousand pounds a year, they could, in twenty-six years, pay off the entire National Debt. But, to enable them to do this, they must be empowered to reduce all the different public securities to one aggregate fund in their hands, to convert both redeemable and unredeemable debts into stock by such arrangements as they could make with the holders, and to have certain commercial privileges vested in them. Ministers accepted the proposals with great alacrity. Aislabie introduced the scheme to Parliament in the month of February, 1720, declaring that, if it was accepted by the House, the prosperity of the nation would be amazingly enhanced, and all its debts liquidated in a very few years. Craggs seconded the proposal in most sanguine terms, expressing his conviction that every member of the House must be ready to adopt so advantageous an offer. Ministers had already closed with the proposals of the Company, and they were themselves greatly disconcerted by the suggestion of Mr. Thomas Brodrick, the member for Stockbridge, who expressed his entire accordance with Ministers, but thought that the nation should endeavour to obtain the best terms for itself by opening the competition to every other company or association of men as well as that in question. Ministers were confounded by this proposal, and Aislabie endeavoured to get out of it by declaring that to do this would be like putting the nation up to auction, and that such things should be done with spirit. But Jekyll interposed, saying it was this spirit which had ruined the nation, and it was now requisite to consider seriously what was best for the public. A violent debate ensued, in which Walpole eloquently recommended open competition, and was sharply replied to by Lechmere. The question was carried in favour of competition; and then the Bank of England, which before had coolly declined to enter into the proposals, suddenly appeared in a new temper, and made liberal offers for the privilege of thus farming the public debts. But the South Sea Company was not to be outdone; it offered seven millions and a half, and the Bank gave way in despair.

In the face of such facts it was clear that something must be done, even by a Protectionist Ministry, to diminish the effect of the growing belief that bad legislation was at the bottom of the country's difficulties. In the spring men had looked eagerly for the Budget of the new Ministry. It had been bitterly remarked that at the time when Parliament was prorogued there were nearly 21,000 persons in Leeds whose average earnings were only 11-3/4 d. per weekthat in one district in Manchester alone a gentleman had visited 258 families, consisting of 1,029 individuals, whose average earnings were only 7? d. per head a week; and that while millions were in this deplorable condition, the duty on wheat stood at 24s. 8d. a quarter, and Sir Robert Peel and his colleagues demanded four months' leisure at their country abodes before they would permit the Legislature to take the distress of the people into consideration. At length came the meeting of Parliament, at which the Queen in person read the Speech prepared by her Ministers. It acknowledged with deep regret "the continued distress in the manufacturing districts," and that the sufferings and privations which had resulted from it had been "borne with exemplary patience and forbearance." Finally, her Majesty recommended to the consideration of both Houses "the laws which affect the import of corn and other articles." What was the intention of the Ministers was not then known; but it was already understood that, unlike their rivals, who had proposed a fixed duty, the new Government would attempt some modification of the sliding scale. In the account of these transactions which Sir Robert Peel left to be published by his executors after his death, he says:"One of the first acts of the Government over which I presided (the Government of August, 1841) was to propose a material change in the Corn Law of 1828. I brought the subject under the consideration of my colleagues by means of written memoranda, in preference to proposals made verbally. In the first of these memoranda I recommended my colleagues to undertake the revision of the Corn Laws of 1828, as an act of the Government. In the second, after I had procured their assent to the principle of revision, I submitted a proposal in respect to the extent to which such revision should be carried, and to the details of the new law." Then were seen the first symptoms of that estrangement from his party which reached its climax in 1846. Glaring as was the necessity for change, and evident as it was, even to the body of the landowners, that they must choose between the mild reform of Peel and the more objectionable measure of his antagonists, there were members of the Cabinet who would still have held out for no concession. The Duke of Buckingham retired from the Ministry, and the Duke of Richmond refused to allow his son to move the Address. Exasperated at the failure of this measure, a furious mob broke into the Irish House of Commons on the 15th of April, but they were soon quelled, and two of the ringleaders seized. The magistrates of Dublin were censured for observing the gathering of the mob and taking no measures to prevent its outbreak. The printer and supposed publisher of the Volunteers' Journal were called before the House and reprimanded, and a Bill was brought in and passed, to render publishers more amenable to the law. The spirit of violence still raged through the country. Tumultuous associations were formed under the name of Aggregate Bodies.

It was in these peculiar circumstances that the extraordinary measure was adopted of sending out a commission. The king, however, was furious at what he regarded as a breach of his prerogative. He told Sir George Grey, one of the Commission, in the presence of his Ministers, that he was to assert the prerogative of the Crown, which persons who ought to have known better had dared to deny, and that he was to recollect that Lower Canada had been conquered by the sword. A week later he favoured Lord Gosford with this[399] outburst"By God I will never consent to alienate the Crown lands, nor to make the Council elective. Mind, my lord, the Cabinet is not my Cabinet. They had better take all, or by God I will have them impeached." As Lord Glenelg, the Colonial Secretary, was the person alluded to in the first sally, the Ministry drew up a strongly worded remonstrance which was read to the king by Lord Melbourne. But Lord Glenelg's instructions to Lord Gosford were toned down, and his mission was therefore foredoomed to failure. It was found that the sense of grievance and the complaints of bad government prevailed in both provinces, though of a different character in each. The habitants of the Lower Province complained of the preference shown by the Government to the British settlers and to the English language over the French. Englishmen, they said, monopolised the public offices, which they administered with the partiality and injustice of a dominant race. They complained also of the interference of the Government in elections, and of its unreasonable delay in considering or sanctioning the Bills passed by the Assembly. They insisted, moreover, that the Upper House, corresponding to the House of Peers, should be elective, instead of being appointed by the Crown and subject to its will. In the Upper Province the chief grounds of discontent arose from the want of due control over the public money and its expenditure. Many of the electors had gone out from Great Britain and Ireland during the Reform agitation, bearing with them strong convictions and excited feelings on the subject of popular rights, and they were not at all disposed to submit to monopoly in the colony of their adoption, after assisting to overthrow it in the mother country. Lord Gosford opened the Assembly in November, 1835, and in the course of his speech he said, "I have received the commands of our most gracious Sovereign to acquaint you that his Majesty is disposed to place under the control of the representatives of the people all public moneys payable to his Majesty or to his officers in this province, whether arising from taxes or from any other source. The accounts which will be submitted to your examination show the large arrears due as salaries to public officers and for the ordinary expenditure of the Government; and I earnestly request of you to pass such votes as may effect the liquidation of these arrears, and provide for the maintenance of the public servants, pending the inquiry by the Commissioners."