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State of Parties in England in Relation to America, (Note,)


Whilst matters of this great magnitude were transacting in America, an unexampled supineness with regard to publick affairs, prevailed among the great, body of the people at home. The English Nation, which used to feel so tremblingly alive upon every contest that arose between the remotest Powers in Europe, and to interest itself so much in the issue as scarcely to be withheld from becoming a party wherever justice or friendship pointed out the way, by a strange reverse of temper, seemed, at this time, much more indifferent to matters in which were involved its own immediate and dearest interests. Even the great commercial and manufacturing bodies, who must be the first to feel, and the last to lament any sinister events in the Colonies, and who are generally remarkable for a quick foresight and provident sagacity in whatever regards their interest, seemed now to be sunk in the game carelessness and inattention with the rest of the people.


Several causes concurred to produce this apparent indifference. The Colony contests were no longer new. From the year 1765 they had, with but few, and those short intermissions; engaged the attention of Parliament. Most of the topicks on the subject were exhausted, and the vehement passions which accompanied them had subsided. The Non-Importation Agreement (by divisions within the Colonies, which, if not caused, were much forwarded by the concessions with regard to several of the taxes laid in 1767) had broken up before it had produced any serious consequences. Most people, therefore, flattered themselves that as things had appeared so very frequently at the verge of a rupture, without actually arriving at it, that now, as formerly, some means would be found for accommodating this dispute. At worst, it was conceived that the Americans would themselves grow tired. And as an opinion was circulated, with some industry and success, that a countenance


of resolution, if persevered in for some time, would certainly put an end to the contest, which (it was said) had been nourished wholly by former concessions, people were in general inclined to leave the trial of the effects of perseverance and resolution, to a Ministry who valued themselves on those qualities. The Court had also with great tenaciousness adhered to this system for some years. It frequently got the better, not only of the regular opposition, but of parties in the Ministry itself, who were from time to time inclined to relax either from fear, weariness, or change of opinion. All these things had hitherto indisposed the body of the Nation from taking part in the sanguine manner they had hitherto done on other subjects, and formerly on this.

From these causes, Administration being totally disengaged at home, was at full leisure to prosecute the measures which it had designed against America, or to adopt such new ones as the opposition there rendered necessary towards carrying the new laws into execution. The times, indeed, were highly favourable to any purpose, which only required the concurrence of that Parliament, and the acquiescence of the people.

Notwithstanding; these favourable circumstances on the one side, and that general indifference which prevailed on the other, it was not totally forgotten by either, that the time for a general election was approaching, and that the Parliament had but one session more to complete its allotted term. In some few places, where the popular spirit ran high, tests were already proposed to be signed by their future candidates, previous to their receiving any assurance or promise of support from the electors. At a meeting of the freeholders of the County of Middlesex, a test was proposed to Mr˙ Wilkes and Serjeant Glynn, and by them signed, in which they engaged their utmost endeavours to promote Bills for shortening the duration of Parliaments; for the exclusion of Placemen and Pensioners from the House of Commons; for a more fair and equal representation of the people; for vindicating the injured rights of the freeholders of that County, and, through them, of all the electors in the Kingdom; for procuring a repeal of the four late American Acts, viz: that for the Province of Quebec, and the three which affected the Town of Boston, and the Province of Massachusetts Bay; besides binding themselves, so far as in them lay, to restore and defend that excellent form of government which had been modelled and established at the Revolution.

Tests, upon much the same principles, were proposed in London and some other places; and it is still the opinion of some of those who were sanguine in that mode of proceeding, that the apprehension of its becoming general, influenced the subsequent conduct of Administration to the dissolution of Parliament. This opinion, however, seems ill-founded. There was no reason then to expect, nor is, there now to imagine, that the mode of subscribing to tests would have become general, or even extensive. The influence of Administration, in a great number of the Boroughs, and in many of the Counties, is at all times too well known to be called in question, and the principal and most celebrated leaders in Opposition, totally disclaimed all tests whatever, as unworthy of themselves, derogatory of their character as Senators, and restrictive of their rights as men.

