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On the 18th of April Lord John Russell moved that the House should go into committee on the Bill, stating that he proposed to make certain alterations in the details of the measure, but none affecting its principles. General Gascoigne then moved that it should be an instruction to the committee that the number of members composing the House of Commons ought not to be reduced. The motion was seconded by Mr. Sadler, and resisted by Lord Althorp, who declared that the object of the motion was to destroy the Bill. It was nevertheless carried, after an animated debate, by a majority of eight against the Government. Ministers had been placed in a position of peculiar difficultythey had to humour the king's vanity and love of popular applause, in order to prevent his becoming sulky, and refusing to consent to a dissolution, which they felt to be inevitable. They had also to proceed with great caution in dealing with the Opposition, lest, irritated by the threat of dissolution, they should resolve to stop the supplies, it being impossible to dissolve Parliament in the present state of the estimates. They had been fortunate enough, however, to guard against this danger. On the 23rd of March supply had been moved, and a large portion of the army estimates voted. On the 25th Sir James Graham moved portions of the navy estimates, and on the same night the Civil List was provided for. Further supplies of various kinds having luckily been granted, on the 30th the House was adjourned for the Easter holidays, till the 12th of April. Soult, on the retreat of Sir John Moore, had taken possession of Ferrol, Bilbao, and the other principal towns in the north of Spain. He had then entered Portugal, and had marched to Oporto, which he took after a resistance of only two days; and Sir J. Cradock had retired to Lisbon. Soult was prevented from advancing farther by the rising of the Spaniards behind him in Galicia, who retook Vigo and other places; whilst Silviera, the Portuguese general, interposed between him and Galicia, and formed a junction with the Spaniards. Wellesley determined to expel Soult from Oporto, and did not hesitate to say that the French general could not long remain in Portugal. Leaving a division in Lisbon to guard the eastern frontiers of Portugal against the forces of Victor, who lay in Spanish Estremadura, Sir Arthur advanced towards Oporto with a celerity that astonished the French. He quitted Lisbon on the 28th of April, reached Coimbra, driving the French before him, and on the 9th of May he was advancing from that city on Oporto. By the 11th he was occupying the southern bank of the Douro, opposite to that city. Soult had broken down the bridges and sent away the boats, so that he might be able to retire at leisure into Galicia; but Sir Arthur managed to send across General Murray with a brigade, a few miles above Oporto, and a brigade of Guards also passed at the suburb of Villanova, and he discovered sufficient boats to carry over his main army just above the town. The French commenced a fierce attack on the British forces as they landed; but the first battalion, the Buffs, got possession of a large building called the Seminario, and held it till the other troops arrived. Major-General Hill soon brought up the 48th and 66th regiments; General Sherbrooke, who crossed the river below the town with the brigade of Guards and the 29th regiment, entered the town amid the acclamations of the people, and charged the French in the rear; and General Murray, about the same time, showed himself on the French left, above the town. Soult fled, leaving behind him his sick and wounded, and many prisoners, besides much artillery and ammunition. This taking of Oporto, in the face of a French force of ten thousand men, coupled with his having to cross the broad Douro, and that with very defective means of transit, was a most brilliant affair; and the most astonishing thing was, that Wellesley lost only twenty-three killed and ninety-eight wounded, whilst Soult's troops suffered severely.

The Ministry had, as a matter of course, been much weakened by the retirement of Lord Grey; but, having got through the Session, it might have survived to the next meeting of Parliament but for the death of Earl Spencer, which occurred on the 10th of Novemberan event which removed Lord Althorp to the House of Peers. It was supposed that this would lead only to a fresh modification of the Cabinet, by a redistribution of places. For example, Lord John Russell was to succeed Lord Althorp as the leader of the House of Commons. Lord Melbourne's Administration seemed to be quietly acquiesced in, as sufficient for a time; the nation evidently assuming that, in any case, a Liberal Government was the necessary consequence of a reformed Parliament. The public were therefore startled when it was announced on the 15th that the king had dismissed his Ministers. It appeared that Lord Melbourne had waited upon his Majesty at Brighton, on the 14th, to take his commands as to the new arrangements he was about to make. But the king said he considered that Government dissolved by the removal of Lord Althorp; that he did not approve of the intended construction of the Cabinet; that Lord John Russell would make "a wretched figure" as leader of the House, and that Abercromby and Spring-Rice were worse than Russell; that he[378] did not approve of their intended measure with regard to the Irish Church; and concluded by informing Lord Melbourne that he would not impose upon him the task of completing the Ministerial arrangements, but would send for the Duke of Wellington.

