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The King's illness in 1789.



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The King's illness--Proceedings of the English

parliament upon the regency question--Mr. Pitt's propositions-Different course adopted by the Irish legislature~Mr. Grattan defeats the minister in accelerating the day of discussionAnticipation of Lord Loughborough as to the course the Irish parliament would likely pursue--An address voted--The viceroy refuses to transmit it- A committee appointed to carry it and present it to the Prince of Wales-Fit:gibbon appointed lord chancellor-Increasing unpopularity of the Marquis of Buckingham His departure,


year 1789, was marked by a calamity which at the present moment again hangs over the British empire. We allude to that deplorable malady which then attacked his majesty, and under which he is at present suffering. The public sorrow was great on this occasion, and it was sincere. The meeting of parliament was looked forward to with great anxiety and impatience. It took place on the 20th Nov. 1788, when they unanimously adjourned to the 4th of December. The physicians who attended his majesty were, in the mean

time, examined before the privy council, who all agreed as to his utter inability to meet parliament, of the uncertain duration of his complaint, and the probability that, in time, it would be removed.

On the 4th Dec. the houses met again, when - the minutes of the privy council were read, and

Monday the Sth was fixed on for taking them into consideration. On that day committees of both houses were appointed to examine the physicians. They brought up their report on the tenth, when Mr. Pitt moved, " that a committee be appointed to examine the journals of the house, and report precedents of such proceedings as may have been had in cases of the personal exercise of the royal authority being prevented or interrupted by infancy, sickness, infirmity, or otherwise, with a view to provide for the same.” This resolution was objected to by Mr. Fox, as tending only to create delay. He contended also, that there was an heir apparent to the crown, of full age and understanding; and that in his (Mr. Fox's) opinion, it was clear that during the suspension of the exercise of the royal authority from incapacity, the heir apparent, situated as the prince of Wales then was, had asjust a claim to the exercise of kingly power, during such incapacity, as if the crown bad naturally demised. This position, however, Mr. Pitt utterly denied, and affirmed, “ that to advance such a claim or right in the prince, or any one, without the concurrence of both houses of parliament, was a species of treason to the


Proceedings of the Irish legislature. 155 constitution." Much and important debating ensued. The prince abstained from advancing any claim, and his friends, in both houses, deprécated all discussion of the question. It was decided, however, by large majorities, that it was the exclusive right of both houses of parliament to supply the defect of the personal exercise of the royal authority: Mr. Pitt wrote a letter to the prince of Wales, to which his royal highness replied *; but happily the restoration of his majesty rendered a practical illustration of the doctrines maintained by the legislature unnecessary. The recurrence of a similar crisis, and the actual state of the executive power, need hardly be adverted to.

Such were the proceedings of the English legislature, and in which they widely differed from those of the Irish, a difference which was subsequently urged as one of the strongest reasons for incorporating the two countries, by means of a union. The calling of parliament was, in fact, delayed as long as it could be done decently; but at length it assembled, and it was soon found that all the efforts of the viceroy to secure his influence had not succeeded. They met on the 5th Feb. 1789: and it was moved by the secretary that they should adjourn till Monday the 16th of Feb. on which day both houses should


into a committee to take the state of the nation into consideration. Instead of the 16th, however, Mr. Grattan moved,

See Appendix, No. II,

as an amendment, the 11th, which was carried by a majority of 54, the numbers being 128 to 74. The same preponderance against administration prevailed in the house of lords.

They met on the eleventh, and the great question of the regency was discussed. It had previously been endeavoured by all the means which ininisterial influence could employ, to secure a majority in the Irish parliament, so that precisely the same measures, with respect to the regency, might be adopted as had been already acted upon in the British parliament. The attempt failed, however, and the consequence was, that the minister was left in a minority. Ireland, in fact, was proud of the opportunity, thus presented to her, of exercising, on an important occasion, the legisłative independence she had acquired *: and it was to be expected, that she would, on this great question, exhibit a practical proof of that freedom she had so lately won.

The probability of the course which she would pursue was anticipated by Lord Loughborough, who took the lead of opposition on this question in the house of peers. it remembered,” said his lordship," that a neighbouring kingdom stood connected with us, and acknowledged allegiance to the British crown! If once the rule of regular succession were departed from by thie two houses, how were they sure that the neighbouring kingdom would acknowledge the regent, whom the two houses would take upon themselves to elect? The probability was, that the neighbouring kingdom depart, in consequence of our departure, froin the rule of hereditary succession, and choose a regent of their own, Which must lead to endless confusion and einbarrassment.”

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Reflections upon the regency question. 157 Mr. Grattan and Mr. Fitzgibbon, (the attorney general) were the two chieftains, of the opposed parties on this momentous discussion. Mr. Grattan followed in the same line of argument, as had been employed by Fox and Burke in England, The attorney general defended the proceedings of ministers. It would be unnecessary labour to recapitulate the reasonings employed on both sides; but it may be briefly observed, that Mr. Pitt's view of the question was certainly the more moderate, the more rational, and probably the more constitutional. It did not involve the principle of hereditary succession, because, if it rested merely upon that fact, it was equally unnecessary to proceed upon the plan suggested by the opposition. Why address the prince to assume functions which devolved upon him as a matter of course, had there been a natural demise of the sovereign? There certainly was a political demise, but as that political demise was a case not provided for by law, it seemed incontrovertible that the two houses of parliament were the only com· petent powers to supply the deficiency. To the objection urged, that the two branches of the legislature could not act, in a matter of legislation, without the concurrence of the third estate, it might be replied, that the same objection was applicable to proceeding, by the way of address, for that address, praying the Prince of Wales to take upon himself the functions of royalty, was intended to have, and would have, the effect and


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