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Alarming Scarcity of Provisions-Dispute between the Proprietors and the Directors
of the East India Company-Substance of the King's Speech at the Meeting of Parliament-Bil of Indemnity-Reduction of the Land-lax carried against the Minister— The India Company's Right to territorial acquisitions debated— Proposals of the Company accepted— Bill for regulating India Dividends—Duties laid on certain Imports from Great Britain to America; and measures taken to restrain the turbulent Spirit of the Assembly of New-York—Some Changes in the Great Offices of the State-The Ministry strongly opposed on the Nullum Tempus Bill—Corporation of Oxford reprimanded for Venality-Popularity in Ireland of the Octennial Bill.
GREAT SCARCITY OF PROVISIONS. and the jails were filled with prisoners. Though the general tranquillity of Eu- Judges were in consequence dispatched with rope still remained undisturbed by the spirit a special commission to try the delinquents, of intrigue, or by the rage of conquest, some several of whom were condemned to die. A of its finest countries were severely afflicted few of the ringleaders suffered as examples; by calamities of another kind. The irregu- but the sentence of the majority was mitilarity and inclemency of the seasons for a gated to transportation, and many received few years past had occasioned an uncertain- a free pardon. ty and great deficiency in the crops of differ- The conduct of the new ministry on this ent districts; and were it not for that happy occasion was far from being politic or judieffect of' navigation and commerce, by which cious. On the eleventh of September, the the wants of one nation are supplied from privy-couneil issued a proclamation for enthe superabundance of another, famine would forcing the laws against forestallers, regrahave thinned the race of mankind in many tors, and engrossers of corn; a measure that places. Italy in particular had suffered ex- countenanced the absurd ideas of the mob, tremely; and even England, which usually by declaring that scarcity to be artificial, supplied its neighbors with immerise quanti- which was but too natural. Besides, the ties of grain, and allowed a considerable laws in question were so dark in their conbounty on the exportation of it, was now struction, and so difficult in the execution, threatened with an alarming scarcity. So that little effect could be expected from this wet a summer as that of the present year step but that of banishing dealers from the has not been remembered in this country. markets, and increasing the evil which it From the month of March to the month of was intended to remedy. This truth was August, there were not two days of dry so well understood, that very little regard weather in succession. The corn harvest, was paid to the proclamation; and the frivof course, was very much injured; and the olous expedient fell to the ground. The distresses of the poor from the high prices price of corn still increasing, another procof that and of every other article of subsist-lamation was issued on the twenty-sixth of ence became uncommonly urgent. The the same month, laying an embargo on the language of complaint was soon followed by exportation of wheat and flour, and prohibriots and tumults, which the populace are iting the use of that grain in the distilleries. in apt to look upon as the only means of This proclamation was certainly much better alleviating every evil, or redressing every adapted to its end than the former, but much grievance. At first, they only undertook to more doubtful in point of law. Wheat had lower and regulate the markets, and to pun- not yet reached the price, under which it ish certain individuals, who, they imagined, might be legally exported. No authority, had contributed to their calamities by engross therefore, but that of the whole legislature, mg, and other practices for entrancing the could in this case lay a constitutional emprice of provisions beyond their just rate. bargo on it. By way of excuse for dispensBut they did not long confine themselves to ing with a positive law, it was stated in the these objects. Heated by mutual commo-proclamation, that his majesty had not an tion, they proceeded to the most enormous opportunity of taking the advice of his parexcesses: much mischief was done, and liament speedily enough upon such an emer, many lives were lost in various parts of the gency to stop the progress of the mischiet. kingdom. The magistrates being at length But the privy-council had destroyce the obliged to call in the military to the aid of validity of this plea, by proroguing the parthe civil power, the rioters were dispersed, liament, which was to have met on the six
teenth of September, till the eleventh of and defence, the contest was for some time November. As they had received the fullest carried on with great animosity, each party information on the subject of a probable accusing the other of the most corrupt descarcity, in the beginning of August, there signs, and of misrepresenting, for private was sufficient time to give the members of purposes, the real state of the company's both houses the usual notice, commanding affairs. This course of altercation was protheir attendance in September, and a short ductive of consequences which were then session would have prevented every appear- but little foreseen. Everything relative to ance of necessity for the ministers to commit the company was now laid before the public: an illegal action.