Notwithstanding the hopes which might have been fairly entertained that the measure of Reform would have been rendered complete throughout the kingdom, a considerable time elapsed before its benefits were extended to the sister country; and a large amount of persevering exertion was required before a measure for the purpose was carried through Parliament, although its necessity was unquestionable. This arose from certain difficulties which it was not found easy to overcome, so as to meet the views, or, at least, to secure the acquiescence, of the various parties in the House. And hence it happened that it was not until 1840 that an Act was passed for the regulation of municipal corporations in Ireland, after repeated struggles which had to be renewed from year to year, and the question was at length only settled by a sort of compromise. On the 7th of February, 1837, Lord John Russell moved for leave to bring in the Irish Municipal Bill, which was passed by a majority of 55; but the consideration of it was adjourned in the Peers till it was seen what course Ministers were to adopt with regard to the Irish Tithe Bill. Early in 1838 the Bill was again introduced, when Sir Robert Peel, admitting the principle by not opposing the second reading, moved that the qualification should be 10. The motion was lost, but a similar one was made in the Upper House, and carried by a majority of 60. Other alterations were made, which induced Lord John Russell to relinquish his efforts for another year. In 1839 he resumed his task, and the second reading was carried by a majority of 26. Once more Sir Robert Peel proposed the 10 qualification for the franchise, which was rejected in the Commons, but adopted in the Lords by nearly the same majorities as before. Thus baffled again, the noble lord gave up the measure for the Session. In February, 1840, the Bill was introduced by Lord Morpeth with a qualification of 8. Sir Robert Peel now admitted that a settlement of the question was indispensable. With his support the Bill passed the Commons by a majority of 148. It also passed the Lords, and on the 18th of August received the Royal Assent.

The war was scarcely begun when it was discovered that we had proclaimed hostilities much before we were prepared to carry them out. Our ships were badly manned, and therefore slow to put to sea, and the more alert Spaniards were busy picking up our merchant vessels. Not they only, but the French, Dutch, and other nations who had hoisted Spanish colours, were making wide devastation amongst our trading vessels. Walpole was compelled to issue letters of marque and licences to swarms of privateers, which issued forth to make reprisals. The Lords of the Admiralty, on the 1st of February, 1740, had ordered an embargo on all shipping except coasters, so as at once to keep them out of reach of the enemy, and to induce seamen to enter the navy; but on the 28th of March a petition from merchants and owners of shipping was presented, complaining of the hardships and the destruction of trade by it. The Lords of the Admiralty contended that such had been the complaints of injuries done at sea to our traders, that they had been compelled to impose the embargo in the absence of sufficient hands for men-of-war. They now took the embargo off foreign ships, and gave notice to English owners that they would take it off altogether, on condition that the owners and masters of vessels would enter into an engagement to furnish a certain number of men to the navy in proportion to the number of hands in each trader. This also was denounced as a most oppressive measure, and the Opposition represented it as intended to make the mercantile community sick of the war. Driven, however, to extremities, Ministers would not listen to these arguments; a motion was carried sanctioning this plan, and then the merchants came into it. All this time it was raining heavily, and Brandreth, daunted by the weather, or by the courageous conduct of the manager, gave the word to march. The manager calculated that there were only about a hundred of them at this point; but they were soon after joined by another troop from Ripley, and they took two roads, which united about three miles farther on, collecting fresh men by the most direful threats. When they reached Eastwood, a village three or four miles farther on the road to Nottingham, they were said to amount to three hundred, but ragged, famished, drenched with the rain, and not half of them armed, even with rude pikes. Near Eastwood they were met by a troop of horse from Nottingham, which had been summoned by Mr. Rolleston, a magistrate, and at the sight they fled in confusion. About forty guns and a number of pikes were picked up, and a considerable number of prisoners were made, amongst them Brandreth. These prisoners were afterwards tried at a special assize at Derby. They were defended by Thomas (afterwards Lord) Denman, whose eloquence on the occasion raised him at once into notice, and whose generous, gratuitous, and indefatigable exertions on behalf of these simple, ignorant victims of Government instigation, showed him to be a man of the noblest nature. Notwithstanding his efforts, twenty of these unhappy dupes were transported for different terms, and threeBrandreth, Ludlam, and Turnerwere hanged and then beheaded as traitors.

These things did not pass without remark by the Opposition. Pulteney and Bolingbroke discussed them with much vigour and acrimony in The Craftsman. It was asserted in the House that the public burthens had increased instead of diminished since 1716; but Walpole contended that there had been a reduction of debt to the amount of two million five hundred thousand pounds; and his statement was supported by a large majority, and it was laid before the king. The Opposition then demanded an explanation of the expenditure of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds for secret service money. It was well understood that Walpole had used the greater part of it in buying up that triumphant majority which enabled him to carry the most[59] obnoxious measures. The demands of the Opposition were so vehement, and the abuse was so glaring, that even Walpole was embarrassed how to get rid of the question. He could only recur to the old plea, that the money had been spent on services highly advantageous to the State, but which could not properly be made public. Suddenly events lifted him out of his difficulty. News arrived that the King of Spain, who declined to ratify the preliminaries of peace entered into at Vienna, on hearing of the death of George I., hoping for a revolution, had now given way, and had issued what was called the Act of Pardo, ratifying the preliminaries, and referring all remaining difficulties to be settled at a congress to be held at Soissons.