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ministers were dismissed with like evidences of disfavor.
Pitt now, on the 22d of December, 1783, became Prime-Minister at the
age of twenty-four. The situation was one that put all his powers to the severest test. In the last decisive vote in the House of Commons the majority against him had been more than two to one.
Fox was inflamed with all the indignation of which his good-nature was capable. He declared on the floor of the House that “to talk of the permanency of such an administration would be only laughing at and insulting them"; and he alluded to “the youth of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the weakness incident to his early period of life as the only possible excuse for his temerity.” And yet with such consummate tact did Pitt ward off the blows, and with such skill and power did he in turn advance to the assault, that the majority against him at once began to show signs of weakening. Fox threatened to cut off the supplies; whereupon Pitt met him with an unwavering defi
ance. Rapidly the majority went down till, on a test vote on the 8th of March, the opposition
had only one majority. Pitt immediately de[cided to dissolve Parliament and appeal to the
people. The result more than justified his determination. The question everywhere was “ Fox or Pitt ?” The cry “for Pitt and the King" carried the day by an overwhelming majority, and a complete revolution in the House of Commons was the result. More than a hundred and sixty of “ Fox's martyrs " lost their seats. The triumph was the most complete that any English minister ever obtained. It not only placed Pitt in power, but it gave him a predominance in authority that was only once interrupted in the course of more than twenty years.
Within the next few years several subjects of national importance were brought forward by the ministry. But these are usually forgotten or regarded as insignificant when compared with the absorbing questions connected with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic
It is as the leader and guide of what may be called the English policy in that memorable era that Pitt's name will longest be remembered. Though that policy was not without strenuous opposition, it was carried consistently through to the end, and it was what contributed more than any thing else to break the power of Napoleon. It is for this reason that Pitt's most elaborate speech on the policy of the English Government in relation to France is selected not only as a favorable specimen of his eloquence, but as having an influence of commanding importance on the stupendous affairs of the time. This speech is still the best exponent of the English view of the Napoleonic wars.
Notwithstanding all his greatness, there was one weak point in Pitt's line of policy. He made the mistake of constantly underestimating the power of the enthusiasm awakened by the revolutionary ideas in France. This was equivalent to attaching too low an estimate to the strength of the enemy. It was in conse
of this error that he formed coalition after coalition, only to see them all shattered by Napoleon and his enthusiastic followers. When his last great coalition was broken by the battle of Austerlitz the blow was too much for his declining health; and, worn out with toil and anxiety, he sank rapidly, and expired on the 26th of January, 1806.
It is the judgment of Alison that “ Considered with reference to the general principles by which his conduct was regulated, and the constancy with which he maintained them through adverse fortune, the history of Europe has not so great a statesman to exhibit.”
ON HIS REFUSAL TO NEGOTIATE WITH NAPOLEON BONAPARTE. HOUSE OF COMMONS, FEB
RUARY 3, 1800.
On the day after Bonaparte was inaugurated as First Consul of France, December 25, 1799, he addressed a personal letter to the King of England, asking for peace. The English Gov. ernment, however, entertained a keen resentment at what they regarded the evasive and insulting conduct of the French Directory during the last negotiations. Accordingly, the reply of Lord Grenville, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, rejected the proposed opening of negotiations for peace. The Government justified its attitude by referring to the course of the French during the war. It declared that its beginning had been an “unprovoked attack" on the part of the French, that the “ system” which inspired the war continued to prevail,” that England could present no defence but that of open and steady hostility" to the system, that “the best and most natural pledge of the reality and permanence of peace” had been rejected by the French, that although the English "did not claim to prescribe to France what shall be her form of government” yet they desired security for future peace, and that “unhappily no such security hitherto exists, no sufficient evidence of the principles by which the new government will be directed, no reasonable ground by which to judge of its stability.” To this letter Talleyrand wrote a spirited reply ;