the exact state of their immense property DEBATES ON EAST INDIA STOCK. became known to all persons: their most
Some other events took place before the private secrets were unveiled: their charmeeting of parliament, which, as well as ters, their rights, their possessions, their the former, engaged in a greater or less de- opulence as a distinct body, and their utility gree the attention of both houses. The most to the state, were become matters of general important of these were the debates and speculation and inquiry. As the Michaelmas resolutions of the proprietors of East India quarterly meeting approached, at which stock. They had long expected, in conse- there could be no doubt but the great object quence of the flouris state of their affairs of dispute between the contending parties abroad, that a larger dividend would be de- would come again upon the carpet, it was clared by the directors; and that all the previously reported about by the friends of members of the company should enjoy a one of them, that government intended to share of those sweets which were the con- interfere, and had absolutely forbidden any sequence of their foreign success, and which increase of dividend, denouncing threats they saw hitherto entirely engrossed by their against the company which struck at its exservants. This seemed to them the more istence. A report of this sort excited a vareasonable, as the dividend then stood at six riety of conjectures; but most people looked per cent., the lowest point to which it had upon it as a trick to answer the purposes of ever been reduced at the most critical period the directors. All doubt was removed at of the war. In their opinion, such a small the opening of the general court on the dividend agreed but ill with a great revenue twenty-fourth of September. A message in and its promised stability, and tended to writing from the first lord of the treasury create an artificial fall in the price of stock, and some other of the ministers was read, to the great loss of the present possessors, setting forth, “ That as the affairs of the and to the advantage of future adventurers. East India company had been mentioned in These inclinations of the proprietors did not parliament last session, it was very probable by any means coincide with the sentiments they might be taken into consideration again: of the directors. While the greatest part therefore, from the regard they had for the of the former considered only the successes welfare of the company, and that they might of the company, the directors saw nothing have time to prepare their papers for that but its debts
. Two factions arose upon this occasion, they informed them, that the parsubject, the one for increasing the dividend, liament would meet in November.” Letters the other for keeping it at the same standard. were at the same time read from lord Clive, It was intended by the former, that, if the and from the secret committee at Bengal, directors did not voluntarily declare an in- which not only confirmed, but exceeded the crease of dividend at the midsummer court, accounts that had been formerly received to put it to the question, and have it decided of the great wealth of the company, the by the majority of the proprietors present. extension of its trade, and the firm basis on As this intention was publicly known, its which, as far as human foresight could judge, success was sufficiently guarded against and its security was now established. The diprevented. At the opening of the court, a rectors still opposed an increase of dividend; friend of the directors made a motion for in- and, upon a motion being made for advanccreasing the dividend to eight per cent., ing it to ten per cent., from the ensuing which being disapproved, he immediately Christmas, they insisted upon a ballot, by withdrew it, and thereby put it out of the which the decision was evaded for a day or power of the proprietors to bring on the sub- two, but was at length carried against them ject again at that meeting, such a procedure by a considerable majority. Some of the being contrary to the established forms of proprietors, however, thought their success the court. The address that was shown in in this contest was purchased at too dear a this transaction did not protect it from cen- rate, by having drawn upon themselves the sure: the conduct of the directors was scru- eyes of the ministry. A few months more tinized with great severity: the supposed gave them an earnest of what they so justly motives to it were laid open; and the public apprehended. papers being made the instruments of attack The air of seriousness, which a variety
of weighty concerns had lately diffused over necessity of bringing a bill into parliament the nation, was for a little time enlivened to indemnify all persons who had acted in by some pleasing occurrences at court, the obedience to the order of council for laying birth of a princess royal, and the nuptials on the embargo. Nobody denied the expeof the princess Carolina Matilda. The cere-diency of such a restraint at the time it mony of the princess Carolina Matilda's was the mode of the transaction which demarriage to the king of Denmark was per- served censure, as by it the crown seemed formed on the first of October by the arch- to assume and exercise a power of dispensbishop of Canterbury, the duke of York being with the laws,-one of the grievances ing proxy for his Danish majesty. Next so expressly provided against at the revolumorning, the young queen, accompanied by tion. The first form of the bill was found the duke of Gloucester and a numerous to be defective: it provided for the indemtrain of attendants, set out from Carlton- nity of the inferior officers who had acted house for Harwich, there to embark on board under the proclamation, while it passed by the yacht designed to convey her to Hol- the council who advised it; and it had not a land. She did not reach Denmark till the preamble fully expressive of the illegality beginning of November, on the eighth of of the measure. In these respects the bill which she made her public entry into Co- was amended and made perfect. But this penhagen, when the nuptial ceremony was produced much altercation, especially in the renewed with extraordinary splendor and house of lords, where, to the astonishment magnificence. The satisfaction expressed of most people, the newly-created earl of at the time by the subjects of both crowns, Chatham, and lord Cambden, the chancellor, from an idea that the alliance between them opposed the bill, and vindicated the late exwould be greatly strengthened by an addi-ertion of prerogative, not only from the petional tie of so agreeable a nature, was culiar circumstances that seemed to influence soon converted into the most painful disap- it
