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The Parliament of England had now nearly run its septennial course, and was accordingly dissolved on the 30th of September. Such was the feeling of resentment in Great Britain against the proceedings of the Americans, that the Parliament that was now elected gave the Ministers an increased majority. After the Painting by BIRKET FOSTER, R.W.S.
CHAPTER VI. PROGRESS OF THE NATION FROM THE REVOLUTION TO 1760. The warder silent on the hill."
But the Government was, at that juncture, very far from being a wise Government. Parliament was called together on the 23rd of November, and opened by the Prince Regent in person. In his Speech he spoke of the unsettled state of the country, and recommended measures of repression. The Addresses were in the same tone, and they were commented upon with great warmth by the Opposition, and amendments moved. Zealous debates took place in both Houses, especially in the Commons, where the discussion continued two evenings, and till five o'clock on the third morning. The Addresses, however, were carried in the Lords by one hundred and fifty-nine to thirty-four, and in the Commons by three hundred and eighty-one to one hundred and fifty. The Prince Regent sent down a mass of papers to both Houses relating to the condition of the disturbed districts, and a host of Bills, founded on these, were introduced. In the Lords, on the 29th of November, the Lord Chancellor Eldon introduced one in keeping with his alarms, namely, "An Act to prevent delay in the administration of justice in cases of misdemeanour." This was followed by three others, introduced by Lord Sidmouth; one to prevent the training of persons to the use of arms, and to the practice of military evolutions and exercises, another to prevent and punish blasphemous and pernicious libels. Amongst others, Hone was again at work, and ridiculing the despotically-spirited Ministers in his "Political House that Jack Built." The third was to authorise justices of the peace, in certain disturbed counties, to seize and detain arms collected and kept for purposes dangerous to the public peace. These were to continue in force till 1822. Not thinking he had yet done enough, on the 17th of December Lord Sidmouth brought into the Peers another Bill more effectually to prevent seditious meetings and assemblies, which he proposed should continue in force five years. In the Commons, in addition to all this, on the 3rd, Lord Castlereagh had introduced a Bill for imposing stamp duties and other regulations on newspapers, to prevent blasphemous and seditious libels, as if Sidmouth's Bill on that subject had not fettered the press sufficiently. All these Bills were passed, notwithstanding the strongest remonstrances by the Opposition as so many infringements of the Constitution, and they became known as Sidmouth's and Castlereagh's Six Acts. This was an announcement of the utter overthrow of the Revolution, and the restoration of the ancient condition of France, with its aristocracy and its slaves. The sensation which it produced was intense. The king was immediately accused of secretly favouring this language, though it was far from being the case. It was in vain that he disavowed the sentiments of this haughty and impolitic proclamation to the Assembly; he was not believed, and the exasperation against him was dreadfully aggravated. But the fleet at Sheerness, which sympathised with that at Portsmouth, did not think fit to accept the terms which had satisfied the seamen of Portsmouth. They were incited by a sailor, named Richard Parker, to stand for fresh demands, which were not likely to meet with the sympathy of either sailors or landsmen, being of a political character and including a revision of the Articles of War. On the 20th of May, the ships at the Nore, and others belonging to the North Sea fleet, appointed delegates, and sent in their demands, in imitation of the Portsmouth men. The Admiralty flatly rejected their petition. On the 23rd of May the mutineers hoisted the red flag; and all the ships of war lying near Sheerness dropped down to the Nore. On the 29th, a committee from the Board of Admiralty went down to Sheerness, to try to bring them to reason, but failed. The mutineers then drew their ships in a line across the Thames, cutting off all traffic between the sea and London. On this, the Government proceeded to pull up the buoys at the mouth of the river, to erect batteries along the shores for firing red-hot balls; and a proclamation was issued declaring the fleet in a state of rebellion, and prohibiting all intercourse with it. This soon brought some of the mutineers to their senses. They knew that every class of people was against them. On the 4th of June, the king's birthday, a royal salute was fired from the whole fleet, as a token of loyalty; the red flag was pulled down on every ship but the Sandwich, on board of which was Parker, and all the gay flags usual on such occasions were displayed. Several of the ships now began to drop away from the rest, and put themselves under protection of the guns of Sheerness. On the 13th of June the crew of the Sandwich followed this example, and delivered up the great agitator, Richard Parker, who was tried, and hanged at the yard-arm of that ship on the 30th. Some others of the delegates were executed, and others imprisoned in the hulks; and thus terminated this mutiny, as disgraceful to the sailors as that at Portsmouth was reasonable and honourable.
But Wellington had no expectation whatever of maintaining his headquarters at that city. His own army was not sufficient to repel any fresh hordes of French who might be poured down upon him; and as for the Spaniards, they had no force that could be relied upon for a moment. The incurable pride of this people rendered them utterly incapable of learning from their allies, who, with a comparatively small force, were every day showing them what discipline and good command could do. They would not condescend to be taught, nor to serve under a foreigner, though that foreigner was everywhere victorious, and they were everywhere beaten. They continued, as they had been from the first, a ragged, disorderly rabble, always on the point of starvation, and always sure to be dispersed, if not destroyed, whenever they were attacked. Only in guerilla fight did they show any skill, or do any good.