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Ministers were not all corrupt or place-hunters. One of them, the Earl of Dartmouth, was a saint in spirit. Lord North, the king's chief minister, was not corrupt. He disliked his office and wished to leave it. In truth no sweeping simplicity of condemnation will include all the ministers of George III except on this one point that they allowed to dictate their policy a narrow-minded and ignorant king. It was their right to furnish a policy and to exercise the powers of government, appoint to office, spend the public revenues. Instead they let the King say that the opinions of his ministers had no avail with him. If we ask why, the answer is that there was a mixture of motives. North stayed in office because the King appealed to his loyalty, a plea hard to resist under an ancient monarchy. Others stayed from love of power or for what they could get. In that golden age of patronage it was possible for a man to hold a plurality of offices which would bring to himself many thousands of pounds a year, and also to secure the reversion of offices and pensions to his children. Horace Walpole spent a long life in luxurious ease because of offices with high pay and few duties secured in the distant days of his father's political power. Contracts to supply the army and the navy went to friends of the government, sometimes with disastrous results, since the contractor often knew nothing of the business he undertook. When, in 1777, the Admiralty boasted that thirty-five ships of war were ready to put to sea it was found that there were in fact only six. The system nearly ruined the navy. It actually happened that planks of a man-of-war fell out through rot and that she sank. Often ropes and spars could not be had when most needed. When a public loan was floated the King's friends and they alone were given the shares at a price which enabled them to make large profits on the stock market.
The system could endure only as long as the King's friends had a majority in the House of Commons. Elections must be looked after. The King must have those on whom he could always depend. He controlled offices and pensions. With these things he bought members and he had to keep them bought by repeating the benefits. If the holder of a public office was thought to be dying the King was already naming to his Prime Minister the person to whom the office must go when death should occur. He insisted that many posts previously granted for life should now be given during his pleasure so that he might dismiss the holders at will. He watched the words and the votes in Parliament of public men and woe to those in his power if they displeased him. When he knew that Fox, his great antagonist, would be absent from Parliament he pressed through measures which Fox would have opposed. It was not until George III was King that the buying and selling of boroughs became common. The King bought votes in the boroughs by paying high prices for trifles. He even went over the lists of voters and had names of servants of the government inserted if this seemed needed to make a majority secure. One of the most unedifying scenes in English history is that of George making a purchase in a shop at Windsor and because of this patronage asking for the shopkeeper's support in a local election. The King was saving and penurious in his habits that he might have the more money to buy votes. When he had no money left he would go to Parliament and ask for a special grant for his needs and the bought members could not refuse the money for their buying.
The people of England knew that Parliament was corrupt. But how to end the system? The press was not free. Some of it the government bought and the rest it tried to intimidate though often happily in vain. Only fragments of the debates in Parliament were published. Not until 1779 did the House of Commons admit the public to its galleries. No great political meetings were allowed until just before the American war and in any case the masses had no votes. The great landowners had in their control a majority of the constituencies. There were scores of pocket boroughs in which their nominees were as certain of election as peers were of their seats in the House of Lords. The disease of England was deep-seated. A wise king could do much, but while George III survived--and his reign lasted sixty years--there was no hope of a wise king. A strong minister could impose his will on the King. But only time and circumstance could evolve a strong minister. Time and circumstance at length produced the younger Pitt. But it needed the tragedy of two long wars--those against the colonies and revolutionary France--before the nation finally threw off the system which permitted the personal rule of George III and caused the disruption of the Empire. It may thus be said with some truth that George Washington was instrumental in the salvation of England.
The ministers of George III loved the sports, the rivalries, the ease, the remoteness of their rural magnificence. Perverse fashion kept them in London even in April and May for "the season," just when in the country nature was most alluring. Otherwise they were off to their estates whenever they could get away from town. The American Revolution was not remotely affected by this habit. With ministers long absent in the country important questions were postponed or forgotten. The crisis which in the end brought France into the war was partly due to the carelessness of a minister hurrying away to the country. Lord George Germain, who directed military operations in America, dictated a letter which would have caused General Howe to move northward from New York to meet General Burgoyne advancing from Canada. Germain went off to the country without waiting to sign the letter; it was mislaid among other papers; Howe was without needed instructions; and the disaster followed of Burgoyne's surrender. Fox pointed out, that, at a time when there was a danger that a foreign army might land in England, not one of the King's ministers was less than fifty miles from London. They were in their parks and gardens, or hunting or fishing. Nor did they stay away for a few days only. The absence was for weeks or even months.
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Washington and his Comrades in Arms -by- George Wrong