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"No words," says Sir Archibald Alison, "can convey an adequate idea of the astonishment which the announcement of this project of Reform created in the House of Commons and the country. Nothing approaching to it had ever been witnessed before, or has been since. Men's minds were prepared for a change, perhaps a very considerable one, especially in the enfranchising of new cities and towns which were unrepresented; but it never entered into the imagination of any human being out of the Cabinet that so sweeping and entire a change would be proposed, especially by the king's Ministers. The Tories had never dreaded such a revolution; the Radicals had never hoped for it. Astonishment was the universal feeling. Many laughed outright; none thought the Bill could pass. It was supposed by many that Ministers neither intended nor desired it, but wished only to establish a thorn in the side of their adversaries, which should prevent them from holding power if they succeeded in displacing them. So universal was this feeling, that it is now generally admitted that had Sir Robert Peel, instead of permitting the debate to go on, instantly divided the House, on the plea that the proposed measure was too revolutionary to be for a moment entertained, leave to bring in the Bill would have been refused by a large majority. The Cabinet Ministers themselves are known to have thought at the time that their official existence then hung upon a thread." Such a result, however, was most unlikely, as Sir Robert Inglis and other Tory orators were eager to speak, having collected precedents, arguments, and quotations against the Bill. These they proceeded to impart to the House. After a debate of seven nights, the Bill was read a first time, without a division, and the second reading was set down for the 21st of March. "Believe me, ever yours most sincerely,
There were various actions at sea, in one quarter or other. Sir Hyde Parker, convoying a merchant fleet from the Baltic, on the 5th of August fell in with Admiral Zouttman near the Dogger Bank, also convoying a fleet of Dutch traders. An engagement took place, Zouttman having a few men-of-war more than Parker. The engagement was terrible. The ships on both sides were severely damaged, and the Hollandiaa sixty-four-gun ship of Zouttman'swent down with all its crew. Many of the other ships were with difficulty kept afloat. On reaching the Nore, the king and the Prince of Wales went on board, where they highly complimented both Parker and the rest of the officers. On the 12th of December Admiral Kempenfeldt, with thirteen ships-of-the-line, discovered, off Ushant, the French fleet, under De Guichen, convoying a fleet of transports and merchantmen, bound, some for the East and others for the West Indies, with troops and stores. The fleet of De Guichen was far superior to that of Kempenfeldt, but, the convoy being at a considerable distance from the transports and traders, Kempenfeldt adroitly made himself master of twenty sail of these vessels, and sailed off with them; and within a few days afterwards he captured five more of these ships. There were also other fights of minor importance.
The royal party then proceeded up the beautiful river Lee, to the city of Cork, hailed by cheering crowds at every point along the banks where a sight of the Queen could be obtained. All the population of the capital of Munster seemed to have turned out to do homage to their Sovereign. A procession was quickly formed. The Queen and the Royal Family occupied carriages lent for the occasion by Lord Bandon. The procession passed under several beautiful triumphal arches, erected at different points. The public buildings and many private houses were adorned with banners of every hue, evergreens, and all possible signs of rejoicing. The windows, balconies, and all available positions were crowded by the citizens, cheering and waving their hats and handkerchiefs. When this ceremony had been gone through, the Queen returned to the Victoria and Albert in Queenstown Harbour. At night the whole of that town was brilliantly illuminated. In Cork, also, the public buildings and the principal streets were lit up in honour of her Majesty's visit. Her Majesty, before she departed, was pleased to say to Sir Thomas Deane that "nothing could be more gratifying" than her reception.On the 6th of Juneonly a fortnight after Howe's departurethe three Commissioners, Lord Carlisle, Mr. Eden, and Governor Johnstone, arrived. They learned with consternation and unspeakable chagrin this order for the evacuation of Philadelphia, and, still more, that so important a dispatch had been kept concealed from them. There was not a single circumstance in favour of the Commissioners. At the same moment that we were making this disastrous retreat from the hardly-won Philadelphia, publishing our weakness to the world, Congress had just received the mighty news of French alliance, French aid, and French ships and troops steering towards their coasts. The Commissioners came furnished with propositions the most honourable and favours the most absolute. They were authorised to offer to the Americans that no military forces should be maintained in the Colonies without the consent of the General Congress or of the Assembly of a particular State; that England would take measures to discharge the debts of America, and to give full value to its paper money; would admit an agent or agents from the States into the British Parliament, and send, if they wished it, agents to sit with them in their Assemblies; that each State should have the sole power of settling its revenue, and perfect freedom of internal legislation and governmentin fact, everything except total severance from the parent country. Such terms, conceded at the proper time, would have made war impossible; but the proper time was long past, and they were now useless. The Commissioners applied to Washington for a passport to Congress, in order to lay the proposals brought by the Commissioners before them. But Washington bluntly refused the passport; and only consented to forward the letter through the common post. Congress took time to deliberate on the contents of the letter, and then returned an answer through their President, that the Act of Parliament and the forms of the Commission all supposed the American States to be still subject to Great Britain, which had long ceased to be fact; and that Congress could listen to no overtures from the King of England until he had withdrawn his fleet and armies, and was prepared to treat with them as independent States. The Commissioners could only retire, leaving behind them a manifesto threatening the utmost severities of war.
