The next day tempest scattered the approaching transports. Sir John thought the storm sufficient excuse for not pursuing; but the winds followed the invaders, and blowing directly from London towards Dunkirk, dispersed the French transports, sank some of the largest of them with all their men, wrecked others on the coast, and made the rest glad to recover their port. Charles waited impatiently for the cessation of the tempest to put to sea again, but the French ministers were discouraged by the disaster, and by the discovery of so powerful a British fleet in the Channel. The army was withdrawn from Dunkirk, Marshal Saxe was appointed to the command in Flanders, and the expedition for the present was relinquished.

Sir Robert Peel then rose. He said that the immediate cause which had led to the dissolution of the Government was "that great and mysterious calamity which caused a lamentable failure in an article of food on which great numbers of the people in this part of the United Kingdom and still larger numbers in the sister kingdom depended mainly for their subsistence." But he added, "I will not assign to that cause too much weight. I will not withhold the homage which is due to the progress of reason, and to truth, by denying that my opinions on the subject of Protection have undergone a change." This announcement was received in profound silence from the Ministerial benches, but with triumphant cheering from the Opposition. Protection, he said, was not a labourer's question. High prices did not produce high wages, nor vice versa. In the last three years, with low prices and abundance of food, wages were comparatively high, and labour was in demand. In the three years preceding, with high[522] prices and scarcity, wages were low and employment was scarce. Experience thus proved that wages were ruled by abundance of capital and demand for labour, and did not vary with the price of provisions. Again, increased freedom of trade was favourable to the prosperity of our commerce. In three scarce and dear years, namely, from 1839 to 1841, our foreign exports fell off from 53,000,000 in value to 47,000,000. But in three years of reduction of duties and low prices, namely, from 1842 to 1844, the value of our exports rose from 47,000,000 to 58,000,000. Even deducting the amount of the China trade, a similar result was shown. Nor was the reduction in the customs duties unfavourable to the revenue. In 1842 there was an estimated loss of 1,500,000; in 1843 a smaller one of 273,000; but in 1845 there was a reduction at an estimated loss to the revenue of no less than 2,500,000. The total amount of the various reductions effected in three years exceeded 4,000,000; and many of the duties were totally abolished; the loss, therefore, not being compensated by any increased consumption. Had 4,000,000 been lost to the revenue? He believed that on the 5th of April next the revenue would be found to be more buoyant than ever. Sir Robert Peel referred to other proofs of prosperity resulting from reduced import duties, and then adverted to his own position, and declared that "he would not hold office on a servile tenure."

In our time this defeat would, as a matter of course, have turned out the Ministry, but in that day it had no such effect. They continued to hold office, and to command undiminished majorities on other questions. Still more singular was its effect, for it induced them to offer office to their triumphant opponent Walpole, who not only accepted a subordinate post amongst themthe Paymaster of the Forcesbut consented to support the very clauses regarding the Scottish peers which he had so firmly denounced, should they be inclined to bring forward the Bill a third time.

The situation of Lord Cornwallis was now growing desperate. An attempt to destroy the enemy's batteries failed on the 16th. "At this time," he says, "we knew that there was no part of the whole front attacked in which we could show a single gun, and our shells were nearly exhausted. I had therefore only to choose between preparing to surrender the next day, or endeavouring to get off with the greater part of the troops; and I determined to attempt the latter." Having conceived this desperate scheme of endeavouring to escape, Cornwallis that night wrote to Sir Henry Clinton, in cypher, telling him not to risk fleet or army in the attempt to rescue them. He was sure that something had prevented the fleet from sailing at the time proposed, and he sought to steal away with the bulk of his army, leaving a small number to capitulate for the town. The idea, with such troops of well-mounted cavalry at his heels, was a wild one, and there were other obstacles in the way. He must first ferry his troops across the river to Gloucester, and, as he had not vessels enough to carry all at once, he had sent over part of them, when a violent storm arose, and prevented the return of the boats. This was decisive. With his forces thus divided, Cornwallis had scarcely soldiers enough left to man the guns in York Town, and there was nothing for it but to surrender.