, but as a matter of right, asserting that a pointment. In little more than five years dispensing power, in cases of state necesafter, the amiable Carolina Matilda fell a sity, was one of the prerogatives inherent in victim to the malice of a party, and to the the crown. This desertion from the side of wicked intrigues of the queen dowager, liberty, to principles so directly opposite, who imposed upon her unsuspecting inno- gave a mortal stab to the popularity of those cence, and artfully led her into measures occasional patriots. The fallacy of their which were made the grounds of the most pretexts, as well as of their reasonings, was infamous reproach and crimination. exposed, and the cause of freedom and of
MEETING OF PARLIAMENT. the constitution was ably supported by lord At the meeting of parliament on the Mansfield, lord Temple, and lord Lyttleton. eleventh of November, the king, in his The real motives for the late exertion of speech to both houses, observed that the high power were first inquired into; and then price of wheat, and the extraordinary de- the doctrine of a dispensing power in such mands for it from abroad, had determined cases was very forcibly attacked. “So early him to call them together so early; he took as the month of August, you received au. notice of the urgent necessity that occasion-thentic intelligence of the state of the hared an exertion of the royal authority, for vest, the quantity of corn in the kingdom, preservation of the public safety, by laying and of the increase of its price. You then an embargo on wheat and flour; and he re- must have had as clear an idea of all the commended the due consideration of farther probable consequences as at any time after expedients to their wisdom: he expressed that period. Why then did you not issue a his concern at the late daring insurrections; proclamation for parliament to meet on the and added, that no vigilance and vigor on sixteenth of September, the day to which it his part should be wanting to bring the of- was prorogued? You had it in your power fenders to justice, and to restore obedience to give the members above thirty days notice; to law and government. His majesty con- and the calamities which threatened the cluded with a very few concise remarks on poor might have been averted, without a the late commercial treaty with Russia, on breach of the constitution. Instead of this, the marriage of his sister to the king of when their distresses were risen to the highDenmark, on the supplies for the current est pitch, you issued, on the tenth of Sepservice, and on the continuance of the for- tember, a proclamation against forestalling, mer pacific posture of affairs in Europe. which could not give them the smallest reThe usual motion for an address being made lief; and, on the same day, you prorogued in both houses, various amendments were the parliament for two months longer, thus proposed, reflecting on the late conduct of precluding the king from availing himself the privy-council; but were rejected. of their advice or assistance in any emerBILL OF INDEMNITY.
gency. Yet you assign the impossibility of This, however, did not supersede the convening the parliament as the motive for
issuing, in sixteen days after so extraordinary and a new proof was given to the admirers
But as an equal right to break through them all.— the enormous expenses incurred in the late No true distinction can be made between contest with so many powers were already the suspending power and the crown's rais- a heavy burden on the manufacturing part ing money without the consent of parlia- of the nation, it was thought more prudent ment. They are precisely alike, and stand to continue the land-tax at four shillings in upon the very same ground. They were the pound, than to increase the distresses of born twins, lived together, and together it the poor by taxing the necessaries of life. was hoped they were buried at the revolu- Hence the whole land-tax began to be contion, past all power of resurrection.-Were sidered as a part of the settled revenue that the doctrine of suspension, under the pre-was to answer the current services of the tence of necessity, once admitted as consti- year. It was then to the great surprise of tutional, the revolution could be called no- the ministers, that a resolution passed the thing but a successful rebellion, or a lawless house, supported by a considerable majority, and wicked invasion of the rights of the which reduced the land-tax to three shilcrown; the bill of rights would become a lings in the pound. This was the more no false and scandalous libel, an infamous im- ticed as being the first money-bill, in which position both on prince and people; and any minister had been disappointed since the James II. could not be said to have abdicated revolution. It considerably damped the or forfeited, but to have been robbed of his warm hopes that had been formed, in the crown.” By such arguments, and others beginning, of the strength and consistence of the like spirit and tendency, did lord of the new administration, which, it was Mansfield in particular combat the ill-advis- supposed, would prove irresistible, as acting ed stretch of the prerogative, and reduce under the auspices of the earl of Chatham. the apologists for the measure, however But this noble lord had lost much of his great their ingenuity and eloquence, to the popularity without doors, and of his influ. impossibility of a reply. The bill was pass-ence within, by many parts of his late caned, highly to the satisfaction of the public; duct. He had disgusted by his overbearing
