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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

With the minimizing comment that of this party


the hideous imitations of windows

painted on to the walls of houses to support a grotesque idea of harmony, without incurring the expense of an actual aperture for light and air. Pitt raised the loans necessary to meet the yawning deficit and to minimize the floating debt, and he astonished his world by introducing the amazing elements of absolute honesty and admirable publicity into the transaction. The principle of patronage that had made previous loans a scandalous source of corruption was gallantly thrown overboard; and the new minister announced to the general amazement that the new loans would be contracted for with those who offered the lowest terms in public competition. A glittering variety of new taxes, handled with the dexterity of a conjuror, and extracting sources of revenue from sources untaxed and very justifiably taxable, rounded off a series of financial proposals that inaugurated brilliantly his administration, and that had their abiding effect upon the welfare of the country. The crown of his financial fame was his plan for the redemption of the National Debt introduced in 1786. His plan was based on the comparatively familiar idea of a sinking fund. Up to the time of Pitt's proposal, however, such sinking fund as might exist in a time of peace was always liable to be taken over and {240} made use of by the Government in a time of war. Pitt's plan was to form a sinking fund which should be made inalienable by an Act of Parliament until the Act creating it should be repealed by another
Act of Parliament. For this purpose Pitt created a Board of Commissioners consisting of the Speaker, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Master of the Rolls, the Accountant-General, and the Governor and Deputy-Governor of the Bank of England. To this independent and distinguished body of men the sum of one million sterling was to be handed over annually for the gradual redemption of the existing debt by the purchase of stock.

The story of Pitt's early administration was not all a record of success. For the last time, and unsuccessfully, he attempted to bring about a Parliamentary reform. For the first time, and no less unsuccessfully, he tried to bring about that better understanding between England and Ireland which it was his merit always to desire, and his misfortune never to accomplish. In spite of his genius, his eloquence, and his popularity, his position in the House of Commons was in a sense precarious. It was not merely that he had the bad luck to be opposed by such a galaxy of ability as has perhaps never before or since dazzled from the benches of Opposition the eyes of any minister of Pitt's intellectual power. To be fought against relentlessly, tirelessly, by a Sheridan, a Burke, and a Fox would have been bad enough for a statesman at the head of a large and reliable majority and enjoying the uncheckered confidence of his sovereign. But Pitt did not enjoy the uncheckered confidence of the King, and Pitt's majority was not reliable. Lord Rosebery quotes an analysis of the House of Commons dated May 1, 1788, recently discovered among the papers of one of Pitt's private secretaries, which serves to show how uncertain Pitt's position was, and how fluctuating the elements upon which he had to depend for his political existence. In this document the "Party of the Crown"--an ominous term--is set down as consisting of 185 members, including "all those who would probably support his Majesty's Government under any minister not {241} peculiarly unpopular." No less than 108 members are set down as "independent or unconnected;" the party ascribed to Fox musters 138, while that of Pitt is only estimated at 52, with the minimizing comment that "of this party, were there a new Parliament, and Mr. P. no longer to continue minister, not above twenty would be returned." In the face of difficulties like these Pitt stood practically alone. His was no Ministry "of All the Talents;" the ranks of the Ministry did not represent, even in a lesser degree, the rich variety of ability that made the Opposition so formidable.


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