Her next care was to visit Madame de Bullion, a devout lady of great wealth, who was usually designated at Montreal as the unknown benefactress, because, though her charities were the mainstay of the feeble colony, and though the source from which they proceeded was well known, she affected, in the interest of humility, the greatest secrecy, and required those who profited by her gifts to pretend ignorance whence they came. Overflowing with zeal for the pious enterprise, she received her visitor with enthusiasm, lent an open ear to her recital, responded graciously to her appeal for aid, and paid over to her the sum, munificent at that day, of twenty-two thousand francs. Thus far successful, Mademoiselle Mance repaired to the town of La Flche to visit Le Royer de la Dauversire. John Stewart, made Attorney-General and a baronet.
The king's speech, at the opening of this Session, recommended a consideration of the trade and general condition of Ireland; and indeed it was time, for the concessions which had been made by the Rockingham Ministry had only created a momentary tranquillity. The Volunteers retaining their arms in their hands after the close of the American war, were evidently bent on imitating the proceedings of the Americans, and the direction of the movement passed from Grattan to Flood. In September, 1785, delegates from all the Volunteer corps in Ireland met at Dungannon, representing one hundred thousand men, who passed resolutions declaring their independence of the legislature of Great Britain. The delegates at Dungannon claimed the right to reform the national Parliament, and appointed a Convention to meet in Dublin in the month of November, consisting of delegates from the whole Volunteer army in Ireland. Accordingly, on the 10th of November, the great Convention met in Dublin, and held their meetings in the Royal Exchange. They demanded a thorough remodelling of the Irish Constitution. They declared that as matters stood the Irish House of Commons was wholly independent of the people; that its term of duration was equally unconstitutional; and they passed zealous votes of thanks to their friends in England. These friends were the ultra-Reformers of England, who had freely tendered the Irish Reformers their advice and sympathy. The Irish people were ready to hail the delegates as their true Parliament, and the regular Parliament as pretenders. Within Parliament House itself the most violent contentions were exhibited between the partisans of the Volunteer Parliament and the more orthodox reformers. Henry Flood was the prominent advocate of the extreme movement, and Grattan, who regarded this agitation as certain to end only in fresh coercion, instead of augmented liberty for Ireland, vehemently opposed it.
It was stated that the overthrow of Peel's Government was decided by what was called the Lichfield House compact, which made a great noise at the time. By this compact it was alleged that a formal coalition had been effected between the Whigs and the Irish Catholics; but they denied that there was anything formal about the arrangement. There was a meeting, it is true, at Lichfield House, when Lord John Russell stated his intentions, and described what would be his Parliamentary tactics. These met the approval of O'Connell and his friends, and to that extent alone, even by implication, did any compact exist. There had also, it appears from Mr. Walpole's "Life of Lord John Russell," been certain pour-parlers, the result of a formal circular issued by Lord Duncannon. Mr. O'Connell was accustomed to explain his reason for supporting the Whigs by a comparison which was not the most complimentary to them; he said they were like an old hat thrust into a broken pane to keep out the cold.