manner the most respectable and powerful debated with great warmth on both sides, men of every party; and he had sunk great- yet the house seemed unwilling to determine ly in the public estimation by his acceptance a question of so much importance; and even of a peerage, and by his having first advised, a few of the ministerial speakers declared and afterwards defended, upon constitutional against coming to any final resolutions on grounds, the exercise of the dispensing pre- this head, but strenuously recommended an rogative. Feeling, though too late, the want amicable agreement with the company. of additional support, he made several at- PROPOSALSOF THE COMPANY ACCEPTED. tempts in the course of the winter, by offers In the mean time, the proprietors of East and concessions not much to his honor, to India stock had several meetings. . At one gain over, or to divide the Bedford or the of their general courts in the beginning of Newcastle interest. But the most that he May, the dividend for the ensuing half year could obtain from the former was a temporary was raised from five to six and a quarter per neutrality. Soon after his lordship fell into cent., and, about the same time, a scheme of so bad a state of health, that he was obliged proposals for an accommodation with governto relinquish all attention to business.
ment was agreed to. These were laid beSCRUTINY OF THE EAST INDIA COM- fore the ministry, who now were publicly PANY'S AFFAIRS.
known to have unfortunately fallen into a THE want of harmony and decision in the state of such distraction, that they had no cabinet was still more evident, when the opinions in common. Accordingly, they East India affairs were brought forward for shifted the proposals from one to another, the consideration of parliament. A commit- without coming to any determination ; so tee of the house of commons had been ap- that the company were obliged to state their pointed in November to look into the state offers in a petition to parliament. Two sets and condition of the company. Copies of of proposals for an agreement to last for their charters, their treaties, and their cor- three years were laid before the house : by respondence, as well as exact accounts of the first, the company offered, after deducttheir revenue and of the expenses incurred ing four hundred thousand pounds a-year in by government in their behalf, were called lieu of their former commercial profits, to for, and became the subjects of a rigorous divide equally with government the net scrutiny. In the course of this business, produce of all their reinaining revenues and violent' debates frequently arose, in which trade : by the second, they engaged to pay the principal servants of the crown did not the specific sum of four hundred thousand appear to act upon any regular or settled pounds a-year during the above agreement; plan. An order was at length made for but, in either case, stipulating for some para printing the East India papers; but it was ticular indulgence in their trade and in the afterwards countermanded, at the instance recruiting service. These latter proposals of the directors. The next question, which were accepted by the house, with this differwas agitated with increasing violence and ence only, that the agreement was limited diversity of sentiment, was the company's to two, instead of three years; and a bill right to their territorial acquisitions. Some was drawn up and passed accordingly. contended, that they had no right by their THE COMPANY RESTRAINED FROM IN. charters to any conquest; that such posses: CREASING THEIR DIVIDEND. sions in the hands of a trading corporation But whatever satisfaction the proprietors were improper and dangerous, and that, if of East India stock derived from the parliait were even legally and politically right mentary acceptance of their offer, it was, in that they should hold these territories, yet no small degree, abated by some other prothe vast expenditure of government in proceedings which took place soon after. A tecting them gave it a fair and equitable title message from the ministry had been read at to the revenues arising from the conquests. the general court which declared the last Those, who maintained the rights of the increase of dividend, recommending to the company, denied that any reserve of con- company to make no augmentation of it, till quests had been made in their charters; and their affairs were farther considered. That as these were fairly purchased from the na- message not having produced the designed tion, and confirmed by act of parliament, effect, two bills were brought into the house, they said, that a violation of such a bargain one for determining the qualifications of would be a dangerous infringement on prop- voters in trading companies, and the other erty and the public faith. They added, that for farther regulating the making of diviif governinent had any claim to the con- dends by the East India company. Their quests in India, the courts were open for the late act was rescinded by the last of these trial of that claim; but the house of com- bills; and they were tied down from raising mons was not, by the constitution, the inter- their dividends above ten per cent. till the preter of law, or the decider of legal rights. next meeting of parliament. The company, Though the subject was often resumed, and in order to ward off a blow which struck so VOL. IV.