Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 50.djvu/369

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deprecated the attempt of his fellow envoys to wring extortionate terms from the Dutch, and so escaped the popular censure of the negotiation in which they were subsequently involved. Upon his return he both spoke and voted against the Test Acts, and seconded the unsuccessful motion of the Earl of Carlisle to provide against the marriage of future heirs to the throne to Roman catholics; he is also said about this time to have used the argument against hereditary government that no one would choose a man to drive a carriage because his father was a good coachman. In 1676, when it came out that Danby had refused, hesitatingly, Widdrington's offer of a huge bribe for the farm of the taxes, Halifax remarked that the lord treasurer refused the offer in a manner strangely like that of a man who, being asked to give another the use of his wife, declined in terms of great civility. This sally incensed Danby, who procured his dismissal from the council-board (Burnet).

As one of the bitterest and most penetrating critics of the cabal, Halifax had won the king's dislike more thoroughly even than his friend Shaftesbury, for whose release he had presented a petition in February 1678. But in 1679 Temple mentioned his name to Charles for a seat at the new council of thirty, and urged his claims with such persistence that, although Charles ‘kicked’ at the name (Temple, Memoirs, 1709, iii. 19), Halifax was duly admitted, greatly to his surprise and elation. Once within the charmed circle, his suavity fascinated Charles; he became a prime favourite at Whitehall, and was ‘never from the king's elbow.’ Halifax was put upon the council's committee for foreign affairs, together with Temple, Sunderland (his brother-in-law), Essex, and Shaftesbury. He agreed with the latter in procuring Lauderdale's dismissal, but he was unprepared to go the lengths urged by Shaftesbury with a view to creating a reign of terror for the Roman catholics; and he opposed Shaftesbury's device of bribing the Duchess of Portsmouth to prevail upon Charles to declare Monmouth his heir. When, therefore, in July 1679, in defiance of Shaftesbury's denunciations, he advised a dissolution, their relations became hostile. In the same month he was created Earl of Halifax.

Hating Monmouth as the puppet of Shaftesbury and the extreme left, Halifax was little less hostile to James as the representative of both French and priestly influence, to which he was an uncompromising foe. Already his thoughts turned to William of Orange, and he urged the prince, at the time unsuccessfully, to come over to England. The need for a definite policy was emphasised by the illness of the king in August 1679. As the readiest means of turning the tables on his rivals, Halifax, acting in alliance with Sunderland and Essex, secretly summoned the Duke of York to the king's bedside. To Temple, who was mortified at being excluded from any part in this manœuvre, Halifax vaguely and uneasily disclaimed responsibility for it. He pretended to be ill. But the duke's visit, which he undoubtedly brought about, caused a revolution at court, which was not altogether to his liking. Monmouth, indeed, was deprived of his command and ordered to go into Holland, and Shaftesbury was dismissed (15 Oct.); but he found himself pledged to support James's hereditary claim, while the meeting of the new parliament, which he was specially anxious to conciliate, was postponed until the new year. Worse than all, Charles again plunged into a labyrinth of dangerous intrigues with France—intrigues which hopelessly compromised his advisers. The mixing up of Halifax's name in the sham Meal-Tub plot was a further source of vexation. Until the reassembly of parliament in October 1680 the direction of affairs under the king was left in the hands of the ‘Chits’—Sunderland, Godolphin, and Laurence Hyde.

The long-deferred parliament met on 21 Oct., and proceeded to discuss the exclusion of James from the succession. A bill passed the commons on 11 Nov. In the upper house, which resolved itself into a committee to deal with the matter on the 15th, the debate resolved itself into a combat between Shaftesbury and Essex on the one hand and Halifax on the other. He exposed the hypocritical attitude of Monmouth and the intrigues of the exclusionists with a rare power of sarcasm. It was admitted that he proved ‘too hard’ for Shaftesbury, answering him each time he spoke, sixteen times in all (cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. App. p. 352). At 9 P.M., after a debate of ten hours, the house divided, and the bill was rejected by 63 to 60. The result was fairly attributed to Halifax, who gained the praise of Dryden in ‘Absalom and Achitophel:’

    Jotham of piercing wit and pregnant thought,
    Endued by nature and by learning taught
    To move assemblies, who but only tried
    The worse a while, then chose the better side;
    Nor chose alone, but turned the balance too,
    So much the weight of one brave man can do.

Sincerer praise is due to his opposition to the execution of Stafford in the following month. To threats of impeachment he answered that he would have been glad to go