War Renewed with France, 1803 - Subsequent Events

It was only one of the results of the war against French independence, that France was led by the course of events to place herself under the control of her chief military genius, Napoleon Bonaparte; a man singularly qualified for concentrating and directing the energies of a country in the existing condition of France, but animated more by personal ambition than by any extended views of the good of his species. It was soon manifested that Bonaparte did not relish peace. By taking undue advantage of several points left loose in the treaty, he provoked Great Britain to retaliate by retaining possession of Malta; and the war was accordingly recommenced in May 1803. Britain immediately employed her superior naval force to seize the French West India colonies; while France took possession of Hanover, and excluded British commerce from Hamburg. Bonaparte collected an immense flotilla at Boulogne, for the avowed purpose of invading England; but so vigorous were the preparations made by the whole British population, and so formidable the fleet under Lord Nelson, that he never found it possible to put his design in execution. In the year 1804, he was elevated to the dignity of Emperor of the French; and France once more exhibited the formalities of a court, though not of the kind which the European sovereigns were anxious to see established. In April of the same year, the Addington administration was exchanged for one constructed by Mr. Pitt, and of which he formed the leader.

In 1805, under the fostering influence of Great Britain, a new coalition of European powers, consisting of Russia, Sweden, Austria, and Naples, was formed against Napoleon. He, on the other hand, had drawn Spain upon his side, and was making great exertions for contesting with Britain the empire of the sea. A fleet of thirty-three sail, partly French and partly Spanish, met a British fleet of twenty-seven, under Nelson, off Cape Trafalgar, October 25, 1805, and was completely beaten, though at the expense of the life of the British commander. Britain thus fixed permanently her dominion over the seas and coasts of the civilized world. At this time, however, Napoleon was asserting with equal success his supremacy over continental Europe. By a sudden, rapid, and unexpected movement, he conducted an army into Germany, where the Austrians were already making aggressions upon neutral territory. On the 17th October, he took the fortress of Ulm, with its artillery, magazines, and garrison of 30,000 men; a month after, he entered Vienna without resistance. He then pursued the royal family, and the allied armies of Russia and Austria, into Moravia; and on the 2d of December 1805, he gained the decisive and celebrated victory of Austerlitz, which put an end to the coalition, and rendered him the dictator of the continent.

This series of events caused much gloom in the British councils, and with other painful circumstances, among which was the impeachment of his colleague Lord Melville, for malpractices in the Admirality, proved a death-blow to Mr. Pitt, who expired on the 23d of January 1806, completely worn out with state business, at the early age of forty-seven, half of which time he had spent in the public service. Mr. Pitt is universally allowed the praise of high talent and patriotism. But his policy has been a subject of dispute between the two great political parties into which British society is divided. By the Tories it is firmly believed that his entering into the war against the French Republic was the means of saving the country from anarchy and ruin; by the Whigs, that this step only ended to postpone the settlement of the affairs of France, and loaded Brit ain with an enormous debt. Of the absence of all selfish views in the political conduct of Mr. Pitt, there can be no doubt; for, so far from accumulating a fortune out the public funds, he left some debts, which Parliament gratefully paid.

Mr. Pitt's ministry was succeeded by one composed of Lord Grenville, Mr. Fox, and their friends; it was comprehensively called Whig, although Lord Grenville was a Tory, except in his advocacy of the claims of the Catholics for emancipation. In the course of 1806, the new cabinet made an attempt to obtain a peace from France, which now threatened to bring, the whole world to its feet. But the Grenville administration encounter ed serious difficulties from the king, who never could be induced to look with the least favor on the Catholic claims, or those who advocated them. Exhausted by his useless labors, Mr. Fox died, September 13, 1806. Few names are more endeared to the British people than his, for, though the leader of the Whigs, he never excited any rancor in his opponents. He was remarkable for his frankness and simplicity. His abilities as a parliamentary orator and statesman were of the first order, and he was invariably the consistent and sincere friend of popular rights.

A new coalition, excluding Austria, but involving Prussia, had been subsidised by Britain, and was preparing to act. With his usual decision, Napoleon led what he called his Grand Army' by forced marches into Prussia; gained, on the 14th of October, the battles of Jena and Auerstadt, which at once deprived that country of her army, her capital, and her fortresses; and then proclaimed the famous 'Berlin Decrees,' by which lie declared Great Britain in a state of blockade, and shut the ports of Europe against her merchandise. The King of Prussia, Frederick William III, took refuge with his court in Russia, which now was the only continental power of any importance that remained unsubdued by France.

Towards that country Napoleon soon bent his steps, taking, as he went, assistance from Poland, which he promised to restore to independence. After a series of skirmishes and battles of lesser importance, he met the Russian army in great strength (June 14, 1807), at Friedland, and gave it a total overthrow. He might now have easily reduced the whole country, as he had clone Austria and Prussia; but he contented himself with forming a treaty (called the treaty of Tilsit, from the place where it was entered into), by which Russia agreed to become an ally of France, and entered into his views for the embarrassment of Britain by the exclusion of her commerce from the continental ports. France had thus, in the course of a few years, disarmed the whole of Europe, excepting Great Britain, an amount of military triumph for which there was no precedent in ancient or modern history.

The Grenville administration was displaced in the spring of 1807, in consequence of the difference between its members and the king on the subject of the Catholic claims, which had long been urged by the Whig party, with little support from the people. The next ministry was headed by the Duke of Portland, and included Lords Hawkesbury and Castlereagh (afterwards Earl of Liverpool and Marquis of Londonderry), and Mr. Canning, as secretaries; Mr. Spencer Perceval being chancellor of the exchequer. After being accustomed to the services of such men as Pitt and Fox, the people regarded this cabinet as one possessing comparatively little ability. One of its first acts was the despatch of a naval armament to Copenhagen to seize and bring away the Danish shipping, which was expected to be immediately employed in subserviency to the designs of France, and for the injury of Britain. The end of the expedition was very easily obtained; but it was the means of lowering the honor of Britain in the estimation of foreign powers.