In the meantime the Chartists had made their preparations. The members of the National Convention met early in the morning at its hall in John Street, Fitzroy Square, and after this the members took their places in a great car, which had been prepared to convey them to the Common. It was so large that the whole Convention and all the reporters who attended it found easy accommodationMr. Feargus O'Connor and Mr. Ernest Jones sitting in the front rank. It was drawn by six fine horses. Another car drawn by four horses contained the monster petition, with its enormous rolls of signatures. Banners with Chartist mottoes and devices floated over these imposing vehicles. The Convention thus driven in state passed down Holborn, over Blackfriars Bridge, and on to the Common, attended by 1,700 Chartists, marching in procession. This was only one detachment; others had started from Finsbury Square, Russell Square, Clerkenwell Green, and Whitechapel. The largest body had mustered in the East, and passed over London Bridge, numbering about 6,000. They all arrived at the Common about ten o'clock, where considerable numbers had previously assembled; so the Common appeared covered with human beings. In all monster meetings there are the widest possible differences in the estimates of the numbers. In this case they were set down variously at 15,000, 20,000, 50,000, and even 150,000. Perhaps 30,000 was the real number present. When the committee on the petitions next met, on the 10th of April, Dunning, elated with his success, was ready with fresh resolutions. His first was that it was necessary for the purity and independence of Parliament that the proper officer should, within ten days of the meeting of Parliament in each Session, lay before the House an account of moneys paid out of the Civil List, or out of any part of the public revenue, to any member of Parliament. This, too, was triumphantly carried, only to be followed by another from Dunning, that the persons holding the offices of Treasurer of the Chamber, Treasurer of the Household, or clerkships of the Green Cloth, with all their deputies, should be incapable of sitting in the House of Commons. Here the[266] confounded Ministerial members began to recover their spirit under the sweeping sentences passed against them, and Dunning only carried this resolution by a majority of two. Either they thought they had done enough by their late votes to satisfy their constituents, or Ministers had found means to render them obedient by menacing losses from their side, for when Dunning proposed a resolution that his Majesty should be requested not to dissolve or prorogue Parliament until proper measures had been taken to secure to the people the benefits prayed for in their petitions, the motion was rejected by a majority of fifty-one in a very full House. Fox and Dunning vented their indignation at this result on the Ministerial phalanx, whom they declared to be the worst of slavesslaves sold by themselves into the most contemptible thraldom. But their castigation was in vain; the troop was brought back to its primitive compliance, and defeated every future motion from the Opposition.


Hail, adamantine steel! magnetic lord!

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It was not to be expected that the difficulties of Ireland would have passed away with the paroxysm of the crisis through which that nation had been working into a better state of existence. The social evils of that country were too deep-rooted and too extensive to be got rid of suddenly. The political disturbances above recorded, coming immediately after the famine, tended to retard the process of recovery. Another failure of the potato crop caused severe distress in some parts of the country, while in the poorer districts the pressure upon the rates had a crushing effect upon the owners of land, which was, perhaps, in the majority of cases, heavily encumbered. This led to the passing of a measure for the establishment of a "rate in aid," in the Session of 1849, by which the burden of supporting the poor was more equally divided, and a portion of it placed upon the shoulders most able to bear it. In anticipation of this rate the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Charles Wood, proposed an advance of 100,000 to meet the existing pressure. The proposed "rate in aid" was sixpence in the pound, to be levied in every union in Ireland, towards a general fund for the relief of the poor, and this was connected with a provision that the maximum rate should not exceed five shillings in the pound in any electoral[571] division. The proposition of the Government, with the exception of the maximum rate clause, was agreed to after a good deal of discussion and various amendments. In the House of Lords the Bill was carried with difficulty, after much discussion and the moving of various amendments.

The irritation arose from the fact that the force of public opinion was wresting political power from the families that had so long held it in well-assured possession as their hereditary right. Mr. Canning appeared before them as the man in whom that opinion had triumphedwho, by his own talents and merit alone, had risen to the first position in the State, to be, in fact, the chief ruler, the acting Sovereign of the empire. Hence the mortification, hence the factious wrath that was poured upon his devoted head. They succeeded in victimising a statesman of whom, as Englishmen, they ought to have been proud, vainly hoping that they could thereby maintain the domination of their order in the Government of the country. They were aware that the state of Mr. Canning's health was not good. He had all the exquisite sensibility as well as the pride of genius. His finely strung nervous system had been overwrought by incessant labour and anxiety, and irritated by the unworthy and unmerited attacks to which he had been subjected. He suppressed his feelings with a manly self-control, and a noble disdain of the mean and virulent assaults upon him. But he felt keenly, nevertheless, and the more carefully he hid the wounds of his mind, the more fatally the poisoned shafts rankled within.

Amid these angry feelings Admiral Byng was brought to trial. The court-martial was held at Plymouth. It commenced in December, 1756, and lasted the greater part of the month of January of the following year. After a long and[125] patient examination, the Court came to the decision that Byng had not done his utmost to defeat the French fleet or relieve the castle of St. Philip. The Court, however, sent to the Admiralty in London to know whether they were at liberty to mitigate the twelfth Article of War, which had been established by an Act of Parliament of the twenty-second year of the present reign, making neglect of duty as much deserving death as treason or cowardice. They were answered in the negative, and therefore they passed sentence on Byng to be shot on board such of his Majesty's ships of war and at such time as the Lords of the Admiralty should decide.