Other more probable causes must be sought for the measure of dissolving the Parliament. The civil list was again become deeply in debt, and the distresses of the lower part of the household, from the withholding of their wages, were become so notorious, and so much spoken of, that it seemed disgraceful to the Nation, as well as grievous to the Sovereign. It was therefore thought, and probably rightly, that it was intended, in the ensuing session, not only to demand a large sum of money for the discharge of the standing debt, but also that a requisition would be made for such a considerable and certain yearly addition to the civil list revenues as would prevent all such mortifying applications for the future.

Though no doubt could be entertained of the good will and compliance of the then Parliament, it was, perhaps, not thought prudent to load them with so disagreeable a task at the eve of a general election. Recent experience had shewn that this was a subject which would excite much general discussion; and that however a majority might, for


their zeal to the ease of their Sovereign, overlook all the difficulties that could be raised within doors, such a settlement, attended with the payment of a great present balance, and loaded with an entailed irredeemable future encumbrance, would not at all be satisfactory without. People are apt to be out of humour at the parting with their money, and an application for future trust and favour, in such a temper, would seem at least ill-timed. On the other hand, such a measure would be nothing in the hands of a new Parliament, and would be worn out of memory, or become only an historical reference, at the time of their natural demise. The sinister events which have since taken place have, however, hitherto prevented the making of any requisition of this nature.

Another motive may, perhaps, be supposed for the measure of dissolution. That Parliament had already passed the most hostile laws against America; and as they could not with so good a grace rescind their own acts, the Minister was, in some degree, tied down to a perseverance in the support of those measures on which they were founded; whereas, in a new House of Commons, he would be somewhat at large in choosing or altering his line of conduct, as circumstances varied, and they, if necessary, might throw all the odium of those laws upon their predecessors.

It may also be supposed that as the issue of the American measures became every day more precarious it was thought a right measure to have the elections over before any unfortunate event could change the temper or irritate the minds of the people. If this should coincide with the time of a general election, there was no doubt but the opposition must carry every thing before it. This, in all likelihood, was the strongest and most prevalent motive to this resolution, though the others might have had their share. And it may be safely concluded that a saving to the friends of Government, by curtailing the time for contest and expanse, particularly in the Counties, was not at all overlooked upon this occasion. Indeed, the Opposition complained that they did not receive fair play; that some places were lost by surprise; and, they said, that those in the secret had infinite advantages by setting out betimes for the scene of action, and taking the necessary measures to strengthen their interest, before even a suspicion of the design was formed on the other side.

However it was very unexpectedly, and much to the surprise of the Nation, in general, (as it had not been a measure much practised of late years, no similar instance having occurred since the year 1746, and even that being an unique in the long reign of George the Second;) a Proclamation was issued on the 30th of September, for the dissolution of the Parliament, and the calling of a new one, the writs for which were made returnable on the 29th day of the following November. Notwithstanding the surprise, and shortnesses of the time, some of the elections were contested with extraordinary perseverance and ardour.

In London, the popular party carried every thing before them, and returned all the Members. Mr˙ Wilkins was again elected to represent the County of Middlesex, without a shadow of opposition from the Court and Lord Mayor of that City, for the ensuing year; and there was no doubt that the Court party, grown somewhat wiser by long and bitter experience, would no longer controvert his seat. The dispute, concerning that single seat had produced to them more troubles, vexation, and disgraces than the contest with the twelve united Colonies of America. It would have been an imprudence of the grossest kind to mix these disputes in the present crisis; and thus, after near fourteen years struggle, it was thought the best way to leave him master of the field.

It was said, by some of those who are curious in attending to such observations, that notwithstanding the surprise and the shortness of the time, a greater number of the old Members were thrown out than was common at general elections. However the fact might be, those who were the best acquainted with men and things, did not augur any change of system from this circumstance. The Court, notwithstanding all the ill success of all the measures from which, the best success was so confidently expected, seemed firmly resolved to persevere in the same course. It is said that private advices from America encouraged them to set a light value on the publick appearances.— Ann. Regis.