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As soon as the Ministry had been restored, the House reassembled for the election of a new Speaker in the room of Mr. Abercromby, who had declared his intention of resigning, having no longer sufficient strength to perform the arduous duties imposed on him by his office. When his intention was announced, he received, through Sir Robert Peel and Lord John Russell, the highest testimony of the esteem in which he was held by the two great parties, not only for his conduct in the Chair, but also for his strenuous exertions to improve the mode of conducting the private business of the House. This was in accordance with precedent, but as a matter of fact Mr. Abercromby was a very weak Speaker, and his ruling had been repeatedly questioned by the House. He was chosen Speaker in 1835. On his resignation of that office he was raised to the peerage as Lord Dunfermline. Mr. Handley nominated Mr. Shaw Lefevre, member for North Hants, as a person eminently qualified to succeed to the vacant chair. Mr. Williams Wynn, a member of great experience and reputation in the House, proposed Mr. Goulburn, member for the University of Cambridge. The motion was seconded by Mr. Wilson Patten. It was a party contest, and tested the strength of the Ministry and the Opposition. The House divided on the motion that Mr. Shaw Lefevre do take the Chair, which was carried by a majority of eighteen, the numbers being 317 and 299.


The name of the prisoner was Edward Oxford. He was about eighteen years of age, and of an[472] unprepossessing countenance. He was a native of Birmingham, which town he had left nine years before. He was last employed at a public-house, "The Hog in the Pond," at the corner of South Molton Street and Oxford Street. His trial for high treason was begun in the Central Criminal Court on Thursday, July 9th, and ended next day. The judges were Lord Denman, Baron Alderson, and Justice Patteson. The jury returned the following special verdict:"We find the prisoner, Edward Oxford, guilty of discharging the contents of two pistols, but whether or not they were loaded with ball has not been satisfactorily proved to us, he being of unsound mind at the time." An argument followed between counsel as to whether this verdict amounted to an absolute acquittal, or an acquittal on the ground of insanity. Lord Denman said that the jury were in a mistake. It was necessary that they should form an opinion as to whether the pistols were loaded with bullets or not; but it appeared they had not applied their minds to that point, and therefore it would be necessary that they should again retire, and say aye or no. Did the prisoner fire a pistol loaded with ball at the Queen? After considerable discussion upon the point, the jury again retired to consider their verdict. During their absence the question was again argued, and it appeared to be the opinion of the judges that the jury were bound to return a verdict of "Guilty" or "Not Guilty" upon the evidence brought before them. After an absence of an hour they returned into court, finding the prisoner "guilty, he being at the same time insane." The sentence was that he should be imprisoned during her Majesty's pleasure, according to the Act 40 George III., providing for cases where crimes were committed by insane persons.

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On the 17th of March a proclamation was placarded at the gates of the palace, announcing that the king was resolved to remain and share the fate of his people. Great were the acclamations and rejoicings; but, towards evening, the crowds that still lingered around the royal residence saw unmistakable signs of departure: there was an active movement amongst the Guards; carriages and baggage were becoming apparent, and the agitation of the people grew intense. The Prince of Asturias and his brother protested against the departure; bodies of soldiers, in open revolt, began to assemble, and the people cried that they would have the head of the traitor, Godoy. From angry words the populace and revolted soldiers came to blows with the Household Troops. Godoy's brother led up a regiment against the rioters, but the men seized him, and joined the people. Whilst one crowd surrounded the Palace of Aranjuez, another rushed to the house of Godoy to seize and kill him. They ran all over his house, but could not discover him. The tumult continued all night, but was somewhat appeased the next morning by a Royal proclamation, which announced that the king had dismissed him from his offices. This did not, however, prevent the people continuing the search for Godoy, who was at length discovered by a Life-Guardsman in a garret of his own house, where he had been concealed between two mattresses. Compelled to come forth by heat and thirst, he was dragged into the street, soundly beaten, and would soon have been put to death, had not the Prince of Asturias, at the urgent entreaty of the king and queen, interceded, declaring that he should be tried for his crimes, and duly punished. Godoy was committed to custody, in the Castle of Villaviciosa: his property was confiscated; and, on the 19th, the king, terrified at the still hostile aspect of the people, proclaimed his own resignation in favour of Ferdinand, their favourite; in truth, as little deserving of their favour, by any moral or intellectual quality, as the king himself. The abdication was formally communicated by letter to Napoleon, whose troops, under Murat, were, during these tumults, now rapidly advancing on Madrid.

On the declaration of war, Buonaparte resorted to a proceeding that had never been practised before, and which excited the most violent indignation in England. He ordered the detention of British subjects then in France, as prisoners of war. Talleyrand previously assured some British travellers, who applied to him for information, that they had nothing to fear; that their persons would be safe under the protection of a Government which, unlike that of Britain, observed the laws of nations, and Buonaparte caused his well-known agent, Louis Goldsmith, the editor of a French paper, the Argus, published in London, to insert the same assurance in that journal. Thus thrown off their guard, all the British in France were seized by authority of a proclamation of the 22nd of May. Numbers of these were families and individuals not resident in France, but merely hurrying home from Italy, Switzerland, etc. They numbered some 12,000, and were kept confined till the close of the wars. The pretext was the capture of two ships before war was declared, but they were not captured until the Ambassadors had withdrawn, or until an embargo had been laid by Napoleon on British shipping.

The slave merchants of Liverpool and London demanded to be heard against even this degree of interference. On the 2nd of June counsel was heard on their behalf at the bar of the House of Commons. These gentlemen endeavoured to prove that the interest of the merchants was the best guarantee of the good treatment of the slaves; and they called witnesses to prove that nothing could be more delightful and salubrious than the condition of slaves on the voyage; and that the negroes passed their time most charmingly in dancing and singing on the deck. But, on cross-examination, these very witnesses were compelled to disclose one of the most revolting pictures of inhuman atrocity ever brought to the light of day. It was found that no slave, whatever his size, had more room during the whole voyage than five feet six inches in length, and sixteen inches in breadth; that the floor of every deck was thus densely packed with human beings; between the floor and the deck above were other platforms or broad shelves packed in the same manner! The height from the floor to the ceiling seldom exceeded five feet eight inches, and in some cases not four feet. The men were chained together two and two by their hands and feet, and were fastened by ringbolts to the deck or floor. In this position they were kept all the time they remained on the coastoften from six weeks to six months. Their allowance was a pint of water daily and two meals of yams and horse-beans. After eating they were ordered to jump in their irons to preserve their health, and were flogged if they refused. When the weather was wet they were often kept below for several days together. The horrors of what was called the "middle passage" were terrible and fatal beyond description. It was calculated that up to that time the Europeans had consumed ten millions of slaves, and that the British alone were then carrying over forty-two thousand Africans annually.