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cabal in the cabinet," would be a strange use of terms; to represent the Duke of Bedford as the favourite candidate of the persons who opposed Lord Sandwich, would be a gross error.
But Lord Mahon describes the Duke of Bedford as "a hot-headed, cold-hearted man, more distinguished by rank and fortune than by either talent or virtue!"
This short and very unjust character of the Duke of Bedford, which cannot be attributed to any desire in Lord Mahon to misrepresent, shows the strong impression made by the Letters of Junius on the intelligent writers and readers of the present day. That the Duke of Bedford was “hot-headed" cannot indeed be denied, but he appears to have been one of the warmest-hearted men who engaged in that age in political warfare. His attachment to his friends often led him to adopt a course which his own judgment would have rejected, and his love of his family and home afforded but too much scope to his enemies to complain of his neglect of public business.
In fact, the Duke of Bedford seems to have rode through the muddy ways of his age with as little of soil to his personal integrity as any man. Nor were the general views which he took on questions of foreign policy and constitutional government wanting in sagacity or in patriotism.
But he had not the masterly genius of Chatham, nor did he supply the defects of his natural abilities by a study sufficiently assiduous of the great questions of his day. The last branch of Lord Mahon's sentence is taken from a character of the Duke of Bedford, by Lord Chesterfield. Lord Chesterfield was as a man of the world very successful, but as a statesman had very little weight. The Duke of Bedford succeeded Lord Chesterfield as Secretary of State, and showed a discretion in promoting peace, in which his predecessor, with the same object, had been wanting.
On the formation of the Ministry of the Duke of Devonshire and Mr. Pitt, the Duke of Bedford accepted the office of Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. His government as a Viceroy was marked by his characteristic merits and faults.
The Parliament of that country was a jobbing aristocracy, banded into different parties, without much, if any, distinction of principle. The English Government used their patronage to purchase a majority. But the mouths of one party were no sooner stopped by pensions and places, than another rose to complain of profusion in the name of their country, and to ask for new extravagance in their own. A fresh purchase only led to fresh pretensions, and the very pensioners themselves had the effrontery to exclaim against
the burthens of which their own faction and cor
ruption had been the cause.
The Duke of Bedford began his administration with the best intentions. He did not share in the extreme intolerance of the High Protestants, and he wished to govern impartially for the benefit of all. He seems to have imagined that he could rise above all factions, and by keeping the public good in view defeat interested opposition.
He found himself, however, very soon baffled. Some violent resolutions having been passed by the House of Commons, the Duke declined to transmit them without representing to the King at the same time his dissent from their purport, and his disapproval of the language in which they were conveyed. The House of Commons, offended, refused to enter his answer on their Journals, and by adjourning the Money Bill obliged him to transmit purely and simply their resolutions.
It would have been well if this victory of the Commons had been employed to secure any benefit for the people at large; but the rival factions looked to nothing more than obliging their governor to pay for their support. The Duke of Bedford was obliged to endeavour, as the next most desirable object, to reconcile the discordant factions. At first he failed in an attempt to induce Lord Kildare to make up his differences with the Primate,
and assent to a general scheme of conciliation; but when, abandoning these vain hopes of justice and harmony, he turned his attention to the old methods of purchasing the prevailing interests by peerages and pensions, his success was no longer in doubt, and the path of his government became smooth and easy.
Yet the Duke of Bedford did not forget that the House of Commons represented only a small part of the nation, and that the Roman Catholics might be safely indulged in some relaxation of the penal laws and their barbarous penalties.
Even before his acceptance of the Lieutenancy, he had openly avowed that, were he to accept it, he should not govern on the narrow maxims of intolerance and exclusion which had hitherto prevailed. These sentiments were so acceptable to the Catholics that, ten days after his appointment was known, exhortations to tranquillity and obedience were read from the altar in the Catholic chapels of Dublin, in which the hope that had been held out by some honourable persons of a mitigation of the penal laws was noticed, and the blessing of Heaven invoked in favour of so generous a design.
Lord Clanbrassil had, under a former LordLieutenant, prepared a bill for the registration of Roman Catholic priests. He now submitted his scheme to the Duke of Bedford, who, after prevailing
upon him to omit those parts of the bill which had given alarm and offence to the Roman Catholics, brought the matter for consideration before the Privy Council. But the minds of the leading men in the Government were not prepared for even so much of toleration and indulgence. The Primate and the Lord Chancellor, the heads of the Church and of the Law, opposed the measure as repugnant to the laws of England. The Chief Justice and Chief Baron Willes were likewise hostile to the plan; and the latter especially denounced the bill, "because it would prove a toleration of that religion which it had been the general policy of England and of Ireland to persecute and to depress." Sir Thomas Prendergast took the same side.
In opposition to these intolerant and uncharitable views, the Duke of Bedford plainly avowed his own more liberal sentiments:
"Since he had been implored by those who saw danger in the slightest change upon the side of lenity to reflect. upon the number of the Catholics, he must," he said, "admit that they greatly predominated over the Protestants; but he would at the same time fearlessly maintain that, if it could be at all consistent with the peace of society, Christianity and good policy alike required that they should be allowed the exercise of their religious duties. It was his settled maxim that persecution for religious principles only added strength to the sect it was intended to destroy. The truth of this must have been felt by